Sunday, January 4, 2015

TRAVEL | South Korea: Roundtrip from Seoul to South and Back



Day 1 & 2 - Arrival in Korea 

Today's Highlights:
Kimchee Hostel

South Korea has a very efficient immigration system. Although I had to fall in line when I arrived, it didn't take too long before my passport was stamped.

TIP: If you only have a backpack, hand carry it so you don't have to wait for the conveyor belt.

Inside the arrival lobby, one can find easily a connecting train to the metro. Just buy a 5,000 Won worth of card and you are good to go. Note that the last train from the airport leaves by 11pm so make sure your flight arrives beforehand. Otherwise you'll have to use the taxi which is rather expensive.

My hostel is situated in Hongdae, so as per the map, the train stops directly at Hongdae Station. The only challenge during the time was how to find the hostel.

TIP: Although most Koreans speak English, many are still hesitant to talk with foreign people. Perhaps due to fear of losing one's face. So better make sure that if your map fails, have an alternative plan like mobile GPS.

After reaching my station, I had to walk for an hour to find my hostel. After a failed attempt to follow the direction that the hostel sent to me, I decided to take a taxi. The flag down rate for taxis now is 4,000 Won ( in 2007 it used to be 2,000 Won only ). So finally I was able to reach the hostel at 1am.

TIP: Korean taxi drivers do not speak English much so be sure to have the hostel's address with you, so you can show to the driver. They have GPS and they can surely find where you want to go.

The Kimchee Hostel is located in a hidden alley. That explains why I couldn't find it. The place is not very spacious. It has three floors which is accessible only by stairs. Cleanliness is not at its best, but not dirty either. It has an appeal to the younger crowd. It also has branches in many places in Seoul. 

My room was in the third floor. It was a sharing room, with three double decked bunkers. On my arrival, I had to take the upper bunk ( though it can be very uncomfortable as the bed squeaks every time you move ). The light was also common, so there was no way that you can switch it on without rousing the whole community. 



TIP: Remember to bring a small handy flashlight in your pocket or backpack. It will save you all the trouble of trying to light your phone every 2 minutes or so.


The next day, I woke up feeling rested. I was hungry, because I didn't have dinner the night before ( what with all the walking ). So I went down.


The lobby of Kimchee Hostel wasn't so big either. There's a small dining table adjacent to the sitting room, literally sitting because there were no chairs. Only a carpeted floor can be found. Three computers were on the side which you can luckily use if no one's in the lobby.



I met a fellow Filipino. Her name was Marian. We had a little chat and I asked a few details on where is the nearest this and that. She was very nice and even offered to cook Filipino food for me the next day... it was adobong baboy. 

TIP: When in a foreign land, make sure to spot the best person who can give you vital information- this is necessary for survival.


So I walked out that day. Although I have an itinerary in hand, some people planned to meet, I didn't have anything fixed. I was just waiting; waiting for something to happen. It was still early though, so I came back to the hostel. There I found a new korean friend named Gun. 


When you are a veteran backpacker, you know all too well that time is of the essence. You do not ask for introductory questions but you dive immediately into- "have you eaten lunch, I am starving for ( insert name of food here )." 

And so I had lunch with Gun and made my itinerary around his schedule. Funny isn't it that no matter how much we plan, it is still the spontaneous things that work best.

I learned that He's from a province down South ( which I intended to visit in this trip ). And that he was merely spending some time off from work. And that he likes drinking. 


Day 3 - Myeongdong Church in the morning; Bundang Gu ( Gangnam District ) in the afternoon

Today's Route:

A - Hongdae to MyeongDong ( approx. 30 minutes via metro )
B - MyeongDong to Bundang Gu ( approx. 1 hour via metro )
C - Bundang Gu to Hongdae ( approx. 1 hour via metro )


The next day, I arranged a walk at Myeongdong Church. This is the only Catholic Church I know in Seoul. When I was in Chuncheon, I used to attend the mass in a small Catholic Church, and the experience was all to different. Korean Catholicism is taken to a different level where women are still wearing the white veil on their head. In the Philippines, even mini skirts are worn by women to Church. Well the fashion did strike me there.

