Preparations + First Days South Korea
26 augustus 2016
While eating my last Jonagold apple, and one of my last Dutch food stuff with me, at the airport in Hong Kong I am beginning with my travel blog. This blog is mainly to keep all my friends and family updated but it also serves a reflective function for me to look back on my adventures and enjoy it one more time.I hope that you will enjoy my stories on this platform and that it might even stimulate you to go out of your comfort zone!
Right now I am waiting for a 6.5 hours stopover in Hong Kong, but let's go back where it all started. Already in the beginning of February I had to apply for my exchange Semester and in March I heard that I was accepted for my first university on the list: KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea. KAIST is one of the best Engineering Universities in Asia, but I still wonder what the level will be compared with the TU/e. The city itself is not so much special according to my travel guide:
"somewhere pleasant to go about daily life, but with little to offer for the casual visitor [...], but if you hole up in Daejeon you'll find decent nightlife and a few mildly diverting attractions."
After the announcement the South Korean Embassy was paid a visit twice to get my visa, applying for the dormitory at KAIST as well as a health check up here already in the Netherlands. The people at KAIST for sure don't want to leave anything to chance.
After all these small things were arranged and the days were getting closer to the 25th of August, my departure day, I had to pack my stuff. Since I am renting my room out to Yassine, also an ESTIEMer, I had to pack quite a lot of personal stuff. However, I was quite postponing the packing. It turned out that it was quite scary and that this was a realization moment for me. From then on I really had the feeling that I was leaving my safe, cosy, gezellige and nice room for an unknown environment somewhere on the other side of the world. Luckily Louise was there as well to support and push me to pack my stuff.
After all the preparations I had to take my first flight on the 25th of August, from Düsseldorf to Stockholm. In the previous days I was quite worried about my the transfer of my luggage between my flights since I booked every ticket separately. At the service counter of SAS they said that my luggage could only be transferred to Hong Kong and not further. Luckily I had a layover of about 6 hours in Hong Kong, so that should be a problem.
After saying goodbye to Louise and my parents, I was boarding my first flight to Stockholm and after that I transferred in Stockholm to another Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight to Hong Kong. This seems like a strange route, however SAS has youth tickets. These youth tickets can be used under the age of 25 years and you can use it basically with every flight, therefore I booked my flex return ticket from Stockholm to Hong Kong for around 400 euros. I booked all other tickets according to that. So a tip to all the people (students) who are reading this, SAS has some nice offers with the youth tickets! ;-)
After a 2 hour layover in Stockholm I had a flight to Hong Kong (10 hours). This was quite a comfortable flight, with a nice Norwegian guy sitting next to me who was visiting a friend in China. At first I was quite worried that we couldn’t order any drinks for free, but that we could only get one drink during dinner. However, we could also get water/coffee/tea for free and with that one drink it was more than enough. The meals were excellent as you could see in the pictures, I was quite pleasantly surprised with the level of food in an airplane. I slept some hours in the airplane and then at 5am (Hong Kong time and about 11pm CET) we got woken up and already got our breakfast, which was a very strange feeling.
When we arrived in Hong Kong health security people were standing there to measure the temperature of the people, apparently they are quite afraid of getting diseases into the land. I had to go into Hong Kong to get my luggage and to check it in again for my last flight to Seoul. Luckily I didn’t need a Visa for enter Hong Kong. I thought I was happy that I had a 6 hour layover since I had enough time to check in my luggage, but in the end it was way too much time. So there I was sitting in the airport, tired, with my luggage and had to wait 3 hours to check in my luggage and 5 hours for my flight. Some impressions from the airport I got:
- The airport is really clean, you almost cannot find any trash around.
- They employ a lot of people: for cleaning; security; for guiding people in the queues. Especially the last makes it not really efficient, however it is still effective to maximize the throughput.
- The airport is okayish with the temperature, outside it was too hot and too humid.
After all the waiting I had to take my flight to Seoul with Asiana airlines. This was also a very pleasant flight with a nice meal and a fine entertainment system. I was once again sitting next to a Norwegian guy who was traveling in Asia for 2 weeks, visiting Seoul for 2 days and then going to Hanoi. Seems like he was doing an Asia trip the way Asians visiting Europe.
