Sunday, August 12, 2012

Korea Trip, Part I

It's about time I posted something about our trip to Korea, right? Today I'm going to talk mostly about the travel part, so no sight-seeing adventures will be recounted.

Part I of Day One. Day One and the Day Before Day One, If You Count Day One as the first day we were in Korea, and the day before that as the day that we left for Korea, although it felt like one day, and between the time difference and the amount of time we spent on the plane, I don't actually know what Day One was.

Let's start over.

Tuesday, the day we arrived at the airport here in the States.
We were, of course, up late the night before trying to finish packing. Getting all of our food in our suitcase proved more difficult than we had thought. On Tuesday, our mom drove us the airport, which was nice. She was so nervous, but she tried not to make us feel guilty for leaving. It was really sweet to see her put her brave face on. It was clearly very hard on her, but it was just as clear that she didn't want us to feel bad about going on the trip.

We were a little worried that our bags were over the weight limit, but thankfully they were ok. We had a suitcase full of food, for one thing, and we couldn't leave any of that behind, lest we starve while in Korea. 

By the way, the Korean Air employees who checked us in could not have been nicer. They were friendly and were either interested or pretending to be interested in the fact that we were flying over for our friend's wedding. They seemed to think that this was strange and very generous of us. Maybe I would agree if MJ were getting married in a dangerous, hard-to-get-to location that I'd never otherwise visit, but I had already wanted to visit Korea, so it didn't feel very generous. Yes, it's expensive, but since we'd been planning to go next year anyway, it's not like I wouldn't have spent the money. On the other hand, I'm not going to lie, it would have been nice if we could have saved up for it rather than wiping out a lot of our savings to go. But then, we really didn't want to miss her wedding. We felt lucky that she wanted us there.

Anyway, we went through security and then found a Travelex place to change money.  It was only after we changed our cash that we realized that although they waived their "fee," we weren't actually getting as much as we would if they were just straight-up giving us the exchange rate. Oh, we poor, naive, inexperienced international travellers. Word of advice: exchange your money at your bank if you can get it without fees and at the actual rate, or pay for stuff on your trip using a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

We then sat down to wait for our flight and to try not to panic at the thought of being cooped up in a plane for 14 hours. While we waited, our grandmother called to say what I'm sure she feared were her final goodbyes.  She ONCE AGAIN took the time to tell both me and RR that we should not, under any circumstances, fall in love with a Korean man and decide to stay over there. You know, in the eight days we'd be there.  Because I'm 14, apparently. Or in a movie, maybe, because only in fiction would I be ok with uprooting my entire life and moving thousands of miles away from my family for someone I've known for a maximum of 8 days.

I told her that 8 days was not enough time for that, she said, "well, you know, love at first sight," and when I replied that that wasn't real love, she said that I was already mature at my age. Of 36. I'm 36. And she's surprised that I might have a mature outlook on something.  She always talks to me exactly the same way she did when I was in the fifth grade.  This is why I don't talk to my grandmother very often. I love her, and I don't want to kill her, so we have boundaries.

So, that's how that phone call went.  If that plane had gone down, my last thoughts about my grandmother would have been words that she probably thinks I don't know.  RR and I spent a few minutes fuming and then went back to mildly panicking.

Oh, and by the way, the flavor of Dramamine has not improved since our trip to Portland last year.

Anyway, our seats were waaay at the back of the plane, the next-to-last row.  We didn't mind because it meant we were close to the bathrooms.  This is a big deal for us considering that we prefer to throw up in private, and throwing up is always a possibility when we fly. 

Since nothing particularly interesting happened on the plane, I won't recap the entire 14 hours for you.  Here are the highlights. I got to see two Korean movies that I'd been wanting to see (more on that in another post), two American movies that I'd wanted to see, an episode of "Friends," and half an episode of "House." I still don't know what that lady was dying from since I didn't get to see the end. I guess it just will be one life's mysteries for me, at least until I find the episode on Netflix or (*cough*) (side-eye) elsewhere on the Internet.  One real-life medical mystery on the plane was what the old guy behind me was dying from. I assume he was dying, since he coughed the entire flight.  Between he and the sneezing coughers across the aisle from us, it was clear that we were in the section that would die first if our flight was the start of a movie about a killer disease spreading across the planet.  At the beginning, you have twin sisters chatting excitedly about their first international flight, on their way to their friend's wedding, and then you see the sick, coughing old man behind them, and right away, you're leaning over the popcorn to whisper to your friend, "No way they're gonna make it to that wedding."

Of course, if it was a "House" episode, we'd be the red herring, and it would be the quiet Korean student-type sitting next to us that got sick.

Anyway, back to the flight.  In a move of epic stupidity, we ate one of the meals they provided to us. We'd ordered the Jain vegetarian meal because that wouldn't have garlic in it, and we figured that was our best bet of the meal options as far as being possibly safe to eat.  But I'd turned down the lunch because I wanted to fast and sleep (because if I'm awake, I'm eating) until it was breakfast time in Korea (by the way, from my very limited experience, if you want to avoid jet lag, this does seem to work). So when they came by with dinner, I felt guity about not eating, so I did. How can you order a special meal and then reject it? It was rice with some kind of bean curry and some kind of spinach curry, and it was delicious.  And it also had something in it that I reacted to pretty much immediately.  But I ate a little bit more anyway, because I didn't want to be rude.  In retrospect, as RR pointed out, anaphylaxis while flying over the ocean is not a situation you want to volunteer for, so us taking a chance on that meal was really, really, really dumb.

