We chat nonstop while painting our seascapes on woodblocks in the Culture Center in the Seoul-Incheon Airport departure terminal. My art buddy, Mrs. F, is a cool woman from Fukuoka, Japan is en route home to better sushi.
I Learn that Sushi in New York City is Terrible
Mrs. F. just completed a cultural exchange experience in New York City, where she had an extremely disappointing experience at a sushi restaurant. She describes her horror that NYC sushi is made from
frozen fish. “Terrible!” she exclaims. “And, they charge more for frozen fish than I pay for fresh fish at home!” She’s clearly decided that Americans are ripped off both by price and by appalling quality, which could be true – I’m not going to dispute her on this issue.
My mind races, unsure how to respond. In my sushi eating life, I’ve surely eaten frozen fish for years and never noticed the quality. I’m so embarrassed that I cannot commiserate with Mrs. F. on overpriced bad American sushi. Not exactly admitting that I am another ‘stupid American’ who has unwittingly overpaid for sushi my entire life, I nod enthusiastically and inquire of her method for differentiating between fresh and frozen fish. It’s all in the flavor and texture, I learn. Well, I’ll definitely be paying more attention to my sushi going forward!
Changing the Subject
Thinking that it might be better to steer our conversation away from Japanese food, I explore the family angle. Where did Mrs. F. last travel with her husband? She described a man who is “very nice, but really boring,” since he has no interest in travel. Yikes! This topic isn’t any better than American sushi. Fortunately, Mrs. F. began describing how she travels the world on her own, and told me where in the world she has visited.
I’m always fascinated by women who travel on their own and love it—how do they get to that point? Are they born that way, like me, or does it come from trial and error? I don’t meet many solo travelers in general, but definitely fewer women than men. And, this woman is in a much older age bracket than I generally meet while traveling — she could likely be my grandmother. Meeting people like her gives me confidence that I’ll continue gathering travel stories into old age, too.
As we complete the painting of our seascapes, we hear music and see a parade of Korean people dressed up as Korean royalty and serfs pass by.
Guarding My Bag or Watching the Parade? Priorities.
I want to go over and snap a few photos of the parade—I’ve never been in Korea before, and everything is magical and new for me. Mrs. F and the young Korean woman in charge of the painting area wave at me to go watch the parade—they will watch my big green backpack. It’s standing there on the ground beside my chair and I eye it nervously. They don’t know I have all my cash stashed in it, and it is big and heavy, so I don’t expect anyone could pick it up and run off very quickly. Plus, it’s that ultra-bright tourist green that will shock the eyes of anyone not used to it, and that is unfortunately in fashion for women’s outdoor gear this year.
“It’ll be fine, just fine,” I tell myself as I trot off with only my phone and passport to watch the parade. I glance back every few steps to make sure my backpack doesn’t disappear. Trust nice strangers. That’s what travel is all about, right? Off I go!!
26 hours of travel door-to-door from San Francisco, California to UB, Mongolia. Oh, and great news! When I checked into my flight in San Francisco I received my boarding passes for both flights (even through the 2nd flight was with a different airline) and asked how my luggage would be transferred in Seoul. I learned that I must check in at the gate before boarding my flight in Seoul. I did this, and my bag was loaded onto the plane without question. It arrived with me in UB.
I later learned that if an original flight reservation includes an airline change, then baggage is automatically transferred. Still, best to check in with the gate agent, just to be sure! Live and learn!
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If you’ve visited Mongolia, how did you arrive? Or, would you love a visit?