This is the first of my posts from Seongnam, just outside of Seoul in South Korea.
I will be the first to admit I didn’t exactly have a stellar experience when I visited Seoul in 2015 following my medical elective in Japan. It wasn’t as simple as not liking the city, and on reflection I think a lot of it had to do with spending so long in Japan. I was there for seven weeks, which was much longer than I had spent living anywhere other than Northern Ireland, and I had become settled and knew exactly what to expect from living in Tokyo and Nagoya. It was tough to say goodbye to a country that had been so good to me, and landing in a place where I knew nobody and spoke none of the language wasn’t exactly a great start. It didn’t help that I was a little stressed from having incomplete travel plans – I might not have even had an onwards flight from Seoul at that point. (I was a tad more spontaneous in the past)
From that baseline, I also found it to be quite a cultural departure from Japan, with insane driving, occasional rude people (which I don’t think I ever encountered in Japan) and food that was so hot it could melt your digestive tract. I did concede, however, that I would like to return one day if I got the chance. This time it’s a completely different beast.
In Search of Seoul
To cut to the core of it, spending time with local people is a vastly different (and in my opinion, superior) experience to just turning up and spending four days wandering around popular places on Tripadvisor. Who’d have thought, right? Having family who can show you around and find the best local foods and experiences is great. I had that in Japan the first time I visited thanks to my homestay and the doctors at the hospitals, but I knew nobody in the other countries I travelled to that summer.
While getting out here has been great, we have had a somewhat rocky start. Evie was ill with some sort of gastroenteritis (stomach bug) while we were in London, and kindly passed it onto us which we had to contend with in addition to jet lag following a twelve hour flight.
Speaking of the flight, other than a delay at the beginning it was a pretty smooth experience. We had far too much time hanging around Heathrow before the gate was called, but thankfully a terrible experience at Carluccio’s erased much of that excess. God (whichever you choose) help the waitress there who hadn’t a clue how the job worked, didn’t take our order for an eternity, had never heard of the concept of gin (the alcoholic beverage flavoured with juniper berries, not the legendary genie, the jinn), and recommended an entirely flavourless dish. To be fair, she did acknowledge how much she was messing up and thanked us for how polite we were. I had penne giardiniera and the overwhelming flavour was…wet. Can that be considered a flavour? If not, then check the box for “nil”. It’s not that hard to make Italian food taste good, and it’s a cuisine that’s impressive in it’s simplicity and depth of flavour, but this was dreadful.
Thankfully the food was better on the plane, but as this was the beginning of being ill, I wasn’t exactly hungry. A few different choices were available for dinner at the beginning of the flight (though this corresponded to around 9.30pm, which isn’t a typical dinner time where I’m from) including chicken, pork, and Korean. I have never been one to turn down a regional food option on a flight, so I went for the bibimbap which came as a kit with a handy set of instructions and a toothpaste-sized tube of gochujang (spicy Korean chilli paste/sauce).
As far as plane food goes, it was decent. It was served alongside a tiny bowl of soup, and with metal cutlery and an actual glass wine glass. Real implements in economy?! I must have been delirious.
The drive from the airport was quite breathtaking, with the 13.3 mile Incheon bridge spanning the gap between the airport island and the mainland. Seongnam falls within the umbrella of greater Seoul, and is about as urban as it gets. The sheer number of tower blocks is incredible along the route between the airport and Seoul itself, too.
We’ve been out having too much fun and unfortunately run out of writing time for today, but I’ll be back next time with more Seoul shenanigans.