Landing in Korea and my trip to Gwangju

Landing in Korea

Landing in Korea

When we finally landed, it was time for customs. On previous international trips, I’d flown through Europe and the EU passport line was always much shorter than the “everyone else” line. In Korea, the lines were reversed. It was mostly Koreans flying to Korea so they had a fairly long line, while the line for foreign passports was only 3 people long by the time I reached it. The customs process was fairly interesting. I had to get electronic fingerprints made of my index fingers and my photo was taken. European customs generally ask me questions like “where are you going?” “what brings you to Korea?”, Korean customs didn’t seem particularly interested in any of that. After the fingerprints and photos, they just waved me through.

Grabbing My Bag

I grabbed my bags off the carousel and made my way to the main terminal. Where I bought a bus ticket to Gwangju, the city I would be working in, and set out find a pay phone that would let me make a call. The task was easier said than done. None of the phones wanted to take my credit card and the phone card I bought from the airport’s convenience store seemed to be the wrong one. After looking like an idiot for a few minutes trying several different phones, an older Korean man came up and let me use his phone card so I could call my Korean contact and let them know I would be on the 6 pm bus to Gwangju.

A Bus to Gwangju

After calling I walked over to the bus station and boarded. I didn’t realize the seats were marked and so I accidentally sat in someone else’s seat. They politely let me know in broken English and asked me to check my ticket. It was at this point I realized that I didn’t have my ticket. At some point, I must have lost it. Luckily a Korean guy about my age offered to help out. He asked the bus driver to wait for us and helped me buy a second ticket to the same bus. It seemed like a big waste of money, but at least I was on my way and aboard the bus.

I found out the guy who had helped me was named Song. He was returning to Korea to attend grad school in Seoul in the fall. Song had spent the last several years in the states living in North Dakota for high school and then college. He’d spent his last few days in the states visiting New York and apparently, he’d been on the same flight as me.

Korean Rest Stop

Korean Rest Stop

After the first two hours of our bus trip, we arrived at a rest stop to use the bathrooms and buy snacks. I wasn’t too hungry and incredibly dehydrated so I bought a Gatorade and got back on the bus. The old man sitting next to us offered Song and I some sort of chips that tasted like Fruit Loops. I had a few because he was really pushy with his offer and then declined his next 3 offers before he finally gave up on asking me.

Arriving in Gwangju

When we finally reached Gwangju it was about 10 pm and I was exhausted. Two of the employees from Avalon, my school, picked me up and helped me load my bags into the car. Betty, I found out, is one of the foreign teachers and spoke some English. Our driver, Eric, spoke no English and I believe he is the bookkeeper at Avalon.

The two of them took me to my apartment and helped carry my bags up. They told me after I set my bags down that we would now go to the academy and meet the director. I was still in the clothes I’d traveled in. I asked my Korean companions if I could change, they told me not to worry about it, so I met my new co-workers in my dirty clothes. They didn’t seem to notice though so I think I’m good.

The school was a short drive from my apartment. It’s on the fourth floor and really brightly lit, like CVS pharmacy bright. I’ll write another entry about my school later.

After the 30 minutes, or so of the new school meet and greet. The other foreign teachers and I walked to a little Kimbap place about halfway between our apartments and the school. I had some tuna Kimbap and kimchi, it was about $2, delicious, and filling.

After dinner, the gang of new teachers and I came back to the apartments. Judy, one of the co-teachers I work with lent me some toilet paper and pillows for my bed from her apartment below mine. After that, I walked up to my apartment and met up with Nicole before calling it a night.

Flying to Korea

My flight to Korea

My flight to Korea

When it came time to board I found my way aboard the aircraft and sat down in 22A, a window seat I had the good fortune of finding the day before. To my right sat a young Korean America man from Cornell traveling to Seoul for a 6-week summer abroad program. We chatted about our experiences and he shared some of his mom’s homemade Kimbap. It looks like Sushi, but don’t tell Koreans that or they’ll get offended. In the seatback pocket, in addition to the safety instructions, were about 4 other magazines jammed in there to the point it was cutting into my legroom. One of the magazines had an ad on the back for a Korean Casino featuring Robert Deniro hamming it up.

Robert DeNiro's Korea Casino Ad

Robert DeNiro’s Korea Casino Ad

The selection of inflight movies was really impressive. Each seat had a touchscreen on the back of it with 60 channels and another 50 or so movies in an on demand/DVR system. You could select Korean, Indian, American, and Japanese movies and play any of them starting and stopping whenever you wanted. The American selection also included some neat old movies as well. There was a Gene Kelly movie called an American in Paris and a movie from the 50s about a reporter investigating Anti-Semitism. I watched both along with Oz and The Hobbit.

Steak and Salmon In-Flight Dinner

Steak and Salmon In-Flight Dinner

The food on the plane was fantastic, for plane food. The first meal we got, in addition to a small hot towel was smoked salmon over potato salad, Italian salad, mixed veggies, steak and cheesecake for dessert. After another few hours they brought out little ham and cheese subs for everyone. About an hour before we landed, we had pork and rice with mixed veggies, a roll, and bean salad.

Between the movies, my interesting travel companion and the frequent and delicious food, the 14 hours of flight time didn’t seem all that bad. In general, I really like flying. It’s a nice break from reality. No one bothers you, there’s no expectation of accomplishing anything and none of the responsibilities of daily life really start up again until you land.