Saturday, October 06, 2007

Korea: Day One

Sitting at Gate A16 at RDU for my 7:10am flight to Atlanta. Jason insisted we leave Mebane at 4:15, which I thought was excessive, but whatever, I'm in low-stress mode. That was actually a good call for Jason and Steve, who are on the same flight to Toronto (YYZ) at 6:30. I've never seen security lines as long at RDU. It's obvious this old terminal was not designed to handle post 9/11 screening requirements.

Once again, I haven't checked baggage. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to manage that on this trip, but after I packed everything I thought I'd need. . . plus a little more, I still had some space. Cool. I even packed the duffel bag Jennifer and I bought in Milan, empty of course. It folds down into a little pouch, and takes up no room. The plan for the return trip is to check one bag filled with dirty laundry, and carry-on the backpack and the other bag. I have plenty of souvenirs to buy, and I don't care if the dirty laundry misses its connection.

6:30. Called home to make sure the kids were up. Mom and Dad came down yesterday to help us out. Jennifer is at a conference in Winston-Salem until Saturday. The folks just have to drop the kids off at Smithfields BBQ where Ashley, a T.A. from Jennifer's school will take T&Z to Glenwood. They'll pick the kids up at 2:30. I programmed the school's location into the nav computer in Mom's car, just in case my verbal directions weren't good enough.

6:50 On-board, B-757, seat 29F, the midpoint of the right wing. Window seat, of course. Flight is fairly full. The plane looks somewhat young, but it still has CRT monitors hanging from the aisle ceiling. I have no idea how crowded the flight to Seoul will be, but I'm hoping it's less than this. For an hour, this is comfortable. For fourteen hours, not so much. That is a larger plane, at least.

7:24 Take off. Runway 5R. Max cabin altitude: 2055 m. Saw a cool optical phenomeon that looked like a circular rainbow with the outline of the plane in the middle, projected onto the nearby clouds. Don't know what that's called, and I tried to get a picture of it with my Powershot. We'll see how that turns out. My new camera, a Canon 40D is at my feet, with brother Tom's 28-135mm IS lens attached. It would be a little much to pull that out just to get cool shots from the plane window, but I'd bet I could've metered correctly for that rainbow thing with it.

8:08 We're descending, according to my ears, and my watch agrees, with a cabin altitude of 1880 m. There's a cloud deck below, so there's nothing to see, even if I could recognize anything in the Georgia landscape. I'm guessing we'll land to the East, though I have no good basis for that.

Landed! 8:41 on Runway 10, the new one. Flight time 1:16, a little longer than expected. One short train ride and one Arby's chicken biscuit later, and I'm at Gate E10 in the International Concourse. The plane is here and being prepped for our 11:25 departure. Once I'm on the plane, I'll set my watch ahead 13 hours, not that I think there will be any climitazation at all happening on the plane. I'm also speculating that it'll be daylight the whole way. It's 9:39 am here, 10:39 pm there. I should be in bed.

11:17 On board Delta flight 91, B-777, seat 35J, window overlooking the right wing. The seats are 3-3-3 back here in coach, and it appears that nearly everyone has an empty seat next to them. I retrieved what I think I'll need from my backpack, and stowed it overhead, as it would've been very uncomfortable by my feet. I should have ample opportunity to retrieve it on the 14 hours 20 minutes I'll be on this plane. Each seat has a video screen. I hope it has location tracking. I love that.

Looks like we'll be taking off from runway 9L (9-27 are south of the terminal, and 8-26 are north. Runway 10-28 is very south.) Take off at 11:48. Time to set my watch to 12:48 AM, Saturday, October 6th.

3:16 am, Korean Standard Time (KST). We're just east of Red Lake, Ontario, Canada. It's currently -61F outside at 34,000 feet and 524 mph. We're 1451 miles from Atlanta, with 11 hours 50 minutes remaining on the flight. I watched "Knocked Up," which was very funny, and ate a meal of Chicken of Some Variety, which was not funny at all. It really wasn't too bad. The language on the GPS alternates between English and spanish, and that's asinine. Does Delta think that spanish speakers are so unintelligent that they couldn't figure out that "New York" is "Nuevo York"? It's just an assumption, but I haven't seen that many spanish-speakers on this flight to Korea.

7:20 am. Watched a Japanese movie with subtitles, and nodded off in the middle. That kind-of helped. We're currently flying along the north coast of Alaska near Kaktovik. I can see the Beaufort Sea and a whole lot of snow outside my window. I've never been this far north. We're 4371 miles from Atlanta, and have an additional 7:48 to go (we've been airborne for 6:36), so not quite half-way. So far, so good. My head hurts a little, and if/when the guy on the aisle gets up, I probably will too, not that I feel I really need to yet. The movies/TV/Music on demand is pretty nice, so I think I'll watch another movie.

8:57 am. Watched a Mr. Bean movie, and crossed the international date line. Looks like we'll be crossing into Russia momentarily. I wonder what the route to Seoul was like back in the U.S.S.R. days.

