Seoul Story – Day 2: September 4, 2007

Grand Hilton Seoul
Grand Hilton Seoul.

We woke up late as we did not sleep well in the aircraft the day before. The Grand Hilton Seoul has several restaurants. We decided to eat at the Atrium Cafe. I had Farfalle Primavera. Peter ordered something similar. Our first meal in Seoul cost RM150.

Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba fruits.

Nothing was planned for that day. The reason why I added an extra day to the original schedule was because I wanted more time to settle down. I knew that my body was no longer able to withstand the rigours of four full days of the World Assembly.

Yen and Vivek
New found friends Yen and Vivek.

The weather was nice and cool with the temperature hovering around 20°C. We went for a walkabout around the hotel. I took some shots of the hotel for memories not knowing when I could return to Seoul again, if ever.


I looked at a row of trees planted by the driveway and thought the leaves looked familiar. Indeed they were! Those were ginkgo trees! With fruits too! The tail started to wag again. I had always wanted to see how a live ginkgo tree looked like and there I was looking at them with fruits.

Yen, Vivek and I at Itaewon.

After the walkabout, we went back and met two fellow participants of the 7th DPI World Assembly who were also staying at the same hotel. Yen is from Vietnam while Vivek is from Singapore. When we exchanged name cards, Yen realised that she had quoted some of my blog entries regarding AirAsia for an article that she wrote.

Antique shop at Itaewon
Antique shop at Itaewon.

Apparently, Yen and Vivek were waiting to take the hotel’s shuttle bus to Itaewon. Peter and I told them that we would follow them since we had nothing planned for the day. We would also like to catch some sights of Seoul before the hectic schedule of the next few days.

McDonalds at Itaewon
McDonalds at Itaewon – The Golden Arches is everywhere in Seoul.

The trip from the hotel to Itaewon took 40 minutes. Itaewon was a street with shops and walkways of stalls selling souvenirs, apparels, footwear and other knick-knacks. There were also a host of restaurants offering authentic Korean and international cuisines, fast food and bars. After we had finished traversing the entire length of the street where we bought some souvenirs, we slowly made our way back to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle bus to take us back to the hotel. So much for the plan to rest before the World Assembly.

Seoul Story – Day 1 Part 2: September 3, 2007

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
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
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
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.

Korean food
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, Seoul
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.

Somewhere in Seoul
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
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
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.

Seoul Story – Day 1 Part 1: September 3, 2007

Malaysia Airlines low-protein meal
Low-protein meal.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 1.00 am. The usual procedure is to board wheelchair users first and then the other non-disabled passengers. As I was transferring from my wheelchair to the aisle chair outside the aircraft, the other passengers were already boarding the plane. This annoyed the escort who was assigned to assist me as he had difficulty trying to get me into the aircraft with the other passengers streaming in.

Somewhere over South Korea
Land ho! Somewhere over South Korea.

The first thing that I did after I was comfortably seated inside the aircraft was to ask one of the cabin crews if they have the aisle chair that I had requested. Unfortunately, there was none. However, he said that he will carry me to the toilet if needed. I glanced at the toilet at the midsection of the plane and asked him how I was going to fit into it. He just smiled at me. The journey took about six and a half hours. Prior to boarding I had also emptied my bladder and controlled my fluid intake. But my diaper was fast filling up.

Accessible toilet in South Korea
Accessible toilet: Green button to open; red button to close.

When the plane finally touched down at Incheon International Airport, my diaper was almost full. To add insult to injury, I was informed that there was no request for an aisle chair to get me out of the plane. A Malaysia Airline staff at the airport offered to carry me. I had to agree as I was afraid that my diaper would leak anytime soon. As he lifted me up from the seat, my head hit against the overhead compartment with a loud thud. He apologised profusely for that incident later at the arrival lounge.

The welcoming party
The welcoming party for the 7th DPI World Assembly at Incheon International Airport.

At that time, the only thing that was in my mind was to look for a toilet to empty my bladder and change diapers. The first toilet that we stopped by was occupied. We went to the next. It was a déjà vu. The toilet was similar to those that I was so used to in Tokyo. It was fitted with the green and red buttons for opening and closing the door.

McDonalds - a familiar sight in a foreign land
The Golden Arches beckoning at the Incheon International Airport.

At the arrival hall, I saw a sweet young woman holding up a placard of the Disabled People’s International World Assembly and waved at her. She asked if I was attending the DPI WA. I said “Yes,” and she led us to the reception counter for us to catch our ride to the hotel. While waiting for our transport, I loitered around. One airport is the same as the other. The difference with this airport is that there were more security personnel patrolling the premises in twos. Just opposite the counter where we were waiting were the familiar colours and sights of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.