23 August 2014

A Dark Night in Seoul

The new school year has commenced and I am, as always, thoroughly overwhelmed by its newness. But you don't want to read about such things. Meanwhile, I am awaiting the final approval of my so-called horror novel* A DRY PATCH OF SKIN. Then it shall be released to the masses like some kind of nasty plague!

Until such time, I must fill a blog page with something, right? 

Recently I got into a discussion about Korea. I visited a few times back in the early 90s when everything was pre-post-cold war-esque there. That is, before the North's sabre rattling and other miscellaneous events in the region. I was living in Japan at that time and teaching English as a foreign language to middle school students of Saga City. I was making a trip back home to Kansas City during the August school break. My first visit to Korea was only supposed to be as a transit point.

Here is the desperate tale for your amusement, straight from an ancient journal I kept....

A Dark Night in Seoul

 I was trying to save money on the airfare, so I went through a travel agent in Seoul, Korea, whom other teachers had used before. The price was right, but I never figured in the price of all the extra hassles.  
First, I had to buy separate round-trip tickets from Fukuoka, Japan to Seoul.  
Once in Seoul, I had to wait 3 hours for my Northwest Airlines flight. The brand new Boeing 747-400 (the largest commercial airplane in the world) arrived late, so we had to wait longer, finally boarding an hour late. The crew was going through their preflight checks when all of a sudden all the power went off—engines, lights, air conditioning. We sat in silence for 40 minutes, quite sweltering inside the plane, before they off-loaded us. 
After 45 more minutes, they reboarded us.  We started to back away from the terminal gate when everything went dead again! I was thinking, as I’m sure many other passengers were, “We’re gonna be flying non-stop over the Pacific Ocean for twelve hours, so let’s make sure the power’s not gonna go off somewhere out there!” After ten minutes, they kicked over the engine and we continued, and it was a VERY nervous takeoff!
The airplane never did lose power again, thankfully. The pilot explained that we would be taking the Great Circle route, sending us north across Japan, up over Alaska, and down across western Canada to Detroit, our final destination.  
Because of our 3 hour departure delay, all the earphones for music and the movies were free (usually $4). But, also because of our delay, most people would be missing their connecting flights. I had a three hour wait for my flight to Kansas City, anyway, so I thought I could still catch it. 
After dinner, news program, two movies (“Accidental Tourist”—slow but interesting—and “Beaches”—slept through half of it), an intermission snack, breakfast, and a magnificent sunrise over the crescent horizon 40,000 feet high, we landed in Detroit. I had an hour and a half to catch my flight, but I knew we had to go through immigration and customs. The lines were screwed up and all the foreigners went ahead of us. I tried to get as far ahead in line as possible, and I made good time. They should have let those of us who could still catch our flights go first, but.... 
So I rushed through the terminal, knocking over kids and leaping over old ladies. I slid up to the check-in counter, my boarding pass for Kansas City in my hand. 
"Don’t tell me flight 1149’s left already!” I called out.  
“Five minutes ago, sir,” they replied.  
Why is it that CURRENT flights are always late and ALL connecting flights are always on time!?!?  
So I still had a 3 hour wait—as originally planned—for the next flight to Kansas City. At least they felt sorry for me enough to give me a meal voucher, which I used to get a rather good steak dinner. When I arrived in Kansas City, my cousin was waiting--3 hours!--because in those days there were no cell phones (and once he left home to pick me up at the original time, he would not be there to answer the land-line phone in his house).

Returning to Saga, Japan at the end of my vacation was even more exciting.  
Back in Detroit again to catch the KAL flight to Seoul, there were heavy thunderstorms so all planes were grounded as the thick curtains of rain passed overhead. Then they started to get the plane ready; another 3 hour delay! 
When I checked in at Detroit, I found out that the flight stopped in Tokyo! My dumb travel agent didn’t even know—or care. I thought, that’s great! I could go straight back to Saga from Tokyo (my Fukuoka-Seoul ticket was a full fare ticket so it was exchangeable).  But—big problem—my suitcase had been checked through to Seoul when I got on in Kansas City. They said in Detroit to check when I got to Tokyo. 
When I arrived at Tokyo-Narita Airport, I did check, but I forgot that I was now in Japan, the land of “Let’s be Trendy” and “Don’t Stand Out or Rock the Boat,” so naturally, they weren’t too excited at my plight. ‘Let’s be One of the Group’ they seemed to be saying—no special favors here. 
So they wouldn’t call down to the plane and have them extract my suitcase, even though we had a FOUR HOUR layover.  Yes, I could get off here, and yes, my ticket could be used to go straight to Fukuoka (and Saga) this very night, and yes, the other airline even had plenty of seats available, but...if I wanted my suitcase, I had to go all the way to Seoul to claim it! 
So I went, mad-as-hell, but I went to Seoul.

The big gate in Seoul, South Korea.
With all of the delays, our flight was the last one of the night at Kimpo Airport outside of Seoul, and after we all went through the airport, the security guards with rifles were going to close it. Everybody outside! 
I tried to call the hotel that this same travel agent had supposedly made a reservation for me at (same place where her office was), but they did not have a reservation for me, nor did they have ANY rooms! 
It was rather a bad feeling to get off a twenty-hour flight in a strange city and country where you don’t speak the language, with the airport closing and there's no room at the inn. Taxi men were constantly coming up to me with my bags on a cart asking if I needed a taxi. Well, that certainly seemed suspicious! I kept telling them in English I didn’t need a taxi until I had a destination. But with the airport closing, destination or not, I had little choice.
One guy who was patient enough to stick with me without scaring me, asked which hotel I was going to and I said I didn’t have a hotel anymore. He replied, “We go find hotel—got phone in car—we go hotel.” 
So I said OK. 
He called three hotels from the car, found one with a room—about three blocks away from my “first” hotel. He shouted at the bellboys to grab my bags when we arrived and he ushered me inside and up to the front desk and spoke Korean to the desk clerk, getting me a room with a discount rate (it was just after midnight, so half price—about $25). 
During our drive we talked, and at the hotel he confirmed with me when my flight left the next day. I told him 3 (my confirmed flight was really at 6, but I was hoping to get on an earlier flight), so he insisted on picking me up at the hotel at 12 noon.  
The next day, just as I finished my brunch at 11:30, there he was. He carried my bags down from my room and loaded them in the taxi and off we went. 
In the daylight, he pointed out all the features of Seoul that we passed, including some of the Olympic facilities and the US Military compound. At the airport, he grabbed a cart and piled my bags on it. Naturally, for all his unexpected, extra, but valuable assistance—he single-handedly turned my nightmare night in Seoul into a reasonably good experience—I tipped him well, though tipping is not the custom in Korea.  
I did manage to catch the earlier flight so I went home to Fukuoka and Saga.

True story. And it still counts as a blog post, right? I suppose times are very different now, both in East Asia and in the airline industry. Later, while again teaching in Japan, I took an extended trip across the southern tier of South Korea, from Pusan to Mok'po, and that just might become another blog post! 

아름다운 하루 되세요!

*As for the genre called "horror", I remain a bit confused about exactly how scary a story must be to be in this category. Because it involves someone's transformation into a vampire yet without all of the usual paranormal trappings, beta readers have called it horror or even "literary horror". If anyone reading this is a confirmed Horror reader, please advise. Thanks.

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. I love this blog post! I hope you'll post the Pusan to Mok'po journal entry!

  2. Ah, you just like to read about me in uncomfortable situations!