First days in Seoul
I arrived at 7pm local time in Seoul, after travelling for more than 30 hours. I was quite tired and got fast on the train to my hostel. I arrived there around 9pm, checked in my hostel and then met with the 4 other Eindhoven students who were there already. I got some spicy chickenwings and a few beers and then went to my hostel again to sleep. I slept for almost 12 hours after which I felt quite fit again. This helped a lot to come over my jetlag. The others were still sleeping at that time, so I decided to get some food and explore the area of Itaewon by myself. I will describe my sightseeing in bullet points:
- The area of Itaewon is very international due to the US military base that is located close.
- There are a lot of shops, small restaurant and pubs there. It is insane that at some point, everywhere you look there seems in every corner some bar/restaurant. It is almost too much for the eye to search for the right place since there are too many neon lighted names of the bars/restaurants.
- I came across a shop named Line Friends and this consisted only of cartoon figured stuff. You can think of cuddly bears, phone cases, food, clothes and so on. See the pictures to get an impression.
- The Korean War Memorial was also close so I went there as well. It was impressive to see how that war impacted the whole country. The museum there was quite big and also free, which are most museums. This short visit really improved my interest in the Korean war and also the recovery it made after it. During the 1970s one president pushed the economy to great heights and the people are calling it now The Economic Miracle.
In the evening I went with others to the metro station Noryangjin where a very big fish market was located, which was even bigger than expected. It consists of an old a new fish market, both were huge. You could buy all kinds of (alive) fish and some tourists were even holding big crabs in their hands to make pictures. Some people of the group didn’t enjoy the smell that much, so we went back to get some food which turned out to be a Korean barbeque. This was a whole new experience for us! We got unlimited food for about 8 euros and we had some Korean beer with it. We sat at a small table, where the barbeque was built inside the table, at an open window looking over a quiet street. The grilled the meat and made the Kimchi and other vegetables warm. I can really get used to going out for dinner like this! After dinner we went to an university area called The Playground which turned out to be an actual playground which in the evening was used by (international) students to gather and drink some beers. We did that as well and socialized with some people there and drank the Korean Soju, which is somehow the Korean Vodka but then with less alcohol in it. The original one was not so nice to drink, but luckily they had some other flavors as well.
With an hangover on the Sunday morning we discovered a small part of the city with the buddy of Mark (van Uden). You could apply for a Korean buddy at KAIST and the parents of his buddy were apparently living in Seoul. So we visited the (one of the) palaces, which was quite impressive. For lunch we went for a typical Korean restaurant and we ate noodles. However we were supposed to eat the noodles with only chopsticks, so that was quite a challenge. In the evening the other students from Eindhoven, Nick, Len and Vincent, decided to go to a baseball match of the Seoul team, LG Twins. Yes, it is named after the electronics brand LG. The tickets were not that expensive (less than 15 euros), and it was totally worth the experience! The Koreans are really crazy about cheering for their team. Not only the hard-core fans were cheering, but the whole stadium was joining in the songs and dances. Also yes, even dancing! One guy was standing on a stage in the lower part of the stadium and he was the leader of all these cheers. The baseball match wasn’t that interesting since the home team was losing with 11-1 at some point. The match was at that point only at the 6th inning after being there for more than 3 hours (and more than 2 hours into the game), so we decided to go home.
Arrival in Daejeon
In the morning of the 29th of August we left Seoul for Daejeon where we could get in the dormitory rooms. We decided to take the bus instead of the train, and we got even the luxurious bus. The seats were comparable with the one of business seats of an airplane, so that was a very relaxing 2 hour bus ride to Daejeon. When arrived we took a taxi to the KAIST campus and went to check in the rooms. The rooms are for two people and are quite basic, but still sufficient with almost everything you need (except for a kitchen). I will be sharing my room with Mark, so it is quite nice to share it with a person I already know. During the day I also got a free bike already from Raoul Frijns, thanks Raoul. After settling in and discovering the campus a little bit, we were actually too late to eat at the cafeterias. So we decided to go to an area nearby to eat, which was delicious again as you can see in the picture. However, the food was quite spicy (for some people). Tomorrow our introduction days will start and then on Thursday we will get our first lectures, but luckily I don’t have lectures on Friday so it is quite a smooth transition. ;-)