It’s 10:52 p.m. Seoul time.
It has been 15 days since I arrived in Seoul and 14 days since I started my study year here.
It’s been two long weeks. I’m finally writing a blog after looking at my laptop and thinking about writing.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It’s 2022, so COVID-19 regulations are still in effect. You must take a PCR test within 48 hours of your flight and then another PCR within 24 hours of your arrival. Nothing I’m not used to, I had to fly to Hong Kong earlier this year for my citizenship.
I’m still a little nervous because throat swabs are probably the only thing I have a long standing negative relationship with, but I think at this point most countries are now doing nose swabs only, what is going well. Phew.
Or so I thought. But we will get there.
At this point, I’m trying to get a cab to get to where I’m staying, which is a nice little apartment that has everything I need: a kitchen, a bed, and a bathroom.
It’s funny, mainly because the man who picks me up is very fast so I have to run to catch up with him, which is honestly a great memory from when I got here. He’s like lightning, he’s so fast, I’m glad I have enough stamina to catch him.
I’m so tired that I take a little nap before suddenly jumping when we arrive in Seoul and I’m about 20 minutes from my accommodation. The city itself is different from London and Hong Kong (of course, but still). It is enormous? The roads are wide and sprawling; the area I’m in is the main capital, so we’re surrounded by corporate buildings, convenience stores and large stores all around, and little creeks that lead to the apartment areas. I would say that a large majority of the housing I have seen in Seoul are apartment buildings, which is not uncommon in a big city like this – much like London which is usually made up of apartment complexes. ‘apartments and the same with Hong Kong.
I will say that I felt the apartment I was given was wrong as it did not match the description of the apartment I had booked – in that it was bigger than the one that I had booked. Which is funny in hindsight because the next day I was in a rather insane moving situation because the girl who was supposed to have THIS apartment had just arrived and so in an instant my things are stored in large white bags in 5 minutes and we drag my stuff to the right apartment which is in the building opposite and up 3 flights of stairs…
Worse still and where I was going: I received an email stating that I was COVID positive when I finally managed to sit down and turn on my laptop. Which means I had to quarantine for 7 days.
I hadn’t even done the shopping yet. I was so fucked.
The most tragic thing is that many delivery sites do not accept foreign cards. Which is completely understandable, until I got stuck in a situation where I was quarantined for 7 days.
(I know the option is to go to a government facility, but at the time I really wasn’t in the mood to be taken anywhere else with very little warning, so I decided to think about which I could do instead since I was allowed to quarantine in the apartment I was in.)
Supermarkets deliver, but the same problem persists – you usually need to have a credit card or Korean credit card to pay. You also cannot have a Korean card until you have your registration card which you only receive once you go to the immigration office. It was a doozy.
I will say this. I had and am incredibly lucky. I was asymptomatic so I didn’t feel like absolute trash and my sister had a friend who lived in South Korea who was able to help me with groceries. Thank you so much ! (Name censored for confidentiality reasons.)
SSG (ShinSeGae) is amazing – I think most or all the supermarkets here do, but do they do next day delivery? Does this mean if you ordered fresh groceries they will deliver it to you before or before 6am? I thought S just wrote a typo and meant 6pm. NOPE. I woke up at 4am because I was still jet lagged and because I think part of me is aware when something happened? ‘Cause nobody knocked or anything. I just looked through the keyhole out of curiosity and saw my groceries neatly stacked near my door.
For refrigerated items, they leave them in a cooler bag with several ice packs to keep them cool and fresh. Really fantastic. It’s disconcerting. I have never had next day delivery in my life. I never received anything until 6am, it really rocked my world.
So here is! I did my shopping, I was able to eat for the 7 days I was stuck inside and luckily my teachers were very understanding so I was able to attend classes via Webex (like Microsoft Teams). Wow!
At midnight on the day of my freedom, I immediately left my apartment to walk around my neighborhood – with my mask on (key note: I always wear one for safety; in South Korea, you must wear one everywhere , it is mandatory). Let me tell you, 24-hour convenience stores are the backbone of society.
I know I get excited about the most mundane things, but we really don’t have that in the UK or Hong Kong, from what I understand. It’s so… PRACTICAL. If you need anything, the troubleshooters here have YOU GOT IT. And there are plenty of them no matter where you go in the city. Emart, 7-11, CU are some of the main convenience stores here and most are open 24 hours a day but of course if there are multiple identical stores in the same area then a couple will be closed as it doesn’t makes no sense to have all of them open. I didn’t go there, but it was just nice to know it was there.
Freedom Day and also my first day in class (in person).
So… I completely misread the directions on my Naver card and thought it would be pointless to use public transport as it wouldn’t make a big difference to my commute. I was wrong.
I continued to be wrong for 4 more days.
I was reading the TIME it would take as DISTANCE. So I figured the train would only cover 1% of my journey so I’d just have to walk it…you can tell my brain isn’t really working at full capacity.
Let me tell you this. I was very unprepared for how HILLY and STEEP Seoul is. I don’t know why I got the idea that Seoul was a flat landscape like England usually is? The steep hill of my village in Hong Kong has NOTHING on the many hills that Seoul has to offer.
Every step is a challenge. Each road is a new surprise challenge. Each route is a greater challenge than the previous one.
My route to my university took me through beautiful weaving alleys and some small hills…then I arrived at the hills where my university is built. They are long and steep and they fluctuate a lot, you go from walking to trying not to trip when you come down, then you are faced with several flights of stairs after climbing several hills and WOW. I did indeed die the first day I went out into town. I walked back and forth.
My friend who had been to this university before for summer school was laughing but we also sympathized because she fully understood the challenge I was going through. She gave me a different less steep route which I took the next day however, I misunderstood her instructions so instead of taking the elevator (AS EVERYBODY DOES) I went for it?? ? then looked at the several flights of stairs and decided to climb them. By the way, the elevator takes you from level 1 to level NINE.
Why did I climb those stairs? Why didn’t I take the elevator? Why did I make one of the decisions I made that day?
Nobody knows. I don’t even know, and it’s MY brain and MY body.
I skipped a few days mainly because I will probably cover them in another post.
This day, I took the train.
It took me 20 minutes instead of 45 (walking route).
I still had to climb the steep stairs. But I could go around the HILLS.
Why the hell didn’t I do this before?
I really feel reborn. I mean the stairs to my accommodation are still grueling (they never get better…they are STEEP and there is also a slope and then 3 flights of stairs to my apartment SO!) but at least I don’t have to hike 45 minutes anymore in SUMMER.
I could do it in the winter if my shoes are good in the snow (I think it’s snowing here) but otherwise I’m going by train from now on.
I still have to walk everywhere else for groceries and general errands, so I’m going to take my nice, sweet little route to college, because I can.
I will say though that the 2 weeks of adjustment were tough. I feel like I didn’t quite understand the other reasons why it was difficult. I’ll talk about that another time.