On Seoul and Mishaps (Part 2)


(SOUTH KOREA, Seoul) The water hyacinths of the Namsangol Hanok Village. (Photo taken by the drenched author.)

The next morning, feeling lightheaded from more than half a day without food, I go down to breakfast and discover the kitchen’s been closed and that I’d missed the buffet by half an hour BECAUSE MY CLOCK WAS STILL SET TO SINGAPORE TIME.

THE LESSON: Adjust your watch to the local time.

At this point, ravenous and suicidal, I try to call my parents collect yet again. The maid answers after several rings—and tells me I’d missed them by a few minutes since they’d just left for Mass.

THE LESSON: Forbid your parents/family/friends/colleagues/ acquaintances from going to Mass—from going anywhere, actually—for the duration of your travels JUST IN CASE something happens (i.e., not knowing any of the previously enumerated lessons well in advance).

With my last reserves of desperation (I fortunately carry a lot of the stuff), I decide to walk to the nearest tourist information agency (which is not at all near, as it turns out) and see what kind of assistance I can get. And because the universe has a side stitch at this point and needs a break, I actually manage to withdraw some money from the agency’s ATM.

I promptly spend half of it buying enough bread to feed the denizens of a tiny planet from the closest local bakery. Fortified and artificially buoyed by extraterrestrial amounts of flour and sugar, I decide to join a “hop on-hop off” bus tour as a cheap way to see the sights.

One entire J.D. Salinger novel later, the bus still hasn’t arrived. At which point, I stand up and squint at the sign more carefully—and realize I’ve been waiting on the wrong side of the road for the last hour.

THE LESSON: Always read the local transportation signs very clearly.

THE OTHER LESSON: Always assume that the universe can quickly resume playing a cosmic joke on you.

After finally positioning myself on the correct side of the route, I manage to catch a bus and alight at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Upon entering the first courtyard, I run into the colleagues I expect to meet at the business conference that starts Monday.

They look depressingly well-rested and happy.

One of them then tells me THAT THEY HAD SPENT THE ENTIRE MORNING TOURING THE CITY IN A PRIVATE CAR WITH A PRIVATE GUIDE, AND WHAT HAD I SEEN SO FAR, BY THE WAY?

I manage not to do anything that’s apparently illegal and graciously accept their invitation to join them (through gritted teeth).

THE LESSON: Always hang around colleagues who travel during business trips IN STYLE.

THE OTHER LESSON (FORTUNATELY PREVIOUSLY LEARNED): Know how to conceal murderous impulses with a charming smile, OR, know how to smile graciously through gritted teeth.

The rest of the day manages to pass without further incident, until later that evening when I’m at the summit of Namsan Mountain contemplating the breathtaking vista of Seoul at night—and my prosumer camera dies at the very moment I take the shot.

I contemplate throwing myself off the peak, but settle for buying an asteroid’s worth of flour and sugar instead.

THE LESSON: Always carry ten million spare batteries for your camera.

[End of Part 2.]

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