Myeongdong Church resembles the typical Baroque architecture. And the inside is filled with pews whilst the altar is ornamented with paintings and sculptures of saints. 


I am not an avid church goer, but the architecture and the amount of religious significance attached to architectural fascinates me. Questions like "How social spaces like churches are able to define a society's intra/interpersonal relationships and in turn affect the socio-economic dynamics." It is but intriguing that in Korea, predominantly non-sectarian, religion such as Catholicism was able to inch its way to many parishioners. And that would take pages to explain.


It is getting late, and I had to run to Bundang Gu and meet some friends. In Korea, people are very strict about time so make no mistake of being late. The only problem was that, I didn't have a mobile yet so I had to be utterly resourceful I were to meet my friend.

On my arrival to the station, I asked this Korean guy if I can use his phone to call a friend.


TIP: Korean people are very kind, so you can ask for assistance and most likely they will be glad to help you. In my case, I needed to call someone and use a phone. And since there's no pay phone in sight, the next best thing to do is to use the stranger's phone.


After the brief call, all I had to do was wait. And finally my friend Peter arrived. After deciding that it was going to be dinner, instead of coffee, we walked a little, and rode a bus to get to the restaurant. After a while, we met Peter's wife- Lynn. And all three of us had some duck meat for dinner.


TIP: Though you may not be a duck fan, I really recommend the dish. It tastes like chicken but healthier and less oily.


After that sumptuous dinner, we headed for some coffee. We discussed a few things on how to improve English proficiency and agreed that Peter and Lynn needs to talk more in order to step up their skills.


Day 4 - Walk around Dongdaemun in the morning; Hongdae at night


Today's Route:

Hongdae Only! Highlight of the Day-
  • Lunch with Eric Wu
  • Dessert with Noreen
  • Dinner with Alex



There wasn't much to do today. So I strolled around Hongdae with my newfound friend, Eric Wu. I was starving so I decided to have some Korean food... obviously.

There was a chicken house nearby but it was closed when we went  there, so Eric and I had to walk around finding the nearest open Korean resto ( in the middle of a drizzle ).


Eric Wu is Chinese who was born in France. So he speaks French, English and Chinese. When he arrived in the hostel, he had to take the upper bunk ( the same spot I had when I came ). By this time I was already in the lower bunk, since the original occupant already left.


It was his first time in Korea, and because both of us knew Korean from very little to non-existent we struggled to order the best bulgogi shared by two persons. The side dishes alone already filled us up.


TIP: There are many restaurants around Kimchee Hostel, so you need not fret if you feel hungry. And don't worry, the menu's have English text. But if anything else fails, just point to the picture of the food. :)


In the afternoon, I wasn't feeling very well. But there's no time to get sick now. I met my friend and former University mate- Noreen. She is married to a Korean national and living somewhere in Seoul. 

I was so happy to see her again, and as if years did not tore us apart- she was still the same Noreen I met long time ago... funny, bubbly and full of stories. It was really a lovely time with her. And she even treated me with some patpingsu, Korean version of Filipino's halo halo.


We talked about mostly her years of stay in Korea- from grad school to getting married to work experiences. She is very happy with her life now especially with her adorable husband, although Korean society still puts pressure on her as a foreign wife. But she greets these challenges with an open heart. I am sure that I shall see Noreen soon.



In the evening, it was time to meet a former Hallym University friend, Alex. Back in 2007, when I was serving my exchange program in Chuncheon, Alex was the quiet resident across the hallway. He doesn't talk much but he is certainly funny that's why I really like hanging out with him. I remember there was a time when he was studying in his room and I barged in, just to distract him. And he gave me a glass of chocolate drink just so I would stop bothering him- like an older brother bribing a younger one.

Things are different now. Alex is now working at the customs as a high ranking officer. He said it was really tough to penetrate the position but due to hardwork and determination he succeeded. It was a stressful job, make no mistake about it. But life in Korea is such that people endure stress in order to contribute well to the growth of their companies. And most important news of all is that he is going to be married soon. 


