(Warning: Quite a long, wordy post)

Though I was scheduled to appear in the airport at night, I still alloted February 14 in my 1-week Korea leave, so that I have the whole morning to prepare and finalize everything.

The thing is though, I woke up that day with a 38.1 degree Celsius fever. I already had it since the night before, and it really felt like a very offensive practical joke.

Fortunately one tablet of that magical Bioflu solved everything — drank one when I woke up, went back to sleep, and then when I woke up again at around 12 p.m., my temperature was already down to 37 Celcius. And we’re back in the game again.

 

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Fast forward to this funny scene in the airport:  While waiting in line behind the Cebu Pacific counter, this pair of Korean women in front of me started to ask and talk to me in Korean. I’m like “Uhh, sorry I don’t speak Korean :|”. As if it wasn’t enough, there came this another group of Korean women, went behind me on our line, and this one woman from their group started tapping me to ask something. I faced back, looked at her, she looked at me back, and then SHE ALSO STARTS TALKING TO ME IN KOREAN AS WELL. What the?!?!?! DX

As someone living in South East Asia, sure I can be mistaken as an Indonesian or a Thai, fair enough. But as a Korean? Yes, I always get a haircut in Tony and Jackey but come on, my face is way, way off.

Anyway, an hour or two later, I was finally able to board the plane. And based on the passengers inside, you start to appreciate Cebu Pacific for adding a Korean language version of their usual airplane prompts (and the one that only stand out to my brain from the prompts was ‘화장실’ hehehe).

It was a long flight (for me at least, my longest before I think was a 3-hour flight to SG), and I think I only managed to only get less than 2 hours from that scheduled 4-hour travel.

 

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When our heater-enabled 5J plane finally landed on Incheon International Airport, I was already expressing how excited I am with what I was seeing outside the plane window.

‘Holy crap, I am now REALLY in Korea!’

‘Wow, is it just me, or is the runway covered in snow powders?’

‘Hey, is this person who’s pulling the baggage conveyor belt a man or a woman? Androgynous? Dude who looks like a lady?’

As I walked out the cabin door, I immediately felt that -5C temperature that the captain was talking about earlier. Sure it was a short-lived chill, but it was something that I definitely have never felt before. When I went down the escalators and into the train that goes into the passenger terminal, I was still nanginginig.

 

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It was even more fun after I got past immigration and after I’ve claimed my baggage.  I went to a Family Mart convenience store to buy a T-Money, but the lady in the cashier said ‘No more,  all gone!’ Okay, I get it, geez.

Since I can’t find any other convenience store, I started to go outside to check out the buses. Rather idiotically, I somehow forgot that it’s negative -5C outside.  So when I stepped out, I felt this SUDDEN RUSH OF CHILL IN MY FACE. Holy freezer in my head, Batman.

(Mind you, I just wore a jacket and I had no gloves, scarves, bonnets, and not even moisturizing lotion on my face and hands. )

But… I was enjoying it. I was saying ‘Oh my God this is amazing!’ to myself, even though I was starting to feel that it’s becoming difficult to talk because the sides of my mouth were starting to freeze up, with that distinct dry feeling (A good comparison that I thought:  Try touching ice while still in the freezer with your bare hands, and then feel your palm).

And in my opinion, negative temperature isn’t really that bad at first (I’m saying this because that was only -5C, and I think don’t want to experience Canada’s -30’s). Sure it’s quite perilous to the skin, but I think it’s quite an enjoyable experience. Or maybe that’s just me, being makapal ang balat and all :\

Anyway, I really wasn’t sure if the bus needed T-Money or not (forgot to research on that one hehe), and I was really feeling cold, so  I went back inside to take the other alternative to go to the city: Via the Airport Express (AREX) train.

Before, it used to be that from Incheon, you need to take a train to Gimpo International Airport, and then from there you take a train to Seoul City Station, then from there you can transfer to whatever station you need to go. But Incheon International Airport, being the ‘Best Airport in the World’ and also being the awesome that they are, decided that they create a new route that will go straight to Seoul City station (by going through some other stations).

To even express how convenient it was, the nearest station on place I needed to go (Bebop Guesthouse) was Hongdae (short for ‘Hongik Daehakgyo’, or Hongik University) Station. Apparently, the AREX Commuter train passes by Hongdae as well. So I can just go down there, instead of going straight to Seoul City Station and taking the extra hassle of transferring train stations (which I will discuss how tiring it is, in a later post).

