Twenty some odd days of San Francisco, Wofford Heights, Magic Mountain, Korea, a little more SF and many more airports later, and I’m back in Dublin only suffering mildly from the effects of jetlag. With the nap from 1600 to 2230 my first day back and the subsequent waking up at 0400 I’ve done the last two days — and with attempts at work feeling like my brain’s still in Korea and the latency is terrible — I suppose arguments could be made that this qualifies as “moderate” jetlag; but I like to think I’m good at traveling, so I’m sticking with “mild.”
While rattling off “ICN-NRT-LAX-SFO-ORD-DUB” is enough by itself to make people look at me like I’m crazy, it still doesn’t do the two red-eyes plus the overnight in San Francisco that were involved any justice. But really, the flying itself was just dandy: there were 7 lounges involved (look, I had to check out all of the options in NRT, and the lounge with the showers in ORD doesn’t have the free alcohol), and even the ICN-NRT segment was sort of upgraded as JAL seemed to be using their business class seats as “premium economy.” (And the rest of that itinerary was upgraded with one coupon, so I was well taken care of.)
But I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to talk about Korea, as opposed to the “there and back again.” I’ve been trying to process the pictures since 4 am this morning, but it already seems so far away — even beyond the 12,258 miles and 40 some odd hours of flying that it literally is distant.
So let’s see: I’ll spare you the flight delay dramas that resulted in me getting to my hotel at 2am and Rick arriving a day late, other than to mention it meant I was on my own in Seoul longer than planned.
For a few days, I was feeling like Seoul was one of the hardest places I’d visited so far: I was having a hard time with the Korean alphabet (much less the language); when I could read something off of a menu I had no idea what it was; half the time what I tried to order wasn’t available to individual customers because it would involve some sort of grill or giant cauldron of boiling red stuff and I had to try to quickly find something else to order; even trying to pick out a restaurant or bar was a problem because thanks to a little more jetlag I was eating at odd hours and the “eat at popular places” rule didn’t work since no one was eating; even worse, so many bars and restaurants were either in basements or up off the ground floor that I couldn’t even see in them to see if I liked the looks of them; many of them didn’t even post menus so I could pre-translate what I wanted to order.
But then I kinda got my bearings and realized Seoul was actually a pretty rad place: I got a bit of a hang of the Korean alphabet (and actually kind of came to love it); I still can’t speak Korean for anything but it turns out enough English is spoken that I could skate by like I always do (yes, I am a bad traveler in some ways ;-p); worrying too much about what I was going to be eating was just a waste of time since it was almost all good, and it almost always worked out; even worrying about restaurants wasn’t worth it as they were all pretty good, and for the first time on a trip I don’t think I intentionally went to a single restaurant out of a guidebook. And then I realized Korea was actually a pretty easy place to visit, all things considered: it’s extremely safe, the people were very friendly and nice and willing to put up with my lack of Korean, and there’s plenty of English signage if you look for it.
Other things happened: adventures (and moderate success) in deciphering Korean bus schedules before just getting on the next bus that came anyway without knowing where it was going (and resulting success in that it did exactly what we wanted it to do); the most insanely kitschy P.O.W. museum you could imagine on Geoji-do; climbing over some walls, walking across a patch of farm, and discovering a crosswalk that was there clearly for just that purpose; crazy spread of sashimi and other raw seafoods and wait was that thing still moving, I swear it was still moving; climbing halfway up a mountain; yes, it’s still moving!!!; hey, it sure is cold here, isn’t it? And the DMZ, getting to stand in North Korea, craziness.
The last notable event I’ll leave with was that we got food poisoning, both taken out by a mere vegetable bibimbap. We were somewhat indignant about this. “Given all the spicy and raw things we’ve had, vegetable bibimbap??” Traveler’s food poisoning probably isn’t that notable, really, but it felt notable to me because — well, I was going to say this is the first time this has happened to me, but it isn’t: I just remembered that awesome day I spent in the hotel in Delhi, the day before leaving India, and I’m reminded there was a bright side to this Korean food poisoning incident: I was actually able to get out of the hotel and see a temple and a museum that afternoon, and was feeling mostly better within 24 hours (Rick was a little worse for the wear for some reason, but he also made a pretty quick recovery).
But then, just as I was thinking about how much I’d enjoyed Korea, and was contemplating trying to learn more Korean, I arrived in NRT: I made a mad dash for lunch in Narita town on my five hour layover, only to be greeted by the lovely smells of so many Japanese foods I recognized, the excitement of a new place with no map and no phrasebook and a goal of finding food, my one semester of Japanese rushing back to me — being able to recognize words both spoken and written — and with that all thoughts of Korea left my mind, I was in the middle of a new adventure, and I was left wanting to actually visit Japan more than ever.
This is how it is with me, see: as soon as one trip’s done, I’m off to planning my next one. In this case, I’ve already got a weekend in Madrid booked for February, but that just raises the question: where next?