Korea: Touring with Parents

Disclaimer: My parents came to visit me in South Korea for 8 days. I showed them a lot of Korea in that time, but there is much more to see.

Day 1 (24/4/11)

It’s 3PM and I’m late. I stew on the Airport Express Train from Seoul Station to Incheon to meet my parents. My family has a history of scheduling time poorly, our family motto is ‘Late but in Earnest.‘ Today I’m living up to that motto all too accurately. I enjoyed brunch in Itaewon with CWB, then mooched through What the Book for some English language books – where I picked up the ridiculously entertaining World War Z (I was hooked on page 12) – before watching as CWB and his mother attempted to buy out the Foreign Food Market. I know they bought at least an aisle’s worth of comfort food. CWB, his parents, his girlfriend and I find a Mexican place in Itaewon, which is renowned for being ex-pat friendly due to the major US military base nearby, so finding non-Korean food is simple. When we sit down in the restaurant I realize I don’t have time to eat with them and quickly make my way to Seoul Station. On the Airport Express I quickly find out that the trip takes 45 minutes and that my parents’ plane landed 20 minutes early.
Damn and double damn.
I quickly calculate that they should clear customs before I arrive at the station… and then what? Foolishly I never offered and my parents never asked for my ‘handpone’ number, so they can’t contact me even if they want.

I rush from the train to the Arrivals floor, looking like an ajumma at a line-up.
Their plane landed ages ago, and what’s more the Arrival Board opts not to tell which of the gates they should walk through in order to enter South Korea.

I speed walk up and down the Arrival Hall, eyes scanning faces but taking in nothing. Brilliant. I may have lost my parents to an airport. no idea how I break this news to my brothers in Canada. “Hey, I know mom and dad *made* it to Korea, there’s just one problem… I can’t seem to find them and their plane landed a day ago so… I’ll be hiding in a third world country for the foreseeable future. Love you lots. Bye.”

Suddenly a bright yellow shirt rushes at me. A demented ajumma? Nope, it’s a flat yellow not a wild pattern. Oh. Hi mom.

Crisis #1 averted.

Now to transport them to Dongducheon. I go to purchase a ticket on the Airporter bus and find out the next bus leaves after 7PM. It is currently 4PM. Incheon is a great airport but not great enough for an extra 3 hour stay. The girl selling the tickets looks over her shoulder where one Airporter bus has just pulled up. She points at it, “buy your ticket on the bus. Go. GO!”

We go, GO, and again stress is not my friend as I get lost leaving the airport. Mom points to a purple bus with the word Dongducheon on it. Whew! Thanks mom. We pile their mountain of luggage into the hold and clambered aboard the bus.

Moments later it pulls out and I can relax. Mom and Dad are braving Korea!

After 2 years, Korea seems normal to me, so watching it through my parents’ eyes should prove enlightening. And it does. Dad comments how flat Korea looks, and out by Incheon he’s correct. Go of Incheon’s island and that changes in a hurry as hills push upwards to become low mountains. Our path travels north of Seoul – straddling a narrow corridor between the megalopolis and the North Korean border. Seoul looms in the distance, we’ll make our way there soon enough. The bland, monotonous, ubiquitous apartment blocks catch Mom’s gaze first. And really, the Korean apartment complex might be the most depressing thing about this country.

Eventually we end up at Camp Casey, since the bus driver won’t stop at Lotte Super like most of them do. The driver seems determined to cause an accident and scare my parents about the realities of crazy Korean traffic. He succeeds.

There is too much luggage for one cab. The driver insists on two (and he was right to do so) but doesn’t see why he should wait for number two. I demand we go as a group. Mom and I in cab one, Dad in cab two. The short ride to my apartment proves why I couldn’t just let Dad find his own way (with 0 Korean.) My apartment hides down an alley that is impossible to explain in Korean. My directions at the stoplight were “wenchuk, orenchuk” which means, “left, right.” With a lot of gesticulation to point him down the ease-to-miss alley. I can’t explain it properly in Korean, so what chance would my Dad have? Luckily cab two runs the yellow light to follow cab one.

My small apartment shrinks to a fishbowl with three people plus luggage.

I herd my parents into the street, giving them a walking tour while the daylight remains. The path winds down Yankee Road (a place to buy American Army gear and Western comfort food), past some pink houses (places to rent Filipina whores) and into the market. I love traditional markets and this one, while small, blows my parents’ minds. The redundancy, the unrefrigerated seafood, the haphazard layout of the place, the mountains of… stuff.

I ease their palates into Korean cuisine with mandu and gimbap. Dad doesn’t like spicy food so melding Dad’s unspiced preference with the kimchi infused Korea will prove my biggest ongoing challenge of their stay. Fortunately both mandu and gimbap are as despiced as Korean food gets and they both enjoy their first meal.

Dad crashes at 9:30PM, Mom a short while later. Me? Much, much later.

Tomorrow, I must invest in earplugs.
Definitely need earplugs.

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