Friday, March 13, 2009

Notes From Korea #1

My brother, Matt, and his intended, Michelle, planned to leave earlier in the Fall for a year of teaching in Korea. Their host employer tried and tried...and tried and tried some more to find them employment in close proximity to each other.
This was becoming quite the process. Finally, it seemed things came together all in a rush. My mom put together a big traditional Christmas dinner just before they were about to leave. There were a few gifts exchanged and then they left - it was December 12/08.
Matt and Michelle travelled to Korea over the course of a weekend - being due to report for work bright and early Monday morning. I think it's purposely planned like that to prevent any culture shock and home-sickness from setting in. From what I hear, the culture shock is pretty near impossible to avoid and homesickness took a couple of weeks to set in.
Michelle writes of their adventure getting to Korea from Toronto:

"After saying our many goodbyes to family and friends (and shedding a few tears), we were off to the Toronto airport with our fingers crossed that we would not be paying an arm and a leg for overweight/oversize luggage. After watching the guy in front of us get small hand slapping for the amount he packed we were a little nervous that the same was coming to us. Luckily we ended up with a pleasant lady at the ticket counter who let us shuffle our things around to only pay one small fee before printing off our tickets and sending us on our way.

The first flight was short and sweet and after pulling an all-nighter in our packing attempts the night before, we were both too tired to keep our eyes open. We landed in Washington D.C which seemed strange considering we would eventually pass over Toronto again on our way to Korea. We managed to grab something to eat and a comfy chair while waiting for our next and much longer flight to depart.

I guess things were going a little too smoothly, and about the time we should have been preparing to board our plane an announcement was made saying our flight was delayed due to mechanical problems until further notice. Although we would have preferred the delay as opposed to getting on a faulty plane for a 14 hour trip...this also meant we would miss our connection in Japan. Then came the next announcement telling all passengers to head down to the United Airlines customer service desk to book new flights and in turn, new connecting flights.

It was a mad-dash to the desk which seemed to be located across the other side of the airport. Lucky for us we had all of our hand luggage packed up and were wearing our coats so we were at the front of the crowd and trucking along. The line-up at the counter was winding and didn't move very fast. Being near the front it didn't take us too long to work our way up to the desk, and while in line we made friends with several other soon to be English-teachers heading to Korea as well.

With a support group in place we all booked our new flights together which would leave Washington almost 5 hours later then our original tickets and land in Japan at 9pm. Our connecting flight was scheduled to leave Japan at 9am the next morning, so due to the inconvenience United Airlines provided us with free lunch in Washington, Free hotel in Japan, free breakfast in the morning and are apparently sending us travel coupons for future flights. It all worked out to be a pretty good deal for us.

We spent several more hours in the Washington airport packing in our free lunch, playing cards on the floor and drinking some good 'ol Canadian beer that one of our new friends had purchased at duty free and was getting tired of carrying.

Eventually we were on our way for the big 14 hr flight which didn't sound so bad but sure did feel long half-way through. I think we managed to bend our bodies in every and all ways possible to try to get comfortable. We could choose our own movies on the plane from a selection of about 6 different channels and plane food has actually improved since I last remembered it although still not entirely tasty.

Upon landing in Japan we took an airport bus to our hotel (the Crowne Plaza) which was very nice and had a large Christmas tree in the front lobby. We found our room which came complete with robes and slippers (which helped us since we hadn't packed for an overnight stay), as well as a kettle and tea bags to brew our own. It took us awhile to figure out how to flush the toilet but we figured it out and had a nice shower to freshen up as much as possible before putting our dirty plane clothes back on.

In the morning we got a complimentary breakfast at the hotel buffet (provided by United...I would fly with them again!) which included bacon, eggs, cereal, toast and fruit along with various other Japanese treats. We completed the morning with some massage chairs at the airport while waiting for our flight to leave. All in all it was a really nice stay in Japan.

Our flight to Korea was only 2 hours and they even provided us with a meal although we were too stuffed from our morning buffet to eat...and we weren't quite sure what we were eating so we opted to play it safe. Our luggage was waiting for us at the airport which had been a previous concern since we had changed our flights since originally checking our luggage.

A driver was waiting for us outside the arrival doors with a sign saying "Matt and Michelle" no last names, so we hope we didn't steal someone else's ride.
We're finally in Korea and ready to start our BIG adventure...
Michelle's view from her subway station
I'm glad they made it - together, with all the hurriedly packed possessions they could fit in that would have to last them through four seasons. They were happy to find their apartment was located in a very convenient place. It is right next to the subway station, plenty of food places and a Zellers-ish store which would prove to be very useful. They quickly discovered that Michelle's school doesn't turn the heat on. They also discovered some friends living not too far away. Friends who dropped by within a few days bearing a housewarming gift - toilet paper - and much knowledge about those baffling Korean appliances.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Thanks for posting this! I have 3 boys who are very, very interested in all things Korean since starting Tae Kwon Do lessons last fall. One of their instructors recently returned from teaching in Korea and they are in awe of his adventures!

Looking forward to reading more!