Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Journey Begins...

Well, well, well. Another continent. At long last, I have arrived in Asia. Specifically, South Korea. It is amazing to contemplate being half a world away from my East Coast peeps. (It also puts the R.E.M. song in my head.) I left Boston on Friday morning (October 7) after a frantic last two weeks of packing, throwing things away, storing things, quitting my job, occasionally freaking out at how much I had left to do, and obtaining from the Korean consulate a one-year work visa.

My route was Boston-Chicago-Tokyo-Seoul. I was so exhausted on the airplane after those excruciating last days of attempting to pack up my life, but I didn't sleep a great amount, mostly because the seats (I flew United) reclined about half an inch, if that. Whatever! I napped sporadically, and in between I kept tabs on where we were on the little armrest screen, noting our progress toward the international date line. Somewhere above Alaska, with every announcement from the flight crew coming in English and Japanese, it started to hit me that I was actually flying to another continent.

I had fun in the Tokyo airport buying bottled water in the duty-free shop and receiving my 18 yen change. My favorite part of the shop was an impulse buy display of things like batteries, film, you know, last-minute type travel purchases. You could well imagine a sign above such a display saying "Aren't you forgetting something?" But this sign, probably literally translated through a language or two, said, "Isn't there forgetting purchase?" Ahhh, I loved it. I decided that was my favorite part about the Tokyo airport and I want to say that all the time now. "Isn't there forgetting purchase?" Then I talked with some other random American girls on my flight to Seoul. One had taught English this past year and was re-upping for another year, and she shared a few words of wisdom, like 'make the effort to learn Korean' and such.

The flight to Seoul was short. I filled out my customs declaration (nothing) and my immigration card and it started to hit me a little more that I was actually going to Korea. But I have to say, by and large, there has been no weird, trippy feeling about any of this. It just feels normal. Yes, normal. It feels like I totally should be moving to Korea for a year (or longer?) and there doesn't seem to be anything particularly out of the ordinary about it.

Or, perhaps I was just too tired to trip out. When I landed in Seoul, I was eagerly looking forward to the bus to Daegu and my bed awaiting me in said city. Unfortunately, that little baggage carousel of love turned and turned and came up short, for me and about ten or twelve other harried souls. We all followed a nice United Airlines gentleman to the lost and found desk where took our bag claim numbers and descriptions of our suitcases, promising to hook us up with the bags the next day.

OK, fine, I thought. I have necessities in my carry-on. I shall remain undaunted! I went through customs and found the ground transport area where I was to buy a ticket for the bus to Daegu. There were dozens of buses departing for all kinds of places, and I saw the Daegu bus, but the woman at the counter cheerfully informed me it was "finished for tonight." Finished? What does that mean, exactly, I wondered? What it meant was sold out. Oh dear. That was not in the plan. This was starting to cross from "adventure" over into "nightmare" territory. I had my 30,000 won and was supposed to call my school director when I was boarding the bus to Daegu. So, I bought a bottle of water inside the airport's only shop remaining open, a 24-hour convenience store, in order to get some change, and then I took my 100 won coins to the public phones to call him.

He, too, was surprised the bus had sold out, but he had to be the bearer of the bad news that I would be spending the night in the Seoul airport. While I wanted desperately for him to say, "OK, we'll come get you," even I could see that their three and a half hour drive would not be worth it, in terms of time and sleep deprivation. I could go to a hotel, he suggested, but to the tune of at least 100$US I was not really interested, on my limited budget, let alone the hassle/cost of getting there from Incheon Airport, way on the outskirts of the city, and for how many hours, really? The next bus to Daegu would not depart until 7:30 a.m., but there would be a bus to Seoul at 5:30 a.m. to take me to the train station where I'd catch the express to Daegu. Sound good?

I do believe at that point I lost it.

I was so very tired, so very frustrated, and so very alone, not to mention sick to death of faux "taxi" drivers walking up to me offering me a ride to Daegu. I allowed myself a blissful minute in the bathroom to just cry and release tension, knowing full well the moment would pass and I would be fine. It did, and I was. I had gone back to my good friend at the 24-hour mini-mart to get an international calling card, which I could not figure out how to use, nor were its Korean instructions any help, thus necessitating my dropping all of my 100-won coins in the phone during my many phone calls to my contact. But now that I was feeling reinvigorated, I was bound and determined to figure it out.

In scoping out the airport, my new home for the evening, I found a suitable sleeping place with soft chairs and no armrests, where my "roommate" was already crashed for the night. Across from this "bedroom" was an airport information desk staffed by a man who greeted me in English. Wonderful! I showed him my calling card and basically said, "Why won't this work?" I imagine I was pretty pathetic at this point. He looked at it with me and said I have to press the red button. I trotted back to my "living room" area where the public phones were and tried his advice. So what if the red button said "emergency call"? I'd try anything once! It didn't like the first number I tried, but after some more fiddling around with the Korean instructions and various options I figured out which of the three phone numbers on the back was the toll free number I needed to use and I was in! Could it be?! Yes! A voice in the United States was on the other end of the line! I melted.

A few minutes chat was all I needed, and then it was time to settle in for the night, feet draped over my duffel, head on my backpack with an arm through the strap. Of course, I felt my good friends at 24-hour CSpace (the mini-mart) and at Airport Information would look after me. After all, at Airport Info there were comment cards (you know I love me some comment cards), bilingual in Korean and English, and there were two choices: Complaint Card and Thankful Card. How wonderful is that? I took one of each as a souvenir, but despite all of my trials I was still willing to give my arrival in Asia, overall, a Thankful Card.


Julia Elvarado said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LizaBean said...


I love your adventure so far! The part with you hiding in a public restroom so you could safely cry out your frustrations at travelling solo brought back memories of me doing the same thing on my way to Spain almost exactly two years ago. Yay for public restrooms!!

I miss you and love that there's a place where we can all read about everything you are doing!