Friday, 19 February 2016

Plane Madness: DAD to HAN to ICN to YVR (and eating Haemul Pajeon)

8:10 am on the 19th of February.  I'm sitting in a plane in Da Nang, Vietnam. Headed for Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Leaving has already been hard and I'm still in Vietnam.
Waking at 5:30, I showered and packed and stood at the beach road for a while, seeing yet another Vietnamese Sunrise (there should be drink by that name) despite expectations.

Mute bus man (I still don't know his name) is happy to see me and we exchange sign language and city and country names to discuss the weather along my journey route. When I leave in the taxi half an hour later, I spot him returning from getting fresh Banh mi for breakfast and there are these two old men waving Tam Biet to each other.

At Da Nang airport I manage to find another one of those plastic jars of spicy eel jerky, which I'm bringing to Vancouver to share with some adventurous eaters.

The 1 hour flight to Ha Noi is spent napping off.  I take the shuttle bus between terminals for the first time, not only because of the mini suitcase but also because it's a chilly overcast 15 degrees here.

Again, there is ZERO line-up at Korean Air (HOW do they do it???) and I'm OFFERED a free emergency row seat for the flight from Seoul to Vancouver tomorrow, which I happily accept. I won't even have to / be able to pick up my suitcase at Incheon. They take care of it all the way to Vancouver.

Since I'm spending 24 hours in Incheon (there is a beach there!) that is a bit odd, but I'll just have to make sure to wash my clothes in the sink tonight and they'll be sure to be dry tomorrow morning in those overheated rooms.

2 hours to kill and how better to do it than in a tastefully decorated airport restaurant with a view of the runway, classical music playing, and with an ashtray on the table.  


I eat Pho Ga and write the FIRST postcards on this entire trip.  I realize that I can't read my own handwriting.  Early stages of something or just not used to hand-writing anymore?

After some searching for a mailbox at Ha Noi International Airport, I ask someone working in a store where it might be located.  I am informed that it is in the domestic terminal but then the woman says "I can help you".  You GOTTA LOVE a country like that.  The post cards arrive in Vancouver one week after I do.  CAM ON NHIEU, personal postal helper at Noi Bai !!!!

The flight is a fabulous 4 hours short.  My assigned seat has LEG ROOM and is right next to the peanut dispensary (i.e. the stewardess hangout).

The food is FABULOUS (fish with veggies & noodles, and the amount of peanuts consumed is Ginormous !

Then it all starts turning sour. As soon as they are out of the plane, South Koreans start RUNNING.  1 stand in line ONE HOUR at immigration and I tell one of the many managers WATCHING the tourist cattle slowly move towards the only HALF OCCUPIED booths "Who's in CHARGE here?  This is an OUTRAGE! I've travelled a lot and I've NEVER seen anything LIKE THIS". I must admit that it was worse than anything Vancouver immigration ever manage to concoct.   With almost half of the immigration officer seats un-occupied, it takes 55 minutes to get my passport stamped.  A flashing sign above the immigration lineup keeps saying "Where Korea greets the world".  This is something that Korea Inc. should be ASHAMED of.  I am actually considering flying through Hong Kong to Vietnam next time just so I can make sure NEVER to be subjected to such cattle treatment again.  Just WHY am I the only one complaining? Sure, citizens of Korea Inc., are well trained and well behaved, but what about all those foreign passport holders? Have they all been THAT well trained in the ways of cattle?  After I'm through I realize that I had filled in the Profession field with NOYB (None of your business). He He.  Do they expect spies to enter their proper fields of activity?

No airport shuttle to be seen anywhere.  The Global ATM does not  accept foreign cards. But the seats in the taxi  waiting area have heated seats.  I love ILL-PLACED priorities.  If you had enough taxis there, you wouldn't need heated seats. If you filled all your seats at Immigration control, you wouldn't need that many fat managers to watch the growing lined-up crowds.  

At the hotel I realize that my  shaver/deodorant/etc are in the suitcase being held to be loaded onto tomorrows flight. So are fresh undies

Ah well, not tragic, I have a good seat during tomorrow's flight. Legroom behind a bulkhead and again right next to the peanut dispensary!

