Riiiiing, riiiiing, riiiiing... on and on for about 5 minutes while I'm half in a coma thinking drowsy thoughts like "what is that noise? I don't understand... What's going on? Where is that noise coming from? I feel lost..." Turns out it was my cell phones alarm telling me, "wake the hell up, you have a bus to catch." I finally snap out of it and get up...
Leaving Victoria sucked. I'm definitely going to visit again in the future, as it's a city that I definitely didn't spend enough time in. I'd love to go for a drive to the northern part of Vancouver Island too, to see the mountains there. Maybe during a time that it's a little warmer too :)
The bus and ferry to Vancouver were on time (unlike two nights prior), and being as it was the first run in the morning, I got to (sort of) witness the sunrise during the 1.5 hour ferry ride. It was overcast so there wasn't much to see.
The ferry that was running was their newest craft, the Coastal Celebration. It was gorgeous, and it felt more like a cruise ship than a ferry. It couldn't have been older than a month or two.
As you can see, not many people were on the top deck, even the courageous smokers. Despite it being about 5°C in Victoria, it was much colder, wetter, and windier on the ferry. My fingers just about seized up a few times just from taking pictures, haha. I had to go in several times just to take a break... It's amazing what high humidity will do to suck the heat right out of you. I didn't let that stop me from taking some cool pictures though:
(A longer exposure looking over the edge of the rail and aft. I had the camera on the Gorillapod and as added insurance that I wasn't going to give my D90 a permanent bath, I had the strap around my neck)
(I wanna live on *that* island...)
(I kinda like this one... Symmetry Vs. Asymmetry, like Mark Hemmings talked about this week)
We make it to the Airport on schedule, and I head over to grab my luggage from storage. You'd think it would be easy enough to find where you need to check in at in an airport, but it wasn't the case for me on that day, haha. I had to push my cart with about 200lbs of luggage up and down the international check-in area trying to find where I'm supposed to check in for this flight. Turns out it was at the very end that I started at... Where all the Koreans were, haha. By the way, first class is the only way to fly; I didn't have to wait at all in line, and they talk to me like I'm their Lord and Saviour... (Little do they know, I'm not.)
Another blessing about first class is the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Unfortunately, with Amy's help I confirmed that the international departures Maple Leaf Lounge in Vancouver doesn't have a shower, and since I hadn't taken one in while and smell like a homeless person (not a Victoria homeless person though, they smell like tulips) I decide to spend some time in the washroom past security to clean up a bit.
Since I'm quite early for my flight I start looking for the lounge so I can see what these things are all about; I didn't have enough time when passing through Toronto to check out the one there. After walking the length of the concourse and back and asking people who looked like they would know, I finally found it, again, right where I started, just past security... enough with the walking already!
Self-serve bar. What a concept! It's too bad I'm not much of a drinker, I would have really enjoyed pouring myself whatever drink I wanted, however many times I wanted. I settled for just one Heineken and a metric shit-load of food. I ate like I wasn't going to eat Canadian food for another 2 years. They had chicken soup that had me all emotional at the first sniff, freshly baked cookies and bread, tonnes of veggies, and these little vegetable chips that I should buy stock in. It was awesome. I spent about an hour there stuffing my face and working on some pictures on the laptop.
It's getting closer to my boarding time so I look at my ticket check to see what gate I need to head to. D54. As I'm walking there I sense something's a little off. No Koreans! No one at all actually. Just some people at the boarding desk who told me that the gate was changed to D73. Whatever. I head over there, which is a fair ways away, and just as I'm getting there I'm hearing the tail end of a Korean announcement and witness mass exodus of about a hundred Koreans all leaving the gate. I head up to the desk and ask what's up. "This bird is sick, we're going to board at gate D54 after all." Ugh! It's like some mystical power from above is trying to get me to walk more, I really wish it would piss off, I've walked enough over the past few days.
Back at gate D54 I stand there and wait for a bit, and an announcement comes over the air saying that they'll be delaying boarding of the plane for a bit while they move the luggage from the last plane to this one. I take a seat. A little while later they say that it will take a bit longer still because they have to move all the catering to the new plane... I sigh a "whatever" sigh and grab my camera to play around while we wait.
While I'm snapping away at random people doing random things a cute Korean girl sitting next to me says something like "ooh, nice camera!" and we start talking. I tell her what I'm doing in Korea and we chat for a bit. Her name is Naree and she had just spent the last year in Canada learning English in Toronto. She's traveling with a friend Julie who is doing the same. I confess to her that I don't even know how to say hello in Korean yet and she laughs and says "An Nyung Ha Seyo." I attempt to repeat, and with some encouragement I get it pretty close. The two Korean girls and an American are laughing at me... :)
I tell her that I need to go to the Gimpo airport at the other end of Seoul to catch my flight to Ulsan and she kindly offers to write down on one of her sudoku work book pages what to ask the taxi driver to make sure I get there. She also writes down her number in Seoul in case I visit, generous, I ask her to add her email address to it too.
