Here it is, we’ve finally come to our last days of adventures while in Korea! Can you believe we made it? And with the exception of an errant few late postings, we completed something as planned? I know, I’m shocked, too! In this final episode, we have lots to talk about, as, thanks to the magic of time zones and the power of jet lag, this day actually took place twice, one infinitely better than the other.
Shall we get to it then?
As it was our last day, and our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, we decided, after finishing all our packing, to up and at them in an effort to have our last adventures, or really, hunt for an actual cheap suitcase to purchase as our clever overnight bag idea of before, now packed to the gills, didn’t seem like something we wanted to be carrying around airport to airport.
Though it was a travel day, I still got up and put on my bb cream, my fantastic new mascara from Etude House and a skinny eyeliner from Misha. I’m traveling, but I still want Korea to remember me as beautifully as I could. Plus? We were going to try it one more time to try to catch Stephanie her future Mr. by way of a certain Milk Tea Coffee Prince.
We wandered to said shop and peeked in the windows. He was there! He was alone! It was perfect. Meant to be. My moment. We walked in, and he smiled like he recognized us (my heart said yes, my brain said, he has excellent customer service skills.) We ordered our usual earl gray milk tea for Ms. SaraG and a hazelnut latte for me. Then, SaraG, the perfect wing girl, excused herself to go to the bathroom, leaving the two of us on our own. As he leisurely handcrafted our drinks, I wandered the coffee shop, taking pictures, marking the moment.
Okay, really I was trying not to be creepy as I looked for the perfect moment to take a photograph of him. You know. To document it for you. That’s all.
There were delightful art prints on the walls and little cards for the artist.
In my head, I built the perfect drama/fanfic in my head that he was an artist and a barista. So swoony. Too soon, he delivered our beverages and then, after a moment, handed us these little cookies, gesturing with a shy smile that they were to go with the beverages.
With a reluctant sigh, we said our goodbyes, him not realizing this was our goodbye forever, not understanding our budding relationship was about to be cut short by the close of an airplane’s door. We would always look back, wondering what could have been if we’d just spoken up…if we’d spoken the same language.
Goodbye, my sweet Milk Tea Coffee Prince.
As SaraG had not had the chance to experience toast-uh with the rest of us, we hunted down the Issac Toast that was down the main street off where we stayed. It was a tiny outdoor stand, run by an older, I’m assuming married couple. We ordered — if I remember correctly — ham and cheese and waited, watching them make our sandwiches. Turns out the reason the toast-uh is so sweet? They literally drizzle some sort of simple syrup in between the bread slices. Um. Huh. Okay. Balancing our beverages and toast-uh, we nom-nomed some breakfast, deciding where to go next. Our plan? Go find the stationery shop, load up all the cuteness seen there before, go back to the house pack up, take our suitcases to the suitcase storage at the subway terminal, and wander around for a while before going to Itaewon for the afternoon. The plan made, we were in motion.
After some wandering down side streets and a quick detour into the huge Dyso shop (think Japanese dollar store), we found the stationery store. (It is NOT easy to refind things on these twisty and turny streets!) The notebooks are so freaking cute, I had trouble choosing, so I apparently decided just to buy everything. It was my last day! I can’t get this stuff at home! They make great gifts for my coworkers! Or, really I just couldn’t stop. Both SaraG and I got these most adorable pencil cases in the shape of a cat. How can you resist that? I got post-its that were BT21, because why not?
You know the why not? BECAUSE MY BAG WAS ALREADY FULL. Overfull really. Both of them. Not to mention, my armful of notebooks was not the lightest things in the world. But I didn’t care. Fun Stephanie fact? She has a girl hard-on for stationary. Even non-Korean stationary. Just let me loose in a Staples, and I’m finding some reason to buy new stationery products. It’s like a sickness.
Said armful of heavy-ass notebooks in hand, we were off, back to our Airbnb where I had yet another repack, and we checked, rechecked and checked again to make sure we had everything. Another fun Stephanie fact? She is NOTORIOUS for leaving things at people’s houses. We all joke it’s my way of making sure I’m invited back. Whenever I leave now, they’ll ask me, “Do you have your phone? Wallet? Keys?” Eyeroll. Yes, mom. Only to realize I’ve left three other things. When SaraG asks the group chat, “Did someone forget their pants?” Really, everyone is just waiting for me to fess up.
There actually was a series of things we had ‘forgotten’ to take, tucked away in the shoe closet, but it was things like guidebooks and umbrellas. We figured the next person could use them, and we could use the space in the suitcases (RIP cat in sunglasses umbrella, you served me well.)
With heavy hearts, we made our way through the neighborhood, saying goodbye to our favorite landmarks.
“Goodbye, convenience store guy who was always so excited to see us for our daily triangle kimbap.”
