I arrived in Korea on Friday afternoon at around 3:30, after a 2.5-hour flight from Taipei. I left my apartment at 8:30 that morning, and I got into the city of Seoul at about 6:30 that night.
The Taipei International Airport is nothing fancy…I had assumed I could find coffee and a snack there when I arrived but saw nothing but vending machines once I passed through security. Security was nowhere near as tight as the States. I actually got through the X-Ray machines with a Swiss army knife in my purse that I didn’t realize I’d carried with me!
When I arrived in Korea, I proceeded to get very confused. I don’t know why, but I really hadn’t planned for the time between getting off the plane and meeting Jin Hee (a grad school friend) in the city. I hadn’t brought any cash to speak of, so getting Korean currency (called “won”) turned into a pretty big to-do when I realized that none of the ATM machines were recognizing my American ATM card. In addition, my cell phone, which I was told would work overseas (outside of Taiwan), does not work in Korea…
I knew that the twenty U.S. Dollars I’d kept in my wallet would come in handy for something while abroad, so I cashed it in for enough won to cover my bus fare into the city, then found a bus headed for the Korean World Trade Center. After my almost two-hour ride into the city, I got to the Trade Center, found an underground shopping mall, found an ATM machine that recognized my card, stored my backpack in a luggage locker, and bought a phone card so that I could get in touch with Jin Hee and Roberto (another friend living in Seoul).
I went through at least ten phones before I found a phone where my phone card would work, and even then, it took the help of a pre-teenaged overly-curious Korean boy to get my call made to Jin Hee.
It didn’t occur to me to pay attention to precisely where I’d stored my backpack (clearly, I was not on my A-Game), so when Jin Hee met me about an hour later, I had to concentrate really hard to remember how to get back to the place where my backpack was stored.
I hadn’t realized that Friday was the Korean Thanksgiving (called Chusan). In Taiwan, Friday was the Moon Festival. There’s a correlation there. Most Asian countries work on the Western calendar as well as the Lunar calendar. Both holidays on Friday were in celebration of the full moon.
Jin Hee’s family invited me to go to the N Seoul Tower with them, on Mount Namsan, to have a traditional Korean Chusan dinner. Her father stayed home, but Jin Hee, her mom, and her older sister took me to the tower. The dinner was mostly beef and vegetables, and also a salad bar, where I got to taste Korean kim chee (fermented cabbage, a daily stable in Korean diets, and really good!), and also the small rice paddies that are special for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure how to describe them, because they’re a different consistency than anything I’ve ever eaten at home. The rice is ground and then turned into a sort of dough that’s really, really chewy. The dough is rolled around a small amount of what tasted like sweet seasonings and finely ground nuts.
Originally written and published on my blog, A Year in Taipei on October 8, 2006.
I wrote more than 300 blog posts during my year in Taipei, Taiwan. I don’t know yet how many of those posts I’ll recreate on MilliGFunk.com, but for now, at least, you can come back on Thursdays for a #ThrowbackThursday to my #YearInTaipei.