Last time I wrote about my experiences with the dark side of Seoul. This time I will pick up where I left off to share some my more inspirational experiences in South Korea’s capital, especially within the scenic Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을 (Hanja: 北村韓屋마을).
Today the weather changed. Rain has given way to light snow, strong winds, and subarctic temperatures. Gusts of up to 60 km/h have rattled windows and knocked over street furniture. After drying my shoes from the previous night’s misadventures I left my hostel for Insadong, intent on grabbing a hearty breakfast, but as the minutes began to drag I only allowed myself time to grab one of those delicious mung bean pancakes and a coffee. I didn’t know it at the time but I was bound for one of the darker parts of Seoul.
Monday, my third day in Seoul, was a series of accidental misadventures and surprise insights. Despite the intensive scheduling of the previous day, much of what transpired was entirely unplanned. I woke up late and went to cash a bunch of traveller’s cheques that I had originally purchased for emergency use in India. It seemed like a simple enough task but it was anything but. I visited nearby Woori Bank where I was told to wait for a teller in the business section. I languished in a chair for a half hour with only a single person in front of me, a woman. The customers already being served by the tellers were taking their sweet time for no reason that I could discern. I waited patiently, not knowing what to make of it.
My time in Seoul has been far more hospitable thanks to the assistance of a family friend, Ellen, who teaches English here. I am extremely grateful that we met in this distant land. It is one thing to have a local guide to show you around and another thing entirely to have someone from your own culture who really understands your motivations for travel. It isn’t simply that we communicate well, though we do—she also gets my travelling style in a way that most people wouldn’t, not without a great deal of explanation.
Seoul is a fantastic change of scenery after the many challenges of Thailand. My experience here in South Korea has been fantastic from the very moment I stepped off the plane. The airport is extremely well-organized and connected to downtown Seoul by rail. I spent all of $3 to get downtown and transferred to the appropriate subway line to reach my hostel without mishap.
The following post is an edited version of a series of letters I sent home to friends and family in Canada while visiting Hong Kong in January 2012. They are presented here as a series of disjointed vignettes that range from the mundane to the profound.
I have arrived in Hong Kong, setting foot in Asia for the first time in my life. I am now safely ensconced in the lovely little flat in the heart of Mong Kok I rented via Airbnb. It is a nice enough place, not too expensive, and seemingly authentic, though I wouldn’t know the difference. There is no lift in the building; it is eight flights straight up the open concrete stairwell from the bustling streets with two flats on either side of every floor. Though sparsely furnished my room emanates something of the style of In The Mood For Love, one of my favourite films set in Hong Kong, and I immediately feel strangely, suspiciously at home despite being so far from it.