Bridge over the Han River. During the Korean war there was only a single bridge, now there are a dozen. Another sign of Korea's incredible transformation over the past 60 years
People who made my travels more enjoyable: Jeong-min (Korea), Michelle (USA)
My morning was spent packing and saying goodbye to Jeong-min. She had been so wonderful. Despite preparing for her upcoming exam (Korean version of the MCAT), she had generously donated a lot of her time. She had made my travels so much more enjoyable!
After our sad goodbye, I returned to the hotel to get my suitcase. Earlier in the morning, the top handle of the suitcase had broken. Obviously this was a huge pain, but since I had 2 handles remaining I figured it would be ok. However, when I arrived at the bus stop and went to put my luggage under the bus, the side handle broke as well. I've had this suitcase for more than 2 years, and all of a sudden both handles break in the same day?!
The ride to Incheon airport, lasted about an hour.
Seoul World Cup Stadium
The bus was totally packed, but there was still enough room for everyone. On the way out of Seoul, I spent some time admiring the bridges that spanned the Han River. At the time of the Korean war only a single bridge spanned the Han River. At the outbreak of the war, the bridge was quickly destroyed in an effort to slow the North Korean advance. Today over 10 bridges connect Seoul. I think these bridges demonstrate how far Korea has come, in such a short time.
I arrived at the airport about 3 hours before my flight. I don't know why, but I tend to get to airports way earlier than I ever need to. During my check-in, the ticket agent seemed very concerned about my itinerary. She asked about my visas, called her manager and still couldn't be calmed down. I repeatedly assured her, that I had other tickets and I would get to Shanghai without any problems.
Train going over the Han River
She asked me, "Is this your first time visiting Vietnam?". I told her yes, and she looked even more concerned. It was as if our interaction was foreshadowing ominous future events! Eventually, I completed my check-in with Asiana, ate some Burger King and went through security. Once in the terminal I had nothing to do but sit and wait. I uploaded some pictures and added a bit to my blog. Like everywhere in Korea, the air-conditioning was barely noticeable in the terminal. Everyone around me, including Koreans, looked miserable. Unfortunately, it's not like there was anyone to complain to, so we all had to suck it up.
I needed a diversion from the heat so I decided to buy some snacks before my flight. I approached one salesperson and asked her in English, "Is there a Family Mart in the airport?".
Boats near Incheon
She just looked at me confused. I repeated in my thickest Konglish accent, "Paemili Mateu?". She responded immediately, "ohhh just walk down the terminal and it's on your left". This interaction highlighted one of the biggest issues facing English language education in Korea. Koreans, taught by native Korean teachers, never learn to comprehend English as it's spoken by native English speakers. So when you approach a Korean and ask a simple question (one that they have practiced hundreds of times), they'll often look at you as if you're speaking gibberish. Unless you can change your accent and Koreanize your words, English is unintelligible to most of the population.
The Incheon airport is packed with food stores, their cliental, Koreans traveling abroad.
Incheon Airport departures
Koreans love to stock up on Kimchi and other products before they travel abroad. I think this is popular for a few reasons. Korean food is especially unique and is not easy to find in many places around the world. Koreans have also eaten the same cuisine for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and they tend to prefer their native food. I can sympathize, while living in Korea I craved simple things like bread or pancakes. I'd even pay $10+ for a pack of bacon that had been imported from America! Anyway, I made sure to stock up on some Shin Ramen before my flight. Little did I know, this would endear me to a Korean tour group later in the evening.
We boarded our Boeing 767 and departed around 7:30pm. The flight wasn't very crowded and I had an entire row to myself.
Near the gate, after passing through security
I was intrigued by the flight attendants on our plane. Asiana tends to employ one or two foreign attendants per flight, this time we had a young girl from China and another from Uzbekistan. I couldn't understand the benefit... We're flying to Vietnam, why would you need a Chinese and Russian speaking flight attendant? I wasn't about to complain though, they were both very pretty.
The flight lasted about 4 hours. I spent half the time sleeping and the other half watching movies. Pretty soon we were beginning our decent into Vietnam! I was so excited, I was entering a completely unfamiliar world. After our plane landed, I deplaned and headed for the baggage claim area. My first impression was, holy fuck this place is hot. I don't mean hot like Korea, this was a type of heat that I had never experienced (the previous hottest places I had been was Nashville, Tennessee).
Waiting for my flight to Hanoi
While waiting to go through passport control I started sweating. Little did I know, I would be continually sweating for the next 7 days.
The airport was rather unimpressive. It looked worse than a small regional airport in America. The bathrooms were gross, the flooring was shabby, even the architecture was unappealing. The baggage carousel looked like it was held together by Scotch tape. After a few minutes the bags started to come out. There was little room and everyone was crowding around trying to get a better view. A Korean tour group, full of women in neon pink shirts was behind me. One of the women ran into my leg with her baggage cart. Her friend said, "say sorry!". I turned around and, in Korean, said, "No problem, it's ok". They took a look at me and then my bag full of Shin Ramen.
They said, "Oh he has Shin Ramen!". I told them I thought Shin Ramen was delicious, and I could tell I had endeared myself to 10 ajumas hahaha.
As the bags started to come out, I noticed that nobody seemed to have luggage. All the Vietnamese people kept collecting large cardboard boxes. This reminded me of Vietnamese travelers in America, they often arrived with boxes rather than luggage. An efficient way to travel I must admit (luggage gets destroyed quickly anyway). I cleared customs with my baggage and headed for the nearest ATM. I withdrew one million Dong from the ATM. I even felt like a millionaire! (btw 19,000 Dong = $1)...
Afterward I met up with my driver and he ushered me outside the airport. He pointed for me to wait by the curb (he spoke no English).
People waiting to get picked up at the airport
At this point I was drenched in sweat. It was nearly 100 degrees at 11:30 pm! My first thought, no wonder America lost a war in Vietnam. Nobody in the US is prepared to face this kind of heat! The driver pulled up, loaded my luggage and we drove off toward Hanoi
. I spent the next hour taking in the sites. What a place! After an hour, I arrived at my hotel, checked in, talked to Michelle briefly and went to bed. I looked forward to my next week in Vietnam, I hoped that tomorrow would be just as exciting as today had been.