Sunday, September 30, 2007

Checkin' out Itaewon

View outside my hotel room.

Checking into my hotel at Dragon Lodge was a breeze. For $5/day I get a nice high speed Internet connection - money well spent. I pulled up my sponsors info and called him on his cell phone. It turns out that his family is visiting - leaving tomorrow morning. He called the boss and it turns out my command isn't expecting me until at least tomorrow.

Without wasting any time I jumped in a taxi. I didn't know where I wanted to go, so it was good that the driver asked, "Itaewon?", shopping? I asked, "how much?" At $3 it couldn't be far. We drive through a few blocks of traffic, and there we are! There are an unbelievable number of little stores.

I found a little restaurant in an alley that didn't have any English signs. Perfect, I was very hungry. I ordered the bulgogi, which I'm thinking now just means steak, or more appropriately, meat. It was very different from the Bulgogi that my boss at Guantanamo had taught me to cook. Lunch was great.

I spent a few hours browsing and wandering through Itaewon. I had more fun in the little off alleys than the main street. I was chatting with a few girls at a jewelery store. Long story short they convinced me to get a Folex. I felt silly hiding behind the counter choosing between their hidden selection of: Rolexes, Omegas, Tags, and Breitlings - they only brought out the ones that I asked for though. Perfectly legal for me, but they could get in trouble. It's a very well made piece, but surely not worth the $160 I payed. The going rate may be $40 on ebay, if it were legit. I chose a Panerai - I'll have to replace it with a real one after I make my first $1mil.

After a bit more wandering I found myself in a massage place/spa. I know what you're thinking - but this wasn't a shady location. 16 hours of resting my head on the airplane window developed a serious kink in my back and neck. I asked for the 30 minute version for $30, but the massage lasted about 90 minutes. So I didn't have a problem when the bill came at $60 for 60 minutes. It was the best I've ever had.

On the (short) cab ride back to base I saw more motorcyclists. This time they were weaving through traffic. 2 guys waited a bit, then ran a red light. I've heard that this is considered to be acceptable here. I need to learn the lay of the land and get my local license.

I'll go in to meet my coworkers tomorrow!

01OCT07 0900 (AM...)

My flight went well. Aside from literally climbing over my sleeping neighbors to go to the bathroom, everything was smooze. I must have slept a total of about 12 hours. The breakfast "omelet" was questionable. Someone must have substituted the usual cheese for salsa looking tomato sauce that tasted like sweet pizza sauce. Maybe I should have tried the rice porridge. The usual fancy garnishes surrounded the meal. The stewardesses were tall, beautiful, cordial, and spoke perfect Airline English.

Arriving wasn't a big deal. I never heard back from my sponsor on where to meet (update from later, he thought my flight arrived in the evening). The customs line was short. They checked my orders and military ID - never looked at either passport. At the baggage claim an attendant identified me as US military and directed me through another extra checkpoint. I was asked if I had any contraband - the usual: knives/swords, explosives, drugs, agricultural products, ... or pornography, .... humm....

I made my way to the USO/military liaison desk. It was about 6AM and nobody was there. A small group of brand new Army MPs were absorbing the local wisdom from an "experienced" Air Force Captain returning from leave, who, it turned out had been there for a whopping 2 months. I bought a hot, wet, sweet, mystery roll that turned out to have seasoned veggies that tasted like meat for <$1. It was very good. One of the Army kids was giving the other crap for "only" meeting one Koran girl on the flight. He had met 3. Yeah...I still haven't been mistaken for a local, but I don't stick out like these guys.

I was told the bus ride would be over an hour - it's been almost 2. Seoul was about 25 Km away, and we were flying thorough beautiful countryside for a long ways. One turn later we hit a wall of traffic. Cars here look normal: left hand steering wheel, more Kias and Hyundais than usual, but many have funny little dishes facing their rear windshields that are centered or on the passenger side. They look like mirrors, maybe Fast Trak devices? I'll find out...

Motorcycles do make their own lanes here, as does our bus driver. One just cut off the road across a shopping center sidewalk and back on. Traffic here looks wild. We just pulled up to a guard gate...later...

More images here.

Travel Day 1 29SEPT07

Adam asked for a blog, so here goes...enjoy because I doubt they'll last long...

It's about 4AM and I'm just north of where I-5 crosses I-80, less than ten miles from where my family saw me off 11 hours ago. Everything's going according to plan. I'm squished between a 747 window and a young Korean boy with stinky breath. My two word Korean vocabulary, consisting of Kim Chi and 2 words for yes (ye, ne), isn't cutting it! We just ate a delicious mean consisting of ground hamburger and steamed veggies. You mix chile paste and rice in. They also served seaweed soup, wine, coffee, fruit, and other spicy garnishes. Sounds boring, but it was great! I tried asking my neighbor what the various dishes were called in Korean. The best I got was "pickle" as I pointed to the side of spicy pickle slices. I was later told that they translate many things to "pickle". Humm?

Returning to Sacramento 11 hours ago, I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours early - my mother had recently been caught in a long line. Our Bella Brus lunch also went more quickly than we'd planned. As I exited the 1 man security line I caught sight of a cute girl sitting alone at a wine tasting store - score! Turns out she was a soil engineer from San Diego. After completing her masters degree and 2 years experience she had flown to Sacramento to take some big geological test. The older waitress there was the real talker. She was SOOO impressed that I'm a Boeger, apparently one of her favorites. Earlier that day she served, and complained to, the head of CA DMV. 5 comparative wine samples later I was a talker too.

Now to LAX, where I had another 3 hour layover. I considered visiting the USO - they're always great, but I'm glad I didn't. I arrived at gate 6 or 7, then hiked across this long tunnel that felt like the whole airport to get to gate 5. A ten minute Mc'y Ds stop, then exited the airport and walked past terminal 4, then 3, the international terminal. Talk about a zoo! The line to the metal detectors took an hour alone. Fast forward past the ID checker who'd never seen an "official passport", the creepy Asian guy that kept cutting in front of me (I was the creepy half-Asian that kept cutting back), the currency exchange, an hour and a half enjoying my Cingular Internet access, and an absurdly long runway wait.

I'm looking at our flight profile on my personal LCD screen, the application that will sell me movies or music, play video games, and display our realtime flight info. We're now over Vancouver. We will curve up over Alaska and that huge Asian peninsula that I should know from Risk.

Seoul, here we come! Time to get some sleep...