My road to Korea was definitely NOT easy. First there was all the overtime I spent in the office fulfilling new responsibilities that my new role entailed.
Second was the problem with my visa – I was scheduled to leave last Sunday with Mina and Jo but my visa was not released on time. In fact, the original release schedule was October 27, which is the last day of our market visit. Are they out of their minds? Luckily my site rep Seokhyun called the Korean embassy and managed to convince them to release my visa on Monday.
Everything was so last minute. I got my passport at 6pm, then I rushed home to pack to be in time for the car transfer at 8pm. I was brought to the airport to check in 2 hours before my flight at 11:50pm.
Yes, I had to catch the red eye so I can get to Korea on Tuesday and train the originators and approvers about MySap for the afternoon sessions.
My first time out of the country, and I had to do it all alone.
But of course I was armed with an email printout from Jo & Mina with specific instructions on what steps I had to take to get from the Philippine airport to our hotel in Korea.
In Incheon airport, I made sure to exchange my travellers’ checks at the bank before leaving. At the end of the transaction I was amazed to be holding a few hundred thousand korean won in my hands. Sure sounds like a lot of money, huh. But then when I rode the limo bus to the hotel I was asked to cough up 13,000 KRW. Yikes, they charge by the thousands here.
The first thought that hit me the moment I got outside was, “Brrr! It’s WAY cold here!” And that thought stayed with me until the end of the trip. It’s so weird because it’s very cold outside, while inside the buildings it’s warm.
I was able to get to the hotel without getting lost. I had about 3 hours of shuteye, so upon checking into my room I surveyed the two-bed space with awe before wrapping myself under one of the comforters and falling asleep for a couple of hours.
When I woke up, I changed and headed to P&G office. I was helped into a taxi by the concierge, who was also the one who helped me into my room earlier. He told me he has visited the Philippines already because his brother is in Clark, Pampanga.
Seokhyun treated Mina, Jo and me to lunch in Bennigans. They had excellent chicken salad (with the crispiest lettuce & red cabbage), spaghetti & ribs. I also liked their fresh orangeade.
In the afternoon I conducted two trainings and the Korean folks seemed to understand me. At least, I hope they did.
After answering some emails and troubleshooting some invoices, we headed back to the hotel to drop off our laptops. We then met in the lobby, because we all had separate rooms, something I found weird because each our rooms have two beds and are actually big enough to accommodate four people. Oh well, company perks.
We walked to a Korean restaurant outside our hotel. It was one of those places that had coals in the middle of the table where the waitresses could cook our orders right in front of us.
Aside from our order of sirloin and ribs and soup, they served about a dozen side dishes. My mouth was agape as I watched the waitress fill our entire table with all sorts of dishes – kimchi, sweet potato with syrup, mixed vegetables, pears, cider, to name a few.
There was this one plate full of soggy leaves that she used to wrap around a piece of the meat that she cooked in the middle. It was actually a delicious combination, though at the beginning I had written off the leaves as something like alugbati. But it was not.
Then I asked for water and I was given tea. They could not even understand the word “water!”
The morning after we had breakfast at the hotel with Kaye, our Gillette projects person, who had arrived the previous night. Then we rode a taxi to the office where we spent the day job shadowing the Gillette AP folks.
For lunch we walked to a Koream restaurant nearby, where we ordered by pointing to the the soup the people in the next table were having, because the waitress could not understand English. She nodded and brought us four bowls of the soup, along with the usual side dishes.
Jo left for the Philippines in the afternoon, so it was just three of us for dinner. Kaye insisted on steak because she is a picky eater, and we ended up in Bistro de Marche, this market-like place where you are handed a coupon and you can go around ordering food while they stamped it on the coupon so you can pay for it afterwards.
We all had some steak and this seafood pasta with the tiny octopus. I had a fresh kiwiade for my drink.
On Thursday we had some meetings and had lunch at a place where meat was also cooked at the center of the table, as per Kaye’s special request.
Mina and Jo had gone to this place last Monday, hence the reason Mina knew where it was. But last time they had been accompanied by Koreans, and this time we were on our own, and the menu was in Korean and it had no pictures and the waiters could not speak English. Uh-oh.
But leave it to Mina, who somehow managed to ask for 2 orders of bibimbop and an order of bulgogi. The bulgogi was cooked on the table, and the bibimbop was placed in big bowls and placed infront of us. As usual they served an assortment of side dishes, as well as a big bowl of stew.
While we ate, the waitresses stared at us and whispered to each other. Finally, one of the waiters offered to help me mix my bibimbop. Turns out I was doing it all wrong. The rice, vegetables and red pepper paste were all supposed to be mixed together, and not eaten separately, which is the Philippine way.
After our afternoon meetings we left early and took the subway to Lottemart, where we had dinner in a fastfood place called Lotteria. I had a bulgogi burger which was so big, I could only eat half. I also discovered in this place where our Philippine McDo got the idea for the McRice burgers.
We then walked around the shopping malls and bought some pasalubong at the grocery store. I also bought a Korean keychain at one of the stalls.
On our last workday in Korea, some folks from the tax department offered to take us to lunch. We walked a different way which offered a breathtaking view of a bridge overlooking a forest-like place of some sort.
Then we had lunch at another Korean restaurant where we had bibimbop, kimchi stew, spicy pork and egg rolls. And of couse, let’s not forget the side dishes.
For dinner the Gillette folks treated us to dinner in Bennigans. It was here that I had my first taste of lobster. One more thing slashed off my list of 100 things to do before I die!
Back at the hotel I had a luxurious warm bath in my hotel room’s bathtub with my laptop blaring my favorite tunes. Then I packed my stuff while watching a bit of TV before turning in for the night to prepare for the early flight the next morning.