At the 7/11 I buy a noodle soup  and a small bottle of Traditional Korean Wine.  The store owner makes a strange satisfied or amused noise, when this westerner actually produces coins for the right amount instead of just handing over a huge bill like 3 weeks ago.

5 am (What does that even mean anymore? What time zone am I in again?) Have some coffee, that might clear the head.  The receptionist is still wearing his padded jacket while sleeping in his chair behind the counter when I have my first cigarette at 5:20.  It feels strange being back here. Not because it is - 3 degrees Celsius outside. It seems much longer than 3 weeks that I've arrived in South Korea for the very first time, but it seems strangely familiar. Today I won't be rushed at the breakfast buffet and even before I go down there, the thought that I now know how to open the strange Korean jam packages gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. 

I am constantly being inundated with new impressions and situations on my travels and I'm LEARNING things.  
This is the really addictive part of travelling ;-)

At 5:40 I am exploring the 'town'. I find the beach but saying that I'm underwhelmed is putting it very politely.  Maybe it's the -3 degrees; I have got used to 35 degrees more ;-)
For all I know it could be saying "You are now entering North Korea"

I left my mark on Korean soil

I head down to the restaurant at 6:15.  It's cold in there, so I sit at a table right below where the hot air comes from the ceiling, but I regret not having changed to my long pants. I keep noticing more similarities between Seoul and Vancouver (the geographical similarity is already mind-boggling): The breakfast is bland and the coffee is appalling.

Three very white Canadian( their accent is a give-away, probably from Regina) women in their mid 50s to mid 60s inspect the Korean breakfast offerings with the words "I'm not sure but I'm going to try!" Good for you, girl !!!

Heading down to the beach again at 7:30, I get a feeling similar to the battle fields off WW I in Flanders. Or maybe it's that the Demilitarized Zone to North Korea is less than 100  kms away from where I'm standing.  I am reminded of that woman taking pictures with a very large telephoto lens last night at the airport and quickly walking away when I observed her curiously.  If she had stayed and kept taking pictures I would have never thought about it twice. It was her hasty retreat that was the strange thing.

Anyhoo,  I'm VERY GLAD to be back in the warmth of my hotel room and I think of the North Koreans further north in this icy land and wonder what kind of heating,if any, they have.

I wash my socks in the sink and use the blow-dryer to dry them. They're wool socks and dry quickly. Out for another excursion.  When I step into the sun, I can really feel its heat even though the temperature is only 5 degrees.  Let's hope that has nothing to do with North Korea's recent Nuclear test explosion !!!!

A bit further down the road (100 meters, the actual town of Incheon is TINY) are heavily-advertised stores.  At first I can't figure out whether they are restaurants or shops, but after walking past them, I know.  They are restaurants. The owner of EACH restaurant is standing heavily dressed on the street in front of their establishment, inviting the potential guest into their place with words and hand gestures.  A woman owner makes me laugh. She says something in Korean but  also points at  her lower legs and folds her arms around her "Aren't you freezing in those shorts?" she wants to know. I repeat in English pointing at my hoodie and then at my tanned cheeks, hoping to convey: "This is warm and I still have heat stored up" but maybe she understood. "I'm warm here, but I want to tan my face more." Anyhoo, both of us are laughing out loud without a single word of a common language having been exchanged. LOVE IT!

Yes, that is what it looks like

An hour later I go for a looong beach walk and by the time I come back the weekend crowd from Seoul has arrived for their weekend lunch at the beach. A completely different type of people. I nod hello to a few of them and not a single one nods back. One woman slowly lets her glance wander from my head to my shots-wearing legs. NO NOD. NO JOKE. City people SUCK!

At 1:30, I'm getting hungry. The hotel has a restaurant, but why not check out one of those seafood places that the city people from Seoul flock to? I might as well while I'm here!

I think I'm going to the place where the woman made fun of my shorts.  Right away I see a shoe shelf outside. I take them off.  There are mats on the floor and the tables are REALLY REALLY low.  The woman working the inside gives me a funny look, then points at a table.

After I squat (it takes some getting used to), she brings me a menu. It's not really easy what the things are, but at least the Koreans use roman numerals for prices. In the end I just point at one of the dishes and hope for the best.

