I would consider myself a seasoned traveler since I traveled very frequently for my old job. At least that was the case within the United States. Even when visiting new cities in the US, the routine was typically the same: finding the baggage claim / ground transportation area, getting to the car rental place, and following GPS or printed map to get to my destination. Well, when you’re traveling internationally, it’s completely a different story. Faced with an unfamiliar protocol / routine in a different culture with its own language / script, and I felt like a rookie traveler again.
When I landed at Incheon after the first leg of my trip between Washington, DC, and Jakarta, all I knew from my itinerary was that I had a 22-hour layover before my next leg of the trip, and I was going to get a hotel room for the night. After what seemed like a scavenger hunt to find the Korean Air staff who had the hotel assignments, I found myself in a little minivan with three other passengers being driven off the airport to a nearby area called the Airport Town Square. We were dropped off at our designated hotel, Hotel June. The driver spoke very little English, and motioned us to go to the hotel receptionist desk. Fortunately the receptionist spoke English pretty well, and explained to me and the other passengers about our meal coupons that we could use for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch on the following day, all served at the hotel’s restaurant. Apparently there is shuttle bus going to the airport every so often, so depending on when our next flight was, we could tell them which one to go on.
When I got to my hotel room, it was yet another new experience. I had a Platinum Elite status with Marriott Rewards at that time since I stayed so much time on the road at Marriott hotels in the United States, so you would think I could easily adjust and make myself home at any hotel room. Here, I was like someone discovering a hotel room for the first time. It started with learning how to use the room key as the main switch to turn on electricity in the room. Then more discovery on how things work in the room: figuring out the light switch with labels in Korean, using the sophisticated toilet and shower in the bathroom, and using a PC with Microsoft Windows with Korean language/encoding and Korean keyboard to browse the Web. It was very much unlike anything I had ever seen in any hotel in the United States.
I also ventured outside the hotel to walk around the neighborhood. The area was full of transit hotels like Hotel June, and there were many restaurants around. I like Korean food, and there were many of those places that looked like they had really good food, but I was deterred by the fear of not being able to communicate, especially after seeing the signs and menus all in Korean with very little, if any, English translation. And I didn’t know how much things typically cost, so I was worried that I might get ripped off if I didn’t know what to expect. But simply wandering around the neighborhood several blocks from the hotel was a good experience to observe a new culture.
The photo below was taken during the night walk through the neighborhood. Note that there was practically no English on any of the signs.