Our ride to the hotel was a Hyundai van fitted with hydraulic lift and floor modified with a bay for one wheelchair. It was a new van acquired specially for the convention as it reeked of that familiar smell of new vehicles. As I was enjoying the ride to the hotel, I thought how wonderful it would be if we could run a few of these vans on the streets of Kuala Lumpur while waiting for RapidKL to make those 100 buses fully accessible and safe.
Hyundai lift van.
The one-hour journey was an eyeopener. Many parts of the scenery were filled with beautiful landscape and pine trees. Some of the trees even had cones. That was the first time I saw real pine cones on real pine trees. Yes, I am still very much a country bumpkin. Novel things like these never fail to get me excited. If I had a tail, I would be wagging it endlessly.
Beautiful landscape along the Incheon International Airport highway.
At the hotel lobby, I met Saowalak and Mai. Soawalak was the Assistant Regional Development Officer for DPI Asia-Pacific. We had met twice before – once during the DET Training in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 and the other when I was at the Asia Pacific Centre on Disability in Bangkok last year where I also met Mai. Saowalak has since taken over the position of Regional Development Officer, taking over the position from Topong Kulkhanchit who left us so suddenly.
Seoul panorama taken from inside the 6th floor food court.
The accommodation provided by the organisers at the Grand Hilton Seoul did not include breakfasts. We had a discussion with the coordinator to see if we could be put up in a cheaper hotel where rooms come with breakfasts. In the end it was decided that all speakers had to stay at the same hotel for logistic purposes. Breakfast for one person cost KRW24,200 which is approximately RM90.
My first meal in South Korea.
Failing to convince the organisers to change hotels and as it was way over lunch time, we decided to find cheaper food elsewhere and at the same time buy foodstuff for breakfast over the next six days. Saowalak arranged with the concierge to get 2 taxis for send us to a place recommended by the concierge. The concierge also said that the distance to the supermarket was very near and other taxis may not want to pick us. He suggested that we book the same cab for the return trip too.
E-Mart, the supermarket where we bought our groceries.
One thing that I noticed about Seoul is that its terrain is very hilly. Everywhere I looked, there is bound to be a hill or crag. The journey from the hotel to the shopping complex took about twenty minutes. As we were famished, we headed straight to the food court on the sixth floor. It was then when we realised may Koreans do not speak English and none of us spoke even a smattering of Korean. We had to point to images of the food that we wanted to order.
Another familiar sight somewhere in Seoul.
When the food arrived, I took a look and told myself that if all Korean food were like that, then it was going to be a long week for me in Seoul. There was a piece of pork chop, rice with potato curry, shredded cabbage, kimchi, pickled radish and a bowl of soup with a taste that my palate did not quite agree with – not my kind of food but I was hungry and nothing else in the food court captured my fancy.
Hyundai Sonata – Korean taxi.
After lunch, we bought food for breakfast for the next few days at the supermarket. I got a loaf of bread, a comb of bananas and bottled water. When it was time to go back, we waited at the appointed place. As we waited, we saw one person after another bringing in bottles, separated them by colour and left it there. I believe that was a recycling centre for the supermarket. Besides bottles, corrugated boxes were folded and neatly stacked in trolleys. Koreans are really serious with recycling.
Dole bananas in Seoul.
On the way back, we asked the cabbie about the fare. I could not believe my ears when the cabbie mentioned the amount – KRW25,000 for both ways. That was around RM90. Never in my life have I taken a taxi ride that was so expensive. The most I had paid for was from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the city. That cost only RM67. As we paid the cabbie, I wondered if I had enough Korean Won to last me the six days I would be there.
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