(Writer’s Note: Adventures With Jenny is my shameless attempt at cataloging my first trip to Korea with #KoreaJoa2015! For the next 10 days, follow me as I indulge in Korea’s iconic food — live octopus, anyone? — and landmarks, made complete with retellings of brief encounters with celebrity.)
I travel a respectable amount. In fact, I love almost everything about traveling: all the world in one suitcase, the refreshing breeze of a new city, the resident’s colorful accents and languages. But not going to lie, if there’s one thing I absolutely abhor about traveling, it’s the plane ride. I wouldn’t say I’m a terrified flyer, but I’m certainly a nervous one. One slight dip in a bout of turbulence has my back flat against the seat, clinching the plane’s armrests with white knuckles and a pale face, while my seatmate gives me a look of annoyance for hogging her armrest. (Washington D.C. to South Korea is a whopping 14-hour flight. That’s like, 840 minutes of fretting about being in a metal tube in that is flying through the air.)
The last hour of the flight is my favorite. This is when I breathe a sigh of relief and convince myself that I probably won’t die on this trip (or statistically, any trip, but still). It’s also prime time to crank the window shades up, just in time for the landing, without everyone around you recoiling from the sharp sunlight.
Touching down in Incheon, the sun off the horizon… Korea is absolutely breathtaking.
You know you’re in Korea when you get greeted by a 2010 poster of Girls Generation at baggage claim, and then proceed to see Kim Soo Hyun’s face on every endorsement product ever, even the airport bus you’re taking. Being from a country where K-entertainment isn’t prominent in everyday life, I totally stopped to stare at every K-pop star that made appearances on the walls, the columns, the televisions, and even, wait for it, the food. (Getting a coffee at the airport coffee shop and seeing Kim Soo Hyun on the coffee sleeve? Score!)
Somewhere during the process of my 14-hour flight, the handle on my only wheeling suitcase broke. I didn’t notice until I was stepping off the bus in Gangnam that night, one duffle bag and one purse in tow, reaching down to wheel my suitcase. It was like someone had noticed the handle had broken, and then attempted to neatly re-arrange it in place as to not draw it any attention. Of course, the handle came halfway off in my hand as soon as I gave it a yank.
I had no choice. I HAD NO CHOICE. I hauled my broken suitcase across the street, where I had spotted a taxi waiting. Frantically, I tell the taxi ahjussi in broken Korean and exaggerated hand gestures to take me to my hotel, somewhere around the area. He took one look at the address before shooing me off the cab – apparently the hotel was tucked on the inner corners of a side street that was hard for cars to pass. I decide (okay, was forced) to walk. It was almost 9PM at night, the skies already darkened, with the streets lighted only by the dim glows of the streetlamps, the blinkers of the cars, and the never-ending video billboards. Thus began my journey as I began to drag my suitcase down the streets of Gangnam, avoiding the stares of those passersby.
So while I’m half-hauling, half-dragging my suitcase through Gangnam, I should probably mention that I absolutely no idea where I was going. In my defense, it was hard to balance looking at a GPS and trying NOT to be like Geum Jan Di in “Boys Over Flowers” when her luggage gets stolen in Macau.
And it took me a whole hour to get to my hotel TWO BLOCKS away. Welp, so much for arriving in Gangnam in Style.
Next up: I attempt to find a hair salon in Korea, navigate THE BEST SUBWAY EVER, and go on a trip to BIFF in Busan! Have you been to Korea? Let me know in the comments below!