I am in Seoul !
I arrived 24 hours ago already. Sadness and fear are gone as the unknown has taken the shape of an environment. And because I am very busy trying to do find landmarks in this new environment, and start « creating » my life here.
I feel much better. And I already feel good in this city. Intuition brought me here and I am glad I listened to it !
I flew to Doha. I flew from Doha to Seoul International Airport.
There is a short medical check when we arrive to make sure we are not bringing a disease with us.
They ask me why I had runny nose (nez qui coule, ndlr) in the last 14 days. My Ile d’Yeu cold. I hope I can still enter the country !! Yes, my explanation seems to satisfy them.
Then it is incredbly easy for a French citizen : no visa needed. They take my finger prints and picture.
The form I have to fill for immigration leads me to count the days I will spend here. 24 days in Seoul. Waou. It is the first time of my life I give myself the opportunity to experience living a place that fascinates me for so long. I feel full of gratitude for that ! There is still some fear of the unknown, but I feel warmth and gratitude.
« I am in Seoul. » I have to repeat it several times in my mind to start integrating this new paradigm of my life. For now, it does not mean much and it is hard to believe !
I see everywhere these caracteristic Korean symbols. I like them. They are poetic. They are mysterious. They evoke modernity and tradition in the same time. Samsung and Confucianism.
I feel a bit of sadness when I arrive and see all these people waiting for the other passengers : it reminds me how alone I am ! I take a deep breath and head towards the bus stops.
I go outside.
The weather is perfect. Summer, not too hot. No rain. (A very good reason to escape Europe, at least I am sure of that !)
I take bus 6002 that brings me to my guesthouse – Matthew, this friend of friend I mentionned earlier, recommanded me a place when I told him I wanted to stay in Hongdae neighbourhood. It was my friend Benjamin who recommanded me to stay in this area which is a very vibrating student area.
(I think a golden rule in my life is : ask for advice to friends and people you trust, and things will be wonderful… until now, it works well !)
In the bus, as in a cloackroom they use tickets for the luggage you put in the luggage hold – Korean sensitiveness to detail !
From the bus, I see golf fields. I see water around and hazy mountains in the background – Incheon Airport is on an Island. I see desert-like crackled fields – sometimes brown, sometimes red, sometimes with a sand colour. A train railway and electric wires. Bridges. Buildings. Motorways. A small vegetable garden.
It seems that I am already perceiving the sense of contrasts of Korea.
It is 5.38 pm and the sun already begins to go down.
The bus driver tells me when I have to get out : « Hongik University ».
And now I am lost.
Huge buildings. People all around, crossing the street. Shops. Cafés. Metro station.
I take out the map that the Guesthouse sent me to find the place. FYI : it is not easy to find one’s way in Seoul as streets do not necessarily have their name indicated, and numbers of buildings do not go in ascending order – apparently they are related to when the building was built (whaaat ? yes … !).
So, as far as direction is concerned, the main indications on my map are the names of cafés and shops. Of course, they mean nothing to me : « Chichen Mary», « Pourtoi Bakery », « Samsung Plaza » (ok, this one rings a bell).
It’s hot. I am tired. I have too many things to carry.
I understand nothing to that map.
I don’t know if I want to try to understand.
I ask for help.
Two young ladies show me a direction to follow. I go this way but I have doubts : I do not see the shops / cafés that are on my map, and the streets don’t seem to have the right shape.
I ask again.
Some people don’t understand, some people don’t want to help. After 2 failed attempts I meet my Good Samaritan. I forgot to ask for his name. He is 23, he is Korean but has lived for a long time in Hawaï. He came back 3 days ago from the 2 compulsory years of military service that Korean men have to accomplish (this is so long !). He helps me to carry my luggage. He does not understand my map either (I feel happy with that haha !). So he calls the guesthouse.
We talk on the way and I try not to forget to concentrate on the streets to be able to find my way later. Multitasking VS mindfulness !
He congratulates me to look so young ! Haha. Since I arrived, most people I meet think I am a student – blink blink to my colleague Anthony who often made jokes explaining to people that I was the new intern in the HR Department… !
When I look around, I already feel totally in love with the place and its atmosphere.
Small streets. Residential area with life and small restaurants and shops. Calm and lively, a bit busy and a slightly chaotic as I like. Very typical and charming. It reminds me of some places of Tokyo (but I know I should not tell that to Korean people !)
I think to myself : « I am going to feel good here ! » and feel joyful.
A few minutes later, Célia (an absolutely Korean-looking but absolutely French young lady) welcomes me in a lovely house with a small terrace at the end of an alley. I say goodbye and thank you to my providential wonderfully kind Samaritan.
I leave my shoes in the entrance – basic rule here.
I feel so relieved to have arrived and to finally be in what will be « home » for the days and maybe weeks to come !
This place looks wonderful to me !
Small, family-like, bright, colourful, there are many books and nice furniture.
Some pictures here !
Célia gives me all the information I need about the place and the neighbourhood : key, towels, breakfast, wifi, map…
I will be staying in a 6 beds dorm (15 euros / night – rooms were much more expensive).
Célia takes me to the GS25 shop where I can buy a metro pass.
I am hungry and stop in a small restaurant serving broth with noodles and vegetables. Served with the national gimshi (kimshi in French), of course – typical spiced vegatables.
I come back and have a shower that fills me with a renewed energy. I even have some time to do some yoga before my appointment with Matthew.
Miracle : he offered me to come to pick me up at the guesthouse. This is really great because I would feel desperate on this first night, after my long trip, by night, to try to find my way around !
We have a walk around, and sit on the terrace of a café. It is 10pm, and I am delighted to try my first Korean matcha tea latte.
Matthew has been living for 6 years in Seoul. He is this kind of global village citizen who has travelled a lot and lived in many countries. He works in marketing in a finance company and on side of that works on entrepreneurial projects.
We have a conversation about self-fulfilment at work / Korea & Seoul / Korean people / career evolution / working on entrepreneurial projects…
He gives me advice about nice places to visit in the city. And, as I would like to connect to the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, he connects me to several of his friends. He does that through the omnipresent Korean smartphone app Kakaotalk – the Korean version of Whatsapp.
If you wish to know more about Matthew, have a look at his blog !
matthewonthemove – « High conviction thoughts on various subjects. »
As I said to him : I could not dream of a better welcoming moment ! It was priceless.
Thank you, Matthew ! And thank you Antonin for connecting me to Matthew.
What a day…
Yes, as my friend Benoît mentionned in a comment on my facebook page :
It is « the first day of the rest of my life ».