Friday, June 30, 2006

Finally here

Let me just tell you, a 13 hour plane ride is an experience to be avoided at all costs. Not that the service wasn't great, because it was. Not because the food sucked, because it was the best airplane food I've ever had. No, more so just because 13 hours is way too much time for your brain to think up reasons why you should never have left in the first place and how horrible your experience is going to be. But for me, the worst part of the plane ride happened before we even left the ground.

So, when I checked in, I asked the guy for an aisle seat, preferably one with an empty seat next to it. (For those of you who hadn't noticed, I'm quite fat and find it difficult to be comfortable on flights of any length, let alone 13 hours!) He wasn't able to promise me that, but did offer to put me in the emergency exit aisle so that I could have space in front of me. (God, I can't even believe I'm telling this horrifying story!)

Anyway, so I get to my seat. No way. Not going to fit. Thought I had seen small seats before, but these are unbelievable. No crowbar, no greasing of the hips, no nothing would have made my ass fit in that seat. Plus, it was right next to somebody. And because it was in the emergency aisle, the arms didn't raise up at all.

So, nothing for it but to fetch a flight attendant and beg for her help. I explained that if I could just have a seat where the arm goes up, or one with no one next to me, I would be fine (of course, I was really hoping for an upgrade to Prestige Class, where I could have a La-Z Boy recliner for a seat). She understood me and went off to see what she could do. So. There I stood. Humiliated and waiting. Everyone staring. I'm not ashamed to say I was almost crying, but that would have just made everything so much worse. Eventually, the woman came back and pointed me to an aisle seat with an empty one next to it. Basically, this was the closest I could possibly come to the comfort of Prestige Class, and I was so grateful.

Let me also say that Korean Air has the best in-flight entertainment selection I have ever seen. They have the monitors in the back of the seat thing going on, and there are movies, audio, games, shopping, and more to choose from. In movies, there were about 20 different choices. I'm happy to say that I was able to watch: "Roman Holiday", "Nanny McFee", "Glory Road", "Memoirs of a Geisha", and "Failure to Launch". There were lots of new-release options, which was great. But, I did try to sleep, so that limited my movie watching. I think I got about 3 hours sleep total.

When I got to the airport, I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to find the bus. Now, I had heard that Koreans are very helpful to foreigners, so I guess I wasn't surprised when I stepped outside and a nice young man came right up to me and asked if I needed help finding the right bus. He looked at my sheet and then pointed me to the right kiosk. How nice! And, even nicer, the bus I needed was just getting there, so I didn't even have to wait!

The bus ride into Seoul was quite interesting. The tiny tiny shops, with a surprising amount of English in the titles...the huge market with stalls of fish laying out and baskets of spices stacked up...the Domino's Pizza with delivery motorcycles parked in front...the Popeye's was a blur of busyness.

When I got off at my stop ("Holiday!" as the driver shouted-short for Holiday Inn), there was another guy from America on there who was also getting picked up. We made our way across the very busy street to the hotel and there was a van waiting for us. It was all so easy! I was beginning to think that this was all going way too well.

And I was right! We got to the English Language Village and were show the building with our rooms. Staff live in 4 different dorm-type buildings, and from the outside everything looks great. My room is on the second floor, so I had to haul my heavy-ass suitcases up way way way too many steps, but I was lucky because the guy I came in with carried the Samsonite one up part way for me!

My room is slightly smaller than my dorm room, but it does have its own bathroom and a small balcony, which is nice. What is not nice: air conditioning is not yet working, no hot water, and my balcony faces into the mountain and overlooks the door where the boiler works are kept and where they are still doing construction. Very loud construction, until 11pm, desperate to finish before the first huge group of kids get here.

So, I get into my room and the first thing I notice is that the lights don't stay on. This is because there is a ridiculous feature where you have to have a special card to stick in a slot by the door, and unless that is in there, the lights will only stay on for a minute or two. And the heat/humidity is SWELTERING. Iowa, mid-August. I tried looking in my luggage, but I couldn't see because of the lights. I was exhausted. And the tv wouldn't work. And basically, I wanted to come home immediately.

However, I was soon given a key for the lights by one of the head teachers, and that made things better immediately because that actually controls ALL of the electricity in the room, so the tv started working too. My mood was much improved.

The bathroom is nice, but you have no separate shower. It's one of those deals where you can sit on the toilet and take a shower at the same time. Very nice.

I walked to the 7-11 last night to get some provisions for the evening. On the way there, I was accosted by a small girl who was out playing with her friends in the street. She kept following me and screaming "Welcome to Korea!" On the way back, she followed me all the way to the gate and then started yelling "bye bye!!!" frantically until I just had to ignore her and go into the village.

There is so much more to tell, mostly about my first day here, but I have no more time right now. I will write more later, promise. The internet is not working in my room yet, so I can only use the faculty computers. So far, I think things are going to be great. (This is based on my experience today, not my experience from yesterday.) So, don't be worried!

