I know, I know; this post's title is unnecessarily pretentious. But imagine being on a plane for fourteen solid hours, nothing but darkness outside the windows the entire time, and that's sort of how it felt.
I also wax poetic when I haven't had enough sleep, so pardon me.
Korea, so far, is a perfect blend of wonderful, frustrating, confusing, and hysterically funny. But more on that later.
I started this adventure in Minnesota, of course. My last days at home consisted of last minute shopping for things I'd need in Korea (phrase books, power adapters, etc), printing my itinerary, and spending time with friends and family. It was hard saying good-bye to everyone, knowing I wouldn't see any of them in person (with the exception of my boyfriend, Chris) for at least a year. I had a fantastic going-away party on Thursday, a fabulous lunch with Chris and Gerald at Obento-ya Friday afternoon, a great time with Kiah and Nicole for the Supernatural season 6 premiere party Friday evening, and even got to see most of my wonderful cousins and a few other friends on Saturday before my departure. Thanks to each and every one of you for making my last days in the states so special. You know who you are.
The flight to Chicago was fairly uneventful. I made it to my gate with ample time to spare, despite a hold up in security because I'd forgotten to take my laptop out of my carry-on bag (oops!). Once I got to Chicago, I had to take the monorail thingy over to Terminal Five for my international flight to Seoul via Asiana Airlines. I'd arrived at the terminal by 8pm. The check-in desk didn't open until 9pm. Sigh. I found a quiet corner in the food court bar and waited.
Finally, time to check in. There was a huge line for that, and then another huge line for security, but everything went pretty smoothly. Then I just had to wait another few hours until boarding. I shelled out $7 for internet after grabbing some snacks at the only open kiosk in the terminal, and made myself comfy.
Finally, boarding! I, unfortunately, did not have an aisle seat, so I had to bother this nice middle-aged Korean guy sitting next to me every time I wanted to get up and use the restroom or stretch my legs. Which, as promised, I did frequently. I must have gotten up 7 times during that flight. I also drank plenty of water, avoided alcohol and caffeine (except for that tiny cup of turpentine posing as coffee with breakfast at 2am Korea time) and did leg exercises in my seat, so you can stop worrying. Mom.
There were two meals, even though I didn't see any listed on my itinerary. Dinner, which was bibimbap (spelling may vary), and surprisingly delicious. Not surprising that it was delicious bibimbap (which is usually a gimme), but delicious airline food. It even came with kimchee, which I, of course, did not eat. Breakfast was decent, too: a cheese omelette, fruit, yogurt, and a tiny croissant.
Though I slept in light, dozy chunks, I arrived at the Incheon International Airport surprisingly alert, if a bit sore and sweaty. I'm STILL sweaty, in fact, despite a shower and a change of clothes. It's humid here, and warm. Anyway, getting through arrivals was a bit of a guessing game. I wasn't sure which documents they needed, though most of the people working at the airport seemed to have a basic grasp of English, so I made it through okay. It was just a matter of waiting in lines. So many lines. Lines for quarantine, lines for immigration, lines for customs, waiting for my luggage on the baggage claim carousel...
Ah, and baggage claim was another adventure. I was all excited when my luggage showed up pretty quickly, but then I realized that the carts were on the OTHER SIDE of the carousel. I had three big, heavy suitcases and a smaller heavy bag, and though I could have conceivably moved all of that bulk since the suitcases had wheels, it was awkward as hell for one person to accomplish, and I just wasn't that coordinated. Thankfully, I was rescued by yet ANOTHER ESL teacher, Kim, who had been sitting to the other side of me on the plane! Hooray for Kim! She graciously offered to watch my bags while I ran to fetch a cart. What an angel. We exchanged contact information, so I hope to hear from her.
After that, I exchanged some of my traveler's cheques for Korean won, then continued out to the Arrivals area. Thankfully, the driver sent to pick me up had a great big sign with my name on it, so he was easy to spot. He was also picking up Sam, another ESL teacher who would be working with me at English Village, and we were getting apartments in the same building. So, I had myself a new friend and neighbor.