13:18 Approaching Vladivostok, and soon to be within sight of China. The route also has us skirting the eastern edge of North Korea. Slept a little, and took some Tylenol when seatmate (and I) took a bio break.

13:48 Forget what I said about China and Vladivostok. We ended up going further south before making a westerly turn, probably to avoid North Korea entirely, which makes more sense. Just finished our third meal, and admittedly, none were nearly as unappealing as I'd come to expect from an airline. I've passed on the complimentary alcohol and coffee, as I've never read any travel advice that recommends either. I've had plenty of water and the occasional ginger ale (my airplane drink of choice) but still it's obviously very dry in here. The cabin altitude of 2760 m doesn't help either. I must say the 777 is an excellent airplane, even back here in coach. (JR and I were in 1st Class on our trip to Italy/Switzerland in 2003). This flight would've been far worse without the personal video screen.

Less than two hours to go. Time to fill out my customs declaration.

Before we left, there was talk of a barbecue at the home of Adam's former boss. . . on the rooftop. I'm definitely interested, despite the jet lag. I'm sure we'll all be pretty wiped, but the best thing to do is to live on local time ASAP. It feels like 1:00 am right now (it's 2:00 pm locally) but with the several naps of unknown duration, as well as the constant sunlight outside, disorientation is an understatement.

We're right over the middle of the East Sea, a.k.a the Sea of Japan. I can't help thinking about Colonel Henry Blake's plane. How sad is it that a large chunk of what you know about a country is from M*A*S*H.

It's 14:30, 13.5 hours into the flight with about an hour to go. This has been my longest flight (by far) as well as the farthest I've ever from home. It's not my first time in Asia, however. That was Turkey 1995, but that was West Asia. As far west as one could possibly be in Asia.

Our course was south through eastern Russia, then southwest over the East Sea, then due west across South Korea, flying over Seoul and landing at Incheon on the west coast. I'm due to arrive about an hour before Jason and Steve. I looked at taking the same Air Canada flights as them, but it was significantly more expensive. This ticket cost me $1048 with all the taxes and fees, so it's also the most expensive plane ticket I've ever bought. Yet another record for this trip and I haven't even arrived at my destination yet.

14:33 We're descending, down to 28,803 feet from our max of 34,800 ft. We're about to go "feet dry" again, this time near Gangneung. Can't really see much on the ground outside my window. There is a thin deck of clouds, plus the wings of the 777 are quite expansive. I still can't get over the size of that wing. I guess I'm just used to the smaller domestic jets.

14:46 Looks like we're over South Korea. We should be landing on schedule, to the south, where the temperature on the ground is 25C. I imagine things may get a little crazy after we land. Immigration and Customs and Passport Control, then try to find Adam, who I think I'll recognize. Should be interesting.

15:18 Landed! Customs and Immigration was surprisingly efficient: no questions, no inspections. Exited at "B" and didn't see anybody I recognized. Walked around a bit, checked the other exits, and didn't even see Jason and Steve's flight on the arrival board. OK, no panic. Got my Lonely Planet Korea book out to refresh myself on Korean ATMs and phone cards. Got W100,000 (~920 W/$) and then saw another arrivals board that did have the Air Canada flight on it, arriving at Door F. I headed that way and found Adam. We hung out for about an hour, until we saw Jason through the security doors at a Customs inspection station repacking the humidor he got for Adam.

They came out, and we headed to the taxi queue. The four of us and our stuff crammed into a mid-sized sedan for the 30+ minute ride to Adam's. Adam lives on the 33rd floor of a 34 floor high-rise in the Samgakji area. It's really nice, plus he has really cool toys, like a huge TV, keyboard, and bass.

We were pretty beat, but we headed out anyway, because that's what you do. We walked past the war memorial, which was closed. Went to a traditional Korean BBQ place called Chadol Jib. We ate up on the second floor, where we sat on mats on the floor, and shared everything. Teuk sim so kogi is what we had. So kogi means beef. They set a pot of hot charcoal in an inset in the low table, then covered it with a grate, and pulled down a snorkel fume hood to catch the smoke. They brought out tons of side dishes, various kimchi, other pickled veggies, bean paste, and potent fresh garlic. They then brought out a plate of sliced, marinated sirloin that we cooked on the charcoal, then added bean paste & garlic, wrapped it in a lettuce or sesame leaf, and ate. It was awesome.
Making Dinner

From there we walked to the Itaewon area, which was festooned with GIs and various other American ex-pats, as well as other ethnicities; north African places, sub-saharan African places, Greek and Turkish places, along with many Asian cuisines represented. It was pretty dark, loud, and dirty, but it didn't feel unsafe of threatening in any way. We went to a second-floor bar, but by that time (probably 10 pm), we were pretty tired.

Back to the apartment to clean up, wash the travel clothing that could wash, and head to bed. Jason and I are sharing a bed, and fortunately it's a king, so we wont hit each other with elbows all night.

(View my entire set of Korea trip photos here on Zooomr)


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