from there to here

After a late night of pizza, drinking (only a few beers Mum), corn-hole (beanbag toss), fondue and of course last minute packing it was an early morning on Saturday for more last minute packing and a phone call to Milwaukee. A few goodbyes and photos later and I was en-route to Honolulu International Airport. My buddy Program Director Will  was good enough to drive me and my two 50lb suitcases. Check-in at Asiana Airlines was a breeze with no line whatsoever. The security check was uneventful apart from meeting a nice family from Georgia adorned in fresh red complexions augmenting their southern charm. Once inside it was on to the most lavish duty free beauty boutique I could find for a few sprits of cologne. After much deliberation I decided on Armani Code as my travel scent for the day. I arrived at my gate feeling fresh and confident, I was bold enough to ask an oriental employee if he would mind taking a photo for me. He declined, thus my biggest regret of the day: not getting a photo with the dozen plus  tantamount Korean Stewardesses. I was on the hunt for another photographer when I met Scott. Scott is a tea farmer originally from CA but now an expat in China. He was just departing the islands after spending a few weeks on Big Island purchasing land for a 14 acre tea growing operation. Once up and running it will be the largest in the US. (I may have found my lifes calling?) Scott and I had seats near one another, ironically enough of the hundreds of passengers on the flight we were the only 2 Caucasians. 10+ hours later a backpack full of Asiana toothbrushes, mouthwash and a new pair of slippers and it was time to part ways with Scott.

Incheon International Airport made a good first impression for my new country. Its clean, elegant and modern. I passed through immigration with no hassle and again no line. I found my bags with no trouble and for the first time even utilized a little luggage trolley (Harry Potter style). Once in the main “mall” area of ICN I made for the direction I felt McDonalds would be (my taxi driver rendezvous point). I tried looking as determined as possible but nonetheless a rouge taxi driver sensed my foreign uncertainty. After trying to get me to use his services I was able to confirm that I was in fact heading in the direction of the Golden Arches. Rendezvous success, I was soon following a middle aged Korean man who had taken full control of my Hogwarts trolley. It only took a second for me to exhaust my knowledge of the Korean language and him English.

My drive drove with years of timid experience. It was only a minute before I experienced first hand the terror that is Asian drivers. He seemed un-phased by being cut off and nearly run into. This is a theme that will repeat over the next hour… Despite his well mannered driving I become concerned when he took a turn back to the airport obviously in the opposite direction of Seoul. With the help and maybe original hindrance of the oversized Asian GPS we were soon crossing a large bridge and pointing in the right direction. I admired the hazy pallet of the Korean landscape in late afternoon light. It felt right. I could not help but compare the geography and ambiance to Taiwan… It was not long before I discovered my second regret of the day: I had taken too many aerial photos of Hawaiian islands, Japan and Korea and now had a dead DSLR aaand GoPro to boot. Of course all my extra batteries were safely packed in my luggage stowed in the trunk… We hit heavy traffic in what I think was the north part of Seoul. I observed that all cars are in-fact variations of white black and grey sans taxis, work trucks and various municipal vehicles.

Out of the city and into the country… I started seeing signs for Namyangju (my new home) and doubts for my driver melted away. We suddenly we were in a city again. Traffic lights were more frequent and although it didn’t feel like a metropolis the apartment buildings were abundant and of Manhattan proportions. From somewhere within the taxi and cell phone began to ring. To my young ears I could tell it was coming from within the trunk. My driver seemed perplexed and convinced the phone was within the cab. I tried explaining this was not the case. The phone begins to ring for a second time. This time we hit a red light so I hopped out of the taxi and opened the trunk grabbed the ringing phone and got back in the front seat just in time for the green light. Are they talking about me and my destination? I hope so, this guy could use the extra details. My driver begins pointing and talking about a cluster of small apartment buildings set apart on the edge of the city. We pull up and park. He gets out and is on the phone again. Five minutes later we drive over a block and a half and parked in front of a grand looking apartment megalopolis (yes its a real word look it up). For 15 minutes I eagerly eyed up every person who walked near the taxi. Have I found my travels end? Another phone call and we are back to the original apartment cluster. This time there is a older Korean gentleman waiting to receive us.  He is dressed as if he is prepared to run a marathon through the amazon. He is covered from head to toe in fancy breathable spandexi material with a safari-like bucket hat and new age hiking boots. Ah Mr. Park, the owner/manager of my school. Goodbye driver hello stairs. I grab the larger more awkward 50lb bag  and Mr. Park grabs the other. We grunt our way up 3 flights of stairs (him more than I) and he taps a sequence into an LCD screen on one of the doors. Home at last. We stand around awkwardly before he heads off down the hall yelling for Anna Teacher. Later Anna is the process of showing me around my new digs when Mr. Park returns with 3 cute little Korean energy drinks. Much needed after a long day and little did I know with the night to come.

*Boy I get long winded, do you guys actually read this stuff?*

Fifteen minutes after my arrival and it was off to dinner with Anna, Kelly and Josh Teachers (my new foreign teacher family). We had only walked a block and a half before we were at a nice modern little Vietnamese Pho restaurant. Children stared as walked in and took seats. *Alright I am getting tired and ready to cut to the chase* We ate a nice meal as I played “act coherent”. Partway through dinner Anna got a text message saying the owners of the school wanted to meet for drinks. So off to drinks it was only 2 blocks back in the relative direction of my apartment. The bar was about as “biker bar” as Korea can get. The owner is a very nice man (who has an impressive ability to remember my name) in his 50’s  I would say. He has a friendly face and wears a bandanna on his head. I think I ordered a beer? When Teresa Teacher and Mr. Park arrived we ordered a few side dishes.  One was something “Cajun” and the other was a bowl of milk (that tasted like sprite) with fruit mixed in. More excitingly, Josh Teacher and I ordered Makgeolli which is a sweet rice beverage. Its good but I had built up an image of Korean Baileys in my head. We drank from bowls and mixed soju- a slightly sweet distilled beverage made from sweet potatoes. I learned a lesson in etiquette – you are not to pour your own beverages. That being said, I was poured a bit more Makgeolli than I may have been game for. Josh Teacher was kind enough to lighten my burden and help the cause. The walk home was short, Josh and Kelly Teacher parted ways and Mr. Park, Anna Teacher and I retired to our neighboring rooms. What was in-store for me in the morning, I could not have guessed (apart from a headache).

To be continued…


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Barb Baumgartner on June 23, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Love your adventures!


  2. Posted by Barb Baumgartner on June 23, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    how can you remember all that stuff? dad. what is growing tea anyway?


    • If all this hadn’t happened in the past week I probably wouldn’t have been able to remember all the details.
      All tea varieties are grown from one type of plant: Camellia sinensis. The leaves are then processed in various ways giving us our specific tea varieties (black, green, white). I think living in HI and grow Camellia sinensis sounds alright!


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