I am not going to deny that I am a huge fan of Hallyu and K-pop. So when my boss hinted that she was sending me for a work assignment in South Korea, I immediately volunteered.
Getting a visa for this trip was another story though. With all those requirements needed to submit to the travel agency, I almost had second thoughts of going. The hassle made me think if the possibility of bumping into Jinmin of BTS or Heechul of Suju was all worth it. Nonetheless, I thought this was a gift from the Universe. Not everyone would have the privilege to go on an all expense paid trip. And so after a week, I got my visa and there was no turning back.
I left for Incheon on 11 March, the birthday of my mom. It made me think, she was probably instrumental to this “gift” so that I could take a break after years of looking after her and her dependents. Time for a “me” time.
Arriving late in the evening at Incheon Airport, I exchanged money at a Forex kiosk. For my Php5,000, I got KRW 975,000.
I then boarded a 10:20 PM bus (front of Terminal 1 entrance, Gate 9B) going straight to an upscale hotel in Goyang where I was billeted. The bus ticket cost me KRW 6,200; and travel time took about less than an hour. The vicinity of the hotel was quiet, considering it was only about 10:00 PM (South Korea is an hour ahead of the Philippines). At that moment, I relished pretending that I was Yoojin (Winter Sonata).
Unlike in some ASEAN countries I have been to, there was no traffic at Goyang and its environs..or at least, at the time that I was there. Even though it was my first time to travel to Seoul, I had no difficulty getting around the place because there are adequate signage and pedestrian lanes and crossings. The roads are wide and long that I had to run/walk when crossing to beat the crosswalk timer, And of course, it was icy cold…something that I was not prepared for, being used to the nearly year round humid weathers in Manila. During the first day, I was having bad headache as if my temples were about to burst. The following days became bearable though as I started getting used to the cold.
In the days that passed, I would take the time to check out some places after work.
I went to the Ilsan Lake Park, a 20-minute walk from the hotel. This place seems popular for joggers and bikers; as well as the site for romantic scenes in some K-Drama, or so I heard. While the place is quite expansive, there were mostly dried out weeds, and leafless trees. The lake was not kept. For the most part, piled up dried leaves and shrubs could be seen. The aftermath of winter. I guess my timing was bad, and should have seen it in winter or in spring.
The One Mount shopping complex, which was about ten minutes walk from the hotel houses various shops. Not many people were going there. I ate my dinner in one of the noodle shops on the second floor.
I picked the pork noodles, which cost KRW 8.000. While there were other food choices from nearby shops, the ramyeon was the cheapest, and comes with kimchi, sliced white onion and green pepper, and chili paste.
A hefty serving, I was only able to consume half a bowl. The pork meat was tender and clean tasting, that it tasted like boiled chicken meat. The soup broth had the mild black peppery taste and not greasy at all.
For groceries, I went to Homeplus, which is located almost across One Mount. The food prices varied from cheap to pricey (comparing to the costs of grocery items here in Manila). For example, I bought a litre of soya milk, which costs KRW 1,000. Here, you can get one at cheapest Php 64, or KRW 1,298 (at Php1:19.50).
On another day, I also went to see Western Dom at Ilsandong-gu. It was a long walk from the hotel, but quite accessible to reach even by foot. Braving the slush-cold air, I was anticipating a grand shopping pavilion, similar to what I’ve seen in photos online.
En route, I passed by another park, which I think is the Jeongbalsan park; smaller than the lake park, but has more of the foliage at the time. The long paved walk seems to lead somewhere but I had no more time to explore because I needed to head back to work after I see the Western Dom.
Seoul has a number of parks and its quite refreshing for someone who comes from a country like the Philippines that has scarcity of green spaces and parks in urban areas and cities.
The roads are senior friendly too because the Halmeoni and the Harabeoji can get to cross the street safely; unlike here in Manila where our lolos and lolas are expected to climb the footbridges to be able to cross the street.
Finally, the Western Dom in Janghang-dong. Okay, to be honest, I got disappointed because it was far from what I had expected. I thought it was a cross between Farmers Plaza, outdoors version, Viramall (Greenhills), and Cubao X. Various shops were lined up on the ground floor. The clothes and shoes they sold made me wonder if they were actually used items, like the Ukays, but more expensive at mostly KRW 10,000 and up. The upper two floors were mostly food shops. I did not eat in any because the prices were a little pricey for me at over KRW 10,000.
A week is definitely not enough to explore Seoul. Even then, there was no sight of BTS or Nuest or EXO; not even a random oppa (except for that cute valet at the hotel who looked like an idol in his black trench coat and clean cut hair. And like an idol in a K- Drama, he took the pains of catching the bus for me. Sweet! I’ll see you in our next lifetime :-P). But I am looking forward to going back there again someday soon, by then I will make sure I’m going on a winter season or when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and forget for a while that I am already an ajumma.