Sight: white floors in ICN (incheon airport), Asians, Koreans, taxis, Korean writing, luxurious airport shuttle buses, greenery, hills in the distance, hazy skies, tall buildings, businesses with brightly lit signs, black, white, and silver vehicles only (do they even make cars any other color?), men in black business suits, women in skirts and heels, fried chicken and beer restaurants everywhere, delivery scooters manuvering between commuters on the sidewalks, streets littered with western influenced eateries (e.g. coffee shops, French bakeries) and good ol’ American chains (e.g. Coffee Bean & Tea leaf, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts). Seoul is progressive in technology, which I really enjoy. For instance, there is a system called T-money which is used for universal transportation. T-money is a pay-as-you-go credit card for use with taxis, trains, and buses. You can keep the card in your wallet and hold the wallet to a scanner which will beep and flash the fee you are paying and the balance on your card. Seoul residences also have keyless doors. Security codes replace keys so you never need to carry keys with you.
Scent: fried batter from the chicken and beer eateries waft through the streets after 5pm, savory marinated beef from Korean BBQ restaurants, occasionally, you’ll get a hint of a woman’s perfume when passing people on the street, the delicately sweet smell of warm waffles spread with melted vanilla butter and maple syrup in the train station.
Taste/texture: (the fun one) spicy everything! The delectable pickled spice of Kim Chi, the crunchy savory deliciousness of marinated spicy korean bbq beef wrapped in sesame leaves and sprinkled with spicy pickled scallions and onions, the light bubbly carbonation of Cass beer, the sweet and salty juiciness of our sizzling beef teriyaki dish, the squishy, steaming mushrooms from shabu shabu dipped in a creamy, spicy aioli sauce.
Sound: for such a busy city, you don’t hear very much traffic noise, an occasional honk but not nearly as frequent or aggressive as SF or LA. Anyeonghaseyo. Gamsahamnida. “Dae han min guk!” – soccer chant. Women speaking with a poignant inflection at the end of sentences, men speaking with deep grunts, Kpop blasting from cars, “hiiiii” said to us “foreigners” by the drunk Korean party goers at night.
Touch/Feel: humid dampness, light breeze in the warm summer night, drizzling rain during a 3am 40 minute walk home from Cafe Josephines after watching the game that determined Korea’s fallout from the world cup, perspiration (your own that is).
Emotions: feeling exhausted from jetlag and travel (and life in general in the past year), safe to walk around anywhere at anytime and get into any cab (distinction from other big cities like Mexico City), feeling awkward about not having structure in my days, excitement in being surrounded by novelty, happy about reuniting with SB, vulnerable and embarassed when locals speak to me and I just shake my head and smile because I have NO idea what they are saying AND because they expect me to understand based on our phenotypical similarities. I have traveled abroad before (e.g. India, Mexico, Italy, France) but never to a country where I look similar to the locals. The expectations they have of my ability to communicate add a level of complexity to my cultural adjustment here.