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Seoul 2023: Day 2

Last night I went to bed at 11pm after being up for over 24 hours. My genius plan was that by staying awake for that long I would easily be able to sleep for at least eight hours and beat any jet lag. I then proceeded to wake up at 2am, toss and turn until 5am before finally falling asleep and inexplicably waking up again at 8am. By now I was somehow wide awake so we decided it was time to start our first full day in Seoul.

We decided to go with Isaac Toast for breakfast, a toasted egg sandwich fast-food chain that was actually quite delicious. I didn't realize it was named after Isaac from the Bible, which would be the first of many reminders as to how Christian a nation South Korea truly is.

When we finished eating we realized how close we were to Gyeongbokgung and decided to pop in and see what all the fuss was about. It is one of those super touristy places that everyone says you should try so we figured why not just get it done on this first day in Seoul. It turned out to be worthy of all the hype. Not only were the palace grounds absolutely massive and took us multiple hours to walk through, but the views and architecture truly were beautiful. We also learned a lot about the Joseon dynasty and how they occupied the area for over 500 years. If you visit Seoul I high recommend you structure one of your days around getting to Gyeongbokgung early to beat the crowds so you can take your time and explore it all.

Adjacent to Gyeongbokgung is the National Palace Museum which houses all sorts of artifacts and treasures from the Joseon dyntasy. It was also where I realized that the majority of Korean history I would learn during this trip would at some point include the phrase "and then the Japanese invaded". I sorta knew this from the history classes I had to take back in high school but I will readily admit I didn't truly understand the scope of the Japanese invasion. It is almost bizarre how aggrandizing Korea's version of history is but they had been oppressed for so long you can sympathize with their need to only put forward the best possible version of their country.

After the museum we headed back to our hotel because the jet lag was seriously hitting us at this point. We decided to take a quick nap at 3pm which ended up being four and a half hours. When we woke up at 7:30pm we decided that because of how late it was and how hungry we were the night market in Myeongdong would be perfect. I had heard a lot of about this before coming to Seoul so maybe my expectations were too high but it really wasn't anything special. Sure, the sheer number of food stalls spread across the many streets were impressive but the food itself was quite basic. That doesn't mean it was bad but it wasn't anything special either. I would say that Myeongdong is a perfect example of a tourist trap.

We got back to our hotel at 10pm and watched TV until 11 before the jet lag hit us hard again and we finally went to bed.

The biggest thing that surprised me after this first day in Korea was how standoffish and cold Koreans were to us. I understand that there is a severe language barrier and I am not expecting every Korean to be able to understand English. But basically everyone we interacted with gave off this vibe of they didn't even want to attempt to converse with us. Before we arrived I studied the basics of Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and tried to learn numerous phrases. We also downloaded Papago so we could easily translate stuff on the fly. But whenever I attempted to speak any Korean I got an almost hostile response that made me afraid to try it more.

I know some people are going to read this and think "That dumb foreigner just wants everyone to speak English" but that couldn't be farther from the truth. I would have loved to have spoken some Korean, however basic it may have been. But unlike my trips to Japan in 2016 and 2017 I didn't feel encouraged to. In Japan I have vivid memories of genuine smiles or laughter when I attempted to say something in Japanese. But in these first 24 hours in South Korea I only remember contempt.