Man heads to South Korea for month-long trip
DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — When Winter Olympic officials hand out some gold, silver, and bronze medals this weekend, an Enterprise man will be there to witness it.
Sean Roehler has been visiting friends in South Korea, the site of this year’s Winter Olympics, since Feb. 1. The trip to see the Olympics this weekend originated with an idea he and friends stationed at the U.S. Army installation Camp Humphreys in South Korea had last year.
“They said I needed to come over here last year, and I said, ‘Well, the Olympics are there next year. Why don’t I wait until then?’” he said Wednesday morning in Korea, which was Tuesday evening locally with the 15-hour time difference.
Roehler saved for the month-long trip in the interim. Planning the logistics of flying to the country proved easy, noting a popular travel website made the process simple.
The flights? Well, they were a different story.
“My total flight time was about 18 or 19 hours. I went from New York to Seoul in about 14-and-a-half hours,” he said. “The cool thing, and I didn’t know this until we landed, was we flew over the top of the world. I flew over the North Pole.”
Roehler said the flight crew kept the lights dimmed to aid passengers in sleeping, but he only managed an hour of sleep. Instead he watched a few in-flight movies and made some friends.
“Luckily the guy that sat beside me spoke English,” he said.
Since landing, Roehler has spent most of his time taking in the local cuisine and shopping. While he has enjoyed his time in the country, these very tasks have caused him stress, too.
“It’s crippling to not be able to communicate,” Roehler said. “I can speak some Spanish, and I can fumble through some French and German, but they don’t register what I’m saying. It’s a completely different system.”
Roehler said he has encountered several unique situations while shopping and eating.
First, Roehler has encountered two different types of restaurants - those that cater to English-speaking people and mostly provide silverware, and those that are solely Korean.
Also, wait staff at restaurants do not visit your table. Instead diners press buttons at their tables to summon waiters. He also visited a dog café, where people can sip a latte while dogs roam the shop.
He has learned other cultural tenants, too.
In South Korea, people hand each other items with both hands instead of one. Another social tradition he has learned is to greet people with small bows, which he likened to the nods that Southerners give each other.
In addition to shopping and eating, Roehler has made a couple of trips to the capital, Seoul. There he toured one of the country’s palaces - a remnant of the time when monarchies governed the country.
Roehler and his friends will travel to Pyeongchang, the center of the Olympics, to watch a variety of events. High on his list is a men’s hockey game between the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
The group will also watch the men’s skiing aerials and slopestyle finals and the qualifying for the women’s snowboarding big air competition.
Roehler said he and his friends will stay in the Pyeongchang area since traffic can be problematic. He mentioned South Korea is using an odd-even system with traffic: cars with plates that end in even numbers travel on certain days, while those that end with odd numbers travel on the others.
While he said he loves to travel, Roehler never had a desire to visit South Korea until he was invited. He recommends the trip to anyone.
“I’ve been to Canada and the Bahamas, and I used to live in Germany when I was a kid,” he said. “Korea is so beautiful, and the people are nice. The country is mostly mountainous, so you have a lot of picturesque mountains and valleys to view.”