“Goodbye, slow coffee ahjussi.”
“Goodbye man who loves a market.”
“Goodbye, my Milk Tea….wait….SaraG, is that coffee shop really called One of C? With a fish? SaraG, is it possible Milk Tea Coffee Prince runs Jesus coffee shop?”
We took our suitcases down to the subway that had a business where, for a fee, it would hold onto your suitcases while you were in transit. Since they did charge per bag, we decided only to leave our suitcases, taking with us our overnight bags that were very carefully packed to take advantage of every space strategically. (This will come into play later.)
Lighter, but still loaded down, we headed off, walking over to the book alley, where SaraG hadn’t been before. It was situated along this long walkable path that had once been railroad tracks.
We looked at the cute little restaurants, and boutiques along the way, walking down until we reached an overpass, which would have take us to a residential neighborhood.
This was when we decided to turn around and make our way to Hongdae to find that suitcase, as we’d been marching through Mapo with these heavy, heavy bags (albums are NOT light), we realized we didn’t want to be doing this through our international trek.
Instead of going back the same way, we took a turn and headed back a different way, figuring it was fine so long as we were headed in the same direction. Of course? We got lost. Note: In Korea, you might think you’re headed in one direction but with those twisty streets? You may not always realize when you’ve gotten turned around. I tried to find us, but it wasn’t easy, which was super fun considering we were all uphill, we were tired, and we were carrying easily 50 pounds on us. One funny thing, we passed a store with all of these old albums and magazines stacked outside. Think like yardsale stacked, where it was waist-deep, all jumbled and mixed in. How was this just hanging on the street? Was there anything here we wanted to add to our collection? How much was it all? This tells how tired we were, we just kept walking without going in. Nopes. We were done. Finally, we found our way back and hit the now-familiar Hongdae streets. Looking at all of the places we’d been, we’d eaten, we’d shopped at.
We decided to stop for lunch and ultimately chose a Chinese place where we got soup dumplings and whatever this orange thing is.
Funny, it turned out the store had just opened the day before and was still working the kinks out, kinks like, what music they were going to play, as the entire time we were there, they continually change the music, as songs were playing. Like someone was fighting over the radio station. The food was….not great, but it could be we were done, it could be it was the second day, it could be it was just not a good place. Who knows?
It was there we decided we were done. We had planned to gather our things and go to Itaewon, wander the streets before we had to go for our flight. Nah, we were good. We were tired, our feet hurt, and we did not want to be carrying these bags for so long. Decision made to just go through Hongdae, hopefully, find that suitcase and be on our way to the airport. Added plus? We wouldn’t be those jerks on the subway during rush hour with Plan B.
Unfortunately, though we looked at all of the bag places, and were not willing to shell out money for a nice suitcase, we were unsuccessful in our suitcase hunt. Bummer. But it’s okay, we weren’t married to the idea.
A final stop to fulfill a promise made our first day in Hongdae, a trip to the visitors center to have our pictures taken with the BTS cutouts, and we were off, collected our bags and hopped the subway, just enough money on our cards to get us to Itaewon and home. We vegged out on the trip, which was long but a straight shot, not hard at all! If you go, don’t be afraid to use the subway to and from the airport.
Getting out, we found out, for some reason, we didn’t have enough to exit the subway without putting more money on our cards. The hard part was to put enough money on the cards to get us through without actually putting extra money on there. Although, as I have yet to take my travel card from my wallet, the extra money that’s on there will just be there waiting for my next adventure.
We were back in the bright white and ultra-modern Incheon International Airport, where the people were friendly and super helpful. We dropped off my Egg (it’s official, I’m going home, goodbye South Korean Internet!) and found one of those places where you could pre-weigh your suitcase. SaraG? Came in right under the weight limit? Me? Over. GAH! Thank goodness they had these things. So, right there in the middle of Incheon, I had to repack. Again.
With no lines and people at the ready to help us, we easily handed over our bags and checked in for our flights. With plenty of time to kill, we decided to kill it in the airport shops. We checked out the bookstore/music shop, looking for a book Leila had asked us to look for, and, in a last-ditch effort, to look for the Sewoon CD.
Nope. Nope. Better luck next time, Sewoon.
We stood in a line at a bustling Gong Cha coffee, intent on spending the last of our Won on fancy-ass cherry blossomed themed beverages. (Gong Cha Coffee, I love you, please open a shop in Denver. You have them in NYC and LA, you’d be a welcome addition.)
At our gate we hunkered down, taking a moment to pull out one of my notebooks (As I now had so many to choose from) and mapped out everything we’d done every day, knowing with time and memories being what they were, we’d want to have a record of what happened each day. To this I say: thanks Past SaraG, thanks, Past Stephanie, you made these sets of posts just that much easier.