I made a promise to Alex long ago that I will be present during the wedding... I guess I wasn't able to attend the wedding but at least we've met months before the wedding itself.


We walked back to my hostel and said our final goodbye uncertain when will be the next time we'll see each other again. Fate is a funny friend, you just never know what it has stored for you.



Day 5 - Daejeon / Jeonju


Today's Route:

A - Hongdae to Seoul Station ( approx. 1 hour )
B - Seoul Station to Daejeon ( approx. 2 hours )
C - Daejeon to Jeonju Hanok Village & vice versa ( approx. 4 hours )

The next day was a sudden change of plans. It was yesterday that I learned about Pope Francis' visit in Daejeon. It was a chance of a lifetime to meet him in person. So I totally scrapped my itinerary and headed to Daejeon.



But I had to meet Jake first in Sincheon to get the phone from him. Unfortunately I didn't have clothes left because Tita Marian washed them all and I couldn't get it not after 8am. So I left the hostel at 7am wearing only my beach shorts to meet Jake. But when we were in the phone shop, the personnel said that Jake's SIM card doesn't work so I had to buy a new SIM. But when I bought the SIM, the phone didn't work anymore. Luckily my Sony Experia was compatible to Korean SIM so I was able to activate my Korean number.

It just happens that my good old friend Sean is also living in Daejeon, so it was the golden opportunity to meet him as well.



In order to reach Daejeon, I had to go to Seoul Train station. It is easy to spot the ticket counter. Though there was a line, it didn't take me long to purchase my ticket to Daejeon. By this time Sean was calling me every 5 minutes asking where I was.

Buying the ticket was a breeze. The people at the counter was very helpful and the passengers in line are very organized. There were also some military men to assist the passengers.


I had to wait a few minutes before my train came and 15 minutes before my train's arrival we were called to come to our platform. 


The train was very spacious and I could actually stretch my feet, something that I don't often enjoy in most of my land based travels. My backpack now tucked in the compartment above, I took out my book "Life of Pi" which I joyfully read for a good one hour. Every now and then I fall asleep and after 2 hours, I finally arrived in Daejeon.



It wasn't long before I spot the familiar face of Sean in a sea of people. The same old squint and grimace, yes that was my friend Sean. And he was accompanied by his wife. What a lovely couple. As usual Sean started firing the questions like "Where's your girlfriend?" / "When are you gonna get married?" I shrugged them all off and laughed about it. For sure it's not happening soon.

For lunch I suggested that we have Kamjatang, a kind of pork stew. And they brought me to the best kamjatang place. 


TIP: Most Korean food is spicy so make sure that you have no allergy to anything spicy.


Late in the afternoon, we went back to Sean's house and after resting a little while we started moving again and this time we went to the traditional village in Jeonju. The drive to Jeonju took almost 2 hours, but Sean really wanted to show me the village. I know it was an effort for the good couple to bring me out so I am very grateful to them.


Jeonju Traditional Village



Okay as far as I know, the traditional village in Jeonju houses some of the oldest Korean houses and also has a Catholic Church inside. There were so many Korean people in this village and I guess we picked the most crowded day.

We walked around the big area, admiring the old Korean architecture. It felt like being transported back to the old Korean days. But what made the walk more interesting for me was the fact that I can see Sean and his wife really happy together.


In our life, it is important that we find what it is that would really make us happy, and when you find it, never ever let go.


It was already dark when we headed back to Daejeon. Sean drove and I kept falling asleep along the way. I was sitting in front so Sean could see if I'm starting to doze off. It was certainly embarrassing but the exhaustion really kicked in. I slept.



***


Sean's wife couldn't join us in the evening because she was going to her mother's house. So Sean and I were left. We decided to walk outside. It was still drizzling and I had my Canon EOS1100 D with me the whole time. I swear I had to run and cover my camera every time the rain would get stronger. And running on the street is not my style, funny isn't it.

The dinner tangsuyuk and jajamyon were indeed heaven. This is one of the dishes that I came back for in Korea. We walked back ( or rather ran ) to the apartment and slept for the night.



