Alas we awoke to alarm bells ringing at 4:30 am, after six hours of slumber in our beds as we stumbled around beneath the covers wishing for more time to sleep. Pressing her snooze button only once, Shauna bounded out of bed ready to press the coffee pot into action and climb into her already running hot shower. It wasn't yet in me to venture out of the bed where I lay eyes sleepily awake pressing the snooze alarm another couple of times, wishing I hadn't agreed to go on another Korail trip.
Thankfully all we had to do this morning was wake up, eat a light snack, drink a fresh cup of java and head out the door to catch the early morning express bus to Hapjeong station because we had packed our day bags the night before with a book to read on the train, a blanket for warmth since Shauna is always cold, snacks to eat if we became hungry, our copy of Lonely Planet's 2010 South Korea travel guide, and my Canon Digital camera.
The alarm went off again as I was in the middle of contemplating what the day had in store for us but as it did ring a wafting scent of fresh brewed coffee trickled through the doorway past my nostrils. Rolling out of bed I grabbed a hold of my clothes laying on the floor pulling off one set and pulling on the other. With fresh clothes on I entered into a smoldering hot layer of steam still clinging to the tile walls in the bathroom as I pulled a quick swig on the listerene bottle before heading out into the main room. Walking through the door the scent of coffee smacked me in the face as the cup was presented to me by my wife who I leaned in closely stating, "good morning beautiful," laying a kiss onto her cheek.
Remarkably there was a tremendous difference in our attire for the day. She was dressed in a pair of cleanly pressed jeans, a long sleeved turtle neck shirt with a black, red and white argyle pullover sweater on top. I on the other hand had on a pair of day old jeans, a t-shirt and baseball hat; the odd couple. Either way, we sipped our morning coffee as we pulled out our extra this and that's for the days Korail adventure. As we did, we rehashed over the particulars of our last Korail tour experience in the hopes that this one would be different.
With this Shauna stated defiantly, "I make you this promise now. If this trip goes anything like the first one, then you can just not invite me along in the future, okay?" Swallowing a nice blend of organic coffee, I smiled at her a pleasant, I understand without saying another word.
"Hey it's five minutes until a quarter to six, so wrap up whatever you need to and let's get our shoes on," I stated as I came back into the kitchen from the bathroom for the fourth time with my toothbrush jutting out my mouth. "Okay, I just need to brush my teeth and then I am ready to go," came the reply. Teeth brushed, coffee down, bags packed, watches synchronized we walked out the apartment grabbing our shoes tugging them on and locking the door. Down the two flights of stairs we went out into the brisk early morning as Devin's lights went on next door blasting a ray of florescent light across the sidewalk in front of us. "Hey, wouldn't he be surprised if he looked out his window and saw us strolling away?" Shauna inquired to me about Devin who was up early himself to grab a taxi to Incheon Airport for his week long trip to China. "Certainly would be funny but without any lights on he'd be hard pressed to figure out who we are down here in the darkness of the day," retorted I. "Glad to see the gate is already open. I wonder when the open it up?" Shauna thought out loud. Reasoning I didn't have the answer to this rhetorical question, I kept my sarcasm in check as we hurriedly walked past the immigration office building around past stone henge and down the sidewalk to the bus stop.
Approaching the bus stop the 200 bus came whizzing past as Shauna started to raise her hand only to realize it was the wrong bus and then gave the universal "no" sign by crossing her two arms in front of her making an X.
The driver hesitated momentarily before plowing over the top of the speed bump in front of him sending each of his passengers towards the roof! Standing around in the cold we chatted idly about the TV Series; Lost, which we had been watching the previous night. Thirteen minutes into our conversation about the rescuers helicopter going down in the jungle, I could hear the approaching 2200 express bus therefore I stepped off the curb out into the snow covered street jutting my right arm up into the air hoping the driver saw my blue jacket and big smile. Thankfully Shauna moved after me into the snow in her large three-quarter length jacket which I believe is the reason the driver began pumping his brakes halting the vehicle a few feet past where I stood.
