(Alright guys. Thus begins my retelling of my days in Korea and all the thoughts I had therein. I’m trying to break it up into readable chunks, and after I finish relaying what happened, I have a few posts lined up about what I thought, differences between Korea and Taiwan, etc. Sadly, I did not get as many pictures as I should have/wanted to. I was too busy most of the time trying to see things with my eyes and not get lost that the camera became a bit of a nuisance. Oh well. Next time.)
My first day, or evening, rather, was one big test. Since I was alone, I set myself little tasks that I had to complete, since many of them were a bit nerve-wracking. The unknown was scary, and it would have been easy to find my hostel and not leave it afterwards, fearful of taking the steps outside to adventure. You can dream of adventure all you want, but taking that first step requires a lot of courage.
I’m going to write about my trip chronologically, since that’s the only way I can make sense of it. I arrived in the evening, with plenty of daylight left. Incheon was awesome. It was very like other airports, but it was brighter and cleaner, with an air of self-possessed pride. Christmas remnants were evident, for some reason, surrounding pillars and the empty ice-skating rink. Wait, what? An ice-rink in an airport? Why I wasn’t in the least surprised I don’t know. I think I just blindly accepted that the place was more like a giant mall. I was able to get internet right away, letting me email people that I’d arrived safely.
Moving through an unknown place is simpler if you’re alone. You can stop and pause and adjust as often as needed. I found benches several times where I was able to sit and collect my thoughts, assess my surroundings, and figure out what was next. Not that it was difficult. Incheon is really easy to maneuver. It’s huge, but all the signs are easy to follow.
I found the AREX (airport express railway) easily, and thanks to my pre-trip research, knew how to operate the ticket machines. I hung back anyway, watching other tourists retrieve their single-journey cards before attempting it. After swiping the card over the scanner and walking between two members of 2pm, I headed to the commuter train that would take me to Hongik Univ. Station. Once on the subway, I sat and stared at the people around me. They didn’t seem too concerned about me; testifying to the fact that Seoul sees a lot more foreigners, so I didn’t stand out like I do in Taiwan.
In a funny reversal, I sat and stared at the faces around me, listening intently to the language. Korean is my favorite, and it was auditory bliss to sit and be surrounded by it. If you don’t get all het up about languages, you’ll just think I’m strange; but it really is amazing. Like loving chocolate and visiting a chocolatier in Switzerland.
Once I arrived at Hongik station, I was able to easily find my way. It was a long walk, since Hongik station connects to three lines total, but they’re all so clearly marked it’s no trouble getting to where you need. Near my exit, number 5, I saw a GS-25, basically a 7-11, and a Café Del Tren, a very common coffee shop in the subway. I didn’t stop but headed straight out to find my hostel. It was then I noticed how cold it was. I had been nice and cool in the buildings, but now I was outside, I saw it hadn’t just been the AC. It was legitimately cool. As in, I needed a jacket. Which I had not packed, having come from major heat and humidity. I thought Korea was supposed to be hot in the summer!
The hostel was about a minute away from the station exit, but I was apprehensive about finding it, and I did have some trouble. It wasn’t marked with a sign, so I found the black door, but being unsure if it was actually my hostel or another house, I didn’t knock or go in. See, Korean addresses make no sense. They’re all configured in circles, dating back to ancient times, and so streets and numbers aren’t logical and sequenced like I’m used to. I found the number given me, but it comprised at least three separate residences in one building area. Also, in Korea, a lot of the places aren’t situated right at street level, so you have to either go up or down to reach them. It’s a bit awkward.
I wasn’t sure I’d found the place, but there was a teenage couple nearby, so I showed them my map and asked for help. They didn’t speak much English, bless them, but they walked around the little area a few times, chattering to each other and trying to help. I can only imagine what they said to each other. They left me at the big door next to my hostel with a parting word of, “Good luck to you!” It wasn’t my hostel they left me at, but, fortunately, the owner of my hostel came out right after that and found me.
He was very nice and spoke wonderful English. He showed me to my room, gave me a few maps and left me to my own devices. Or rather, I retreated to my room and attempted to calm my spinning head. I was in Korea. In Korea. Whatttttt. It took some getting used to. I couldn’t quite believe it. My room was very nice, larger than I expected. I unpacked and met my first obstacle. In all my planning and preparation and research, I’d missed something important. Korea does not use the same voltage as Taiwan and the US. I couldn’t charge my laptop and iPod, my only connection to people. The first thing I’d need to do would be to buy a converter. I put that on my list, then set myself a task. I hadn’t eaten dinner and was very thirsty. Korea doesn’t have water machines like Taiwan, or not that I saw, anyway, so I’d need some water bottles. I locked up my room, squared my shoulders, and headed out into the unknown to find a convenience store. I found a main street with no trouble, and sure enough, a convenience store was close. I got some mint chocolate milk, water, some spicy chips and a roll. I ate it all, including the disgustingly sweet “spicy” chips, and went to sleep. And froze.
The Closest Hostel private room.
Apparently the owner was in the midst of changing locations, so I’m not sure if this one will be in use much longer. But if you’re interested, I suggest searching for “The Closest Hostel” in Seoul on Hostel World or another site.
Information on Incheon Airport, using the AREX and ticketing machines, etc – Visit Korea