Surprising Seoul

Myeongdong ice cream

Start from part 1!

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The bags are real.

R-A-I-N.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get as good a night’s sleep my second and final night at this Airbnb, with the heavy thunderstorms throughout the night and rather thin walls. So although I had the option of borrowing Terry’s bike to go explore some more before checking out and heading to the airport, I woke up, packed, walked in the rain with Terry, took a selfie with him after he wanted a picture of me with the mountain behind me, and got in the cab to go to the airport for my flight scheduled at noon (more on that soon).

I ended up finishing up (rather, skimming; much of it is useless TBH) the book Vagabonding and left it for Terry, not without Instagramming a page first 😛Vagabonding book

Once I went through airport security and customs fairly painlessly, I walked through the food court, which frankly just repulsed me with how many people there were eating and camping out. Luckily, I found a perfect spot overlooking the runways inside PizzaExpress, a chain I became fond of while in Shanghai (Nutella dough balls <3). Although I didn’t want pizza, I saw that they had a smoked salmon croissant deal with coffee and most importantly it didn’t look crowded at all, so I went for it.

I ended up seated right next to the TV, with the Olympics were still going on, and behind a table of two pilots, with an awesome view.

This luck I felt was short-lived. Having boarded the flight, we ended up being stranded at the gate for two hours before finally taking off. What’s worse is knowing that it was because some idiot left his-likely-a-her rechargeable battery inside her checked luggage, so that apparently takes two hours to handle. I’m not sure why the airline didn’t just push this person off the flight, because that would have been a lot easier than having the whole place full of passengers that needed to transfer wait for this bitch. It made me wonder whether I should’ve booked with the cheaper China Southern Airlines instead of having hoped for a better experience with Korean Air.

But then we were served food, and I didn’t need to question my decision, because bibimbap!!! #THELITTLETHINGS

Anyway, things did look up after the mishap—with the exception of not having exchanged money earlier (please, never, ever do it at Incheon airport). I got my ticket for the 43-minute AREX (Airport Express Line) train into the city. The train looked quite empty, so my car in the back only sat me and this one other guy, who immediately asked me if the terminal Seoul Station had any shopping. I assumed so, and then we ended up chatting for the rest of the ride.

Turns out he was born in Qingdao, grew up in Vancouver, went to college in St. Louis, and now works in Silicon Valley for a health startup that was recently acquired by Xiaomi (the Apple of China)! He asked about shopping because he only had a little over an hour for his layover to before he needed to get back on the AREX to head to Singapore.

Slight tangent: As I’ll later learn, there’s quite a large population of people who grew up having lived in multiple cities and countries. “Home” is hard to define. Yes, being born and educated and living in about the same area that you grew up in has its own advantages. But for those with a serious case of wanderlust like I do, home ends up being that place where you can feel comfortable living in during those transition periods, but in both a positive and negative way, that creeping dissatisfaction of physical immobility—or calling any place home, for that matter—inevitably forces us to make our next move and experience all the joy and challenges that come with the unfamiliar. Especially at this point of my life, I don’t envy those who have a solid home base and don’t have plans to leave unless necessary. From my admittedly privileged perspective, life is about more than stability, and I want to embrace the challenges, not avoid them, because that’s what makes life exciting and purposeful. People naturally have different opinions on what it means to live, and right now, for me, living is exploring.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned on this trip so far is the ability to not hate people. Simply put, we all suck. Used here, “hate” can manifest itself in many ways, whether keeping to yourself on the empty AREX train, or staying holed up in your room and missing an opportunity to learn from the Airbnb host. I could have easily done the latter, because I “hated” the exhaustion I felt and desperately needed to shower…so moral is, don’t shower 😛 I kid, I kid. Anyway, it is too easy to hate, but it’s also quite easy to use that energy stored for hating everything to instead talk and listen to others. The rollercoaster ride that traveling takes you on forces you to be more open-minded, especially since many opportunities are ones you’ll never have again, and this solo trip has allowed me to focus on positivity, which in turn allows me to better appreciate the experiences I do get.

He and I became fast WeChat and Facebook friends. After he accompanied me to check in at my Airbnb, we made our way over to the night market and shopping at Myeongdong. The area reminded me so much of Taipei, specifically Ximending, especially with all the Chinese being shouted from all the beauty store employees standing on the streets. #Chinesetourists

Myeongdong ice cream
😛

After sampling some snacks and cooling off from the humidity with some pretty ice cream, we parted ways, as he went back to the airport and I explored some more before calling it a night.

The one thing I will point out about him is his strong desire to shop. I mean, even I didn’t have much of a goal that night to buy something. He specifically sought a T-shirt with his favorite Korean singing? group? …that’s how much I know about the contemporary Korean entertainment industry. He seemed quite determined, inadvertently fulfilling that Mainland Chinese stereotype. Within the hour we had, he did manage to buy a hat branded with the logo of some other Korean label (even wearing it immediately despite the extreme humidity). Clearly, I’m more of a Korean food and beauty type. Anyway, we both had a night better that either of us could have expected!

Oh, and since a Lotte supermarket was right at my Airbnb’s metro stop, I figured I would stop by to check it out. And even at 10 p.m., it was absolutely packed. With Chinese tourists, of fucking course.

I was overwhelmed yet fascinated by the selection. It’s like the Lotte in Maryland, but, like, so much better. Well…okay, duh. But yeah, think of a department store with the hot Korean beauty brands, plus yummy prepared food, plus actual food stands, plus ridiculous selection of junk food…equals omfg what if I lived here equals I would die of obesity.

Anyway, here was my spacious Airbnb 🙂

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Next up: Cooking class and food tour in Seoul, and the struggle to find a nail salon!