Tuesday, March 4, 2014

To get to Seoul

And the journey begins: from Seojikoji to Jeju City to Seoul.

With my good karma angel retired, demonized or off gallivanting somewhere else around the world, the end of my Aqua Planet days were slightly messy.

In long detail, my boss wanted me to work an extra couple of days but was unwilling to give me a bonus for extending my contract. Unfortunately, I needed those days to practice and record for video auditions that had a deadline in less than a week so he needed to make it worth my while to give up a couple or even one entire day. He wasn't interested in the deal so not only did I not make a little extra money on the side I also lost the remainder of that month's salary. I did however retain the time that I needed to finish my practicing and recording. It was several nights in a row of very little sleep and days in a row of an aching body, but I got the first recording done. You can check it out here :)

The next to last day in my double priced room (literally every other place I enquired about was half the price per month but none of them would allow extensive violin playing) I went to speak with my landlord and ask about my deposit and a ride to the bus stop with all my luggage. My landlord speaks very limited English but enough to communicate that he was unhappy with the amount of the electric bill over my four month stay. When I moved in I was told electric, water and internet were included, but oil to heat the floor was not. He had also said the room gets very cold in the winter time. I was planning on living there from November through February so I asked about a space heater, explaining that when I practice I need the air to be warm, not the floor. He voluntarily brought me a large space heater and I used it at night and in the morning when I was practicing. I also ran it on low during the nights and sometimes on high during the coldest nights just to keep warm. When I asked about my deposit being returned he claimed the electric bill was too high and he could only give back a third of the deposit. I inquired as to the cost of the bill to see if he lost money or simply broke even but he was still making more than the previously stated cost of rent of the other locations. He was definitely not hurting for making money on my account. I tried to reason with him that he had not only stated that electric was included but had also given me the space heater and said I could use it. AND I had also tried to save electricity by turning it off during the day and running it on low at night. He refused to budge so I called my boss to plead for help. I'm not sure who was lying between the two men, but in the end, no one cared and I didn't get my money back. Then my boss proceeded to defended my landlord, claiming he is not business minded but is a kind man. I disagree (insert angry fuming emoticon here). And in case you were wondering, I wanted a written contract and asked for one several times but was told it was unnecessary by the people I asked so I gave up trying to get one.

So without any Korean money (for the landlord had given the part of the deposit he did return to me in Japanese Yen) I took the free bus to the airport and handed over my three bags to the luggage storage under the agreement that I would pick them up in 24 hrs for a fee of 25,000 won.

It was pouring rain that day. And I mean pouring, not sprinkling or gently raining, but pouring. I was soaked within minutes of stepping out from under the airport cover and having no money, could not take a taxi. If you are wondering why I didn't change some of the USD that I had, the reason is because it was a Saturday and ALL the banks were closed, even the ones in the airport. So I proceeded to walk half an hour to town. I literally had only 5,000 won so I decided I would go to the large grocery/"walmart" chain and buy a juice and use the internet while I tried to dry a bit. As I was walking into the store two American girls and two Korean guys approached me and asked if I would be in a picture pushing all of them in a cart. Definitely one of the strangest requests I've had in a while, but I was down, so they brought over a cart, all stuck a foot in it and I pretended I was pushing it while someone took a picture. No, sadly, I don't have that picture nor do I have any clue where to find it. As I was speaking with them I mentioned that I was looking for an open exchange place since my landlord hadn't returned my deposit so I only had USD. One of the girls agreed to trade the money she had with me so I traded for 35,000 won. It was enough to pay the luggage fee the next day and have a small meal but not enough to find a place to stay for the night.

You may wonder again why I hadn't already made plans for a place to stay that night, and I will tell you that I actually had, but my plans had been foiled. Before leaving Aqua Planet I had asked a couple of my friends if they would be interested in coming to Jeju to party one last night and then experience a tradition Korean spa called a jimilbang. It's very cheap (only 7,000-10,000 won for 24 hrs) and so we could all go enjoy the spa experience and then sleep overnight and then they could catch the free bus back to Aqua Planet while I caught a plane to Seoul. Sadly, neither girl that had agreed so enthusiastically actually came that night. Now I can hear you thinking, why didn't I just go alone? I totally would have if something else hadn't thrown another corkscrew into my day.

For over a month I'd been asking about flights to my boss and the week that I finished at Aqua Planet I personally told him what day I wanted to fly to Seoul. Then a couple of days later I emailed him that I'd like to fly that particular day in the morning. The email was sent a couple of days before I wanted to fly (there are a lots of flights from Jeju to Seoul) and he tried to book the flight the day before I flew. That afternoon, after taking the picture with the cart, I had wandered to a coffee shop to get some internet and received an email stating that all the flights to Seoul the next day were booked and that I'd have to fly out on Monday. I replied back that I had no place to stay an extra day and no money so now what should I do? Then I went in search of a flight just to check...and what do you know but there were flights available. There weren't a lot and they were higher priced than my boss wanted to pay, but they were there. So I emailed him back with the website and said there were indeed flights, if he could please book me on the day I had requested. Then I realized that I couldn't go spend the night at a jimjilbang because I needed to have internet so I could keep checking when my flight might be.

