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« Korea: Where Am I Now? | Main | Slow Progress Is Still Progress »

Korea: Getting There

On December 6th, Gwen and I moved into our new house. On the 8th, my boss's boss came into my office and asked me if I had any personal commitments in the next few weeks. It turned out that one of our customers in South Korea was having a problem with our software, and they were asking for someone to come and fix it. I wasn't his first choice to deal with it, but for a variety of reasons I was the best available choice. The timing was less than ideal for me, but I knew it was a great opportunity.

The only problem was that my passport was due to expire in a week. Gwen and I had originally gotten our passports to go to London as a part of a college class, and that turned out to be exactly ten years prior to the start of my trip. (Amusingly enough, every time I looked at my passport photo my first thought was not of how ridiculous my hair was but to memory that Gwen and I had had a huge fight right before we went to the Kinko's in the Rice Village to get our pictures taken. The mind is strange.) Fortunately, it is possible to get a same-day passport renewal if you go to one of the nine or so passport agencies around the country. There's one in Los Angeles, which is why I found myself driving over the Sepulveda Pass at 6:45 AM the next morning. Gwen and I had gone to down to Newbury Park to have dinner with our friends who live there, so I just stayed overnight there, cutting about an hour off of my early morning drive. Once I got to the agency, everything went smoothly, and I walked away from the Will-Call window a few hours later with my new passport in hand.

Over the next few days, the details got ironed out, and I left Santa Barbara on Saturday heading for Seoul, with a connection through LAX on Asiana Airlines. Sadly, my in-flight entertainment console was broken, so I didn't get to watch the various Korean films that were available. On the plus side, I did get this:

The menu (yes, they gave me a real menu on this flight) had two choices for lunch: Western style or Korean style. I got the Korean style lunch, consisting of bibimbap, fish soup, steamed sweet pumpkin, fruit, and, of course, kimchi. I'm a big believer in eating as locally as possible when I travel, and this was a great start. I was pleased to discover that the gochujang, the red chili paste that is very common in Korean food and is normally mixed with bibimbap, came in a tube, allowing me to add as much or as little as I wanted. I'd not had a lot Korean food before, so I wasn't sure how spicy it could get. As it turned out, I was able to add to the whole tube without dying, thanks in part to the various Korean beers on the plane (including the three major brands: Cass, OB, and Hite).

What did nearly kill me, however, was the flying time. From LAX to Seoul Incheon took fourteen hours. The longest flight I'd been on before was ten. At the ten hour mark, I was actually feeling pretty good, but the last three were pretty rough. I didn't want to sleep because it was going to about 6 PM when I landed, so I was determined to stay awake. Thanks to my supply of books, audiocourses, and podcasts, I was able to make it.

One more note about the flight: because of the prevailing winds, we flew much farther north than even the Great Circle route would have taken us. We basically followed the US coastline all the way to Alaska, cross the Bering Sea, and down the Kamchatka Peninsula. That was unexpected and certainly contributed to the length of the journey.

Once we landed in Seoul, I got through Customs and Immigration with no difficulty, and I headed immediately for an ATM. I'm always nervous about trying to use my credit cards in foreign countries, as it sometimes seems to require black magic to make them work, so I always like to have cash on hand. The first ATM I walked up to had a whole bunch of instructions written in hangul (the Korean alphabet) and one big button labeled "English." A minute later, I walked away with 100,000 won, which sounds like a lot but is only about seventy dollars. (Making this problem worse is the lack of any note over 10,000 won. No wonder they do so many electronic transactions.) I headed to the bus terminal, where my destination was thankfully marked in both hangul and Romanized script, bought my ticket, and climbed aboard. About thirty minutes later, the bus dropped me off at my hotel, where I checked into my room and subsequently passed out.

Reader Comments (5)

[...] Korea: Getting There ยป paultevis.com [...]

As far as how spicy it can get -- the answer is "more than you can stand".

Restaurants usually tone down dishes for tourists, so you're not usually in danger of accidentally getting too much -- and there are usually quite a selection of non-spicy foods. However, many Koreans eat amazingly spicy stuff.

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjhkim

I don't doubt it.

January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

They make a beer called Hite?

When I last flew to London, it was on Air India, who served what was either Indian food or the airline equivalent thereof. It was, without doubt, the very best airline food I've had.

I'm eager to hear more about Seoul.

January 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWill

There is, in fact, Hite beer. I first became aware of it when Ken and I went out for Korean BBQ at GTS a few years ago.

And yeah, this was probably the best airline meal I've ever had.

January 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

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