Thursday, April 28, 2011

In which a non-departure is detailed

Let's reminisce a little, shall we?

Remember that time that you were living in a foreign country and your mom decided to come visit you and you were both crazy excited and then her flight from Boston to New York was delayed for an hour and a half and so she missed her connecting flight to Korea and no one at the airport was helping her book a new flight and her cell phone was dying and she couldn't get to her luggage because the counter was already closed and everyone was freaking out?


Basically the past 24 hours have been a nightmare. My mom has had her visit planned for a few weeks and was supposed to arrive in Incheon this afternoon around 4pm on a direct flight from JFK in New York. She left for Logan in Boston nice and early on Wednesday morning but then her flight on American Airlines to JFK was seriously delayed and so she ended up missing her connecting flight. 

From there everything sort of fell apart. She was at the American Airlines counter for an hour but they ended up saying that because there wasn't a two hour window between the landing and take-off of her two flights, that essentially it wasn't their fault so it shouldn't fall on them to deal with it. She booked through AAA and since there weren't any red flags regarding the time between her flights when she booked them, it didn't seem like an issue. Since I wasn't actually there I can't speak for what the customer service was actually like at the American Airlines counter but I don't care too much to hear about an airline that won't work to help out a stranded passenger. Since all the flights directly to Korea were done for the day she was pretty much stuck and obviously upset about it. 

In the meantime, my dad and I were talking over Skype while he was trying to help her figure things out. One big problem was that her luggage was with Asiana Air, the carrier for her second flight, and their counter was already closed for the day so there was no way she could get to it. When I finally went to bed at 6:30am she was still at the airport deciding where to spend the night, my dad was on the phone with American Airlines to verify the whereabouts of her baggage, and her best shot at a flight out was to get on standby for the same flight on Asiana leaving the following day, Thursday, and just hope she wouldn't get bumped until the Friday departure. Basically all my fears regarding my own flight to Korea came true for my poor mom. Like I said, nightmare.

So I finally went to bed and a little before 11am this morning my phone suddenly rang. By some weird twist of fate, my co-worker Jim, who just so happens to have an obsessive passion for the airline industry, decided to randomly call me and ask how my mom's take off went. I told him what was happening and he immediately told me to come over. By the time I got there he was explaining that Asiana was completely booked into the following week and so we started looking for alternatives for her. Long story short, we ended up spending five hours on the phone with everyone from AAA to American Airlines to Asiana to my mom (thank you Skype credit!), who at this point was spending the night in a dumpy love motel by the airport (not even in Korea yet and she's already covered one Korean experience).

It wasn't a pleasant five hours and a lot of times the people we talked to were no help. AAA told us to wait and then hung up on us and the folks we spoke to at American Airlines were pretty nice but useless. We asked if they had my mom's luggage and they swore up and down that yes, it was at the American Airlines counter which we learned later was a complete lie. One of them, I don't even remember who, re-booked her but the flight was ridiculous. She would have had to fly from JFK to LAX, spend the night there, then fly from LAX to Narita in Tokyo, and then go from Narita to Incheon. Her arrival would be 9:15pm on Saturday night. That was not even an option in my opinion. We considered just totally booking her a brand new flight on another airline but couldn't get anyone to give us a refund. AAA told us it was American Airline's problem, American claimed it was up to Asiana, and Asiana said to talk to AAA. Might as well have been a damn Marx Brother's movie it was so absurd. 

We tease Jim a lot when he starts talking about airlines but after what he managed to pull off today I promise I won't ever make fun of his Korean Air phone charm and matching fridge magnets. I was pretty useless and had no idea what to say to anyone but he just kept calling and pushing. Around 1pm he got on the phone with Asiana, explained the situation, and asked if there was any way they could get my mom on their Thursday afternoon direct flight to Incheon. They said they would call back within the hour so it was a waiting game. I got ready for work then went down to Jim's and around 2:45 we called Asiana again and they said to give them ten more minutes. I was pacing, I swear. We also had to leave for work by 3:15 so I was stressing. If they said no to the flight, I was about to just charge $1600 to my credit card to get her here in one piece by Friday. We could fight for a partial refund later. 

