Warming Up Slowly to Seoul

It’s Day One in Korea.
I don’t feel like I’m suffering culture shock, so much as not-as-confident-as-I-thought shock. I just assumed that after having traveled around Asia a bit I’d totally be able to handle Korea. Instead, I find myself feeling pretty lost. I have no idea where I am, or what areas of the city are cool, what there is to do, or how to comport myself. I’ve done 0 research. All I know is how to say hello, from what a Korean friend taught me years ago (and from Lucille Bluthe on Arrested Development). Part of me just wants to stay in bed all day…but I decide to get up and be a human.

I am not gonna lie to y’all, I go to Starbucks for lunch. I just need something that feels familiar and easy. I hate that I waste one of my few Korean meal opportunities on Starbucks, but I just don’t feel up to maneuvering a language barrier lunch order.

I have to pull cash before I can actually afford anything, so I wander the streets in search of an ATM. I find a bank, but can’t figure out how to actually get money out of the machine. I insert my card and choose English but it keeps saying “cash only”…which is all I want (obviously. Isn’t that all a bank can give you anyway?) but it won’t actually give me any money. I give up and keep walking.

I find another bank a little ways down with a Visa sign on the door, and easily manage to pull some dolla billz, thank god. I know you’re never supposed to pull cash from a Visa card because of the immediate interest rates, but desperate times call for desperate measures. At least I’ve got a good wifi connection back at my hostel so I can transfer some funds when I get back.

I sit down at Starbucks with a soy matcha latte and chicken sandwich, trying to figure out what to do next. I can’t access Starbucks wifi. Still without any concept of where I am, I choose to go back to the hostel to do some googling. I sit in the common area instead of my secluded 8-person room so that I might meet people. I sit there for a long time just messaging anyone from home who is still awake. I do end up chatting with a couple other backpackers, who help me by directing me to a sweet Seoul subway map app for my phone.
I decide to check out a shopping area nearby called Dongdaemun, which is supposed to have a bunch of nice and affordable boutiques. Shopping always cheers me up.

I get on the right subway with ease thanks to my fancy new app. I’m already feeling a lot better.

The shopping centre is really cool and filled with boutique style stores, no Louis Vuitton bullshit that I can get anywhere (or can’t get anywhere because I’m poor). You know what I mean.

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Seoul Gate, located just outside the Dongdaemun Shopping a Centre

It’s super fun until I remember that I’m in Asia and nothing fits me. I really need a new pair of pants. I’m totally not complaining, because mine are too BIG now (yay, me!) but I’d still need to drop another size or two before I could fit a Korean Large. I try anyway. I’m stubborn like that. When I find something I like, I just cut to the chase and ask for the biggest size. They usually tell me there’s only one size, or bring me a shirt with an M ticket. Argh.
It’s probably for the best because backpacker life does not leave room for newly purchased goods; size appropriate or not.
I still enjoy wandering around the mall for a couple hours and checking out Korean fashion. So far I’ve found people to be very well put together here. I love it.

On my way back, I try to stop for dinner somewhere but don’t know anything about Korean food, so I am easily daunted when I see a Korean restaurant with no English menu. I stop at a place just outside the hostel when I’ve almost made it back and still haven’t found anything to eat. There’s no English menu here either, but pictures are a blessing and I just point at one on the wall. I am brought a bowl of boiling hot soup with beef(?) and green onions, with kimchi and rice on the side.

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I go for it, without a clue what I’m eating but enjoying it anyway. The staff are excited that I like it.
Two people around my age (university students, I assume) laugh together and look in my direction. A moment later they’ve come to my table and say “Hello, is this your first time here? I don’t think you know how to eat this” in a really friendly way. They ask permission to show me. I, obviously, welcome it, feeling embarrassed but also not in the slightest way shocked that I’m doing this wrong. They add some spices and mini shrimp to my bowl. I ask them what these mysterious beef roll things are and they look at each other and struggle to come up with the appropriate word but in the end I get “organs”, as they point to their stomachs. Lovely.
I had been eating the kimchi on it’s own and didn’t know to add all the shrimp and spices and stuff. It tastes better, but I won’t lie it’s still not my favourite meal. I thank them a lot as they go, for helping me be less damn ignorant.
I still don’t know what I ordered. If you can identify it, ten points.

I come back to the hostel, do laundry and hang out in the common room. I’m feeling way more comfortable with being in Seoul now. I was just having a pouty day.

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