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August 6, 2014

Bless my Seoul Part 1

Tom McLaughlin

Seoul – We arrived here in South Korea after a 10-hour flight from Seattle. Korean Airways was adequate but not nearly as good as Qatar, Emirates, Malaysian or Cathay. The in-flight entertainment was good, but the airline did not have the extras like a toilet kit provided by the others. Remember, all the shaving stuff had to go under in your suit case.


We arrived in Inchon, which was a $70 cab fare from Seoul. I never knew it was so far, about like Dulles from Washington. We rode and rode observing the reclaimed land along the way. Tower after tower of living space emerged as we got closer to the nation's capitol.


Hotels in Seoul are very expensive, about $300.00 a night, not within my budget. I looked on and found a family room, marked down to $109, "ten minutes from the heart of the city.”


We arrived at about 11 P.M. and the driver finally found the hotel. We were exhausted and jet lagged. The clerk, a lady named Mrs. Kim, told us we could not have the family room because it was taken even though I had reserved it. She offered us a room with a double bed and one with a single.


I said I would like to look at it. The door looked like I was entering a safe, opening outward. The room was very small but had everything. Crammed inside the abode was a full computer, a half refrigerator, a hair dryer, a packet stuffed with toiletries, an iron, an ironing board and a full bathroom minus the tub. Mrs. Kim helped us to the second floor in the small lift, three large bags, three bulging back packs and I was carrying a five-pound block of cheese back to Kuching. We would have to get another bag.


The next morning, we awoke at 3 A.M., still jet lagged. I tried to go back to sleep but to no avail. My wife Suriani and son Dzul were watching Korean cartoons while I played on the computer and by 7:30, when breakfast was served, I was tired again.


Breakfast was good. We had hard boiled eggs, vegetarian and pork sushi, cornflakes, gallons of coffee and tea and a salad made from apples, lettuce and carrots. There was also a bowl of cherry tomatoes. Not exactly American style, but it was adequate.


Our first job was to find a suitcase. The exchange rate was 1,000 won to the US dollar, so pricing was easy enough, even for my nimble brain. We started off in the streets where everything was negotiable. I have to say we didn't purposefully walk there; it was just across a six lane highway, with a crosswalk down from our hotel through a maze of small pathways.


We ambled, rather we stumbled, because of jet lag, through the warren for small shops where we came across a suitcase. The guy gave us the morning price, a price because we were the first ones that morning and would bring him luck, of $60. Abhorrent, I thought. We whittled him down to $40, which, I still thought was way too much. We returned to our hotel and Mrs. Kim told us where we could go for a fixed priced bag. She suggested a department store and we took a taxi there. The cheapest we found was $109, an even more ridiculous price. The next day was the DMZ, so we couldn't go back.


The day after, I roused the group to go get the bag. We couldn't remember where the shop was in a madhouse of jumbled businesses but finally found him. He said $75, I said $40. He said $65 I said $40. He said $50 I said $40.


I had remembered from reading someplace that Koreans liked Spam from the United States. I had bought six cans of the product from Sam's Club and tried my luck with it. I said" $45 plus a can of Spam" that I retrieved from the pocket in my shorts. He smiled and said "Sold!" I don't think I will ever be able to bargain with a can of Spam again.


...Life is good. . . . .


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