Myeongdong Shopping District
I sat staring at the busy people rushing around Seoul Station. This was the busiest train station I had ever seen. I sat on a bench with a lot of other elderly people. The elderly who were not in a hurry and were happy to see young people still trying to rush through life. She had sent me a picture of her so that I would know how she looked.
There were other foreigners trying to find their way through the station. I wondered if they were here visiting or if they were starting a new job as an English teacher in Korea. I made sure I smiled politely and mouthed a friendly greeting.
Friendly Unfamiliar Face
Finally, I met my cousin’s friend who lived in Seoul at the Seoul subway station. I think that I immediately made her dislike me, as she went in for a hug I had to take a step back. I had the very real excuse that I was sick. She walked really fast through mazes of people who casually glanced at us as we made our way through the subway terminal. We took the Line 4 subway to her apartment. After walking through a tunnel of masses wheeling my luggage, backpack, and heavy coat, we finally walked into a tall tower building and into a pair of sliding glass doors.
With a tap of her key card, we went into the elevator and up to her apartment. She trusted my cousin enough that she gave me her extra elevator key card so that I could come and go to the apartment freely. Once we arrived at her apartment door she quietly whispered the keypad combination. I needed to thank my cousin back in the states for making friends all around the world.
Luxury Apartment in Seoul
My initial response was shock and awe. I believed all the homes and apartments were old in Seoul. Instead, I was feeling more like I was visiting New York again. So when I went inside her apartment and saw the hardwood floors and granite counter tops with a view of Namsan Seoul Tower I felt there was still so much more to learn about life in South Korea. Not all places have toilets that are sunk into the floor and spaces so small you have to squeeze to get in and out of them. I knew this apartment was on the more expensive side, she later told me her rent was close to four thousand dollars a month.
My new goal was to figure out how I could make more than four thousand dollars a month so that I could stay in a place like this. She showed me around her apartment and I found out that she had a three bedroom. The extra bedrooms were for when her son and daughter came to visit her during the summer. I wanted to stay here forever. I knew that I didn’t know her from the man on the moon, but I could imagine the dorm that I was going to move into on Monday.
I had stayed in a dorm my senior year while I attended a local University. I knew what dorm life would be like and it would not look like this apartment. To make matters worse I had a roommate that I didn’t want again.
I had developed a lot of bad habits since that last time I shared a room. The last time I lived in a dorm was when my sister decided to complete a year interning in Cleveland, Ohio. Back in college after three days of living together with my roommate, I yelled at her loud enough for our other two roommates to hear. The constant loud noises coming from her listening to music and talking on the phone while I wanted to go to bed. Needless to say, we never spoke more than ten words to each other for the remainder of my senior year.
After taking a nap and a mishap of trying to get onto the army base. I totally forgot my passport even though she told me to bring it, I chalk it up to jet lag and my cold. We went to a Korean restaurant that she said served really good fried chicken. I felt like it tasted okay, but I couldn’t stop the paranoia swimming around in my head of Tdap. That damn nurse at the travel clinic had made me paranoid. She had me scared of walking past every rusty nail and person who coughed.
If I offended anyone with my frown or immediate attempt to cover my nose, away from their prolonged cough I’m truly sorry. For some reason with Tdap I got the bejesus scared out of me. I didn’t get all of my shots so I was trying to remember all of the instructions she gave me to be cautious while I was abroad.
I remember not to get any ice in my drink. There was some iceberg lettuce with a slight drizzle of salad dressing that was included in one of the banchan dishes. I also ignored this dish since it was also on the list even though it would have helped ease the fried chicken’s spiciness. I remember her saying “No salad, period.”
Later on, one by one I would ignore these rules and eat everything I was told not to do on my travel safety guide list.
Street Shopping & Sightseeing In South Korea
We decided it would be fun to do a little bit of street shopping and sightseeing. I couldn’t get past how my nose kept running and was slightly bleeding from the cold weather. Because it was my first time in any real cold weather I had a slight panic about what was going on with my body. This California girl was not at all prepared for her first winter.
Again, I thought about what I had learned at the travel clinic and walked around smelling the Korean dishes that I wanted to eat so bad yet I didn’t try a single one. I was silently cursing my cousins’ friend. What part of my shots are not effective for at least two weeks didn’t she understand.
Through sheer will and perseverance, I made it to a pizza restaurant. It promised Chicago style deep dish pizza. It was a little too sweet and way too much cheese, but I was happy. I experienced my first sense of rebellion when I ordered a soda and I drank it without a straw. I had promised the clinician that I would look into getting that Tdap and finish my shot series. The worries crept in as I sipped from that soda can. I realized how hard it was going to be to change a routine from what I normally did every day.
Before I left California I thought that another bonus of me traveling to Korea was that I would lose weight. On all the YouTube videos I watched everybody talked about how much weight they lost because they walked everywhere. And really if you don’t have a car, you really should plan on walking a lot.
Eventually, I would lose a total of twenty pounds. But your habits don’t change immediately. If you ordered french fries and a burger with a soda before you left your home you’re going to do that even when you go live abroad. I soon realized that S. Korea not only had McD’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Popeye’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and Panda Express, but that really all of the American fast food chains like TGI Friday’s were also available.
So long to the notion that I only had to eat Korean food. Anytime I got a little homesick the went to one of these fast food restaurants and got a small sense of feeling like I was back at home. For that, I would like to say thank you to the Taco Bell in Hongdae and Dongdaemun Market. They serve the exact same number one order whether I live in California or Seoul, which consists of two beef tacos, a small side, and a drink.