23. South Korea – Strolling Through Seoul

It is rare when a short visit to a country is as memorable as the two layovers I had in Korea in 2012. En route from Hawaii to China, our first layover was twelve hours, during which we were shuttled to the Incheon Airport Transit Hotel, where each member of my four person team was given our own room for some respite from our travels. It was a pleasant stay, one that fully lived up to the “boutique” feel they strive for. But it was on the return journey from Malaysia to Hawaii that I was granted a most delightful visit to the city of Seoul. Nearly a full day to explore was an adventure I readily took on.

Seoul Airport

A good friend of mine, Benjamin, was teaching English abroad for the year at “Bits English School,” so upon exiting the airport, he met us at baggage claim and we took the train into the Seoul. Ben and I visited the school where he taught, the children taught me to say hello with their precious voices, “an-nyung-ha-se-yo!” (안녕하세요). They were energetic and smiling, even though I was still getting used to the idea that one is obligated to take off their shoes when they entered a home, school, or proper room. They loved holding my hands and walking me from the shoe rack and into their classroom. Children have such a sweetness about them, their contagious joy and friendliness is something I always aim to embody more, among other childlike tendencies.

Ben and Kels in Seoul

Unfortunately the day didn’t lend me much time to spend at the school, but Ben had arranged a friend of his to give me a small tour of the city, so we met at a cafe and I wished Ben a farewell. Eivind was a Norwegian friend of his who was also spending some time in Korea. We had an entire day to run around, getting lost in (and at the edges of) the city, trying pastries and catching trains. Just last month Eivind and I saw each other again, this time in Norway, and he laughed about our random afternoon as acquaintances.

Tilting my head as though my posture would allow me more of a glimpse into the recesses of my mind, I told him I was preparing to write this blog entry.

“I remember walking on some train tracks…” I suggested, trying to develop my memory of a part of our afternoon.
“Yeah,” he stated, “We were waiting for the train when it pulled up, the doors on the opposite side of the train opened. The people got out, the doors closed, and then it just pulled away.” We both laughed thinking of how awkward it must have been for two strangers to look at one another and think, “Welp, what now?”

We did make it back to the city center… somehow. Eivind and I met up with the other group I was traveling with and we popped into a delicious restaurant for some authentic Korean BBQ. In the center of our table was a lower section that served as a grill. We ordered a variety of meats and veggies and grilled and laughed and ate away the cold day of adventures.

maxresdefault - Korean BBQ
Photo by Jinhyun Yoon

It’s not every day you are granted such full life experiences, new friends, and lessons learned. Thank goodness for the kind of layovers that give you a full day to journey through a city like I was able to in Seoul. A specific yet indescribable goodness fills my heart when I meet someone from Asian cultures, greet them, and see their approval and pride that I would extend a greeting to them in their language. I already look forward to the next time I can spend some time in the lovely country of South Korea.

Seoul Train at Night

Gamsahamnida!! Thank you!!! 고맙습니다!!!

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