Climbing on board we heard the driver simply state, "an-yong" (good morning or hello), in our direction as we pressed our wallets against the t-money scanner charging us both 1,700 won for the trip to Hapjeong Station. As we turned onto the bus I noticed a rather large spaced set of seats just past the first set of tires deciding to sit there were I could stretch out my long legs for the usual forty-five minute ride into town. It was just past six o'clock when we sat down pulling off our beanies and gloves enjoying the view out the window as we pulled away from English Village, traveling around Heyri Art Valley, turning out onto the entrance road to the expressway and speeding off with a couple of road bumps through the winter's sterilizing machines on the edge of town. Soon we were on the expressway with no other vehicles in sight as the driver pressed the gas towards the floor hurtling us down the freeway at a hundred and thirty kilometers per hour. In no time we had reached Paju Book City where we picked up two more passengers and took a five minute rest at Eche Shopping Mall.
Eventually making a right then a left then back out onto the expressway we went bumping along in our seats. The roads were the clear, the driver was awake and there were only a handful of passengers on the bus at 6:15 this saturday morning. The driver sped off towards Seoul at a rapid pace only adjusting his speed twice for two speed traps ahead. Twenty-eight minutes later we were exiting the bus at Hapjeong Station, scanning our wallets on the t-money scanner to adjust our positions, hopping off the bus landing on the ground and walking down the two flights of twenty-three steps, through a short zigzag of tunnels leading us in front of the #2 Green line. "We need to go to City Hall Station, then transfer to the dark blue line into Seoul Station," I stated as we approached the gates withdrawing our wallets once again to scan our t-money cards. "Okay, this way please," Shauna stated in a flirtatious manner glancing over her shoulder with a smile.
Within a minute the subway approached from our left on the other side of the partition silently putting on its brakes coming to a halting stop in front of us. The doors moved apart and we entered with a couple of quick steps locating a pair of seats on our right. Sitting down on the seats the warmth of the seat immediately sent a tingle up my spine. "I do love these heated train seats! Why aren't they on the busses, too?" Shauna stated with another flirtatious smile on her lips. fourteen minutes later we exited at City Hall Station, walking to our left we went up three steps, down a thirty-five meter hallway, up another flight of steps down another short hallway to a set of descending steps down onto the platform.
Less than three minutes later the Seoul Station bound metro subway pulled up in front of us. We were well ahead of our arrival time of 7:45am and would indeed have enough time to grab breakfast and buy a couple of beverages for later in the day. The dark blue line as usual was crammed full of people even at this early hour. Only needing to travel one stop we opted to stand beside the opposing set of doors to be the first ones off the train at the next stop. Three minutes later the doors opened up releasing us onto the Seoul Station metro platform. We scurried along the concrete with the crowd of passengers headed for the three-story escalators taking us up to the exit area onto level one. From here we scanned our wallets exiting the metro area, walking up a short flight of steps through a small hallway as the scent of baked goods wafted into the air from Paris Baguette. Turning my head for only a moment to savor the aroma filling up my head yearning for breakfast my stomach began to cry out with a rumble. "We need to eat soon, or my stomach might make me eat your scarf for breakfast!" I cried out to Shauna as we stepped onto the second escalator taking us up to the next floor. "No problem. I need a coffee before I rip someone's head off as well," came the reply in front of me. We stepped off the escalator taking five steps and jumping onto the next. Riding the escalator has become a main stream habit whenever we are within sight of a metro station. Arriving at the top floor or ground level at the station, we walked to our left a hundred yards entering into the station building. By this time Shauna was kicking at the back of my legs and shaking herself as her bladder was ready to explode when she spotted the universal toilet sign and sprinted off in that direction.