(I like left-handed people)
So now I have a few new friends and we chat for the hour or so we had to wait for the plane to be stocked up. I take a picture to document our meeting, and we board the plane.
(Naree and Julie. Love the mini-bow, haha)
Did I mention that first class is awesome? Especially on an international flight, where they have the new lay-flat seats. You sit diagonally, and you don't technically have anyone sitting next to you. There are three rows of these seats.
(Two of the rows)
(My seat. The back lays flight while the leg rest comes up all the way.)
The flight from Vancouver to Seoul is about 12 hours, which is a long time to be sitting in a plane, but I'd gladly take first class for 12 hours than sit like a sardine in the back for even just 4. The food is awesome, the service is outstanding almost to the point of annoyance, and space is plentiful. We had the same model aircraft (Boeing 767) on the flight from Toronto to Vancouver but it wasn't with the new seats like this one.
The flight didn't seem like that long. I spent several of the first hours writing my last blog entry and editing pictures, and the rest relaxing/sleeping.
An interesting fact, the flight path doesn't go right over the pacific like one would imagine, it actually goes up through to Yukon, Alaska, and down the Russian coast line to Korea. We got to fly over some pretty neat places, it's too bad it was mostly over cast, it would have been nice to see.
My first impression after deboarding the plane (my first step outside North America!) was that Korea has some money. It was a really fancy airport, and it was beautifully clean, like it had never been used before. It was very quiet, even with as many people as there were. I wish I had taken the time to snap some shots, but I had other priorities (getting to Gimpo as fast as I can for one.) Through customs I go and head down to wait forever for my luggage to make it onto the carousel. I grab my bags and notice that one of them has a giant yellow lock on it, I presume it's for a customs check. Great, another 10 minutes added to my exit.
The nice customs lady passes through my stuff, asking me what these boxes of KD and Q-Tips are... Try to explain q-tips to a foreigner, I dare ya.
Finally past customs, I walk out the door into the public arrivals area and I'm met with what seems like 400 people all waiting for arriving passengers, there are more cards up with names than the space will allow, and there's a lot of commotion and excitement going on. Crazy! I think they were expecting some teachers or something. I barely have enough time to find out how to get to the taxi stand before a taxi driver finds me (I think he can smell confusion) and offers to help, I tell him "Gimpo!" and point to the page Naree wrote on earlier. I tell him I'm heading to Ulsan and he says something like "ooooh, I dun know, very late!" he immediately grabs my luggage cart and starts pushing it about as fast as he can to get to his cab, which is an elevator ride and a few hallways away. He's very nice and helpful, and spoke decent English.
We get to the cab, load it up, and I proclaim with some motions and verbs to "step on it" and he somewhat obliges. I've certainly had crazier drivers, so I was kinda disappointed. The drive to Gimpo takes about 45 minutes, through two toll sections and a giant suspension bridge. It's too bad it was really foggy out, it would have been a great site to see.
We make it to the airport, and I hand him the 90,000KRW (about $90CAD) he asked for, plus a 10,000KRW tip since he was very helpful and courteous. I wasn't sure how much I was supposed to tip him, but he seemed pretty happy that I counted an extra bill for him.
I rushed inside to the check in line only to find out that I was too late to catch the flight. Oh well, looks like I'll be staying the night in Seoul! The lady behind the counter reschedules my flight for the morning after, 8:30 departure. I ask her about hotels and she helps me find the information desk and they organize a driver to come from the "hotel airport" to get me so I can stay the night there, it's only about 5 minutes away, and about 100,000KRW per night.
A few minutes later the hotel shuttle arrives, again with a very helpful driver, and we head off to the hotel.
I'm glad everyone was so helpful, I'm thinking that if I was in the same situation in Canada that I wouldn't have had the same experience.
The drive through the city was pretty hectic. There's a LOT of traffic and crazy driving. My driver was pretty passive, unfortunately... The city looks super cool at night.
The check-in process was painless, another helpful person at the desk. I ask for a wake up call of 6:30 (not realizing that it doesn't do much good if you're still on Atlantic time), dropped off my luggage with him, and headed up to my room on the third floor.
(The "Hotel Airport" lobby)
My first impression in the room is "holy crap this is small" haha, easily the smallest hotel room I've ever been in. Next I try to figure out how to turn on the light. I don't see a light switch, just some strange slot on the wall that looks like it would hold my hotel keychain just right, so I jam it in there and the lights turn on, neat! At this point I don't know why they don't just have a light switch, but I guessed that it was just a place to keep the keys. I pull out the keys and go into the room. After a few seconds the lights turn off. Ok, so I'm supposed to keep the keychain in there.. haha. Now I see that it's a fancy way for them to make sure everything is turned off once you leave the room.
