Late yesterday night, I arrived in Seoul, where I will be spending one half my week before finishing up in Japan. After completing two relatively quiet flights, the final Narita to Incheon segment was delayed for nearly three hours. Tired and jetlagged, the ground crew boarded the plane, with no air conditioning, as the flight crew nearly timed out. Had they not done so, our flight would have been cancelled until morning, leaving us in Japan. The issues were resolved, and we finally took off, arriving just before midnight in Korea. Many thanks to Jud, who provided a ride to the airport (with an unproductive stop at the Bridgewater Commons’ Verizon Wireless store).
However, arriving at midnight presents its own problems. The airport, about an hour from downtown Seoul, is only serviced by mass transit until around 11 PM. Since we didn’t land, let alone clear Immigration and Customs until after midnight, the only option left was an expensive (> $60) taxi ride. Northwest, though, provided shuttle buses, with a passive driver who didn’t announce any stops. So, at 1 a.m., exhausted and alone in a strange city where I didn’t speak the language, I found myself utterly lost on a bus going somewhere, but where that is I had no idea. The help of some polite passengers led me to get off at Seoul Station, and I was able to find a taxi to deliver me to my hotel.
Exhausted, sleep came quickly, but not before I made several failed attempts at dialing the US to indicate I’d arrived safely. Thankfully, while international dialing wasn’t working, I was able to use the free Internet access to IM a friend (Thanks, Ram!) to call home to let them know all is well.
With the adventure of merely arriving in Seoul over, I spent Monday wandering about the city. The city feels as though it is a cross between Hong Kong and Tokyo, a mixture of influence of both the Chinese and Japanese cultures, yet distinctly its own. A sense of optimism pervades Seoul, with a sense of both asserting their independence from U.S. policy while also remaining open to outside influence. I heard a distinct emphasis from one younger student about how Korea is modernizing, how these were our myths, but we don’t believe them anymore. How we used to use a fascinating under-heating system to keep the houses warm, but that many new houses use a central heating system. Concern around North korea exists from both a humanitarian and a security stance. But there is hope that the situation will improve and that reunification with occur within the not-too-distant time frame.
Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to the DMZ to see the border up close. The experience, I have been told, can be frightening.