seoul

Travel Advisories

Seoul Incheon International Airport

Seoul Incheon International Airport

My last trip to Asia was fun. But there is a ton that was hidden from the camera. This last trip really put me through the ringer. I just wish my luck worked this well on lottery tickets.

My first mistake on this journey was not taking my own damn advice - give yourself time! Everyday something was on the itinerary. There was no breathing room whatsoever. Since one of my many rules when traveling is to never visit the same place more than once, I wanted to make sure I could do as much as possible. I consider myself to be very disciplined to handle this back to back scheduling but it hurt me in the end. Museums, DMZ tour, temples, markets, fly out early in the morning to Manila, take a 10 hour bus to Banaue...bam bam bam. I mean it just kept going. I even had to cut short my amazing dinner with my friend Che whom I hadn't seen in years because I failed to give myself considerable time to catch the next flight out to Manila. But one must remember

 

Give yourself time

You haven't seen the world, yet you're still alive.  You're not going to die if you don't see everything. Enjoy the moment. Traveling like a contestant on the Amazing Race can really suck out what you're supposed to take in. 

 


Xochilimilco canals where I found pulque cursed by Montezuma!

Xochilimilco canals where I found pulque cursed by Montezuma!

The other part that made this trip the hardest journey in my life is that I caught a vile stomach bug from the underworld. And this is not the first time. I first caught one in Mexico. I was on a row boat in city called Xochimilco, México just 30 mins outside of Mexico City. On the banks there were farmers selling a drink made from a Maguey plant that is native to Mexico called Pulque. I had it a few days before and knew that I wanted more before catching my flight back to Nashville. Heartburn, sulphuric burbs, paralyzing cramps and violent hacking in the toilet the next morning before my flight almost made me miss the plane. I'll never forget it because Lauryn Hill was playing at the Ryman Auditorium downtown the night I returned. I was with my mom and started feeling better because I refused to eat anything. As I grew hungry I decided to risk it with a hotdog. Then that dreadful curse reminded me that it wasn't just a dream. It must have been the pulque that I got off the banks in Xochimilco. The farmer must have used local water to make that batch. That was the only unprocessed fluid I ingested. I ended up having to see a doctor to get it taken care of. Most Americans and Europeans are not used to non processed water. So water from naturally occurring sources can really harm us if we are not careful.

 

Similar story in the Philippines except it was rice wine from a local village that did the damage. Local water is used in the fermentation process. You'd think I'd have learned from the first experience but as one who's trying all kinds of different foods and fruits and exotic flavors, it's easy to forget. I say all this to say that

 

If you don't know where it came from, don't drink it. 

 

Sometimes other countries don't have strict rules about prescription antibiotics and you can find them at a local pharmacy. In my case the pharmacist in Banaue, Philippines gave me what I needed right away. But I wouldn't ever risk that again. I imagine it's possible for certain places to not be as willing to give them out or to not have exactly what it is you need. Since my doctor knows that I travel, he gives me emergency antibiotics to have available in case situations like these ever occur. Stomach bugs are no joke. So it's a good idea to be medically prepared.  And that's the next travel tip...


 

be medically prepared before you leave. 

 

Another hurdle that I encountered during my return flight from Seoul to Nashville was a sinus infection. I know right!!!! I told you this trip was rough. I was so congested that my ears wouldn't equalize to the cabin pressure. One ear in particular felt like it was going to explode. I  thought I needed to go to the hospital. When I landed in Seoul from Manila I told the nearest taxi driver to take me to the hospital. I didn't care what it cost cause I was in so much pain. I got to the hospital and I couldn't get fixed cause it was unbelievably expensive. 500 USD to be seen. 500 USD to get treatment. 1000 USD total to fix my ear before my outbound flight to Nashville. I wasn't prepared for that so I was on the verge of tears. But there was good news. Turned out that there was an emergency clinic on the bottom level of the Seoul airport. I wish I had known before paying the taxi driver 200 USD to take me to the hospital. I'm still sour as hell about that. I got to the clinic in the airport and the doctor checked out my ear and was like whoaaaa!! My eardrum was severely bulged like a balloon and full of fluid. She gave me antibiotics and a steroid to reduce swelling. She said in 24 hours I should be ok to fly. My flight was in 12. Oye! Total clinic cost 36 USD. Better than 1000 the hospital was asking for.