Pulling back my left jacket sleeve I checked my Timex expedition watch it read 7:25 in the morning. We were thirty-five minutes ahead of our scheduled meeting time. For an hour the night before I surfed the internet after my conversation with Anne about coming on the Korail trip. I was trying to find information about Chuncheon, Nami Island and the Kim Yoojeong house of literature. Fifty minutes on the internet yielded very little useful information to me about the three main attractions for this trip. Because I had time on my hands I went over the the Korail tour office beside the ticketing agents to locate a bit of information, hopefully in English about the tour we would be on that day.
Entering the offices, I spotted a couple of shelves with brochures on them. Walking over I started prodding through them one after another in search of something familiar about the trip. Nothing. Continuing, I pulled out six different brochure adds, looking around the room as eyes fell left and right as I looked at them all for help. No one in the office obviously worked for Korail. Finally, I reached into a cubby withdrawing a piece of paper with a photograph of St. Basil's Cathedral in Russia. Not being able to read a lick of the information I turned the paper over searching the details as best as I could trying to decipher the writing. All the words I could read were; 'DBS, Ferry, 13:30, 15:00, Vladivostock Hotel or Same Class, Remark, 45,000, $20, 8/40,000, 4/60,000, 2/100,000
And in very large red letters 499,000 No No No!
Knowing this was of no help about todays' trip, I folded up the paper, stuffing it back into my pocket and exited the offices wandering around to look at the random shops inside Seoul Station. While I wondered around waiting for Shauna to come back from the depths of her restroom experience I began to recall the last time we were in Seoul Station; it had been the year 2005 in the middle of October when I had flown to Kansai Airport to meet up with Shauna then fly over to Busan, South Korea to see Justin. The three of us grabbed a fast train to Seoul. We had three very strange nights in Seoul and then headed back down south chalked full of great conversation, interestingly strange experiences and spicy flavorful foods.
"Hey stranger, what are you thinking about? Breakfast I hope," Shauna stated as she approached. "Nope, just trying to remember all the details from our last trip to Seoul with Justin," I retorted. "Justin? In Seoul Station? Was that 2005? Oh how I loved that trip. So many strange things happened during that trip." "Yep. Let's grab some food and a couple of coffee's, we've only got twenty-something minutes before we need to meet up with the group." "Okay, lets take the escalator to the next floor." Stepping off the escalator I said, " I see a Burger King, KFC, Beans and Berries, The Rice Cake Shop, and a food court. What are you hungry for?" "Rice. Think I'll get kimchi jighae, what about you?" Shauna replied. "Um, I was thinking more along the lines of a croissant and egg sandwich with a cup of coffee. You order this, I'll go see if I can't find what I want to eat and meet you back here, okay?" "Sure thing, I'll be here in the food court. See you in a few," she said as she paid for her kimchi stew.
Walking out of the food court I went past beans and berries, past KFC, past Burger King, into a coffee shop called Croissant. Ironic, I thought so, until I started looking around. Scones, cinnamon rolls, chocolate bars, fruit juice, quesadillas, club sandwiches and rice cakes with coffee. This was just not going to do me. I wandered back towards the food court when I looked inside Beans and Berries noticing a bakery in the far corner. Realizing this was my only chance at something I might actually want to eat for breakfast I walked into the shop. As I approached a hostess smiled at me then opened the door stating, "an-yong-ha-sei-yo," I smiled back at her walking across the brilliant white tiles towards Eric Kayser bread shop. Looking around I found short rolls for 1,300 won made with "Figue," "Abricot," "Olive," and more. I kept smiling at myself inwardly as I found a tray and pincher. Wandering through the baked goods I spotted a couple of loaves which looked even more tempting then the rolls but decided I would rather try a couple of the small ones then have one large one which I might not really like all that much. With my mind made up, I grabbed a "Figue" and an "Olive" roll along with a freshly made croissant.
