Ten hours in the Incheon International Airport (outside Seoul) punctuated a recent 48-hour journey from Montville, in Australia’s Queesnland, to my home in Kelowna, British Columbia. I was less than thrilled. I had already been traveling around the clock with only one hour’s fitful sleep. Anyway, hanging out in an airport is nowhere on my list of Things I Like to Do.
After wandering past the rows of shops selling high-cost bling, I was bored. So I hopped the airport subway connecting the two terminals, and that’s when things changed.
The airport didn’t change. Both terminals house similar monuments to consumer culture. I changed, or at least my perspective did.
I was hungry and unwilling to pay a 15% surcharge to use my credit card. So I pulled out a Canadian bill and headed to currency exchange. With 22,000 Korean won ($20 CAD) in my pocket, I checked out the food displays.
I settled on a Korean fast-food joint that prepared everything fresh. I liked the looks of #53, a combination marked “BEST”.
The server warned me, rather apologetically, the meal would take 20 minutes to prepare. I found a seat, opened my iPad to a book I was reading, and settled in.
When the little electronic pager signaled me, I headed over to another counter to pick up my food. That’s when I saw a staff chopping, mixing, stir frying and steaming mounds of fresh ingredients.
I picked up my tray, pondered all the little bowls, took up my chop sticks and started eating. Everything was so tasty I whipped out my camera to record the meal.
A young Korean couple at the other end of the table eyed me curiously. I told them the food was delicious, and I wanted to remember it. They were surprised and pleased that I found Korean food so palatable and told me how to eat what I had ordered.
Turns out I had chosen one of the most popular Korean dishes, bibimbap. All the side dishes were meant to be mixed together in a yummy concoction.
Food overcame initial shyness on both sides. Alas, my Korean is non-existent, but with the help of their smart phone, they could find whatever English equivalents weren’t in their vocabularies.
We talked for an hour, and then it was time for them to catch their flight to the Philippines for their first foray out of Korea.
When they left, the airport felt friendly to me. I forgot how tired I was. Food, photos, and friendly folk had transformed an anonymous airport into a little corner of Korea, where the food was delicious and a young couple made me feel welcome.