It ends up being some kind of seafood-green-onions-pancake. The seafood in it ranges from octopus arms over squid, clams, shrimp, and oysters to some other fishy stuff I don't even know what it is. The small dishes contain pickled beans (soy? on second thought and taste, I think they might be pickled peanuts!), pickled radish or potato (no like), very glibbery and slippery but tasty tofu (undecided), and spicy cold cabbage (not my thing either).
I'm so glad I decide to bite the bullet and come in here. This is not one of those "oh look, we get to take our shoes off" Japanese restaurants in Vancouver. This is the real deal. And some of that stuff hidden in my pancake I never would have ordered on its own. I can't be 100% sure, but today might be the day when I have eaten my first oyster.

Despite having no idea what I'm eating half the time I like it and I hope I don't offend anyone by not finishing my entire plate. I end up paying US$ 10 for the huge meal. Getting up from the floor shows that I'm a foreigner. While no-one else seems to have trouble with it, my knees and various other joints protest loudly.

On the way back to the hotel, I ask a young traffic directer (he has an orange baton) whether this is a daily occurrence or just happens on weekends  He smiles "Only weekends. Are you OK?" he says pointing at my shorts "You're not freezing?". I don't want to rub in the fact that I don't have to stand here for hours and direct Hyundais, Kias, and whatever the Korean Automobile industry produces and just say "I come from Vietnam. I filled up with enough warmth".  He laughs and his smile gets even brighter.

When I get back to the hotel I google "Korean seafood pancake" and discover that I've eaten Haemul Pajeon, a famous dish;  there is even a Wikipedia Entry for it

4:15 pm I'm packed an the airport shuttle just left. Ah well, I had told reception early enough; he'll just have to take me to the airport when I get back.

The shuttle returns at 4:45 and I get my free lift to the airport. Next time I know how to say Thank You in Korean.Something Hamnida (Gomabseubnida).

Incheon Airport is impressive! A Korean version of Polysporin just seems to redden my healing balloon cuts. I stay away from Korean fridge magnets because they want $10 a piece (R U KIDDING?)  The airport is full of Gucci etc stores. I see young Asians admiring their wrists in a mirror in a Rolex store.  Just for fun I check out the models in an Omega store.  The $20 copy on my wrist is prettier than anything they have.A Korean version of Polysporin just seems to redden my healing balloon cuts. I stay away from Korean fridge magnets because they want $10 a piece (R U KIDDING?)  The airport is full of Gucci etc stores. I see young Asians admiring their wrists in a mirror in a Rolex store.  Just for fun I check out the models in an Omega store.  The $20 copy on my wrist is prettier than anything they have.
I didn't know that the train into Seoul was a MagLev Train !!!! I would have taken it back and forth just to have ridden one !  Next time. Or maybe the one in Shanghai?

classy !

I didn't even know that they exist ;-)

I buy 4 pair of CUTE socks for $10 because I really feel like changing mine again.  22-28 cms. Will they fit?


18:05 I'm getting hungry and I hope that boarding will commence soon because I really could eat some peanuts.

It's maybe just the temperatures here in Seoul, but probably also friends and relatives I haven't seen in 3 weeks, as well as a long Vancouver to-do list, but I'm actually ready to get back to Vancouver.

 I've learned a lot on this last trip, grown at least a little as a human being, have hopefully taken at least a few good photos,have made quite a lot of people smile, have identified a list of places to see next time, and I have a tan ;-)

Have a good look at the picture above.   It's the last time I will see the sun for a LOONG time and it's pretty much all downhill from here .

Nothing new in Vancouver, except maybe NO lineup at immigration.  The woman behind the counter probably doesn't like me mentioning that because she codes my customs card so that I am selected for secondary inspection.  Oh, so this is where the line-up is. A guy in front of me is well trained as an obedient citizen and remarks upon me sucking on my electronic nicotine delivery system : "Are you allowed to do that?  I wouldn't risk that in here". Congratulations Canada, your cattle is behaving well!

In contrast to 2012, the woman going through my belongings is professional, courteous, and just plain NICE. It doesn't take 2 hours like in 2012, but after 20 minutes max  I'm on my way.  The 4 extra packs of cigarettes beyond the allowance remain unmentioned (Thank you, classy Inspection Lady) and I'm not volunteering the fact that the old Vietnamese oil lamps I'm bringing for Grandma are actually Opium-smoking devices. Hey, they won't be used as that, so Canada is safe !

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