The driver didn't speak much English, though he did his best to point out some of the amazing sights on the drive from Incheon to Anyang, which was where our apartment building turned out to be. After getting us situated in our apartments (the tiniest, cutest, girliest apartments EVER, but more on that later) with the landlady (who spoke even less English than the driver), he took off. No instructions, nothing. Just left us to figure out what to do next.
It was a little terrifying. We had no idea if someone would be contacting us, or when, or how we were getting food or toilet paper or the other necessities that our apartments lacked (like sheets for the bed, dishes, and certain appliances). So, we decided to unpack, freshen up, and hit the streets for our first adventure in Korealand.
Now, here's the first thing I learned about Korea, or at least Anyang: there is NOTHING open before 10am here except some of the convenience stores. Which we eventually found, after a hilariously embarrassing mishap with a bunch of carwash workers (we'd mistaken their fridge in the garage for a convenience store cooler in our thirst-crazed delirium, and while they yelled at us at first, we played the Stupid Foreigner card and they took pity on us and gave us cups of water from their office cooler-- also, I remembered the word for water in Korean, which was impressive to both myself and Sam). I grabbed a basket full of whatever beverages and snacks looked even remotely palatable, and we headed back to the apartments for breakfast, as we'd just then realized how famished we both were.
The experimental snacks were mostly a success. Nothing was terrible, most of it was pretty good, and it satisfied our rumbly tummies. Thus sated, we decided we should arm ourselves with a few key phrases in Korean and try to find toilet paper, among other basic necessities, like wireless internet.
We looked around a few shops, impressed at the sheer quantity and variety of retail and restaurants just on the few blocks near our apartments, and made note of places we wanted to check out later. One of the shops had some basic art/stationary supplies, which made me a happy camper, and another carried the electric tea kettle and rice cooker I might wind up buying later. I got the hang of the money pretty quickly-- the exchange rate is more or less 1,000 won to a US dollar. Even after my massive snack binge, I still had plenty left over from the cheques I'd exchanged at the airport. The rest, I'll just be depositing directly into a Korean bank account, once I figure out how to set one up.
Excuse my tangents. Jet-lagged a bit, remember? Anyway, we found our wifi in the McDonald's, though I couldn't figure out which network actually BELONGED to McDonald's, so I wound up stealing it from the coffee shop next door. Honestly, it would have been just as easy to go to the coffee shop, but I was craving fries and they had this weird green Shrek-inspired McFlurry that was green apple flavored and kind of good...
BUT WE GOT INTERNET. And it was good.
After hitting another 7-11 for toilet paper, we headed back to the apartments. Our landlady gave me a new key card, the use of which she explained to me in very slow Korean and lots of hand gestures. I finally got the idea, thanked her, and paid the key money. Sam had loaned me his power adapter, as mine was the wrong sort for adapting three-pronged US-style plugs, so I could charge my laptop's rapidly dying battery. It was then that I discovered I had two or three wifi connections I could sneak onto RIGHT HERE IN MY APARTMENT. And it was good.
And that brings us to the present. I am sitting here, in my cute little apartment (which is not nearly as girly as Sam's, hilariously enough, but I'll have more on that in my next post), with classical music playing on the radio and a can of soda I can only describe as "melted ice cream-flavored" close at hand, enjoying my free wifi while it lasts (don't worry, I will get my own internet connection here once I figure out how).
So, here, have some pictures. Linking instead of showing them all in one big clump so those of you with dial-up or slow comps can skip them if you want.
I drew this on a a little card with my contact info for Kim while we were still on the plane. (It wasn't actually green; that's just the lighting on the plane.)
Some of the gorgeous view on the drive to Anyang. We had a lot of mist on the mountains and a pretty sunrise.
Here's our apartment building (with luggage piled at the front). It, like pretty much everything in Korea, is very cute.
The interior is even cuter.
This is my apartment!
And here is how it looks now that I've unpacked and rearranged a bit.
Join me next time as I explore Sam's SUPER GIRLY PINK APARTMENT, shopping adventures at Lotte Mart with Cindy, my school (English Village), meeting my other fellow ESL teachers, and more exploration of Anyang and Uiwang city.
Missing you all back home like crazy, but I'm having a lot of fun on this new adventure!
Najungebwa! (That's Korean for "Later!")