Anyway, I took the AREX Commuter train, and it…. was the most barren train ride of my life.

I got in, sat on the heated seats, and as the train went by, I looked outside the window… only to see factories, wide, unused lands, remote places. Sure it was not yet Seoul, fair enough. But still.

Most importantly when I checked the scenery outside, I was able to confirm what some people were saying in PinoyExchange Forums: There was no more snow.

After I finally got off of the train in Hongdae station, I walked around in what was my first intro into the Seoul city life.  Just about 5 minutes later, I finally arrived in Bebop Guesthouse (which was suggested to me).

 

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Thanks to the help of an ajusshi outside, I was able to get inside the house even though Olive or any of the hosts weren’t there yet. I got in there at around 8:30 a.m., but Olive only arrived at around 11. Geez, should’ve called her earlier. Or more so, I should have checked my GMail instead since apparently she sent a notice in my e-mail to call her. Anyway, that’s that.

I finally got in my nice room, and then started to prepare the pancit cantons and my two other gifts (a maroon bonnet and a Team Manila hoodie).  Maybe it was a good timing to do so (I mean, leave the room) since Olive said she still has to clean it first.

I passed by first on a nearby 7-11 store and bought a Seoul Citypass+ (T-Money) card. After loading it, I went back to the Hongdae station for a train ride to Idae (short for ‘Ewha Yeoja Daehakgyo’ or ‘Ewha Woman’s University’, pronounced as ‘I-hwa’) station, which was just the second station after Hongdae.

 

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Welcome to Ewha.

Strange landscape this place has. After climbing through what could be the steepest escalator ever inside a subway station, you pass by different shops that go along a downward road. Most of the shops are geared towards the feminine populace of the university. No worries, there are also places that are for us males, like, err, Starbucks. And Mr. Pizza.  Anyway, after you reach the main gate, the slope of the road goes upward again.

I was walking along and I approached these two ladies who doesn’t seem to look like they’re Koreans. Since they were tourist guides, I then asked for the direction of the Graduate Dormitory and the Human Life Sciences building.  They then brought out their map and looked for the said buildings using some sort of a numbered-legend system. Anyway, they did find them, and then just gave the map to me. Uhh, thanks. They could’ve given me the map and look for the buildings myself. Hey, at least they pointed some directions on how to go there.

So I went past the main gate and… sweet merciful Lord, this school is big. I felt like I went to another country or something. The word ‘prestigious’ seems to be just about right.

I was a bit nervous at first about the thought of going around in an all-girl’s university. I mean, what if all the women there gave me the bad look/s, like asking ‘What the hell is this guy doing here?’ Well as it turns out, Ewha is an open-university (like UP) and they also allow tourists to go around and have a look at their campus.

I passed by first the Graduate Dormitories and as expected, the entrances are only accessible to the residents. There didn’t seem to be a lobby of some sort, so I moved on and went to the Human Life Sciences building.

Remember what I was saying earlier about the strange slopes of this place? Apparently it also is in effect inside the campus itself, as I had to go up a verry steep hill just to get to one of the entrances of the HLS building. Geez. Also, thanks to the cold weather, I didn’t even break a sweat.

 

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Some challenges.

Anyway I finally got there, and the original plan was to call Kay and surprise her while waiting outside (since I was not sure if I can get in). But Globe decided to play the role of Belzeebub and decided NOT TO GIVE MY PHONE A ROAMING SIGNAL EVEN THOUGH I HAVE LOADED 1000 PESOS ON IT AND SENT AN ACTIVATION TEXT A DAY BEFORE I LEFT. I didn’t bother to rent a phone in the airport because I knew I have prepared myself with Globe Romaing. But no, the roaming did not activate. So I was not able to call her.

This got me worried. I was afraid that she might have already left and had lunch with Sarah and Jona (highschool batchmates who were also taking a vacation in Korea). Clearly I had to do something.

So I went back outside of the campus and looked around the busy shops. I went first to a local carrier’s store and asked if they have a sim card that I can buy. Apparently they didn’t have one, and the store manager gave me a map to one of their branches to see if that branch have what I needed. But that meant having to take another train ride, and I obviously did not have time for that.

I went around and saw the two tourist guide girls that I talked to earlier. I approched them to ask where I could use a phone. Amazingly, one of them told about a nearby pay phone. Sheesh! Maybe I was probably that frustrated, and a pay phone didn’t even cross my mind.

