Read here about my first trip to Seoul
May 25th 2016
That moment when it’s almost 6 AM and you haven’t slept since yesterday because you came back from Miami and you talk to your mom who’s traveling to Seoul via Doha while you’re off to Jakarta, about meeting in Korea, then her continuing to Tokyo and you back to Bucharest via Doha to go to the Black Sea in order to attend a good friend’s wedding for which she needs to send you a traditional Romanian costume. Missing her since last time get-together in Rome at the beginning of May. #neverstoptraveling #meandmomaroundtheworld#wordmap #QueenofContrasts #Rotary2016
May 29th 2016, off to South Korea to meet mother who is in Seoul for the Rotary International Convention
They said: “You became insane because of the one you love”
I said: “The savor of life is only for the insane ones”
– Yafi’i, Raud al Rayahin
May 30th 2016, Grand Hyatt Incheon West Tower, Seoul, South Korea
The feeling I had stepping in the hotel lobby is hard to explain. First of all I did not think I’d still be here by now, at this job that I identify myself with more and more. Then realizing all the things I’ve been through and what I learned. What I did and what I failed to do. What I could’ve done better.
I’ve been in Seoul before, it must have been a year back and I loved the city. However, instead of 2 days I was in the South Korean capital for one week, most of it isolated in quarantine, a time of reflection and questioning of many essential issues about myself and life in general.
I remember that whole day running up and down Seoul, eating new and delicious food, seeing exciting places and a fascinating culture that was new to me, thinking how fortunate I am to see all these places. I was just at the beginning of my second month of flying and I had already seen the sunset from the tallest building in Tanzania in Dar el Salaam, hugged the lion cubs and partied hard in Johannesburg, ate authentic borscht in the Red Square in Moscow, swam in exotic Phuket, rode tuk tuks, motorbikes and trains, experienced rooftops and strip bars in Bangkok and discovered the unique charm of what became my favorite city, Beirut. And throughout that day I was thinking that I shall not leave with my colleagues that following morning. I don’t know why, but it was just haunting me.
So, at 8 PM, when I got at the hotel, it was a crazy house around there. Two letter under my door, calls from various offices in Doha and Seoul, messages on my phone. What followed was from a Hollywood movie, tens of calls to different departments and nothing certain, other that I was going somewhere. In South Korea. In all this mess I was trying to contact my mom to let her know I’m going somewhere for some time. 3 nights and 4 days it turned out to be one of the harshest, yet inspiring experiences of my life.
I had come for experience, here it was served.
Yet, that lobby brings so many memories. Of the two men and one woman assisting me to go, my bags packed, my thoughts whether they would be thrown away, a crazy sense of adventure in the given situation.
Let’s start a month of the ghosts of the past. Same Korea, same red sun shine and same luxurious lobby…but the story is simply a life memory…to be continued. June, bring it on!
In the room. It’s dusk time and the fog of the setting sun is giving a grey shade to the thousands of cars parked in the airport’s lots. Some aircraft tails in the background. My life and spirit in a picture. I become melancholic, but I have no time for this, I have to pack my bag with all the presents I brought for my mom from around the world.
The coffee pots, the ceramic mug, the wooden box with tea and coffee, the Jeju water, “Morning Calm” magazine issued by Korean Air, the Seoul Hallyu Tourist Guide, are part of my stories and although I don’t care much about things, I kept some symbolic ones from Korea. In my work notebook, where I write my flight details, there is a post it saying Flight Crew (of my company) in Korean. It came with my daily food box in that hospital/hotel.
Soon I’m back to the airport from where, at the advice of a Korean colleague, I take the Airport Limousine, which is actually a bus, a comfortable first class bus, let’s say. It costs around 15000 won (~11 euros) and it takes you to every single hotel in Seoul. I took bus 6015 towards the Myeong-Dong Area.
The Limousines have a sticker saying I, a big heart, Seoul. They are running every 10-20 minutes starting 4 AM to late night and there are special lines for them, making them really fast. Also, there is a number where you can call and check where each bus is at all times.
Koreans are impressive from many points of view. Just an example, vision glasses with different diopters are available in the airport for completing the forms.
Myeong Dong District with mother is amazing. Although we saw the world together even before my intense traveling experience, it’s still hard to believe we are together in the other side of the world, even for two days. Or especially for two days.
A few days before I was in Jakarta, writing: “Another sunrise in…Jakarta, Indonesia” and she wrote “Waiting for you in Seoul”.