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What's that quote from Erma Bombeck? When you start looking like your passport photo its time to go home? Well, I'm not quite that bad, but I'm definitely ready to be sleeping in my own bed. Now I'm off to do some time traveling (we arrive in Denver a half hour before we leave Incheon) then rest, then I'll get started telling all my tales! #travel #goinghome #bye #southkorea
We took time waiting, reading, chatting, taking turns watching the bags as the other stretched their legs. You know, preparing to be on a flight for 14 hours. On one fo my walks around I bought my last Korean americano, passing up all the Korean pastries as I knew I’d be fed (a lot) on the flight. Goodbye, my last Won!
I tried to gulp it all in. The constant Korean around me. Hearing people talk but having it almost be white noise around you as you don’t understand what they are saying. The adverts featuring all the people I knew and loved. The weird feeling of belonging and yet not belonging at all. These last moments in Korea for who knows how long. It wasn’t an easy moment.
Too soon, despite the fact we’d been there for hours, we were ready to board. Good Bye, Korea, I promise I will see you again.
Once again, we were happy to be in the comfort plus seats as those extra inches really make the difference for international travel. Since SaraG had occupied the middle seat on the way there, I offered to take the space on the way home. The seat next to us was bittersweet as we knew that had been Alix’s. How different our time would have been if she’d been able to stay with us. We hope the random businessman who didn’t know what Bibimbap was when the flight attendant asked him what he’d like for his meal, knew how lucky he was to have gotten that spot.
The flight was long and, while SaraG managed to sleep for most of the way (that bish), I couldn’t just couldn’t do it. So I spent the flight either with my eyes closed telling myself (GO TO SLEEP, for the love of mike DO IT), giving up and reading all of the things I couldn’t get to load on my tablet on flight to Incheon.
Hours and days and weeks and months later, we landed in Seatle. Thanks to time zones it was Thursday. Again? Still? This is where things got tricky. When we booked, we realized we had a short layover, an hour and a half, to get through customs, get our luggage, go through security, and catch our next flight to Denver. When we were let off the plane, the workers there made us wait in the….tunnle connecting the aircraft to the terminal? Can’t remember what that is called. He explained that customs was currently busy, and he was only taking people who had the international security passage and people who were using this specific customs app. To the rest of us, he recommended we download the app and use it as well, as it was going to get us through customs faster. Knowing we were already going to be cutting it close, we hastily downloaded the app he recommended, filling out our profiles, taking pictures of our passports, while welding questions from the technology unadvanced around us. It was hard. You want to be helpful, but the faster we got this done, the more of a chance we had of getting through this in our allotted time. Finally, we both had the app situated, and we made our way to the front of the line where the guy checked and let us through.
What up ‘Murica, did you miss us?
We passed all of the people waiting for their chances to go through customs. Skirted right by them, got our bags and were on our way. Whew, we thought, we might just make it. Not so fast, Customs said. You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, right? Almost instantly, we hit another line. A line that stretched and stretched and stretched. With heavy hearts we joined, now really concerned. The line essentially didn’t move at all. There were actually two lines, one for people using this fudging mobile app and the others who had gone through customs. Guess who’s line moved faster? If you put your vote into modern-day technology, you would be sorely mistaken.
Nope, those of us in the ‘faster’ line stood there, frustrated as we watched the other line move quickly through. We watched the time inch up, eating away at our window. I, not having slept since first Thursday, unsure of what would happen if we didn’t make our connection, frustrated at the lack of information, was pretty much at the end of my patience. (I’d never missed a flight before.)
From what we were able to figure out, the scanner for the app was only currently working on one of the customs booths, and even then, that line was having issues. I wanted to yell, to make someone do something, anything that would help us. But, unlike the crisp white bright tech, the smiling, helpful faces of South Korea, we were here. Where people, both staff and passengers where shouting. It really was a reverse culture shock going from the buzz of Korean which had basically been white background noise, to be able to understand and be forced to listen to every conversation that was going on around you, was a lot. A lot-lot.
The second line for people who had gone through the first customs now completely clear of people, a few of us, given the okay by security, jumped over to that line.
This did not serve us at all as they took all the other people first and then took us. DUDE. WTF.
By this time it was almost a fact we were going to miss our flight. Once through we had only a half-hour to recheck in our bags, go through security (really a second security when we haven’t at any point left a security zone since our FIRST Thursday?) The clear-headed of us, SaraG took us to the Delta desk outside of customs. She explained our situation and asked what we could do. The lady at the counter said we couldn’t get on the plane now, even though there was still a half-hour before it took off. Not going to lie at this point I was DONE and may have suggested they make them wait as we were right here. They both gave me pitying glances and went about their real business, getting us on flights home. Looking at the options she saw there was another flight going to Denver later on that day, but it only had one seat, and looking at SaraG’s and my faces, quickly passed on that. She offered us a flight that would take us first to Salt Lake City where we would then catch another flight back to Denver.