She told me that I can find that pay phone in front of Mini-Stop. And for a moment, my mind exploded in disbelief, that I had to ask her “I’m sorry, what was that again? Mini-Stop? Are you sure?”

So I went to look for the pay phone and indeed it was in front of a convenience store I NEVER THOUGHT I’D SEE IN KOREA: MINI-STOP.

There were two pay phone booths. The first one I approached didn’t have coin slots, and it only accepted a specific phone card. I went to the next booth, and lo and behold, it accepts T-Money cards! But… there was no handset, only the phone unit and the broken cord.

Things started to really look bleak. In whatever I do, it seems that I always have to go through a roadblock.

I was running out of time and options so I did the next brave, kapal-muks thing…

 

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As I was walking on the streets of Ewha, I stumbled upon the tourist guide girls for the third time. They asked if I was able to find the pay phone, and told them what I saw.

I also asked them one final question: “Can I, as a tourist, go inside the buildings?”

Rather unbelievably, they said “Yes, of course you can.”

I went back to the Human Life Sciences building, this time I did not settle on staying outside. Whether the two tourist guide girls were saying the truth or not, I went in and… saw no one.

I saw another ajusshi, showed the address in my itinerary, and then called for some more people inside that apparently was *gasp* a Faculty Room. The teacher and I talked for a bit and after showing the address, she told me to go to the 6th floor.

It felt a bit weird, because as I can see from the look on her face, she seems to become even more welcome-y and she was even smiling and looked as if she’s glad to let me in further inside their building.

To 6th floor then. Right, I went inside the elevator and, wait a minute… the button only goes up to 5. What the hell…

When I got off the elevator at the 5th floor, I tried looking for any clues for a ‘6th floor’. I only found one, and since no one seems to be around during that time, I took that path…

Yes, I took the fire exit.

After getting there, I then realized that I may just have ended on the wrong side of the building. And I thought about that because as I was walking along, I found that for me to be able to continue, I had to pass through AN AUDITORIUM. Again, since no one seemed to be around, I (quickly!) ran to the other side.

And on that other side, I have finally saw Room 603.

I wanted to knock, but then again I thought there may be having a class during that time. I tried walking around to see if anyone comes out, but it seemed that everyone there was busy in their rooms/labs, and since I didn’t want to be caught idling around in their floor, I decided that I’ll leave the building and… actually I have no idea what to do next. Wait outside? Look for someone to make a call?

But then, as I was about to leave that area, I saw a woman come out of Room 603!

I called her, and asked if she knew Kay. I had a big sigh of relief when she said ‘Ah, Firipin saram?’ (Ah, (the) Filipino?), and of course I replied with ‘Ne!’ She looked like she was about to go somewhere, but she still bothered to go back to the room to call Kay.

 

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Surprise! :)

There she was, stepping out of Room 603.

And man, if only I had a picture of her reaction when she saw me.

It seems even the Korean woman who helped me earlier can’t help but laugh at what just happened! She went back in the room and went out on the other door! Haha! :D

Kay, still with the surprised look, walked away a bit, before going back and started hitting me. Good thing though she didn’t try kicking me because that would have been really perilous for me(as she is a 2nd-dan Taekwondo black belter).

But rather stupidly, I didn’t give my gifts yet while I was still there.

We talked for a bit, then both of us went all the way back to the subway entrance to meet up with Sarah and Jona. They were already in Korea since February 10, and during that time when we met up, it was already their last day as they have to leave for the airport in the afternoon.

While we were there on the station entrance, Kay was talking to someone over the phone in Korean. I normally don’t listen in on other people’s cellphone conversation because that is none of my business. But then I started to hear my name being mentioned. At first I thought I may be mistaken, but then after a while, Kay was already spelling my name to the person she was talking to over the phone.

As it turned out, she was registering me to the skiing trip where she have been invited. That skiing trip also was the reason why I had to show up and do the surprise on February 15 instead of 16 (her actual birthday) because I found out beforehand that she will be going to that trip from February 16-18.

I kept on saying ‘NO NO NO NO!’ and declining her offer, but she won’t budge and still continued talking over the phone. Aside from already having a prepared itinerary for my trip, the reason why I preferred not to join is that the skiing trip was something that her friends prepared for her, so I thought it may be better for me not to meddle in.

