Friday, October 13, 2006

Intersections in Real Time

05:30 - 07:10 UK, 13:30 - 15:10 Korea, Thursday 12th
Final tidy of the house and packing of bags.

07:10-10:15 UK, 15:00-18:15 Korea

Travelled to the airport, where in an extraordinary bad start I banged my knee heavily into a trolley on the way in. We had breakfast before getting ourselves processed and boarding our first flight.

10:15-11:30 UK, 18:15-19:30 Korea
First flight of the day, and they couldn't immediately get one of the engines started. When we did get going there was quite a bit of turbulence which left me feeling a little unwell. Every single movement of the plane felt exaggerated to me and sitting at the back near the engines on our Fokker 100 didn't help my hearing at all.

11:30-17:35 UK, 19:30-00:35 Korea
We shopped at Schiphol exhausting every last possible store, but gifts for friends back in Korea were hard to find. There weren't that many places to eat and we ended up at McDonalds.

17:35-03:45 UK, 00:35-11:45 Korea, Friday 13th
The 747 flight was much smoother than the first one, but the damage was done and as soon as the plane started to climb I became really unwell. Within an hour I was throwing up in a sick bag - and a little on myself. The Dutch girl in the seat next to my girlfriend was an absolute star about it in the circumstances. Any plans of watching the onboard movies were out after this, although the TV screens weren't seat mounted so were difficult to see anyway, so I tried to sleep but only managed a couple of hours in the end. I woke up over the Gobi Desert as the sun rose and the plane was bathed in red light. Amazing. I was sufficiently better by the end of the trip to watch our descent towards South Korea and the extra circuit of Incheon International Airport we had to do.

03:45-05:15 UK, 11:45-13:15 Korea
First impression of Korea was the heat haze - not a good sign for the jouney ahead. The airport was modern, efficient and we were out on the street with our cases and clutching our bus tickets within fifteen minutes.
Initially Korea seems to smell of cigarette smoke and diesel. We got our bus to Seoul train station which actually merely left us in the vicinity of it.

05:15-05:35 UK, 13:15-13:35 Korea
There followed a mad dash through the streets of Seoul looking for the station, struggling with our cases (while mine had wheels I'd quickly discovered it was not really up to the job of being pulled). We were followed for a little while by a man who thought he was a cat. Plenty of soldiers in uniform on leave around who failed to lift a finger to help my girlfriend carry her case up stairways - but quite a few kind civilians who did - what's wrong with this picture? Oh, and motorcyclists, sans helmets, weave their way through pedestrians on the pavements at 20mph. Insane.

05:35-07:30 UK, 13:35-15:30 Korea
Lunch and most importantly, a drink at KFC while we waited for the 15:30 Busan train. It seems the entire Korean army has the day off to go designer shopping - a surreal mix of camouflage and Gucci bags. Evidently a few American soldiers around - with their desert "I've been to the Gulf" boots on. Saw my first monks - they weren't out buying designer labels - but everyone else may well have been. Students carried £600 Prada bags - and they probably weren't fakes.

07:30-10:00 UK, 15:30-18:00 Korea
My girlfriend got her case stuck in one of the train's carriage doors, and after she finally extracated it the soldiers behind us said cried 'Bravo!' Yeah, in my country our soldiers are trained to help civilians not laugh at their problems but whatever. The scenery is fantastic - so lush - and I'm really glad we took the train, but I'm too tired to appreciate it and actually fall asleep for 30 minutes.

10:00-10:45 UK, 18:00-18:45 Korea
Now into our 28th hour since setting off and 30th since getting up, and we finally meet the parents at the station. Apparently I look haggard by this point and I'm limping from my knee injury yesterday which desperately needs a rest. Big hugs from my girlfriend's parents and her father takes both 17kg cases and in his eagerness to get to a taxi runs off into the crowd with them. It takes us ten minutes to find him. We're outside the station in a square where there's some kind of Chinese cultural event going on. The place is absolutely heaving. Wish I could have taken pictures of this. Girlfriend's mother holds my hand so there's no chance of running away. Apparently I look thinner and younger than they expected - how cool is that?

10:45-11:15 UK, 18:45-19:15 Korea
With hand still secured by girlfriend's mother, the taxi ride from hell, Blade Runner meets a scene from Scrooged I seem to recall. No-one yields for anyone, you play chicken with everyone else to see who gives in first, our taxi driver presses the brake or the accelerator but his foot is always on one, no-one wears seatbelts, and it makes Italy look like a pin-up for road safety. Apparently South Korea has one of the highest road mortality rates and now I see why. I openly laughed twice at the sheer absurdity of it. Sorry.

11:15-12:15 UK, 19:15-20:15 Korea
We reach our one-room apartment and Pizza is ordered in. I am formally introduced to the family and there is the official I'm-marrying-your-daughter-bow followed by the official naming of everyone as mother, father, son, and brother-in-law. Intimidating. The mad Pizza Hut motorcyclist arrives and we eat. Other food appears from nowhere and there's a full feast arranged in boxes on the apartment's floor; save for a bed we have no furniture. A grape appears in my mouth without warning - mother is feeding me.

12:15-16:15 UK, 20:15-00:15 Korea
The family leave because I look so tired, but I want to get myself on Korean time as quickly as possible so I stay up setting up my laptop and catching up on some market positions. Internet is 10 megabit down but UK sites are predictably slow. Discover we can't shower because there's no hot water and I go to bed 34 hours after I woke up - and it still takes half-an-hour to get to sleep because my body thinks it's late afternoon.

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