Kind of Seoul’d

I visited Seoul recently. The trip was an overall great experience. I saw some really great places from the busy downtown streets of Seoul to the scenic countryside. I also had some interesting experiences. Yes, interesting.  Near the City Hall, they have a huge sign – “I Seoul U”.

I did not tip the whole trip.  I was not required to tip. I did not see anyone tip for any services. My sister said it’s not in their culture to tip. She also explained that restaurant workers are paid at a decent hourly rate so they don’t rely on tips. She would know. She waits tables for a part-time gig. I will admit, I still sort of cringed the whole time for not giving tips only because I had been so used to it.   

My sister told me of Kyochon chicken. If we had more time together, I’m sure it would have been in one of our itineraries. But we ran out of time (together).  However, I am an independent chicken-loving soul. I sought the chicken place out on my own! I got there and I ordered to-go. I ordered half original-half spicy-all drumsticks.  Then, I ordered rice. The lady looked perplexed and said, “no rice”. I thought she meant they do not serve rice. I confusingly pointed to the promotional banner of a deliciously looking fried rice staring in front of my hungry face.  Turns out, I cannot order rice to-go.  I can only order it if I dined in.  So, I dined in.  I really wanted rice with my chicken!  

I ventured into Domdaemun market after a long day of tourist tour of Petite France, Nami Island, and the Garden of the Morning Calm.  Absolutely beautiful and gorgeous places to walk and venture out on.  My tourist spirit was satisfied but my tourist stomach was hungry.  It is not an exaggeration to describe that every few steps you take in the streets of Seoul is a restaurant. The question becomes, how do you decide which place to eat at. I thought of one of my hubby’s many theories about life’s practicality – the restaurant with people in it must mean they have something decent for people to eat. Now, it may not be saying much because (a) there are a lot of people in Seoul and (b) there are a lot of tourist people in Seoul probably just like me, applying some type of theoretical approach to restaurant choices.  Nonetheless, I went with what caught my eye. A restaurant with a really enticing picture of Barbecued Pork Belly and a few people inside who looked satisfied. 

I sat and ordered.  I pointed to the picture of the Barbecued Pork Belly.  The waiter said, “No. For two people only.” Say what? He then flipped the pages of the menu and pointed to the items I could order since I am the only one eating.  Say what, again? In my head – I spoke this in Korean language very fluently – “You mean to tell me, the thing on the menu that made me decide to choose your restaurant over the gazillion other restaurants in this heavily restaurant populated area is off limits to me because I did not come here to eat with another person? You mean to tell me, just because I am by myself, I am limited to bowls of bulgogi and stewed meat? Are you kidding me right now?” But in reality, I did not speak Korean, so I decided to smile and point to a bowl of Bulgogi which isn’t entirely bad because I do like Bulgogi. Thankfully, it came with rice!

Cabs are plenty and inexpensive in Seoul. Most cabs are either yellow or white.  Every once in a while, I saw black cabs that had a sign, “foreigners only” and “international language available” on it. If I were to interpret this – I would take it to mean, they only allow foreign passengers and that they spoke some type of international language (English at least, I thought).  What a relief, right? No.  I hailed one and he kicked me out because he couldn’t understand what I was saying.

Cab drivers will kick you out. Some more politely than others.  But they will.  At another time, the first cab I hailed motioned me to get out because I was supposedly going the opposite direction. Now, I knew darn well I was in the right direction. But he was instructing me to go across the street and take a cab from there. Based on his emphatic hand gestures and my zero ability to speak the Korean language, I could tell he was not going to take me anywhere and I best just get off. I did.

I hailed a second cab. After the driver read the hotel’s address, he motioned he couldn’t take me where I was going because it was time for him to eat.  His voice and gestures where a little more empathetic than most cab drivers I’ve come across.  He seemed kind but for reasons that will forever be unknown to me, he kicked me out of his cab. I mean, who stops to get a passenger and then decides it is dinner time at 5 in the afternoon? But I was not about to argue because, yes – you guessed it. I could not have argued even if I wanted to. I got off.

By this time, I may have already cried a little inside. I was tired and frustrated at my utter failure to get a cab ride back to the hotel. I thought of just walking back to the hotel, but the thought didn’t last very long. I’m going to say it’s because I am persevering. I don’t give up easy. I was not about to let a couple of cab drivers destroy my spirit. I will also add that walking back to the hotel entailed (a) walking after hours of walking and (b) reading the walking instructions on the map phone app which I am unbelievably horrible at.

 I hailed a third cab. Same corner, same street.  I was secretly calling myself stupid (for trying something for the third time after failing twice and expecting a different result) and brave (for not giving up).  Success! The third driver did not kick me out. I arrived at the hotel safe and sane.

At the airport while waiting for my flight home, I went to Dunkin Donuts to get me a cup of iced coffee and a brownie. I ordered it to-go (here we are again with me and my to-go orders). After getting my order, I sat it on one of tables and immediately, one of the ladies told me in a very unsubtle almost confrontational way – “Your cup is not for here, it’s to-go!” She motioned that I could not sit at the table.  Admittingly, my tolerance level was short by this time. And I mean, I’m at Dunkin freaking Donut! I should feel some type of being at home and a hint of kindness. But no. So, I told the lady, “I got it.  Let me fix my things and I’m headed out.”.  She KEPT talking so, I said in a tone to clarify that I have had enough of her rudeness– I GOT IT! She left me alone. I didn’t yell even though in my head, I wanted to.  My voice was calm but my tone was clear. I fixed my things and got out of there.

Being a mom of an almost non-verbal taught me to be extra aware of body languages.  As Aiden’s parent, I am always looking for triggers to avoid triggering unwanted reaction. I have also learned to recognize my own triggers and manage my own behavior so that I don’t end up becoming the trigger to his unwanted reaction.  On this trip, where 95% of my interaction consisted of others speaking to me in a language I did not speak let alone understand – I relied heavily on interpreting hand gestures, body motions, and facial expressions.  I controlled my own emotions and managed my behavior so that I could continue to enjoy myself. Which, I did.

Being a mom has also taught me to give grace.  My expectations are never always going to be met. And when that happens, it’s alright. I just try again, maybe slightly modifying my approach. And I have to come at it from a point of assuming no ill intent.  When my children do not do what I ask or need them to do, they do not intend to frustrate me. They may just not understand or they may not just be ready to do what I am asking them to do. On this trip, I gave plenty of graces both to others and to myself.

I must say, I was kind of Seoul’d.