And we still did it again on the flight back, by the way. We have decided that the only way to avoid doing it again is to just not order a meal and to bring our own food.  We will do a lot of very stupid things in an effort to avoid offending someone.

Poor RR actually did get sick at one point. It was right around the time when the flight attendant came by to tell us about the lunch meal options.  She asked us what we'd like (I guess before she realized we had ordered the special meal), and RR just said, "Can I get by," because the attendant was blocking the aisle with her cart.  I thought maybe RR didn't realize she was talking to us, because I knew RR wouldn't be rude enough to ignore a question, so I said, "she's trying to tell us about the meal options."  Then I looked at RR's face, which clearly said, "OH NO OH NO OH NO OH NO OH NO," and I realized that she really really needed to get to the bathroom immediately, or else there would be public vomitting. What happened then is a little vague in my mind because all I could think about was helping RR to get to the bathroom, but I think I told the flight attendant that we didn't want anything just so she'd leave.  RR was able to make to the bathroom, where she did throw up, but then she was fine after that.

All in all, we handled the cabin fever pretty well--for us.  There was one part where RR said we had two or three hours left, and I had to tell her that we actually had 8 hours left. I thought she was going to cry. I didn't blame her. I seriously hate being trapped somewhere. It's not claustrophobia, which I definitely do not have. It's just being cooped up somewhere with no option of leaving. If it were possible to safely escape a plane by tunnelling out of it Shawshank-style, I'd have done it.

But we made it. Yea! When we got off the plane on what was now Wednesday, we had no clue where to go or what to do, so we made like sheep and followed the people in front of us.  That got us to the immigration area, where signs told us that we needed our passports and an "arrival card." I had no idea what an arrival card was or where to get one.  For a scary minute, I was sure they were going to make us take the next flight back to the States. I had a real sense of panic, not even because I wouldn't get to see Korea or MJ's wedding, but because there was no way I could get back on a plane any time soon. But then I reminded myself that I'd checked and re-checked whether we need any kind of visa or other special document to travel to Korea. We finally figured out that we needed to fill out a card that was on a nearby table, and a few minutes later, I got my first ever stamp in my passport. It was clearly much more exciting for me than for the bored immigration employee who took my thumbprints and stamped my passport.

We managed to find our luggage and then MJ, who was (thankfully) meeting us at the airport. It was a happy reunion and a little surreal.  Being with her was actually part of why it took a couple of days for it to really sink in that we were in a foreign country.  We have spent so much time with her in the local K-town that it felt like that's where we were. We're out with MJ somewhere where all the people are Korean, all the people are speaking Korean, all the signs are in Korean? Oh, we must be in K-town. 

Anyway, we had to find the cell phone rental place that I'd reserved a phone with. It was, of course, at the exact opposite end of the terminal as where we'd picked up our luggage.  And then after getting the phone, we had to go back in the direction we came from to get to the train.  At MJ's suggestion, we stopped to use the bathroom by the cell phone place.  There's something sweet about the fact that our friend knows us so well that she can look at us chugging down our bottled water and say, "it's going to be at least an hour until we get to the hotel, so I think you should go to the bathroom now." And she was right, of course.

On the way to the train, we had to get out of the way of a group of girls being followed by papparazzi.  At the time, we had no idea who they were, but now we're pretty sure it was the Wonder Girls. That was our one and only celebrity sighting the whole time we were there. Very sad not to randomly run into Uhm Tae Woong. Not that I expected to, seeing as I am not a stalker and don't know where he hangs out, but it would have been nice.

Once we got into Seoul, we switched to a taxi, the driver of which had trouble finding our hotel.  We didn't mind, though, because it meant we got to see more of the city.  We finally found it and got checked in.  The hotel room was pretty nice. It was certainly roomy. And it was right across the street from a 7-11, which is always convenient. 

RR and I each took a quick shower, and then we headed out to dinner.  MJ had heard of a place nearby that had good ssambap, which she knows we like.  The restaurant was pretty close to the hotel, but we still had a hard time finding it.  I'd like to say it was because it was in this little alley that wasn't well-marked, which is true, but the truth is that none of us are good at finding places.  And the three of us all trying to figure it out together does not help.  MJ had to call the place to get directions, of course. 

But it was worth it.  The food was good, and I finally got to try that famous Korean beef that is mentioned in, no kidding, every single Korean t.v. show I have ever seen. It tasted like beef.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and crashed.  Well, we turned on the television and watched some random show for a few minutes, but then we crashed.  And that was pretty much it for our first day in Korea.

On a side note, I'm still sick with something. Now the doctor thinks maybe the strep test was a false positive and this is something else. She sent off a regular, non-rapid throat culture to verify and in the meantime put me on prednisone. This has helped with my headache but not the sore throat. I really, really hope it's strep throat because that could be killed with another round of antibiotics, and as an alternative, the doc definitely mentioned something about "sinuses" and "yeast infection," which I don't like the sound of. So, fingers crossed for something treatable with antibiotics!


RR said...

Agreed, the beef tasted exactly like beef. And 엄태웅! Why did we not see Uhm Tae Woong while walking around Seoul? Surely he hangs out in Insadong all the time, right? How did we miss him?

Deals On Wheels said...

I hope you don't have the sinus thing, too. This is, of course, coming from someone who just had a sinus infection from APRIL until JULY. I had started to forget what it was like to swallow without pain.

Keep the Korea stuff coming! I've never been to anywhere on or near Asia, so I am living vicariously through you and RR.

JLR said...

Ugh. I do not want what you had. No, thank you. I am rejecting that.