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There / Trip : Going Back

January 1, 2008 1 comment

I’m sitting in my parent’s house on the eve of my return trip to Korea and I think I’m more nervous than my first trip over.

The trip back to the US was long…really long. Something like 30 hours from getting up at 5:00 AM in Pohang and getting home at 8:00 PM the same day. The layovers are what really killed me. The flight from Seoul to LAX was nicer than before because there was an empty seat between us. Korean Air seems to be a really nice airline, and I’d recommend them. This time I’m flying all Northwestern. We’ll see how they do. Also this time, I’ll stop over in Tokyo, if only for an hour.

The big chunk of flight is an extra 4 hours this time. Joy to that. I hope the NW Air 747 has the cool little built in entertainment computers. Those are great time wasters, and I feel more at ease being able to watch the slow march of the airplane across the faceless ocean. And watching lots of movies. Can’t forget that.

I’ve now flown enough to have opinions about Airports. Opinions I feel are worth something, at least. LAX sucks. It’s big, uncomfortable, confusing, and feels like a bunch of smaller airports duct-taped together. Denver was nice. Inchon is nice. I personally love MCI (KCI to you mere mortals), with it’s delicious free wireless Internet and omnipresent flight boards. LAX seemed really, really light on the whole “presenting people with information” front.

Getting through Inchon solo was fun. It wasn’t hard. I got to use some of my Korean. The stewardess would ask the Korean next to me (in Korean) about what he wanted to eat, then me in English, so it was fun answering in Korean. Lets see. Did I mention that it was a longggg trip? It was also my first solo run, and it went off mostly hitch-less. Praise God for that, because I draw critical failures to me like they were going out of style.

Flying isn’t nearly as stressful as I figured it would be. The seats are cramped; it’s hard to be comfortable. They pretty much micromanage everything on the cross-ocean flight, manufacturing a night cycle to help you get used to the time zone changes (and the fact that it will either be totally night or day on your trip over, even if it lasts 10 hours). Jet lag going there was nothing. It was cake covered in more cake. Coming back was brutal. I am just now getting over it. Turbulence is common but rarely severe. The movies make it seem rare. I’ve had it on basically every flight besides the ones from KC to Denver (and maybe I won’t have it on the KC to Detroit one).


Here’s some advice:

Plan something besides sleeping for the trip. If possible, something besides sleeping and reading. Even people who like to read rarely like to do it for 13 hours straight in an uncomfortable chair.

Have all your ticket information where you can get to it fast. People need your passport and ticket stuff constantly.

Pee frequently. Especially about 2 hours before you land. Last time, they had to circle for over an hour, in which we couldn’t go to the bathrooms. Get it done when you can.

Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on. Don’t wear a belt.

Be prepared to take your laptop out, constantly. Have your carry on bathroom stuff figured out. It has to be travel sized liquids in a small ziplock bag.

Keep that disposable toothbrush Korean air gives you.

Here’s what I’m worried about: getting a bus from Inchon to Pohang at 9:45 PM+. Also, there are only 1 hour layovers on all my flights, which is awesome, if there are no problems. Again, I’m solo this time. I pray my Korean cellphone’s extra battery works, or I have some place I can charge it (LAX has charging stations, which is the nicest thing I can say for it).


Some observations on Korea I only noticed once I was in the US:

We don’t have cellphone charms. Koreans buy numerous things to put on their cellphones, which have little rings, kind of like a key chain. I got a cellphone charm in KyongJu, so I showed it to people, and they were weirded out by it.

Some people are actually morally opposed to eating dogs bread to be eaten. People I respect. Sure there are a lot of “Meat is Murder” people out there, but these are people who will eat any kind of animal they are used to, but can’t make the leap of eating dog. People have pigs for pets, and eat pigs, but dogs raised like pigs are sacrosanct.

You feel smarter when you speak the language.

I start a lot of stories with “In Korea…” now. It’s pretty much all I have to talk about.

The air is dryer here. My skin is dry and it effects my sleep. But my arms and legs fall asleep less.

