Woke up at 4:30 AM. Chris had already been awake on and off since 2:20. We were both a little nervous about leaving Colorado and the upcoming journey had much to be worried about. Fortunately, I didn’t throw up – unlike the morning we left Germany I turned my alarm clock off, calmly walked to the bathroom and then unexpectedly threw up.
We had already packed up the night before but we had to bring all the bags down to the lobby. Everyone there looked awfully judgmental at the amount of things we had. When we loaded the bags onto the hotel shuttle we became increasingly concerned that we had too much. Yes, it is a lot of bags but we don’t intend to be able to fit into most clothes/shoes – so we need everything we can get.
The night before, Chris checked us in online and found out we got to use Asiana’s rules – not United’s. This made our bags all free except the third one which was $200. Not too bad. Chris paid the fee online so the next morning at the airport meant we only had to hand the bags over and prove we had passports. Pretty easy.
Chris and I were separated on the flight from Den-LAX, I was sandwiched between two men and had to keep myself very small to convenience them. By the end of the 18 hours of travel my arms were fatigued from pulling them in all the time. I’m just going to start resting my arms on people at this point.
LAX – Welcome to Hell
Our boarding passes, printed in Denver, had a relatively alarming secondary boarding pass paper that had directions. You know it’s going to be bad if you have to get directions with your tickets.
The directions themselves were very inadequate and made a very small effort to explain how to get out of one terminal to the international terminal. So we got off the plane and were completely stuck in the terminal. There were absolutely no directions to get to the shuttle and the terminal was circular. Which by the third circumnavigation you’re about ready to just sit down and wait for a rescue party.
This was even more stressful because we had only 2 hours to get to our flight. We actually had to leave the entire airport, take a shuttle for 15 minutes. Re-check in with Asiana, go through security again, and then we would finally be where we needed to be. This was insanely stressful as we also didn’t know, that, if we were supposed to leave the terminal, how the hell were our bags going to follow us? We had the mental image of all 5 bags – everything we own, just rotating forever on the baggage claim.
We made it through all of it with about 15 minutes to spare. That’s cutting it pretty close in my book. Fortunately all the bags transferred on their own accord – we didn’t have to get them. We did almost have to pay twice for the bag through – since Chris was clever and paid for it online we didn’t have a receipt.
“No we paid online”
Blank stare. “Okay, I go check”
She figured it out. But she was very surprised we were going to Korea. She assumed we were just connecting there. This would be the beginning of many people asking us if we were going to stay in Korea.
The worst part is we had been power walking all over the place wearing 3 jackets (Colorado style). LAX was 76F and the power was out in the international terminal. This meant no water fountains, no access to bathrooms and most shops were shut. Also the AC was dead. I was a stinky sweaty mess and I was not looking forward to a 13 hour flight to just baste in my own juices and smells. I took my shirt off – so I was wearing just an undershirt – but Koreans don’t exactly like exposed shoulders. A couple elderly Koreans didn’t look too happy to see my undershirt so I chose to put my shirt back on.
We were only 2 of about 20 westerners on the plane. The rest (of about 400) were all Koreans. My favorite quote from Indiana Jones – “we are pilgrims in an unholy land” – we were just towering above everyone while boarding. People were staring, a few asked us if we are going to Korea. Everyone was surprised we were there.It was our first time being out of place that much.
I kept a journal on the plane. I don’t really feel like converting it into a more readable post. Sorry:
“Boarding was quick for such a larger plane but now we’re just queueing to take off. Annoying. Already going to be sitting for 13 hours but now its more like 14. It’s been fun to see and hear Hangul [Korean] so far – all the magazines, tickets, announcements. Everyone speaking it.
Asiana is really nice so far. Free slippers, headphones, pillow, blankets. Something just smelled really good, whatever it was I hope we get to eat it soon/later. The flight attendants are very pretty and nice. They wear cute aprons when they serve food – always smiling.
Took off. Ocean right next door. Has a strange matte film over it – pollution?
Just kidding, we turned back around so we would be flying over California, cut across ocean towards Alaska. We’re going to be over American landmass for a while.
Seat mate got up so we both had a chance to go to the bathroom. There was free mouthwash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and face toner. When we got out of the bathroom they gave us hot towels. Amazing.