Jim must be some kind of magician because Asiana called back and said that they had a seat for her on their Thursday plane flying directly to Incheon at 1pm. This flight had been fully booked and I was so sure we were screwed and then voilà, there they were confirming that my mom had a seat on essentially the exact same flight she was supposed to take, only a day later. I kept waiting for the catch. Asiana told us that she'd have to hit up the American Airlines ticketing counter to have them reissue her ticket and then after that she would be all set.

By now we were cutting it close for work so I didn't have time to call my mom on Skype to let her know about all this. We literally ran around our neighborhood into convenience stores looking for international calling cards so I could call her from work. When we got there, Jim called American just to double check it all on their end and then we called my mom and filled her in. By then it was almost 3am her time and since the ticketing counter opens early she got there by 4am to take care of things. I called her when I got out of work at 7:30pm and she said everything went smoothly and that she was just waiting now for Asiana to open up at 9:30am. Turns out Asiana did have her luggage which made everything that much more convenient.

Then my dad emailed me to say that my mom has her Asiana boarding flight in hand. She departs at 1pm so I'm waiting up just to watch that little online plane tracker actually take off and then I think I can rest easy. I know I'm saying I was pretty stressed out but I know it's nothing compared to how my mom felt. This is her first time flying internationally and I'm bummed for her that it started out badly. How frustrating to be stuck without help and without luggage. I'm hoping today though that she can just press the rewind button and put yesterday behind her. She has 14 hours ahead of her on one of the, if not the, best airlines in the world. When I kept bugging Jim about whether or not Asiana would call back he assured me they would. He made the point that if you want to retain your five star status that you can't just brush people off or tell them to deal with their own problems. I already liked Asiana from my own flight here and now I appreciate their service so much more. If you're flying to Asia and you can find a reasonably priced deal, fly with them, they're great.

So anyway that's the scoop, especially for those of you family/friends who may be reading who knew my mom was coming out to visit. She'll get here, just a day later than intended. She even agreed that it's one of those stories you can pull out later but in the moment it's awful and frustrating and exhausting. I just can't wait for her to be here so she can relax and we can have an awesome week together. I'm really excited about this visit and I'm excited for her to see Korea.

Oh air travel. Where's a pair of seven-league boots when you need them?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Springing along

This weekend I was back in Yeouido for the cherry blossom festival and relaxing by the river.
There is a nice long street where the sidewalks are lined with trees so we walked along with the crowds and enjoyed the view. So so pretty.
After the blossoms we ended up by the busy part of the river where people were picnicking and flying kites and lounging. It was a really gorgeous day and it was nice to just throw a blanket down and take a nap in the sun. I didn't end up renting a bike like I really wanted because there weren't any close by and we got there later in the day than intended but I'm determined to do it soon! I miss riding a bike and it's flat enough by the river that I won't even have to trick my calves into agreeing to something they're not prepared to do. 
So Saturday was busy and pretty and began with Mexican for lunch and ended with Greek for dinner. Oh and a side trip to What the Book? which I was all too pleased to squeeze in. I'm on an Agatha Christie binge and What the Book? has a bunch of her books used, or at least they did until I found the stash...

Sunday I refused to even set an alarm and slept in late. I stayed in my pajamas and browsed online and bookmarked a handful of items from stores back home that my mom is awesomely going to bring for me when she comes to visit next week(!!!). Then I went to see Paul which was less funny than I was expecting but still funnier than most of the movies that claim to be comedies. My nerdiness doesn't extend so much into sci-fi so I think some of the references may have been lost on me but overall I enjoyed it. Sundays have sort of become movie nights around here so I'm hoping next week will either be Hanna or Jane Eyre.

This weekend's events also solidified my decision to spring for a new camera. My Canon PowerShot has been a trooper but five years on I think I'm ready for something that will help me take the kind of pictures I really really want to take. I'm not sure if I'm going to buy one here or order it from home but there are at least two Nikon DSLRs  that I'm considering so I need to sit down and decide about that. When my week of vacation comes up at the end of June I'm 99% sure that my boyfriend and I are going to China and I would love to have something new to shoot with for that trip. Any tips, camera techy people?

Trivia of the Day:  Seoul National University (SNU), colloquially known in Korean as Seoul-dae (서울대), is a national research university in Seoul, Korea. Founded in 1946, Seoul National University was the first national university in South Korea, and served as a model for the many national and public universities in the country. Seoul National University has been recognized for its leading role in Korean academia, and entry into the university is viewed as a ticket to success. Throughout its history, Seoul National University has been regarded as the most eminent of all post-secondary educational institutions in South Korea. It is regarded as the most renowned university by the general public and recruits top-notch high school students.

