09 January, 2006

The Journey

My journey began early the morning of the 6th. Miraculously, and possibly for the first time—mom can vouch for this—I had already put both my large backpack and my suitcase in the car the night before. So with only a few last-minute shoving of things into small remaining spaces, I was off to the airport. After pulling out exactly one sweatshirt, my suitcase weighed exactly 70 pounds, therefore requiring only the $25 fee as opposed to the $50 fee. Mom and I waved until we couldn’t see each other, then: Boise to Seattle (three seats to myself)—one hour, twenty minutes.

Since BOI-SEA had been a separately booked flight, I had to collect my baggage and check in for a second time. One sweat-soaked trudge and another $25 fee later, I was good to go and waiting for Jen and Laurie who so graciously agreed to see me off. They came and whisked me off to Starbucks for a round coffee and tears (it was all Jen’s fault), and then I was through security and to my gate and all too soon on the plane. The guy next to me was moving his wife and small boy to Kyoto, and that somehow made me feel less alone: Seattle to Tokyo (second seat from aisle)—ten hours, forty minutes.

I was surprised to find Tokyo-Narita a comforting place of familiarity. During my brief layover, I rode the moving sidewalks and listened to the ring of Japanese on the loudspeakers, and for a brief moment I wished I were staying there. I could get some yen and take a taxi…somewhere…But the moment passed, and soon I was on my third plane praying desperately that I would not catch whatever the girl hacking next to me had: Tokyo to Incheon/Seoul (aisle seat)—two hours, and, well, am I even counting anymore?

My plane touched down in darkness, and that was it. I knew I couldn’t turn back, and the thought made me want to join the boy two seats over in vomiting. I got my carry-ons, went through immigration with no problem, got my luggage (it was such a relief to see both bags spill out onto the conveyor), and added the 8th or 9th layer of sweat to my once fresh travel clothes as I apprehensively passed through the final set of doors to my new life. I immediately saw a sign with my name on it, and though I was very hazy from hours of travel and intermittent sleep, thinking back on it now, I could almost swear that the sign said “Mr. Margie Schuh.” It was accompanied by a young man from the guest house, and he helped me get some money from an ATM then packed me into a van: Incheon Int’l Airport to Incheon Guest House—luxuriously short. It was almost 10:00pm the night of the 7th.

I collapsed in my room, and after a small argument with my Oregon Scientific Radio Controlled World Time Clock, I drifted to sleep hoping I had set the darn thing correctly. When I woke at 5:30 in the morning, I realized that I had NOT set the clock properly and was for once thankful for jetlag. I managed to sleep for a little longer before I had to meet someone—I think he was just a hired driver—downstairs for my next ride: Incheon Guest House to Seoul Expressbus Station—one hour.

My driver bought my bus ticket for me and made sure I got on the right bus. It was remarkably comfortable, and I buried myself in a book. As we were taking off, I saw a man get up and move to the seat across the aisle from mine. I could tell that he was trying to catch my eye but kept my nose in my book. He finally said something in English which I couldn’t ignore, and I tried to respond politely despite his poor accent and my jetlag. I usually humor people who want to chat, especially while I’m traveling but after his several attempts at conversation over a period of time between which I tried to read, I simply had to put my headphones on my drown out the awful Korean variety show that was being piped through a speaker above my head. The rest of the trip was uneventful: Seoul Expressbus Station to Gangneung Bus Terminal—three hours.

Julian, who owns the school, and her husband picked me up and took me to the school. I was slightly confused when they unloaded my bags there instead of at my apartment, but then I thought maybe my apartment was above the school. It turns out that Julian doesn’t actually have a place for me yet, and I’ll be staying with Liz, the other female teacher, until she finds something. I am less than thrilled with this, as all I want to do is be alone, unpack, and go to sleep. But what can I do, huh?

Because my last meal was consumed sometime in the vast blob of ‘yesterday,’ Julian took me to get my first Korean food—pork cutlet and omelet with marinated rice and bland soup with sprouts. On our way out the door, the cook handed us little things that looked like rocks which were really small sweet potatoes.

When we got back to the school, I met Liz. She’s twenty-two, a history major from New Mexico, very no-nonsense with a cynical sense of humor. We have very different personalities and less in common than I had hoped, but she’s nice and will be a good solid companion while I’m here. We lugged my stuff to her one room apartment above the fish restaurant across the street from the school where she has been kind enough to give me her bed.

Pictures: Airport, guest house

No comments: