China, now South Korea. How did we get to these compelling destinations? By cruise ship. It’s an interesting topic. So many people I speak with say they would never NEVER go on a cruise. I was one who said precisely that a few years back. And, here I am, three cruises later, wondering exactly what was my real objection. Travelers can be rude off cruise ships and can eat too much on land. We can all be wasteful to extreme, wherever we set down our feet at the moment. I must have been afraid that somehow the cruising stereotypes would pull at me and make me a different person. It hasn’t happened. When Stanley and Marsha cruise, it’s to get us where we want to go at a good price with a reasonable degree of convenience.
But Seoul, you may say, is not convenient to a cruise ship along the coastline. And so, we landed at Incheon, Korea, which isn’t Seoul and wasn’t on Stanley’s list of places to see. Our usual habit when arriving anywhere is to walk. In Incheon’s case, though, if we had started walking off the ship, we would have reached only – maybe – the far side of the ship terminal by the time we needed to turn back. Instead, we did the unusual thing of booking the cruise tour. An eight-hour day took us into Seoul to see what we could see, and back to the ship in time for the majestic departure from port, lights coming on inland as we sailed out to open water.
For the tour, though, mostly I remember running to keep up with the guide, and hearing some parts of her long lament against Korean women’s treatment. She had a very interesting story to tell, and told it well, as long as we ignored the sights around us and focused on what she had to say. We went to the cultural history museum, where our guide began by drawing our attention to her big feet. “You will never get married because of your big feet,” she heard her mother say repeatedly as she grew up. We walked rapidly by the traditional Korean home, laid out room-by-room. “I spent $2,000 American to find a husband, but it didn’t work,” she said, racing by the kimchee demonstration. Half the group was drawn to the kimchee, being hungry and tired. But Stanley and I ran alongside our guide, knowing that our chances of getting back to the ship on time lay with the guide and not the kimchee. Our group of 40 was now down to 20, but on ran the guide. How the lost half of the group found us is a mystery, since the guide never once counted heads nor raised one of those ever-present tour flags. Her big feet kept pounding the sidewalk all day, except for a tasty half-hour in a Korean barbecue restaurant.
We were finally given 30 free minutes in an outdoor downtown shopping area. The bus paused by an intersection of sidewalks, and the guide pointed to a mass of people, disorganized, heading all directions at once, bounding around the stalls that were being set-up on the sidewalks. “The bus will meet you here. I will leave without you if you are late. Don’t go into the alleys. You will get lost,” said the guide before she ran off. The forty of us carefully got off the bus, took pictures of the location on the street for guidance, looked at the time, and headed off into the intersection of walking shoulders. Stanley and I took off immediately into the alleyways, which were, of course, the best part of Seoul.
Stanley bartered all the coins he needed for his collection. I spent the bit of leftover money on a tiny purse I will probably never use. We listened to the late afternoon life, witnessed the crowds and the companionship, noticed that everyone but us bought ice cream from street vendors, got back to the bus on time, and slept all the way back to the ship. We were tired from all that big-footed running.