The Saga to Seoul
This is the first stretch where I felt like a real backpacker again. Being misinformed and going through unexpected events – these are the moments where you look back and cherish forever.
After getting dropped off by Sebastian (thanks again man, let me know when you’ll be visiting) we went to check in our bags at Cathay Pacific. The agent asks us if we have a departure ticket from Seoul and we said no since we’re just purchasing one way tickets as we travel. She ends up reading us a policy that says that the airport won’t let us pass customs without a departure ticket out of Korea. Her solution was to purchase a departure ticket with them first, cancel it at the Cathay Pacific office at the Incheon airport and get a refund if we do not want to use the ticket. Simple enough.
We went through customs and didn’t have to indicate anything written on the landing card or declaration form on a departure flight. So we went to the Cathay Pacific office to cancel this booking that we didn’t have to make in the first place. The agent there didn’t speak much English but we were able to communicate the request. First thing she told us is that they can’t do that here as the ticket was originally purchased in Frankfurt so I’d have to call them or TRY to cancel it at the Cathay office in Seoul. I got her to help me call and ask the Seoul office. They can do it but my refund will take up to 3 months to process? Wah?? So the quicker solution was to call the Frankfurt office but they weren’t open for another hour. I’d have to call when I get to our accommodation. Grrrr…
Before leaving the airport, we had an amusing moment at the baggage claim area. When we went to our carousel, there was a horde of people giving out flowers and several cameramen filming and interviewing some of the passengers. There was a woman with a megaphone initially saying something in Korean in which we didn’t understand, then the English announcement…Apparently it was their celebration of 300 million baggages that went through Incheon airport. Then on the carousel all these wrapped gift boxes were coming out instead of luggages. All the boxes have individual passenger names of our flight and they were giving out an appreciation gift to everyone.
That was a pretty neat promo. We ended up finding Viv’s name on one of the boxes but mine was missing? I think someone just mistakenly snatched it. Ho hum, No biggie though. It wasn’t like they were giving away free flight vouchers. Viv opened hers and got a cheap polo shirt with UNICEF embroidered on it. Other people got these small bags/satchels etc. You’d expect merchandise with the airport’s brand wouldn’t you? Seems like they were just emptying the storage rooms a bit here.
Anyway, so we head to the city center based on Mrs. Kim’s (our host) instructions. We take the bus, get off at our stop, and get a taxi to cab the rest of the way there. We got to the bus stop part and we get stuck. After getting off the bus we proceeded to hail down a cab. Hmm I didn’t notice any along the way so not sure what they exactly looked like. But I’m sure it’s not hard to spot a cab. We look down the busy street of passing cars and we don’t see any taxis. Man it’s such a busy street too and there’s not a single taxi that’s coming down this road.
After a few impatient minutes we decide to find a nearby hotel and ask if they can call a cab for us. We enter and talk to this receptionist that didn’t know English but asked if we speak Mandarin. The reins went to Viv. She asked if she can help us call a cab. Her Mandarin was very limited as well and she couldn’t explain something. She pulls out her electronic translator and types. Looks up at us after and says,
What??? Like the whole city? For how long? She couldn’t give us a clear answer but it was the whole city. Greeeat. Now our next option was to call Mrs. Kim and see if she can guide us to her apartment. At first she says she’ll come and pick us up. Then she asked me to pass the phone back to the reception so she can talk to her. At this time there was also a male employee present that was conversing with the receptionist. After a brief exchange the guy motions us to come with him. We go back to the main road and he was trying to see if he could hail a cab? Didn’t our host say she’d pick us up? Why was he still trying to get a cab if they’re on strike? This was getting confusing.
After 5min of not seeing a cab (I wonder why), we head back towards the hotel and the guy starts asking nearby stores about our address. The first store couldn’t tell him anything concrete. He approaches a second store and talks to a couple of women by the door. Then one of them takes our address and gestures us to go to her car. Is she offering to drive us there? Sweet!
I think we were desperate and didn’t really hesitate to think about jumping into a stranger’s car. But she was a late 40’s woman who looked like your mom’s friend and we drove from her workplace so it didn’t seem that risky of a move. If it was a younger dude that was behind the wheel that would have been a bit more sketchy.
It only took 7-8min but she helped us find the address! Bonus karma points for that lady right there! We ring the buzzer and Mrs. Kim’s husband, Mr. Lee, lets us in the building.
We made it! And in one piece!
Mrs. Kim wasn’t there (she probably was going to pick us up) and Mr. Lee only had a few words in his vocabulary so I couldn’t ask him where she was. So we chill out, go eat, come back and shower up after a long exhausting day. She came back home after a few hours and we finally met.
She’s a very nice lady. Going to show us the closest transit stops tomorrow so we can head to the Chinese embassy to start applying for our visas.
Backpacking will never go 100% the way you plan it, but that’s where some of your most memorable experiences come from 🙂