Monday, October 4, 2010

Mid-Trip Update

I spent several fun days in Seoul, overnighted in the city's fanciest digs, stepped into the axis of evil (albeit in a UN building located right on the demarcation line in the joint security area), drank soju for the first and hopefully last time...(pictures of all this to follow when I get back to Shanghai)

The low point of my trip was Sunday night. I took a bus to the coast and checked into a motel. The old lady at the front desk made a mistake counting my change and came banging on my door five minutes later demanding I return 20,000W (20USD) to her. I refused, because I wasn't about to pay for my room twice. She explained herself several times, demanded I count my money, tried to intimidate me, yelled, said her husband would be mad... She was just an old lady but having anyone try to scare you when you're alone in a foreign place is kind of unnerving. Finally she gave up. Then I went out for dinner and some guy mistook me for a Russian prostitute. Dinner was blah, I went back to my room to watch TV and it occured to me I could change my flight back to Shanghai...

But Monday morning the old lady apologized several times (she recounted her till and realized I was right) and I made for the mountains. Blue skys, trees, pretty scenery - it's nice up here. And when I was on a hiking trail I ran into a friend from Shanghai! So today I'm meeting up with her group and we're all traveling to the Penis Park in Samcheok together (apparently some sort of ancient Korean homage to the phallus).

I don't think I've spent so much time concentrated on my inner monologue since before I had siblings. I used to talk to myself all the time as an only chld, and have pretty much avoided extended periods of time alone since then. I've had writing instuctors over the years talk about how writers "crave solitude" and I always used to worry about it because, um, I don't.

This trip has been a challenge, but I knew that going in and I wanted to see if I could do it. The traveling part is easy enough but I don't especially care for being alone. That said, I met up with friends of friends in Seoul and was surrounded by friendly people on my DMZ tour. So it's been solo-travel lite. But the hostels are pretty empty, as it's off season, and the other travelers I've seen around haven't really been friendly (though I've gotten plenty of "Welcome to Korea!" from Koreans, which is nice).

As for the other travlers - Sometimes you go places and there's that immediate connection - "hey! we're both traveling!" and then sometimes there's this passive "I'm going to ignore you because you're infringing on my lone white traveler experience" thing. I smiled to people I passed on the hiking trail yesterday and plenty of the white folks didn't smile back! What's up with that?

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