I have just emptied a whole toothpaste tube of hot chili paste over my first ever bowl of Korean food – a dish called Bibimbap. I was convinced I could handle the heat – reminiscent of the time I ordered a Vindaloo curry in the UK. My face was anaesthetised to the point where I lost the power of speech for two hours.
Bibimbap is a bowl of meat and vegetables, which you tip a dish of rice over, then add sesame oil and hot pepper paste. Mix it up and eat. I was sweating profusely from my forehead. The Korean man next to me was staring at side of my head. This was unnerving. The dish came with side dishes of Kimchi (Korea’s national dish – fermented spicy cabbage), fish soup, cold buckwheat noodles and a fresh fruit salad. As introductions to Korean food go, it was good, despite the hell sauce.
I watched half of EagleEye on the in-flight entertainment but it was a load of rubbish. I switched over to the classic rock station and willed sleep to wash over me. I must have listened to Electric Light Orchestra’s Evil Woman seven times. Sleep continued to elude me. Entering into a limbo-like state of consciousness, I just stared at the screen for hours. The only memorable thought was that Russia is bloody big, innit?!
Two hours before we arrived at Incheon international airport, my mood was brightened by the cute cabin attendants serving breakfast. I ate smoked trout, beef stir-fry, steamed rice and fruit salad – and loved it all! The Welsh man to my right could not bring himself to eat what he deemed to be the foreign rubbish in front of him. He sat staring at it for ten minutes before starting to pick at the rice (but only the bits that hadn’t touched the sauce), as though a tramp had vomited into his lap and now he was being forced to pick out the juiciest chunks. I resisted the urge to assume the role of Foie Gras famer and shove a funnel down his neck to force-feed it to him.
The screen then showed that we were over the Chinese capital Beijing. The plane turned East towards Seoul. From there we began to descend steadily until at 16.25pm local time on Sunday 29th March 2009 – we landed.
In the next post – odd Korean greetings, a scary bus journey and seeing my new town for the first time…