Well, I made it.
A 24 hour journey beginning in the heartland, then to L.A., from where I flew over the Pacific. My row companions on the plane were a young Vietnamese man in his early twenties, living in the US, and a jovial and very talkative middle aged Korean woman who was returning to Korea after 14 years to go on a missionary trip with her church group. She’s headed to Mongolia, and then to Japan to do some converting.
I was pleasantly surprised when the first meal they served on the plane had Bi Bim Bap as an option, which I gladly accepted, having feared the worst of the usual airplane fare. It actually wasn’t half bad, and it came complete with a side of kimchi. The Korean lady insisted on guiding the young man through his first Bi Bim Bap experience. And he seemed pretty happy for it. We all ate merrily, snug in our little airplane seats.
Then came the landing in Incheon. It was raining, and when we arrived around 7pm local time, there was only another hour of daylight or so left, so by the time I got through immigration, baggage claim, and customs it was totally dark and wet outside. A man dispatched from the Fulbright office was waiting for me. He spoke little to no English, which is just about as much Korean as I speak at this point. Through my travel-wearied daze I tried to sloggishly patch together a few sentences in Korean, and to my surprise he actually understood what I was asking, and I even understood what he answered! – A glimmer of hope. – But for the most part we drove in silence, and I told myself to just be patient and comfortable with the discomfort of not being able to communicate and connect with people. For a while.
After the 40 minute drive of silence, I was delivered to my apartment, which is modest but cozy. A studio, with a bathroom Asian style, i.e. - the entire room is a shower, on a quiet side street in Seogyo-dong. Being August in Korea, the humidity level outside is quite suffocating, but of course everything, including appliances, is in Korean, so though I tried to translate the various labels on the thing that I thought was an air conditioner, I could not crack the code. (Turns out it just regulates the tempurature for the bath water. The AC is on another wall in the room. Who knew?) So instead, all windows were open, which allowed for the summer rainy wind to blow in. I managed to stay up long enough to skype Mom & Dad, take a shower & completely crash out to the sound of the rain…
Which is also the sound I woke up to, as well as the sound of my cell phone dying around 6 in the morning. I do love waking up in a new place after arriving there in the darkness of the night before. That feeling of strangeness & newness in a foreign place I always find kind of awe-inspiring, and the mind is empty and clear so you’re just absorbing the things around you. Those first moments of displacement and discovery seem to stay so fresh in the mind - they become visceral memory. The pounding of the rain outside, the greyness of light pushing through the windows and onto the objects in the room, the stillness of the space. A nice morning.
Aunt and Uncle Chang arrived, and they really saved me today, bringing many essential cooking & living items, helping me figure out which appliance is the air conditioner, as well as several other Korean mysteries. This evening I found a small grocery store and managed to buy a full load of items without having to say, “Han goong mal jok-um hay-o. Mi-an ham ni da” (I speak very little Korean. I’m sorry.)
(Though right now i actually have to figure out how to light the stove. – Always an adventure waiting.)
All in all a very productive first 24 hours in Seoul.
But so much ground to cover here… I look forward to getting myself settled enough so that I can really begin the work I have set out to do.
In the meantime, I am very aware of just being present and open, and taking it all in.
It does feel good to be here, and I am excited about the things to come.