(Or so I thought, as I will explain on the next post)

We went next to Mr. Pizza to have a late lunch (but we did not order pizza, which was weird), went inside the Ewha Campus Complex (the one with the gigantic stairs outside, but inside it had a library, classrooms, cafeterias, and… a theater/movie house :O), and then had a few photo sessions in the campus.

Kay had to go back to the lab as she had something important to attend to. After saying her goodbyes to Sarah and Jona, I went along with the two back to Seoul Backpackers (the place they stayed) and helped them with their bags. I went with them until they were able to find an airport bus.

After saying our goodbyes, I didn’t try to go back yet to the guest house because I wanted to go around and get a feel of the city first.

 

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Sure enough, I walked for a bit and found myself on one of the entrances of Myeongdong market, which was probably the busiest shopping street I’ve seen in my life (and perhaps, throughout South Korea). And of course, there wouldn’t be a lot of people there if it weren’t for the stores there. Sure enough, there’s alleys and alleys of shops that ranges from clothes, food, beauty products, and even K-Pop memorabilias.

Speaking of beauty products, if there was one thing that I noticed in Seoul, it’s the fact that there are tons of beauty product stores out there. Aside from the usual Etude House, there’s also Missha, Face Shop, Hanskin, Nature Republic, and more. What’s also ridiculous is that in every corner you go in Seoul, you can expect to see at least one store from any of those brands mentioned. They’re everywhere! @@

Another thing that women will probably go crazy about the beauty product stores is the amount of freebies that they get, especially on big stores along the likes of Myeongdong. For example after paying in the counter in Missha, the paper bag, aside from the one bottle of BB Cream that Aleli requested me to buy, contained the following freebies: a face tisse (which was already free if you take the small shopping tray given to you by the girls from the entrance), a mask-something for the face, and 5 small bottles of lotion. And it seems that the bigger your bill is, the more freebies you get.

Anyway, enough talk about beauty products o.o I was not able to cover the other alleys because I went back to the entrance I got in earlier and went to their underground market to look around. Exchanged about $200 to KRW, bought the SNSD CD for an online friend, and then I went back home to the guest house.

 

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Thoughts on Koreans.

As I was going back to the guest house, I realized that if there was one thing that I loved about the Koreans, it’s that they are very kind. For example, almost all of the Koreans I asked, ranging from the girl in the AREX Counter, to the subway station information man, and even to the girl in 7-11, all of them always has a ‘Have a nice day!’ at the end of our conversations. Whoever taught these people English, I salute you.

Another trait I liked about them is the fact that everyone was very helpful. Back when I was in the airport, whenever I looked lost and stopped walking to read my itinerary, someone would approach me to ask me where I was going. What’s even cooler is that they even asked me what I will be taking (bus or train), and regardless of what I choose, they’d still point me to where I should go to take the AREX or what entrance I should use to get to bus 6005.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned about going inside a local phone carrier store, and asking the tourist guide girls about where I could make a call. Well, I told them that I needed to call someone, and the amazing thing is that all of them offered their phones for me to use! I politely declined of course, but that was a really nice gesture from them.

 

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When I got back to the guest house, uhhh… it felt like there was no one there. I was kind of expecting what I call a ‘United Colors of Benetton Moment’ where I’d be talking and mingling around with people from different countries that were also staying at the guest house. But again, no one seemed to be there, so I used one of the computers there instead to upload pictures from my first day.

After a while, I talked to Kay via YM and asked if we could go out for dinner. She agreed, and since both of us don’t need to go out too late, I suggested that we eat somewhere in the Ewha area.

So I took a train again to Idae, met up with her in the campus main gate, and we then went to a local restaurant near the Charlie Brown Cafe. And I thought finally, my first authentic Korean meal.

While waiting for our ‘tokramyun’ (didn’t read the menu, Kay was the one who ordered), she handed me a box of Hershey’s white chocolate because it was Valentine’s Day (in Korea, not sure if it is also followed in Japan, women give chocolates/gifts to the guys during Valentine’s Day; the guys return the favor on March 14, which is called White’s Day). Come to think of it, that was the first Valentine’s related item I’ve ever received from someone. Thanks again! :)

Going back to the dinner, I’ve tried eating using chopsticks before, but I was never prepared for the chopsticks they use in Korea: long, metal chopsticks that are flat.  It was definitely more difficult to use than the usual rounded ones. Nevertheless, I was able to be used to it (errm, a bit) and still continued with our meal.

Talked about a lot of things over spicy food, greeted her a Happy Birthday again, and then we went back to our own places for sleep…