Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Road Home - Thoughts on Leaving South Korea Pt 2

Blink. Five Months Later. Whoopsie.

Ok, so working on recounting my days leaving South Korea. Last Entry I spoke about my last weekend up to the point where I returned to my apartment to cry and finish packing my things.

I stayed up until 3am repacking my suitcase, figuring out what else would have to go in the mail. Checking and double-checking all my tickets and documents. Around 3 am I went down for a few hours of intermittent shut-eye. Mokah was agitated, she knew something was up. I only ever packed my bags when I was leaving for weeks at a time, and in the past that meant she stayed at the apartment while friends looked in on her. This time though, she was coming along for the ride.

Here was my intinerary for the travel home:

8:00 am - Train from Suncheon to Iksan.
10:30 am - Bullet train from Iksan to Seoul.
12:00 pm - Shuttle Bus to Incheon Internation Airport
1:00 - 3:30 pm - Supposed rest time before flight.
4:00 pm - 10 hour flight from IIA to Vancouver
Massively confusing time change while in the air....
2:00 pm - Arrive at Vancouver Airport
3:30 pm - Flight to Winnipeg Airport
6:30 pm - Arrive at Winnipeg Airport, greeted by Mom and Sister and hit the highway for 4 more hours before arriving in Dryden ON.

These are rough estimates of the times. All told, we were in transit for about 30 hours, start to finish.

My dear friend Lindsay arranged to drive me to the Train Station and it felt so good to have a friend there to see me off. Mokah was in her carrier and not happy about it, but once on the train, she seemed to settle. All told, Mokah was an amazing traveler. The only time she was vocal was when were in between modes of transportation and understandably so. My hands full with a large suitcase and a smaller carry-on suitcase, her carrier was slung over my shoulder by a long duffle-bag strap and was left to bounce against my hip as we jostled from place to place.

It was on the train to Seoul that I realized that I had failed to get to a bank and withdraw the final amount of my funds from my account. Now, you may be asking, "Lisa, why on earth didn't you do that the day before? Or a few days before?". Well my dears, for once the culprit was not my own procrastination, but rather the procrastination of my co-teacher. Her complete lack of planning led to us to run around all day like chickens with our heads cut-off doing paperwork and getting my visa extended by 3 days so I wouldn't face a fine leaving the country. Because she did not file my exit papers sooner, it meant that some of the money my school owed me (reimbursement for travel costs) were not sent to the bank until Friday afternoon and thus, not being put into my account on Monday morning.

No problem, just have to find a bank machine on the way and pull out the rest of the funds. Here's the funny thing. My travel costs put my bank account balance at around 1.2 million won (roughly $1000 CDN). Most Korean Bank Machines only offer notes in 10,000 won denominations. And this machine only let you pull out 300,000 won per transaction. To get my money, I had to pull 300,000 x 4. So there I was in the middle of a busy train station pulling bricks of cash out of an ATM. 120 bills stuffed into my purse. I felt like a gangster. (To this day, there is still about 45,000won sitting in that account, by the fourth transaction I was so nervous about someone robbing me I forgot to grab the last little bit).

The shuttle bus to the airport was uneventful. I was the only passenger. I closed my eyes, but couldn't sleep.

At the airport, an Army guy (I don't know his rank, but he was grey-haired and had lots of insignia on his uniform) helped me with my bags. I felt good. I had 3 hours before my flight, so far everything was going according to plan. Once I got on that plane, I would be home free. Upon checking my bags, I was informed that I needed more paperwork from immigration downstairs before I would be allowed to check my bags. And Also, my suitcase was overweight and I would need to go to customer service to pay the extra weight fee. They let me leave my bags at the kiosk and Mokah and I headed for Customer Service. Then down to the immigration office. Everyone was very helpful, but all in all it ate up most of my relaxing time. I needed to be through security at least 1 hour before the flight left. Once I had gotten all my paperwork sorted and my bags checked, I grabbed a very fast final bowl of bibimbap.

Going through security was one of the things I was most nervous about. I knew I would have to take Mokah out of her carrier and carry her through security. If you know anything about my kitty, then you know she is a skittish cat. And she has a "panic now, ask questions later" policy when it comes to new people/situations. I knew,if she got loose in that airport, I would never ever find her. Thankfully, Mokah's panic default is to run and hide in a safe place. Besides her carrier, the only safe place Mokah had when I dragged her out of the carrier in the middle of a busy airport security check-point(while the security attendant pulled the carrier in the opposite direction) was me. The only real struggle she made was try to stick her head in my arm pit. And once the carrier was free of the scanner and she could see it, she was pulling for it.

Once through security, we had about 20 minutes before our flight would be boarding. I took Mokah into a handicapped washroom, where it's basically a private room with a door that runs floor to ceiling. I though Mokah would want to pee or eat something, but nope not interested. She only stretched her legs for a moment and then returned to the safety of her carrier. I quickly gave her a sedative and we headed to our gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

Korea Air is an excellent airline, I must say. Their staff are always super polite (unlike Canada Air where the staff all seem to be bleach-blonde harpy's from crabby-bitch island), the food is excellent and the flights always seem to be on time. I felt some relief as the plane took off, though I wistfully watched out my window until I could no longer see the coast of South Korea. Mokah was passed out in her carrier. I could relax a little.

I watched that documentary "This Is It" about Michael Jackson's last concert. I dozed.

About halfway through the flight Mokah's meds wore off and she up in a panic. I pulled the carrier out from under the seat in front of me and tried to calm her, but upon hearing my voice, she decided to start clawing through the plastic mesh to get to me. I quickly headed for bathroom and was able to let her out of the carrier for a little bit. She was still a bit unco-ordinated and managed a face plant or two before she settled into my lap and purred. Then there were angry knocks on the door.

Apparently, a little line up of older koreans with full bladders had gathered outside my door. Mi-ahn-hapnida!

Mokah was fine for the rest of the flight. In fact a stewardess came over and complimented how quiet she'd been. I felt kinda proud of my crazy cat.

Arrival in Vancouver was fairly straightforward. Though I was running on very little sleep and something of a walking zombie by this point. I had no trouble getting mokah through security. And once I located my gate for my last flight to winnipeg, we found another washroom with a wheelchair sign and mokah again got to stretch her legs. This time, she was not eager to return to her carrier though. Still not interested in her food or relieving her bladder, she searched and sniffed every nook and cranny of that bathroom. And upon discovering the waste bin mounted in the wall, she promptly jumped inside it. Must`ve seemed like a great hiding spot.

I don`t remember much of the flight to Winnipeg, I`m pretty sure I was comatose for that one.

But I do remember the excitement I felt getting off that plane. I could NOT wait to see my mom. And sure enough, coming down that escalator there was my mom and my older sister waving Canadian flags and holding a big "welcome home!" poster.

We had made it, my cat and I. There was nothing to do now, but relax on the ride home. But first, a stop at subway for a proper sandwich.

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