Saturday, May 2, 2009

Seoul Arrival

I'm up at out of the capsule hotel by 6.30am. I get to the airport around 7 and am the first passenger at the international terminal. I guess the earliest flight isn't till after 10 (mine's at 10:40) and 3 hours is way more time than you need. A restaurant upstairs is just opening and I get the 'American Morning'. Aside from the salad it includes, it is a reasonable approximation of real breakfast food.

The flight out of Fukuoka is short and I arrive in Busban where I'll be connecting to Seoul. I'm amazed that despite being a foreigner and not speaking the native language, airport security is far less of a hassle than for domestic flights in America. I'm also surprised to see a Dunkin Donuts. I'm even more surprised to find out that I kind of missed seeing Dunkin Donuts.

If the airport is any indication, Koreans generally seem to be better with English than the Japanese. Which is good, b/c I want to speak to them in my broken Japanese, which is hardly useful in Japan. It was actually kind of weird to have stewardess switch to English to greet me on the plane rather. It's also annoying to be illiterate again. I didn't understand a lot of signs in Japan, but I could at least try to sound them out and figure out what they said. Here is all just scribbling again.

On the flight to Seoul I got a seat in the emergency exit row. The seat seems very small, but at least I mostly have leg room. It's only 'mostly' b/c a stewardess is sitting directly in front of me for take off/landing. She turns awkwardly to the side b/c there's not enough room for both our legs. The stewardesses also all wear awesome cloth things tied around their necks that stick out like 6 inches. I'm hoping this is a sign that Japan's sweet uniform obsession will carry over to Korea.

I take the subway in from the airport to pretty much the middle of Seoul. Since I really did no research in where to go in Seoul, I'm just following a pamphlet from the airport that says this is a tourist area w/ many hotels and such around. There are cops everywhere. Like ridiculous numbers of cops. Like an army wearing body armor and equipped with riot gear. Clearly someone has tipped off Korea about my arrival. Fortunately, after three months in Japan, I seem just like a Japanese tourist and able to slip by undetected.

I later learn that something involving the former president has led to the armies of cops in the area. Apparently he was arrested on corruption charges or something and his house is nearby. The picture above is at one of the subway entrances near the hostel I'm staying at. There are groups of police like this at every subway station and on many corners. I think half of Seoul's population must be police.

I check into a hostel, wander a bit, take a nap then go eat. I go to a place with chickens rotating on a spit that claims to be a traditional Korean something or other restaurant. There's a line out the door, so I figure it's probably good. I figured wrong. Sitting on the floor sucks. There's really no upside to this. It's not quaint. It's not interesting. It's just uncomfortable and annoying. Maybe if that's what you do your whole life it works fine, but I'm not a fan. Also they have flat chopsticks here which prove to be a pain. I'd gotten decent with the chopsticks in Japan, but these aren't working. Part of that is b/c I'm trying to pick chicken off the bone that's floating in a soup using chopsticks. When I do manage to pull a piece out, I almost invariably have to spit out some bone or cartilidge chunk or something. And to top it all off, it's the blandest soup ever. And I usually like bland things. Also, Kimchi does nothing for me. I'll eat it, but it holds no appeal.

While Korea's food is thus far not winning me over, they at least try to make up for it with the beer. I wandered into a fairly nice bar and beer is less than 3000 won per pint. Compared to Japan, this is fantastatic. And you don't tip, so compared to Boston, this is fantastic. I hang out at the bar talking w/ a guy who'd apparently just finished singing a set. He's friendly enough and offers further evidence that English is better spoken here.

A lady singer starts playing. There's a group of ~10 near the singer. Mostly business suits, a few women. One guy is awesome. He performs captivating dance routines for everyones enjoyment. He then forces one of the other men to join him, holding his hands and hopping around while the lady sings 'So Happy Together'. It's pretty much justified the plane ticket to Korea.

Back to the hostel. There's a small dog in a dress hanging out on a chair in the common room. No one appears to own it. nice.


  1. You hate sitting on the floor because you were never able to sit with your legs crossed. I want to say Indian-style like the teachers said in elementary school but that doesn't seem very politically correct. You should get yourself a cute dog like that one in the dress. I like the pictures.

  2. I think Indian-style has become "pretzel-legged". At least, that's the rumor over the education world...