Here are some helpful tips to ensure nobody visits you EVER, compiled from my experience being the worst tour guide of all time for a friend visiting me in Seoul. This is part three, the final installment, of the series – please click for Part One and Part Two!
7. Be sick pretty much the entire time
A few days before Glen arrived, I came down with a cold. And then the cold morphed into a new and most hateful antigen, designed to repel all living beings. Along with the typical runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, and general discomfort, I also had a grotesque, hacking cough that seemed to emanate from the bowels of hell. But I wasn’t worried. There’s no way that Glen would be put off by such a small thing as an unknown, highly contagious, and perfectly repugnant disease.
We are taking the subway to one of the many Seoul attractions I have planned for us to visit that day. The train isn’t packed, but most of the seats are filled.
I can feel a familiar and uncomfortable sensation in my nose that no amount of sniffling will eliminate.
“OK. I’m doing it.”
“I’m blowing my nose.”
In Korea, it’s considered impolite to blow your nose, particularly while eating or while in public. Which is fair enough, as it’s disgusting. I generally try to abide by this cultural norm, but not today. Today, I will let loose.
I try to do it as subtly and quietly as possible, but because of the severity of the strain of SARS I appear to have contracted, it sounds like an animal dying underwater. Nobody looks at me, but from the fact that everyone in our vicinity is now purposefully staring at the ground, I interpret this collective signal to mean one of three things:
a. Hurray! Nobody heard me!
b. There is something absolutely mesmerizing on the bleached and sterile white floor of this train that only I am incapable of seeing.
c. Everyone thinks I am the most disgusting living thing since The Blob, and they are all hoping that if they don’t look directly at me, I will eventually disappear, like a cockroach, or an eclipse.
The only exception is an older ajumma, a middle-aged Korean woman, who is sitting beside us and is staring right at me. I don’t want to return her stare, as I’d prefer not to see the mixture of repulsion and fear that I’m sure is written on her face.
At the next stop, she gets up, and moves to another seat across the train.
8. Do not allow your guest to get more than 4 hours of sleep ever
“Canada is NOT an independent country!”
“It isn’t? I thought it was…”
“No! Um, hello? Have you seen their currency? The Queen of England is on their money, so that means they’re still part of England.”
Glen and I are sitting on a darkly lit coach bus filled completely to capacity. My eyes are bleary with exhaustion, and even listening to the instructions of the zealous soldier before we left had been a challenge. We have departed from Camp Kim, a U.S. military base in the Yongsan neighbourhood of Seoul, about ten minutes ago and are on our way to the DMZ, the 250 kilometre-long, 4 kilometre-wide, demilitarized zone resting along the 38th parallel between the two Koreas.
So here we are at 8:10 am, on a bus filled with mostly military personnel, as well as the odd tourist, sitting in front of two American girls animatedly debating Canada’s current political status.
“Are you sure they’re not their own country?”
“No! C’mon, why do think the Queen is on their money? Because they don’t have their own leader!” the “more knowledgeable” girl informs her hesitant friend.
Hidden by the large red seat backs, Glen and I exchange a glance. Unbeknownst to them, we are holding back laughter at the uninformed argument occurring just 2 feet away from us.
“And they have a holiday called Independence Day too [nope], just like we do, but it’s the day before ours [wrong], so they clearly just copied us [no again]. They’re not actually independent, though [OH MY GOD!].”
*Sigh*… It is too early, and I am too sleep-deprived for this.
For the week that Glen is here, I decide that it would be a good idea to pack activities into every minute of time we had to ensure that Glen saw every Lonely Planet-acclaimed tourist attraction, visited every kitschy animal-themed café, and tried every dish hallmarked as traditional Korean cuisine. While this has been a mostly successful endeavor despite getting lost (see Point 4) on several occasions and being late for everything (see Point 1), it has also resulted in a severe and painful case of sleep deprivation.
On a regular day, I consume 2 or 3 cups of coffee – more if the day involves doing anything high-energy, like speaking in a foreign language or breaking up brawls between 12-year-old boys in my classroom. This week, though, my average daily caffeine intake has been upped to about 5 or 6 cups to counteract the 7 days of getting less than 5 hours of sleep.
Caffeine has been a big, important part of my life since I was 17, and while for most people, caffeine perks them up and gives a much-needed energy boost, for me, it just keeps me functioning on a basic level. Without it, I basically can’t talk to humans or walk in a straight line.
Another unfortunate side effect of my addiction is that after the initial stage of basic human functionality, this wears off rapidly and I have an energy crash. At this point, my functionality is basically akin to someone suffering from food coma or a hangover.
