Beautiful Korea

Beautiful Korea

Tora's blog

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cortez to DC, the Journey begins...and delays

Friday, August 23rd

My mom drove me down to Albuquerque the previous day, so we wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night and leave before dawn, or worry about being late due to road construction delays, etc. The drive was uneventful. I was exhausted due to not getting enough sleep the previous few nights, and especially the night before, when I was up late packing, and weighing, and repacking until both suitcases were just under 50 lbs., and everything I wanted with me fit into my purse or my carry-on.

The evening in Albuquerque was also uneventful, but unfortunately neither of us slept well. Our room was on the street side of the motel, and the motel was on a steep hill with a traffic light at the bottom. At 5am, the traffic started, and the noise was quite loud due to trucks downshifting on their way down the hill, and cars, trucks, and motorcycles accelerating hard to get up the hill after being stopped at the light.

There was no point trying to sleep in, so eventually we gave up, got up and went to breakfast. Then it was pack things up and off to the airport on the shuttle. We arrived with plenty of time. I had already checked in thanks to the motel's wifi, so I just had to get boarding passes printed, pay for my extra bag, and check the two bags. Then we proceeded to a waiting area outside security, where we hung out and chatted until I needed to go catch my flight. We said our goodbyes, and I headed through security and to the gate shortly before boarding time. Everything on this flight was uneventful. Of course, they don't serve food on most domestic flights anymore, so by the time I got to Chicago I was quite hungry. I had plenty of time in my layover, so I stopped at a sit down Italian restaurant for a late lunch. (The food was not bad, though not as excellent as one would hope for given the prices.) Then I proceeded to the gate. My iPod told me it was almost two hours yet until boarding time, so I popped in my earphones and zoned out. At some point later I came to, with the gate strangely quiet. According to my iPod, it was just now boarding time, so what was going on? Had there been a gate change that I'd missed? Then it suddenly dawned on me through my sleep deprivation-induced haze that my iPod was on Mountain time, and Chicago was an hour ahead in Central time. I'd actually missed my flight, despite being AT THE GATE the whole time. I rushed to the agent at the desk, who sent me to the customer service desk down the terminal.

I spent 45 minutes in line at the service desk, mostly in self-flagellation over my idiocy and worry over what kind of first impression I was making on my new employers. When I finally got to the desk, the United customer service agent was really helpful, and tried every option she had to get me to Washington DC in time to make my flight to Bahrain, but there just wasn't enough time. Then she tried to get me on a flight to Bahrain the next day, but it was completely booked. The soonest she could get me on was Sunday night, arriving on Monday, getting me to Bahrain two days late. She offered me the option of staying in Chicago until Sunday afternoon, or heading on to DC that night. I opted for the latter, feeling like at least I would be making some progress closer to my destination. (She also offered to re-route me through Frankfurt,Germany, but since she couldn't get me on a flight from there to Bahrain any sooner than Sunday, I declined.) Of course, I didn't consider that given how much time had already passed, I would be arriving in DC very late indeed.

As I waited at the gate in Chicago, I thought I would use the wifi to try to book a hotel, so I wouldn't be arriving in DC in the middle of the night with no place to stay. And surely there would be wifi to use, right? It turns out that O'Hare is one of the few airports these days that don't offer free wifi. If I wanted to use the wifi, I had to pay for Boingo. At $7.95 an hour. I spent quite some time ascertaining that O'Hare really didn't have free wifi, and that Boingo would not provide me with any further information about in exactly what circumstances they would charge my card (their website was full of information about how convenient it was that they had so many hotspots around the world and how they would automatically charge your card for access, but nothing about whether or not they would ask you to authorize the charge before they made it, or if they would automatically charge you any time your device was within hailing distance of one of their hotspots). For all I know, Boingo may be a great service, but their unwillingness to inform me that my card would not be charged without my knowledge or direct permission was not reassuring. If I used their service for 61 minutes, would they charge another $7.95 without warning me? Their lack of detailed information about how and when they charge you made it seem really scammy to me, and I wasn't about to trust them with my credit card info. I decided to hope that the Washington/Dulles airport had free wifi. (It did, though as it turned out, I didn't need it.)

By the time I'd decided I couldn't trust Boingo, it was almost boarding time anyway. Thus I arrived in DC at 1am with no place to stay. My luggage had arrived earlier, of course, being on the flight I *should* have been on. The customer service agent in Chicago had assured me that she'd put a hold on my bags and they would be in DC, so I headed to the agents in baggage claim. To my surprise, they were actually open (I had arrived very late in other airports on other occasions to find that everything was shut down). However, they couldn't get me my bags, because having been checked to an international destination, they were held in customs, which was closed for the night. They did assure me the bags would be there, though, and would not go on to Bahrain without me. I mentioned that I didn't yet have a place to stay, and the agent gave me a coupon with an 800 number to call to find last minute hotel bookings at low rates.

So I went out to the payphones and called, and got a listing for a Courtyard Marriot 10 minutes away with a free shuttle for $70 per night. The agent on the phone made a reservation for me for that night, but said he couldn't make one for more than one night. He gave me the number for the hotel to call the shuttle. Unfortunately, it wasn't an 800 number, so I needed change for the payphone to make the call. Fortunately, I had enough change. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out which selection on the hotel's phone menu would get me to the shuttle, and wound up choosing the wrong one and then getting disconnected. I didn't have enough change for a second call, and no stores at the airport were open. However, there was a calling card vending machine next to the payphones that took bills, so I bought one. At this point I was so tired it took me three tries to enter all the numbers correctly (the phone number on the card, the very long code on the card, and the number for the hotel). I did, eventually, get through to the right place and was told the shuttle would be there in 10 minutes.

I went out through the doors marked "ground transportation" and located the correct area for hotel shuttle pickup. The shuttle soon arrived, and around 2am I was at the Courtyard Marriott. This is the point where my trip began looking up (although I had not yet reached the last of my mishaps.) The young woman at the check in desk was very helpful and kind. She said taking the shuttle back to the airport the next day to get my luggage would be no problem, and was happy to give me a map of the DC area, and booked me for two nights at the $70 rate. I retreated to my room, which was nice, and clean, and which made me happiest of all, very quiet and dark, thanks to a good location and thick curtains that completely covered the windows. I spent the next hour and a half on their free wifi, emailing my employer to let them know about the delay, and my mom to let her know that I would not be in Bahrain for a couple of days, but was safe and sound and would let her know when I *did* make it to Bahrain. I also discovered that I needn't have fretted about what impression missing my flight would make on my new employers. I was far from the only one to have problems along the way, and of the four of us who were supposed to be on the flight from DC to Bahrain that night, only one had actually made it.

I fell into bed about 4am, and slept pretty soundly until noon.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Three things I learned this weekend

1) Have a plan for the weekend. That way I won't spend most of it dithering over what I want to do or flitting from one thing to another. Where on earth did Sunday go?
2) Cinnamon is lovely in coffee or on oatmeal or other hot cereal. Clove and allspice are lovely on oatmeal or hot cereal, but should never, ever, ever be put in coffee. *shudder*
3) Never, never, never let myself run out of cinnamon again. (In my defense, it's really not my fault. The cinnamon I had came in a plastic jar. The cinnamon clings to the sides, making it impossible to see how full/empty the jar is. And the plastic is thick and surprisingly heavy--heavier than the glass jar the previous cinnamon came in--so I really had no way of knowing that it was almost empty until I shook it and nothing more came out.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Zombie Pirate Rabbit

I actually managed to find some Halloween stickers here in Korea this year for the first time. (Don't worry, Clarissa, there weren't even close to enough of them for me to use for my class activity, so the stickers you sent were needed and much appreciated!)

Korea's take on Halloween stickers is mostly pretty similar to America's: no Frankensteins, and fewer witches and vampires, but lots of pumpkin/jack o' lanterns, ghosts, and skeletons. There was, however, one that I'm not sure you'd see in America. So I present for your amusement, the Zombie Pirate Rabbit:
Zombie Pirate Rabbit

I think this may be my halloween costume for next year, if I can find the makings.

Halloween Decorations

Last year, I was too busy with the incredibly stressful preparations for the open class I had to do to have energy or time for finding or making decorations for my classroom at Halloween.

This year, the open class was much less stressful, and it was finished on October 19th. So I had a little time to look for decorations. I found a ghost garland and a glow-in-the-dark plastic skeleton at Home Plus, but had no luck at Namdaemun. Fortunately, I was able to find some printable Halloween decorations online, partly with the help of a friend. (Thanks, Clarissa!) Unfortunately, it was a lot of work to cut them out after printing them, so my classroom wasn't fully decorated until Wednesday this week. It really seemed a shame to start taking them down Friday evening!

Anyway, to get the most out of them, I thought I'd share them here.
Halloween decor 1
Halloween rats 1
Halloween rats 2
Halloween rats 3
Halloween sitting vampire
Halloween decor 2
Halloween decor 3
Halloween decor 4

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Audio books and the state of my apartment

What do audio books have to do with the state of my apartment? A whole lot, as it turns out.

My current audio book is an unabridged version of Dracula read by Robert Whitfield. It's excellent and I'm enjoying it very much.

The previous one was an unabridged version of The English Governess at the Siamese Court, read by Nadia May. There was nothing wrong with the reader or the production, but the book itself was another matter.

As you might guess from the title, this is the autobiographic work upon which The King and I was loosely based. While it had many interesting parts, I found it at times annoying, at other times boring and repetitive, and occasionally confusing.

That last is not entirely the fault of the work itself--were it in printed form I would have been able to check back and verify the names, but there is no easy way to do this with an audio book. Most of the confusion was due to my unfamiliarity with Thai names, and the great length of the names of people associated with the Siamese court, which combined to make them nearly impossible for me to remember. But the repetitiveness contributed to my confusion, as I wondered if she were really telling the same story about the same person again, or if a similar event had happened to a different person.

My greatest annoyance with the book was how poorly organized it was. It seemed to have been written simply as she thought of it, with no overall organization or structure at all, except a very, very loose chronological one which jumped around quite a bit, but did begin with her accepting the job at the Siamese court, and except a last bit about travels in Cambodia, ended with her resigning that position and leaving Siam. I can understand it being written in this way, but what I cannot understand is why it was not subsequently edited to tell the story in a clear and interesting way, and avoid the confusion and tedium of unnecessary repetition.

I don't mind, and even enjoy it, when an author plays around with the organization/structure of a work of fiction, especially when it's done effectively and for a purpose. But I rather resent nonfiction which meanders pointlessly and makes the true story it tells more difficult to understand, appreciate, and enjoy.

However, it was interesting to read about Siam during that period, and even more interesting to see how an Englishwoman of the time perceived it. The author seemed to be a courageous and genuinely good person, albeit one highly prejudiced in favor of (her version of) Christianity and against pagan religions, as well as possessed of a very strong sense of English superiority to the rest of the world. That said, she does, to her credit, attempt to present a fair picture, and doubtless believed that she had. If you have any interest in the true story behind The King and I and don't mind poorly organized nonfiction, it may be worth your time.

But given the title and opening line of the post, you may be wondering by now what all this has to do with my apartment.

Well, I'm not fond of cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, and other similar tasks related to taking care of one's home and oneself. So I reward and motivate myself to do them by listening to audio books for entertainment while I do them. This works extremely well when the book is good and I'm eager to listen. But this system breaks down entirely when I'm not motivated to listen to the audio book.

Until I finally finished The English Governess at the Siamese Court, I was not highly motivated to listen for the reasons mentioned above, and thus only listened to the book while I did the most necessary chores: cooking, washing dishes, and doing laundry. This meant both that the book took a long time to finish as I didn't listen to it that much, and also that all the non-necessary tasks around my apartment, like sweeping, mopping, dusting, straightening up, etc., were entirely neglected. Needless to say, my apartment gradually got into a pretty sad state.

After I, at long last, completed The English Governess at the Siamese Court, and moved on to Dracula, the state of my apartment began to improve dramatically. The only problem is that Dracula is not a particularly long novel, and soon it will be over. I fervently hope that the next audio book is as enjoyable, because my apartment still needs work after all the weeks of neglect.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

In the Hobbiton tradition of giving presents to other people on one's birthday, I'm spending part of today on things for all of you. I renewed my Flickr account after letting it lapse for five months, and I uploaded some new pictures which you will see some of below. And I'm writing this post, and I *hope* that I will be better in the future about posting regularly. (Yeah, don't laugh. It could happen!)

Today's post: Shopping in Seoul

Yesterday I went shopping in Seoul. Here is the first area I went to: Myeongdong. To save on loading speed, this picture is much smaller than the original version, but if you really want to see what it's like, you should head over to Flickr and have a look at the original. (Myeongdong-large)
This is one of the main thoroughfares of the most popular shopping district in Seoul. It continues well beyond where the tree blocks the view. And it's just one of several square blocks of stores and street vendors. I've never seen it when it wasn't packed with people. And yesterday was no exception.

As you can see in the picture, there are not only many tall buildings filled with stores (and/or restaurants, and/or coffee shops) on every floor, but many street vendors selling everything from sunglasses, shoes (in the foreground), to stuffed animals, jewelry and hair accessories (middle ground), to food, clothes, DVDs--undoubtedly pirated, to cell phone accessories of all kinds, which are hugely popular here. (Someday I should really write a post about Korean cell phone accessories.)

Skin care seems to be particularly popular these days. I lost count of how many such stores I saw: Nature Republic (which you can see in the foreground on the left in the picture above), It's Skin, The Face Shop (also in the picture on the middle left), Skin Food, and Innisfree all have multiple storefronts in Myeongdong, and I saw The Body Shop as well. Supposedly Lush has a storefront there now as well, but I didn't manage to find it and had to resort to the one in the "Home Living" section of the Shinsegae department store.

I wandered up and down and around, looking for sandals and hair accessories for me, and gifts for a friend. I failed on the sandals--partly due to not many looking like they'd be comfortable, partly because the ones that did look cute and comfortable weren't available in my size. I *did* find hair accessories, though.

And more importantly, I found the gifts for a friend that I was looking for.

I also wandered into the new H&M, which had cute clothes at reasonable prices (though not as low as they would be in the US). They did not, however, have anything I wanted enough to wait in the LONG line for dressing rooms. There are also a couple of Zara stores that I didn't make it into, but may try next time I'm in Myeongdong.

After giving up on finding the Lush storefront, I headed for Shinsegae. By this time it was almost 3pm and I hadn't had lunch yet, plus my feet were killing me and I was on sensory overload from hordes of people, items crammed into every nook and cranny, and pop music playing in every store. Also, it was warm and humid and I was desperate to spend some time in an air conditioned place.

First I had lunch at the Japanese Udon restaurant near the top of the Shinsegae building (I had tempura udon, about $7). Greatly refreshed, I headed one floor down to the "Home" section and stocked up on products from Lush.

I had come to Myeongdong partly to shop for pants, purses, and sandals, but I didn't do any clothes, purse, or shoe shopping in Shinsegae because Korean department stores are woah! expensive! This came as a great surprise to me the first time. As the average Korean income is only 60% of the average American income, I had assumed that Korean department stores would offer Macy's quality at Mervyn's prices. Boy was I wrong! They're more like Neiman Marcus prices! They sell t-shirts for $60. So I never shop in department stores here.

Instead, I headed to Migliore. Initially, I'd thought that places like Migliore, Doota, and AM/PM (not the US convenience store!) were department stores, but they aren't. They're more akin to shopping malls, with many different vendors sharing one building. The difference is that they're not a collection of separate stores, each with four walls and their own dressing rooms, but more like a lot of large alcoves with all the vendors on one floor sharing dressing rooms. Which means they trust you to walk off with their clothes to a dressing room that may be all the way on the other side of the building. You wouldn't see that in America!

Unfortunately, despite four floors of women's clothing and one floor of shoes, bags, jewelry, etc., I didn't find what I wanted, which was a loose-fitting pair of pants that would be cool and comfortable in hot weather but professional enough to wear to work. The style these days is all for skinny jeans and short skirts, so it isn't easy to find anything loose-fitting. And I was looking for a backpack purse, but all the ones I saw were either too big (true backpack size, though very nice looking) or made of fake leather (which will last all of two months before it looks like crap).

So I gave up and headed for my next destination, Insadong. Insadong is the district in Seoul dedicated to traditional and modern Korean handicrafts, and to selling them to tourists. I went with the goal of buying a mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer box. I've been envying everyone I've bought one for, because they're beautiful and I don't have one of my own. Until yesterday, that is. This year I decided that my birthday present to myself would be a lacquer box.

Behold my selection:

And because I've bought many boxes from them, they also gave me this:
(If you're not sure, it's a compact mirror.)

Then, exhausted from crowds and shopping and walking and heat and humidity, I headed for the subway to go home. After subway and bus, I didn't get home until nearly 9pm, and after dropping off my purchases, I immediately headed back out--to buy milk and birthday cake! I was good, though, and only bought two pieces of cake, one cheese cake which I ate last night, and a double chocolate for tonight. Happily, these were available at a convenience store and a bakery within a block of my apartment, so this errand only took about 15 minutes, and most of that was waiting in line to pay for milk at the convenience store and then deciding what kind of cake I wanted at the bakery.

And now you know what a shopping trip to Seoul is like! Sort of, anyway.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Last Weekend

Last semester I had an extra after school class with several teachers at the school, teaching conversational English. One of them, Kim Moon Seok, is an art teacher.

Last week, he had a showing of his art at the Insa Art Center in Seoul, and on Sunday I went to see it. I liked his work, and enjoyed the chance to see it. He works mainly in frescos, although there was also one sculpture. I was glad that I went. But there was more.

He took me across the hall to another gallery. There, the work of a Buddhist monk was on display. All of them were paintings of Buddha in a pointillist style, but get this: they were done on aluminum panels with nail polish instead of paint. Yes, nail polish, including the glittery kind. Some of them were medium-sized, about 3'x4', others covered almost an entire (large) wall. And they were gorgeous. Some were so convincing that I had to go close to make sure they were really 2-D paintings and didn't have 3-D bits sticking out of them. My favorite was almost entirely done in blues and blacks, 12 separate panels put together into a kind of collage of Buddha images.

I wish I had taken pictures. I didn't know if it would be ok to do so, and the monk didn't speak English, and I didn't want to seem rude or disrespectful, so I didn't try. You will just have to imagine the awesomeness for yourselves.