I was just going to start a book when lunch (dinner?) came. Choice between beef steak or Bibimbab. Chris got bimimbap which came with rice and veggies/meat (the bimimbap itself), sesame oil and pepper paste to stir in – and an instructional card of how to make the Bimimbap. [literally a rice dish that you stir]. He got side dishes of 2 slices of pumpkin, some melon cubes, a small container of kimchi. It came with a bowl with a slice of fish – they poured hot water over it to make it into a fish soup side dish. He was going to get whisky as a drink (for free) but settled for ginger ale.
I got an amazing dinner that I consider to be my proper Valentine’s day meal. White wine to drink, with a real live piece of steak! Blanched carrots and broccoli, potato slices, caramelized onions and gravy. For side dishes there was a roll, two different types of salads, and lemon cheese cake.
Both our meals were amazing – our only Valentines day dinner – so Chris and I split our desserts (my cake, his fruit).
Initially we couldn’t figure out why our plate had a little red tin coffee cup. It just seemed in the way and it was empty. Well, at the end, they come around with coffee and tea. You put your cup on their tray, they pour it for you, and hand it back on the tray – the tray already has cream and sugar. So you can take what you need. They can actually serve 400+ people coffee/tea two or three times in the course of like 5 minutes. Asiana has everything down to a very tasteful science.
After I read a book for a while, stood in line to pee for about 10 minutes – great to stand through. Then I watched a Korean movie “Flu” about an outbreak of a mutated Avian flu. Not scary but a little disturbing and a fun movie. Not the best when people around you start coughing, though.
6 hours 2o minutes remaining.
Ughhhhhh. I’ve made it this far without looking at the clock but I was done – how much longer I asked like an asshole. Well, jerk, you’re only half way done – thats what you get for looking at the clock.
Half. Way. Done. I have exhausted my entertainment. Our specific plane doesn’t have entertainment on demand so 6 movies play at once, when one finishes it doesn’t reset. Oh no, we have to be collectivist Asia about it so no movie can restart without all the other movies finishing first. So you have to wait 20+ minutes. I’ve watched Gravity about twice in 4 different out-of order sessions. As far as I’m concerned she crashes onto earth, fights to get into space, and then drifts around for a bit before crashing into the earth again.
6 hours remaining
are you f***ing kidding me? It’s only been 20 minutes?
Kickass! Another hour down. Wrote a little, read a little, watched the beginning of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” absolute shit. Watched some more of Gravity – interesting but horrible dialogue. I can’t tell if I’m criticizing harder because I’m board. That seems counter intuitive – you would think you would be so hungry for the tiniest scrap of entertainment that you would deplane thinking you had just witnessed film history. Rather I find myself hyper critical of movies. My life is boring and so movies need to go all out to entertain me at this point.
They brought food! Thank god, that killed an hour even though it was just a sandwich. A delicious one though – brioche bread, salami, cream cheese.
Chris asked to see out the window- (the shades were down) Bam! suddenly Russian winter. Got to watch Russia for a while
The sun has been with us the whole time. The way we’re flying the night is just chasing us. We’re only going to finally have darkness when we land in Korea.
3:47 remaining. Send entertainment.
Is North Korea restricted airspace? Because our projected-journey line on the map shows us going right over it.
2 hours remaining
We are taking a very wide birth around North Korea. This probably adds that extra 2 hours to the trip.
More food! Something to do and we shouldn’t have to worry about food too much until we get to the hotel. Hooray!
Almost there!!!! We’re descending.”
We couldn’t see much from the plane. We watched the sun set and then flew over some water. Couldn’t really see lights or anything from the side of the plane we were on. One of the smoothest landings I’ve ever experienced. So maybe people can stop making jokes and comments about Asiana?
I could barely get my shoes back on my feet were so swollen from the lack of water, walking, anything.