Talk to you all soon!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

In Transit

The love of travel is overwhelmingly bittersweet. On one hand, you get to see the world, make new friends, and become a more independent person. On the other, you are away from your family and friends for long periods of time, you can never feel entirely at home in just one place, and you spend way too much money on crappy things like SpaceBags. Sometimes I feel like I would give anything to be content just settling down in Des Moines, near family and friends, with a cute apartment and a cubicle job. Being torn in so many directions is exhausting.

You can thank Korean Airlines for the maudlin tone of voice I have this morning. I am currently at Chicago O'Hare, waiting for Korean Air to x-ray and re-approve my checked luggage. The reason the initial scan in Des Moines wasn't good enough is apparently attributable to my one-way ticket. So, I was told that I would have to wait upwards of an hour for them to collect my baggage from my first flight and then x-ray it again to make sure I haven't bought a one-way ticket with a view to blowing up the plane. At least I'm able to pay $7 for the privilege of using O'Hare's "WiFiZone" so that I can keep myself occupied instead of foaming at the mouth.

Anyway, my next entry should be from Korea, if everything goes according to long as I'm not detained for questioning or anything like that!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Almost ready...

Less than one week! Less than one week until I get on that plane. Holy shit--less than one week...


Well, at least I have a ticket. In my last entry, you'll recall that I was nervous about getting my visa back from the Korean Consulate in Chicago. Thankfully, that came in last Saturday, so I let my school contact know asap. Monday they bought my e-ticket and emailed it to me, with the casual opener, "Here's your e-ticket. Check it out." If only. The website it was from was entirely in Korean, with no English translation option. The parts of the e-ticket itinerary that were in English made no specific mention of which airlines I would be flying on ('cause that's not important or anything), but did state the flight numbers. From those, I was able to determine that I will be flying on American Airlines to Chicago and from there direct to Seoul on Korean Air. The truly shit part is that I won't be flying out until TUESDAY the 27th, so that I won't arrive until 4:30pm (Seoul time) the day before I have to start orientation. No worries...I'll only have just flown 14 hours in a tin can, across god knows how many time zones, so I'm sure there'll be no problem "hitting the ground running" as my welcome email so perkily put it. Bastards.

Anyway, this last weekend was a great time, getting to go out for a few drinks with friends. Friday night at my dad's bar for karaoke, and Saturday night at Tanner's for...karaoke. OK, that last one was completely on accident, but it wasn't as torturous as previous karaoke nights at Tanner's have been. My friend Jennifer from Minneapolis was able to make it down (along with her hottie boyfriend, Turker). Speaking of hotties, Matt Overton came out with us, so that was the first time I've seen him since Kevin Bell's wedding. Of course, the usual hotties were out: Jennifer James, Derek, as well as Timm and his ladies up at my dad's bar on Friday. (By the by, I heard later from my dad that they were the very last people left in the bar on Friday--so, way to not puss out like the rest of us, Timm!) I posted some pictures up above from last weekend, if you guys are interested. I haven't yet developed the b&w disposable camera that was provided by Jennifer James, but I'll post those ASAP. There are some classic shots on there of my new traveling partner, the miniature wandering gnome named Blue-Eyed "Jenkins" Louie. You know the drill...pose a garden gnome in front of the Eiffel Tower like he's a tourist, then take his picture and mail to friends, a la "Amelie". Jennifer has entrusted him to me for the duration of my stay in Korea, so keep your eyes peeled for him in my photos.

Next entry will either be right before I leave, or right after I get there..."right after" being a relative term, given my likely lack of time and/or energy. Good grief...I feel like I'm getting ready to walk off a cliff! Anyway, wish me luck...I just might need it.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cutting ties

Two weeks have slipped by, and finally my last day of work is upon me. I'm actually writing this at work because we're so slow today. (Even writing this sentence of course guarantees that we will be swamped the rest of the day, but I don't give a damn at this point!) To be honest, I cannot believe that I even lasted 9 months at this job because of the fiery hatred I have for cubicles and the sheep-like thinking they promote....however, I must say that it really is a tribute to the cool people I work with that I have remained gainfully employed here for so long. If I didn't have them to bitch with, I probably would have quit months ago!

So, I'm starting to sweat this Korea thing a little because my visa docs are not yet in order. I keep hearing from YBM (the company that owns the English Language Village that I'll be working at) that they will be sending my Visa Confirmation Number "very soon". I'm beginning to think this translates into the typical "3 to 5 business days" that usually means "when we get around to it, but possibly never". Once I get the number, I still have to submit my passport to the Korean Consulate in Chicago for them to stamp with the official visa. Without this, I will not be going to Korea. Hopefully, a delay in this process will not translate into YBM revoking my contract in favor of someone else being able to get there faster. If that happens, I will find a recruiter to get me a different teaching job in Korea because I am just too committed to the whole idea of it at this point.

Anyway, more to come as the deadline this point, these entries are really just a way of testing the system to make sure everybody who wants to read them is getting them.

Before I forget!! If you're in the Des Moines area, you are cordially invited to Tanner's bar on Saturday night, June 17th, for a farewell drink with yours truly. (It's across from the Hummer dealership at 100th and Hickman.) Hope to see you there!