Seoul, South Korea - Days 4 and 5
If you ever seek to be humbled, start talking trash and it will find you. We got this, yeah, who says that half way through an international vacation? More on that later.
We arrive at the train station in Jeonju to catch the fast train to Seoul with not a moment to spare. The train arrives and Nic and I look for the car with our seats by turning right. The train attendant stops us, looks at our tickets and redirects us to go left. We start to sprint to the other side of the train and when we arrive, the other train attendant sends us back the other way. Now we’re ping pong balls and everyone on the entire train is waiting for Baldilocks to figure out how to count to four…..in English. Only a slight hiccup, we find the car with our seats, hop on and excitedly settle in for the bullet train to Seoul. Earlier, I had made the joke of being on the Seoul Train and after mine and Nic’s deep guffaws had subsided, we could see by Zara’s reaction that this joke might have been fresh and funny to us, but it was definitely not “new material”. Nonetheless, we arrive in the world’s fifth largest city and hail a cab to take us to our motel located in the heart of tomorrow’s event, The Lotus Lantern Festival which celebrates the birth of Buddha. Feeling confident, we disembark from the taxi and begin our search. Now I’d like to take this opportunity to describe Nicole. This remarkable woman is a fawn in a meadow and lives in a world where bluebirds perpetually chirp about one’s head. Her kindness is abundant and her inability to dismiss others is a gift…..and a curse. We’re on the grounds of the Jogyseo Temple and she asks the English speaking tourist information attendant if he could help her locate our motel. He immediately explains that it closed down not long ago and then proceeds to inquire of her knowledge of Buddhism and demonstrating what different things symbolize in the temple. Meanwhile, back at the ranch where I’m guarding the sheep, I am pleased to see that Nicole is receiving 10 minutes of what appears to be invaluable information. Finally, her inquisition complete, she heads over to me and slightly dejectedly tells me that our motel is out of business. Ya’ll, I don’t take anxiety medication for nothing so my world starts spinning as I realize that we have all of our belongings on this side of the planet in tow in the middle of a huge city with nowhere to go. The great location of this so called motel for the huge Lotus Lantern Festival is now the equivalent of thinking you’ve got a balcony room on Bourbon Street the day before Fat Tuesday but that hotel just burned down. Good luck finding lodging now chumps. Slightly trembling, I tell her that I saw a motel sign a couple of blocks away and we head in that direction knowing that it’s a futile effort. Nic is, of course, taking in the sights on the way and abruptly stops. I see her fumbling with her bags and realize that her attention has been diverted by a group of kindergarten boys dressed like Korean monks and Momma needs a picture. And this is where she and I are different: When I panic, I go into focus/freak out mode and she continues to see the world through rose lenses. When the danger has subsided we laugh about how quickly our electrons can shift to opposite sides of an atom in certain situations and that is what makes our friendship so special. We always laugh in the end. Fast forward to the motel that I had seen; we stood outside of it for at least 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do before we decide to go in. Not only did it seem quaint but they had rooms available and for a very good price of $60,000 won per night! (equivalent of $60 a night) We’ll take two rooms for two nights please! We’re both visibly relieved as we reach for a card to remember the motel by when we suddenly realize….this is the motel we traveled halfway across the country to find! We had the name of this motel in Korean and the sign outside was in English so we didn’t put 2 and 2 together. In a city of nearly 23 million people, we stumble onto the very small motel that we had been told wasn’t even in business. What, I ask you, are the odds of that?
