Thomas Ross Hallock

Asia 2012 – Part 3 – Getting to Seoul

This is part three of my Asia 2012 trip report. This post covers September 16th. Start with Part 1 if you want the whole story.

The flight to Seoul was about two hours; a quick hop compared to my flight from NYC. I didn’t have much time to plan and research for this trip, and one of the false assumptions that I made about Korea was that getting a prepaid wireless voice and data 3G sim card would be a non-issue. You see, everybody knows that South Korea is the most wired country in the world because they skipped the whole plain old telephone service thing and went straight to broadband internet and smartphones. However, the Korean government requires that everyone in the country accessing the internet be associated with a resident registration number, which is fine if you are a citizen, but if you are a clueless tourist, you are kind of out of luck. There are ways to get cellphone service if you are a foreigner, but those ways take a bit of preparation and paperwork, and the processing time takes longer the duration of my visit…. so lesson learned. I’ll be prepared for this next time I visit Korea. For the meantime, I relied on accessing random open WiFi signals, of which there are many, so I wasn’t completely out of luck.

The first order of business was to get in contact with my host, whom I met through Couchsurfing.org. Using the free WiFi at Incheon Airport, we communicated over email, and arranged to meet at the coffee shop outside of the train station in her neighborhood. Her name is Hye Yoon (or “Hellen” for westerners), and she lives with her sister and her sister’s husband. It was great to finally meet a local of the area that could explain how things work, and take me places without getting lost somewhere in-between point A and B.

As much as I wanted to be able to start exploring the city, I was completely exhausted after my intercontinental flight and pulling an all-nighter in Tokyo, so the only thing I wanted to do was to sleep for about a solid day, so she took me to her house and there I slept for the rest of the day, and the rest of the night, with the exception of waking for an hour at about midnight to visit with Hye Yoon and her sister. I had some of their left over rice with sweet potato and pork bellies for a midnight snack. This was my first experience Couchsurfing even though I’ve been hosting people at my apartment for almost two years. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to visit more with them, as they were so welcoming and eager to share and talk about anything American or Korean. Hye Yoon proudly showed me that she had read the complete set of Mark Twain’s travelogues, all in Korean, and had plotted the whole thing on a map of the USA. I was blown away and in my tired stooper, might have responded with something about how much I like the fried chicken from Kyo-Chon in a vein attempt to reciprocate the cultural courtesy.

I woke refreshed the next morning and was ready to see Seoul. It was Monday and a monsoon would be sweeping through the city for the entire day. I met Hye Yoon in the kitchen as she was leaving for work and we headed out together to the bus stop. A Korean friend / coworker back in NYC suggested that with all the rain I explore the giant COEX shopping mall in Gangnam, so that would be my first destination of the day.

Continue to part 4…

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