Vespa, Bupyeong Square
There's always someone who just has to be different.
I got up early this morning so Mr Kwon could drive me back to the airport. I tried to ask him if, say, any buses happened to pass by through airport square but he was very insistant on taking me back to the airport. He couldn't seem to get it out of his head that I was actually going to stay put in South Korea, that I wasn't actually just there for an overnight stopover. So I gave up trying to explain the whole thing and just let him drive me back to the airport. He helped me out of the van, along with my rucksack, and pointed to 'Departures' insisting, "You go there!" Then he drove off.
I was at the Incheon International Airport which is technically in Incheon, but not really. Incheon, the real Incheon, the town, city, whatever you would call it (a sort-of-town I suppose because there's not much to do there) was about a 50 minutes bus ride away. And also not on the island.
There were about twenty bus stops, all with Korean writing and instructions, strewn along the side of the airport, along the road that was actually on the ground. Not
Lotte Mart, Bupyeong Square
My haunt for the first week.
the road that was three floors up in the sky, that Mr Kwon had dropped me off at. Mr Kwon seemed to really like that road in the sky.
I had done a bit of research, looking up the bus website, before I left home so I knew exactly what bus number I had to look for. Thank God that numbers were exactly the same, as I had no hope in hell of reading the destination names in their secret Korean code (also known as Hangul).
The bus stops were scattered at various intervals taking up a distance of about a kilometre. I had no idea
exactly where bus #111 was supposed to stop at. But, weirdly enough, like a strange kind of coincidence type thing, as soon as I stood still to wonder about this, bus #111 drove right up to me!
"Bupyeong Station?" I asked the driver. He nodded. But couldn't understand anything at all I said from thereon in. All I wanted to know was how much to give him.
I stuffed a 10,000 won note into his hands (it's all fun and games at first with the I'm-Rich jokes, but once they
Fuzzy People, Bupyeong Square
All that separates me from thousands of crazy shoppers underground is that bit of concrete.
wear off then all you are really left with is an annoying thick wad of banknotes that won't fit into yuor wallet), and he shouted something in Korean to a woman already seated there. She shook her head and said to me, "Thousands."
Luckily I had some 1,000 won notes given to me in change from Mr Kwon so I gave the driver a couple. He put them into a glass money box beside him and motioned for me to put more in his glass box. I put another note in. He waved at me again. I put another note in. And this seemed to satisfy him. He waved me on into the bus.
I looked behind me and noticed I'd been holding about ten people up, who seemed to all make a point of taking one second to stuff their already counted fare into the glass box.
The bus ride wound through interesting looking streets and my eyes were peeled, taking in everything. All the bright signs, things squashed together, and Korean writing everywhere.
Here and there were English words to catch my eyes, but most of all the writing was in Hangul.
Heather, standing outside the Yeogwan
Anything displaying that steaming symbol signifies a yeogwan. Is it a pie? A cup of coffee? I'm still racking my brain.
trying to keep a look out for when I was supposed to get out, but luckily the driver turned to me at my stop and said "Bupyeong" and pointed to a really huge building with signs (actually in English) saying "Lotte Mart" and "Outback Steakhouse". Yep, Outback Steakhouse. I thought that was weird too.
Talk about daunting. I hadn't quite been ready for absolutely nobody
speaking English. I thought with all these English teachers going over there every year, that people would be a bit more equipped than to just run up and say, "Hello? How are you?" before running away again. That happened twice with two girls when I stepped out of the bus.
I'd done pretty well, so far, getting to where I actually wanted to go but what I wanted now was a familiar face and someone who I could actually communicate with!
I walked down the steps into the mouth of this gi-normous building and into a subway station. I found a payphone, shoved a 100 won coin into it and dialled. OK, so the phones weren't
complicated after all. I was just an idiot.
My friend, Heather, answered! Heather, being the
very reason that I pushed South Korea to the top of my places to go list
. She had very bravely moved here in November to take up a teaching position in Incheon, teaching English to students. And, she was going to hop in a taxi and come and meet me in Bupyeong. "I'll meet you out the front of McDonalds!" Just like old times...
I re-traced my steps out of the subway station and sat down in the square, looking around. I hadn't been settled long when a Korean lady and her Korean son came up to me, to ask me questions about what I was doing there and was I having a nice time. The son explained, in excellent English, that he had lived in Melbourne for two years, before slipping me a copy of The Watchtower. What is with Jehovah Witnesses. I just can't get away from them. I travel 8000 miles and they still hunt me down trying to save my soul.
When Heather arrived, we headed straight into McDonalds. Nothing like diving right into a foreign culture by doing a Maccas Run. I asked for a 'Cheeseburger Set' which was nice and everything, but
Bupyeong Underground Shopping Mall
Once you get trapped in here, good luck finding an exit out.
tasted slightly weird. Something was up with the sauce. I found out later it was 'Bulgogi Sauce', so at least I could stop feeling guilty that I ate at McDonalds since the food was kind of... Korean. I can't explain Bulgolgi sauce. It's tomato sauce with a bit of a bite and tastes NQR (not quite right).
