So I’m back home now in freezing cold Berkeley, where it feels like winter. Writing this from the Berkeley public library– and it feels like a dream. Funny, how you perceive a place so differently after you’ve left it for a while for the wide world. Berkeley feels comfortable and friendly and wacky…. and wintery.
Anyway, I want to re-cap our layover in Seoul, because it was so special. Only eight hours, and my mom and I dragged ourselves like crazy ladies into the city after an overnight 6 hour sleepless flight from Bangkok. We couldn’t miss seeing Korea, even if it would be a whirlwind visit. After waiting in a VERY long immigration line (we chose the absolute slowest one– my mom kept referring to the immigration officer as “Kim Jong Il the Second” because he must’ve been incredibly strict, taking about 20 minutes with each person wanting to pass into his country), we got on a bus into downtown Seoul. We both slept the entire way, missing the scenery completely, until we were jarred awake by the bus driver announcing “Ansuk! Ansuk!” We rubbed our sleepy eyes, realizing we were the only ones left on the bus and he was politely but forcefully trying to get us hooligans to get off his vehicle so he could carry on his way. We stumbled exhaustedly down the stairs, and into a tiny alleyway in the neighborhood of Insedon, which I had read about online as a #1 place to visit for a one day visit to Seoul.
One problem: it was 8 AM Sunday morning and we were running on less than an hour of sleep each. We REALLY wanted to go to “sleepino” (see Bangkok post for the reference to this term) but we also wanted to see some of our ancestral land. We wandered through the quaint (and still sleepy) alleyways of Insedon, searching for both culture and a park bench to get a few minutes of shuteye, not sure which we wanted to come first. Turns out, my mom wanted to prioritize sleeping, and she led us determinedly into a quiet alley where she proceeded to plant herself INSIDE a planter box on the outside wall of a small traditional teahouse restaurant and fall asleep with her face half-hidden by a delicate Korean bush. I was in hysterics, laughing, not sure whether to laugh or cry because I was so tired and amused by this scene. I found my own planter box to post up in, but couldn’t sleep from embarassment. Old Korean men taking their morning walks stopped puzzledly to stare at my mom asleep against a restaurant wall, and young giggling couples passing by the small shops paused to ponder this strange scene of two foreigners (though both Korean in our own right) napping in a seemingly insignificant alleyway.
Anyhow, I’d had enough and arose my mother. We wandered down the street a bit more, until a youngish woman stopped us and asked if we needed help. (Yes, we did, but we weren’t sure what kind). She explained that though she was originally from Seoul and currently teaching Set Design at a local university, she had been living in New York up until a year ago, and thus spoke perfect English. When she heard we had come on an overnight flight and were looking for caffeine and somewhere to relax, she laughed and led us into an adorable cafe featuring traditional Korean rice sweets and tea. We thanked her blearily, bought some dok (Korean version of mochi, not sure who originated it…) and fell asleep at the corner cafe table we staked out for its inobtrustiveness. Luckily, were were the only ones in the cafe and thus nobody was there to be bothered by our hobo-like appearance. I didn’t really sleep, mostly just giggled exhaustedly while my mom got her shut eye. A bit later, we arose and decided to visit the palace the woman had told us was only a 15 minute walk away.
We were so glad we did. The palace was beautiful, in a simple and seemingly Mongolian style. Imposing but not flashy like the Bangkok palaces. The grounds were huge and the day was quickly warming, and we were still exhausted, but we were pulled on by our curiosity and the tingling sense of familiarity. We could sense our ancestral presence there on those grounds, as my great grandfather Ham Ho Young was a very learned scholar and important religious man in politics before he was forced to flee Korea with his wife and two young sons by a Japanese invasion. My mom and I decided we want to return to Korea for a longer trip with the rest of the Ham/Rosen women, perhaps next spring… There is just so much, and the country seems so beautiful with its stark but simple mountainous landscape background, and its pleasant but rascally people 🙂
Anyway, I really liked Seoul, but when we returned to the airport we halfway regretted leaving it for the city… because we discovered a lovely Resting Area where you could shower, get massages, and sleep in comfortable lounge chairs! In fact, we may end up returning to Korea just to re-experience Incheon Airport!
Overall, the experience was like a dream. Being back home is also like a dream, though I am quickly returning to my normal self, eating big meals and walking around without fainting or becoming lightheaded. Just passed a really pleasant afternoon, having lunch with Eliza and Evan downtown, shopping at the used bookstore, and seeing “Inception” on my own in the theatre. Now back at the public library, trying to center my thoughts, document my experiences, put my affairs in order, and plan for the next year all at once. Oof.