The Mongol Rally is over. Copious amounts of vodka have been drunk with our fellow rally veterans and suddenly we’re all in the dinkiest little airport in Siberia. Chinese is being spoken rapidly around us and we’re all trying to figure out if our backpacks are too heavy. The rally was over but the adventure is long from finished. We’re off to Seoul, South Korea via Beijing and there is a scattering of other ralliers with us on this ridiculously late flight. We leave Russia behind at 11:30 at night and arrive in China to heat and smog at a balmy 2:30AM.
And now, we wait.
As it would turn out, we’d be waiting for a long time. Because our flight to Seoul wouldn’t leave for twelve hours, we’ve been told we have to go through immigration to get our next boarding passes instead of proceeding through the international transfer line. However, we can’t go through a normal line as we don’t have Chinese visas. No, we have to go through the diplomatic line. The leap of logic here was something we struggled with, especially as it was 3AM and we’d already been ping-ponging around the airport trying to figure out how to get our boarding passes. Go back to the flight desk, no, go to the international transfer desk, no the flight desk, no the diplomatic line. Eventually we made it through with a temporary 72-Hour visa in our passports and a distinct lack of information. We’re told to go to Asiana’s desk to get our passes, but once we get to the terminal the desk doesn’t open until 8 in the morning. Figuring it was dumb to actually go out into Beijing at such a ridiculous hour, we decided to bunk down with the rest of the airport and find a place to eat and to sleep. First, food. We were starving. My eyes immediately find a Family Mart and memories of many a late night conbini run in Japan come flooding back to me. I’m really back in Asia! I know things here!
“Fa-mi-lee ma-to!” I sang an obnoxious amount of times as we approached it (Family Mart has a particularly catchy jingle), bless Sora for putting up with me. We grab a few onigiri including this magical tomato rice onigiri wrapped in egg that I never found again. I should have bought a thousand of them. After stuffing our faces, we began to scour the airport for a place to sleep as it was four in the morning at this point. All the long couches have long been claimed and so I end up on a metal table while Sora, being the tiny thing she is, curls up between two chairs.
I wake Sora up at 7:30AM and we get in line and wait for an hour, only to be told that our flight can’t check in until noon. Defeated, we decide against going into Beijing as there isn’t really enough time to go out into the city and back, and instead hit up a Korean restaurant in the airport. We’re sleepy. We’re grumpy. But dammit, we have bibimbap.
Bibimbap is practically Korea’s national dish and the name translates to mixed rice. Basically it’s rice topped with fresh sauteed veggies, gochujang (red pepper paste), and soy sauce. Additions of a fried egg, meat, or tofu (which yours truly got) are common and there’s about a gazillion variations all over South Korea. It’s either served cold or hot in a stone pot where the rice gets nice and toasted with sesame seed oil. Little things make me as happy as bibimbap, so when we saw a branch of Bibigo (a small bibimbap chain based out of Seoul) I insisted we go there. I was not disappointed. Sadly Sora got a seafoody soup thing that wasn’t really what she wanted. Adventure!
Having lived in this part of the world before, certain customs were starting to come back to me, like the fact you need to wave down waiters as they won’t normally come over to you. So Sora got a crash course in feeling like an awful obnoxious American when in fact that’s just how things work. We spent a slightly obnoxious time hanging here until it was time to get into line again to finally get our boarding passes. And then we find out our flight is delayed.
We’re never going to leave China.
By this point we’re both pretty annoyed because we could have gone out into the city, but there’s nothing to be done now, so we get to our gate and fall asleep on some sofas. And then our gate changes, and then finally… we’re on a plane.
The flight is great and suddenly we’re thrust into the intense modernity that is South Korea. It’s a shock to the system. We’re running around trying to figure out which bus to take to get to Hongdae, the trendy neighborhood our hostel is in, and eventually find our way there. Despite the fact I’ve been to South Korea before, I feel more out of my element than I have the past two months. After so long being absent from any sort of technology, living in tents and a car, and finding a clean toilet was like a needle in a haystack, to be thrown into a city that’s the most connected in the world was like whiplash.
Hongdae is bubbling, ready for the evening as we started to wander the streets in search of our hostel. The street markets are closed and the night markets are open. University students are eating grilled and fried chicken on plastic stool at various stands, laughing with bottles of soju in hand. Sora and I feel horrifically touristy with our giant backpacks on our backs and smaller ones on our front like pregnant ladies, but we trudge on. My map reading skills have greatly improved and we eventually find it, being greeted by a cute little panda and a very lovely man who can immediately tell how exhausted we are. Showers are taken and we fall into our beds. We’re not staying in Seoul another night, instead heading down to the southern coast to Busan, where Sora has family friends. But for now… this is the best bed I’ve ever slept in.
I’ll write more about Come Inn Guesthouse once we cover our return to Seoul later on, but if you are heading to the city, please stay there. It’s simply lovely.