Forty-eight hours ago I was eating roast chicken at home with my family in Wellington, New Zealand. Right now I'm I'm eating noodles with a toothbrush in a love hotel in Buan, South Korea. Oh, and I'm naked, but not for the reason you think.
Some time inappropriately close to three am yesterday I was jolted awake by my phone alarm. To make matters worse I'd been awake until midnight the night before and I had a long day of travelling ahead of me. I'd managed a fairly stress-free pack, resolving problems of what to bring and what to leave by bringing basically everything.
I discovered at the airport that 'everything' weighed 24 Kg, something I would be reminded of constantly while lugging my baggage around Korea for the next few days. I was over my baggage limit but the guy at check in seemed like he'd had about as much sleep as I had and was about as keen on being at the airport as I was. After the goodbyes with the family I passed through the airport doors and into the unknown...
Unfortunately, the unknown was fourteen hours of flying and a pain in the ass transfer in Sydney away. The flight from Wellington to Sydney wasn't bad; Air New Zealand's in-flight entertainment was pretty sweet and I got to catch a couple of episodes of Moon TV. Anna flew out of Auckland and we met in Sydney airport to fly to Seoul. This meant that the airline didn't know we were travelling together so we got separate seats on a full flight. We also got paged over the loudspeakers, which was kind of exciting until we realised we we're being paged to wait in line to get on the flight.
So I ended up sitting next to a nice Korean couple who had been on holiday in Australia. They turned out to be from Jeonju, which is the capital of Jeollabukdo and about an hour from Buan. They showed me how to eat my first Bi-Bim-Bap (more on that in another post) and gave me an idea of what to expect in Korea. I was surprised when they said it would be hot and humid; even though it's summer here everything I've read about the weather here has been about how cold it is. As I stepped of the plane I was worrying that I hadn't really brought any hot weather clothes, which was a nice distraction from worrying about being in a completely new country where I didn't speak the language and having basically no idea what to do.
Luckily, and with one exception, Korean immigration and customs went surprisingly smoothly. The woman at immigration hadn't heard of Buan but let us through anyway. Then in the massive baggage claim area a crazy Korean woman kept grabbing my arm to get me to help her with her luggage even as I was grappling with my own furiously heavy bag. I helped her get her suitcase off the conveyor and as I was grabbing my pack before it sailed past she was grabbing me and pointing at her suitcase and saying god knows what in Korean. It turned out that she just wanted me to help her put her bags on her trolley, which I did, though somewhat grudgingly after being harassed while obviously struggling with my own bag. 'Customs' consisted of giving a declaration form to a man and then walking past another man sitting at a desk. The whole process of entering Korea was slightly easier than avoiding those people on the street back home that try to sell you books about spiritual enlightenment.
It turned out that the friendly Korean man from the plane had been right about the weather. We were suffocating from the heat and humidity as we found an information desk and got them to call our hotel to come pick us up. All this had been sorted by our recruiter before we left, and it's a good thing it had as I don't think we could have managed in the sticky heat, in a foreign country and after a long flight, to find ourselves somewhere to sleep that night. Our driver arrived and I had by first experience of everyone driving on the wrong side of the road. Our hotel was bland and a bit rundown, but it had a huge fan which at that time made up for any drawbacks. We met Scott and Lauren, also from New Zealand and also teaching in Jeollabukdo, but not in Buan. We managed to use a PC-Bang (internet cafe) to email home, and then we both collapsed into bed, knowing we had to catch the bus to Jeonju early the next morning.
Stay tuned for part two. There's really too much to cover all at once, but I will definitely write more about our first few days here in some later posts.