Part. I The Journey.
There were several times I thought, during the 24 hour trip over here, what it must have been like a hundred years ago. I travelled most of the way to Korea at 30,000 feet and 600 miles an hour. I got halfway around the world in about one day. It was utterly exhausting. Trains and steamers, while a slow way to travel, were likely at least a little comfortable.
I spent Monday night in the ER at Memorial. I had a swelling in my tender bits that would not go away. This has happened before. Some of you may remember the ultrasound I had hanging proudly on my refrigerator for several years. I waited til the last minute in the vain hope it would fix itself, but I was in severe discomfort by Monday PM and decided that if I had to get medical attention when I got over here it would be difficult or impossible. (This turned out to be quite wrong.) Long story short, painful exam, painful ultrasound, excruciating shot in the ass, and home at 2:30 AM, two hours before it was time to get up and drive to St. Louis.
When we got to St. Louis I was in no shape for human companionship. My poor mother, who drove me, is a first ballot sainthood candidate already, and her patience and compassion at this point has only reconfirmed the already well established fact. I fall asleep in the boarding lounge after asking a kindly neighbor to make sure that I got onto our flight. The flight there was uneventful. I drew a window seat for the first and third legs, and it was fun to look out at Illinois and Indiana as we flew over.
At Detroit I got to walk down the concourse (about a mile and a half) to my gate, located it, and went to find some grub. There was a Japanese joint a way back and I went there. It was packed. There was one guy in front of me, and as some tables were clearing, I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing one so I could get in quicker. He said sure. When we got sat down I asked him where he was from/going and he said he was from/going back to Busan. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, I picked his brain for sure. He was in his twenties. He is an assistant in the ESL at Busan International, the most prestigious university in Korea. I got a lot of good info from him and we talked from time to time for the rest of the flight.
We flew with the sun over the Canadian Rockies, over Alaska, and down the Eastern seaboard of the Asian continent. I sat in the middle section. The plane had three seats by each window and a bank of four in the middle. It was possible to get fairly comfortable by reclining your seat and sticking your legs out under the seat in front. I slept a bit, watched a couple of movies. They fed us twice, unremarkable food made remarkable by boredom, like prison food. I spent most of the flight talking with the girl sitting next to me. She was quite a remarkable young lady. She currently resides in South Carolina and attends UNC and is a double major in Economics and Math. She is 17 and graduated from a prestigious math and sciences academy. She was on her way back to Shanghai to visit friends and relatives. She dislikes the US and plans to return to China asap. We talked about a lot of things. She was very curious about Lit Crit, saying that she finds English to be the most difficult academic challenge she has ever faced. We talked a lot about the intersection between the arts and humanities and ended up agreeing that economics is every bit as interdisciplinary as literary studies and that this was one of our favorite things about our respective disciplines.
They had a screen on the plane that showed the plane's prospective route and traced its progress with a little airplane icon. I have never in my life seen anything move so slow. I tried to will myself not to look at it but it was impossible. It also showed altitude, velocity, miles travelled, miles remaining, projected arrival time, and outside temp. At its coldest it got to -80 F. I kept finding myself doing the math in my head and finding fault with the arrival time, but when we got to Japan the captain speaking told us that we were being put in a holding pattern (430 loud groans) and we ended up landing two minutes late.
The airport in Tokyo was amazing. There was the incredibly practical (five dollar shower rooms with hot towels in a warmer and organic shampoo and body wash...I had no choice at this point), to the incredibly weird (flavoured oxygen bar) to the incredibly beautiful (who had the brilliant idea to put the Japanese National Museum of Origami in the airport?). There were a couple of frustrating mix-ups (they had overbooked the flight and kept making increasingly desperate pleas for volunteers to stay the night. My Busanese acquaintance took them up on it, getting a $400 voucher for his next flight in compensation. They also changed the gate several times without telling anyone, making the ticket situation all the more tenuous. I finally gambled on gate 27 and won. Several people at the back of the line got bumped against their will.), but after we finally go into the air it was all good. I was in the last seat of the last row on the plane.
It was at this point that I saw the sun set. I had seen it rise over Illinois at 6:00 AM on the way to the airport. It was now 22 hours later. I had set a record for my longest day.
I will never forget the sight of Busan as we came down through the clouds on our approach. The city, to appreciate its bizarre geography, has to be seen at night. Busan is a huge city that has absorbed about 7 large mountains. Koreans love neon and they never shut it off. Viewing it from the air the black masses of the mountains form stark voids in the sea of lights that back each seem all the more extreme. It was an incredible sight.
I got off the plane last. I navigated immigration, exchanged a thousand dollars for 1.1 million won (in their largest currency, the 10000 note, which meant I have in my possession a huge stack of bills), and got my luggage (yay, it isn't lost. After they changed the gate the third time in Japan I had pretty much written it off). Jenny, the director for the foreign teachers at my school, met me at the airport. We went to my hotel (my apartment won't be ready til Saturday) and then met the assistant director, for dinner at a BBQ place nearby. It was a beef one. (There are beef or pig BBQ's, never both.) They brought out a bucket of burning charcoal and put it in a recess in the middle of the table and we grilled the tender marinated rib meat and ate it wrapped in sesame leaves with grilled garlic, kim chi, seasoned noodles, red onion, and a variety of sauces. I am forgetting some stuff. I also forgot my camera. Next: my first day at the school.
27 June 2008
Part. I The Journey.