This is part one of a three part series chronicling my two week trip through Asia. Thanks for reading.
Written on a bullet train from Kanazawa to Tokyo. Please pardon typos.
We arrived in Hong Kong with the morning and raced downtown to milk the city and day for all we could. After dropping our bags at a friend’s apartment, it was time to eat.
Dim sum and coffee propelled us out in the streets to explore and shop. Immediately, I was struck with a new appreciation for space. Where many US cities seem to lurch outward, Hong Kong folds in over itself. Storefront after storefront line the streets and their owners stand by the door urging you to come in.
We spent the 10 hours between arrival and our flight to Seoul walking the streets. Tanks of live fish and octopus sat next to racks of meat hanging in the open air. Each new street contained foreign smells and sights, in an endless web of alleys and markets.
With courage borne from Google maps and the company of a native speaker, we allowed ourselves to get lost, wandering through different districts. One street offered every home furnishing you could imagine, while the next featured jackets and shoes.
Just when we started to really get lost, we’d come across a Nike or H&M store to anchor us back to the familiar. In the late afternoon, exhausted from jet lag and hiking, we trudged home to gather our things and head to the airport.
I saw more Maseratis in my first two days in Asia, than I had in my previous 24 years. Everywhere we walked, alleys and small garages were filled with Teslas, Mercedes Benzs and other luxury vehicles.
Our friend Jenny, who’s been living in Hong Kong for the last 6 months, explained that she’d met young men who still lived with their folks, but purchased a BMW or Lexus. I don’t care to speculate why, but the amount of fancy cars in Asia has been shocking.
We flew on a no-frills airline that didn’t even offer water on the 1:45 flight. Arriving at 2:35 in the morning, we took a ride from the only taxi offering a ride. A 45 minute ride was cut to 35 as he sped through the rain to our hotel, smiling wide and running red lights as he carried us through the empty streets of Seoul. Happy to have survived, we trudged up to our room to sleep before our next adventure.
We spent nearly a two fulls days shopping in the different markets of Seoul. A personal high point was placing our order in a small noodle house where everything was in Korean. Matching characters to pictures on the wall, we feasted before setting off again. While parts of the city were friendly to foreigners, others offered almost no English descriptions whatsoever.
Ashley’s mother took the lead any time we wanted to buy something. We were instructed to “never accept a first offer” and always haggle down. She was proven right multiple times, with the largest being when we negotiated a jacket for Ashley down from 150,000 won (~$150) to 45,000 won.
Our first brush with the South Korean national heritage came when we walked through a palace that was more than 7 centuries old. It had been occupied by local royalty up until the Korean war, but now served as a relic of the past.
I was struck by the amount of outdoor space within the palace grounds. While a prototypical mansion on Cribs would likely feature twenty bedrooms, four kitchens and an indoor pool, we found lots of open space and hidden gardens, with small rooms and passageways.
The Art District and Eating Octopus
Block after block of small studios and shops with beautiful works of South Korean art. The hours flew by as I jaunted from store to store.
As noon approached we searched for a place to eat. Ashley’s brother, Tyler, led us to a small restaurant offering raw octopus. Let me explain exactly what that means.
If you’re moderately adventurous and have eaten sushi, you may have tried the octopus. It had probably been dead for a few days and was put on ice to preserve the flavor and freshness.
The raw octopus we ate was still moving. The tentacles had been cut from the body and sliced into bite size pieces within minutes of being served to us. What landed on the table was a pile of food that was STILL MOVING.
For a novice chopstick user, the slimy, squirming pieces were impossible to grab. I finally accepted Ashley’s help scooping my first piece into my mouth. The octopus, however, was still not willing to accept defeat.
Once it was inside my mouth, the tentacle suctioned to my tongue. I sucked hard and it shot down my throat. I quickly chased it with a swig of water to ensure it made it all the way down to my stomach.
Energized from a truly unique experience, and a few more pieces of octopus, we burst back out into the streets and came across an art exhibit.
The five floors of paintings depicted the same character, a young Korean woman, experiencing the commodities of modern society. From wolfing down a McDonald’s burger in traditional dress, to posting pictures on Instagram, her beautiful pictures captivated us from floor to floor.
I hope to come back to the Seoul art district again one day.
Everywhere you go, you are likely to find street vendors offering different meats and sweets. We were warned to give our bodies a day or two to adjust before trying anything right from the street. Throwing caution to the wind, we had street snacks for our first lunch.
With a camera Ashley got me for my birthday, I’ve been shooting video from our trip. Below is the first of a three-part series, chronicling our adventures in Asia.
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