Sokcho surprised me. I was expecting a small fishing town dominated by a large port. What I saw was a clean-cut, modern city with banks, shopping malls, parking lots etc… I needed to pay a rather large amount of cash to the shipping company. One of the agents drove me to the nearby bank in his brand-new super-silent Hyundai. The large GPS screen displayed something that looked like a “Hello Kitty meets Sim City” version of a navigation software. There was an animated character who was constantly happy that we were driving to the bank. This was my introduction to the ridiculously happy anthropomorphic grotesque creatures dominating the S. Korean urban cultural landscape. Elevators, advertisements, warning and traffic signs, newspapers, t-shirts and everything else you can imagine features some species of these creatures. Even big and serious companies had to give up and create their own versions to survive in the Korean commercial world.
Having been in the CIS countries and Russia for so long, this was sort of a cultural shock to me. The roads were super nice. So nice that motorcycles were not allowed on the highways. But even the village roads were better than anything I had seen for the past few months. Long illuminated tunnels pierced through rocky steep mountains. Everything looked so different and interesting, I wanted to have more of it. But crossing the country takes less than a day no matter what you do. I was watching the km displays to Seoul counting down; 160. 120, 95, 67. etc… I had to do something about it before I found myself in the capital. I stopped at a roadside rest area to spend some time with the people and have some real Korean food.
I took off my shoes and entered the dining area. I sat on one of the pillows by the table. Each table had an individual cooking set-up. I didn’t have difficulty ordering food because they served only one kind anyway. Steamed rice with some rich soup and lots of delicious side dishes. It didn’t taste anything like what I had been having in the Korean restaurants back in LA. The spices have a much wider spectrum. Vegetables are much more dominant and some of them are cooked very little to keep their aroma. Most side dishes were cold. Everything was delicious. I had really good time in this small roadside place.
The inevitable happened and I arrived in Seoul within a few hours. When I arrive in a big city, I follow my GPS to the center, before starting to look for a place to stay. I did the same with Seoul. It took a while to get to the center, as it’s really a huge city. I noticed some bikers and asked for their help to find a cheap hotel. They were happy to help me.
The hotel room had too much electronics per square meter. My television was a little larger than half of my bed. When I turned it on, I had to turn on the AC to compensate the heat generated… There was a computer, remote controlled lighting, a talking fridge, an electronic sanitizer, and a few other devices I couldn’t figure out. That’s the other thing with Korea. Technology is cheap and people like it. I had to unscrew the rotating Red Green Blue halogen bulb to reduce the koraoke bar effect in the room.
I called my shipping agent next morning. Wendy (Won Young) Choi. To my surprise, she told me that I wasn’t even close to the city center. I had to ride to the airport to arrange the crating a few days before the flight. It’s only then I realised how big the city really is. Asking around for directions, I finally found another car going to the airport. I followed him for what appeared to be more than an hour, until we saw the first signage to the Incheon Airport.
Crating the bike was also an interesting process… Air cargo is charged based on the volume and weight. There is an expected ratio of the two. You pay for whichever is higher. In the case of a crated motorbike, it’s the volume that you try to keep down. So I took the front wheel off, compressed the suspension and tried to fill in the empty areas with my luggage and camping equipment.
I did all of this on the wooden base they built for my dimensions. Then the sides and top was nailed on. Soon I had a box that weighed 425 kilograms and measured 216x101x141 cm’s. A truck moved it off to the warehouse as I suddenly realized that I was left without a bike again.
I had too take the subway. Since I couldn’t read any of the station names, I had to ask for help. Someone told me that I needed to get off 32 stations later. I felt like needing to confirm that number, “32”!
I was very curious to know how many stations there were in total on the line I was riding. So I counted the spots on the map. 63! Seoul is big. Next day I decided to move to another guesthouse closer to the center and to the airport shuttle I would be taking in two days.
On Sunday, Wendy and I met to do a little touring of the sights in the city. She took me to various interesting spots. We spent a lot of time walking inside the protected walls of the old court area full of restored buildings. Then off to one of the busy crowded streets to have some Korean barbeque. She did the cooking. We had a few beers. I enjoyed wandering around with her. Combined with the lack of sleep, a few beers, my incomprehension of the transportation, disorientation with the streets in general, and my total submission to Wendy’s guidance, the day felt like a dream… We had some really nice conversations about life, traveling and art. Now that I look back, maybe I was talking a bit too much.