South Korea and a mind-blowing toilet: The first two jet-lagged hours

By Matt Payne

By 6am on a Monday morning, traffic on the 25 mile drive from Incheon, home to South Korea’s largest airport, to Seoul is already bad. The daylight is a mere suggestion, but the city, at the dawn of a new week, has announced itself. It is the usual chaotic crossings of centerlines, indifferent honks, and blank faces one might find in any city anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the last thirteen and a half hours, restlessly twisting and nodding off onto the shoulder of a stranger; a stranger by the way, who had an alarming three passports… (I THINK SHE WAS A SPY), I’m at full attention. I’ve been waiting for this for months.

Blurry Seoul Skyline

My travel companions are travel agents from Veitnam. They don’t speak a word of English. Nor do they speak their native tongue to each other. They just kind of sit silently in the back seat. My cab driver doesn’t speak English or Vietnamese so he plays the quiet game as well.

It is a challenging carload of companions when you are driving into a new city and have a million questions and are absurdly jet lagged. Are the ashy colored ten to twelve story buildings that line the highway for mile after mile all housing? Why does everyone go to work so early? If everyone gets up so early, why are all thousand of the coffee shops still closed? What do these people that are in traffic at 6am doing for a living? What is that thing over there? Is every single person in this t-jam jamming to Gangnam style? Why aren’t we listening to Gangham style? Can you dance gangnam style? Is that gangnam style guy gay? Where are all the KFCs and Starbucks? And seriously…. How much extra do I have to pay you to take me to the DMZ and if you’d take me, what would it take to get a round of golf in with Junior?

Toilet time machine

As the line up of questions never-to-be -asked reaches and exhausted, jetlagged level of absurdity, I’m taken back by the Seoul skyline as it comes into view. It is radiant.

Behind it, the sun rises turning the sky an unworldly pink and blue and the city itself seems to float in a body of water that rests before it (I couldn’t tell you the name of the body of water.. I wanted to ask… alas… language barriers…) The skyline is dignified and less dense than I had imagined. The buildings themselves, feel like they are waking up and appreciating the sunrise. It’s spectacular.

After an hour, I get to my hotel. It is called “Hotel the Designers.” That isn’t a typo. That is the name of the hotel, and despite the strange verbiage, the hotel is exceedingly contemporary and unique. If the hotel in any way represents the superstitious collective conscience of the country, then according to the elevator, they are not into the number four, as the floors skip from three to five. My room should be on the fourth floor… However, not the case. I’m on five.

unlucky number four?

The room is an fantastic enigma. Especially the bathroom. The bathroom, when it comes to the toilet, sink, etc., has more choices than a cheesecake factory menu. The toilet flusher alone has so many flushing and “rinsing” buttons that I’m afraid to use it for fear that by pushing the wrong button, I’ll go back into time. The shower with its levers, heads, and faucets guarantees cleanliness, if you are smart enough to make it work without causing a Noahic flood.

The beds are about half the distance to the floor as my own and despite being a little hard, are incredibly comfortable and there is no window. Well. There is a mirror that you can open one inch. And it looks at a wall. Not really sure what you’d call it. Anyway, despite being nine in the morning, right now, in my room, it feels like night. Kind of like a Vegas Casino. Only I’m alone with me and my fancy bathroom.

As if the standard American remote control hasn’t come to be too much, trying to understand one in Korean is a lesson in resignation. To watch tv, all I can do is turn it on. Beyond that, much like the toilet… I got nothing. I’ve settled, as I write this for first, a Korean game show (they seem to have so much fun!!!) and now a soap opera. So far as I can tell, it involves love, lust, and attractive people who tend to emote more than necessary. Sounds as American as KFC… man KFC sounds good. As long as they also serve kimchi.

I also have a little LCD screen that flashes the views of all of the various (and there are at least fifty) security cameras around the hotel. I don’t know if it is for safety or to satisfy voyeuristic impulses. For me, it functions for both. A lady I watch is confused right now. Ha. And based on the direction she’s going, she doesn’t appear to want to come to my room and kill me. Good… Voyeurism/security. Dig it.

Jungle breakfast!

And as for meals, I’ve had one. Standard Western breakfast in a small also windowless room and the decor is decidedly animal. For its centerpiece, a four foot tall stuffed giraffe munches on the leaves of a fake tree with a equally large stuffed giraffe.  As I chewed on my honeydew, like my stuffed friends chewed on their fake leaves, I thought…. Not the Korea I expected… but I kinda like it.

The rest of my group arrives and we are gathering at 1pm for lunch. Maybe one of them will speak english and be smart enough to explain the many luxurious functions of my toilet. There’s five days and a country to see and if it is 1/100th as curious as the room in which I type this, I’m sure it will be a blast.

Stay tuned for more!