I came not long ago from Miami and I’m still in the Cuban vibe. La Lupe. And the idea to go to Cuba in August.
Huge Korean drawings down on the streets, Korean BBQ, alive seafood at the entrance of the restaurants, tons of face creams and cosmetics – yes, Koreans, both women and men are obsessed with skincare, awesome street style, adorable little Korean kids, snails and tiny octopus on a stick, watermelon fresh juice – coming with a stand decorated with watermelon plush toys and lights and storekeepers dressed in…watermelons, Yaki Noodles, fashion shops with tiny sizes, thousands of luminous advertisements in Korean. In fact, Myeong Dong means the bright cave or bright tunnel. At night, it looks exactly like a bright melting pot.
I love Korea black shirts, stands with baby colorful shoes, lots of American brands, shops for all budgets and millions of small stuff, most of them useless, cute nonetheless. I’m awake for almost 30 hours now and I’m wearing the same make up. If any Korean would hear that…
Mother is beautiful and classy as always, perfect coiffure, simple cut grey top with and she’s wearing the colorful stones bracelet and assorted necklace I brought for her.
We cannot stop talking and we stop to talk by a huge pot of food for two, with chicken and seafood, a pot that we stir every now and then and wonder about what it contains. Cass beer and scissors cut meat. A good day and a good night. In Seoul, with mother.
May 31st 2016, Rotary International Convention, Seoul, South Korea
The city is filled with the Rotary International Convention banners saying Connect with Korea, Touch the World. There are over 40000 participants this year and they are roaming all over the city. They are mainly the best of the crop from around the world. On our way to the venue, which is somewhere outside the city, we pass by the City Hall and the Deoksugung Palace. I sleep for 10 minutes when I get the chance.
“Join Leaders. Exchange Ideas. Take Action” invites a huge panel at the entrance of the Kintex Convention Center. Myself a Rotarian, I share the values of Rotary. Service above self, charity, spreading the good. Rotary Conventions are great and I love this year’s logo in the shape of a traditional palace with two pagoda style roofs, colored in red, blue, green, yellow and black.
Weather is great and in the interior garden of the convention center they sell amazing food, beers and cold drinks and a group is dressed in traditional costumes and they perform traditional dances.
In what is called The House of Friendship I find the world under one single roof. Korean souvenirs and information, Korean costumes, Nigerian costumes, Americans speaking Spanish, Indian sweets with some silver topping, people from all over the world, mostly in traditional clothes, roaming around. I try my first Korean traditional dress and pose in front of a traditional rug. I even have traditional boots and nearby there are two Korean grannies explaining the Korean culture and how food and drinks are traditionally served. Of course, she wears traditional dress. The funniest of all is to see people of color wearing the Korean dresses.
Bulgarian roses, Rotarian Wine, Police and Law Enforcement Fellowship stand, Rotarian Hunters and Fishermen, an improvised theater, a diplomatic section, a library, restaurants and cafes, clothes-cosmetics-perfumes, volunteers volunteering to guide the Rotarians who are actually….volunteers, red and blue lampions, Welcome written in tens of languages, stickers saying Falo Portugues, Je Parle Francais, Hablo Espanol, Youth Exchange Student, New Rotarian etc.
Face painting, food samples of all sorts, flags everywhere, spectacular traditional dresses, stand of next year’s Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. Yes, we’re going.
By now I’m trying my second Korean dress and without knowing I try the wedding dress. Red, with impressive over sized wide sleeves, embroidered with pink roses on the white silk by the edge. The outfit is completed by a heavy head accessory, looking like a small clutch with sowed beads and three tassels of different colors hanging down my forehead.
The water machines provide small bags instead of plastic glasses.
Next on the list is some shopping in the Lotte Department Store, where, as always, the designs are unique.
Later, back in Myeong Dong we ate all the street food we could find, from seafood green pancake, fried crabs, shrimp on a stick. The area is pulsing with life and by late afternoon it gets crowded and quite crazy.
In front of the hotel, I get the Limousine and my mom prepares for the rest of the journey – Busan, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara etc. Life is good, it takes you places…
On the way back I meet two Romanian couples and I move them both in the same zone and change my zone to theirs. I loved this flight for some kind of reason. One of the couple lives in Korea and she is a life coach, mainly for expats’ wives and we had some very interesting talks both on the flight and thereafter. Life is good.