As I was picking my flights to go to Sakhalin, I realised that most of them flew through Seoul, South Korea. Since my long lost Korean sister, Michelle, lives there, I thought it would be fun to try to find a flight with a long layover to see her. As I continued to look, though, I found that it would be even cheaper to book one flight to Seoul on Friday and then a separate flight to Yuzhno on Sunday, giving me a weekend to see Seoul!
In one of life’s strange and funny coincidences, it turned out my high school English teacher, A, was flying from DFW to Seoul on the exact same day I was, albeit on a later flight. Life is funny though, so when I arrived at the airport for my flight I found it was delayed by two hours. With nothing else to really do, I wandered over to the gate A would be leaving out of and waited there for her. It was in A’s class that I decided I wanted to become an English teacher so it truly felt like it was out of a novel that as I was leaving to be an English teacher, I would meet A again. She had been working in Korea for the past two years as an EFL teacher, so it was really nice to be able to talk to her about what I was getting myself into and voice my concerns. She assured me that if things in Russia didn’t pan out, she would be able to find me a job in South Korea. As our respective planes began to board, she told me that we should meet up with her in Seoul and bid me adieu.
The flight from DFW to Seoul was 14 hours. It wasn’t so bad, except I wasn’t able to sleep except for about two hours. To try to finish all the last minute details before leaving and so that I would be more tired, I had woken up at 5am that morning. Turns out that was a mistake. By the time I arrived in Seoul and gotten through immigration and customs, it was 4am Dallas time but 6pm local time.
Sunny, another friend from high school, picked me up at the airport and helped me get to my hotel in Hongdae which is apparently a really hip part of Seoul where there are lots of students. We went out for dinner at a Japanese noodle place. [a] After dinner, we took a walk through Hongdae. Even though it was after dark, Hongdae felt completely alive. There were people everywhere going to clubs, parties, or just dinner. As we walked around we found a number of buskers, singing or dancing or even one guy who was doing some sort of comedy routine (I assume?). At 9:30, I was simply too tired to carry on so I went eagerly back to the hotel for some sleep at last.
The next day, I was supposed to meet Michelle and her family for lunch in another part of Seoul so I navigated the subway over there. I was by far the tallest person on the subway and could see over everyone else’s heads. I met Michelle’s family at a restaurant which served modernised versions of traditional Korean foods. In Korean fashion, many different types of dishes were served and they kept coming! Koreans love their food, according to Michelle and Sunny. They like to spend a long time talking over meals so food keeps coming and coming. There were many different things to try, not all of which could be explained by my hosts. Some of it was pretty weird to be honest, but all of it was delicious! My favourite was a barbecue eggplant mmmmm
After lunch, Michelle, Sunny, and I went to a touristy part of Seoul that I can’t remember the name of anymore. There were lots of different shops there of all kinds of different things: book shops, cork shops (as in various items made of cork), papercraft shops. After looking around for a bit, the three of us met A and we all went to a traditional Korean tea house. We each got a different iced tea and some sweet rice cakes (like mochi) and some other cookies. I got what was described as “old lady tea” which was delicious. We had a great time catching up and talking over tea.
After that we left and went to a palace called Gyeongbokgung. It was a really nice palace grounds in the heart of Seoul. There’s a park area and other parts than just the palace itself. If you wear hanbok, the traditional dress in Korea, you can enter the palace for free, so some people do that so they can get pictures within the palace. It was fun to see them walking around in this old area. And the palace grounds are so incredibly beautiful.
After that, we headed up the large street where there’s a statue of King Sejong, the king of Korea who is revered for created Hangul, the alphabet of the Korean language which is pretty cool. Then we came across some people doing calligraphy in these booths. Michelle ordered me a fan that had written on it “Climb high and see far” which I think is a great motto for me 🙂 It’s also the perfect memento from Korea since it’s so small and lightweight.
We said goodbye to A at the subway station after that and then Michelle, Sunny, and I took a bus over to Namsam, the mountain in central Seoul where Seoul Tower is, so that we could get a good view of the city at night. First we went to a restaurant for bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice and sauteed vegetables and chili paste. So good!!
We also got bingsu, which is Korean shaved ice made with really soft ice and condensed milk topped sweet red bean paste.
After dessert we headed over to the cable car to get up to the tower. When we showed up, the line to the cable car stretched out of the building. We found out it was going to take about an hour and a half to even get up there and I was already feeling pretty faded on account of the jetlag. So I headed back to the hotel and gratefully to sleep.
On the next morning I woke up at 6am again so I had plenty of time to repack my stuff. Michelle and Sunny picked me up at the hotel that morning and took me to the airport to make sure I got there. Once we got to the airport, the girls helped me get checked into my flight (and helped me to sneak a larger than allowed bag on board). Then we settled to a cafe before I had to go through security. We got some coffees and cheese tarts and a kimchi croquette. The kimchi croquette was delicious! I still think about it sometimes.
Then we said our goodbyes before I had to go through security and get on my plane 😦 Sad to say goodbye after such a short time but it’s nice to know that I’m so much closer here in Sakhalin.