When people ask me “Why South Korea?” or why anywhere, I can’t give an answer. It’s almost like drawing a name out of a hat, or even better, a puzzle piece from a bag. I never had the patience for puzzles as a kid. But the world is a puzzle that I’m deeply vested in. Anywhere works for me as long as I feel the grand picture becoming sharper. I will admit though that I was in the mood for Asia. My most recent trips were to Europe, and Africa and South America before those. Australia is on the list but when I travel I usually knock out at least 2 countries. I like to get the most out of my outbounds overseas. Australia and New Zealand or anywhere else in the south pacific would’ve been over my budget, even with my tricks on finding cheap airfare. This was a small whisper to peel eyes toward Asia. Choosing the second country was more of a choice than leaving it was a draw. Korea's history is saturated in westernization. I wanted to fly somewhere where not too far but give me contrast to the americanization of Korea. Taiwan, China, Japan and the Philippines were all close by. I have heard stories about the Philippines and what its natural wonders offer. I'm looking for third world - dirt roads and make shift vehicles, villages, views of rice fields and get to learn how to make rice....the choice for my second country was clear. And it was cheaper than the other options. This way I get to try Korean barbecue, Filippino cuisines and stay under fair budget.
As soon as I landed, my patience was tested. You see, I am a lover of sweets. Swedish fish, cotton candy, sour gummy worms - in other words, 27 cavities later I still haven’t learned my lesson. I landed and had a taste for something chewy. Outside of airport customs were these little shops and restaurants where I knew I could get my kick. But the cashier’s hesitation after I handed him my card turned me sour…
One tip that I’ll be sure to include in my travel tips section of my webpage is that you need to make sure to have a travel friendly bank/card. The bank that I had during this trip was Southeast Financial Credit Union. Before I travel to a foreign country I give the bank notice of which countries I’ll be visiting and the duration. But for whatever reason they block my card every time I travel. And when I manage to get a hold of my bank, the unblock only lasts for 24 hours. For the last 6 countries they have provided me with financial hurdles. No matter what I do, they block my card for fraud and I get stuck on the phone for 30 minutes to an hour trying to tell them to unblock it so I can get money out of the ATM. This is the most frustrating thing that can happen when traveling. To be miles away from home without access to funds is truly a nightmare and can be dangerous if you can’t get in contact with your bank. Southeast Financial Credit Union fails to provide me with a valid reason as to why my card gets blocked every time I travel even though I give them notice. Thankfully, I have left that wretched dumpster they call a bank and switched to Capital One. So far they haven’t given me any problems. The next country I will visit is Haiti in December. I want to provide the world with all the tools necessary to make international travel easier, safer and affordable - which is why I will be sure to leave a blog entry of my experience banking and traveling with them.
It is also important to have an international friendly SIM card or phone service provider. I was with Verizon for several years. But their service features simply did not justify their cost for a single line. After shopping around for other providers and comparing all of them, T-Mobile had a feature that I found to be the most beneficial to me. Their unlimited plan, which goes for roughly $60 after tax, includes unlimited international data. I was skeptical about this at first and wasn’t sure if it was true. And if it was true, perhaps the service is spotty and far between. Considering that T-Mobile would nearly chop off a third of my bill with Verizon, I decided to gamble. I am thankful I made the switch. I had signal just about everywhere I ventured. Posting to Instagram and Facebook worked fine and with the same amount of speed as I get at home in the States. The service can be very slow outside of metropolitan areas. Phone calls (via internet applications) were clean. And there weren’t any fees that popped up on my billing cycle when returned home. I was thoroughly impressed. I didn’t have to rush to a café to get Wi-Fi in order to call my bank. T-Mobile made life much easier for me. If you are a traveler, I would definitely recommend switching to T-Mobile’s unlimited plan.
($350 USD = 370,000 Korean Won after ATM and fees)
After I was able to get money out of the ATM at the airport, I caught a train from Incheon International Airport to Seoul Main Station for the equivalent of $7USD. Incheon sits on an island about an hour's train ride outside of Seoul. When I arrived at the Seoul Main Station it took me a while to figure out if I needed to take a taxi, Uber or the subway to get to my hostel. Since I wasn’t familiar with the map of the city, the best bet was to hire a taxi. In Seoul, Uber’s can sometimes cost more than taxi’s. My ride to my hostel via Uber was nearly double what the taxi driver offered me. I paid her l0,000 won or about 9 bucks to take me 20 mins to my hostel. Not bad.