Um. Dude. Just let us on our regular flight. Again. Stephanie. Unhelpful.
Umm. We paid for Comfort Plus, will these be comfort plus? No? Will I then be refunded for that difference? No? Why not? You guys were the ones who thought we’d be able to make it through customs and on our plane in an hour and a half. But again, those were also silly questions, and I shut my overwhelmed face up. (PS, I didn’t actually say the bit about the customs as I’m not an asshole and even with my frustration, knew our predicament wasn’t this lady’s fault.)
We took the Salt Lake option.
Her ripping off the Korean tags off my suitcase and replacing them with the new ones hurt more than it should have. I blame the two Thursdays. And, you know, the lack of sleep.
That decided we were sent off to security and tiredly, I watched my bags through the screening process. And then watched my overnight bag go through the screening process again before watching it pulled out of the line and myself being gestured over.
The woman blew through my perfectly packed bag, arranged with bags within bags, tiny bags I’d filled with souvenirs, hunting for something, every layer crafted so carefully, it really must have looked like I was hiding something before she found what she was looking for. Within one of my bags, tucked in with my SM schwag, and a headband for Ryan was a small bottle of white powder.
Otherwise known as the black bamboo kiln salt I’d picked up in Geongju. Shit.
She held it up and shook it at me, “what is this?” she asked.
“Salt! Just fancy salt!” After eyeballing me, she nodded and allowed me to go. Note to you guys, if you buy any white powders in Korea, put them in the checked suitcase! Gah.
Officially dead on my feet, we made our way to the Salt Lake Gate, then to Salt Lake City, where we got off and waited for our flight to Denver.
Second Thursday sucked balls.
Finally, we were home. Or, we were at SaraG’s home. We were past the point of tired and were just giddy and jet-lagged. We pulled our presents, entertained her husband with tales, and tried to make ourselves go to sleep. This is where I learned jetlag is real, and it is a real bitch.
While the last leg our trip was awful, It did happen at the end and had no real impact on anything. I couldn’t believe it was over. I still can’t believe it was over. I can’t believe all of the things that we did and accomplished. All of my fears and anxieties were fairly unfounded. Our language barrier was barely a barrier at all. Though it wasn’t all smooth sailing, though there were times that tempers flared and feelings were hurt. Though we didn’t end as we began, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I may have mentioned it before, but traveling with these women was amazing and something I will never forget. We are connected in a way we weren’t before. I can go again, but I won’t have the same experience, the same dynamic we had on this trip. We were bold and adventurous. I’m infinitely proud of us, of me. Not only did I manage within the group, but I was also able to go off and have my own adventures. Figuring out hurdles on my own as they came up. Often I look back at what Kdrama, what this site, what all the friends along the way have given me. Who I have become because of it. I am certainly not the person I was before I started all of this, and I am thankful for that. I’m a much better and stronger person, more adventurous and bold. I don’t think past me would have been able to do as much as I did.
Or maybe I’m not giving past me enough credit. Because of past me’s choices, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
This closes out the Korean Adventure series. Thanks so, so much for those of you who have followed me along the way. If you haven’t been to South Korea, do it. Start that piggy bank and squirrel away those coins. Don’t worry about the language. You got this!
And as promised? Next week I’ll do a final followup post with tips and tricks, things that helped us along our way.
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ONE: AIR PLANES, TIME TRAVELS, AND MULTIPLE SARAG(S)
- Korean Adventure Day Two: Sadly, No Zombies
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THREE: THE SOLO JOB
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FOUR: BY THE POWER OF STEVE!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FIVE: STAIRS, AND MEERKATS, AND POLICE…OH MY!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SIX: EMERGENCYS, BELLY RUBS, AND TIPSI TEXTS
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SEVEN: THAT WEIRD SHAPED ARTY BUILDING IN GANGNAM
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY EIGHT: KPOP TAKES A VACATION
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY NINE: WE LOVE A MAN WHO LOVES A MARKET
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY TEN: STEPHANIE DOESN’T DO NAKED
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ELEVEN: LET’S GET SAEGUKY
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY TWELVE: THAT TIME WE DIDN’T BREAKUP BY THE HAN
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THIRTEEN: MILK TEA COFFEE PRINCE
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY FOURTEEN: ACCIDENT? SHOPLIFTING? I’VE HEARD IT BOTH WAYS
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY FIFTEEN: A TALE OF TWO THURSDAYS
- KOREAN ADVENTURES ADDENDUM: TIPS, TRICKS, HOW TO’S AND MUST DO’S