Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Korea Trip II: Electric Boogaloo

Before I left Korea the last time I was here, I promised my friends I would return as soon as I could. My boss joked about blocking my trip home so I'd have to stay, and Ji-hyeun at Ace even said she would hold onto the gift she had not been able to give me before I left the last time until I returned. I was touched by generosity I was shown, and really did want to return, but part of me wanted to follow the lemming-like urge to start my career too. Originally I had planned to work a year in Canada as a teacher before coming back to Korea. However, the high quality job prospects for new graduates are not favourable in education (not that they are in any other industry either), so I decided some time in June to return to Korea early.

I had hoped to return to the school at which I was teaching before, and so I went about the process of securing a work visa. The process was simple enough, but definitely required a lot of preparation on my part gathering the requisite certificates of health, blood work, letters of recommendation, etc. I had procured the necessary items well in advance of my intended departure, but I ended up having to wait an agonizingly long time to receive a bank statement proving I had enough money on hand to not get myself into any significant trouble in the possibility that I could not find work here.

After sending off my visa application via Canada Post's Priority Courier service, I waited in agony for my visa (and passport) to return from The Consualte General of Korea's office in Vancouver. Unfortunately, while the Korean government officials are relatively fast and efficient, Canada Post's courier service to Hillbilly Hell is not (not that I can blame them). I had to cancel my plane ticket to Korea and, since I now realise I was using the wrong tracking number, I could not tell when or where my return envelope was located, so I could not tell when to buy the new ticket.

This was on Friday. On Monday morning my visa and passport made a surprising arrial at my door, subsequently triggering a frantic race to pack up and find the earliest flight to Korea. I stayed up late into the night and travelled five hours by car to reach the nearest International airport for my flight the next morning. From there I embarked on about 20 hours of flying and sitting in airports finally arriving in Seoul the next day (I crossed the International Date Line), exhausted after having not slept significantly in the last 40 hours.

Before being allowed to board my plane to Seoul though, I was stopped by a Canadian Customs officer who was trying to investigate some sort of potential scandal involving the flow of copious amounts of Canadian dollars from the country. Now, whether my story seemed suspicious or the officer was just intrigued by my choice of "alternative lifestyle" I'll never know, but "a few questions" about my trip to Korea somehow turned into a fifteen minute interrogation about my motives for leaving the country. Eventually I was able to convince the officer I was not tied up in some international money smuggling operation (or whatever it was she was investigating) and was allowed to leave.

When I arrived at Inchon airport, just outside of Seoul, I was approached by a Korean man asking me if I had someone picking me up. I thought to myself, "this is probably a taxi cab driver looking to pick up the rich foreign tourist and make a few bucks." If I had only one suitcase, and a bit more rest I might have ignored him and taken the 2 hour subway ride to meet my friend Lee at our house. However, I did not want to roll around two heavy and bulky suitcases through the busy rush hour subway tunnels and trains, nor was I in the mood for a further two hour trip. I agreed to let the man take me to my destination, thinking that in the land of $1.75 taxis the trip couldn't possible cost more than $45. In fact, I'm pretty sure I remember reading that a taxi from the airport to Seoul was only $45 in my Lonely Planet guide book the last time I was here.

Typically, when you get into a Seoul taxi, the meter will start at 1900 Won (about $1.80). From there you will drive a few blocks before the meter goes up about ten cents every five seconds or so. In this cab, the meter started at 4000 Won (about $4.00). And from there, it would increase $0.25 every few seconds. The trip from the airport to my destination was about 40 km, so by the time I got home my ride had cost me $100. And as if that wasn't enough, I had to pay the $7.50 toll charge to enter the freeway too. You'd think for a $100 ride the driver could manage throw in the toll.

I wasn't too worried about it though, and I cannot claim that the driver was trying to go slow, or take a wrong route. The GPS definitely took him in the quickest direction, the roads were relatively free from traffic (especially compared to the completely clogged up overpass we went under at one point), and we travelled in the outside, fast lane the whole way there. Also, the air conditioning system did a good job helping me forget I had been sitting in a plane in the same clothes for 17 hours. It was in no way worth $100, but next time I'll know better. When I later told Lee about the ordeal he laughed and told me, "you are victim."

Many people will want to know about my house. My house is very similar to the very first place at which I stayed my first night in Korea on my last adventure, and this did not surprise me at all. There were two relatively large bedrooms that shared a common kitchen and bathroom. This seems pretty common as far as "teacher dwellings" go. The fridge was tiny, but at least I had one this time.

As for the company, Lee and his young wife are nice, and we get along well. She was born in Belarus, graduated University in Moscow and learned English in Australia. The house is a real multicultural melting pot where none of the words are really said correctly, but most of what is said comes through.

Now let the second, straight-to-DVD, DFM Korea Adventure begin!

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