My small Korean church isn’t much different than my small American church.

Even though it’s colder here, we complain less about the cold. We also stay inside more.

There are a lot of accents we take for granted as understandable, even if they’re quirky. Like Texas accents.

Driving is easy to pick back up after 5 months of not doing it. I missed the freedom.

There are a lot more public trashcans in the US. Many times more.

Our Internet isn’t THAT much slower than Korea’s. But theirs is cheaper.

We never wear those SARS masks. They wear them all the time in Korea. I stand by the statement that if they wear them in the US, we’ll think they have a highly communicable disease and avoid them.

There is more to talk about, but it’s late, and I have to get up at 5. Again.


Thanks to everyone for your help, for your prayers, and for reading this thing.

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Categories: Being There, The Trip

There / Trip : The Sequal

December 14, 2007 Leave a comment

So it’s now official. I’m coming back. I’ll go back to America on the 17th, as originally planned, but I’ll only be there a week. Then I’m coming back to Korea on the 2nd of January and staying until the 15th of May (a second semester).

This is excellent news. I’m really blessed to be able to come back. Again, ESU is helping me, and in return, I’m going to be working at the Emporia University/Sunlin College English Camp. This will be my second time though, and I hope (and expect) that I’ll be a lot more of a help now than I was the first time. For one thing, I understand a lot more Korean (and even though my friend scoffs when I tell her I understand a little bit of Korean, I understand a lot more than most random Americans). I also know the campus, the people, some of the students, and the city itself. So I’ll be doing what I can to be an asset. Then, hopefully, things will go much as they went this last semester.

With a few notable exceptions. This time, I’m living with Jared, another Sunlin English Teacher and the guy who set up a lot of my contacts here. He’s a great guy, and I look forward to it. Living in a dormitory was both highly redeeming and highly frustrating. It was probably the most frustrating thing about living in Korea (aside from not being able to speak Korean), and it wasn’t even that Korean. It was just hard being an adult, but having a set time I could eat, a set time I could sleep, a highly communal bathroom with set times you could take a shower, and a set time you had to be back. This should be different, and even though I’m not expecting roses and sunshine, it should be a lot more what I’m used to. But I’ll probably be bored more.

David, my Cambodian Roommate, left for home yesterday. Unless he can eventually fulfill his dream of going to the US, I probably won’t see him again.

Chulwon, my other roommate, is going to California, and I don’t know if I’ll see him again, either.

Several of my favorite students are going away to study or joining (being drafted into) the military. So, even though I’ll only be gone a few weeks, I’ll be coming back to something a lot different.

The trip is a bit scary. Last time the whole affair ended up lasting something like 26 hours. This time, I can expect no less. I bought a ticket (5:30 AM) to Inchon, by bus. Should take between 4 and 7 hours. Then a 11ish hour flight to LA, a 4 hour wait in LAX (during the Christmas season) which I’m dreading the most, then back to KC. And from there it’s a paltry 2-ish hour drive home. At least I lose less time to the time zone switch this direction. Then, in a couple of weeks, it’s back again, but this time I’ll be stopping over in Japan and Chicago; two places I’ve not been yet. Should be fun, in a long an dreadfully boring way.

So that’s the updates so far. I’ll be busy when I’m home, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to write up on the trip, and I’m sure they’ll be at least a few minor revelations of the “I forgot that was different” sort when I get back to America.

Categories: Being There, The Trip

Trip : Looonnnngg

July 19, 2007 Leave a comment

The trip is over and done. It was long. It took something like 28 hours before we finally stopped in Pohang. We hopped from KCI to Denver, then LAX and finally Inchon.

KCI was my favorite, not just because it was (sort of) my home town, but because it had comfy chairs and free WIFI. The other places charged for it (Seoul might have been free, I didn’t get to check). Seoul/Inchon’s airport facilities were really nice. Denver had an amazingly elaborate bathroom setup with S curve hallways and 3 separate rooms per restroom. LAX was dingy, crowded, complex and uncomfortable, but a nice worker there pointed us through a shortcut that saved a lot of time waiting in line (Protip: ask for help from people whose job it is to help you. They are usually helpful). Of course, all that saved time was spent sitting on their uncomfortable chairs waiting 3 hours for the flight to board.

