jeudi 22 mars 2018

My brilliant Korea.

So, I mentioned a little while ago that I was going to Korea, and then said no more about it. It was a whirlwind trip and a very odd time.

Five days in Seoul, a thirteen-hour flight and a nine-hour time difference - it was intense. I arrived early on a Saturday morning, bone-tired, having missed a night's sleep. I checked into my hotel early and sneaked an extra hotel breakfast in when I arrived.

Pretty much nothing was what I expected. Seoul is a grey, concrete city - at times you could be somewhere in America, if not for the signs being in Korean. It's mountainous and every street seems to be on a steep slope.

We went straight out exploring, making the most of the free time while we had it (it was a work trip with a packed schedule). We got straight onto the metro, and I was most struck by the fact that everything in Korea is cute - when you buy your metro card, you choose which cartoon character you would like on it. I went for a slightly angry-looking rabbit.

We walked around busy streets and market stalls, spotting cat cafes and a meerkat cafe and - weirdest of all - even a 'poop cafe'. We ate an incredible lunch, and I had my first proper Korean kimchi and bibimbap. I tried to drink a lot of Korean coffee, but still had to go back to the hotel that afternoon for a little sleep. Thus fortified, we had the first of quite a few nights of soju, Cass beer and Korean whisky, to the accompaniment of the Hilton hotel bar resident band (their Ace of Bass covers were my personal favourite, although I think the residents may long remember my dance routine to Footloose...).

On Sunday morning, I hiked up a mountain! It was incredible! This was my favourite thing I did in Korea. The views were really quite awe-inspiring. Seoul is a much vaster sprawling city than I could have imagined. You can see all the mountains up on the other side, as well. However, my favourite thing I saw was a special 'proposal area', clearly for the romantically inclined but unimaginative. There was even a designated spot to stand in for the perfect engagement selfie. I mean, it was obviously terrible but I loved it. Sadly didn't see any live-action proposals, although I am assured they are very common.

Of course, being in Korea, I managed to go shopping and fill my suitcase with bizarre beauty products. It was an incredible education: snail slime, placenta, collagen, acid peel, gold, swallows nest - these are apparently why everyone there has such beautiful skin. And they really do. It's fascinating.

Then on Sunday night, I received a message from my mum that made the rest of my trip very surreal and sad. She told me she was rushing to New York as one of her close friends had been involved in a terrible, tragic accident there. Unbelievably sadly, with the emphasis on utterly unbelievable, he - a beautiful 34-year-old man, who was so bright and kind and special I cannot even tell you, who my mum shared the most incredible friendship with - did not survive.

The rest of the trip was a blur. I swam in the hotel pool at five in the morning. I lay down and slept in the sauna. I drank a LOT of Japanese whisky in that hotel bar.

I pretty much had, as a boy would sagely note later, 'the full Lost in Translation experience'.

It's true. Thankfully, amid the strangeness, there is something comforting about a foreign luxury hotel. In some ways I was glad not to be at home, even if at times I wasn't exactly sure where I was.

I took two Valium on the flight home and still couldn't sleep. For the first time in my life, I did not even watch a film - I watched episode after episode of Nigella cookery shows, willing myself into her cosy kitchen.

I got home wondering if any of it had even happened.

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