Thomas Ross Hallock

Asia 2012 – Part 6 – Surfing Itaewon, American style

This post covers September 18 and 19th of my 2012 trip to Asia. Start with Part 1 if you want the whole story.

I got back to Seoul from the DMZ at about 5:30 on Tuesday, and it was time to get in contact with the next host from CouchSurfing. His name is Tim and he lives in Itaewon, Seoul’s official “international district.” I’ve also heard Itaewon referred to as a foreigner slum, a red light district for the nearby United States military base, and an easy place to meet attractive Korean women who prefer westerners. Tim, like just about anyone in Korea that speaks fluent English, teaches English to Koreans for a living. I was eager to get a first-hand perspective of the expatriate, English-teaching lifestyle, since at times I’ve considered doing it for a year just for the experience.

I would be arriving at Tim’s apartment while he was at work. He said the door to the building was open and gave me the code to his digital door lock. Every residence in South Korea has a digital door lock; nobody uses keys. Often people don’t even lock the door to their apartment. It took a long while to find his apartment; I circled his block several times trying to figure out what I misunderstood in the directions and address he gave. I found his street, and I found the apartment with the number he gave, but the people inside didn’t know anything about “Tim” or anything about “Couchsurfing”. After several messages sent back and forth through Kakotalk over a random WiFi signal around the corner, Tim described in detail the façade of his apartment building. I correctly identified the building, but it was most certainly not at the address he gave. It turns out that Seoul will occasionally rename streets and renumber buildings in its chaotic network of streets, and Tim’s apartment fell victim to this practice just a week prior. How is that supposed to be okay, Seoul‽ I’m still appalled two weeks later.

I was completely exhausted by the time I entered Tim’s apartment, so I passed out on his couch for several hours. I woke startled when Tim came home and the two of us experienced a classic CouchSurfing moment: a guy comes home to his apartment to find a semi-stranger passed out on his couch, and while initially confused and startled, the two immediately strike up a conversation about everything ranging from living abroad to the virtues of eating enough protein.

Tim was a great host. He took me to a local outdoor Korean BBQ joint around the corner, where we ate korean bacon and talked about all sorts of things. My take-away was that teaching English abroad would have been an awesome thing to do right out of college, but the opportunity cost of doing so now would be too high… besides, I suspect that web application developers are going to become increasingly in-demand in South Korea over the next few years.

On the way back to his apartment, Tim introduced me to the mind-blowing selection of frozen ice cream cones that are available at every bodega in the country. I should have taken a picture.

On Tim’s recommendation, the next day I went for a hike up the hill neighboring Itaewon to get to N Seoul Tower. The tower offered an amazing 360 degree view of the entire city of Seoul. Here’s a photo of a photo of some of the wildlife I might have seen on the hike, had I been more observant:

This would be my last day in Seoul. A few hours later, I would be riding the KTX to Pohang to visit my friend Sirena / Hojeong Yun, whom I hosted in my apartment in NYC a couple of times last year.

On my way to the train station in Itaewon, I came across the tallest pair of size 32 jeans I’ve ever seen: they had a size 38 inseam! I never thought I would see that in Korea of all places. The shopkeeper let me photograph the label, but insisted that she cover up her shop’s name in Hangul on the tag.

Continue to part 7…

2 thoughts on “Asia 2012 – Part 6 – Surfing Itaewon, American style

  1. Waciuma

    Wait, she didn’t want the free advertising? A photo on the internet that says nothing more than, “Tall, skinny people! Shop here!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *