Monthly Archives: August 2008

Korean Air Review

My plane as seen from O'Hare.

My plane as seen from O'Hare

The nearly 14-hour flight from Chicago O’Hare to Seoul Incheon passed by rather quickly thanks to my all-night packing affair coupled with my propensity for sleeping on moving vehicles. All in all, I’m sure I slept more than seven hours of the flight, which is probably a major reason I can’t truly believe I flew halfway around the world.

The six or so hours I was conscious were actually rather pleasant for being strapped to a seat inside a cabin suspended 32,000 feet in the air. I flew Korean Air, and the journey was much easier than I had anticipated. For a pre-paid flight, I wasn’t going to be difficult, but I had heard good things from my mom, who flew Korean Air from Dallas to Seoul en route to Vietnam.

This particular flight didn’t have personal viewing screens, just a large projection in the middle of the cabin. I had my own means of entertainment with my laptop, my Nintendo DS and my iPod, so I was rather indifferent to this fact, especially because they showed Korean news and some crazy Korean movie that involved (from what I could gather from glances and not reading the subtitles) a girl who gained superpowers from having too much Soju. It was worth the occasional peek.

There was lots of leg room, especially when I put the seat back. I was surprised at how far the seats leaned back, but I wasn’t going to complain. It definitely helped the sleeping patterns. The few occasions I woke up were coincidentally (unless I have some uncanny sense) the same times the attendants served food. The staff was very friendly despite a bit of a language barrier, and the meals were a little better than typical airline food. For each of our meals, we had two choices of entrees, one Korean and one, well, not-so-Korean. Between meals, the staff also provided snacks, such as a choice between a BBQ pork-stuffed bun and a banana half, as well as tea in addition to the standard airline drinks.

Overall, Korean Air was a pleasant trip, especially since I didn’t have to pay for the ticket (thanks, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). I would fly them again, and I probably will since I’ve read flights around the tiny South Korean peninsula are rather affordable.

Has anyone else flown Korean Air? What was your experience like? Any recommendations on other overseas carriers?

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And off we go

I decided to make (read: procrastinate) packing into an all-night affair. Since this was also my last night in my room and house of the past two years, I had cleaning to do on top of that. The Olympics were no help, either, as NBC forced me to peek into the Michael Phelps love-fest as well as the women’s all-around gymnastics competition. Nastia Liukin provided quite the respite from a stressful day.

Anyway, packing and cleaning for an overseas move, limited to two 50-pound bags and a carry-on, I had to first and foremost prioritize between things I really needed and things that added to the piles of black garbage bags of what essentially became junk. I donated three full bags of clothing, and various things like clothes hangers, a TV stand, my desk and a golf putter ended up in my front yard free for passers-by to collect.

This arduous process of streamlining my life to (almost) the bare necessities took me until 5:15 a.m., which also happened to be the same time I needed to leave to catch the bus. The final rush of cleaning carried me to the bus, on which I stayed awake for about 10 minutes. Next thing I knew, I was working out the cricks in my neck as we pulled into Detroit Metro Airport. This was only the beginning of my prolific sleep habits for this trip.

I had little semblance of coherence. For the past five years, I’ve flown — although domestically — at least twice a year. I should know the check-in process in and out: Scan ID or credit card, grab boarding pass, wait for luggage tags. Today I decided to walk up to the check-in counter and absently stare at the clerk. After an awkward pause, she points to the kiosk and says, “Sir, you can start checking in now.”

Oh, right.

After boarding and falling asleep before take off, I found myself dazed and landing in Chicago 15 minutes later — thanks to the time zone change — but four hours before my next flight. I meandered my way over to the international terminal and prepared myself for the next flight; being the only one at the gate, I set my stuff down in a corner, laid my pillow on the ground, and slept for yet another 2+ hours.

The countdown of days left in the U.S. had now become a matter of hours and minutes. I made my final calls to my parents and my brother in the minutes before boarding, letting them know I’ll e-mail them as soon as I land on the other side of the world. I hang up my American phone for the final time and get in line to Korea — but not before I enjoyed my last truly American lunch.

A Big Mac is an appropriate final meal in the U.S.

A Big Mac is an appropriate final meal in the U.S.

But as I tried to get on the plane holding my fresh Big Mac, the Korean Air employees noticed on my boarding pass — the same one with which I went through security when I changed terminals — that I had been “randomly” chosen to be searched, usually annoying but moreso exasperating now that we were only a half hour before departure.

After a quick frisk, inspection of my full 38-liter backpack and watching my Big Mac roll through the X-ray machine, I rushed back to my gate where they were essentially holding the plane for me. I found my seat, inhaled my McDonald’s, and immediately did what I do best: I fluffed my pillow and fell asleep before take off. After a pattern of sleeping, eating, watching Scrubs, sleeping, eating and sleeping, I was overlooking the green mountains of Korea and slowly descending toward Seoul.

I'm guessing that's Chicago in Hangul.

KE 038: I'm guessing that's "Chicago" in Hangul.

I’ve made it. Let’s begin.

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You say goodbye, and I say hello

Things are a changin’ as I’ve said my first goodbyes and said my first hellos. The first goodbye is usually the most dramatic, and this was no exception. I said goodbye in the most theatrical fashion to the one thing that has been with me from the very beginning to the very end of my college journey: my five-year-old laptop. Its performance was quickly fading into oblivion, so I recently purchased a MacBook to make the technological aspect of life more tolerable.

