Korea turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. It was a welcome respite from the daily grind. Seoul was already one of my favorite cities so I was quite excited to get the chance to go. On top of that, because it was for work my flight there and the hotel room and meals during the three day conference were provided at no cost to myself. If you’ve seen the movie Monsters, Inc. you might remember how they used the screams and fear of children to power the city. I feel like my squeals of delight and excitement could have been bottled to power a small town somewhere (and I would have still had a good deal leftover).
My list of things to do was relatively short.
- Eat microwave popcorn
- Go swing dancing
- Go to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
- Mail package to friends and family in US
- Wander Insadong
- See The Thieves (a Korean heist movie) in theaters
- Go to N Seoul tower
- (and my staff would add, find a husband)
#1 and 2 I unfortunately was not able to do (nor #8). I was actually really bummed I couldn’t go swing dancing. Not so sad about the popcorn, I settled for flavored pretzels, and though they didn’t involve making something in a microwave (no microwave here in Laos), they were a yummy reminder of home.
I arrived in Seoul early morning the day before the conference started. What a difference it was to be able to read signs and communicate, two things I could not do at all on my previous trip to Korea in 2007. When I got off the airport shuttle near the hotel, whatdya know, there was a post office with a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf next to it across the street and Insadong was right there. I went to the hotel—the Somerset Palace Seoul—and my room wasn’t ready. I had gotten there at 7am on the same shuttle as the conference participants from Vietnam and Cambodia. The conference had blocked off their rooms a day before, meanwhile I was told my room wouldn’t be available until 3pm (most likely because I am an American, and the conference was for Europeans and Asians). Not to worry though, I left my stuff in the lobby and walked down to the post office to send the packages, then one door down to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. The food I got was kind of disappointing but the drink, a Salted Caramel something-or-other, was delicious.
I ended up falling asleep in Coffee Bean for a couple hours (something I’ve been doing more and more in coffee shops recently). I think it was about 11 when I left there for Insadong. I wandered, just as I had hoped to wander, and snapped photos of celebrity cut-outs and posters. One lady standing by a store-front took a picture of me with one of the cardboard cut-outs and I felt compelled then to buy something from the store. I bought a cheap face mask for $1 and noticed one of the saleswomen was Chinese so I talked with her in Chinese for a little bit. Anyway, I must be some kind of weirdo magnet because this older man (maybe in his 50s or 60s) walked up to me, wrapped his arm around mine and started leading me around Insadong asking me weird questions about if I’m married, where my husband is, if I want to go somewhere with him. I don’t know, it was creepy to me and I’m not a fan of being held on to or led around by the arm by strangers (despite the chance to practice my Korean) so I found a way to part ways and hurried back to my hotel. Oh, I almost forgot! Earlier in my wandering I came across a group of Japanese women and talked with in Japanese for a while and ended up taking a picture with them. I don’t know, I feel like almost nothing fills my ‘life is good’ cup quite like going back and forth between various Asian languages in a short period of time. [Aside: This happened last night in the night market, too. I ordered my food and talked to the woman making it in Lao, I sat down to eat next to some Chinese people and chatted with them for 30 minutes, then I ran into my Korean friend and his friend he was with talked to me in Korean for 5 minutes].
I got back to the hotel around 1pm and the room was ready early. As the hotel was right behind a Subway sandwich place, and I love Subway sandwhiches I had picked up my regular 6-inch Spicy Italian on Italian herbs and cheese bread and took it up to my room to relax finally. I showered, relaxed on a comfortable couch (for the first time in four months), watched TV (the final episode of Gaksital happened to be airing as a rerun) and then headed back out to just walk around. I bought some ramen and pretzels. There was a short meeting in the lobby for the conference speakers about time limits, who to give your USB sticks to, and other conference details. I felt like a very important person.
After the meeting I went back up to my luxurious hotel room, made dinner, laid on the couch some more eating pretzels and then around 9:45pm or so put on the face mask, got ready for bed, swiveled the large TV so that it was facing the huge bed, closed the sliding doors to the bed room (yes, my hotel room had a bedroom in it) just enough so I could still see the TV and watched Arang and the Magistrate (on the big TV!!! At the same time it aired!!! Just like normal people watch television all the time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Needless to say I went to bed really Happy. And yes, the ‘h’ is capital on purpose.