It’s been over a week since I arrived, so I guess it’s about time to write this… I’ll just informally sum up my favorite features and events of my recently concluded month-long trip to Korea.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
The WiFi situtation. Nuisance number one. WiFi coverage in Seoul is great, with most commercial areas supported by a WiFi signal. Unfortunately, most of the publicly available WiFi in Seoul is provided by the telecom companies, who only provide it for their users. It’s kind of like an Englishman coming to New York and finding that a WiFi signal named “Verizon” is almost everywhere. Unfortunately for him, he uses the British cell service provider Vodafone, which is incompatible with the Verizon WiFi networks. It’s great for Koreans, not so great for foreigners. But thankfully we borrowed a cell phone with a data plan from my aunt and I was able to manage.
The humidity. 30 degrees Celsius (or 86 degrees Fahrenheit) is quite manageable when there’s very little humidity, as there is in the two cities I split my time between in California. (San Jose and Los Angeles, for the curious.) But Korea is far more humid a country, which makes the heat much less tolerable. I don’t know the science behind it, but take my (and every other person who’s spent time in both California and East Asia) word for it–not fun. (By the way, comparing humidity percentages won’t be helpful here, since they measure relative humidity, an index of how much water vapor air in a given pressure and temperature can hold before it condenses; thus the idea of “100% humidity” changes from region to region. Also, here’s an addendum: higher humidity makes us feel hotter because the air doesn’t allow the evaporation of sweat, preventing this mechanism from drawing [heat] energy out of our bodies. In case you’re curious. I was.)
The mosquitos. Another common complaint. They’re everywhere, I hate bugs, and I value my sleep. My mosquito bites weren’t all that itchy, so at a certain point I stopped caring about being bitten–unless it interfered with my sleep. It can be hard to fall asleep when you have this high pitched whining sound drifting to and fro around your ear, increasing the anticipation of being bitten.
The stairs. For some reason, a lot of the stairs in Korea are uneven. Sometimes the heights are uneven. Less frequently, the widths are uneven. They’re even worse when one goes hiking–the stairs can be steep and irregular. I don’t understand. I guess they didn’t standardize their stair sizes until recently?
THINGS I LIKED
Public transportation. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The public transportation in Seoul is fantastic. Subways and buses run all over the city, such that most everything is within a few hundred meters of a subway or bus stop. The fare for each was 1050 won–less than $1–for any length of trip. (There seem to be a few rules about transferring lines on subways, but I never figured them out, and they were never more than an additional $0.50. Didn’t figure out what the rule is for bus-subway or subway-bus transfers.) They’re cost effective, don’t get caught up in traffic, and are air-conditioned. They run all over the city. I think the taxpayers got what they paid for, if they paid for it at all. What’s not to like?
Spending time with family. I wrote about this before, too, about my brother and my mom. It was a blessing to get to spend time bonding with them, and all the more so now that I’m in college and living in a dorm. Even before I left for college I didn’t hang out much with my younger brother, since we have fairly different interests. We both keep to ourselves and our friends. But since there were occasions where we were the other’s only company, not to mention that we had common frames of reference as far as language and culture go, we talked a lot more than we usually do. Even though we didn’t share much personal stuff, it was still nice to be able to talk with him.
Undoubtedly, the highlights of this trip were the moments I got to spend watching my mom in the country of her birth. It was an incredible joy to see her so happy to talk with her sisters and her old friends. I marveled with her at how much her elementary school and her university have changed (for the better). The moment that this struck me was when I went with her to Severance Hospital at Yonsei University to visit an old friend. At one point I was able to observe her smile and laugh with her college classmate and I was struck by how happy she was. In that moment I was happy that I came on this trip, even if I had to endure some less-than-fun moments while I was there, because I saw how happy it had made her. I’m not saying I want her to move there, and I don’t think that’s what she wants, either. But I can’t imagine not seeing my family or friends for six years, and that’s exactly what she’s done. Her joy in seeing those people again was striking and contagious. I am glad I went, if only to have borne witness to and shared in her joy.
Nonetheless, it’s over. And I’m glad I’m home. (That doesn’t negate the fact that I’m glad I went!) Life moves forward, and with it, I shall too. But one learns from the past, and I hope I will remember the events of this trip for the months and years to come.