Nov 25, 2014

Seoul, 기억하죠!

It's been awhile since our trip to Seoul and I realize I haven't said anything about it except for seeing BTS (which was one of the highlights but a very brief moment in my longest visit to the city so far). My friend and I stayed in Hongdae for about ten days and explored as much of Seoul as we could, only venturing out of the capital for Everland, Nami Island, and Petite France.

While it's been almost two years since my last trip to Korea, being back in Seoul felt comfortable and familiar. Finding my way around the subway system felt almost second nature. And I'm glad I know way more Korean now than I did during my last visits (first visit: hardly any; second visit: very limited) because it proved to help a lot in getting around and finding answers to our questions.

I remember trying to find a specific restaurant in Myeongdong that I had been to before that I wanted to visit again. I approached one of the tourist information people and asked my question in Korean. The lady confirmed with me if it was okay for her to answer in Korean as well and I nodded to her to go ahead. I was pretty proud of myself when I understood her instructions even though I didn't know each and every word she said.

Ordering food was 10 times easier. Being able to read road signs and maps that were purely in Korean increased efficiency tenfold. It also made people respond better to us - and that includes getting so much service from a lady in Namdaemun.

Also, a lot of the ahjummas found it fascinating to converse with foreigners in their own language. As soon as they realized I spoke a little Korean, they'd go and start very lengthy and animated conversations with me. On my part, of course, it was more of trying to catch words here and there and trying to figure out the gist of what they were saying. That's the best way to learn though.

In the winter of 2012, when I had gone to Seoul with my sisters, we met a very friendly ahjumma selling Hallyu souvenirs in Bukchon. My sisters and I engaged her in a very stilted conversation using whatever Korean I knew, plus the very limited English she could muster. Most of the conversation involved very grand hand gestures.

This time around, when I accompanied my friend to check out the Running Man and CN Blue memorabilia in the store, I was armed with better Korean skills. I asked her if she remembered me and told her that I had met her two years back with my sisters in tow. She said she did, I honestly don't think she did at that point, but she encouraged the conversation and asked me about my sisters' whereabouts and if I was studying in Seoul. Then I asked after her son, whom she had managed to tell me about last 2012, and if he was still living in New Zealand. The ahjumma was beyond shocked that I had remembered that small bit of trivia. "Gieokhane?!" she had exclaimed.

She then went looking for a Running Man 2015-2016 desk calendar. She said she wanted me to have it! I wasn't even buying anything and here she was shoving a $10-calendar at me. I tried pushing my luck a little further by asking if, since she was giving me a free calendar, instead of Running Man could she give me the Winner one instead. After jokingly giving me the side-eye, she said yes!

It's those small things that made my trip exceptionally memorable. Like when that one ahjumma in the Gwangjang Market suggested I try my shot at being an actress in Korea since I spoke their language. Believe you me, I walked out of that place with my head in the clouds!

I know my Korean language skills leave much to be desired, but the fact that a Korean colleague whom I had visited at our Gangnam office told me that my Korean was much better than his English (and he speaks good English!), then I think there's hope for me yet. Haha.

After a week and a half of walking and eating our way through Seoul (and surrounding areas in Gyeonggi-do), I was exhausted and cold enough to actually miss home but it was still depressing having to say goodbye. I'm not sure when I'll get to go back (a trip to Sydney must come first, my aunt insists) but here's to hoping that when I do, Seoul will remain as familiar as it had been this year. Also, I hope by then I would've upped my language game a bit more.


  1. Hey, look at you and your amazing Korean! That's so cute of that old woman. I can't believe you actually remembered a conversation you had with her 2 years ago! Like dude, nice memory! I always found that whenever I would try to use Korean, I'd end up chickening out at the last moment and revert to English. I think I said "Eolmayeyo?" to a street vendor once and she answered in Korean and I was quite proud that I knew what she'd said, lol, but that's the extent of my Korean skills. And really, people would just automatically speak in English to me if they knew it anyway, so I wasn't even sure if they wanted me to speak in Korean, lol.

    1. Oh, believe me, they'd love for you to try and speak their language. Like, whenever foreigners come to Manila and try to speak Filipino, it's always really appreciated and a little fascinating for the locals. But also, because when I come face to face with foreigners, my instinct is to speak in English to them. Not because I don't think their Filipino is bad or incomprehensible, but because it's in my instinct to make sure they understand me (which makes it infinitely frustrating for my American and Australian cousins who want to learn Filipino when we almost always just speak English around them). It probably goes the same way for Koreans.

    2. Ha ha, so you need to make a conscious effort not to speak english around your family. I would totally be the same if I were them. I'd be like "Dude, I want to know another language, help me!", lol

  2. Love this post T! Missing Koreaaa...

    1. Same! D is going for a short trip around June or July and I'm so very tempted to try and join her. But I'm broke so I need to hold myself back. Ha.