While Incheon boasts one of the quickest immigrations in the world, we got screwed. We easily waited for 50 minutes. The lines kept changing, there were lines for just Korean passports and then two lines for foreign passports but they kept opening new lines because there were many more foreigners. There was a nice man in a suit who kept redirecting people and trying to open more lines to get the Wagook (foreigners) going through faster. One lady in front of us had an American passport but was Korean – she got cut off and erupted on the nice man in the suit. Their argument got more and more heated – soon it was a full on shouting match with pointing and gesturing. We understood enough Korean “waygook” (foriegners) and “Hanguk” (Korean) and “Miguk” (the United States) to gather what was going on “Well if you were Korean you could come over to this line but for now its a line for Koreans!!” “I am Korean I just have an American passport!” “Then you aren’t Korean!!!!!!”
It was pretty comical. Another man in a suit arrived to defuse the situation and was sent away. They finally stopped shouting and we were processed.
Our bags all arrived. That was easy. The hard part was marching almost a mile to get them to the place to store them until the 20th. We arrived at one, it was full, so we had to walk all the way back. “Oh god, what if the other one is full!?!?!” but it went fine. By now we had been about 24 hours without sleep so we were confused and basic tasks were getting more and more difficult. A Korean employee had to help me but the luggage cart away (no more difficult than returning your shopping cart when you’re done with it)- I was pretty embarrassed.
We converted all our money in a fit of sleepless rage. I still do not know if we got really screwed by bad exchange rates. I will never know and don’t want to know. It seemed like a good idea at that moment.
We caught the airport express train very easily. We knew what was going on better than a Korean family that kept trying to run onto the trains that were dropping people off so they could be done for the night. Maybe it’s just because Chris and I are more familiar with trains from Germany – but this was one of the easiest parts of the journey. We kept falling asleep on the train but didn’t have to worry about missing our stop because it was the only stop. An incredibly loud announcement woke us up just as we were arriving so it worked out well.
We were boasting to everyone about how nice our hotel was and it was only 5 minutes away from Seoul Station. Yeah, whatever. EVERY SINGLE THING was different from the 3 different directions we had read online. They must have redone things recently because all the landmarks were gone and the exits were different. We made it out of Seoul Station where we should’ve. We cross the street and walk way too far in the wrong direction. Bags threatening to break on cobblestones (sound familiar), we’re lost. We decide to break down and get a cab – we ask one “Hotel Manu?” he draws an imaginary Hangul letter in the air – he doesn’t speak English and the only way this is going to work is if we hand him a paper with the hangul address/name on it. I try pronouncing the address to him – we both laugh. I die a little inside. We try “MAHnu” or “MahNEUW” but nothing sounds familiar. We move onto another taxi driver.
Most are ignoring us- we stand right in front of their doors but they don’t want to deal with us. We walk back to the Seoul Station, we’re lost still. Chris asks someone who says we can walk up about a million stairs and we’ll be there. Yeah, no. He finally gets a cab for us – a super delux cab that costs more on average – and because of one way streets we were right next to it but still had to drive 3 more minutes to get there. Maybe we got screwed. Only Chris knows what the final price was and I won’t let him tell me. It sucked. We were very tired and were taking our stresses out on eachother. What else could we do? We were 26 hours without sleep and we were the only two people in the whole city who could do anything about the situation.
We checked in and got a pretty nice room on the 8th floor.
We went back out for food at 11:30 pm. We went to a GS25 – a convenience store.
We both picked a ramen at random – mine was no real discernible flavor. I’m guessing chicken because it was in an orange container and orange seems to be almost universal for chicken. Chris picked the red one because the chef on it had a face you could trust – it was on the brink of being too spicy to eat. I got chocolate milk “Ghana Choco Milk” because that seemed appropriate.
When we bought the food, the man gave us wooden chopsticks for free because we were buying ramen. Thought that was pretty cool.
We went home, ate our dinner – Valentines day dinner at this point. We didn’t bring toothpaste but I had cleverly taken an Asiana toothbrush/paste combo. We got to enjoy “Bamboo Salt” flavored toothpaste. Tastes like chalk, mint, and strangely bubblegum all at the same time. 8/10 – we would actually probably buy this.
Then fell asleep for a deep deep sleep to replace all the sleep we had lost in the past 2 days.
Just kidding, we woke up 6 hours later feeling rested but foggy. It was 7 am local time.
We watched the sun rise in the reflection of a building outside our window and tried to figure out where the hell we were and what we were doing. 🙂