You gotta have Seoul

As I write this I’m sitting on a plane that left Seoul, Korea about 8 hours ago heading for London, England. And there’s still over three hours to go .

Thursday night was chaotic trying to pack and do ‘last minute’ stuff. I am still not over my illness of last week so I was knackered when I got home from work. I just wanted to sleep. The only sensible thing I did on the way to work was make a packing and ‘to do’’ list – so at least I had a guide to work from. In the end I didn’t get to bed until after 11pm. I had trouble sleeping until I fell into a beautiful sleep just after 3am. Then at 4.50 the alarm goes off. That the morning went so well and we checked in with plenty of time was a miracle.

I had some last minute prescriptions made up at the airport. And cried when I paid for them. $82 when it would have cost me $53 at Chemist Warehouse. Arghhh! But this is not a trip where I can take a chance with health issues.

We had a 10 hour flight from Australia to Seoul. It felt interminable. Luckily, the service was spectacular and, as the plane was only half full, we had a row of three seats on the side to ourselves. Plus the 34” legroom (compared to 31”on that evil Australian airline) really makes a difference. We didn’t feel cramped at all and could swing our legs freely 😉

We arrived at Incheon Airport in the middle of a torrential rainstorm that was a bit freaky. With the fog and the rain there seemed to be almost zero visibility. Incheon is a 24 hour all-weather airport so the weather didn’t affect our landing.

The hotel we were allotted was right in the heart of downtown Seoul. Normally you’d get something about 15 minutes away from the airport – all you’re gonna do is hit the sack so location isn’t important.

In this case we had a long, long coach ride on a rather spectacular freeway to Seoul itself. It was pissing down and there was lightning and occasional thunder – but that didn’t stop any of the drivers (including our own) from doing 100km an hour. It was very freaky.

We were soooo over it by the time we got to the hotel. We went straight up to our room and considered crashing there and then. However there were vouchers for dinner and breakfast and Yoda was hungry so we ended up pulling ourselves together and going downstairs to the restaurant.

There was a limited menu, virtually all Korean food and anyway nothing I could eat. The restaurant host eventually gave me a free beer in lieu of dinner. I wasn’t complaining!

Getting a bit of a second wind, we decided to have a little wander around the streets near our hotel. The city was buzzing – shops were open until 10pm and some a bit later. There were people everywhere. Card just drive up these small little lanes and don’t watch out for pedestrians and the pedestrians are completely blaze and often don’t move out of the way of the cars. Yoda had a rather close call at one point and we decided to be a bit more careful after that.

It was a really fascinating mix of sights and sounds. A little bit like Tokyo, Grant said. We were conscious of not straying too far from the hotel. The streets – or lanes really – are a ramshackle affair and it would have been easy to get lost. The rain had mostly stopped which was a bonus – I think we would have just stayed inside otherwise.

Lots of shoe shops everywhere – we must have been in the ‘shoe’ part of town. Lots of ‘Family Marts’ and ‘Paris Baguette’ places. And thankfully one 7-11 because the minibar in our room was virtually naked. I ummed and ahhhed about how to pay – we didn’t bring any Korean currency thinking it would have been superfluous. Won’t make that mistake again.

Most of the signage is both in Korean and English which is helpful but very few of the natives we spoke to could string more than a couple of words together in English. Given Korea’s very pro-American and consumerist slant this was a little surprising.

The girl at the 7-11 managed to gesture with some frustration that she was not sure if a credit card would work but that we should pick out what we wanted to buy and she would try the card. It worked thank god. Something like 12500 won which is about $12.50 Australian I think.

Armed with some diet coke and other goodies, we returned to the hotel. I had wanted to have a shower before bed but was too buggered. We had to be downstairs at 10.30am sharp and I just wanted to maximise the sleep time as much as possible.

The hotel wasn’t taking any chances of us being late. We’d set two alarms on our mobile phones – one for 8.50am and one for 9am. At 9am sharp the room phone rang – it was a recorded music wake-up call. Unasked for and, had we not have been just about to get up, it would have been very annoying.

The toilet in the room was one of those with a 747 control panel on the side. Talk about a washer-dry with a rinse cycle. It even had a button to blow perfume up your arse. I did not push that one! There was a sign on the toilet saying something like ‘sit back firmly and you can use the toilet tool.’ We encountered a similar model in 2005 and I can tell you, it is very disturbing for a common boy from Oz!

Our breakfast this morning included the toast that wasn’t toast – the toasting machine didn’t actually toast . I put mine through three times without any luck. We found out later that an Australian couple had turned it up to max to try and get it to work and caused smoke to come out of it.

We had some Australians in the bus both ways with us. While I am sure they were very nice people, their loud and unfunny sense of humour was grating. Lines like ‘’Geez, there’s a lot of Asians in Korea. It’s like Cabramatta.’ Given our bus driver was Korean I found this comment to be unbelievably rude. We just sat there and endured the conversation, occasionally grimacing.

With bags already checked through to LHR, we went through customs and then had a look at the shops. Korea being the home of ASUS, I thought there’d be all sorts of cheap eee-pc goodies on sale. Alas, while Incheon Airport is very well organised, the shopping is crap.

A big M, the golden arches, was a welcome discovery. We went up and had maccas and chilled out for a while. Then we went in search of internet access. The ‘free’ internet access which the hotel folder said was available everywhere in the hotel was actually a paid service. So all I managed to do was flatten the eee pc battery by 60% trying to connect to wireless networks. Until I gave up.

The internet café arrangement at Incheon has changed completely. They had a stack of Pcs and internet connection for a reasonable fee. Now, in the same location, was a place with assorted models of laptops just sitting on various tables. We thought they belonged to the people using them – but they were owned by the internet place and a sign said ‘free wi-fi.’ They just wanted you to limit it to 30 minutes to b fair to other people. We only had 30 minutes til boarding by this stage so that was fine by us.

The baby MSI-Wind 100 I wanted to use was in the middle of crashing so I sat at a Sony Vaio laptop instead and quickly checked email, updated Twitter and deleted some spam. The 30 minutes went in a flash.

Today’s flight doesn’t have the luxury of being half-empty but no matter, there’s plenty of leg room and the guy in the window seat has only wanted to get out twice. The service is terrific and it’s just the length of the flight that’s the painful thing. 11hours 20minutes. To paraphrase an old line: ’I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for 11hours and 20minutes!’’

Yoda is sitting next to me playing Reversi at the moment. He wants a beer. Outrageous. Wasn’t that thimble of white wine 6 hours ago enough alcohol for him??? Okay, well I’m having one too now. I’m easily influenced!

We’re just passing Kolpino wherever the hell that is! Can’t wait to land and get off this plane. I bet we’ll be totally buggered tonight. Still, tomorrow is another day!


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