Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Korea... Almost...

When we first arrived in Bejing, Ken and I stepped into an airport of such grandeur, it made up for our voices echoing in its emptiness. Apart from the airport personnel and the passengers stepping off of the plane, there was no one in the airport that we could see. I felt like an honoured guest at a ‘Welcome to Bejing!’ celebration, but with no welcoming party. Ken and I (and the other passengers) were greeted in Bejing with body heat detectors and were shuffled from one counter to another looking to get to our next connecting flight.

Oh, did we ever learn a harsh lesson: do NOT purchase any flight from Southern China Airlines! Not only do you have to check-in and be in the departure gate about 2 hours beforehand, the plane can leave before the departure time! Now, on our online flight itinerary, Ken and I were allotted a little over an hour to get to our last flight. I guess, however, that the shuttle train and shuttle bus (which altogether took an hour to ride) weren’t taken into account. When we finally figured out which terminal we were supposed to be in, we found ourselves at the mercy of a confused Southern China Airlines employee and 6 other people (also English Program In Korea teachers) waiting to get to the Incheon International Airport. Luckily for Ken and I, we had our travel insurance ($60CAD), which we had purchased with our flight. Of course, being the strong burly man he is, Ken refused to have his damsel (me) sleep in an airport for 24 hours :). He threatened to call the insurance company and explain the situation concerning Southern China Airlines. The Southern China Airlines employee 'somehow' found a way to change our flight to the next day, while she was unforgiving to the 6 other passengers who had to pay for another flight.

Sheesh, eh?

After sorting out the ticket information with Southern China Airlines, we next had to venture out and find out if our baggage was marooned in the terminal. Did it make it to South Korea? Did it stay in Bejing? Apparently, our baggage was something else of an enigma altogether. Six of us stranded EPIK passengers desperately tried to communicate our one and only question, “Where did our baggage go?”

We were tossed around from one airport desk to another, being directed to another terminal (for which we would have to take another shuttle and bus to get to), to the information desk (which was absolutely useless), and to the ‘Left Baggage’ counter (which was meant for people to pay to leave their luggage at the airport). At that desk, Ken’s impeccable drawing skills (drawing a plane taking off, us left behind as malnourished stick-people, and a question mark beside our luggage) finally communicated what we needed, and we were directed to the Manager's Counter. Luckily, the manager was able to speak a little English and we found out, hours later, that our baggage was right underneath us – on a sublevel floor.

In the meantime, Ken managed to call EPIK and the insurance company, and explain our situation. Lo and behold, we were given $300CAD each to spend on food, transportation and the most expensive hotel Bejing could offer us!


Wow. Winding through the roads of the outskirts of Bejing was one of the most death-defying experiences through which I’ve ever lived. Obeying the common rules of the road seemed to be a ‘no-no’ for the airport-hotel shuttle driver, even though it was pitch black at night.

Viewing the city, the streets seemed to be barren and rugged…that is, until we reached our hotel. The hotel and the buildings surrounding it seemed to tower over the rest of the region. A thick, brick wall, which looked like it was built as a military defense, surrounded the buildings and a security guard carefully monitored and secured the entrance gate.

The hotel itself was a wondrous sight. Glowing in the night, it seemed as though it was inviting us to sleep in its cozy white linens and sit down on its pearly white, square toilet. It was no mirage… As both Ken and I sleepily stumbled out of the shuttle bus like school children on a Monday morning, we were greeted by hotel employees, who carried our 200 lbs worth of luggage to our room of luxury. I could’ve been hallucinating – which was how I felt while my brain was still deciding whether or not I could sleep.

The hotel room itself was incredible. Set in pastel off-whites and bamboo-greens, the room gave off an ethereal ambience, with a glass-walled bathroom (not sound-proof, by the way) displaying a glamorous rainfall showerhead (these kinds of things get me excited).

Our dream was cut short, as both our stomachs spoke their minds. We were hungry. We were hungry enough to eat whatever Bejing’s streets had to offer us – even if it came out minutes after being devoured.

After walking about on the dimly-lit, honeycomb-bricked sidewalk, we managed to find one of the cheapest eateries around – a vibrant, rich-coloured stand, with a Pepsi backdrop. Safe enough, right?

What we ate was really the suggestion of four of the chefs…a plate of spicy noodles (according to Ken), a plate of spicy (according to Ken) shredded potato, a plate of bean-gelatin cubes (also spicy according to Ken), moist lima-bean-chick-peas disguised in peanut-like shells, the best beer I-have-ever-tasted, and more…all for about four-ish dollars. We were ready for the consequences…actually, we pretty much threw away our conscience and dove into our meal.


Breakfast was a breath of fresh air – continental food for us Westerners and international travelers. There were danishes, sausages, toast, cereal, vegetable platters, and so much more. The eerie silence was not disturbed by the one businessman drinking coffee near the window. The lack of people, however, only seemed to make the hotel service staff even more hospitable. One employee even walked out along the dusty streets with Ken and I to get a phone card. Despite the miscommunication between a cell phone card and a phone card, a provincial phone card and an international phone card, and then no phone card at all, the employee managed to keep a perfect composure and humbleness in helping us.


After our bags were loaded onto the airport-hotel shuttle, once again, Ken and I were ready to gamble with our lives once again. Riding the van with no seatbelts and a direct path to through the front windshield gave us a sense of delirious exhilaration that you can only experience, riding on a Bejing hotel-airport shuttle :)


Merely 16 hours later, both Ken and I were in that familiar place…that place with so many memories – the Bejing airport. We received our flight tickets in no time at all, passed-on our luggage, and waited, a good 3 hours before our flight. It was almost like yesterday's morning 'n' afternoon had been erased from our memories. Bye-bye Bejing…hello sweet land of Korea!

- Jess

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