The Mecca of Home Comforts and Why the Korean People are So Great

8 Aug

Our lack of posting recently means I feel as though I have a lot to tell you about Korea in relation to our weekend in Seoul.

The Korean People

So we finally took the time to go to the capital! We spent about one and a half days there and after our nightmare trip to Busan we had the foresight to book a hotel. However, we did have a great deal of difficulty finding our hotell. I had prepared to some degree, (the address written both phonetically and in Korean with the name of the nearest subway station), but things are never as simple as you perceive them to be.

We got off at Sindong Subway station and aimlessly went in pursuit of Rio Hotel, 823, Hwanghak-dong, Jung-gu. No easy feat in a foreign country without a map .

However, I am very au fait with getting lost, it’s almost like ‘my thing‘ I thought to myself cheerfully, and who knows what we might discover…

That optimism lasted only so long but after several hours and walking down one particularly long street, with the afternoon light fading and my cheerfulness waning, the other part of me took hold and panic rose up inside me in those three familiar words,”WE ARE LOST!” It was a simple enough fact yet admitting to being lost – in a foreign country, in an overpopulated whirlwind of people, it felt as though I was admitting to everything that scares me about being here. My discomfort with all things new and unfamiliar was summed up perfectly in those three words. (Like many women, it’s akin to a fine talent the way my mind can blow all many of problems out of proportion, but it’s only in hindsight, now, that I am able to see this.)

Lawson, not sensing that I was on the verge of despair turned to me and said, “I read a review before we came that said the hotel was really difficult to find, it’s brand new apparently, so most people have never heard of it”. Oh now you tell me, I screamed inwardly.

What really saved the day was the Korean people. Lawson was right in that nobody had ever heard of the hotel, but that never stopped them trying, and I mean that in a good way. Several times we asked for directions and the people we asked went above and beyond to help.I was told by a fellow ex-pat that Koreans feel some sense of responsibility to make sure that the foreigners who come here are happy and will often go out of their way to help and that was certainly proving itself to be true.For example, we asked some apartment security where we could find a particular street and immediately they were on Google maps on their computer and invited us inside there small office so we could have a look at the screen. Then, one of them came outside so they could point out the exact street.

On another occasion, (still in pursuit of finding our hotel – it took us at least half the day), a Korean man working at a phone shop came up to us completely unprompted and said, “May I help you?” Immediately, without hesitation, I leaped like a bull at a red rag; “Yes please!” I showed him the address and he proceeded to make phone calls to the hotel by looking it up on his phone. He then got up the GPS, (oh, to have an iPhone!) and walked us to the hotel on foot.

This is just two occasions of the helpfulness shown to us in Korea but it is consistent wherever you go. We have become used to it in the town we’re we live but we never expected it to be the same in the capital. After all, could you say the same of London? I honestly can’t express enough how helpful they are. I think I could definitely learn from it and I hope I am able to show the same kindness to bewildered faces I see in the future.

Love Motels

Historically, Love Motels have been perceived as seedy little rooms primarily for the purpose of having sex. Korean couples often live with their family and as a result have very little ‘alone time’. In fact, some Love Motels charge room rental by the hour! In some cases men bring their ‘loves’ (prostitutes) with them to the motel. These are the stereotypical people staying at the Love Motels. However, you will find that many young travellers stay their too. These love motels are actually very luxurious. They have two person baths, free cologne and toothbrushes, flat screen televisions and trendy décor to boot and the best thing is they are so damn cheap! I’m talking £20 for a room a night. Me and Lawson even got free dressing gowns! We will upload some pictures to further defend our decision to stay in a Love Motel, you dirty beggars!

Jung-Gu

This is where our hotel was situated so it is fair to say that this was our first impression of Seoul. We went with no expectations and we were met with chaos and vibrancy everywhere we looked. Our noses were assaulted with all kinds of smells and not all of them pleasant. Like I said I was enjoying getting lost (for the first half hour at least). There was lots to keep your eyes occupied with. Walking down narrow streets in an attempt to find our hotel it was impossible not to soak up the atmosphere. It was a great place to be in amongst the Koreans as they got on with life working on markets, hailing taxis and waiting for buses. Doing perfectly mundane things from their viewpoint probably. There was a shop selling huge Alsation dogs. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them as I saw two yelping from the confines of cage. Since my family had an Alsation I couldn’t disconnect our dog, Sophie, from one of the dogs in this cage. Jung-Gu in general had a rather grimy feel about it, and not just because of the dogs. It just felt a bit gritty, dirty, teaming with people. There was smog in the air, the pavements were almost black and there was a lot of nasty smells. To be honest, as interesting as it was, I didn’t feel comfortable but then you don’t travel half way round the world to feel comfortable. Luckily the fantastically cheap, convenient and surprisingly easy subway system meant we spent very little time there over the course of the weekend.

Itaewon

This destinations name had been thrown about in conversation many times in our small network of fellow western Ochangers (Ochang is the little town where we live). Any time someone was trying to get hold of something they liked from home, like the next sequel to a popular book series, or some kind of taco spice mix, I’d here the word ‘Itaewon’. It seemed as though it was the Mecca of western home comforts so it was top on our list to visit. We arrived and the first thing we noticed was how, as a white person, our figures had multiplied. We were still the minority but the Koreans weren’t interested by our presence any more. There was no staring or pointing or beeping of horns. Living in a small town in Korea that kind of reaction is very usual, but not here.

”Okay!”, I said slapping my hands together. “What’s it to be? Steak? Burger? Spaghetti?” We eventually decided on a lovely Indian restaurant off the main street down some narrow steps. It was ornately decorated and obviously geared towards couples with the romantic covers of Celine Dion playing and the ‘couple menu’s’. It is quite a common theme in Korean restuarant’s to offer couple deals and even in the cinema if you order a large coke it always comes with two straws. I don’t know how I’d feel if I wasn’t one half of a couple. Anyway, we both ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, about as British a curry as you can get since it was supposedly invented in Glasgow (Stephen Fry said it on QI so it must be true), and it was delicious.

More to come on Seoul

I feel I have only had the tiniest taste of what Seoul has to offer but it tasted good. I look forward to going back and telling you more but first we have a holiday in Thailand and a teacher training day to attend.

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