When my brother announced that he would be paying a visit to South Korea in September, it seemed like our one and only opportunity to do some world traveling together, even if it could only be for a few days. I arrived at the Incheon Airport early Friday morning, and the (mis)adventures began.
I was armed with a bus number, hotel destination, newly exchanged money (won), and the look of an experienced traveler (ha!). Despite the fact that nearly all of the airport personnel had a passable level of English, they all told me - with emphatic hand gestures - that neither my bus number or destination existed. Puzzle. Finally, a helpful woman directed me toward a special desk for military personnel since I'd mentioned that I was going to a military base. On the way to the desk, I was intercepted by a kind-looking, elderly gentleman. Battle-weary from my own experiences with unsolicited help in Jakarta and just plain weary from looking for ground transportation that didn't exist, I gave the man a wide-berth to try to dodge his advance. As it turned out, though, the man was as kind and genuine as he looked. He set me up on military transport to the base (for free!), and then chatted me up about his experience in Ohio many years ago for pilot training. I decided it was best to look for cute, elderly men when in distress.
First on my agenda was to meet up with a former boss who happened to be stationed in Seoul, so I left my brother and went walking around the base to find the USO, which I thoughts was near by our hotel. Wrong. After walking in circles - safe circles, obeying the Walk/Don't Walk signs - I finally learned I needed to get in a taxi to reach my destination. The scenery outside my taxi window transformed very quickly from America to Korea as we entered streets lined with Korean signs and heavy traffic. I found my former boss and enjoyed a traditional meal with him and his staff to celebrate his retirement from the Foreign Service. When we wrapped up, I climbed back into a taxi and directed the driver to the military base. He did not know the base name or any English at all. Since I knew equally as much Korean, I could see this was going to be a problem. Remarkably, the driver drove to the American Embassy and found a random Korean man who just happened to be bilingual. We made it back to the base, where I then learned that I couldn't actually get on base without Michael. Another hour and taxi ride later, my brother collected me at a different gate. We decided it would be best for me not to leave base without him again.
Gyeonbokgung Palace, an immense palace built in 1395 that was set just on the edge of the city. The palace, complete with over 7,700 receiving halls and concubine rooms, had been destroyed during the Japanese occupation and is still being restored to this day. After we climbed out of the taxi to enter the palace, Mike realized that his cell phone was no longer in his possession. Helpless to track down our orange taxi...one of thousands just like it...we continued on to the palace. We decided it would be better for us to not leave our cell phones in taxis.
|We decided Mike should be shorter.|
We made it back to the hotel without losing anything or ourselves. That evening's events went like this:
1). Tell the front desk staff what happened with the phone. They give us a taxi number to call.
2). Report the missing phone to the taxi company, that we think might be the same company we rode in.
3). Try to call Mike's phone from my cell and cannot connect.
4). Download special software to my cell so we can reach Karrie in Virginia.
5). Get through to Karrie to tell her what happened.
6). Karrie calls Mike's phone and has the following conversation with the cabby:
"No Ingrish! No Ingrish!"
7). Mike and Jackie run to the front desk to find a bilingual person to help talk with cabby.
8). Learn that front desk cannot make international calls.
9). Purchase international calling card.
10). Purchase the right international calling card.
11). Try 10 to 15 combinations of international phone codes.
12). Hotel staff reaches cabby!
13). Cabby negotiates for a returner's fee.
14). Fee agreed upon and cabby is directed to bring the phone to the hotel.
15). An hour later, Mike is reunited with the phone.
16). We decide that the hotel staff and Koreans in general are awesome.
|View of the city from the lower-base of the tower.|
|The tower area was surrounded by fence on which visitors put locks to symbolize their love for their significant other.|
|No, you are, Seoul.|
Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, Mike and I were still able to explore a new city and even learn a little bit about its culture, history, and people. Its organization and gracious people were both very forgiving to two bumbling tourists such as ourselves. In the short, two-day visit, the city left a warm impression on our hearts, and we decided - despite our inadequacy as travelers - that we should come back again some day.