There is another cheap way to spend the night in Korea: it's at a PC bang (room). These are small cubicles with really nice chairs, some snacky food, a pc and coat rack, etc, so that you can spend the night. I figured, well, I can rent a room for the night there and have internet access and privacy to shed my soaking wet clothes and try to dry out. My clothes were so wet that when I sat down I left a puddle when I stood up on the seat. My hair had water droplets running down it and my book bag was so wet that all my clean clothes were soaked as well.

As I sat in this coffee shop wondering what to do, where to go, and how to pay for everything, I got an email asking where I was from an acquaintance in Jeju. This person had an office in Seoul and when they found out I was homeless and penniless for the night and needed wifi, they offered to let me stay for free in their office in town. So I emailed back my location at the coffee house and was picked up and taken to this empty office building. One highlight was my acquaintance actually bought me dinner which I was so desperate for since I hadn't eaten food all day. Once I got settled in the office room I realized there was no heat. I hung up my "clean" clothes hoping they would dry over night and that the next morning I could change. Then I waited at my computer for an email from my boss. Soon it came with confirmation of a flight booked two days away. Since I had his phone number I signed onto Skype and called him up and sitting in front of my computer screen verifying that there were flights the next day I asked him to please book me a flight when I had asked since I had no place to stay and nothing to eat and no money to pay for anything if I wanted/needed. He wasn't happy but an hour later I received a cancellation of the previously booked flight and a confirmation of a flight booked the next afternoon. Finally, I could go to sleep. Or so I thought.

There was a cot with a blanket in the room, but it was so cold that I did something I've never done in my entire life, I covered every part of my body, including my head completely with the blanket. I had taken off my drenched socks in hopes they would dry and my feet were so wet that they stuck to the blanket every time I tried to move them. I didn't sleep much that night.

The next day my acquaintance took some pity on me and picked me up and took me to a Korean 5 day market. These are very famous markets and lots of fun to walk through. I couldn't buy any food, but I enjoyed walking around smelling it and seeing all the different wares for sale. The market was quite large and we spent the late morning wandering around it.

My other boss was in town that day and I made contact with him and he brought me along to a Korean wedding around noon and I got my free lunch for that day. Then with time to spare before my flight (4:15) he asked where I wanted to go and I told him a certain museum I had intended to go to with the girls the night before but then hadn't managed to get there. So he dropped me off and I toured it for an hour. Then it was off to the airport to get my luggage. Since I still had no Korean money and it was Sunday so the banks were still closed he offered to take my USD in exchange for buying my bags out of storage. When we got to the airport the banks inside were open so I was able to exchange money for the luggage and then when I went to retrieve my bags, was informed that the 25,000 won price was now 45,000 won! WOW! Almost double the cost because I had an extra 6 hours past the 24 hr mark. What could I do though? Stay in Jeju indefinitely? I angrily paid the fee, told my boss goodbye (who was the boss who had defended my landlord and so knew of my money predicament and brags of his financial status, yet didn't offer to help me pay the fee as a parting gift or show of kindness), and went to check in for my flight.

It has now been two solid days since a shower, I'm still wearing wet clothes, have only eaten two meals in the last two days, and slept approximately ten hours in the last four days. All I want to do is get to Seoul, meet my couch surfing host, take a shower, eat some food, and go to sleep.

BUT, my flight was delayed. First only 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, and then 45 minutes. WHY? I was starting to wander through the duty free shopping looking for sample perfume to spray on me to help cover the odor for the people who were unfortunate enough to sit near me on the flight. After 45 minutes we started to board. YEA! I was so tired I almost slept through getting bumped by the beverage cart multiple times and the kid behind me kicking my chair and the kids in front yelling and playing boisterously but I just ended up with a neck cramp from trying to tilt my head too far to one side in my attempts to fall asleep.

When I landed I gathered my luggage, which was all accounted for and only wore very mild signs of luggage abuse before heading for the subway. The public transportation basically everywhere other than the United States is really easy to use, so I had no problem finding the way to the right train and riding to the correct stop. When I arrived my host was waiting outside the subway stop and he directed me and helped me haul my luggage all the way to his place (It really wasn't that far. It just felt like it in the condition I was in at the time.). The sundry greetings were given and then I asked for a shower. Humorously, after I emerged my host declared I was a new person. Apparently when I had arrived I seemed exhausted and worn down and after my shower I seemed happy and alert. It problem had something to do with the fact I was literally jumping around his apartment in glee...

This is the adventurous tales of the journey from Seopjikoji to Seoul.

More tales will come of my Seoul adventures :)