Tag Archives: Korea


When I told this story to my friends, the common response was “What, I never thought this could happen to you!”. Usually followed or preceded by full-hearted laughter out of Schadenfreude. But I have to agree, it’s actually really funny and I never thought this could happen to me. But let’s start from the beginning.

On 5 September the Osaka area was hit by a typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon within the last 25 years, which destroyed parts of the Kansai airport built on an artificial island in the bay of Osaka. As one terminal and one runway was completely unusable flight operations were completely canceled. Around the 10th the first airlines, like ANA, started operating a few flights a day. I had a flight booked from Daegu (TAE) to Osaka (KIX) with Air Busan for the 16th fo meet up with Björn and Janina. The days after the typhoon I monitored the situation. Every day some new information, some more flights going in or out, but operations were far from normal. Around 12 September I had to make a call, so that Björn and Janina can adjust their plans if necessary, that we could end up in the same place on the 16th. Of course due to the upcoming holidays in Korea and Japan flights were already expensive. For about a day and a half we checked various destinations across Japan and different departure airports in Korea. We agreed that most likely the best solution would be to still meet up in Osaka but fly in to Fukuoka and then take the Shinkansen to Osaka.

I tried to call Air Busan to have my existing ticket rebooked to the new destination, but their service center was completely overrun and even after hours of trying I never got through. The best option was then to just book a new flight and hope that the other flight will get canceled and I could get a refund. I selected the one-way trip from TAE to FUK for the 16th, entered my personal information and credit card info and bam: your credit card does not support 3D verification, proceeding without verification. But it only showed a white screen. I tried again. No luck. Next try was booking through my mobile phone. Usually it’s the mobile website that does not work properly and I use the desktop as fallback, why not once the other way round? Again selecting departure airport, destination, one-way flight and date, entering personal information and credit card and guess what, this time it worked. I confirmed the payment with the N26 app and the flight was booked.

Now everything was clear and I went to my trip to Daegu. On the 16th I got up in the morning, had a relaxing breakfast and made my way to the airport around 11 to be there on time for my flight at 14:00. I arrived shortly before 12 and looked for the check-in counter. On the information counter I was told that for the flight to Fukuoka at 14:00 Air Busan would open the counter any minute. So I waited for a few minutes and lined up for check in.

“Konichiwa, I have a reservation for the flight to Fukuoka.” I greeted the woman behind the check-in counter and handed her my passport. She started to check the system and then handed me my passport. “How do you spell your name? I cannot find it.” Only partly confused – having an umlaut and a dash in the name regularly leads to issues – I showed her the international spelling and she checked again. “Sorry, nothing. Do you have the booking confirmation?” Alright, I looked up the confirmation mail and handed her my phone. She started scrolling around and then pointed at the phone. “Sorry, your flight is from Busan. This is Daegu. You’re at the wrong airport.” I looked at the ticket and realized “Fuck, I’m at the wrong airport.” Busan, the home airport of Air Busan, it about 2 hours away in the very south of Korea. No chance I would make it there in time for the check-in. “Oh fuck, are there any seats left on this flight? I need to get to Fukuoka.” “Yes, there are free seats. Please wait, I check if I can rebook you.” Now a 20 min journey began of phone calls the woman made, while I was checking the website to see how much a new ticket would cost me. As there were only regular tickets left a new ticket would cost around 154.000 Won, at that time ca. 115 EUR. A lot, but still affordable.

In total the woman made maybe 7-8 phone calls, apologizing in-between for letting me wait, and in the end offering me to rebook my flight for 150.000 Won. Virtually the same price as a new ticket. Somewhat disappointing, but still better than to have Janina and Björn wait for me a day in Osaka. So I paid for the new ticket and went for the security area. However, I was still very lucky to get a ticket in the first place. As I boarded the plane as one of the last passengers, I saw that all seats except for very few seats here and there, were taken. And a couple of people were still behind me.

I was still confused. How could this happen to me? I’m an experienced traveler, booked all kinds of things through phone, texts, or website in all kinds of languages without any problems. So I looked at the mobile site and tried to figure out how this could have happened. And then I found it. As I said above, I entered departure and destination airport, selected one-way, and then the flight date. The mobile Air Busan website, however, changes the airports to their default selection Busan – Fukuoka when you switch from return ticket to one-way ticket. I guess that’s where it slipped through my attention.

A weekend in Daegu

To see something more from Korea than just Seoul I decided to go to Daegu, the 4th largest city in Korea with 2.5 million people. All the lab mates I told about going to Daegu just asked: why? It felt like to them there is nothing outside of Seoul that is worth a trip. My reasoning for Daegu was that (1) it was not Seoul and (2) had cheap flights to Osaka where I planned to go next.
Unluckily, a typhoon destroyed large parts of the Kansai International Airport, which is on an artificial island in the bay of Osaka the weekend before my flight. Some airlines resumed some flights, but it didn’t look like Air Busan, my airline, would do so. I had to find a different solution to get to Osaka to meet up with my friends. After about a day of searching, discussing, and comparing the solution was to fly from Daegu to Fukuoka and take the train to Osaka. So I booked my flight and started the trip to Daegu.

What struck me first in Daegu was the rare English translations all over town. In Seoul, all subway stations and most stores or restaurants had some kind of basic English translation available. In Deagu I really had to step up my game in reading Hangul.

My hostel, Daegu Midtown Hostel, was right in the heart of the city, so I started exploring the area and passed by Dalseong park which also contained a small zoo. One of the most depressing zoos I have ever seen. Giant owls, eagles, vultures or wolves in tiny cages, some not larger than 10-12 m². At the break of dawn I went to the Seomun night market, expecting something similar to the night markets I know from Southeast Asia. But this one was different. The food stalls were selling premium street food, from beef skewers to fried shrimp to seared sushi.

The last stop for the night was the International Jazz Festival, where Jazz bands were playing all week for free on a stage in the south of Daegu. On my way there it started to rain a little bit. Just enough to make everything wet but not enough to stay inside or wear a rain jacket. As I arrived at the stage the chairs were mostly empty, just a few people with ponchos or umbrellas faced the drizzling rain. I walked up to the middle of the seating area and went for a chair, when a Korean woman rushed towards me and started talking to me hastily. I did not understand a word, she did not speak any English, but what I got was that I should not sit down on this chair. Because it was wet. I pulled out my backpack rain cover and used it as butt protection. After a little while the rain became more than a drizzle, so I thought about either staying and getting a little bit wet, or seeking shelter in a nearby place, when the same woman came to me with a poncho. So I stayed a little longer and enjoyed the quite good music before I decided to give back the poncho and go back to the center.

The next day I decided to go hiking on Mount Apsan, even though the raid had still not vanished and the clouds were hanging deep. But I was full of hope to get a nice view over the city from the viewing platform. When I crawled further up the mountain the clouds were thickening and at one point, maybe around 100 meters below the peak, I was completely within the clouds. Left and right I could only see a few meters, and walking along the ridge with drizzle and wind was a different kind of fun. Luckily one I reached the viewing platform the clouds were already breaking up, and giving me at least a partial view of Daegu.

About the nightlife there is not much to say. The center has lots of bars and clubs, something for every taste, bur nothing extraordinary. As I had to check out at 10:00 the next day I decided to go back early and get a good nights sleep before heading for Japan. But boy, did I not know how much I would need it.

Korean hiking

Stereotypically, I was told, Koreans are going hiking in the mountains on weekends. Fully equipped with the latest outdoor gear they would climb everything from a small hill to the rough mountains. I could not really believe it until I went hiking on Sunday morning. I was waiting for a friend at a subway station where hordes of elderly people in the shiniest outdoor gear were rushing by. The subway to Suraksan station was filled with them. Backpack with water supplies for several days, hiking boots for alpine tours, windbreaker, sun hat, everything. And I thought I am a preparing person. When we started to walk from the subway towards the hiking trail we passed numerous outdoor shops offering discount gear for those who are still in need of some more equipment. Luckily, we had all we needed. A big bottle of water, some crackers, and a juice-pack filled with soju to celebrate at the peak of 600-something meter high Suraksan.

We started hiking up the well maintained and comfortable hiking trail, which even had a air pressure shoe cleaning station at the entry gate. To avoid the masses we decided to follow the routes less taken and ended up crawling small pathways up the mountain. Sometimes we hit the main trail and had to follow the stream of hikers uphill. It was impressive how those who could be my grandparents were still fit enough to hike up the quite steep and partially slippery trail.

