There’s No Place Like Home
The plan is I will go home for ten days. I board an Asiana Airplane in Cebu, Mactan Airport at midnight on September 3rd bound for Incheon, South Korea (the airport about an hour away from Seoul). I arrive in Incheon at 6:00AM on the 4th (they are an hour earlier than Cebu). Then I wait fourteen hours until 8:20PM for my connecting flight to Chicago, Illinois USA. I will arrive in Chicago at 7:20PM - still on the 4th and hit Columbus, Ohio at about midnight. Four hours to Seoul, plus fourteen hours layover, plus thirteen hours Incheon to Chicago, plus two hours in Chicago, plus 1 hour to Columbus equals (if I did the math correctly) thirty-four hours of travel, “all in one day”, to get home.
The ticket agent mentions that maybe I can go on a free tour while I’m in Seoul, but in the excitement of getting my ticket I didn’t pay much attention. My focus was on getting that ticket in my hand. However once I arrive in Incheon I realize there are awesome free cultural outreach tours available through the Korea Transit Tour Program.
I chose a five hour Seoul tour starting at 9:00AM to Bukchon Hanok Village - a traditional 600
year old Korean village between Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace - and Gwangjang Market - one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in Korea. We will take a one hour bus ride to Seoul, spend about an hour in the village then about another hour in the market (where we can eat) then back to the airport.
With my tour ticket in hand I go through immigration and customs. I exchanged some cash for Yen, found the tour guide and we were on our way.
The village is beautiful with lovely gardens behind, what would have been at their inception, closed doors. I especially like the daughter-in-law’s quarters. I enjoyed imagining family life in that household 600 years ago.
The market was even more engaging with lots of traditional food - I declined to try the live octopus swimming in the tank.
*Aside* I understand the preparation method for live baby octopus is to simply chop it up and put it on your plate, eating while it still wiggles and jiggles. A young man who sat beside me on the plane to Chicago said his grandfather insisted he try it. He said it was very good, but admitted that the little suction cups would stick to your tongue and throat. I passed on that delicacy.
I enjoyed a huge bowl of soup with dumpling and seaweed which was delicious. I tried to eat the kimchee but it was just too hot for me. Then I wandered around and looked at silks and traditional dresses along with all kinds of other traditional merchandise. There was plenty of non-traditional modern merchandise as well. There were tons of gadgets too, what we might call “As seen on TV” products.
Then I needed a restroom. I was looking for a restaurant where I might be able to use the
facilities when I realized there was a pay toilet in the middle of the sidewalk. It measured about 7 feet by 5 feet. I dropped a coin in the slot and the door automatically slid open. I walked in and the door slid shut. Classical music began to play as a voice explained (in English) how long I had to complete my process (about 10 minutes) but I could ask for more time by pressing a button on the wall. I finished within my allotted time and pressed another button to be released early. The interior (and exterior) was extremely clean, well lit and showed up just when I needed it most.
Back at the airport I went back through immigration and screening to wait until 8:20 PM. I checked out the transit hotel where you can rent a room for twelve hours for $125.00, but there wasn’t that kind of time left so I passed.
I did however avail myself of the free showers. They gave me a towel the size of a hand towel, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Soap was provided inside the shower. There was a toilet, a basin and a rainfall shower with permission to stay 30 minutes: very rejuvenating!
Next I found the loungers where you could nap. I napped for a bit, but there was lots of snoring and the area was a little too cold for my comfort.
Finally it was time to board. My seat on the plane to Chicago was roomier than the seats I’m accustomed to on US Flights. When I went the bathroom I found toothbrushes and toothpaste available along with toner, aftershave and hand lotion. My seatmates informed me that this is standard on all Asiana flights.
Our meals were amazing. The first meal was Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps, complete with instructions on how to eat them. There was a real metal knife, fork and spoon - small sized to fit on my airplane tray. I haven’t had an airplane food experience like this since 1976 on KLM. I didn’t know it still existed. The later offering was chicken and rice. It did a lot to restore my confidence in the airline industry; well the foreign airline industry. I was a bit confused by the hanger tab on the right of my seat back (see the right hand picture below). I guess i should have brought a jacket??
My time at home flew by. The wedding was as awesome as I expected. Although I’m still not completely sure what is wrong with my knee I have some medicine for when it’s bad and I will get it better diagnosed next May. My dentist made some adjustments to my crowns so my mouth feels better. I spent time with my family, ate some of the things I missed, visited with friends and all too soon it was time to head back to the Philippines on September 2nd. It was great to be home, but I also wanted to go back to the Philippines. I only dreamed that one day I would get to do the traveling Tom and I are enjoying.
While I was at home with really good internet, Tom and I made a plan for the next three months. A few days in Singapore, a month in Thailand, a couple of weeks in Vietnam, a few days in Malaysia, wrapping it up with a month in Bali, Indonesia before heading back to Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines for Tom to join the dive team at Shangri-La Resort.
The return flights to Mactan were uneventful but the travel time was even longer. One hour from Columbus to Chicago, five hour layover Chicago, fourteen hours to Incheon, sixteen hour layover in Incheon, four hours to Mactan: 40 hour of travel later I arrived on the 4th of September.I was disappointed when I got to Incheon. My knee hurt too much to do a tour so I checked into the 12 hour hotel and slept. I was on the go so much at home that I was still worn out. Waiting at the gate, my flight was from Incheon was slightly delayed so I put my head on my backpack to rest my eyes. Luckily I woke up just in time to find the last person going through the gate.
*Aside* Well not actually the last person because I would have been the last person. But even I wasn’t the person, but I did feel a moment of panic when I realized I could have missed the plane.
Tom was happy to see me again. We had just two days to organize our luggage preparing for the next leg of this adventure: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We pack a spare suitcase to leave in Cebu with Mayan (our CouchSurfing friend). For the next leg of the journey our luggage will be more manageable. Whoohoo!!