Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting to Korea

Lisa and I arrived in Seoul on Wednesday night (Korea time - 14 hours ahead of the US) after 18 flight hours and about 22 hours of travel time. The trip started out portentously, with United Aiirlines moving up our flight by an hour (we made it but weren't able to get to run a couple of errands we wanted to get out of the way) and charging Lisa $200 for an extra checked bag, and only got worse when we found out that we were assigned seats in the LAST row of the plane, which, if you weren't aware, don't recline. In addition, my headphone jack wasn't working. The stewardess was very apologetic. I don't know why an airline would even MAKE seats that don't recline, or why they would put someone in a seat without headphone access, for a 6 HOUR FLIGHT. (Oh wait, I do know. They're just another Money-fearing corporation who knows that their customers really don't have a choice.) After take off, though, the apologetic stewardess moved us up to "Economy Plus", which is just a fancy way of saying an exit row. After that it was gravy, with extra leg room.

Our flight touched down in Incheon, about an hour outside of Seoul, at 7:30pm, and after walking down endless automated walkways, over antibacterial-soaked "decontamination mats," and through spotless odorless hallways, we picked up our bags (all of em! first time!), scooted through Customs and found ourselves on the wrong side of a language barrier. Cabbies knew how to say "taxi?" and not much else. All we knew was "Annyeonghaseyo" ("hello," sort of) and "Kamsahamnida" ("thank you"), which left little room for negotiation. In any case, we had already decided to take the bus, so we bought some rice water from a convenience store for some change, found a pay phone, and called the Anguk Guest House, where our friends Rob and Jeane were already holed up. Luckily they had reserved one of their four rooms for us, and the proprietor spoke some English.

We bought a bus ticket (9,000 won - about $7) and some lackeys ran over to grab our mound of bags and stow them under the bus. I grabbed a couple of thousand-won notes, unsure about tipping protocol, and offered them to one of the handlers. He looked surprised, but took them anyway. Tipping as convention seems not to have reached this part of the world - if gratuity is expected, it is included in the bill (novel idea!).

The bus dropped us off around 9:30pm, about three blocks from the guest house, which posed a problem for us and our 150+ pounds of luggage. The guest house proprietor had said if we called him he could come pick us up, and the bus driver was nice enough to lend us his cell phone while the rest of the bus passengers waited. Five minutes later the proprietor arrived, and we dragged our bags in three trips across the busy main road to him. He hoisted my backpack and told us to follow him - to his car, i expected, but no. We fumbled and dragged and rolled our luggage after him through a few winding streets and up a hill to the guest house, where Rob and Jeane greeted us. They asked us if we wanted to go get something to eat. We said yes, then promptly fell asleep until morning.

1 comment :

  1. Very funny narrative about arriving in Korea. I just got my EPIK contract yesterday, and was interested in learning about the orientation, etc. I am definitely going to pack light since it is just one of me! I definitely would have thought that the guy was taking me to a car, too. In fact, I may have cried when I realized that I had to drag the bags across the road to no car! Oh no!


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