I finally got off my plane by what ended up being close to 6:00 PM on Sunday, making for one of the most brutal time warps I’ve experienced in recent memory. The flight was awesome, and Incheon might just be elbowing the Barcelona airport off its throne of nicest airport I’ve been to so far. Making it through customs was simple, although it was obvious the agent didn’t speak English. He managed to direct me through everything I needed to do with a series of authoritative nods and points, so it all worked out in the end.
There was a fun run in at the baggage claim with some other Americans who have my same suitcase from Costco. There was some massive confusion when I pulled my bag off, as they were poised to snatch it to put in on their cart. We shared a proverbial Kirklands’ fist bump, and I was on my way.
Transportation away from Incheon is awesome. Apparently, there’s a bus for just about everywhere you’d ever want to go in the city and most if not all of them cost less than the equivalent of $15, which is surprising considering my particular bus ride was close to an hour and a half long. The one down side is you need to buy your tickets in cash, but whenever I arrive in another country I typically take out whatever the closest thing to $100 is from the ATM, so this wasn’t a big deal. Using ATMs here is fun, as they display your available balance in South Korean won, making me a multi-millionare several times over.
The bus ride was really great, as Incheon is on a western island in what I think is the East China Sea. It involves driving over tons of huge bridges, and through what I guess would be most appropriate to describe as Seoul’s suburbs. Also, I realize what an obvious, silly, and woefully ignorant thing it is to say but I was taken aback by how much the landscape driving in looked the way cities are portrayed in anime. The whole massive towering cluster of incredibly tall buildings with lots of water and some mountains? It really looks like that.
No one on my bus that sat near me spoke English, or if they did, they weren’t interested in a parley with the over-eager American tourist. I was most interested in finding out what some of the clusters of buildings were, as along side the highway there were these enormous towering condo-looking complexes. What was strange is when you think of the American idea of a high rise condo you think luxury, door men, and other niceties. These looked very utilitarian, and all boasted massive corporate branding on the side of each building. The Samsung towers, in particular, were very impressive and there were dozens of them. I couldn’t even accurately guess how many floors they had. Lots.
So in leaving the airport first you go over a bunch of bridges, then travel what looks like some sort of farm land I couldn’t identify, then these massive condo groupings, and finally reaching Seoul itself which is a city which just doesn’t end. It feels like once we actually made it to Seoul the bus had another hour to go before it even made it to the Gangnam District where my hotel is. There are so many people here.
My hotel is in the convention center area, and the bus I was on took me to this ridiculously huge depot of sorts under the convention center itself. Once I made it out of that, the InterContinental was only a few blocks away. On the way, I practically had to run a gauntlet of doormen for other hotels (and a casino) that were all overly eager to help me find my way. Traveling as an American, I’m really not used to this non-stop helpfulness. It’s definitely done wonders when it comes to taking the edge off of worrying about not speaking Korean.
Back in the USA, the state of iOS 6 maps is basically just a running joke in the Apple community. Yeah, they’re not as good as Google Maps was, but they’re totally workable. That’s not the case at all in Seoul. It’s shocking just how useless my phone is here for getting me around. The new maps app can’t find points of interest, doesn’t know where addresses are, and has laughably low resolution satellite imagery. Google Maps, comparatively, knocks it out of the park and works flawlessly. So, there’s that at least. 3G is really fast here too.
Unsurprisingly, the rooms at the InterContinental are off the chain. I’ve got this Star Trek-like command console next to the bed that I can operate literally everything in the room from. Additionally, my toilet is from the future. It’s got a heated seats, and all sorts of buttons and settings. I’m not sure what the “IMPULSIVE” button does, but all the serious-looking bold red text that appears to be warnings (Entirely in Korean, of course.) isn’t inspiring confidence when it comes to fiddling with the future toilet.
I had big plans to go wandering around a bit more, as I really like Seoul so far, but jet lag got in the way. I ordered a strangely elaborate salad via room service, figured I’d sit in the hot tub for a while, and then figure out what I was going to do there. Sadly, that plan ended at eating and falling asleep in my bathing suit… But, I made it to nearly 9:00 PM Korean time before passing out so I at least consider that a minor victory.
…Of course I am now awake at 4:00 AM local time to write this, but, whatever.
I’m definitely bummed I’m not staying here longer as after the time warp of traveling here, Thursday feels way too soon.