Day 6 - Daejeon / Meet Pope Francis


Today's Highlight:

Pope Francis' Mass in Daejeon Stadium
KAIST University
Techno Park
Daejeon Park

So this is the day that I'm gonna meet the Pope. Finally!

But Sean was kidding that we might not be able to go to the stadium... and I was like NO WAY! That's one reason why I came here so there's no way that I'm gonna miss this chance of a lifetime. Sean was concerned about the heavy traffic and the influx of people. But we still came anyhow.



There was no traffic. And we were lucky to find a parking spot easily. We walked to the stadium grounds. Unfortunately, the Pope was inside the stadium and we were outside so I couldn't see him personally. There was a large screen though so people can view at least from there.

I noticed that there were a lot of Chinese that day. I didn't know that there were many Chinese Catholics. And as I didn't exactly have a wonderful encounter with Chinese lately, I prepared myself for any upcoming brawl that might ensue in case they cross the line.


So there was a mass for an hour. I was concerned that Sean will get too bored so I asked him if we can go, but he insisted that we finish the ceremony. I knew that he was more concerned about me, and how important this mass was for me.


From afar, I tried to take photos of the Pope but didn't see him anymore. Despite not seeing him live in flesh, I was still happy that I was there standing in the same ground with him and if only for that my mission in Daejeon was accomplished.



***

Late afternoon Sean and I just ate some McDonalds and drove through KAIST University which is one of the best Engineering universities in Korea. Ans also a short visit to the techno park. I felt sleepy afterwards and opted to go back and take some rest at Sean's house.



In the evening, we met Sean's friend- David. David used to study in La Salle University in the Philippines so he knows a lot about my country. It was fun chatting with him as he seems very friendly like Sean. He's the more quiet type but I guess it comes with age since he is older than Sean. And I cannot forget about that deep voice of his. 

For dinner, we ate dakdoritang ( David mentioned to me that they now call the dish differently because it sounded Japanese. The only thing is I cannot recall the new name of dakdoritang ). It is a spicy dish made from chicken.


After the sumptuous dinner, we bought some beer, and headed home. Drank a few cans and went to sleep.


Day 7 - Gwangju

Today's Highlight:

Gwangju Food
Acapella Festival feat. Idea of the North

It's now time to say goodbye to Sean and David. It was a rather unforgettable experience in Daejeon. I am very lucky that I had the chance to see these amazing friends again. I was only too sad to leave but I am sure that we will see each other again some other time and I hope that next time I can return the favor that they extended to me.


Today's stop is in Gwangju... to be honest, I had no idea what and where Gwangju was. The only reason that I am going there is because my friend Ju Hyeong and Uju are there. But it was later that I found out Gwanju is home to some of Korea's most famous dishes, which I will have tried in the next few hours.

Going back to the train, it was a short ride from Daejeon. Less than an hour. So upon arrival at the station, I immediately saw Ju Hyeong at the arrival lobby. I was so ecstatic to see him albeit I came at a very busy period for him since he is organizing the acapella festival. After picking up the sound engineer from the hotel, we had our lunch.



And this is the part where I brag about the infamous Gwangju cuisine. It was excellente! Actually it was like dining in a fine restaurant where you get served nothing but the best. Simply memorable experience.

After lunch we drove to the hotel where I unpacked my bag and rested for a while. After a couple of hours, Ju Hyeong's fiancee came and picked me up for the acapella concert. 



The acapella concert featured groups from all over the world but the most important guests that night was the Idea of the North which is certified YouTube sensation. I especially liked their rendition of "Windmills of your mind". And to my surprise, Ju Hyeong gave me a copy of their CD which I got signed by the singers. Remarkable night it is.

Below you will find two songs that the group sang. The first was not during the concert but it was exactly the same quality we heard; the second was a recording that I made ( apology for the low quality coz I'm using a not so advanced phone ).






***

I was supposed to meet Uju that night since he was already back in Gwangju but we decided it's best to just postpone the meeting for tomorrow.


As for me, Ju Hyeong and his fiancee, we drove back to the hotel and left the car. Then we hailed a taxi and went out for some nice dinner.


