Korea: Day Four

On the last day we left Ellen’s after a small breakfast and headed back to Suwon city.  We grabbed a bigger breakfast there and wandered around for a bit.

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Our melon-based breakfast

After that, we took a train to an area that had historical houses.  We wandered around there for a while, taking pictures and navigating around other tourists.

Then, after a quick lunch at a really good cafe, it was time to hop back on the train (we had decided to avoid busses when at all possible).  Ellen stayed with me until we got to Seoul, then she pointed me in the right direction for the airport and went off to do her own thing.  After some confusion, I finally figured out where I was going and got on the right train.

At the airport there were some issues with my mobile boarding pass (has no one in Korea ever seen one before?), but I got through security eventually.  I had some time to kill, so I decided to try one more time to look for a very particular keychain I wanted.  When I was in Kindergarten, I had a Korean friend who gave me a keychain and my first pair of chopsticks.  I used those chopsticks until the paint started to come off and I kept the keychain until parts of it started to fall off.  I wanted to replace that keychain.  It was ridiculous to think that, 20 years later, I would be able to find the same keychain.

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I found something very similar in a pack of five keychains and decided to put the rest in the prize box for my students.  When I went to pay, the lady at the cash register gave me the price in dollars.  I froze for a moment, panicking.  Where was my money?  I didn’t have USD.  Why would I try to pay for something if I didn’t have money?  How could I have forgotten my money at home.

Then I remembered.  I was in Korea.  I had flown from Japan to Korea and at no point would I have needed to use USD.

I told her I didn’t have any USD and she pulled out a calculator to give me the price in Korean won.  I paid and was on my way.  Still left with time to kill, I decided to treat myself to a soft pretzel.  When I got there, the prices on the cash register were displayed in USD, Yen, Euros, and Won.  I could have paid in any one of those, but change was only given in Won.  In fact, the Korean boy in front of me (I’m guessing he was headed to the US) was all too happy and excited to be able to pay for his pretzel in USD.

I then headed back to the gate and relaxed while I waited to board.  Incheon airport is a really nice airport.  According to Ellen, the country has put a lot of money into it to make it great and you can really tell.  The architecture alone is beautiful and the airport is almost a destination in and of itself.

Both there and back I managed to get my little section of three seats to myself.  It was great.  Since I only had my backpack with me, I thought I was going to breeze through immigration.  I did move quickly through the question and answer round, and I was right on track for catching one of the last trains (the next one wasn’t for another two hours), when I got stopped before leaving the luggage area.

Apparently a white foreigner, with only a backpack, flying from Korea to Miyazaki is deeply suspicious.  The security officer proceeded to take EVERYTHING out of my backpack while questioning me.  He asked me a few questions and when I told him I didn’t understand one of the words he was using, he proceeded to use it again.  Because that definitely cleared it up.  After a few times, I finally got him to explain that he was asking if someone asked me to bring anything into the country for them.

I made it on to the train just in time and took a nap on my way home.

It was an interesting trip, though I’m not sure if I would like to go back.  In all of my travels, this was the first time I’ve traveled somewhere that I understood almost nothing of what was being said and absolutely nothing that was written.  Japan at least uses a lot of English because it “looks cool.”  Even if it’s used incorrectly, the English can sometimes give you a clue as to what the Japanese means even when you can’t read it.  Korean has no such obsession with English.  The only two things I could say were hello and thank you.  I really hated not being able to communicate.

I managed to go on the culture shock rollercoaster pretty quickly during my 4-day trip.  My first and second days were pretty much in the Honeymoon period.  The train card worked on every means of transportation: bus, taxi, trains, and subways.  The food was great and there were American brands everywhere, things I missed while in Japan.  I sincerely thought that I would maybe enjoy getting a job there.

But the second stage, frustration, started to appear by the end of the second day.  Public toilets were dirty, not the normal pristine condition I’ve been spoiled by.  I didn’t understand the language and the money was stressful for me.  I was looking forward to feeling like an independent adult again when I got home.

It was still a wonderful trip and I’m so glad I got to see Ellen again after over a year.  She was an amazing hostess and guide.

 

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