This time when I arrived in Seoul, I already had some Korean money on me. I knew that I could go to the information desk and they would call the hotel for me. I knew there would be free wi-fi in the airport and none at all at the hotel. Their shuttle would pick me up and I wouldn’t need to tip the driver. Really!
I knew I could grab some water, coffee, triangle kimbap, banana, potato chips and/or mocchachino milk in the Family Mart for a late evening snack. I knew there would be slippers to use for the bathroom and that the light switch would be outside the door, not in the bathroom.
I know that I’ll have to wrestle my bags onto the train that goes from the international airport to the domestic airport. No one is going to help me. There’s no one even to pay to help you. But, the good thing is that no one is going to steal them either, so it’s okay to leave them for a bit.
Last year when I arrived, I had no Korean money, didn’t know how to get it, where to eat or what to order. I had no water and didn’t know if I could drink the water in the room. I went to bed hungry, thirsty, tired and very humble.
This time, I’m feeling a bit better, but still very humble.
From Colorado, it’s gotta be 1000 km to a beach in any direction! But from here, I walk about 40 steps from my apartment building, ride the elevator down to the subway station. Catch the subway, which runs every 10 minutes or less, and ride about 40 minutes to Haeundae. There I walk for about 10 minutes, down the hill past the shops and cafes and am at the beach! All for a cost of about $1 each way!
The fancy hotel Lotte has a person that directs cars into the parking lot. The uniform is the block cowboy? hat, white gloves, grey shirt and pants.
Some are more dramatic than others, making a fancy movement with the arms to direct the car where and when to turn. Then, he bows to the car after it drives past him.
With three 50-lb rolling suitcases, plus one small rolling carry-on, and a backpack, I’m loaded down. It’s okay because it gives me space to bring enough professional clothes for teaching.
I was prepared to pay someone to help me carry my bags occasionally. And that I’d have to keep an eye on them at all times. But what I found here is different.
There aren’t really people around to help you carry things, but on the other hand, you can leave your stuff and it’s perfectly safe.
- Getting from my hotel in Seoul to the train station, I thought I could have a taxi driver or porter at the station help me. But no, there aren’t people standing around to do that. So, instead the front desk clerk came to work at 7:45 am to go with me to the station before he had to be back at the hotel front desk. He walked me down to the street, crossed the road and caught a cab with me. He came down the escalator with me and helped me get my bags on the train. When I tried to give him a tip, he refused. I offered three or four more times, and still he said no.
- Getting off that same train, I unloaded the bags onto the platform. Fellow passengers and the train all cleared out and before I knew it I was on an empty platform with three large bags and no one in sight. Now what? I went back on the train and asked a male employee for help. He shook his head no with forearms crossed, which meant either no or maybe no English?. I asked the female employee. She looked worried (I think she was supposed to be cleaning the train.) But she hopped off and in her skirt and heels quickly walked with me, wheeling two of the bags to the base of the escalator. There she grabbed a passing male employee, who rode the escalator up with me, as she ran back to the train.
- Today, when I got off the subway in Seoul, twice I had a stretch of 2 or 3 flights of stairs up. This time I just had one 60-lb rolling suitcase, but nobody offers to help.
So, I guess it’s a trade-off. In the US, Latin America, Africa, someone definitely helps you carry stuff. But you always keep an eye out to make sure they don’t just keep going with it.
Kevin and I hopped a taxi to the Seodaejeon Train station today. Compared to other countries, I’ve found taxis in Korea to be pretty nice, not particularly agressive drivers, and professional. Taxi drivers charge what’s on the meter and give you change, without question.
So, it was a bit of a surprise when I noticed that our driver was watching TV. He had a small screen just to the left of the steering wheel which he kept glancing at as he was driving. Then he took out his cell phone. I thought he was going to send or read a text. But no, he began playing a game on his phone. Something with a bicycle rider moving through scenery. Obviously something that required close attention of our driver.
World-wide taxi drivers just gotta find a way to spice up those cab rides!
Today I traveled from my hotel to my school, to drop off three suitcases that I’ll use when I get back from my week of training in Seoul.
When you’re on the trains and subway, you feel like you’re traveling in a classier version of New York City or San Francisco.
It was actually refreshing to be in a taxi, driving down roads, shared with people, bicycles, fruit stands, and the strong smells of city life. Felt like Mexico or Ghana! The taxi driver was talking about 10% English, but non-stop. He asked my age and marital status. I wondered if I’d meet someone in Korea and yes, I already have one offer of a Korean boyfriend. Nice!
It’s pretty incredible to live in a place where you can actually get around easily by train and subway. It’s quick, on time, and inexpensive. A 10-minute ride is less than $1. Compare that to a $2 bus ride in Denver or Boulder.
With 50 million people in South Korea, the density of people is an obvious factor in making rapid transit cost effective. Still, it’s impressive!!! Especially when you arrive without a car and with not a lot of dough, not speaking the language, and can easily get around.
The funny thing is that there is a person with a sandwich cart, but he runs through so fast, I’ve not yet been quick enough to buy anything. First, I don’t know what’s on there. Second, I don’t know how to ask about it or figure out the price. So in the few seconds I get ready to interact, I’ve already missed him.
Another thing is that on the train, the staff pause before leaving a train car and bow to the passengers before turning and leaving…every time!