I Survived Getting to Korea

The longest flight I’d ever been on, prior to Wednesday, was a roughly ten hour flight to London. Overnight. Same time zone. Child’s play. The epic continent- and Indian Ocean-spanning journey to get to Korea was an entirely different story…

I met Sylvia, my travelling buddy and fellow resident of Jeju Island, at ORTIA (the airport). She had flown up from Cape Town that morning. We were going all the way to the guesthouse in Jeju together, and sharing a room there. I was glad to have someone to go with, but only later would I realise how truly grateful I was for her being there.

On Singapore Airlines, they try to make the plebs in economy class forget that they’re travelling economy class, so they hand out hot towels (like in The Wedding Singer, and just like the Wedding Singer, we had to look around at other people to know what to do with them) and menus. And how fancy are the menus! The dinner was basically chicken or beef, but dressed in such elegant terminology, you forgot your choices were chicken and beef. The flight attendants were all beautifully dressed and we each had our own video screen. (I watched Temple Grandin – such an excellent movie and I’d never heard of it. Seriously, watch it. It’s amazing. – and Tangled! Which was super fun.) They served dinner at around 4pm and turned the lights down, to fool people into sleeping. Even though I’d had only three hours sleep the night before, I was not fooled, and watched Tangled instead. This meant I’d only had just over an hour’s sleep when they woke us at 11pm – for breakfast. I may have done stranger things; I just can’t think of anything right now.

The sun was just lightening the sky as we landed at Singapore Airport. It was 6am there, but already so hot and humid. We were very glad to find hand luggage trollies! What a great invention.

Why doesn’t every airport have these?! Photo: marketplace.veer.com

We wanted to stop and check Facebook (and Twitter) at the free internet place they had, but realised we were cutting it fine to get to our gate at the other end of the terminal, so we abandoned that idea and hurried on. At the security checkpoint they confiscated my handwash and an extra body lotion which had been packed in my hand luggage :( I was very sad about this. I didn’t even consider that the 100ml rule would apply to people in transit, but what can you do.

I crashed like a badly designed paper jet as soon as I was in my seat. I was woken up for second breakfast (I got a fright and said “What?!” rather rudely to the poor flight attendant) but I just had some tea and went back to sleep. The flight was six hours long and we landed in Seoul at about 3pm local time. Filling in customs forms, I realised I wouldn’ t be able to bring in my droëwors so Sylvia and I set about eating it all before we got into the airport. What? Wouldn’t you?

There was minor drama at customs and immigration; because we hadn’t written down proper addresses or phone numbers on our forms (because we DIDN’T KNOW THEM) so we were called over and Sylvia had her suitcase searched. I had a very nice little old man who was very excited to hear I was there to teach English and was quite happy just to check my offical certificate of appointment. Then we collected out luggage and walked out the terminal to…. SNOW! It was very very light and melted as soon as it touched the ground or your hand, but it was snow. We were terribly excited, and got some very strange looks as we stared, enraptured, at the falling flakes.

We caught a bus to Gimpo, the airport which serves some international destinations but mostly domestic. There we had to find out which airline we were on, as neither of us knew! We were able to check in our baggage and then retired to STARBUCKS for some delicious coffee. I had a vanilla latte :) It was amazing. We found some free internet on the other side of security and some kind Korean man helped us figure it out and change the typing language to English. He was delighted when I said my first Korean words to him: “Gam-sam-nee-dah” (thank you)!

We had quite a wait for the flight, and wondered whether it was going to be cancelled because it had started snowing quite heavily (to us, anyway) by then. When we finally boarded we had to wait some more while they de-iced the plane! I slept uncomfortably on the plane – it felt much longer than the just under an hour flying time. At Jeju Airport we made the unpleasant discovery that no room had been reserved for us at the guesthouse. Fortunately they had place for us so we waited for the shuttle – and had to wait for it to come back again because it could only take one of our giant cases at a time. I’m sorry, you’re an airport shuttle, shouldn’t you have a boot that can fit more than a couple of briefcases?!

The “guesthouse” felt like it was far away, because we drove for quite a while, but turned out to be right behind the airport, by the runway. Any closer and we would have had planes landing on top of us. It was also very close to the sea, and so was incredibly windy and freezing cold.

I’ve been using “guesthouse” in inverted commas because it turned out to be not so much a guesthouse as a backpackers’ hostel run by teenagers. No jokes. And NO ONE SPOKE ENGLISH. We also discovered that they don’t even speak Korean; they have a local dialect. How horrific. It was about 10pm and we hadn’t eaten, so they said we could eat there. We went up to our room – very weirdly shaped, as the building was circular; I slept in the loft built on top of the bathroom. The toilet was electronic and beeped at you when you sat down. We were amazed to discover four hand towels and nothing else – yes, those were our bath towels. And the shower was in the middle of the room, a drain in the floor… So strange.

What is this?? Photo: Tarryn Harbour

But as strange as the bathroom was, the dinner was stranger. A bowl of kimchi-jiggae: a soup which was delicious, but absolutely insanely spicy. It shall forever more be known as Fire Soup. I know I’d been wanting something hot to warm me up, but that was insane. I couldn’t manage it, and turned to the various banchan, or side dishes. I tried some of everything; there was nothing there that I recognised! Except for the rice and pork, of course. I was quite happily eating something crunchy and fishy from the far side of the tray until I examined it more closely and found out I’d been eating tiny tiny fish. With eyes and everything! The horror. From then on I stuck to things that couldn’t look at me. What an experience.

Our first meal. Welcome to Korea! PHOTO: Tarryn Harbour

I was very glad that I’d brought my hot water bottle; there was no underfloor heating in the loft. We eventually managed to get the kettle working when Sylvia worked out that the key needed to be in the slot by the door for the electricity to work. Weird, but sensible.

We’d done it; completed the first legs of our journey. We were in Korea.

Stay tuned for more Korean adventures!


9 thoughts on “I Survived Getting to Korea

  1. Haha, in China they served Piette and I big fish heads for breakfasty. I get the eyeball think…. best thing: don’t ask!;) Sounds awEsom! Haha, yes. Hot towls – ummmm why????;) xx

  2. Loved reading about your travelling adventure. It sounded rather long and epic. Love the hand-luggage trolleys… I think anyone who has had to fit enough clothes, books etc for a yeear into their luggage can appreciate how horrible it is lugging 8kg of handluggage for miles in those insanely big overseas airports!

    It looks bloody freezing there judging from your photos on Facebook. Hope you are surviving the cold.

  3. Ahahahaha! Tah, this is totally engrossing – I’m terribly sorry, but you’re gonna have to do one a day!!
    It sounds really fun. So so glad you have someone at your side for all this – must be such a relief.
    These Asians do sounds rather odd…
    Miss you hun xxx

  4. Delightful Tarryn. There’s a book in this you know? Keep a backup of the blogs as a daily journal. Go with the flow. It’s an unrepeatable experience and one you can only have when young. So milk it for all it’s worth. God bless!

  5. when we were waiting for the shuttle to take us from our hotel to singapore airport, a local elderly lady i was sitting next to gave me a packet of snacks..only when i started eating it did i realise there were whole little dried out fishies in there…my dad and i quite enjoyed it :) made my mom gag a few times tho! hehe…

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