The eagle has landed


Well, two days ago…

I guess I should begin where I left off, which was at the Bangkok airport, about the time my laptop battery died…

I stupidly was too cheap to pay the extra 500 baht for a flight closer to my departure flight for Seoul, so as a result I had an 11 hour layover.  I figured I’d just hang out in the airport, study survival Korean, read, etc., and it would all be good.  WRONG!  It is really hard to just relax when you have four overweight bags, a coat and a sweater to babysit.  Practically impossible to go to the bathroom.  Impossible to take a nap.  Impossible to do anything but just squirm in discomfort.  Top that off, and I was dressed in my heaviest clothing – to save weight from my checked items, and to not freeze my ass off when I got to Korea.  Only the air conditioning at the Bangkok airport was not very high or very effective, and so I just sweat profusely for 11 hours.  I’d go outside to have a smoke in the 80+ degree weather, sweat buckets, go and get something cold to drink to lower my temperature, and then try to go to the bathroom carting all my stuff…So this is what I did for 11 hours.  Read a little.  Ipod battery died.  Mostly just squirmed and sweated.

Finally, check-in time came and damn, 12 kilos overweight.  So had to go pay $258 to keep going!  At least my mileage got added to my frequent flyer membership, as Thai airways and Asiana have a partnership for mileage…Then came living hell…the immigration line then security check took twice as long as it should have, and I had to give up my luggage trolly, which doesn’t seem like such a big deal – but my 14 lb. bandoneon and my 24 lb. carry-on really got to me after awhile.  And then the distance from check-in to the terminal went on forever.  Bangkok’s International terminal is HUGE, and there are not just duty-free shops off to the side – instead it is like you have to walk through an entire mall which is all duty-free – and it goes on forever.  It was really surreal – am I at the airport or rodeo drive?  when does the terminal begin?  I began to despair – I wanted to cry!  Finally, I saw some smaller carts and had a momentary reprieve from being a pack mule.  Only to find that once the mile of mall had ended, we had to go through yet another security check where trolleys were not allowed.  and of course, my gate was way the fuck a mile away (yeah, I’m exaggerating now)  Only it had taken soooo damn long at immigration, that of course I had to run as my flight was boarding…By this time my clothes were just drenched in sweat.

At the gate was a sea of adjosshis and adjumas (sirs and madames – i.e., older Koreans) sitting and waiting for all the youngsters to board.  (one brilliant thing about the BKK airport is they have separate entrances for first class and travel class, so both can board at the same time)  Anyway, the adjosshis and adjumas were every bit the characterization you’ve seen in the media.  Mostly all dumpy, wearing comfortable unattractive clothing, the women all with bad perms, the men with strange shaped tummys.  Hardly the high-fashion trendy look I was expecting of Koreans and I also guess I expected the older Koreans to dress a little more up-to-date.  But instead, it looked like their clothes were from the 70’s.  Yet brand new.  Maybe they are selling 70’s overstock somewhere…It was my first culture shock!  But then again, they were all talking to each other, enjoying themselves, having a laugh.

The Asiana flight attendents on this redeye inter-asia flight were not quite as courteous as the ones coming from America.  In fact, they seemed rather put-out at times.  I had an aisle seat, and therefore was unable to lean against the bulkhead and sleep, plus the aircon was up pretty high and my sweaty clothing was not chilling the crap out of me.  I DID manage to fall asleep for awhile – during dinner, of course.  The screen in front of me said that the temperature was 80 degrees leaving Bangkok.  The screen at arrival said that it was 20 degrees in Seoul…again, the distance from arrival gate to baggage pickup felt like a mile.  I let others just pass me as I rested on the people movers, wondering if I was coming down with something.  Korean immigration and customs went smoothly, and then I went outside to find the limousine bus to Koreana hotel and bam!  20 degree weather is not something I have experienced for a long time.  And again, I was all covered in sweat from carrying those overweight bags.  After realizing the bus route I had been told to take was wrong, finding a ticket counter and purchasing the correct one, and then loading the bus, I experienced the first of what will probably be my life here – getting told something in Korean, me not responding, because I don’t know Korean, and then getting yelled at.  Maybe I should learn sign language or something.  The bus ride from Incheon takes quite a long time – it’s really weird to go from the tropics with everything green – to Korea in winter – and especially Incheon in winter, as the coastal area here seems all industrial hills, practically denuded, and the trees that do exist are just gray leafless twigs.  Then, you come up to (probably Bucheon) some sci-fi world of housing block after housing block after housing block in an untterly inhuman scale and densisty and they look totally dead, but you know that they are like beehives with thousands and thousands of people living in them.  And then you hit Seoul, and there is this strange mix of future and past in a rolling concrete landscape that stretches on forever.  And it just gets bigger and bigger and more urbane.  And as I’m taking this in, I am sleeping for short bits – five minutes here, take something in, sleep five minutes there, repeat.  Finally, I got dropped off at the hotel, where I hailed a cab and gave the cabbie the printout – and of course he couldn’t figure out where to go.  Anyway, it turns out this is common.  I’d read about the Korean lack of city planning and lack of rational addresses prior to this trip, yet to even see cabbies stymied is quite incredible.  Fortunately, every car has GPS and nobody goes anywhere without cell phones.  It’s been my experience thus far that every trip to any destination requires talking to three people, three different phone calls, and satellite or email mapping.  Welcome to Korea – I think I will be saying this a lot…

Finally, we arrive at a little alley-like street and reverend Kim from Koroot meets us at the front of the alley.  Thank goodness he helps me with some of the luggage, as the street has some bumpy paving and then the walk to the place is flagstones and there are stone steps…I am definitely a little feverish by now.  It’s about 9 am and all I can think about is sleeping.  I get shown around the place.  I get introduced to a couple of other adoptees.  I go to the bathroom and am told there is a call for me from my job recruiter.  I tell them I will call him back after a nap.  I take a shower, put on my jammies  on to go to bed and I get told there is someone on the line for me.  My recruiter explains that they made a mistake and told my school where I will be working that I am arriving today, and that they have been waiting for me all morning, that they are very upset because the vice principal is a very busy man, and could I please go meet them RIGHT NOW?  Please?  I explain how I’ve gotten no sleep, only just arrived, etc., and can’t I take a nap first or reschedule?  And then the recruiter somehow convinces me, so I go to my room, have the volunteer here to call a cab, and in ten minutes find something to wear – and that is how I begin my first day in Korea.

Welcome to Korea!

More tomorrow morning – I really do need more sleep, as I am off to Wonju city hall tomorrow to do some sleuthing as to more information about who I was and where I came from.

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