Seoul is huge. It is brightly lit with neon and decorated with stores, outlets and restaurants. Very metropolitan like New York’s time’s square but much cleaner and not as clustered. Kinda like a really laid back cousin of Tokyo. All the smells made me hungry. I was seeing noodle restaurants, even Popeyes. But God forbid I flew 7,000 miles for anything American. My hostel was a guesthouse. Small and quaint. As I said in my last entry, I tend to suffer from a bit of anxiety when I arrive. I have to hit the town or I'll begin to feel as if my time is being wasted. I met a nice lady, Putri (Indonesian for princess), from Indonesia who was looking to get out for the evening as well. We agreed on Korean barbecue.
Something to note while enjoying Korean eating is that it is common to eat with another person or with a group. Dining is a communal activity. Eating alone is uncommon. Dining is also where culture gets a bit technical. Never pour your own drinks. Someone else must pour your alcoholic beverages. And when he pours, he will do it with both hands. To respectfully accept, hold the cup in one hand and place the wrist that is holding the cup in the other hand. Then you pour his. It was simple when it was explained to me but it’s quite easy to forget to apply it. I caught myself reaching for the bottle several times and only pouring with one hand and pouring for myself. It is a tradition I would have to get used to.
The Korean barbecue was tasty. With a stove in the center of the table you cook the meat of your choice. In this case we chose pork. The lettuce acts as the wrap in which you put your cooked meat, kimchi (season salted and fermented cabbage) pajeori (green onion salad), chili sauce, garlic, and a few other vegetables. Together these make a tasty Korean lettuce wrap. This is rich in flavor and is not too heavy. It’s $10 USD well spent.
After dinner we walked around the area of Mapo Gu which is where most of the youths hang out. It’s an area filled with students because of the university nearby. One can find tons of places to eat, drink, dance, and shop. There’s tons of nighttime entertainment. Street performers are abundant like in New York. I had the chance to engage a crowd. A street performer pulled me in. I didn’t have much of a choice. I did a little jig, nothing extraordinary. An applause let me know I gave the kids what they wanted. Unfortunately the performer pull me in so fast i didn't have a second to tell Putri or Louis to catch it on my camera. But the memory is still there.
We stumbled upon a tri-level arcade. It reminded me of the arcades you would see in Tokyo. Large spaces with lots of racing games, games with prizes, and Dance Dance Revolution. I consider myself one who can hold his own in Dance Dance Revolution. I had to indulge. But I didn’t catch that the arrows were not up and down and side to side. Instead, the arrows were all diagonal, which threw me off. And what made it worse was that Louis had the nerve to set the difficulty to the max as if I was the one who invented the game. He learned quickly that my street dance moves don’t translate equally to this game.
Across the street was a café that had pastries I was dying to try. Blueberry cream cake. Let the record state that the cake was beyond exceptional. It was the perfect cake. Texture, level of sweetness, flavor intensity and all. Perfect I say. I’m angry I ate it before I took a picture. As the itis set in and Dance Dance Revolution and the blueberry cream cake, Putri, whose profession involves interpreting calligraphy, decided to give us a reading. (Refer to the video above)
Because I work in the night scene as a DJ in Nashville, I have grown somewhat numb to clubs and loud music (unless they play Michael Jackson or Bruno). Having helped to coordinate DJ parties for the better part of 2 years, when I walk into a club with a mediocre sound system, lighting rig, or DJ that plays to himself instead of the crowd, I have already made a list of things that would make the entire venue a better attraction. I also feel that very few places do it correctly. Dance music is popular among club scenes across the globe. It almost seems like a go-to for most venues. Top 40 is thrown in here and there but only to keep the DJ’s up to date instead of the rhythm alive. As you might observe, I’m very critical when it comes to nightclub scenes. Which is why I turned down waiting in line for Cocoon, a popular nightclub in Hong Dae. Instead we continued to Thursday party, which was only a block away. Thursday Party is a fun place to have drinks with friends and play a few rounds of foosball or darts. It is a youth oriented environment due to its proximity to the university. But there is no cover to get in. Drinks are made well. And the atmosphere is welcoming. We ended up spending the majority of our night here. It was a great closer for the night. It was 4am by the time I reached the hostel. It's 3 hours of sleep before the next thing on the agenda - Gyongbokgung.