While in Changwon, Sean, Kevin and I braved the Chuseok traffic to check out Gyeongju, a former Korean capital with lots of temples and shrines and the like. Here’s some scenes from Gyeongju:
So I suppose we technically were already in Asia on this trip when we visited Jordan, but it was immediately apparent upon landing in Seoul that now we were REALLY in Asia. But we managed to find the proper bus from the airport to the neighborhood where we had booked a hostel, thanks to the South Koreans’ willingness to add English in important situations. We also managed to get off at the proper stop, but that’s when things quickly went downhill and fast.
Standing on a busy, crowded Seoul street, we realized that the hostel’s directions were less than helpful. Walk towards the KT building. Um, okay, will do, but where in the heck is the KT building? I inquired about the whereabouts of this mysterious KT Building with a girl on the street. She spoke fledgling English, but it was obviously lots better than our Korean vocabulary, which at that point consisted of zero words. (Our vocabulary now consists of one word – anyong-haseo (hello) – which took us the enter two weeks to learn). She said she wasn’t sure and we were prepared to continue wandering aimlessly. But much to our surprise, she whipped out her cell phone and called someone to ask if they knew where the KT Building was. She told us to follow her, so we did.
Several blocks later, she asked someone else on the street if THEY knew where the KT Building was. They didn’t. But out came the cell phones again, this time armed with GPS. Others joined in the quest to find the building digitally. At one point, three people were using digital devices to find the mysterious KT Building, despite our assurances that really, it was okay if they didn’t know, we would find it on our own.
Just about the point when I was feeling really bad that we were wasting so much of everyone’s time, a man came by who happened to work at the KT Building. Phew, everyone could go on their merry way. He pointed out the direction where we should walk. We thanked him, and as the light turned, we prepared to depart on our own. To our surprise, he insisted upon walking with us the whole way there to make sure we didn’t get lost, even after it was obvious we were on the right path. When he deposited us on the front step of the hostel, he gave us his business card and told us to call him if we needed anything while we were in Seoul. What do you think that guy wanted? Sean asked. Was he trying to sell us something? No, I said. I think he was just being…helpful. We looked at each other in confusion. Sure, people had given us directions or helpful information just out of the kindness of their hearts before, but we had never encountered so many people going above and beyond helpful without trying to get us to pay them or buy something from them.
I think this situation sums up our initial impressions of the people of South Korea: (1) People are really, really into digital gadgets, more so than any country we’ve visited (even Japan). (2) People will go way out of their way to help you. They do this, depending on who you ask, because of kindness or because they assume Americans are completely stupid. Either way works for me, because we usually were thoroughly confused in our inaugural visit to Asia.
We didn’t stay long in Seoul, and a lot of that time was spent dealing with unexpected jet lag and trying to secure train or bus tickets to Changwon in the middle of the holiday season. The rest of the time we spent trying to sleep on hard beds, surfing the fastest internet we’ve encountered yet, figure out what in the heck to eat and constantly taking our shoes on and off over and over again practically everywhere we went (no exaggeration, of course). Here are some pictures of what we did get to see in Seoul for your viewing pleasure:
We didn’t originally plan to travel to South Korea. But then our friend Kevin ended up in Changwon, a city in southwest South Korea, for four months for work. The timing worked out that we could make a quick trip to South Korea to visit Kevin before we travelled to Japan. We always jump at the chance to visit friends and more important, mooch off them as much as possible (Kevin is actually the brother of our friend Matt, who we visited in Paris when he was sent there for work early in our trip).
Changwon isn’t necessarily a place you would visit as a tourist. Next to the American navy base, Changwon was planned to take over as the capital if something happened to Seoul. There are a fair amount of expats and visiting Americans living in Changwon, due to the high concentration of industry present. If you are American and you are in Changwon, you are either in the military, an English-as-a-second-language teacher or an engineer sent over by an American company for work.
Kevin fell into the latter category. Staying with friends who are travelling on the man’s dime isn’t half bad; Kevin’s employer was putting him up in an enormous three bedroom, two bath apartment, so we not only got our own room (complete with pink fluffiness and stuffed animals) but also our own bathroom.
The apartment was rather pimped out, with laundry (yay!), a huge television, crystal chandelier, massage chair, and a bedazzled refrigerator. Yes, you read that correctly. The refrigerator was bedazzled.
We spent Chuseok, the Korean thanksgiving holiday, in Changwon. Kevin had off from work all week, so we spent lots of time lazing around Kevin’s apartment, watching NCIS (apparently Koreans love this show, because it was on in an endless loop), eating Mr. Pizza (a Korean pizza company located nearby who has love for women), and periodically venturing outside to go to Lotte Mart (a Korean grocery/department store).
Lest you think we didn’t learn about South Korean culture during our lazy week in Changwon, I present to you the following fun facts about South Korea: