Helo welcom 2 my websight
Early last month, in the sweltering July heat and humidity only the monsoon season can bring, I woke up at 5 on yet another of by now uncountable consecutive rainy mornings to make my way to the airport. I hadn’t received any texts relating to their arrival, but if I was going to be on time, I had to hustle since Inchon is many things but it is not very close to my place.
My heart was pounding in my chest, actually, as I was sitting on the long subway ride there, holding my giant suitcase and trying to wipe the sweat mixed with rain from my back. I hadn’t seen my family in two years, and now they were finally coming here. It was a pretty unreal idea..and when I look back at that time now so I can write you this story, it feels unreal again.
But it did happen. And I’m going to tell you all about it.
As I said, walking up to the arrivals gate and seeing the unmistakable silhouette of my dad wearing a shirt that I’m pretty sure he was wearing way before I left too (or at least in that unmistakable Marcel style, before my mom chimes in with a ‘But I bought that shirt a week before we left!!!’), my brother standing around looking all dopey and my mom looking around like a hawk trying to spot me made me feel like I was in a dream. I’d always wanted to drag my family here, to the Korea that I love so much, but I never really expected it would actually happen. So now that it did..all I could do was try to hold back my tears as my mom hugged me tightly while tears flowed down her cheeks and my dad was grinning like an idiot. I had missed these guys so, so much, and I felt truly blessed to be able to see them in Korea instead of back home.
It didn’t take all that long, actually, for us to get used to each other again. Even before we finally arrived at the room that we booked through AirBnB, it was already feeling just like home. Only..we were in Korea. At first, speaking Dutch after not having spoken it since I was in Daegu wasn’t that easy, but I think I got used to that fairly quickly as well (disregarding several kind of embarrassing instances of ‘Het is 10 uur vijfentachtig’). One thing that was very different from the normal vacations that we would go on back in the day was that we didn’t argue as much. I think me and my brother both grew up a lot, and everyone seemed very aware of the fact that after this we might not see each other for another 2 years so we shouldn’t get bogged down complaining about stuff that didn’t matter anyway.
The apartment that we found through AirBnB, located near Hapjeong station, was very, very nice and a welcome sight after a 12 hour flight for my family and a nearly continuous 4 hour subway ride for me. The place was quite big, clean, had three bedrooms so we didn’t have to annoy each other at night and, best of all, it had a sofa and a TV. Man, I had missed just sitting on a freaking couch so much. And being able to watch TV on something that isn’t a tiny PC monitor. And being able to do it with my #1 wingman when it comes to talking shit at TV shows made it even better. I’m sure we kept our parents up a few nights, watching Pororo (a Korean kids show that my brother took an instant liking to) until 4 AM and talking about random shit, but I’m also sure that maybe they must’ve kind of missed it after two years of not hearing it.
Everyone was understandably exhausted when we finally arrived though, and it was not even noon yet! But I was hungry as hell from eating nothing but a slice of bread all day, and apparently British Airways isn’t as generous with in-flight food as Asiana is, so my family was also starving. I wasn’t about to go easy on them though. My family is a very big supporter of the traditionally Dutch ‘Wat de boer niet kent, vreet hij niet’ (What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat) philosophy, which means that they don’t usually even attempt to eat anything that looks or smells ‘weird’. Where ‘weird’ is basically anything that we either don’t have in the Netherlands or that looks too different from potatoes and gravy. Thankfully, they were a liiiiiitle bit more open minded on this trip, possibly because I had already been preparing them for it for a couple of weeks prior, but I still got slapped with the ‘We’re not living here so we don’t need to learn how to enjoy their food’ and ‘We ate Korean food yesterday so let’s eat normal food today.’ Anyway, we were so beat that we didn’t really feel like running around in this area that I didn’t know though, so when we ran into a bulgogi and gooksu place, I decided this was as good a place as any to start trying Korean food. My mom and brother ordered the bulgogi, which was a clear winner, and me and dad got the gooksu, which, as gooksu does, didn’t really taste much like anything and was boring as hell. But! We did survive the first Korean food trial and I have heard multiple times that ‘that stuff we ate on the first day was pretty good’ (when complaining about other food, of course ㅋㅋㅋ).
After we turned back to the apartment, everyone took a nap and I poured over the maps to piece together the very loose schedule that we’d cobbled together. It ended up changing almost every day though, mostly depending on the time we would wake up, but regardless there was so much I wanted to show them that some amount of planning was definitely necessary.
By the time everyone was all rested up and we had wasted some hours in front of the TV eating chips and discussing how shit the weather was (it was REALLY shit. There was an actual weather alarm out and there were some worries of floods around the country), we made our way to Hongdae, the popular ‘young people’ area not that far from where we were staying. Since we had eaten Korean food for lunch, we ended up going to one of those ‘foreign’ eateries that sell ‘Japanese’ food such as wiener schnitzel, ‘Chinese’ food like fried chicken bits and ‘Italian’ food like the world renowned honey cheese pizza. It was good though, and I’m not actually complaining. Thankfully my family was also very happy with it and after that, when it finally stopped raining, we hung around Hongdae a bit more and I tried to introduce some of the finer elements of Korean culture such as Arcades, fish shaped icecream and Song Joongki.
The night was dark and full of terrors (yes, I have become this person) but mostly full of being fucking hot because while the living room and our parents’ room had an air conditioning unit, the ‘children rooms’ did not. Neither did they have any curtains, because ‘lol Korea’. So even though we went to bed really early, we kind of all slept like shit. Later, my dad had devised a system consisting of winter blankets hung precariously from existing curtain rods to keep the sun out of both their and my brother’s room, and we ended up blocking the window in mine from the outside so at least I wouldn’t be in the full blistering sun every morning at 6. However, vacation is vacation and just sitting around being grumpy was not on the schedule!
We took the subway quite a few times, obviously, as I’m not a huge fan of buses considering Seoul’s traffic and it’s easily the simplest way to get around. Though to be fair even after 10 days dad still hadn’t figured out which side went which way.
Anyway! First on the list for the day was a visit to Gyeongbokgung, the largest palace complex in Seoul. This was pretty much the one thing my mom a b s o l u t e l y . h a d . t o . s e e . so we got it done straight away. I’d visited the palace multiple times, of course, as a tourist, but I’d never actually gone inside because I thought the buildings you could see from in front of the inner gate were basically it.
Man was I wrong.
But! Before going inside, we happened to stumble on the all-important guard changing ceremony just as it was beginning. This was more luck than any careful planning because the times we found online turned out to be completely wrong, but whatever we were there and although hundreds of Chinese tourists were blocking our view, we did manage to get some pretty nice pictures.
We had a free tour guide who would tell us a little bit more about the palace and ended up touring us around the giant complex (apparently, it’s 40 Hectares) for about two and a half hours in the sweltering Seoul summer heat. Because, yes, just like my father had said; the rain had stopped completely and abruptly. I don’t know what kind of dark magic powers the Luijtens use when they take a trip, but although they arrived in the middle of rainy season and we had had nothing but 24 hour rains for days on end, it just…stopped. And it didn’t start again until the day they left, even though the entire week was forecast to be one horrible rainstorm after another. So whenever we caught ourselves complaining about it being 30 degrees and our backs swimming in sweat, we’d just remind ourselves of the alternative and were thankful for not having to deal with that.
The palace was as beautiful on the inside as it was from the outside, and I was glad that my family could learn a bit about Korean traditions, building styles and the Japanese occupation that changed so much here. The guide did his best to tell us interesting stories and although I’m pretty sure half of them don’t make any sense, it still gave some insight into the way the palace was used and how people used to live in ancient Korea.For some reason, I don’t have a picture of the food we had today (although I remember ‘We gaan gewoon lekker een broodje eten’ for lunch) which is uncharacteristic because I love taking pictures to remind myself what I had, but I guess it’s probably safe to assume we didn’t eat anything too adventurous. After spending most of the day in the Palace and adjacent museum, we were exhausted and probably spent the evening at home on the couch, planning the next few days.
Another day, another excuse for me to try to introduce some Korean food. We had signed up for another guided tour, this time of Bukchon Hanok Village, and I thought Bossam would be a really good traditional Korean meal to go with that traditional experience. We found a nice restaurant with great atmosphere, and everyone did their best to eat ‘like a Korean.’
Unfortunately, the bossam didn’t really agree with everyone. It is a very Korean type of dish, I suppose, and my parents and brother weren’t huge fans of it. On the plus side though, my dad and brother were getting used to eating with chopsticks surprisingly fast and especially my dad was actually wielding them like a pro at the end of their visit.
First on the itinerary was a visit to another palace, Changdeokgung, which was very different from the grand palace of Gyeongbokgung that we had visited yesterday. The building style was a bit more reserved and the complex wasn’t as sprawling either. It was interesting, but the one and a half hour the guide had taken to walk us through it was a bit much especially since we were really there to see Bukchon.
I’d been to Bukchon before as well, of course, but I remembered it as being extremely underwhelming and that was the main reason I thought we should go there with a guide. When you walk around there, there’s really not much special about the place even though it’s in the top 3 of Seoul’s attractions, apparently. It’s just rows of houses, really. They’re built in the traditional Korean hanok style, of course, and that’s nice but…in the end you’re just walking through a street. Unfortunately, apparently the guide didn’t have much to tell about it either because when we finally arrived after a long sweaty walk he kinda just dumped us there with a ‘We’re here’ kind of attitude instead of explaining about the architectural styles or showing us some special buildings and meaningful places.
Since I didn’t know much about that either and it was crazy hot that day as well we gave up fairly early after a quick look around the area and sought shelter in an airconditioned teahouse to discuss the rest of the day.
Not content to just leave it at this, I managed to talk everyone into visiting Namsan Tower since the weather reports still indicated that it might start raining like crazy again any day now and it would be the best to see the view from there on a clear day.
We squeezed in another subway ride and decided to ride the cable car up to the mountain as opposed to making our own way up there.
I’d never actually been up into the tower because it costs 9,000 won just to ride the freaking elevator, and this time, too, we opted not to go up. Although the weather was super clear all day, the pollution was working its magic and unfortunately we couldn’t see all that far. That didn’t make the night view any less impressive though, as you could see the thousands of tiny cars driving on the streets in between the giant buildings lit in an iridescent glow.
On the way back something kind of funny happened. I’d been trying to show off my Korean as much as possible since obviously I was supposed to be the guide here and I wanted to show my parents that I haven’t just been sitting on my ass playing Starcraft and getting drunk off of soju during my time in Korea, so I tried to use it as much as possible. I usually use Naver maps (I’ve become pretty adept at using it, if I do say so myself) to find our way, but when we wanted to go home from where we ended up leaving Namsan I kind of had no idea where we were, so I asked a woman standing around waiting for the elevator with us where the nearest subway station was. We talked a little as she explained the route and the general direction and I asked some questions, and after the conversation was done her son, who was maybe 6 years old or something, told her ‘엄마, 이렇게 한국말 잘하는 외국인 처음 봤어.’ I told him thanks in Korean and for some reason he was surprised at that, even though he had just told his mother ‘Mom, this is the first time that I’ve seen a foreigner speak Korean this well.’ Koreans are always very generous in dealing out compliments to foreigners who even just attempt to speak Korean, but kids generally haven’t acquired this kind of ‘manners’ yet, so I felt really flattered and happy that he thought I was good.