 

Because I also experienced this, my doctor prescribes me nasil steroids and antibiotics to alleviate any symptoms of sinus infection. This as well as Aphrin, an over the counter nasil antihistamine, solves the problem. I can say for certain that this works because on my last flight to Haiti in December I had a sinus infection and the steroids and Aphrin helped to allow my ears adjust to the cabin pressure. 

 

Talk to your doctor to see if they can help you get antidiarrheal tablets, antibiotics, and inflammatory steroids. These are a good first aid. Aphrin is available over the counter at most pharmacies. 

 

Seoul Part 2

The morning was cool. Empty. People don't seem to move in the streets before 0600. However the subway was busy. A woman by the subway entrance 200 meters from my hostel was selling 2,000 won sushi. The spontaneous breakfast was super tasty. It was warm and fresh and filling. Best 1.80 USD I spent.

 

The subway has a fluidity to it. Everyone moves in unison. Seoul moves like an organism. Everyone seemed sorta drone-like. People seem to line up in an orderly manner when boarding the train car. And the car is silent from people fiddling with their devices. Hypnotized by their gadgets. However, I'd say this is quite normal behavior these days. What is really impressive is how Seoul's subways are impressively clean and well kept. If you refer to the video you may notice that the floors and walls are white. The floors are free of shoe marks. Free from stains and signs of wear. It's evident that Seoul takes great care of its infrastructure.

I arrived at Gyeongbokgung palace 2 hours earlier than opening time. Palace hours are 09:00-18:00. As a lover of food, I decided to venture around the city and see what I can try. A decided to ask a stranger for some help - perhaps she could point me in the right direction. She knew no English. My Korean vocabulary was only comprised of thank you and hello. The Converse app is my go to when trying to communicate. This is another reason why having international coverage is extremely helpful. No wifi necessary to translate that I would like to find a place that serves traditional Korean food. A 15 minute walk led us to a place I cannot pronounce. But the long line outside made me curious. This is actually an exception to one of my rules - I tend to avoid places with trip advisor stickers  because it robs the place of its authenticity (or at least that's how I feel). When I know that a location is a common tourist spot I tend to steer in a different direction. But after the kind lady walked all this way I disregarded those green stickers.

 

Mugyodong pollack soup. Their signature soup is what I everyone seemed to be ordering. You usually can have it cooked with your choice of seafood chicken or pork. Condiments at the table are there for you to design the taste to your liking.  Make it as spicy or salty as you wish. I've noticed that the same condiments are common in every other restaurant I had visited. Kimchee, pajeori, and chili suace are available with every meal. It was tasty and filling. In fact I was already full from the sushi I had earlier in the morning but the soup was still delicious. 

 

09:30. 8 USD gets you pass to 5 different palaces. Gyeongbokgung was the main one I wanted to visit because it's a partially reconstruction from the Joseon Dynasty. Dating back to the late 12th century Korea it was a the first established form of government in the city of Gyeongju Which is now known as Seoul until it was destroyed in the Imjin war when the Japanese invaded. The palace was burned to the ground. It was partially restored in the 1980s to give us a view into the Joseon period.

A visit to Gyeongbokgung can take several hours as the grounds cover a large area. The entire group of palaces are definitely going to consume the majority of a day. Keep this in mind when planning a visit. 

 

 

NOTE:

The highlight of my day was myeongdong night market. Shoe shops, food stands, restaurants, outlets of all kinds exist here. You can find squid on a stick, crab cakes, lobster, sweet and sour chicken, a very appetite friendly zone. So much food to try, it can make you too full to subway back to your hostel. An Uber ride was my only option by the end of my visit here. 

 

 

 

Seoul Part 1

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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)

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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.