Paying for my baked goods, I checked my watch noticing the time was vastly approaching the 7:50am mark. Handing over my bank card, I paid for the soon to be devoured baked goods. Receiving my receipt and baked goods all wrapped up in their individual plastic bags, I stepped outside the Beans and Berries shop heading for the food court. Upon entering the food court I didn't immediately see Shauna because she had taken off her red overcoat and was sitting amongst all the other masses of people in her black sweater. Three minutes later I located her blowing on a large scoop of Kimchi Jighae. "I hope your stew is making you happy this morning?" I asked as I sat down next to her. "It's quit tasty except they didn't cut up the pork. They just left it in here, so I am not eating it," She stated with repulsion. "Pork? I didn't know they put pork in the kimchi jighae?" I retorted. "They sure do. And I am not eating it. Look at it. It's all fatty and gross looking." "Well you have to hurry up, we need to find Anne, and the group and we've only got a few minutes. I am going to call her to let her know we are here so she doesn't have to worry about if we made it or not," I stated standing up and grabbing my bag. "Okay, I'll just be a second. I want to grab myself a coffee before we head downstairs."
Ten minutes later we had her a caramel machiato coffee to go from "Paris Croissant" and a bag of bread from "Mark Kyser Bread Shop." Down the stairs we ran towards Gate #1, which were the directions in the email. Standing around not spotting any foreigners I proceeded to a counter to ask the agent for KTX where the trip to Chuncheon was meeting? "Anieyo Chuncheon," she replied. "No Chuncheon trip?" How, what, whose pulling my leg? I wondered. Then another agent who spoke English very well asked "which tour group?" "Korail Tour Department," I responded. She smiled pointed in the direction of the main station doors and said, "you need to be over there." Thanking her, we walked away. "Go figure. That's where I went earlier when we arrived, but no body was around," I stated out into the air. Shauna thinking I was crazy for talking to myself out loud again, said, "were you speaking to me? Or are you just speaking?" "Well, you are holding my hand and we are walking together. Thought this would have been obvious to you, whom I am speaking to," smiling at her I said. She punched me in my left arm. "You are ornery today, aren't you?" "Rhetorical, questions this early in the morning?" We both laughed.
Approaching the foreigners outside the Korail Tourist Development store, I spotted Anne with her white beret style knit hat and long red corduroy trench coat. Smiling as we neared, I introduced her to Shauna as we were handed the days itinerary. "AJ, do you mind grabbing me a breakfast sandwich up there at Burger King? I'll give you ten-thousand won. You can get yourself something. I don't need the combo. I don't like coffee. Just the sandwich. If you don't mind?" "No troubles. I'll be right back." I replied as I took the money and walked off across the station, up the escalator over to BK for a breakfast sandwich. Three and a half minutes later I ordered while a strangely drunk woman with cracked lips begged for change from me at the counter. I looked at her smiled, simply stated, "anieyo (no)" and then ordered one breakfast sandwich "to go." As I waited for the sandwich, the manager came out of the back followed the drunken lady into the corner of the restaurant and then proceeded to eject her from the store.
A couple minutes later I had the breakfast sandwich when my phone rang, "hey where are you? they all just went down to the train and I am waiting for you." "Hi nice to hear your voice. I was just given the sandwich and am heading down the escalator now. Be there is a flash." Spotting Shauna I walked over said "let's go" and we plowed through the terminal towards train track number twelve. "Do you know which car?" I inquired. "Anne, said car number two." "Okay, I see it. Let's fast walk a bit to get on the train." As we approached the train car, three different Korail Agents said, "Good morning. Welcome aboard. Please enjoy your trip." Wow, what nice customer service. I wonder if we get a free blanket and a cup of tea with this service?
Jumping onto the car, we spotted Anne, "Your seats are down this way." "Thank you. Here is your sandwich and your change," I said as I handed everything to her. "Change?" Anne seemed surprised. "Thank you. Once we are all settled I will come back here and talk to you a bit. Okay. Enjoy the train ride," she smiled then walked away with her sandwich. "Well, this is going to be an interesting day," I said quietly to Shauna. "Yep, and I am glad I get to spend it with you, too!" She replied.
to be continued...
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