In the weeks leading up to this trip, I was dealing with finals and two mega-group projects and getting a little bit sick a few days prior to leaving and my mom being in Europe herself and mourning the loss of summer… madd stressed! But with the seriously terrific help of my friends, I got through it, got on the plane to Tokyo for a short stopover and then on to Korea.
- The nice guy at Japan Airlines hooked me up with an aisle seat AND yelled after me because I left my passport at the counter!
- Flight to Japan was 12 hours of greatness – plenty of DE-STRESS time, reading my guidebooks that I hadn’t gotten a chance to get, doing plane exercises, and a little sleeping.
- Got to Korea in a delirium and was greeted by a giant Christmas-lit phallus on the road into Seoul. No pictures but it changed colors like those old-school fiber optic thingys.
- Got to the hotel and searched for someplace to eat. We’re not in the most happening neighborhood but found – of course – a 24 hour Chinese place. My poor classmates got “Noodle soup with shredded chicken” – with no shredded chicken in the bowl, slices of what we think now is sea urchin and the manager explained that “the chicken’s in the broth.” Bed at 2 a.m.
- On the bus to Samsung, I noticed that basically all the houses we saw from the road were giant complexes of high rises – no single family homes – all the same color and style only distinguished by a giant number painted on the side.
- Visited the Samsung campus – amazing that this bazillion dollar company at its founding sold fruit and dried fish. Met with the head of sales and marketing of mobile Mr. DJ Lee who was amazing. He told us about how innovative and progressive the company is in their management style (changing leadership internally – shuffling the deck – every 3 years) and their attitude towards success (celebrate good work but don’t rest on your laurels). The company received us at curbside at their marketing building and gave us a tour of their history museum and new gadget displays. We got to play with 3D tvs (both with and without glasses) and see their latest home appliances and mobile devices. Truely cool.
- Before we got to Samsung we stopped in a little shopping district to grab a quick bite since we were early. Ivy and I walked around and saw some crazy nail places (half hot pink, half leopard print) and then a little convenience store where we looked at the packaging and the interesting items for sale (including a refrigerated bulgogi burger). At the KFC, one of my classmates, Diamond, got a Chicken Nugget (yes, singular – JUST ONE NUGGET) and a small pile of fries. And I said, “Uh, why did you get just one nugget?” and she replied, “Well, it wasn’t ON PURPOSE.”
- We headed back to Seoul and went to dinner – Mamie, Ivy and I. We went to Insadong – a very cute pedestrian friendly shopping and dining district. We went to a neighborhood called Insadong to a restaurant we read about in Lonely Planet that had a 20-course Korean Buddhist temple food (vegetarian) that included some temple dances and drumming performances. We tried EVERYTHING and it was good. I had not had so much veggies in my life. The temple dances we very interesting and I’m curious to find out what they all meant.
- After dinner, we decided to check out a spa. I had heard from my friend Michele that I should definitely check out the spa options. We read about one in LP called Spa Lei that was 24 hours and women-only. After a half hour of trying to communicate via the free Korean-English translator phone number, we entered the underground spa and were greeted by naked Korean ladies. We weren’t expecting that kind of reception or experience. Two of us – including me – jumped right into it with communal showers, hot and cold baths and saunas. We also got a body scrub, mud treatment and cucumber facial treatments. The body scrub experience was basically like being a young child again where a lady my mom’s age wears loofa mittens and bathes you and scrubs your dead skin off. Believe me I had a lot of that. (Oh by the way, these ladies are wearing bras and panties. Not sure why they’re not wearing bathing suits?) You lay on this table or gurney that’s topped with plastic in a room with 5 other women on gurneys getting scrubbed. There are also other floors with places to get massage, eat, nap, tan, “hip bathroom” (I have no idea, can someone clue me in!?!), smoke, infared tan (?), and just detox in general. It was interesting to see that some women come straight from work or the airport and perhaps go straight to the office? This place is crazy!! …. Left the spa at around 3 or 4 a.m., rolled into the hotel completely RELAXED and SOFT-SKINNED, popped an Ambien and headed to dream-land!!
That was day one.