Well, I’m home. Korea is over… for now. I’ll certainly be returning, though at what point and in what capacity, I haven’t the slightest. My thoughts on Korea as a whole will be written soon, once they fully coalesce in my own head. But for now, let’s turn back to my last week in Korea. Those days were a whirlwind, to put it lightly, and it all started with my sister’s arrival.
Laura-Eve’s arrival did not exactly proceed as planned. Her flight was delayed a full 24 hours due to a mechanical problem that couldn’t be fixed in the cold of New York. So, they flew her to Houston where she stayed the night. By the time she made it to Incheon Airport we had lost one of our eight days together. Not worth the $200 voucher. My school wouldn’t let me get a substitute so that I could pick her up from the airport, so she had to find her way to me through the Seoul subway system. Good thing it’s all in English.
After she left Incheon Airport and the airport wifi we had no communication. We originally planned for her to come all the way to Jeongja station – airport railroad to the green line to the shinbundang line – but a last minute decision to meet at Gangnam may have saved everything. Her flight arrived around 10pm, and with a two hour subway ride, there was a chance she would miss the last train to Jeongja, so we decided to meet where the green line met the shinbundang line: Gangnam station. I waited by the shinbundang turnstiles, heart jumping out of my throat at every person that passed, growing more anxious as the last train to Jeongja approached. And there it went. Sister, not here yet. Only two more green line trains left to arrive.
I headed up to the green line platform to catch her before she transferred. The first train unloaded and passed: nothing. Then came the announcement that the arriving train was the last train. This was it: all or nothing. If she wasn’t on this train, many things would be fucked. The entire train had emptied before I saw this tiny figure wheeling a suitcase all the way at the other end of the 10 car platform. It had to be her. I couldn’t see her face, so I squinted and saw that this tiny figure only had hair on half of her head. I began to run down the platform shouting something to the effect of “is that my sister?!?” the whole way. I knew the answer, I just couldn’t believe it. The hug that followed was perhaps my longest given or received. She was here. Korea. Take one.
Since we had missed the last train, we decided to walk around Gangnam and grab a drink before catching a cab back. We went to one of the few places I knew around the station, World Beer Bar, drank Leffe Brown, and caught up until 2am. We could have stayed all night, but we had an early morning to attend to.
Due to the 24 hour delay, we missed market day, so I had to improvise. First, wake up, have coffee. We went to my favorite coffee shop, 100% Original, got two americanos to go, and brought them to Kimbap Nara, Korea’s version of fast food, for Laura-Eve’s first Kimbap breakfast. I forced her to stay away from Korean food until she visited, and good on her, she complied. After kimbap, we made for the center of Seoul: Gwanghwamun. We said hello to King Sejong, Admiral Yi Sunshin, and city hall before touring Gyeongbokgung, the largest of Seoul’s five palaces. It was a beautiful morning. Cold, but beautiful.
By the time we were done with the palace, it was lunchtime. We hopped on a bus for Gwangjang Market, the first of many market visits. The food at Gwangjang is spectacular, as is the atmosphere. We walked among the food carts for a while, picked one, and sat down. Today was a day to try as much as possible. I chose janchi kuksu (thin noodles in an anchovy based broth) and she chose tteokbokki (rice cake in spicy red sauce). We shared food and reveled in our surroundings. Time for the second course. Gwangjang Market is also famous for bindaetteok (savory pancakes made with ground mungbean, onion, and seafood) so we found a tight spot on a bench and had one. So greasy. So delicious. For dessert we got hotteok and ate it from a paper cup.
After lunch I had to head back to work, and Laura-Eve was pretty tired, so she came back with me. I taught my last Friday classes and she slept. We were able to meet up again for dinner around 7pm. I took her to a fish restaurant I had discovered in my neighborhood two days ago. This place was so good that I went there three days in a row and ordered the same thing every time: samchi-guui (grilled spanish mackerel). That meal is enough for two, but I added caeran jjim (steamed egg) to our order because, well, it’s just special. Easily the best fish I’ve ever had. Laura-Eve agreed.
I got off work at 9pm, said goodbye to the only other foreign teacher at the school, as it was her last day, met Laura-Eve at Starbucks (the best landmark in my neighborhood) and we headed into the city. Destination: Sky Lounge. For months I had been wanting to drink alcohol at two places: a fancy-ass hotel bar and a bar in the sky with a view of the city. We decided to do both in one night. Sky Lounge is a fancy-ass bar on the 30th floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in Gangnam. I thought I knew where we were going, but it turns out there are two Intercontinental Hotels in Gangnam, and they are right next to each other. Of course, we went to the wrong one first. It was a little too quiet and pretentious for us, so we left and went to the right one. There, we were greeted with live music, expensive-ass drinks, and neon lights.
I ordered a chocolate martini (easy on the chocolate), and Laura ordered something citrusy. They were delicious, as they should have been considering the price: hers, $21; mine, $28. But this is what we were really paying for:
Day one, in the books. T-minus seven days until departure.