29 March 09, 1am in the morning, when most of my friends, colleagues and my family was sleeping; I was sitting in BIA for my final boarding call. Thanks to my sleeping disorder, I could sit at this hour wide awake looking at those lucky ones who are heading west unlike me. Couple of times I could even think of my work, why I am getting a classCastException, the features still unexplored in the product I work etc. Stupid me..! Somebody stop me from doing this, at least not at this hour of the day.
Although the flight time was only 9 Hrs, the transit and the waiting time made it almost a day journey. Since my Cathay Pacific boeing-777 landed around 6 in the evening, I could catch a glimpse of Incheon where Seoul’s international airport (ICN) is located. Though Incheon is a port city, growth has made it more or less a gigantic suburb to neighboring Seoul. Being near to sea, I expected it to be more beautiful then it actually was. The shabby look could be because of the large number of industries and rocky cliffs which this area posseses. ICN is about 50 Kms from Seoul and has plenty of choice when it comes to transport, including a modern rail network and limousine buses which run every 10 mins. I preferred taking the bus as I had done some investigation before hand. It took about 55 mins to reach hotel and I just patted my back for my decision to take limousine. I landed right in front of hotel reception where I got a royal welcome by the hotel staff.
After a stressful day long journey, I couldn’t have asked for more than what I got in Ritz. The hotel is located in Seoul’s economic heartland “Gangnam”. This place just reminded me of Tokyo’s Roppongi where I had a fantastic time few months back. The Gangnam features a variety of shopping options, countless restaurants and mainly the young university students who always hang around the place to give it a modern look. But for tonight, all I needed was a good sleep. This really stresses me out, especially when I travel. Even after long hours of sleeplessness I don’t catch sleep easily. I lay in the bed for more than an hour and finally managed to catch some good sleep. The Korean colleagues were going to haunt me in my dreams tonight…!
My visit to Seoul was very brief and had a descent agenda unlike my normal client visits at lab. I had to train 10 folks in product which I specialize. Technically, wasn’t a big deal, but culturally yes, it was a challenge. Few Korean’s understand English and among those very few could speak in a way we understand. It took about 2 hrs for me to realize who understood all the blah-blah I was doing at the presentation desk. For simple reason that there was absolute silence in the class and no questions asked, it was obvious that they didn’t really gather much of what I was saying. Lunch time gave me a good break. I could ask some of the participants personally. Many of them were generous enough to help me to help them better. All they needed is more of drawings, pictures in my slide than the text. Wherever I couldn’t do that, I used the writing board to make them understand what I was saying. I brought my talking speed to almost nil and this was to continue for 4 more days. Jesus..!
One of the annoying things in Seoul is the temperature during this period. It’s between 4-10 degree Celsius in day time and in nights it was hitting negatives. I did a mistake by not carrying any warm clothing. But I was kind of enjoying the weather. I even wore my favorite Levis shirt one day which could only be worn in a desert. The beautiful thing about Seoul is the traffic management system. On any day you will see a large number of cars on the road, but because of the lane discipline they follow there are hardly any major traffic jams. Hyundai being the local dealer, you can see a large number and variety of their cars all around. These include the small version Santro (It has a different name in Seoul) to Elantra, Sonata, grandeur, avante and big SUV’s like Tucson and Santafe.
Since I was in Korea for only a week, I shouldn’t be too confident about my observations. But two things I noticed so far about traffic rules: first, the scooters and motorcycles often drive on the pavements. I could make out from their look that most of them are the delivery guys. No offence, after all they are hurrying to feed someone hungry. I remembered how I scolded the Pizza guy once for taking 45 mins to deliver my order back at home. Secondly, the Korean people do not know what is waiting. They just cannot wait for anything. Unlike Tokyo where the cars will strictly wait for the signal to turn red, cars here used to drive by me on many occasions when I have been happily crossing the street at a crosswalk with a green man showing (and a red light for cars). The other incident was in a mall where I got repeated instructions from my colleague for blocking the way while on an escalator. If we stand in here as we do in India, we actually will be blocking the path of an impatient person.
I got a chance to use Seoul’s subway system once and it’s fantastic. Also very moderate price compared to the taxi’s which I was taking to reach office. From the subway network diagram I could make out that the metro connects almost whole of Seoul and most of the people preferred it over taking roads because of the traffic congestions at peak hours. The other reason is because people stay in the outskirts where the flat rents are very cheap and they have fast way of connectivity to business heart of the city. I must mention Seoul too has it to its name – “One of the costliest cities in the world”. Owning a house here for any IT guy is a really big affair. I came to know that the IT is not a good paying sector in Korea. People working in financial institutions like banks get more salary than any others.
On last day of my stay, I got a chance to visit a nearby mountain called Namsan. One of my colleagues Mr. Jang took me there. We took the bus this time as it was convenient way to reach the top of the mountain. Namsan is located at the center of Seoul and features Seoul tower. Because of its location, it allows visitors to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Also the other funny thing about this place was the countless number of locks which hang on the terrace attached to Seoul tower. Young couples come here and put these locks and throw the key away in hope of eternal love. I took a lot of pictures here. I wanted to take cable car as I never have used it till now, but Jang told me that we will not be able to enjoy the view as much as when we go down by walk. After this place, we also visited the old Seoul city which was famous for restaurants. We walked about 3 Kms to locate an Indian restaurant called Ganga. During this walk, I got a chance to enjoy the evening view of the city and to see the 4 Km long artificial river constructed in the middle of Seoul. I had a really good dinner at Ganga as it served my favorite Chicken tandoor.
When I reached my room that night I was so tired that my sleep disorder just couldn’t harm me anymore. I could just think one thing before I completely surrendered to sleep – “Now I want to go back to Bangalore. My Dear is waiting for me”.