The fourth day was perhaps the most unreal yet, as we would be visiting my university and my home in 이문동. Somehow, everything so far had pretty much felt like a vacation for me as well – visiting cultural sights, traditional buildings, explaining Korean culture. But today my family was going to see my life. Not just my country, but my actual daily life. Even when I look at these pictures now, they make me feel really weird, but we’ll get to that later as of course, like every day, this day too started with lunch!
And lunch…was pretty damn Dutch.
As I mentioned my family aren’t exactly culinary pioneers, and they ended up dragging everything from paprika chips to Dutch cheese, hagelslag and even tomato soup with them from the Netherlands. Now I understand where I get the tendency to bring my own hairdryer, shampoo and toothpaste everywhere instead of just buying it there.
It was good though, to have lunch like we used to back in the Netherlands, all together around the table with the TV blaring, arguing about how the food sucks and why the hell didn’t you put the milk back in the fridge.
After that super Dutch brood met soep lunch was done, we took the subway to my station: 외대앞. As I noted earlier, it was such a weird feeling to see my parents and brother walking through the same streets, past the same stores and into the same campus that I walk through almost every day. They were suitably impressed by our campus, actually, which might sound kind of surprising to a Korean since the HUFS campus is absolutely tiny compared to many campuses here, but in the Netherlands most universities basically don’t even have a campus (usually most university buildings are scattered throughout the downtown core) so it’s no surprise that the first actual campus they saw might’ve been kind of impressive.
I wanted to show them Kyunghee’s (the university behind ours) campus, which is many times bigger and depressingly more beautiful than ours, but I think it’s better that they remember my university as impressive rather than Kyunghee’s toilet which is what it’s known for under people studying in Seoul ㅜ.ㅜ
While we were at my university I of course had to show them the room where I had literally all of my classes during the first semester, and although it was vacation the doors happened to be unlocked. We mostly just did this because I wanted to show them everything about my life, but I think my parents also appreciated the fact that they could see where I spent so much time and how I went to school and such.
After that, it was off to my home!
You’ll probably notice our shiny tanned/burnt/what the hell faces and arms in these pictures, and that’s because we kinda didn’t realize how crazy hot it was going to be. I go outside a lot more here than I used to do in the Netherlands and I never really had any problems, but turns out just going somewhere and standing in the blazing sun for several hours listening to some dude talk have different effects on the skin, so we all ended up getting that ‘barbecued foreigner look’ pretty early on.
As for my room, obviously they’d already seen it here on my blog so I guess there was nothing to be all too surprised about. I suppose it was mostly a great feeling for me to have my family over at my place, and I poured my dad some of the Andong Soju that I was saving for special occasions.
He didn’t like it, of course, since it is a pretty acquired taste ㅋㅋㅋ
Instead of going straight to somewhere else, I wanted to show my brother something called a 플스방 or ‘PS room’ which is basically…a place with a bunch of giant screens and Playstations where Koreans go to play FIFA and PES. Since we used to play a lot of those football games back at home, I thought it’d be fun to do it here as well, and man it brought back memories. I had always kind of made fun of the Koreans sitting there screaming at each other and the screen while playing, but we ended up doing the exact same thing, totally getting into it and pretty much forgetting about the time while our parents were being boring out of their mind at a nearby cafe.
We pretty much went straight back to the apartment after that..well..after I failed hard in something that is a rather long and uninteresting story that I’m just going to skip over but will summarize as follows: Korean post sucks, but it’s okay!
Anyway, when we got home it was time for the most Korean of Korean things one can do in the evening: grill meat and get drunk.
Dad had seen a local Korean barbecue restaurant at the corner of our street and hadn’t stopped talking about it since we got there, so it was finally time to go put it to the test.
I fluently ordered enough 삼겹살, 갈비, beer and soju for everyone and explained how we generally eat this stuff, but no one ended up going for the spicy sauce that meat is usually eaten with here. They did, however, really enjoy the whole ‘grill your own meat right on your table’ thing and the general atmosphere of sitting outside in a warm summer night having a beer and filling yourself up with delicious meat. I kind of expected they would like this, and I was really happy that they did.
