Friday, June 11, 2010

The Journey Home - Wednesday & Thursday, April 21 & 22, 2010

On the day we left for home, we were up and ready to go early. Mrs Kim was leaving again, also, heading back to her sister's house for some more work in shutting it down. We were going to catch the 12:00 bus together for the ride into town. As we were heading out, Pa was all smiles and friendly, shaking my hand and bowing. I got the impression that he liked me, or was just happy to see us go. Anyhow, it's always sad leaving and saying good-bye. I was genuinely sad to be leaving. I like these folks a lot, and the valley is a great place to live. I could be comfortable here.

The ride into town was a bit crowded, and Ok Hwa and I, with our suitcases next to us, got a lot of stares. Mrs. Kim sat in the seat in front of me, and as we approached our stop, I leaned up and gave her a hug, saying a parting "Anyhasao" and "Kamshamnida", Hello and Thank You, about the only Korean words I know. She understood, and gave me a smile and a squeeze of the hand in return. Mrs. Kim and I are pals.

So that was it. We hopped off the bus, waving good-bye from the curb, and she was gone.

We were able to flag a taxi pretty quickly. We put our bags into the trunk and climbed inside for the short ride over to the bus terminal. At the terminal we got lucky. The bus to Seoul was just about to depart as we bought our tickets. Within ten minutes we were pulling out, heading up the broad boulevard towards the freeway.

The Koreans have the best roads I've seen anywhere, and the freeways are especially nice. The trip over to Seoul is a comfortable ride through a beautiful countryside. The big mountain range of the Korean peninsula hugs the east coast, so it is a quick, steep ascent as we head out of Gangneung up to the pass, then a long, gradual descent down to the west coast and Seoul. The trip takes about three and a half hours, and is broken in the middle by a fifteen minute stop at a service plaza. There are restaurants, a convenience store, and various food and gift vendors there, and a chance to get out and stretch your legs a bit, and use the restroom.

Pulling into the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal in Seoul, we had two objectives: Check on the Airport Bus for in the morning, and find a hotel. It took us a while to find the Airport Bus. They had moved it from where it was last year. Adjacent to Gangnam Bus Terminal is the sprawling complex called Central City. It is a shopping mall attached to another bus terminal attached to the Hyatt Hotel attached to a subway station. A lot of stuff in one location. Last year we caught the Airport Bus from here, after buying our tickets from a ticket counter here the night before. We tried to do the same now, but were directed out to the street to where the local city buses stop. That seemed odd, but we went on out there and were met by a helpful man on the curb there. He had a small covered bus stop there, and helped co-ordinate people coming and going via the Airport Bus. Speaking very good English, he informed us that the Airport Bus stopped here every fifteen minutes from about six A.M. onward. We were to show up here with fifteen thousand wan each, in correct change, and buy the tickets from the bus driver. This guy was even further helpful by getting us a taxi, and telling the taxi driver where we were going, directing him to the same district of good, medium priced hotels that we stayed in last year. They called it Hotel City last year, and we recognized it when we got over there. It's only about a ten minute ride from the bus stop.

In the Hotel City district, we found our way back to the same hotel we stayed at last year, the Hotel New York. Checking with the desk clerk, we discovered that they had raised the rates by fifty per cent. The same room that cost us fifty last year was now seventy five. I told her "No, Thanks" and we left. There were plenty more hotels nearby. Just down the block we came to the "Luxury, Designer, Boutique" Hotel FL. We got a room here for fifty. This was really a nice hotel. The room was super clean, modern and sleek, with a new desktop computer with broadband Internet, 42" wide screen flat panel HD TV, mood lighting, towels, robes, slippers, etc. Most of these hotels are "Love Hotels", set up for trysts between young lovers. Upon checking in, we were given a small shopping bag filled with stuff, including disposable toothbrushes, tooth paste, razors, body oils, and enough condoms to last us a month. The bathroom was super nice, but still had no shower curtain. The space age toilet had a control panel to operate it. It was all in Korean, so it took me about twenty minutes to figure out how to flush it.

After getting settled in and resting a bit, it was time to go get some dinner. I was very keen on finding that same Chicken & Hoff restaurant from last year. It wasn't hard to find, either, just a block over, and a block up from our hotel. We went in and everything seemed the same, but slightly different. I guessed that maybe it had changed hands, and the new owners had changed the name. It was now called Chicken Biangi. The food was just as good as I remembered. We had two platters of that fantastic honey infused chicken, and went away stuffed.

Exactly as last year, the afternoon and evening we spent in Seoul before our departure for home was a cool and wet one. And also exactly as last year, it was the only time during our trip that we saw any rain. We took our umbrellas with us to dinner, as there were intermittent light showers. I found it to be rather refreshing.

On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at one of the many little convenience stores nearby for drinks and snacks. I picked up a couple of Heineken beers for a nightcap, and some canned coffee and some cookies for breakfast.

Since our hotel had a fast Internet connection, I was able to plug into it and check my e-mail. It's the first time I had been able to get on-line since we got here. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on e-mail, and balancing my check book.

We were up the next morning at six, and showered, packed and out on the street by seven. One block down, and one block over brought us to the main avenue and a taxi ride back over to catch the airport bus. When we got to the bus stop, that same helpful man from the afternoon before was there, helping to make sure that everything went smoothly. He helped us stow our bags in the baggage compartment below, and we got aboard. We purchased our tickets from the driver, as instructed, and got into our seats. The trip out to the airport takes about an hour. It was an overcast and rainy morning, and traffic was heavy on the road out to Incheon.

At the airport everything went smoothly. The line to check in at the Korean Air counter was very long, though. That was the only tough part. We made it through security easily, and on the secure side we made our way down the long corridor to the departure gate. We had about an hour to wait, so I left her there and went in search of a gift shop. There was a very fancy one, featuring exquisite products of Korean arts and culture, but they were somewhat expensive. Around the corner from that one, however, I found a more down to earth shop with some very nice, reasonably priced items. I spent about forty-five dollars in there and came away with three very nice gifts.

I hurried back down that long corridor again, to our departure gate. I knew she would be getting anxious for me to return. There was an excellent snack and coffee shop right at our gate, where I was able to get good fresh coffee and a sandwich for breakfast.

A short while later the call for boarding began. As we headed out the walkway to the aircraft, there was one final security check just before stepping aboard. This one was quite thorough. They wanted to actually look inside every one's carry on bags. Finally aboard, there was one final hurdle, the jostling for space in the overhead bins. We settled into our seats, and could relax at last for the long thirteen hour flight back home.


  1. The above comment reads, roughly: "Happiness is not everything, who are responsible..."