37° 33′ 59.526″ N, 126° 58′ 40.6884″ E
I landed in Incheon (Inch-on), South Korea on Thursday the 14th at 9:00PM. Since Korea is 14 hours ahead of the United States, I landed at 7:00AM Eastern Standard Time, that’s what time it would have been on the east coast of the United States. As soon as I landed I was herded through customs, which is where a government checks to make sure you are not bringing any goods into their country that are against the local law. Have you traveled to another country? If so, you have passed through customs as well.
The line for customs was pretty long and it took about half an hour to get through. On the other side I found my way to baggage claim to pick up my suitcase. As I walked out of the doors into the main airport I could see all of the people waiting for loved ones who had just returned. Waiting for me was the sister of a family friend. Her name is Hye-Kyung Rhee (Hay-Kyung Ee). She and her son drove me from the island of Incheon to their home in Gangnam district in Seoul. It took about an hour to get there and we had to cross an 18 kilometer bridge. Eighteen kilometers is about 11 miles. Isn’t that a long bridge!
Hye-Kyung had me sleep at her house in Gangnam for the night. The bed was very comfortable and I found myself asleep in seconds. I woke up the next morning to the smell of Korean food. I don’t know about you, but back at home in the U.S. I tend to eat a small breakfast consisting of cereal, yogurt or fruit. In Korea though, a traditional breakfast is much bigger.
Friday morning Hye-Kyung made rice. She also made a soup with seaweed and tofu, even though that may not sound appetizing it was absolutely delicious! In addition to that, there was beef stew with sweet potatoes, which was also amazing! Then, on the side there were strawberries and kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish, which is made by pickling cabbage and adding spices like garlic and red pepper paste. Some people don’t like the taste of kimchi, but I love it!
After breakfast Hye-Kyung, her son and myself got into her car and drove over the Hangang or Han River, into the north of Seoul. Hye-Kyung dropped her son off at his high school and then continued to drive into the Shinchon district of Seoul where Yonsei (Yawn-say) University is. Yonsie University is the school where I will be studying for the next four months.
Settling into living in Seoul has actually been surprisingly easy. The subway systems are well organized and so are the bus systems, granted I have not tried to navigate them on my own yet. One of the first things that we did when I arrived in Seoul was to journey around Shinchon, the area where I will be living for the next four months. Our tour guides were Korean university students. They showed us around campus, but they also took us out into Shincheon and showed us one of the best stores in Seoul. The store is called Daiso and it’s really similar to what we know as a dollar store in the U.S.
At Daiso you can buy many different things like food, cooking utensils and bathroom necessities at really cheap prices. I was able to buy shampoo and conditioner together for only 4,500 won, so only about $4.50. Back home similar products would have cost me around $10.00! I think that is one of the first things that I noticed about Korea, many of the products and foods here are cheaper than in the United States.
Food, for example, can be really cheap depending on where you choose to eat. At simple, traditional Korean restaurants you can get a full meal for anywhere between 3,000-6,000 won! The street food is even cheaper and you can get a large bowl of food for only 2,500 won. Street food is very interesting. Much of it is carbohydrates, since it is foods like dumplings (mandoo) and dokkboki. Dokkboki is a long tube-shaped rice-cake cooked in a sauce made from red-pepper paste, so it can be kind of spicy. There is also something called soondae. Soondaeis a sausage stuffed with sweet potato noodles and pig’s blood. This may sound disgusting, but I tried it and it’s actually really tasty! It’s not advisable to eat street food in the summer, because the heat allows bacteria to grow on the food and it can make you very sick. Since it’s winter the street food is pretty safe and I have eaten at the stalls a few times.
Even though Korean food is really good I was feeling a little homesick tonight and ordered myself a hamburger and french-fries. The hamburger tasted a bit different than they do back home, the spices were different, but it was still really good. Korea actually has a lot of American brand foods, but it usually adds its own twist. I bought Cheetos the other day and they were nothing like Cheetos in the U.S. I bought the barbeque flavor since they sounded interesting, and the most obvious difference is that there was no cheese on them! They were dusted with barbeque-flavored powder and they were also really sweet! They weren’t bad, just a lot different from what I am used to.
Everything in Korea is so new and exciting, even the food! I’m really excited to get to try so many new foods and to tell you about them. I hope you all get a chance to try Korean food sometime! It’s really delicious!