The closer we got to the top the steeper and narrower the trail became. Some parts were even replaced by stairs to make it easier. The best views were from large rocks along the way, where sometimes you had to climb up using tiny support steps carved into the stone and rappel down with ropes. Finally something that was somewhat challenging and required to be attentive to not fall 20, 30, or even 50 meters deep between the rocks. The reward for all the climbing was an impressive view across parts of Seoul. Skyscrapers between mountains as far as the eye could see. All just one big city. The perfect activity for a Sunday and a nice 2-3 hour workout to get to the top, and enjoy the peak-soju.

Working Seoul

When I was in Seoul last year I experienced the first cold days of the year with nights below 0 and frozen lakes in the morning. As I did not bring any warm cloths and was planning to go to Southeast Asia next, buying warm clothes was out of the question. I had to leave. So I asked my friends what would be the perfect time to come back, and they all agreed that either spring or fall would be perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. Luckily I seized the opportunity to work a few weeks at Korea University in September, ideal time for a trip to Korea and neighboring Japan and Shanghai.

A350 – where eco is fun again

This time I flew with Lufthansa from Munich to Seoul, partly because it was only slightly more expensive than a connecting flight via Beijing, and partly because Lufthansa is using their brand new A350 on this route. The plane was introduced earlier this year and has even in the economy class surprisingly spacious seats, both in width and depth. The in-seat display is huge and quite sensitive. No more punching the seat to click. However, the selection was depressingly mediocre. I hardly found movies I wanted to watch and TV series were even worse. The real surprise was the dinner. I had the Korean beef with rice and kimchi plus a small tube of hot sauce. Finally plane food that had flavor! The 10 hours flew by and at 5:30 in the morning I was in Korea.

The first days were all pretty similar. I went to the office in the morning, had lunch with my lab mates and dinner with friends and lab mates, followed by drinks until late after midnight. Anam, the area around the university, is full of bars and restaurants which cater to the students that make up the majority of the people there. Also the number of non-Asian people you see on the streets is way higher than in other parts of Seoul, which gives the neighborhood an international and easy-to-immerse vibe, even without speaking Korean.

Sing like nobody’s listening!

Leaderboard. I’ll never gonna give you up!

On Friday after our labmeeting we traditionally went for dinner and drinks with a small pub crawl through Anam’s basement bars until my colleagues decided to give me a real Korean experience: noribang. Noribang is the Korean version of Karaoke, where you rent a small room, usually in a basement, which is equipped with a karaoke machine and some sofas. You select from the impressive list of Korean songs or the not quite as extensive but still sufficiently variable list of western songs, pick up the mic and give it a go. The screen shows the lyrics and plays some videos in the background. But the videos do not necessarily match the music you’re singing. My opening song “Fear of the dark” by Iron Maiden was backed by a group of 8 or 9 Korean girls dancing to what I guess would be a K-Pop song. It gave the song a different but still somehow suitable atmosphere.

Beasts from the deep

Grabbing the octopus!

Saturday we went to the big fish market to try some fresh Korean fish. Walking through the hall with all the touts circling in on us it was not easy to focus on all the fish and other sea creatures that were on sale. From gigantic crabs to tiny shrimp, from big mussels to small octopuses. We walked around and my Korean colleague recommended to try one fish as sashimi and one very peculiar dish: raw octopus freshly chopped. The special feature is that the tentacles are still moving even after the octopus is chopped due to the nerves still sending signals. We got our fish and octopus and were led to a adjacent restaurant where the food was prepared and served. The sashimi was nothing extraordinary. Good, fresh white fish with black skin, a little bit too chewy for my taste, but ok. For me the big challenge was the octopus. Seeing the parts of the tentacle still moving, the suckers still sticking to the plate, so strongly that I could hardly pick them up with my chopsticks. Every year several people die because the tentacles get stuck in their throat. But the animal died to be eaten, so it would be a shame to waste it. I picked up a piece and ate it. A few strong bites on the surprisingly tender tentacle and it was gone. No tickling in my throat, no moving, all gone. The taste was really nice and fresh. But still, next time I’ll get my octopus cooked again.