Before going to bed, Ju Hyeong and I drank some beer. And as I promised to them, I taught a few salsa steps. And when we got tired, we lay flat on our beds. Dead asleep. It has been a very long today for all of us. But I was very happy.



Day 8 - Meeting Uju / Ulsan



Today's Highlight:
Meeting Uju and lunch 
Travel to Ulsan from Gwangju - approx. 3 hours
Ulsan Mountain Park


Uju is a friend I meet through one of my Communication subjects in Hallym. We were making a short film and Uju was our actor, who played as the middle aged Korean. And after that we became really close friends. One things that we liked together was cracking jokes non-stop, and I would always laugh whenever he tries to crack a joke because English was too difficult for him which made it even sound funnier. Nonetheless he was one of the best buddies I've met in Korea.

And so today I get to meet him again albeit just for a short time. Ju Hyeong drove me to the station where I met Uju. And after a few hi and hellos, we drove straight for brunch. This time it was hejangguk. 


For your info, this dish is usually eaten to aid hangover. But since I really like this soup it didn't matter if I have no hangover. Just keep eating.


Uju still continues to learn how to speak in English, so it was still not easy to converse but I pretty much understand what he tries to say everytime he tells of a story. I just laugh and keep all simple. It's just a shame that I couldn't spend too much time with him because I had to leave for Ulsan. He even paid for my ticket. 



***
On the Way to Ulsan


The clouds still looked gray and sad, foreboding showers in the land. My phone suddenly rings and it was Eunjeong. She used to be one of the coordinators for the Exchange students at Hallym University. Now I am coming to see her in Ulsan.

She was checking where I was, but since I have not the slightest idea where on Earth I was, I gave the phone to the person seated beside me. It took me almost 2 hours to get to Ulsan.


With my now heavy backpack, I waited at the lobby of the bus station. It was taking her some time to arrive so I thought I was in the wrong place, but when she appeared through the door then I felt some relief. It turned out that she was at the other side of the station.


So I left my backpack at the locker. It was late afternoon, the sky still gray. Kino and Jeenyong won't be able to make it today so Eunjeong and I went for a stroll at Ulsan's mountain park.



To be frank, I was very thankful to Eunjeong for showing me around the place. I'm sure that she was busy but she chose to spend some time with me. So we walked and walked, had a little catching up and listened to our stories. So many changes in our lives have happened... and in the end, we both agreed that it is wise to seize the day while we can; make the most out of your short lives.



In the evening, we had a special meal. It was a black pork barbeque all the way from Jeju Island. They have this notion in Korea that meat from the black pigs of Jeju are the best meat in the country. I've heard about that many times but this is the first time that I'll actually taste it. And well it was good- tasted like pork.


TIP: When eating barbeque, do not use your chopsticks to put meat into the fire. It is a very bad table manner. Only clamps should be used to move the meat.



It was already night when Kino showed up. We were at this pub drinking beer and later on playing darts. Kino looked, well tired. Probably because he just came from work and funeral. He wasn't really in the jovial mood, so I didn't push much effort to catch up with him. But he did get warmer later on. 

After three mugs of beer and pop corn I decided that it's already time to rest. Eunjeong's friends came over, and though it was still raining outside, Kino and I walked out and hailed a taxi to his house. 


I wanted to wash my shirt but Kino just gave me his shirt and made me leave my dirty shirt instead as exchange. Perhaps I was all too tired that after lying on that very comfortable mattress, I quickly fell asleep. The next thing I knew I was already rushing for the bus station to catch the first departure. The rain was pouring heavily and it did not help to uplift my mood. It was sad that I had to say goodbye to Kino this way.



Day 9 - Gangnam ( Overnight at G-Hostel )

Today's Highlight:
Meeting and lunch with Mr. Min
Dinner and tour with Hocheol

The bus left the station around 6:30am. My next appointment with Mr. Min Hyuk is around 9am. There was no way that I could make it, so I had to postpone after an hour. It takes around 3 hours from Ulsan to Seoul. It's a good thing that the drive was smooth. I got to the bus station before 10am. 