Heather stays in the Yeongsu-gu district, but that was too far out in the sticks for me. I was quite happy to stay in Bupyeong, and I had heard that there were lots of Yeogwan around the area. Yeogwans being 'guesthouses'. There was one right behind the station that I knew about but good luck to me finding it with Korean writing everywhere and the confusing twisty streets. Plus, there was instructions for me to go to exit 6 and walk towards a golf course. Now, looking around me, at all these buildings, and roads, and traffic, and concrete, I would put money on it that there was no golf course around.
I spotted a little mobile van in the middle of Bupyeong Square that on closer inspection was posing as a tourism office. So in I went to ask about
Girly Boy, Bupyeong Square
Korean guys don't look feminine at all.
this particular Yeogwan. "Hi, can you tell me where this Yeogwan is?" I asked.
"You want to go to Wolmido?" the tourism lady asked. Um, no... did I say I wanted to go to Wolmido?
"No, I'm looking for this Yeogwan." I repeated and showed her the name and directions.
"Yeogwans, you can take a bus."
"But this Yeogwan is supposed to be just up the road from here... Is there a golf course around?"
She took their details from me and called them up for me. Then she suddenly hung up and announced, "They are closed."
"Do you know of any other ones around here?"
"You can take a taxi that way, to Wolmido."
This was ridiculous. I was getting nowhere. And I didn't want to go to bloody Wolmido. By bus or
taxi. I knew there was supposed to be a whole cluster of these damn yeogwans just around here.
"Around here, though, around here," I said, waving all around me.
Then, she walked over to the window and pointed to one, just across the road. Heather read the Korean writing and said, "Yep, that's a Yeogwan." OK
Inside a Window, Bupyeong
They wouldn't leave their curtains wide open if they didn't want people looking in and taking pictures, would they?
then. Why not show me this in the first place? (I know, I know, because I should have gone to Wolmido).
We walked over the road to it, and went inside, up the stairs and was greeted by a lady. Heather looked closely at the name of the place and said, "You know what? This is the Yeogwan you wanted in the first place." The one that we were told was closed by the drugged up tourism lady (it's the only reason I can put that whole scenario down to).
The lady running the place couldn't understand what I was on about, until I whipped out my Lonely Planet and started rummaging through the tail end pages of it to find some good old accomodation phrases. "I want a bed," did the trick and she pushed me up the stairs and showed me a room and took 20,000 won from me.
Heather and I spent the afternoon going for a walk, after all of that. We chose a direction and stuck with it, and ended up walking through a huge park, full of children driving little electric cars, and Korean men walking little yappy dogs wearing sweaters
Her (very cool) ceiling light, to be precise. Note the two smoke alarms next to each other. Heather didn't question it, so neither will I.
with dyed blue ears and tails. We walked a long way, and you know what? No Golf Course in sight. I'm just saying.
Although, if there are any golfers wanting to practice, they could put those stupid little dressed up yappy dogs to some use. Only joking, RSPCA.
We got lost looking around Bupyeong Square when we headed back and went underground to the huge frightening maze that is the Bupyeong Underground Shopping Mall. It winds around underneath the ground (obviously) for kilometres and kilometres. Shops and stalls filled with shoes, bags, clothes or phones or shoes, bags, clothes or phones. It is the same four stalls repeated over and over again when you really pay attention, but none of the locals seem to have picked up on this yet.
We then caught the subway (after spending quite some time trying to pick the right exit), followed by a taxi ride, to Heather's place after that. She really is out in the sticks.
We decided to offset our Western McDonalds lunch with a Korean Traditional dinner at a restaurant just up the road from her and I helped myself to something called Don ggas o mu
Dusk, Bupyeong Station
The first inkling that this place has a kind of love affair with neon lighting.
risu, which was fried pork slices and an omlette type thing wrapping up rice with a special brown sauce, and extremely delicious.
We chased it down with fish soup (a lot nicer than what it sounds like), and I had my first taste of Kim Chi, something served up happily by Korean people to 'compliment' any and every dish. Although I wouldn't go so far as to agree it compliments it. Some cruel bastard took two of the most vile ingredients he could get his hands on, cabbage and red peppers, and combined them to make Kim Chi. I vowed I would never touch the stuff again.
I retraced my steps after dinner, catching a taxi to the nearest subway station and found my way back to Bupyeong, coming up and out through an exit that I hadn't realised was an exit and that led me out into a perfumery.
It was quite late at night but everything was still buzzing. Shops were still open, people were walking around, milling about. People were doing things and going places like it was still only three in the afternoon.
I found my way out of the perfumery (not an easy feat because it formed part of that underground place) and miraculously found my way back to the Yeogwan to settle down for some serious sleep.
Phew. This place was alright. It had taken me exactly 24 hours to get over my intial Asian Country Panic and I knew the next couple of weeks were going to be full of a lot of more weird and wacky goings on. I couldn't wait.
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