The night before our DMZ tour, I took Glen to Itaewon, a mostly ex-pat-populated neighbourhood, to see a different side of Seoul. It was far, and we spent longer than expected walking around and taking in the sights: young, inebriated Korean girls sitting on the curbside throwing up; military men strolling down the road armed only with over-confidence and cheap beer; ex-pat teachers in large groups, deciding which expensive, pretentious club was most worthy of their patronage by blocking the entire sidewalk and yelling loudly over each other in varying abrasive English accents. Ah Itaewon… feels just like home.
After a late night exploring the streets and pubs of Itaewon, we returned home exhausted, only to look at the time and realize we’d only be able to sleep for 3 hours before it was time to wake up and spend an entire day learning about the history of the Korean War. This, of course, was on top of an entire week of averaging 4-5 hours of sleep per night…
On the bus, I am fading. My lack of a morning coffee, combined with my pathetic addiction for said coffee, means that I am pretty much done with life right now. Glen is saying something to me, but I’m not listening. My eyes are closing and the world is disappearing from view.
Glen, on the other hand, does not drink coffee, and while this means that fortunately, he is able to function on a normal level without the use of substances, the downside of this is that he is a light sleeper and finds it difficult to sleep in moving vehicles.
While I’m drifting away, Glen is beside me, upright in our inflexible bus seats, delirious with exhaustion, and totally awake, tormented by the sound of erroneous political information being disseminated loudly from behind us.
9. Force your guest to bring back an extra suitcase that’s 10 kg over the baggage limit
It is the last day of Glen’s visit. While he has packed his entire bag in a record 20 minutes, I’ve barely started. He has agreed to bring back a suitcase for me, which I promised to have ready before his arrival. 30 minutes before his departure, I start to pack.
There is no time to carefully ponder which items deserve to go back to Canada; which clothes have remained intact despite accidental bleachings, falls in the mud, and aggressive washings; which books still retain all of their pages and haven’t been too damaged by coffee spills and being shoved into bags too small to carry them. No, now is not the time to ponder. Now is the time to throw everything I own that won’t be needed from now until August into the horrendously large suitcase occupying most of my floor.
As I pack, Glen watches the scene before him with the same growing dismay I felt when I watched the last Transformers installment.
“Uh… do you have a scale? That looks like it’s gonna be waaaay over 23 kilograms.”
“Oh yeah? You think?”
I understand the literal words coming out of Glen’s mouth, but I am neither thinking of their meaning or their consequence. I am debating how many scarves I need for the winter and whether or not I will realistically ever get around to reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
“Yeah… I really think we should find a way to weigh it before we go. The overweight charge is, like, a hundred bucks.”
There! Solution to all the problems of the world – if something doesn’t work, just throw some money down, and bam! Problem solved!
I finish packing the absurd colossus that some luggage designer decided to pass off as a suitcase, and we run downstairs to grab a taxi. I have an event to run later that day, so I leave Glen at the subway station. We say our goodbyes and off he goes, carrying his travel bag and half of the belongings I came to Korea with, packed into a suitcase the size of a Shetland pony.
Later that night, after my event, I breathe a sigh of relief. Ok, I had been pretty much the worst tour guide of all time, but the week had been fun. We’d seen a lot of things around Seoul, and the bonus: I’d gotten a free suitcase shipped back to Canada. Not bad… And now, to sleep a full night’s sleep for the first time in over a week…
I check my messages the next morning to find several from Glen, who pretty much had the worst night of his life. In point form, here is what happened from the time I left him to the time he finally managed to arrive at his home in Toronto:
He arrives at the airport and tries to check the bags, only to find that the canoe of a suitcase I left him with is almost 10 kg overweight!
- Being a considerate person, and not wanting me to have to pay the extra fee, he spends the next 20-30 minutes attempting to redistribute the excess weight from my bag into his, probably pissing off the other irritable passengers in line and losing most of his dignity along the way.
- Miraculously, he manages to distribute the clothes, books, and iron blocks I apparently have in my suitcase evenly between the two bags. The only way this is possible is if he wears my winter coat, a 3 kg black woolen thing halfway between a trenchcoat from The Matrix and Cruella De Vil’s Dalmatian-fur monstrosity.
- After picking up the bags again in Toronto, he discovers that one of the wheels on my suitcase had broken off completely. This was inconvenient enough dragging it from the airport to the bus, then to the shuttle, and then to the subway. However, once off the subway, he had to carry it to his house. On the brink of total, all-encompassing exhaustion and jet lag, Glen bravely dragged my disfigured, three-wheeled, 23-kilogram valise along the sidewalk, trying to ignore the grating, Ringwraith-esque scream emanating from the remaining wheels, as well as the stares of alarmed and disapproving passersby.
- Well… my suitcase is safely stowed in Toronto, where it awaits my summer arrival. And to get it there, all Glen had to do was front me CAD$120, humiliate himself publicly, wear the coat of a Dominatrix stripper, scrape the concrete off from most of the sidewalk, and subject half of Toronto to the sound of a cat being tortured.
I am the worst.