visiting japan for the first time last year, i was comforted by the fact that i'd been listening to "rapid japanese" on my ipod for weeks prior to the trip and could at the very least engage in a tiny conversation (hello! how are you? i am fine. where is the toilet? how much for the mayonnaise drops?) by the time we arrived this year, my partner rob was fluent enough to negotiate a contract, order a five course dinner, or explain the intricacies of the japanese constitution to a four year old. and read it to him.
we landed in seoul, south korea today with a stark realization: none of us speak a lick of the language. not even rob-san. when we arrived at our unbelievably posh hotel (remote control window curtains, a 700-inch plasma television, and a bed that swallows you whole when you lie down) our friend and company manager tomoki handed out our room keys, smiled and said "okay, see you at 12:45 on thursday."
in other words, you're free, you're on your own, and good luck suckahs!
initially, our hunger threatened to turn us against each other (we could easily have voted someone off the island.) somehow, though, we struggled through the busy streets, and three of us ended up at a korean barbecue. one of about a hundred korean barbecues near our unbelievably posh hotel (seriously, you could stage a decent production of "fiorello" in the bathroom.)
we didn't even know how to call the server over to our table. it didn't seem to matter, as she just laughed at us and basically told us what to order. and how much of it. and it was delicious: strips of pork, beef stew, onions, garlic and mushroom cooked at our table, plus side dishes of spicy cabbage, apple potatoe salad, barbecue crab, and lettuce wraps.
for dessert we went to korean krispy kream. i skipped the black bean filled donut, opting instead for the traditional glazed.
first impressions: it's dirtier than japan, but not as dirty as new york. it's ruder than japan (much ruder) but not as rude as new york. and it's louder than japan, but not as loud as...uh-huh, new york.
and the man behind the counter at the seven-eleven speaks korean, japanese and english. are there any seven-eleven employees in the u.s. who speak three languages, i wonder?