Seoul 2022: Part 1
Updated: Jan 25
Did you know that you need an e-visa before entering Korea now? I didn’t. Had an hour for it to be validated before the gate closed. Yoomin and I were both frantically trying to speed up the application process however we could, but with no luck. The check-in had closed by 1:40. An older couple and I had both been caught out by the system, and we now had to decide between going home, or booking another flight. I’d refreshed my emails and the application process hundreds of times, hoping for any update, but the time lapsed, and that was that.
Suddenly, as I was in the throes of despair, both the older couple and I got the same notification: our applications had been approved. At 1:45. I shouted in surprise, and practically threw my phone at the man behind the check-in desk to show him it was ready. As quick as he could, he thrust my passport through the scanner, handed me my ticket, and said, “Gate 66, hurry, run!” I ran as fast as I could, leaving the couple behind and shouting how sorry I was at the same time. I ducked through the security check and almost considered continuing to run without my belt on to save time. I sprinted for Gate 66, shuffled past people on the escalators, in the wide halls and walkways. I hopped on the shuttle, anxiously pressing the handle release on my suitcase as I was forced to wait.
By some miracle, I made it to the gate with time to spare, a lot more shaken and sweatier than I had planned to be. A few people were pleased to see I had made it in the end, and even the older couple made it in time too! One of the most stressful moments of the last few months, to be sure.
Yoomin’s mum is crazy! She definitely doesn’t act anything like any mum I’ve ever known. She’s like my dad but in Korean.
The flight yesterday was fine, no complaints. The paperwork was a surprise, although in hindsight it was to be expected that there be even more bureaucracy on the other side. When I finally joined the queue for immigration, I had a moment to connect to connect to the Wi-Fi, at which point my phone exploded with messages and missed calls. I’d forgotten to tell Yoomin exactly when I’d be landing, and so she had no idea when to expect me. I apologised and said I’d be another 15 minutes or so, but if she had the bus information for me, I could hurry to hers as soon as I could. In the queue, I passed by half of the older couple from before, who had managed to make it after all. It turns out that the older ‘couple’ were actually from two separate groups. She and her family (whom she was with) were incredibly grateful to me for holding the check-in man behind. I in turn apologised for abandoning them as soon as my ticket was given to me. Fortunately, they were nice enough to understand.
One final quirk of the immigration process was an alarm being set off followed by a man being dragged away by four security guards towards, presumably, the security office.
“Can I help you?” was his defiant cry to the audience of silent onlookers, myself included.
Finally, I was through to the other side, slightly disappointed I was expected to navigate the busses to Yoomin’s home by myself. She had been asking almost moment to moment about if I was out, and now that I was, I understood why:
This was the sign that greeted me, though it was hard to see at first because I didn’t have my glasses on. The closer I got, the more it shifted into focus, along with Yoomin’s massive grin. It had been a trick all along! It was equally delightful and relieving to see her there; a long overdue reunion first, and no busses second. Her dad was also there, who I forgot to bow to, but did practice some of my rudimentary Korean on. It seemed to be intelligible.
We were swiftly on our way to their house after that, her dad driving whilst Yoomin and I talked – masks on the whole drive. Yoomin even gave me a fresh one at the airport. She said they had been waiting at least an hour and a half for me to arrive.
I have to say, I’ve really missed fresh mornings. Cold air is only ever artificial in Hong Kong at the moment, although I have been promised it gets colder in winter. It was nice to have a cool morning to drink tea on the balcony in. The air was cool last night, too. I took a long, deep breath of it before entering their building.
Inside the flat, I was immediately struck by how large it was. And perhaps the flat was large by Korean standards, by I mostly considered it in relation to my own flat in Hong Kong. Their living room is probably around 2/3rds the size of my entire flat: four people living, washing, and cooking in a space the same size as a family watch TV in. Mental.
In true style, I am two days out of date already.
The meal that had been prepared for my arrival was more than I would have ever imagined: fried chicken (of course), glass noodles, fruit, kimchi, pork, beef, lettuce wraps, and three different kinds of alcohol. In fact, Yoomin’s mum had bought a specific Souju just for me after seeing how much Westerners drink in movies and k-dramas. They were concerned (in Korean) why I didn’t seem to fulfil the stereotype by asking for some water to help wash it down. All of the food was fantastic.
Yoomin’s mum is a classic ‘mum’ type; always cooking food to make sure nobody is hungry, even when the table is still full of last meal’s food. She’s also much more energetic and relaxed than I would have expected. Yoomin’s dad left the table early, so for the rest of the night it was Yoomin, her mum, and I drinking lots of wine and talking about various things – mostly about how nice my accent was. That was the end of that night.