We were prepared for Korea to be cold….. like, freezing cold. As the the cabin pressure on the Korean Air flight from Tokyo to Seoul started to change at the start of our descent, I could see as much when the landscape started to come into view. Snow-capped hills, windswept rocky terrain, empty golf courses devoid of grass and colored with parched brown winter soil. We touched down at Incheon airport and passed through immigration and customs uneventfully, and got a brief whiff of the biting cold as we stepped out of the airport to catch an express bus to our hotel. Little did we know….Coming in from the cold, the bus was warm, sure. It felt great. Roasty, toasty, cruising down wide open highway. It didn’t take long though for our perception to shift from relieving to comfortable to “a bit warm” to “hot as hell.” Just like on some of the Japanese trains, the bus had heaters piping hot air below your seat. It was like the back of your calves were getting cooked. I started getting kind of sleepy, thinking I must be tired…. but I think it was more like a slow onset heat stroke. That would be a first in Korea in winter I think. Ashley had more layers of clothing than me or Martha, including upper and lower base layers, insulation, and a shell jacket. Before long, she had her pant legs and sleeves hiked up and says (loudly): IT’S SOOOOO HOT!!!! By that point we were starting to make some stops, so Martha suggested we move up front so we could get some cold gusts when the doors opened. As soon as Martha and I got up, a whole row of young Koreans jumped up to rush to the front behind us. Poor Ashley got robbed of empty front of the bus real estate and ended up in the ever so slightly cooler middle purgatory section of the bus. I’m like: “I’m sure we didn’t book the sauna bus.” And why the hell did those Koreans wait until the moment we couldn’t take it any more to move en masse? Was this some kind of submission game that we lost? Did we bring shame upon our people by succumbing to the sweltering heat? Was it only ok for them to move after we had openly yielded? Who knows, but we all agreed that the bus ride seemed to go on forever. We all clutched at the freezing cold glass to try and balance with the sweat box we were trapped in. When it finally ended, Ashley said: “I’d rather be stuck on a ‘Gravitron’ for 24 hours than spend two more minutes on that bus.” It was pretty rough.
But you know, jumping to the other extreme was just as miserable. After checking in and making plans for tomorrow morning, we headed out into the blustery sub-zero streets to hunt down some dinner. The concerns for the rest of the evening shifted from potential heat stroke to potential frostbite.
But alas, we tracked down a place serving up traditional Korean fare and we all got a requisite bowl of Dolsot Bibimbap. It was alright. We’ve had worse, but we’ve definitely had better. Everything was very fresh, but the seasoning left a little to be desired.
Our first impressions of the city from strolling around Dongdaemun night market left us a little underwhelmed. Billed as kind of a youth culture sort of night market, it’s basically just endless stalls of counterfeit brand name clothing (gaudy, chintzy stuff) and accessories. Unfortunately, our stay here is ever so brief. We’ll see how our impressions change (or don’t) after touring some more tomorrow.