I wanted to buy some decent clothes because I didn't feel like my clothes were appropriate for a meeting with a company CEO. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any clothes shop so I resigned to the fact that I will be meeting Mr. Min looking all too shabby. 


He came in a taxi and with a smile we shook hands when I met him at the lobby of the bus station. His voice exactly the same as when we used to have our English classes via Skype. For lunch, we went to this restaurant which serves samgyetang. It is boiled chicken with Korean ginseng. Afterwhich, we had coffee at a nearby cafe. It was such a good time to see Mr. Min, although we were not able to drink soju together. Maybe we'll do that in another time.


So for the rest of the day, I am free. I took the subway to get to Itaewon where my next challenge is to find G Hostel. Itaewon by the way is famous for its expat community. So I wasn't very surprised when I found many nationalities in the area. Unlike Kimchee Hostel, G Hostel was easier to find ( though I got side tracked because I missed one sign ).



G Guesthouse is a cozy and cheap place to stay. For a backpacker like me, it is worth every penny. I like the rooms, service and the people in the house. It is clean and close to the subway station. What I find a bit inconvenient is the steep stairs. When you come from the outside, you will be met by the stairs. and when you go to your room you will have to climb the stairs. Apart from that, the place is okay.

I decided to rest for the remaining hours of the day. I just slept and when I got hungry I thought of going out. But another friend came out of the bleu. It was Hocheol, Kino's friend. He contacted me through facebook and he was free to meet up tonight. His house is pretty close by so we agreed to meet at 8pm.



I only met Hocheol once in Hallym, back when Kino took me with them for an outdoor camping. They didn't talk much English so I wasn't able to talk to Hocheol very much. But it was during the night when we all went to sleep. I was freezing cold and Hocheol was beside me. He said that I was freezing and they thought I was dead. And that sort of lasted in their memory.

Driving around Itaewon with Hocheol's car, we stopped by the bridge and park. We had some light chicken dinner. Afterwhich we went to the Mosque in Itaewon which really intrigued me since I didn't know that there were Muslims in Korea. Of course there should be Muslims in Korea but I didn't know that there was a mosque.



Day 10 - Chuncheon



Today's Highlight:
Hallym University in Chuncheon - approx. 2 hours from Seoul
Meeting film director Hong Min Park


After breakfast at the guest house, I set out to travel to Chuncheon. Before you can reach Chuncheon by bus or by the regular train that stops at Cheongnyangni. But now there's a direct subway line to Chuncheon that passes through Gapyeong. 

It was my first time to travel to Chuncheon via subway so I was so amazed by the views that we passed through- green mountains, deep rivers, rich fields... It was such a sight which really delighted my eyes.


Today I am scheduled to meet Gwajangnim. He is the director of the International Student Affairs. Back in 2013, I met him in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during their conference. Funny that I would be meeting him again in 2014.



So soon as I got off the train station, I saw him there at the exit. We hugged and said our hi's and hello's. It was certainly lovely to see gwajangnim again. And when we walked out of the station, the memory came floodig in. Chuncheon and Hallym University. It felt weird that I would be coming back again after 7 long years. 

There was both excitement but at the same time sadness. Most of my happy memories were spent with people who no longer exists in the universe of Hallym. All of them have already started new chapters in their lives. All that was remaining are the buildings and the memories.



Gwajangnim toured me around the campus. A lot have changed since 2008. The International Student Center has been refurbished. There were more statues now. The lobby in the International Center was also finished and looked really chic. A new dormitory has emerged ( more pricey than the old ones ). And most of all, there is a new gym with swimming pool. I would love to study in Hallym again.

We also passed by the HID but it was closed. Sem's on break so all staff are gone for vacation.


For lunch, we had dakkalbi, the famous chicken in Chuncheon. And I really missed this food a lot. Back in 2007, we eat this food every week that I got so fed up with it. But years of not eating made me crave for it so much. And normally you eat this good food with soju. Ah, it was heaven.



***


I met another Hallym classmate in the afternoon, Hong Min Park. He used to be a classmate in film ( the same class where Uju was the actor ). 