About a week before my family arrived in Korea, my favorite Korean artist, Kim Minji, had invited me to the Seoul Illustration Fare in what might have been one of the most adorable and nice e-mails I ever received from a ‘famous’ person. I had contacted her through her website and told her that, although I couldn’t even read them, I had bought collections of the books that she illustrated simply because I loved her art so much and that I would love to buy more of her merchandise if anything new was available. She replied that she would love to meet me at the Illustration Fare, and as such I ended up dragging my parents to COEX while my brother recuperated at the apartment from all the running around we’d done during the past couple of days.
My parents were thoroughly impressed with the size of the COEX exhibition complex. Dad described it as ‘Americanesque’ if I remember correctly. Because everything is supersized in good ‘ole Murrika. The Fare itself was , as usual when it comes to things hosted in COEX, also huge, and although we were all enjoying it at first, fatigue set in kind of early for my mom who gave up about halfway through. I have to admit that while there were loads of great and unique artists there, there weren’t that many booths that really spoke to my specific taste in art either, but it was still very enjoyable to see how many independent artists can be found in Seoul and my dad commented on the fact that European countries should consider fostering talent in this way as well.
The highlight though, of course, was meeting Kim Minji, who actually recognized me the moment she noticed me. She stood up, shook my hand, welcomed me and complimented me on my Korean while I couldn’t really do anything but stumble over my words and generally be awkward like what usually happens when I meet someone I’m a huge fan of.
She was incredibly nice and I ended up talking with her and her husband a bit while she signed my book collection and poster for me. She even ended up giving me a bunch of free stuff, thanking me for coming to the Fare and supporting her.
Bongeunsa temple is located about 5 minutes away from COEX, so I thought it’d be a good idea to hit it up before going back to find my brother and have dinner.
Like most Korean temples, it is still in active use, and we happened to arrive just in time to observe a mass and some sort of bell ringing ritual. I’m not very well-versed in Buddhist traditions so I’m not sure what the meaning of either was, but it really left an impression on us that just a regular visit wouldn’t have. I’m glad we were lucky enough to catch these rituals because it really drove home the fact that people live differently here than back at home, and that Korean culture isn’t something we can or should just write off at being ‘different, and thus stupid.’ I think my parents also realized from this that even though things are different here, that doesn’t make the Korean way of life any less valid.
My mother was a big fan of the colorful and grand architecture and I was surprised too, seeing the temple in summer for the first time, how much more impressive and beautiful it was in the glow of the sun and green of the trees.
We took lots of pictures, including with the 23 meter tall Buddha which is supposedly the tallest in the entire country.
After that, it was time for another dinner (I remember this night was a bit reminiscent of that old vacation spirit where we’d all get pissed off at each other for not making any decisions) without any of that weird Korean stuff, but with some delicious craft beer.
It was already late, but I had been meaning to show my brother what a PC방 looked like so we sent our parents home in a cab while we stayed around 상수역 to find a PC cafe.Although we did manage to find one, and my brother was pretty amused by the whole thing, we didn’t manage to get a lot of gaming done. The reason for this was that in Korea, you pretty much need an account to play….anything. We’d thought my brother would at least be able to log in to his Battlenet account so we could play some Starcraft, but he’d forgotten his login and the password to his linked e-mail address, so that was a no go. At the same time I was also struggling, and after like 40 minutes of talking with one of the PC방 staff members about why this freaking thing wouldn’t let me log in I found out I was using the wrong e-mail address, which earned me a high five and a whopping 20 minutes of play time left. I did end up winning my match though, and it was fun to just fuck around and complain about things not working with my brother, who I had missed a lot more than I’d like to admit.
[Part two of my family’s trip will be posted as soon as I can, but…as usual…don’t hold your breath!]
[Srsly though I definitely will post it]