I’m on board my second 10+ hour flight in two days on the way to Paris, and eventually, at some weird hour of the night (or morning, depending where you are), Dublin, so thought I could fill you in on my very brief visit to South Korea. I had just less than 24 hours in Seoul, airport time included, it was about 7PM by the time I got to my hotel and I was staying in a pretty random area of Incheon, so options for sightseeing were limited. I was originally keen to head into the centre of Seoul and check out the shopping/night life, but I worked out the time it would have taken me to get there and decided to re-evaluate.
I’ve never travelled internationally by myself before. In Seoul, it occurred to me I was around 10,000km from the nearest person who knows me. If I missed the last train or got abducted by a taxi driver or needed a bit of a cuddle, I was on my own. I don’t feel like I can make any great sweeping statements about solo travel based on 48 hours in transit, but I guess it was interesting to notice how mindful it made me of myself and everything around me. I preach and aim to practice mindfulness all the time, and I don’t know of many experiences I have that evoke such a heightened sense of awareness more so that being in a new place, particularly by myself. This also allowed me a great sense of mastery from doing something tiny, like getting a taxi from A to B without getting ripped off, or murdered, or being dropped at the wrong place. Mastery and mindfulness make such a difference in therapy – perhaps I should just send all my clients on an overseas holiday. Oh wait, I’m cheaper (free). 🙂
Bypyeong seemed like a good alternative to heading all the way into the city. It was a five minute cab and about a 20 minute subway (Seoul train! :D) from my hotel and promised a little glimpse at life in Seoul plus the prospect of buying some fancy Korean cosmetics so I buttoned my coat, had a little chat to myself about being brave and walked into the foggy, freezing night. I immediately had to laugh at what was directly opposite my hotel.
I took a gamble and got off at Bypyeong station as opposed to Bypyeong Market station, which was actually right, yessss. I quite enjoyed the train ride, not least of all because of this hilarious commercial that was playing on the screens in the train – this girl dressed up as a sort of superwoman character was saving people from making train station boo boos – stopping little kids from stepping over the yellow line and business ladies from running for their train. They kept giving her irritated looks – as you would if someone made you miss your train – but she just kept smiling in this condescending, all-knowing way as if to say ‘you’re welcome’.
Bypyeong station is home to some neat little market stalls as well as a Lotte, this kind of groceries/department/everything store that delighted and baffled me. I should add at this point that it seems that Seoul is not like Bangkok or Toyko, in the sense that no one I encountered at any point once leaving my hotel spoke English. Like, not a word. Not ‘train’ or ‘yes’ or ‘thank you’ or anything. I also don’t speak so much as one word of Korean. You also keep to the right here instead of the left. This made me realize everything about the way I am – which side I tie my hair and hold my bag etc – is all set up for walking on the left. How absurd is it how hard these tiny things are to adjust to? I also never actually even noticed that people in Australia keep to the left. Mindfulness right? Anyway, all this meant I spent a great deal of time walking around and around in circles, bumping into people and kind of smiling benignly at everything everyone said to me. Combine this with the fact that I was the only non-Korean person I saw the whole time I was out and was a head taller than almost every single person around me at all times, and I must have done a sweet as job of blending in.
I wussed out of trying to order some local food. All signs in Korean + culture shock + tired + vegetarian = too hard basket. I did investigate a grocery store and get some weird sweets for my Dublin hosts (pumpkin flavoured lollies anyone?) as well as pick up a few cosmetics at Lotte. I was so excited to go a bit mad on beauty products, but I realised on the plane that because my checked luggage was going straight through to Paris, I could only get things less than 100mL! (Although, I did forget this for a moment and bought Jo a jar of Korean Nutella that was swiftly confiscated at the airport. Sorry love.) But here are some of the cutesy face things I got. Tried to only get things that were a bit weird i.e. broccoli face mask and peanut hand cream. I also found a face mask in an Ernest the chihuahua themed packet. Sadly had to pass on the line of products called ‘Ugly Farm’, although their ‘potato soothing cream’ looked pretty spesh. Those little creams at the top you can’t really see, but they have little encouraging sayings on them like ‘you did!’ and ‘everything is fine’. Adorable. Why don’t all my beauty products encourage me?!
I also had a few hours to wander around the Incheon International Airport this morning. Incheon is apparently one of the world’s best airports and has cool things like movie cinemas and cultural centers and a day spa. It also has free showers and free stopover tours around the city, which I took note off for my return journey – how nice of them! I encountered a traditional dance performance, a couple of quartets playing classical music and my favourite, the Hello Kitty Café. I was astonished to find that my latte was not only adorable but absolutely delicious.
There was also a Charlie Brown Café, but it was weird and there was no where to sit. They also did not have coffee with pictures on it so I was less intrigued.
The internet is all a flutter about the amazing airport shopping, but what I encountered was 129382 of the exact same overpriced duty free shop, plus all manner of designer things I could not afford nor were interested in looking at. I had a wander through a few places, but shop assistants here take that ‘I’m going to follow you around and hover over you’ thing to a whole new level, so I bailed. Did have to pull myself away from this little fellow though. You too could be the proud owner of PSY – take a little bit of Gangnam style home with you. 🙂