Luggage traveled just fine. Mine was randomly selected for search. Nothing happened there. Bring shoes that are easy to take off. This goes double for Korea. I may have to buy new shoes here. But I’ll cover that later.

The planes were 2 Airbus 320s and a Boeing 747. My first airplane ride was on what I termed the moose plane. It was a Pioneer jet, and like (apparently) all the Pioneer jets, it had an animal painted on all the fins. There were ducks, polar bears, even bunnies, which are possibly the least comforting thing to put on a jet. We had a moose. My initial thought was, man, moose are not a good airplane animal. They don’t fly, and they’re pretty slow. I guess they have those long legs, so they’re a bit higher off the ground than a polar bear, but it doesn’t conjure up images of comfortable, affordable flight.

That aside, the flight was good and quite exciting. A bit of turbulence, a half-glass of juice, and we were in Denver. Denver’s airport wasn’t as glitzy as KC’s in some ways. Sure it had moving walkways, which were novel, but not really useful. But it didn’t have style. Or free Internet.

 From Denver we got onto another pioneer jet, this time an Eagle. At first, I thought, great, the eagle is a much better animal. But by the end of the flight, I kind of missed the moose. It’s hard to tip over a moose. The Eagle was named Sarge, and that didn’t help its case. The moose didn’t have a name, at least that I was told. I think he should have had a really good one.

 The 747 was ok. I expected it to be faster, more spacious and stable than the much smaller Airbuses. It was packed to the brim with people. There was almost no leg room. They DID have a really cool system of touch screens in the seat in front of you. You could track the airplane’s speed, altitude, heading, flying time, ETA, Time at Destination, Miles Remaining, Zoom in and out, almost any information you wanted. There were even features like pilot view that didn’t seem to work. But I loved being able to see that stuff and it made the 13 hour flight a bit better. They also had a LOT of in-flight movies you could control and choose from. 40 or so, with subtitles, different country of origins, classics, TV shows, live(ish) news. It was pretty good on that front, and the food served was good, but really awkwardly timed. We ate dinner at around 2 AM LA time, not too long after we got into the air.

The bad part was that I had a window seat, I couldn’t get out without making two others do so, which totally blocked all the isles. It was dark the entire flight. There was turbulence off and on the whole time, and about 20 minutes until landing I needed to pee, but I decided I’d wait, since the seatbelt sign just went on. Then they announced that there was a storm at Inchon. Cue bad turbulence, and an hour and 20 minutes of flying around in which I couldn’t get up to use the rest rooms.

When I got to Inchon, after a short trip through customs, and a long waiting around for our baggage (and a mad dash to the restrooms when we landed), we met with Sunlin Faculty (it’s important to know that it was 4-5AM for them, which meant everyone was tired), who drove us the 5 hours to Sunlin. Koreans drive crazy. Fast, crazy and crazy. I’m sure there are crazier drivers. I’ve seen YouTube videos of it, but never been involved in it. City driving seems to be an absolute free for all, with lots of horns, but no one paying attention. The roads are really tight and everyone is in everyone else’s way, but no one seems to really care. On the highways, everyone drives really, ridiculously fast (and the only speed enforcement seems to be predictable overhead cameras, similar to the ones we use to do quick pass weight scans for Semis on some Interstates). The roads are in good condition, though.

Everyone seems to have a Daewoo, Kia or other Korean branded car. It was later explained to me that this was partly a pride issue, but mostly a “100% Import Tax on Vehicles” issue. We’d probably have a lot fewer foreign built cars in America if it cost twice as much to buy one.

The people at Sunlin were really great, patient and nice. I suppose the rest of the story belongs in a post about being there, so I’ll end this here.

Categories: The Trip