Monday, November 22, 2010

In which an arrival is detailed

I made it! And in one piece! And with both suitcases and carry-on bags accounted for! If that doesn’t spell success I don’t know what does.

My trip consisted of four phases.

Phase One involved flying from Logan Airport to SFO in San Francisco. I left my house at 3:15 am on Friday with my parents and headed into Boston. Once we got to Logan we went about finding the check-in counter for United Airlines which was a total mess. There was hardly anyone working the counters and most of the employees were visibly just screwing around. Seriously unimpressive UA.

We were waiting in the international check-in line which had finally started moving along when the guy in front of me put the first of his three bags on the scale and it registered at “57 lbs”. The lady checking him in snapped, “It’s overweight. That’s $200”. He was like, “What?!” and behind him I was like, “OH MY GOD”. Apparently that’s the fee for overweight bags for international flights. Holy heart attack Batman, I was freaking out. I’d weighed my bags at home but that was using a bathroom scale and my biggest bag I figured was going to be over but I’d just suck it up and pay the $25 or $50 that it might be, thinking it’d be the same cost for my family to ship those items to me anyway.

But that was before I knew it’d cost 200 friggin dollars. That’s absurd. One of the employees saw me panicking and said I could weigh my bags at an empty counter just to check before my turn. I put both bags up and they were under 50 lbs so that was a huge sigh of relief. Another employee came over, told us the wait was shorter at the domestic counter, and told us to go there. So we trooped on over and when I put my big bag on the scale it registered at 54 lbs. We said that on the other scale it was under 50 and the woman working the counter just sort of laughed and was like, “Oh really?”, slapped a tag on my suitcase and sent it on through. So no ridiculous charge, sweet relief!

I said goodbye to my parents outside of security and made it through without having to endure any creepy TSA groping or sketchy naked-o-vision machine. My mom called me when I got to the other side and we realized she had the copies of my flight info in hand. A woman on my flight overheard the conversation and first offered to let me use her computer to bring my info up on email to copy down and then came back a few minutes later to point me toward a counter where they could just print it for me. She was wicked nice and assured me SFO would be easy to navigate and that even traveling solo for the first time I’d be okay. The kindness of strangers sometimes, it’s a beautiful thing.

So the flight to SFO was fine I guess. I was exhausted but couldn’t really sleep and was more than happy to finally disembark and commence Phase Two: SFO to Incheon International.

I got in the wrong check-in counter line twice but finally tracked down Asiana Air and got my boarding pass. My flights were booked separately but I’d made sure at Logan to have my bags checked all the way through so that was one less thing to worry about.

That flight over was much better. This was only my second time flying internationally but I think I like it. The plane was bigger so I felt much less claustrophobic and I liked that the TVs had an option to track the flight. I don’t have much to compare it with but I was very happy flying with Asiana. The meals were tasty and the movie options were decent and they provided complimentary slippers which was the best thing ever.

The two guys seated next to me were returning to Seoul from a business trip and when they saw me looking over my welcome packet they asked a bunch of questions and gave me some tips about the city and told me that everyone would be really helpful and friendly. We chatted about the weather and they made sure I knew it’d be cold soon and did I bring a coat. Before we landed just after 6pm they even checked that I was all set with transportation from the airport and wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly. I’m telling you, either I earned some good karma of late or there was something in the water yesterday because people were being totally nice. For a frazzled first time flier I can’t tell you how much I appreciated all the help.

Phase Three went relatively smoothly as well. After getting through the immigration line I scooped up my luggage, internally wept with joy that it hadn’t gotten lost, and headed through customs and out to the bus stops. Luckily the stop I needed was right in front of me because carrying a heavy backpack, a laptop/miscellaneous items bag, two suitcases, and a coat was awkward as hell. My suitcases kept toppling over but the bus to City Air Terminal in Seoul arrived quickly. I bought a ticket for ₩15,000 won (just under $15) and hopped on board.

At this point the exhaustion started catching up with me (I only slept a little on the way to Incheon and had basically been awake since 10am Thursday) and I nodded off a few times during the drive. It was under an hour to CAT and then on to Phase Four upon arrival.

From CAT I took a taxi to the hotel that I’m staying at for the duration of training. I shared it with another CDI trainee and a friend of a fellow trainee who was meeting her. At the hotel I checked in, lugged my stuff to my room, called my recruiter to say I’d made it, emailed home, took a shower, and collapsed. I was so tired and so gross from all that traveling. I slept for about 10 hours and I think I may have avoided the dreaded jet lag. The lack of sleep meant I slept beautifully last night and I drank so much water and orange juice between Boston and Incheon that I feel pretty okay now.

At the hotel I'm rooming with another trainee and yesterday I went exploring with her and two friends who trained a few weeks ago. We went to Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market which were knock-offs heaven with food stalls and coffee shops and clothing stores sprinkled in between. Today I start training but there's apparently so many of us in this session that they've broken us into morning and afternoon groups. My roommate is heading there now and I'll be going downstairs around noon to catch the bus to the training center.

I haven't snapped too many pictures yet which is why this post is a giant wall of text but once I'm settled in that will definitely be changing. When I came through customs at Incheon however I finally did pull my camera out to capture this amusing greeting message:

Heh. Welcome to Korea.

Trivia of the Day:  Tetraphobia is an aversion to or fear of the number 4. It is a superstition most common in East Asian regions such as mainland China, island of Taiwan, Japan and Korea. The Chinese word for four sounds quite similar to the word for death, in many forms of spoken Chinese. Similarly, the Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean words for four, shi (Japanese – other four is Yon) and sa (사, Korean), sound identical to death in each language. In Korea, tetraphobia is less extreme, but the floor number 4 is almost always skipped in hospitals and similar public buildings. In other buildings, the fourth floor is sometimes labeled "F" (Four) instead of "4" in elevators. Apartment numbers containing multiple occurrences of the number 4 (such as 404) are likely to be avoided to an extent that the value of the property is adversely affected. The national railroad, Korail, left out the locomotive number 4444 when numbering a locomotive class from 4401 upwards.

My hotel has the fourth floor labeled in the elevator but I'll be keeping an eye out in other buildings.


  1. hilarious. you seemed to have had a decent flight--i hate flying over an ocean so much and feel like i die a little when i fly back to korea(one of grumpy, not kind people who sleep with their mouths open and don't chat with neighbors!) one time, flying out of korea back to the u.s. i packed my luggage so tight and was only focused on cramming as much stuff that when the check-in guy read the weight after i, worried, told him it might be a bit over the limit(lie. it was good 15kg overweight) he jumped back yelling "youve got to be kidding me!" in front of everyone.

  2. Yeah overall the flight went pretty well which I'm happy about because it felt like starting this whole journey off on the right foot!

    And I honestly still cannot wrap my head around the fee for overweight bags. I understand that they have to charge something to discourage people from packing their entire living rooms but $200 is just crazy. At least for me I had my parents there if I needed to remove anything to leave behind but I felt bad for the guy in front of me who was checking in solo :/