My next task is to find internet. I realize that my travel adapters are in my bags down at the lobby, so I'm going to have to ration the laptop time... no worries, I was planning on heading to bed anyway. I search for a wireless network, nothing.. I see the old network cable coiled up under the desk and plug that in, nothing.. I call up the front desk and ask for internet, they say it's 3,000KRW per night. Plug it in boys, and make it snappy! After a few minutes it kicks in and I'm rolling.
Warning, geeky content to follow: This might not mean anything to you, but the internet is a ridiculously important thing in my life, and I've been curious about what kind of internet the Koreans had for a few months now. Mostly to see how snappy the connection is back to Canada, as I'll be sending my photo backups to my server in Saint John among other things (keeping Mathieu's supply of TV shows constant too). All in all, considering it was hotel internet, the connection was great through FTP. Command latency was pretty low, and connection speeds were around 100-120kB/s, which is higher than I expected. Awesome! One less thing I have to worry about.
Now, since I won't be arriving in Ulsan as planned, I have to let them know that I won't be there and don't need to be picked up. I look up the coordinators phone number on the companies network and give him a call. I tell him I missed my flight to Ulsan tonight and he says, "really? no one told me you were supposed to fly in tonight." Awesome.. haha. I'm glad I missed that flight after all ;) I tell him I'm booked for the morning after and he arranges to have someone from the apartment complex company to pick me up. Done and done.
I figure it best not to go wandering around the city and push my luck, so I decide to stay in my room. Looking outside the window to see the car repair shop just across the alleyway was about all I had the courage and energy for, haha. (I wish I had taken a picture of that shop though, it was on the second floor, and the walls were all glass, it looks so cool to have cars being worked on so high up, it seemed strange.)
I get the bed ready to attempt a nap, and pull out the key from the wall to turn off the light. I think it's kind of convenient that it gives you a few second of light so you can head to the bed without stubbing your toe like I did on the threshold to the bathroom earlier. The lights dim, and I notice that everything else turns off with it, including the digital clock radio built into the night stand. Strange... I don't clue into it and I just figure that it's the way it works... You can't turn off the room light without taking out the key I thought. It's about 9pm at this point.
What seemed like many hours later I woke up and wondered what time it was, figuring it was probably 5 or 6am and it was about time to wake up. I get up to stick the key back in the hole so I can find out what time it is. 12ish. Crap, I feel completely wide awake and I know I won't be able to sleep much more now. I check my email again, and I eventually took a shower (no complimentary shampoo? boo!) Still wide awake. I figure what the hell, let's take a picture of that small dish I bought from dab Gallery in Victoria. I put a pillowcase on the night stand, and set up the dish to take some shots of it with the 50mm lens. I shoot the flash through the lamp shade to create nice soft light, and this is the result:
(I don't remember the artist who created this)
I wanted to turn on the lamp itself to play with some longer exposures but I couldn't find the light switch on it. After some searching I found the switch for the lamp on that silly built in alarm clock, along with the bedrooms master light switch. Neat! So I guess that's how that system works. Now I can see what time it is without the light being on. Only took me about 5 hours to figure that out.
(Funky room control panel, built in radio, clock, and light switches!)
Attempt #2 at sleeping. Another 2 or so hours of sleep, and I'm up again with no hope of catching anymore Z's. I play around on the internet catching up with stuff while waiting for the wake up call. It comes in on time and I answer "An Nyung Ha Seyo!" and apparently I said it a little too well because the person on the other end started blabbing out some Korean jibberish. I said, "umm, hi" and he said after a pause, "uh, wake up call." Thanks :)
I make it down to the lobby and request a driver. I figure it's best to get to the airport as early as I can.
(The luggage I'm chained to until I get to my new apartment)
The airport isn't that busy, it's still pretty early.
(The Gimpo airport lobby)
I check in for the flight, and I'm told something like "go down that way and go through some doors" I assume my luggage is taken care of and that I'm heading towards security. I pass the door that they actually wanted me to go through and I hear someone behind me calling attention. A clerk directs me to these two white doors with absolutely nothing written on them saying I need to go through them. I'm thinking that they should probably put a sticker or two on these doors for future guidance.. haha. I walk in this room and it's a checked-in luggage scanning area, like the one in Saint John, but much more cramped, and about 35°C and humid. A lot of hectic commands are being barked by a lot of people in uniform, I keep my confused look on my face as consistent as possible to ensure compassion from these people (I'm started to see why foreigners often have the same look on their face in Canada, begin enlightenment.) I eventually sign my name on a form, in a space about 1/4 the size I would need to comfortably sign my name, one of the quirks of the country, and they send me back out the door. Awesome!
