Well, what a ride that was…
I arrived at my hostel in Seoul two nights ago with barely any scratches. My flight with Asiana Airlines from LA was fantastic, however, I was feeling a bit sick, and upon arriving at the airport in Seoul, I was about ready to pass out!
Luckily, my bags arrived a-okay (no problems with bringing over the smoked salmon, compliments of Nik). After grabbing my luggage from the carrier, I made my way over to the airport limousine busses. I bought my ticket to the closest stop to my hostel sans-problems, however, as I was feeling a bit disoriented, I had some issues finding the corresponding bus stop. Luckily, two incredibly helpful Korean girls around my age sensed I needed some help, and were happy to take me to the stop I was trying to find. They were from an NGO called “World Peace Day” in Seoul and it seemed like helping confused foreigners like me was their specialty!
On the bus I went…. Sadly, I got off at the wrong stop (no thanks to the driver – after pointing to my ticket and asking if that was the correct stop, he nodded and insisted “Né, né” [“yes, yes”] repeatedly). Luckily for me, another helpful young Korean was around to help me hail a cab to take me to the correct stop – unfortunately my hostel wasn’t recognizable enough to just take a cab directly there, otherwise that’s exactly what I would’ve done. Also, Seoul doesn’t really have set addresses like we have in North America, due to the way the city has evolved over thousands of years. IE: lots of little alleyways, not many street numbers! Thankfully cabs in Korea are dirt cheap, as the 15-minute ride only cost me about $6 CAD (no tax or tip either).
Although it took a while, I found my way successfully on foot to the Bong House Hostel after my cab dropped me off. Mr Bong himself was there to greet me and give me a brief tour of the hostel and its facilities. Sadly, my room isn’t big enough for both my bags, but one of the reasons I decided on Bong House was because of the high safety ratings it had received on HostelWorld (sort of the hostel equivalent of TripAdvisor). As well, it appears a few other travellers were in my situation too. The common room it’s sitting in (with directly connects to my room) also doubles as Mr. Bong’s office space, so I feel very safe indeed leaving it there 🙂
I crashed immediately, and then awoke the next morning to the sound of chirping birds and chanting monks… We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!!
My first morning in Seoul….
I decided to get a move on and shower, eager to find some kind of food as I had actually forgotten to eat dinner the night before! I grabbed a quick pain au chocolate and ice coffee at “Tous les Jours”, a popular coffee/pastry chain in Korea and was on my way. I wasn’t really sure where exactly I was headed, but I just wanted to get out of the hostel and try to acquaint myself with the surrounding Hyehwa neighbourhood.
Sure enough, I stumbled upon the subway stop, which I immediately recognized from my map. Yes, I am staying at the Bong House Hostel, and the subway stop is number – you guessed it – 420. I figured I should pop down and pick up a T-Money card (re-loadable transit cards used widely throughout Seoul) as I would be needing one eventually anyways.
I don’t really know what convinced me to do this, but I just immediately thought I should get on the subway and go to Myeongdong, Seoul’s most famous shopping district. Granted, it was still about 11:00am at this point, and Myeongdong doesn’t really even get going until about sunset, but I figured that I really had nothing else on my schedule anyways.
What a bust – seriously. I made it to Myeongdong fine, but I didn’t make a single buy. Nevermind, that’s not true. I did buy some medication from the pharmacy there to help with my headache and fever-like symptoms I’d been experiencing since being on the plane (And yes, I bought them all on my own. It took a few mime-gestures and pointing at phrases in my trusty Lonely Planet phrasebook, but the gentleman at the pharmacy understood me just fine). But anyways, I digress. No clothing was bought.
Off I was to Hongdae, where I heard the shopping was quite good, and tailored to the university student budget/fashion taste. Another bust. Basically all the stores only carried “one size fits only”, and without any fitting rooms, I didn’t want to take any chances.
So, back on the subway I went. I was not taking no for an answer! I deliberately under-packed and arrived early with the intentions of making my time before school starts a shopping mission! Off I was to Ewha, (pronounced “Ee-dae”), a district which I heard was littered in boutiques and salons catering to – even better than Hongdae – the female university student crowd. This is because Ewha Women’s University, one of Seoul’s most famous women’s universities, is nearby and has thus heavily influenced the shopping and dining scene there.
Same issue. Lots of cute preppy Korean-style clothes, but no change rooms, and all one size fits only. At this point I was relapsing into zombie-mode; a likely combination of the jet lag and potpourri of drugs the nice man at the pharmacy had given me starting to sink in (or wear off, depending on how you look at it). Oh, and I hadn’t eaten in six hours. Right. So, assessing the situation and using only my best judgement, I decided to get a haircut.
I saw a sign for “Juno Salon”, a name I instantly recognized from my research on Korea. This chain of hair salons was supposed to be inexpensive, high-quality, and very accommodating to foreigners/English-speakers. So, without an appointment, I waltzed right in and almost immediately was whisked away into a chair as a trendy young Korean girl began to examine her next project.
“…Your hair is… very not good, I think” she said, with a rather concerned look on her face. I wasn’t going to argue with her, after all, I’d been walking around in the massive outdoor sauna alternatively known as Seoul in August for the past several hours; my hair was a teased, hairspray-ridden sweaty rat’s nest with a few clip-in hair extensions thrown in the mix. I nodded with an apologetic look on my face, and asked if she could give me side bangs, pointing at a picture of Carrie Underwood I’d quickly Googled on my iPhone as to avoid any possible language barriers. She smiled and told me okay, promptly giving her assistant her orders in Korean.
From there, her assistant led me to get my hair washed. “Please-uh seet down now”. She even gave me a little scalp and neck massage before she led me off to get my hair dried with the senior stylist. Both of them each had their own blowdryer and began to simultaneously dry my hair. From there, the cut began. The stylist’s moves were swift and calculated, yet all the while effortless and smooth. In less than 30 seconds, she’d finished. And damn – I looked good. Unlike a North American stylist, she hadn’t even added in any products. This woman was a magician.
I smiled and expressed my gratitude as she led me towards the register. All of this: shampoo, blow-dry, cut, my choice of drink from the espresso bar, and the fantastic service on top of it only set me back about $27 CAD. No added tax, no tip required. I was impressed.
From there, I waltzed back off into Ewha with a little added spring in my step from having my hair all did.
At this point, I was quite hungry, so I dropped by a nearby Italian restaurant and gobbled down some seafood pasta. Didn’t feel the least bit awkward dining alone either, as the restaurant was close to empty (being only 4:00 or so) and there was another Korean girl doing just the same.
I decided to give Myeongdong another try before heading back to my hostel, but didn’t have much more luck. I came back with one sole blouse, a pore-minimizing primer, and – GET THIS – bronzing makeup base! In Korea!! I wasn’t going to turn into a ghost here after all!
Calling it a night….
I finally arrived back at the Bong House, and felt really homesick. So I decided to head down to the very small Bong Bar to grab a free beer and try to have some human interaction before I convinced myself coming here was a mistake (it seems silly to think that, but at the time I felt quite justified in believing it!). I met a few nice people (three students from Seoul’s Yonsei University and a Korean theatre actor), but once 10:00 hit, I was feeling really tired because of the jet lag and decided to head upstairs to go to sleep.
I had lunch plans with my Korean girlfriends to look forward to the next day and I wanted to be well-rested for that!
All in all, it felt like quite a long day. More shopping definitely needs to be done, and rest assured I will be posting my goodies on here.
PS: apologies in advance for only half the photos having captions. I’ve tried four times in a row to caption and save all the photos; it’s taking too long and WordPress seems to hate me. I’ll figure it out by next time, I promise!