SNU graduates dominate South Korea's academics, government, politics and business. Between 2003 and 2009, more students who graduated from science high schools and received presidential scholarships matriculated at Seoul National University than at eight other leading universities combined. The concentration of SNU graduates in legal, official, and political circles is particularly high. Two-thirds of South Korean judges are SNU graduates, although the country's judicial appointment system is based solely on open competitive examinations. On the political side, four out of seven presidential candidates in 2002 were SNU graduates. The school is also often criticized by some South Koreans for being elitist and bureaucratic.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

We got the van at a used car lot. We think it says Alleluia Church of Scranton in Korean

Wednesday morning I went with Brianna into Songdo which is the new central business district being built in Incheon. I've only been there once and just for dinner so it was interesting to check it out during the daytime and see how the construction is coming along.
Currently the area is pretty quiet- a handful of buildings sticking up here and there, traffic light enough that you can run across the street during the "Don't Walk" signal (something I wouldn't advise doing anywhere else in Korea), a good number of people out and about but not crowded by any means, etc. Here is what the vision for Songdo is, according to its website:
Songdo IBD (International Business District) boasts the wide boulevards of Paris, a 100-acre Central Park reminiscent of New York City, a system of pocket parks similar to those in Savannah, a modern canal system inspired by Venice and convention center architecture redolent of the famed Sydney Opera House. The cultural fabric of Songdo IBD will also be a rich one with a stunning opera house, concert hall, museum and aquarium. A Jack Nicklaus championship golf course - one of only 25 in the world - is under construction with plans already in the works for high-profile events, including a PGA Championship Tour event.
The plan is to have the area complete by 2015 though I expect that they'll want to have as much as possible done by 2014 when Incheon is hosting the next Asian Games. So Songdo is filling in slowly but surely. People are moving in, buildings are going up, and restaurants and stores are starting to open bit by bit.
(Songdo Convensia Convention Center)
The Central Park is nice. They did a good job planning lots of open spaces in Songdo and the park is located right across from the convention center. A canal runs through it and you can take little boat tours so we bought tickets and then wandered through the park while we waited. And along the way we came across this:
Yeah, so, back story time. Apparently at some point last year they set up this big thing in Central Park called The Bible Expo. But then along came a crazy typhoon at the end of the summer and did a number on it. They stood up some of the pieces that had fallen over and everything but now, a few seasons later, it's still standing and... well I'd say looking pretty worse for the wear but I'm not sure it was ever really in such great shape to begin with.
 (There's luckdragons in the bible?)
 Dedicated to those who did not make it through the typhoon parting of the Red Sea.
Random Santa Village

After a turn around the park we still had about an hour to kill before our boat ride so we grabbed some lunch at Res2Go, a teriyaki house with great food and great service. I definitely recommend it if you're in the area. Then we came back for our boat ride down the canal which lasted approximately 25 minutes. It's a wee canal.
Look at how huge that ark is that they built! I thought it was a building at first.
친차?! Really?!
I feel like this picture pretty much sums up Songdo as it stands right now...
 The Northeast Asia Trade Tower.
So yep, that's Songdo, or at least what's there so far. A few streets over from the convention center and central park there were more stores and coffee shops and the traffic was slightly heavier. It'll be interesting to watch as it gets busier though and hopefully while I'm here some more good shopping places will open up. Maybe I can use the Asian Games as an excuse to come back in 2014 and see how things have progressed!

Trivia of the Day: Dancheong (단청) refers to Korean traditional decorative coloring on wooden buildings and artifacts for the purpose of style. It literally means "cinnabar and blue-green" in Korean. It is based on five basic colors; blue (east), white (west), red (south), black (north), and yellow (center). Dancheong has various symbolic meanings. Dancheong also represented social status and rank by using various patterns and colors. It functions not only as decoration, but also for practical purposes such as to protect building surfaces against temperature and to make the crudeness of materials less conspicuous. Applying Dancheong on the surfaces of buildings require trained skills, and artisans called dancheongjang (단청장) designed the painted patterns.