The plane ride to Korea was absolutely wonderful, I really cannot say enough good things about Asiana Air and I hope to fly with the again in the near future.
I had two dinners aboard the flight, talk about complete immersion into Korean culture:
- my first dinner consisted of the famous Korean dish of Bibimbap, basically bowl of pure goodness (steamed rice, various veggies, minced beef), some sort of soup, and kimchi.
- my second dinner consisted of spicy octopus with steamed rice and fresh fruit.
- Breakfast consisted of some ultra processed cheese (think velveeta) and a bread roll, I ended up taking the cheese off and just eating bread.
I really didn’t know the protocol for eating any of these meals, so I ended up following the little Korean girl’s lead who sat next to me (I tried to make conversation with her beforehand but she seemed very uninterested in interacting).
My seat was in the farthest back row of the plane and in the aisle. Little did I know how fortunate I was to arrive in one piece at Seoul. For those who do not know, this was the exact plane that made the ill-fated journey back to San Francisco only a few hours later. The crash occurred rear first, tearing the tail from the plane. My seat, only hours before, was in the last row of that plane. Words cannot describe the horrific shock I felt and still feel to this day.
I arrived at the airport completely exhausted because the people in front of me talked the entire 14 hour plane ride and so loudly that I couldn’t even drown out their chatter by blasting Hans Zimmer.
Going through security and immigration was a breeze, they scanned my finger prints and my eyes. I then proceeded to claim my bags, which ended up taking a good portion of time. I honestly began to freak out as I was only one of about a handful of travelers left waiting for my bags to drop into the baggage claim. Finally they appeared and I transferred my money into Korean Won. The sliding doors to the public portion of the airport were loaded with people anxiously awaiting the arrival of loved ones. To my complete surprise, I frantically lugged my bags through the doors to find my name written on a sign and my dear friend Kang excitedly waving! It was such a relief to see a familiar face after 18 plus hours of travel, especially considering I hadn’t even thought through where and how I was going to buy my bus ticket to Gwangju.
Kang and I had about an hour to catch up over much needed bottles of water before I was off again on a 3 hour bus ride to Gwangju. The bus was much more comfortable than the plane, and quieter too. The ride through the countryside made me think back to my first train ride to Tilburg and how it made me reminisce of home. Again, I did not sleep on the bus for fear of missing my bus stop.
Gwangju bus stop is in the center of the city and the bus stop itself seemed like a huge shopping mall! At this point, I was beyond tired but no one was at the station waiting for me. Luckily, I was able to send a few emails out to my recruiter to let them know I made it and was waiting for someone from my school (Korea has excellent public wifi). About a half hour of receiving questioning looks from passersby and pinching myself to stay awake, Michael arrived to pick me up. We drove back to the school and during the entire drive I was completely awestruck with the lights and buildings of the city I was about to call home. I’m not in Michigan anymore…
I arrived at my apartment and at this point I had lost all track of time because my watch was still in USA eastern time and my phone was just a complete and utter failure at everything. We lugged my bags up four flights of stairs (there is no elevator…took me back to the days in Verbs) where I ran into one of my co-teachers hosting a house warming party because she arrived only a few weeks before me. We were only in my apartment for a few seconds when Michael said he wanted to take me to the school. I was a sweaty mess still in yoga pants and a sweatshirt I had worn for almost 24 hours, so much for making good first impressions.
Michael and I drove to the school, which is only a block away from my apartment, where I met the school’s director and a few others. The director invited us all out for an authentic Korean meal. I felt awful because I was so exhausted that I was struggling to make conversation, but the meal was fantastic! We sat on the ground and cooked what looked like thick strips of bacon on grills set into the table and then wrapped them in lettuce and added a few vegetables.
I finally was led back to my apartment where I unpacked a few things and passed out only to awaken seven hours later completely refreshed…needless to say, I’m still feeling the effects of jetlag.
It’s only been about five days since my arrival, but I can honestly say I love this city and the people I work with. I am so fortunate and grateful to start this new chapter of my life in Gwangju, South Korea and will not take any moment of this adventure for granted. Life is beautiful.
Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life.
-Lawrence K. Fish