Note from author: "Return to South Korea", is a series of articles written on a day-to-day basis in October 2017 as I tour South Korea for a Korean War (1950 to 1953) historical tour. It is a series of articles of my first impressions and anecdote as I travel. It is being exclusively published in the OpEdNews.com section of 'Life and Art'. All articles can be found at the links below. The articles are best read in chronological order:
1. "Anticipation", [click here ].
2. "Ambivalence", [click here ].
3. "Getting around, and around---[click here ]
As I expected, South Korea is a very modern city. No surprise there. I arrive two days ahead of the group so I would have time to get over the jet lag from the 24-hour trip and time difference. Korea is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. It is now Wednesday, 7:39 PM, October 18, 2017. The days are starting to run together.
On arrival at my hotel in Seoul I laid down for a short nap. My nap was about 12 hours. I awoke the next day at about 4 AM. The breakfast buffet would not open until 6:30 AM. I waited watching the night turn into morning, and I was starved from not having eaten since I left Inchon International Airport (ICN) yesterday, where luckily I ate, although I was not hungry.
At ICN I had decided on a Korean cafe to get a start on acquiring a taste for Korean food. It takes acquiring, at least for me. Much of the food is lathered in a thick barbeque sauce, and it all tastes like kimchee, which I had already acquired a taste for, but that is another story---I'll tell you later. After a meal of noodles with black bean sauce, rice noodles with a mystery sauce, kimchee, and rice it was time to learn the metro.
The South Korean metro is super modern and extensive. Once can get to just about anywhere. The map looks like something a child drew with colored crayons. (The metro is called either a subway or a train, I think, and the word metro gets a blank look).
Once the information desk at ICN told me which stop I needed, the rest was easy thanks to a few Korean friends which are easy to make for an American who looks in destress, as I must have. The Koreans I met were super friendly, and some even stopped to offer help without my asking. A few who probably did not speak English just ignored my pleas, but I took no offence. Twice elderly women took pity and helped me with my too-big suitcase: once when I got it jammed in the turnstile and another as I encountered some stairs without an escalator---I must have bypassed the elevator.
That was yesterday, and today I was at the 6:30 AM breakfast buffet. Not being bashful but hungry I ate four platefuls. First a Korean breakfast of white rice, noodles with black bean sauce, kimchee, roasted tomatoes, salad, beans, hot peppers, cream soup, and some other delicacies. Then an American breakfast, followed by a plate of fresh fruit, and finally a plate of bread, butter and jams. Cost, about 10,000 won (approximately $10 US) at my moderately priced hotel. The breakfast would hold me for 24 hours easy. Don't get the wrong impression, Korea is not cheap but not expensive either. The prices are about the same as US.
With all the sleep and a belly full of food my energy level was on overdrive. I was ready to hit the train again back to ICN to meet the group. From Seoul stop to ICN takes over an hour even by the modern subway, unless one takes the express, which I didn't. The fare to ICN 4,500 won, about $4.50 US. I have learned not to throw away the used ticket because it can be cashed back in for a 500 won deposit.
During the ride an older man sat next to me and started a conversation. He wanted to know where I was from and what brought me to Korea. He was delighted to hear that I was with a veterans group and he was quite open about the evils of communism, the crazy man up north, and how wonderful democracy is---he kept repeating about how democracy is 'self-correcting' because the people demand 'correction'. For example he spoke of just-impeached ex-president Park Geun-hye who is now 'self-correcting' in jail for corruption involving kickbacks from large corporations.
I had a live Korean here who was willing to testify on politics so I pressed him politely. What did he think of the new President Moon---'he is too soft, Kim Jong-un is going to test him'? Is he worried about a nuclear war---'Everybody is, but they are used to it and don't show it'. How old was he during the Korean War---'3'. How did he survive---'lucky'? Did his mother and father survive---'yes'. Where does North Korea get all the money for their extravagant infrastructure projects---'selling minerals and precious metals to China, and starving the people, and starving the people some more for the nuclear program too'? This is what I came for and I am going to keep an open mind. I am here to listen, and he even gave me 'God's blessing' as he got off at his stop. I hope readers appreciate that this nice man in no way appeared to be anything but genuine and sincere.
So when I got to the airport my group was nowhere to be found. After some phone calls it turned out that I was a day early. I dug out my paperwork and sure enough it said the tour started on October 18th and on day-one we would meet at the airport. It turned out that the 18th is a travel day and the 19th is day one. This is no way to run a military operation, or is it?
The airport hotels wanted 150,000 won for the night. I had just paid 45,000 won a night in a nice hotel in Seoul so it was time for me to practice the train again back to Seoul. On the way back I made another friend, a nice young man who wanted to practice his English. With my bad ears, even with hearing aids, and his bad English the communication was poor, but he stayed with me to help and practice his English until I got off at my stop.