Sunday, June 28, 2009

A bad start to a good trip...

We know how important it is to have people visit and see your world. They can better relate to your stories and your experiences that are significant to you. With that in mind, we really wanted to visit Grace Bialecki, one of my cousins on my father's side, who has been living and teaching English in Yeosu, South Korean for the last two years. However, her visa is going to expire in July – before my summer vacation when we would have time to really explore Grace's world and more of Korea. We had tried to put a short trip together during my Golden Week holiday, but as most of Japan travels that week, airfare was astronomical, so the idea was shelved. Finally, we said, “What the heck...” and arranged a long weekend trip.

We flew out Wednesday evening, and it almost ended in disaster right there at the immigration desk.

Nobody had told us nor had we read about the re-entry permit that needs to be applied for and purchased to get back into the country...

We had walked up to the immigration desk and the officer began thumbing through our passports. He said, “You don't have re-entry permits. You can leave, but we will have to confiscate your alien registration card here. You will have to get a re-entry permit and apply for a new alien registration card.” What!?

To make all this worse, there had been a train problem getting to the airport, and we were late – very late for our flight...

After some initial confusion, we were taken aside to the immigration office, and the situation was explained to us. Our options were to apply right then and there for a re-entry permit and be able to keep the alien card or go through the whole alien card application process, which is lengthy and complicated – not something we wanted to do.

I looked at the clock and said, “Our flight leaves in less than 45 minutes. Can you do this in time for our flight?” They assured us they could, so we started frantically filling out paperwork and paying the $30 each fee. Our paperwork was taken to a desk, and we sat there dying a little death each time the hand clicked on the clock. As it took longer and longer, we both started to get more and more nervous. I felt sick to my stomach.

Then over the PA system, we heard, “This is the final boarding call for Northwest flight 85. Please come to the gate immediately.”

We both jumped to our feet and started diplomatically pleading with them to hurry. The announcement was made again. “Come on,” we both almost shouted.

Finally, they handed us our passports and told us we could go. We burst through the door and took off at a dead run through the airport. It felt like a horror movie or a bad dream. As we sprinted the quarter mile or so, we had to dodge crowds of people, politely but firmly yelling at people to get out of our way. Not one of our finer culturally sensitive minutes...

We barely made it in time and handed our boarding passes to the staff. We stood there gasping and steaming with anger and stress. It was truly a horrible experience: at least a top 10 we agreed.

Luckily, from there is was smooth sailing all the way to Grace. The flight and the 8:30 pm landing in Busan were smooth. There were no hassles with health inspections or customs; everyone is very uptight in Asia about swine flu. We walked out of the Ginmae airport door and right on to the 307 Red bus that was waiting for us (1,500 won – 1 US dollar is 1,300 won). We transferred to the subway at Dongnae station for a quick ride to Nopodong bus terminal (1,100 won). There we bought tickets for the 10:40 long distance bus to Yeosu for 21,000 won. We had just enough time to use the restroom and buy a bottle of water and snacks before we drove off into the night.

The horrible Korean drama/soap opera on the bus's TV made the trip seem longer than it really was, but some cat naps made it seem short, as well.

Around one o'clock in the morning, we arrived in Yeo-chun, part of Yeosu and got off the bus. A quick call on a pay phone rousted Grace, who had been waiting nearby at Jack's (her boyfriend) apartment. As Jack had to teach in the morning, we parted ways and hopped in a taxi to Grace's apartment.

Still somewhat jazzed up from the trip and seeing each other in a foreign land, we stayed up till three o'clock, talking and catching up on each other's lives. As Grace only had one bed at her place, she left it to us and hopped on her scooter to buzz back to Jack's.

We exhaustedly fell in to bed and fell asleep, with visions of eating kimchii the next day dancing in our heads...

Photos at this link:

1 comment:

Jody said...

What great pictures!! Looks as though when in South Korea, one can expect to eat alot!