Monday, 1 February 2016

Hangug e osin geos-eul hwan-yeonghabnida (YVR to ICN)

If you think the title was bad, how about this one:

한국에 오신 것을 환영합니다

That's a lot of writing just to say "Welcome to Korea", which is where I am right now.

And NO, I am not in North Korea, but I'm in the Korea where i might just be committing a crime by publishing a smiling picture of Kim, because talking positively about North Korea is a crime in South Korea (think about that one for a second!). 

Now to get some musical accompaniment to the answer to the question of HOW DID I GET HERE?, you should click on the capitalized question.

It all starts in Vancouver. Cold and miserable, Overflowing garbage out of GREEN garbage cans in front of a drab grey background. That must be what they mayor means when he says he wants Vancouver to be the GREENest city on the planet.  To me that sounds like Richard Nixon insisting that he's an honest man.  Preposterous!  You can't even empty your garbage cans, Vancouver!

Skytrain is next.  It is actually rather comical to watch transit passengers 'tapping' in and out at the wide open fare gates just because message  boards tell them to.  The gate is already open.  If you tap in and out, a fare will be deducted from the balance on your card. If they want their fare, they should close the gates.

The line-up at the Korean Air counter is surprisingly non-existent.  Strange. I've been standing in line for at least 20 to 30 minutes at Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Cathay Pacific counters, but never have I encountered the lack of a line-up.  The Korean Air check in clerk looks at my passport while saying "Is this a passport?"  No comment.

Then she doesn't want to give me a boarding pass because she doesn't believe me that I don't need a visa to enter Vietnam.  She calls her supervisor who in turn calls her supervisor.  He doesn't believe me either but rather checks some obscure airlines-internal visa requirements page.  Then it takes me 10 minutes to convince him that even though I will be staying more than the allowed 15 days I will be able to obtain an extension to that while in Vietnam, and under ABSOLUTELY NO circumstances will the Vietnamese FINE Korean Air for delivering a passenger that is in violation of visa rules 2 weeks after delivering him.   The whole world seems to live in FEAR.  

Wind Mobile Data does not work at Vancouver Airport.  WTF?  3rd world issues again? Actually, Cambodia qualifies as 3rd world and I NEVER had WiFi problems there.    What is worse: service actually has been deteriorating here over the last 3 months, it never was this bad before.
In addition, since I learned that the Canadian Spy agency used the Vancouver Airport Free Wifi to secretly install passenger movement tracking software on devices, I’m not using that one anymore.  Get Stuffed, you paranoid control freaks!
I’m having a glass of wine at Koho, the fancier restaurant in YVR airport. I’m not eating here anymore since I got food poisoning from their food. But the wine should be safe ;-)  From the next table I hear the waitress asking a customer “Do you need change?”  What kind of question is that?  If the customer is not offering a ‘no change’ or ‘that’s fine’ do your bloody job and bring some change.

I have a 12 hour flight ahead of me, but that’s a small price to pay to get out of here ;-)
my ride

Unfortunately my hopes of an empty plane are crushed by a Boeing 777 packed to the rafters.  The thing I notice instantly is Korean Air’s chair spacing. Even in Sardine Class my knees are physically unable to touch any part of the seat in front of me, even if the guy in front leans his chair back to sleeping position.

The next surprise comes when food is served.  Not only does my tray contain metal cutlery and a glass glass instead of a plastic one, it also contains very yummy food.  Unlike the strange food choice offered by Air Canada “Beef, Chicken, or Pasta?” (as if Pasta was the new Pork), Korean Air asks whether I want beef, chicken, or fish.  Congratulations Korean Air. Now Air Canada has to hide even deeper in the darkness culinary atrocities.

After watching the new Spectre Bond and re-watching Star Wars  Episode IV (The very original one), I decide to check out the TV – travel offerings in the console and am I glad I did.

What I find is a 4 part series (35 minutes each) produced by Korean television about travel in Vietnam. And the first episode just happens to be about Da Nang, apparently also known as the Pearl of Vietnam, where I spent 4 fabulous days in December and where I am heading right now!   

It’s a great show actually looking into the lives of regular people instead of the villas of the filthy rich and I learn a lot I didn’t even guess at in December.
After watching, 35 minutes about Da Nang and Hoi An both of which I’ve been to, 35 minutes about Saigon and the Mekong delta, both still terra incognita to me, I am in the third episode andsee pictures of Ha Noi and Ha Long Bay and my eyes just don’t manage to dry any more between the up-welling tears of joyous recognition. 

Just before  landing I  get a view against the sunset that confirms that the area  around Seoul looks very much like south-western BC, something I already got a glimpse of when watching the funniest Monster movie I have ever seen, the South Korean movie The Host, filmed in Seoul
Looking at the above picture the next day, I realize that I probably could see North Korea and the DMZ from this vantage point, since the border is only about 40 kms away from Incheon airport!

Immigration and Customs at Incheon are bearable. A computerized device reads my fingerprints,  takes my picture, and then says "Thank you", to which I answer "you're welcome", which actually produces a smile on the face of the immigration officer.

The first thing I notice about South Korea is that it is -3 degrees Celsius outside and cooling off rapidly.   People wear scarfs and padded jackets and I'm glad I didn't board the plane in sandals this time. People smoke their cigarettes in fish-tanks erected on the side walk (Strangest thing!!!).And people RUN a lot.  People RUN for the taxis, the organizers distributing people to the taxis RUN, and I f
eel hectic after 2 minutes of watching all this running back and forth.  The taxi driver does not say a single word on the entire trip and drives as if his wife is having a baby. He races with 90 km/h past 60 km/h speed limit signs and police cars. This is not how I envisioned the country where all the Hyundais and Kias come from

The taxi to the hotel costs me roughly CAD$ 15 and the first question the receptionist asks when I get to the hotel is "Why didn't you take our shuttle?".    On the way to my room I notice that the hotel doesn't have a 4th floor!  

I step out into the very quiet and rural streetscape and see a 7/11 sign. Good. I need to buy cigarettes.  Another culture shock. 7/11 does not sell cigarettes. Neither does the gas station. I am directed to a tiny mom&pop shop that does. 4500 Won for this pack; ufortunately it is menthol, as I find out later ;-( .I already got Japanese-style chocolate and 2 spicy noodle soup cups at 7/11 and I'm set for the night.

And here is the reason why I chose this flight route. I fall asleep 8 pm local time, which is 3 am Vancouver time. It's a good mix between the old sleeping rhythm and the new one.

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