And he is such a brilliant guy. His recent film started winning awards from International Competition. But it was mostly his principle that awed me. He said that he writes stories in order to expose social injustices and he intends to do so in the coming years. He's currently writing his new script for a commercial client but wanted to keep the social relevance in the plot.


When he is not editing or writing scripts, he usually collects board games; or sometimes sell or trade these board games. 





Day 11 - Jake and Shiny


Today's Highlight:
Kyobo Bookstore
Dinner with Jake and Shiny

Today I set out to buy some books at Kyobo Bookstore.

TIP: Kyobo Bookstore is the largest in Korea. So if you are planning to buy some books, it's a good idea to have a list with you. They have a functioning computer unit for book inventory which will help you find your items.

My former colleague Judith asked me to buy some English books for their new company. So I had a list with me, the only problem was that not all books I have in my list are available. So I had to circumnavigate the shelves once, twice and sometimes thrice. The sales personnel were very helpful as well.

There is an inhouse package delivery counter in Kyobo. So after paying for the books, I went to the packaging counter and sent my items to the Philippines. After three days, Judith received the books. I am just amazed how South Korea is such an efficient country, that everything is fast.


***

In the afternoon I met Jake and this time with Shiny. 



Jake and Shiny are two good friends back in the Philippines. Jake used to be the assistant manager at the Korean English center I worked for in 2007. While Shiny used to be student ( we often studied the book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" ).


Jake now works for a construction company. He came to our meeting still wearing his corporate clothes. Shiny works as an English tutor to elementary and high school students. She said that she's planning to travel somewhere soon.

Both are still single, and the topic of getting married and finding the perfect partner was the center of discussion. Every time Shiny would claim that she has a boyfriend, Jake and I would only stare into blankness... and Shiny would be like "What?" And that would be enough to make us laugh too hard. 

But of course the food that night- samgyeopsal of infinite proportion I swear I've had enough fill for half a year. There was too much food, too much pork which I have not eaten in Oman. The night was capped with a cup of coffee, just like the old times in Don Antonio Village when we would go to Starbucks in evenings.

So after saying goodbye to Shiny, I left with Jake. Original plan was to sleep in his friend's apartment. This will be the last time I would probably see him again so I decided to come. But surprise, surprise when we arrived in the flat- someone was already there. Turned out that Jake's friend let another friend to sleep there.

In the end, I had to take a cab and go back to my hostel to spend the night.

Day 12 - Jahyun and Sunny

Today's Highlight:
Insadong
Dinner with Sunny and Jahyun

This is the last day of my short stay in Korea. It is but sad that I am to leave the next day. It felt like I just arrived. My vacation has been so wonderful that I couldn't ask for anything anymore. My goal of coming back after 7 years has been accomplished.

But just before I left Korea, I met up with two girls I was very fond with back in Hallym University- Sunny and Jahyun.


It was late afternoon when I met Sunny. I was in front of this old park when she approached me. She was still the same Sunny.. funny and really easy to get along with. She talks fast and keeps laughing every now and then. I couldn't help but laugh with her. She took me to Insadong where I bought some of my souvenirs. 

There was this candy stand though which was cunning. It started greeting me in my local language Tagalog and then he started weaving the candy into smaller strands and to make the long story short- made me buy the $5.00 candy which I didn't even eat.

TIP: Avoid compulsive buying when backpacking ( unless you can afford it ).


For dinner we had gopchang, a cuisine made of pork intestines. It was the best way to end my stay in Korea. In the Philippines, we call this isaw and it is a big favorite for us Filipinos. So when Sunny brought me here, I was only too happy. By this time, Jahyun already joined us. 

Jahyun has grown to be a fine lady now. She is more matured but her manners are still the same shy Jahyun I remembered long ago. We still joked and we laughed about the most silliest things. 