I figure now would be a good time to find some food. I haven't eaten anything since the flight the night before, and could use a little grub. Getting some food feels more like a survival practice than a daily routine when you're in a foreign country. I spot a Dunkin' Donuts across the lobby and go and buy a bagel. 1,500KRW, not quite twice as expensive as one at Tim Horton's in Canada would be. I assumed I would at least get it cut, maybe some butter, maybe even toasted, but nope. I felt too nervous to ask and what I get is a bagged bagel, uncut, untoasted, no butter. No worries, if you know me well, you'd know that I don't mind eating a bagel this way.
I head up to the second level where security is, eat my bagel in the waiting area, and head in. I don't take any pictures at this point because I figured I'd be able to find some equally pretty architecture in the security side. I was wrong, haha. The front lobby was much nicer.
I go through security, a surprisingly painless experience. I'm telling you, Koreans are a very nice people. In Canada I find the airport staff to have sort of a God complex going on, and they can be pretty rude and short. I found the Koreans to be very humble and courteous. They sniffed my bag (luggage that is) for explosives and off I went. (The always, always, always search my camera bag and swab it for explosives, I guess a tightly packed camera bag will trigger that..)
Boarding the plane was also another very painless experience. There was around 100 people wanting to get on the plane, and all of them looked very important (most were wearing full business suits, I was definitely the only one with a t-shirt, and it happened to be my old Beatles shirt with a few holes in it, haha, I fit right in.) I wait for a sign that they are ready to board us, and they literally stick one up in the air that says "boarding rows 40 and beyond, economy class" that sounds like me! Everyone is very calm and patient and slowly lines up to board the plan. In Canada you'd have a line up before anyone ever made the announcement, then you'd practically be shoved into the plane. Another point for Korea!
The flight to Ulsan from Seoul is a short one, only 55 minutes in the air. I have a window seat, with no one next to me, just how I like it :) they serve some orange juice, and I take some pictures. I snap a shot of the flight attendants candidly, and bring the camera down to look through the pictures.
I hear a constant "Excuse me sir, excuse me sir, excuse me sir..." behind me, not thinking much of it.. I'll eventually learn that if I hear English in Korea, it's probably for me. I eventually turn around to see a flight attendant looking at me asking me politely to not take pictures of the attendants. Ok. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission I say! And here it is:
(Korean flight attendants servin' some liquids)
It's still overcast over what seems to be the entire country, so I don't get to see much more than one mountain peak, and two other planes heading back the opposite way. Too bad, I would have liked to have seen Korea from up there.
As we're coming in for a landing I realize that what they've said about Ulsan is completely true, it's a mega-industrial city, with factories everywhere. Should be fun, haha.
(Arial of Ulsan)
We land fine (finally done with flying for a while!) and off the plane we go. I grab my luggage and go through the door to find someone holding up a sign with AECL on it, perfect. We hop in the van (Hyundai of course) and I take the 15 minute drive to the apartment complex. This would have to be the most interesting drive I've had in this country so far. Lots of cars, lots more commercial vehicles, lots of tight maneuvering, and all in all pretty hectic.
(Busy Ulsan Streets)
The city is very industrial, I don't think they've spent even a cent to make it look more presentable, but I guess that's fine because it is still one of the most richest cities in the world I hear.
(Ulsan is surrounded by tall hills, impressive)
We get to the entrance to the neighbourhood where the complex is, passing under a train bridge (at least I think that's what it is) that's painted a colourful blue with all sorts of murals on it. Past this bridge it starts looking very interesting. The streets become very narrow, and often times my driver aggressively hits the brakes because he sees another car coming up and tries to avoid it. You've got to be sharp in this city!
(The narrow streets that lead up to the complex)
Not that I would know what it looks like, but this kind of looks like post-war Germany or something. It's very run down and unkempt. That scene instantly changes once we get into the apartment complex.
I'll stop this entry here, and I apologize, I had no idea I could write one which I think is longer than my first one.. haha. Let me know if I should just shut up already.
In my next entry I'll talk about why I like heated toilet seats, and why I find heated floors annoying. Hopefully it won't be as epic as these last two.. haha.
Right now it's 10:45am on Wednesday morning. I've been writing this for a few hours, and I haven't slept since around 8pm last night. I'm clearly still on Atlantic time and it's hard to shake that. I'm going to have to stay up all day, and go to bed after 24 hours of being awake in order to fix this I think. I wish I hadn't taken that nap yesterday afternoon...
Take care for now!
Check out all the pictures from this entry, as well as a few others of Ulsan.
(Note: This blog post was imported from my old blogger site to this new WordPress blog.)