My second week in Korea has been quite a bumpy ride and definitely anything but boring. I started my week by attending the conference of the Korean Economic Association and saw this as a great opportunity to be introduced to my new colleagues. I did get to bow and shake hands with many people including with a former prime minister of Korea, who during the dinner suddenly tapped me on the shoulder and thanked me for attending the conference. I had hoped to be able to speak more Korean, but since this was a fairly international conference that just didn’t happen. To top it off, the AC was broken, and my newly purchased and very cute fan from Insadong soon proved to be a poor substitute indeed. By the end of the day my arm hurt in a way I’ve never experienced before, and I realized it was from frantically waving the fan in order to be able to breathe inside the hot and humid conference room.
After a few exhausting days of conference attendance paired with a couple of less than positive experiences at Korean phone shops who all had different excuses for not being able to get me a Korean SIM card (not on a Saturday, not in this store, not after 6pm), I felt a bit Seoul-slapped.
On Wednesday I participated in an interview with Korean newspaper Joongangilbo 중앙일보, which was also a very intense experience. There are still so many aspects of Korean culture and etiquette that can leave me completely dumbstruck, and these just seemed to rain down on me that day. After an extremely exhausting day, which had started at 6am, I met a friend for dinner and a very much needed beer, and things finally seemed to be picking up. That night, however, should also prove to be as up- and downhill as a narrow street in Sinchon. When it was time for me to go back home it proved an impossible task to hail a cab. So there you had me, standing next to Seoul city hall watching all cabs drive by for almost an hour, taking several additional metaphorical Seoul slaps to my already sore cheeks before finally seeing the blessed 빈차 (vacant) sign lit up in one of them. The upside was that this cabdriver was probably the sweetest ajusshi I have ever met in Korea. He was so happy to talk to a foreigner in Korean and asked me all about Denmark, how I liked Korea, and what I did for a living. When he finally pulled over outside my building my mood had already been lifted by several degrees.
Thursday I decided to sleep in and just stay in my own little bubble and interact as little as possible with anyone. I was just focusing on getting some work done and didn’t even go out for any of my meals. I really felt I needed a break from Korea on top of all that had happened.
Then finally, Friday rolled around with a three-day weekend in store (Monday is a Korean public holiday). I had made arrangements to meet my very first language partner for coffee at 2, and my current language partner and Korean best friend at 8 in Hongdae. After having had coffee and a lot of girls’ talk I realized that I’d received several texts from my other Korean friend including a few asking why I hadn’t replied to his previous messages. I wrote back that I’d been preoccupied but that we were definitely on for 8pm. Then he made it his personal mission to cheer me up and suggested that I spend the evening with him outside of Seoul. He told me to meet him in Ilsan (his hometown) at 7 and then we’d have fun there together. Agreeing that a trip out of Seoul would not be the worst thing, I happily accepted the invite and hopped on the train at Sogang station. After 30 minutes I had to transfer at Daegok station to go to Ilsan, and it was so interesting to be able to see so much of the Korean countryside from the train car.
At Daegok station I was a bit disoriented and looked around for signs to point me to the platform of my connecting train, when a very sweet grandma came up to me and asked me in Korean where I was going. I told her that I was going to Jeongbalsan station, and she smilingly pointed me in the right direction and said “빨리 가세요” hurry, hurry! I made the connection and arrived at the station at 7pm sharp. When I came out from the station my friend was greeting me with a big smile. It had been over a week since we met last, so we were both happy to see each other again. He started by showing me around Ilsan while it was still light out so I could get an impression of the absolutely breathtaking surroundings. Everything was so clean and pretty and all the people seemed to be extremely goodlooking. We then had dinner at a great Korean barbecue place where we grilled some samgyeopsal and galbi with all the delicious side dishes you can imagine. We talked about the week that had passed and agreed that we both needed some cheering up. He’s currently doing an internship and studying for his engineering license, so we had both been quite stressed. After a lovely meal, which he insisted on paying for Korean style (my turf, my treat), he suggested that we buy some beers at a convenience store and drink them lakeside in Ilsan Lake Park. What a great idea! On our way to the convenience store we passed MBC’s headquarters (big broadcasting company) and they happened to be shooting a drama right outside! Yay! My friend who used to work for MBC as a part-timer told me about the set-up, the microphones and cameras until a very angry director shouted at us to get lost. Haha.
We then arrived at the lake park and walked around for a while watching the moon and stars being reflected in the blank surface of the water. He vowed to take me biking around the lake some other day, but now it was time to find somewhere to drink those beers. We found a couple of musicians perfoming on a small stage by the lake and decided to sit and watch for a while. They were singing old folksy Korean love songs and couples were gathering on benches all around to enjoy the music. We sat there for a while finishing our beers, while I corrected an English essay he had written. When we left he pointed out that many people had been looking at us because I was a foreigner, and even more at him because he was walking next to me. He asked if it bothered me, and I told him that I hadn’t even noticed. I realized I was probably the only foreigner in Ilsan Lake Park that night, but I didn’t feel stared at. We continued the evening at a cute coffee place where they had a couple’s special: A free piece of cake with two cups of coffee. We agreed that not being a couple shouldn’t prevent us from sharing a piece of tiramisu, so we rolled with it and made our order. By 10.30 it was time for me to catch my train home. I had enjoyed being in Ilsan so much, and he also reluctantly areed that it might just be one of the best places in all of Korea. I really felt that I had a perfect and relaxing ending to a less than perfect and very stressful and emotional week. Like the Koreans say 인생은 세웅지마 – things go up and down in life. Just glad to end the week on a happy note!
Be sure to follow along on Instagram for more pictures from Korea! Happy weekend everyone!