The kindness of Korean strangers…

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The first day in Seoul I woke up at 9.50am! I had slept for nearly 10 hours solid in a hostel bed, in a dormitory made out of tent material on an extremly thin mattress! Of all the places in the world I never thought I would have an amazing nights sleep there but I did!

I wanted to check out a phone shop for a sim card. ‘Min’ ( one of the hostel owners) told me it was close and on the way to a subway station so I popped in. I was texting using a stores phone when a lady asked me if if I liked the new IPhone… We got chatting and her English was very good. She told me she loved England and asked me if I was an English teacher here….Now you see the thing is in South Korea there don’t seem to be that many travellers – all the westerners you meet are either studying or are teachers! So I’ve got used to being asked this question. And also offered many jobs…Mmmmm some food for thought perhaps…

Anyway, she, ‘Hea Jung’ asked me had I eaten any lunch, “I’ve just arrived and haven’t had any Korean food yet” and she said “maybe we could eat and I can practise my English” and the next thing I know I’m getting into her rather gorgeous convertible Mercedes sports car! …I know…I hear you…how bloody random!

Before we even got to lunch though she took me on a bit of a tour and we visited several districts and I started to get my bearings. We went into the oldest department store in South Korea- ‘Lotte.’ I’d liken it to an old school John Lewis’s. She wanted to pick some shoes up and she showed me the site of the new ‘Lotte World’ tower. It will be 123 floors high – she thinks the highest in the world possibly when it’s finished. She is an Arcitiect and I asked her if this was something she was working on but she cleverly avoided answering me by saying something like ” I have so many projects on at the moment and isn’t it nice that I happened to have the afternoon free today?” Mmmm…good avoidance technique i thought!

Could this be the tallest tower in the world?

Could this be the tallest tower in the world?

We then went upto the top floor of the department store and went to ( what I think was) quite a posh restaurant. And I had my first ‘ Bimbim bap’ Korean meal. A big hot bowl filled with lots of fresh veg- most of which I’d never seen or heard of before and an egg on top. Apparently this is normally served cold and the egg raw but recently they have started offering the cold version with a cooked egg because of salmonella. Mine, however was meant to be mixed and cooked as I liked and I’m happy to say it was delicious and very healthy! Of course being a Korean dish meant it was surrounded by side dishes…a colslaw type of dish which was lovely, fresh beansprouts with a spicy coating, soup and of course Kimchi! Kimchi is a staple dish served with almost every Korean meal. I’m told that a lot of Koreans have a separate fridge in thier house just for kimchi. It is fermented cabbage with a spicy sauce…you may imagine, it’s not for everyone…and I’m afraid it’s not for me! I believe there are many different flavours of kimchi but I’m really not that interested in trying them all…but at least I have tried- about four times now…just in case I got an acquired taste…but no..sorry South Korea…I can’t do kimchi!

After lunch I thought Hea Jung might drop me off but she was enthused to show me the outskirts of Seoul and the countryside, so off we went. As we’re leaving the city, I must admit I did have a flash thought that maybe she was in fact a psycho and was going to put a cloth of chloroform over my mouth at any minute and sell me for slavery in North Korea…but luckily that was just a stupid fleeting thought!

We visited the area of Namsam and I saw the Seoul Tower, the area called Insadong, famous for its western offerings and home to the US soldiers that are based here. We went though the city centre and saw the new City Hall building. An impressive old facade covers one side of this modern building and the Arcitiect obviously had an eye for being able to merge the old with the new- I liked it…and so did Hea Jung come to think of it…an accomplishment of hers perhaps???

I saw the entrances to the temples that I wished to visit the following day and she pointed out subways and info centres…it was all an unbelievable way to view this magnificent city in one day and set me up for the rest of my time here.

During our drive, there were times that I’d be busy looking out of the window and there was no conversation and it turns out that when this happened, Hea Jung liked to sing….sing really loudly! Really loud Gypsy Kings or a song from a musical such as ‘ Copacabanna’ and ‘ The lion sleeps tonight! Just imagine…
When she started singing ” whim a way a whim a way” (however you write that) and screeching “ooo weeee la la la um um a wayyyy” I couldn’t help but start laughing…she then asked me what I was laughing at and I just said because its one of my favourites! Ha ha so surreal…

Check this out and have a sing a long yourself! http://youtu.be/8E8xMcXmI9E

 

By the time we headed back towards the university area of Heangdae it was nearly 8.30pm. ” Time for dinner” she said. We went to another very nice Korean restaurant and this time she ordered me a Kimchi soup with pork which also came with many small side dishes. I hadn’t mentioned to her that I wasn’t a fan of kimchi so I tried to eat it. She must have noticed it wasn’t going down too well as then she ordered a Korean BBQ as well!

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The have a grill bbq ready underneath the table so they just lift up part of the top of the table to reveal it and then fire it up. And it was so nice! They cooked the meat for us at the table and then cut it up with scissors. Again this is served with many small side dishes- so the table was now completely covered!
I also tried ‘Soju’ the Korean drink that is very strong. It comes in a bottle but I could only manage a couple of shots…not to everyone’s taste I can imagine. The taste reminded me of Raki in Greece.

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I got my camera out to take a photo of the feast and she said “no photo” pointing to herself mmmm ok…unusual for a person from Korea I thought but never mind.

As we were driving back she started to tell me how she doesn’t judge people on where they come from and what they look like and has a lot of memories of people she has met on her travels. ” I don’t take emails and addresses” she said. ” I prefer to remember the times in my mind and here” as she put her hand across her heart. Ok I thought, is she trying to tell me something… Earlier I had mentioned that if she ever wanted a tour guide on a trip to England, I would be very happy to show her around. As she pulled the car over I could only thank her and it didn’t feel enough, I started to do a bowing like gesture as I was getting out of the car. ” Would you like my email address? ” I said. She shook her head, gave me a huge grin and patted her heart.

The thing I forgot to mention is that she wouldnt take a single penny off me. She paid for everything! She waved her hands up at me whilst pulling a very stern face when I tried to. I watched her zoom off and just thought Wow…the kindness of strangers…what a way to meet Korea!