My trip to Korea started off easy enough. I had breakfast with my mom, sister, and aunt and then was dropped off at the airport. Then I sat around for two hours since that’s what you do when you’re on an international flight.
My first stop was in Detroit. I had a little less than an hour to make my next flight to Seoul. After going to the bathroom and overpaying for a gross McDonald’s meal, I realized that I lost my phone. I remember clearly taking the phone out of my pocket in the bathroom so it wouldn’t fall out. Throwing away my sandwich, I ran back to the restroom to find my cell phone gone. I asked a stranger who suspiciously looked like my best friend’s ex-boyfriend if I could use his phone to call mine. He continued to scroll through Facebook and didn’t want to answer me. A lady who was charging her phone let me try. No answer. Another young man let me use his phone to call my mom to let her know I was phone-less. Mom answered and told me that someone found my phone and they were looking up my flight info. They would be paging me. Faith in humanity restored!
I did all that rushing around for nothing because the Detroit flight got delayed. I was freaking out a little since my connecting flight from Seoul to Busan was only an hour, and I wasn’t sure if I would have to go through customs or not.
The flight itself was ok. There was a little TV in all the headrests so I got to catch up on a few movies I’ve been wanting to see. (Big Hero 6 is a sad movie despite the marshmallow robot.) And I will say that the neck pillow my cousin bought for me saved the day. I might have gone crazy without it.
When I arrived in Seoul, I met up with a few other foreigners. One was a girl named Bianca from Brazil. She came to Korea to move in with her husband who is working at a university. The other was an exchange student named Johnny. This poor kid looked terrified. He told me that it was his first time traveling internationally and on his own. He also didn’t know any of the language but looked Korean. He looked utterly despondent when we had to part ways. I hope the best for that kid.
After clearing security, Bianca and I had 15 minutes to get to our connecting flight. Why is it that whenever you are late for a flight, the terminal is always the farthest away as possible? As I ran, I was cursing the decision to buy a duffel bag instead of a rolling carry-on. I had to slow down to catch my breath as I watched Bianca run further and further away. I had sweat dripping everywhere and my shoe came untied. But thankfully, I made it. I tried to use my phone to update my mom, but the internet and messaging wasn’t working. Great. Did Sprint just lie to me?
Finally! Busan! Customs was a breeze. Hand them a paper and they usher you through. I think New Zealand customs has scarred me for life. They have dogs that sniff you and x-ray machines and stern-looking people in uniforms glaring at you. After that incident, I have come to think all customs is like that.
Getting a taxi was interesting. I did a lot of research with the help of a few native Korean friends, and they coached me about getting a taxi. Don’t get into the black taxis since they are much more expensive. Only pay about 30,000-40,000 won. 60,000 won is too much. Struggling to get my Korean tongue out, I managed to ask how much it would cost to get to Changwon. The driver told me 50,000 won (about $42 USD). Tired, hot, and in no mood to argue, I accepted the cost.
The driver was kind and tried to make small talk with me. I tried my best with my awkward Korean skills. Somehow, the topic got on to about the cab fare. Suddenly, 50,000 won became 60,000 won. He sited the tolls as the reason for the increase. A few minutes later, he said the fare would be 100,000 won. Whoa whoa whoa. “Earlier, you said it would be 60,000 won,” I told him. “Okay,” he responded. This is no good. Thankfully, my phone finally connected to the Korean networks and was allowing me to use the internet and text.
After texting my mom that I was okay, I called my language partner, Ted, and explained the cab situation. Ted talked to the driver for me and explained what was going on.
Apparently, the cab driver wanted to charge me extra because he would not be able to get a fare back to the airport from Changwon. Ted said that technically the driver was breaking the law, but it was not an uncommon thing in Korea; even for native Koreans. Ted was able to get the fare negotiated to 55,000 won.
I was afraid the newly settled fare would make the driver upset, but my fears were left unfounded. He continued to make small talk about how he liked Changwon and about his children. I thought he would just drop me off at the apartment complex, but he drove around and asked strangers where my building was located. When I got out, he carried my luggage up the small stairway and made sure I got into the building.
The apartment I’m staying in is an Airbnb place. The host is a family of 4. My main contact Sena is probably about my age. She and her husband helped me with my luggage up to their 4th floor apartment. Sena asked if I had eaten dinner. I ate on the plane but didn’t really eat much. She said that I could help myself to anything they had. In my room, I made my bed, put on some PJs and was ready to crash. That’s when I got a KakaoTalk message from Sena. “Andrea~ I made fried egg and that is on the table. When you feel hungry, have that. ^^” [sic]
You guys, this was more than just a fried egg. It was a perfectly cooked over-easy egg with sausage, a side of cherry tomatoes, iced tea, and yogurt. My stomach was churning from the travel, but I couldn’t turn down such a kind gesture. I ate the egg, tomatoes, half the sausage, and put back the yogurt. Now what do I do about this sausage? In Korea, food waste is separated from the other trash. Sena explained in a welcome packet that the food waste was supposed to go into some weird looking machine. But I had no idea how to use it! It had two buttons. One was clearly and on/off switch and the other looked like an infinity sign. There’s nothing I can do. I womened up and choked down the other half.
The adventure thus far hasn’t been completely smooth, but time and time again Koreans have shown me nothing but kindness.