Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blogging My Trip Back to Cali ;)

I started this on the plane. However, I’d not slept but for around 90 minutes the night before, so the goal of publishing it at Narita Airport wasn’t going to happen. However, a day or so later, here it is.

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This has been an interesting day. I’m literally flying home as I type. I’ve gone from being very sad that I’m leaving to simply ecstatic for the possibilities lie ahead.

There were typical frustrations. For some reason, today, some construction was happening in my neighborhood. I still don't understand why construction companies are allowed to block roads during rush hour in Korea. It's madness. Anyway, due to this, it took me a good 20 minutes to get from the door of my beloved apartment that I was leaving for the last time to the main drag in my old neighborhood. Then, once I got there, every taxi was full. Usually, if I stand in that specific spot with luggage, taxis stop without me even having to hail them. That didn’t happen this morning. So I get on the phone. I called one taxi company and, believe me, I know how to get through regimented calls like this. However, there was one term that I didn’t understand. Instead of trying a different way of saying it, she just kept repeating herself. Argh!

I called another taxi company and, thank goodness, that girl was better. We got the ball rolling real fast, however, good for me that just as we did a taxi saw me, stopped and even made a U-turn to pick me up. A taxi driver making a U-turn is a big deal. Most taxi drivers in Seoul act like they’d rather sacrifice their left pinky than make a U-turn. So just the fact that he went out of his way to pick me up, a black woman in a neighborhood known to have foreigners burned with way too many pieces of luggage and bags, seven total, including my cat, was AMAZING. You can call 02-120 to complain. I’m going to call 02-120 to compliment this guy up and down (or, at least, send them an email giving him a massive shout out.) He helped me with my bags, understood when I said 인천공항가기; 빨리가주세요! (I’m going to Incheon Airport – Hurry, please!)

He also made some small talk, which is usually a lot of fun. We hauled ass to Incheon Airport. I gave him a huge tip and rushed my very late ass to the check-in counter. I’ve been flying Northwest Airlines for around the last two or so years. To the States they have a layover in Narita going either way, and that’s not ideal compare to other carriers, however one reason I use them is 1) a friend of mine works there and gives me a bit of a break when he can and 2) I started flying Northwest back in law school and with all the flying I’ve been doing, I’m back to silver elite status. You don’t get much, but you do get early boarding and some perks with checking in. My flight was at 11am. I had 30 minutes to get on the plane. They told me straight out that if we didn't get there in time, I'd have to go the next day. Fair is fair, I did drag my ass when it came to leaving on time. However, they rallied to get me on that flight. Just be warned that at Incheon, you’ve got to take the pet to quarantine before you get on the plane and it's going to cost you 10,000 won for the health certificate. Now I didn’t recall having to do that eight years ago at SFO when I brought her to Korea, but things change. However, it sucked because I was pressed in a big way for time. I tried to not panic – however, it was hard not to. I kept with my habit of saying "please" and "thank you." The printer jammed. Of course, it would when I needed things to move fast. However, the clerk got it done and we were off to the post office. Yes, the post office.

Why the post office? Well, a friend of mine drove up from Suwon to help me sort through the last eight years of my life and helped me pack. IT.WAS.AWESOME. and, without him, I would have simply left a lot of stuff behind. Good for me he did help. We packed stuff up in boxes that he’ll mail back to me via surface mail. However, I felt horribly guilty because I’ll admit I did more sitting on my butt and simply being anxious about moving than prepping to move. It really brought home how important good friends are. But it also gave me an insane amount of guilt. So there were a few things I took care of this morning after I overslept and took a cat nap that was maybe 30 minutes too long. I realized that the idea that I’d mail one box home would actually be two (and it ended up being three when all was said and done.) Now during this whole time I had someone from Northwest shadowing me and getting me through the process as quickly as possible. Again, IT.WAS.AWESOME.

It was like getting rock star treatment for dragging my ass. We got through it all and I managed to get on my plane with 10 minutes to spare. I was grateful and between my awesome taxi driver and the awesome service the Northwest folks provided in getting me through the gauntlet of animal quarantine, the post office, immigration, on the tram to the new terminal area and on the plane with 10 minutes to spare, it was a positive cap on leaving South Korea. I’ll tell you right now, in the USA a surly check in attendant would have just informed me that my flight wasn’t going to happen. End.of.story.

What’s been interesting has been my emotions during this crazy morning. When realized that I was going to get to the airport in time, it then sunk in that this was it. I was leaving. I thought about my friends and how Korea really forced me to look at myself in ways I never thought it would. I’ve made some friends that will be dear to me for life, seriously. I think, most important, was I learned some interesting things about myself.

Coming from two big and diverse cities, I thought I had a handle on different cultures and a pretty liberal perspective. That’s definitely true in the context of home. However, when you couple that with trying to understand where you are and the gut wrenching trauma that culture shock gives you (and trust me, it continues to happen even after a few years), you have to really learn how to understand and how to think like a Roman when necessary. A lot of that understanding and adapting is facilitated or impaired by how a person sees the world. Living abroad really taught me a lot. I think the most important thing it taught me was you’re always learning. I knew that in theory but I learned it living abroad for a number of years in Korea. The best way to do that is to just shut up and listen. I hope that I’ll be successful bringing that attitude back home with me too.

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