After settling in, we are off to see a couple of local tourist attractions and decide that lunch should be first on that list. With the planets already in alignment for this day, we choose to throw caution to the wind and walk in to the first restaurant with a red pepper on it and inform the waiter that we’d like for him to bring us whatever he recommends. Now, we may be world travelers, but Anthony Bourdain, we are not. In fact, our palate is so tacky that we proudly boast that we’ve eaten at Pizza Hut or Domino’s Pizza on four continents. Don’t judge. Clearly, we are pushing our luck now. They bring out some appetizers and both of us look at each other and nearly lose our breakfast. This looks disgusting. We are now discussing by telepathy how we can bolt while keeping our dignity in tact when we realize we are just going to have to dig in and hope we can keep it all down. To our surprise, we actually liked a few of the dishes so we feel we’ve escaped embarrassment and then the main course arrives. It’s a 20 gallon communal bowl that we are pretty sure they cleaned the fridge out of their leftovers in and melted some cheese on top. We do recognize the cut up pieces of weenies and some pasta gummy worms. Our stomachs are turning again. So we eat the cheese and dip some of the rice balls in the spicy sauce it all sits in but the other 8 unidentifiable ingredients is back in their leftover shelf for someone else who are either more adventurous eaters or just as big of fools.
Dodging the food bullet, we are touring the town and have one more stop on our list: The Seoul Tower. We take the subway to what we think will get us close to it but when we come above ground the tower is nowhere in sight. We see a bench to rest and regroup our strategy and a kind old lady pats the bench motioning for us to sit with her. We exchange pleasantries. I have an enormous soft spot for the older generations (which I like to believe evens out my disdain for children….just throwing that out there) so I am eager for some conversation with her. It was then that we made a futile mistake: We told her that we needed help finding the Seoul Tower. As her eyes roll back in her head, she is now obviously receiving a message from Buddha that her life’s mission is to ensure that Brad and Nicole get on Bus Number 2 to Namsan Tower. And off she goes, dragging us along with her. She leads us into several lanes of traffic and proceeds to bang on the door of a random bus shouting at the driver to let us on. He shouts and waves her off like the crazy that she is but she is not discouraged. The next bus comes along and she wades back out into traffic insisting that he let these two mortified Americans on and he too shoos her away with all his might. She figures out that there is a new rule about not being allowed on a bus in the middle of 8 lanes of traffic and leads us over to the actual bus stop on the side of the road. All the while she keeps looking at us and shouting “Bus Numba 2” and nodding. She occasionally enlists the encouragement of all the locals around her and they giggle but nod in agreement. For the second time that day, we’re contemplating bolting an uncomfortable situation but she has been so kind and persistent on getting us onto bus numba 2 that we just can’t let her down. Finally, bus numba 2 pulls up, and she shoos us up onto it. We turn and bow deeply to her (a tradition of respect in Korea) and thank her in English profusely. She just waves it off with a half smile as if to say, “I was sitting on this bench today waiting for you, you came, and I fulfilled my destiny.” Bus numba 2 cost 95 cents and drove us all the way up the mountain to the Seoul Tower. I got a picture of this bat shit crazy angel and it will be pasted right into the scrapbook next to this paragraph always eliciting smiles from me.
The next evening, thanks to Melody and company, we acquire front row seats to the parade of the Lotus Lantern Festival. It is truly a spectacular event and we’ve been informed this year there is only Buddhist chants and a somber reverence in honor of the victims of the capsized ferry. Hundreds of lantern bearers walked past with yellow ribbons commemorating the many youths lost on that boat. This tragedy has struck South Korea’s very core and that grief is palpable throughout the event. However, in true Korean fashion, lives are remembered and honored by prayers, beauty, and light and I, for one, am moved to have been a part of it.
We arrived last night in Beijing, China where we will be for the next few days before returning home. Wifi is sketchy at best and face book, twitter, and youtube is blocked by the government altogether so pictures will be posted when we return to the States and updates will be sent when a signal is strong. We love you all.
Nic and Brad
|Seoul! My friend Jacques met up with us for the day|
|Hitting up Korea's most boring museum, and looking fabulous doing so!|
|The National Museum of Korea|
|Lion lantern float|
|Hanbok and Hangul|
|We scored lanterns to take home at the end of the parade!|
|Lanterns at Jogyesa Temple|