After I took out the hard drive — the only salvageable part in the computer — my roommates and I ceremoniously grabbed our golf club, hockey stick and bike pump and marched into our front yard where we proceeded to go Office Space on it. The only thing missing from the carnage was a Geto Boys soundtrack.

The aftermath of a dramatic goodbye to my old laptop

The aftermath of a dramatic goodbye to my old laptop

The next — and first real — goodbyes came this evening at our Ultimate summer league. This week’s games were the finals, which my team won (no big accomplishment this year in a league of four teams), so this would be my last time playing frisbee with all these kids. These were the kids with whom I spent the most time in the past four years, and now I was saying, “Take care of yourself and keep in touch.”

The thing about goodbyes is that they’re always awkward, whether it’s the result of the circumstances or some figment of my overactive imagination. I think I’m always expecting something a little more dramatic, especially with the people closest to me, but what more can you really say other than, “See you later, and good luck with [insert future goals here]”?

The simplest goodbyes are the easiest, but it just means I’m ready to say new hellos — in only three days.

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One last American jaunt

The Sears Tower from the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Sears Tower from the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago

As excited as I am to move to Seoul, I know I’ll miss plenty of things from the midwest. One of those things will definitely be Chicago. Though I’m sure I’ll get a similar feeling of the hustle and bustle of the big city in Seoul, I do have a special place in my heart for Chicago. As a suburban-ite, I’ve always liked having a little bit of a rush around me, and Chicago fulfills that and then some.

My brother (from Texas) visited me in East Lansing, and since I’m unemployed, I figured I’d show him Chicago since he’d have no real reason to see Chicago anytime soon. We took a two-day whirlwind tour of the town. The trip started somewhat ominously: As soon as we left my house, my iPod — the entertainment for the 3.5-hour drive — died. Despite that, the rest of the trip went quite swimmingly.

We arrived on Wednesday in the early afternoon to my friend’s apartment which is somewhere between Lincoln Park and Lakeview. My friend had some errands to finish, so my brother and I hiked to the free Lincoln Park Zoo. It didn’t seem so far on the map, but it turned out to be about a 2.5-mile walk, which was fine since we got to see the town firsthand. To the zoo, around it and back was by far the most I’ve walked in a long time, but that’s Chicago for you.

Then later that night, my friend joined us downtown where we wandered out to dinner and then Navy Pier. Navy Pier is clearly for tourists — idiots like me and my brother — as evidenced by the kiosk selling disposable cameras and sunblock and the gratuitous twice-a-week fireworks show. It makes sense, though, since it provides a fantastic view of the skyline, especially at night.

Thursday was a long day. We started with the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the most famous art museums in the United States. My favorite exhibit, maybe because of how surprisingly interesting it was as it sat among more classical pieces of art such as “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte“, was probably the paperweight collection.

The paperweight collection at the Art Institute of Chicago

The paperweight collection at the Art Institute of Chicago

Who would’ve thought there would be so much work put into paperweights? They were so intricate and ornate, especially for hunks of glass that are supposed to sit on stacks of paper. I usually just use a stapler for that purpose.

Once we finished strolling through the Institute, we headed off to the Korean Consulate so I could drop off my paperwork for my E-2 visa. It all went very smoothly, an in-and-out job. It was especially easy because I didn’t have to do an interview since Korean immigration issued me a notice of appointment instead of a visa confirmation number. Finally getting the last of the paperwork out of the way is quite liberating. I’m almost there.

With only an afternoon left in Chicago, my brother and I did a lot of wandering, up to the north end of The Magnificent Mile back through Millennium and Grant Parks to the south end of the downtown loop, the Museum Campus. Throughout the final 2.6-mile trek, the city — with its people and towering skyscrapers — always felt alive, which isn’t something that can be said about most places.

The Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium

The Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium

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The dusk of summer

I am officially unemployed and will be so for another two weeks. It feels good, especially after turning off my alarm. It will be much better to be awakened by the sun than the shrill beeps of an alarm clock. I now have two goals in mind: packing and preparing for Korea and enjoying my last days in the United States.

This upcoming week will include more of the latter than the former as my younger brother is visiting. We saw Wicked last night, and this week should be much be more interesting than his visit last year when I had just started my job. Also on the docket for this week are an encore viewing of The Dark Knight, some summer league Ultimate frisbee, and a trip to Chicago.

It’s nice that my brother is able to visit before I leave. I really didn’t want to have to fly home before dashing off to Korea. Other than the obvious logistical complications, the definition of “home” has become rather amorphous over the past couple years — and this journey won’t help clarify the point at all.

For the first two years of college, I refused to acknowledge East Lansing as “home.” I only flew home twice a year, and with each trip, what was supposed to be home felt more and more foreign as new buildings were erected and familiar faces left. I recognized that, to me, “home” had more to do with people than places. I’ve built enough relationships in the past five years here in East Lansing to consider it home — and it feels that way as I’m preparing to move on. I think Holden Caulfield got it right about the way I want to leave one place for another:

What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.

As I packed my desk and left work on Friday, I felt content, even missing the routine I hated so much a bit. Now with my attention fully focused on moving to Korea, I can feel the time and summer starting to fade away. I already appreciate things around me here — the buildings, the trees, the people — as possibly the last time I’ll see them as they are in East Lansing, my home for the past few years.

In cleaning up and packing my things, I have a general feeling of homelessness. I’m not quite here or there; I’m just in between places. I’m ready to move to Korea to continue this life adventure, but how soon will I be able to make a home for myself among the unfamiliar faces, language and places? Is a traveler, a drifting nomad with adaptability as his greatest tool, always at home or always homeless?

Eleven days, and we’ll begin to find out.

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