But it was the desert that was the highlight of the night. We were seated in this traditional cafe enjoying our ice cream, when out of the blue Jahyun brought up the topic of our love interests back in the university and below was a close transcription:
Jahyun : So, tell me who was your crush back in the university?Me : You ( then continued to scoop the ice cream )Jahyun : Really? But why didn't you tell me back then?Me : I did tell you but you were probably too busy to even notice...Jahyun : ( Silent )Me : It's okay. It's better this way. At least we can eat ice cream, with no drama... ( finishes the ice cream and flashes the friend a big smile ). And what about you Sunny? Who was your crush back then?Sunny : ( Laughs ) You...Me : Good. 
It was very high school-ish but it made us amused to learn alll about these things. We are older and more mature and we can talk about these things.

Later on we walked a little and finally said our goodbyes. Just like the other good friends I met earlier, it is uncertain when I will see them again or if I'll see them ever.

Day 13 - Departure to Singapore via Air Asia


It was probably because of exhaustion that I woke up really late today. My flight leaves around 9am so I had to leave my hostel by at least 6am, but I left at 7am. And the subway takes 1 hour to get to the airport. 

As if the universe has conspired to get me late, there were too many people in the immigration and my counter is still at the far end of the world! I still had to use the train to get to the gate. So pumped up with adrenaline, I ran as if I was a contestant in a marathon.

The immigration itself had to delay me because my bag contained liquid which was not allowed. So I had to pull out all my stuff inside the back pack and find that damn liquid, which I suppose was my toner or gargle. When the security realized that I am going to be left by my flight he just let me go. Out of sheer desperation, when I saw the long queue at the immigration counter I came to the first person in line and beg that I go first because my flight is leaving. Annoyed as he was, he just let me go first.

I was a complete image of disaster. My backpack was not zipped and tied properly due to rush. An old lady called my attention and told me that my bag was open. But with nothing else on my mind, I tried to zip the bag while running.

And what a nightmare it was when I saw that there were 3 floors that I had to climb to reach the train platform. But it was a do or die, so I ran and ran not feeling anything despite carrying a now heavier backpack because of the many stuff I received and bought. When I reached the last floor, the train came in exactly ( the problem was I didn't know which train to take or where it was going ). I took the risk and jumped to that train.

Luckily it headed straight to my gate building. 

TIP: If you are on a budget airline like Air Asia, give yourself ample time to reach the gate because most likely it will be at the very last gate.

And so I still ran. I kept running like crazy. I got into the gate just in time, my head is now dizzy from exhaustion.

So I told myself that NEVER again will I be late for flights. #



Summary of TIPS

TIP 1: If you only have a backpack, hand carry it so you don't have to wait for the conveyor belt.

TIP 2: Although most Koreans speak English, many are still hesitant to talk with foreign people. Perhaps due to fear of losing one's face. So better make sure that if your map fails, have an alternative plan like mobile GPS.

TIP 3: Korean taxi drivers do not speak English much so be sure to have the hostel's address with you, so you can show to the driver. They have GPS and they can surely find where you want to go.

TIP 4: Remember to bring a small handy flashlight in your pocket or backpack. It will save you all the trouble of trying to light your phone every 2 minutes or so.

TIP 5: When in a foreign land, make sure to spot the best person who can give you vital information- this is necessary for survival.

TIP 6: Korean people are very kind, so you can ask for assistance and most likely they will be glad to help you. In my case, I needed to call someone and use a phone. And since there's no pay phone in sight, the next best thing to do is to use the stranger's phone.

TIP 7: Though you may not be a duck fan, I really recommend the dish. It tastes like chicken but healthier and less oily.

TIP 8: There are many restaurants around Kimchee Hostel, so you need not fret if you feel hungry. And don't worry, the menu's have English text. But if anything else fails, just point to the picture of the food. :)

TIP 9: Most Korean food is spicy so make sure that you have no allergy to anything spicy.

TIP 10: When eating barbeque, do not use your chopsticks to put meat into the fire. It is a very bad table manner. Only clamps should be used to move the meat.

TIP 11: Kyobo Bookstore is the largest in Korea. So if you are planning to buy some books, it's a good idea to have a list with you. They have a functioning computer unit for book inventory which will help you find your items.

TIP 12: If you are on a budget airline like Air Asia, give yourself ample time to reach the gate because most likely it will be at the very last gate.






End of my Korean sojourn.



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