This story is shared by guest contributor Bojan Stojkovski, a freelance journalist based in Skopje, North Macedonia. Bojan mostly writes about foreign policy and technology but shares that, “Traveling is my passion so I also like to write articles about my experiences when I go abroad.” Enjoy his story and visit him on Instagram.
Do you know that one destination that you are always ecstatic to visit, and every time you go there, the excitement is just unreal? For me, that was going to South Korea. Although I was there once already, this was probably the trip that I was waiting for the whole year, and in the middle of September 2017, I was finally going to Seoul once again!
The trip I had last year to Korea though was probably too short — I was there for just three days, and getting a visa and all of that was also troubling since I completed the documents the day before I was flying and it was all too stressful. Still, I got to enjoy a little bit of Korea back then, and just enough to make me want to go there again!
Getting to Korea
So thinking that I was just going to get a ticket and that’s it, I got a surprising answer at the counter — I was put on standby.
But let’s begin with the start of the trip, and how my trip to Seoul this year unfolded. I was going to Korea to attend a 4-day journalism conference, and it was also good that I was again flying with Turkish Airlines, had a layover in Istanbul of about three hours, so I was already very excited to be going there. I didn’t mind that the flight from Istanbul to Seoul takes around 10 hours, I was ready for everything, just to get to my beloved country! Or so I thought… because the troubles began as soon as I checked in at the Turkish Airlines counter in Skopje.
I had received a boarding pass for the flight to Istanbul, but not for the one to Seoul… so the airline representative told me that as soon as I touch down in Istanbul, I should go to the information desk and ask for a boarding pass. The flight to Istanbul took an hour or so, nothing special, I guess, so immediately after I landed, I went to claim my boarding pass. So thinking that I was just going to get a ticket and that’s it, I got a surprising answer at the counter — I was put on standby. At first I wasn’t sure what it meant, but then I did some googling, and it turns out that it wasn’t really a good thing — It said that the airline basically sold more tickets than seats on the flight, so I needed to wait for everybody to board the plane and then to see if there were any seats left. So I didn’t enjoy my layover as I was preoccupied with what will happen next.
At the gate, I met up with fellow travelers who were also going to Seoul for the journalism conference — Adriatik and Alketa from Kosovo. Adriatik I knew from the year before, and I was meeting Alketa now for the first time. Both were fellow journalists, living in Pristina. It turned out that Alketa was also put on the standby list, so we both waited for everybody to board and to see what is going to happen with us. One of the options was staying in Istanbul for the night and taking the next flight to Seoul, but I wasn’t really hoping for this to happen since I wanted to get to Korea as soon as possible and enjoy my time there!
In the end, it turned out that it was me, Alketa and two Koreans, a guy and a girl that were put on standby. We started joking with them that maybe the airline would put us in the pilots cabin or that we would possibly have to share a couple of seats — so while one person is seating the other would have to be standing, and then we would change places — typical Balkan humor but I don’t think that they got our jokes, and kind of seemed terrified of that possibility. Nevertheless, we all laughed at the situation we were thrown in, and in the end, everything turned out well, we got our seats on the flight.
Don’t remember much about the people that were next to me on the flight, as most of those 10 hours I either listened to music, watched a movie, or slept. Since the time difference was like 8 hours, we arrived there at something like 5–6 pm, and after the passport control and baggage claim, we were finally in Seoul! People that were organizing the conference were terrific and threw us a fantastic welcoming, after which we went to our hotel in the business district of Seoul — Gangnam! Yup, the famous Oppa Gangnam style thing!
Even though we were tired, we still decided to go for a little walk and a dinner near the hotel. Me, Adriatik, Alketa and our Korean hosts visited this charming restaurant where we had a lovely welcoming dinner — tofu salad, rice, different types of kimchi and meat, along with some beers and some soju (which is kind of like Korean rakija, or vodka maybe).
…in reality this soju wasn’t as near as strong as the alcohol we are having in the Balkans, so we could drink like a couple of beers and bottles of soju without a problem.
At first, the Korean girls were kind of worried and skeptical that we were having this soju, since the next day, we already had a packed agenda with the conference and all that, but in reality this soju wasn’t as near as strong as the alcohol we are having in the Balkans, so we could drink like a couple of beers and bottles of soju without a problem. After the dinner, I also met up with another friend of mine who was attending the conference — Mito from Banja Luka, who arrived earlier and already had the chance to visit some of Seoul’s tourist attractions. We had another beet with Mito outside and after a while decided to call it a night since the next few days were pretty much going to be hectic.
After struggling with some jet lag, tiredness and overall exhaustion from the trip I got up in the morning, took a shower, and was ready to go! I was going to have an exciting day since I was also a keynote speaker at one session — and this was a first for me, so I had to bring my A-game while giving a speech that I wrote about the political situation in Macedonia and the Balkans.
For breakfast, I had some kimbap, which is also one of the favorite Korean foods, as it’s basically a type of sushi, only less complicated and with fewer ingredients. After that, we had the first session of the conference, met up with some people that I also saw the previous year and listened to, which was basically the opening of the meeting. The next part was actually the part when I was supposed to deliver a speech, so first I thought that it would be like, no more than 20–30 people in a room, where I just sit and present my speech — but I was in for a surprise. The room that the second part was held was packed, it had like maybe 200 people in it, and the main stage where I was supposed to give the speech! It looked terrifying at first, but I was there for the experience so I told myself, what the hell, you can do this!
While in the middle of the sessions we also had a delicate lunch — kimchi and meat dumplings, with a little bit of beer — since our hosts were again worried that we might get drunk as the day went on. Still, the alcohol there was too weak for the average Balkan person, so they needed not to worry about this. Since we took our breaks at the Coex Mall, we also saw some something marvelous — the Starfield library! This library is a real wonder if you ask me and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before! I could just sit there the whole day, and won’t get bored, to me it seemed like it had around a million books — it’s definitely an attraction for foreigners!
Later that day, I also attended an early dinner, where I met some interesting people and had some fantastic food again! After an eventful first day, the night we were going to have a walk with Mito near the Cheonggyecheon stream — an area which is a mix of the urban and natural, while also having this hipster kind of look, with art galleries along the creek. We walked there for a while, as it took about half an hour to get there, and then we just strolled along the plaza that was near the stream, which was filled with street food, different kind of food trucks, exciting stands that sold jewelry, souvenirs, etc.
Please anticipate Part 2 of Bojan’s experience soon!