Sunday, August 3, 2008

Day 1: The Journey Begins (Sat, 7/26)

Getting to the airport was not quite as simple as it has always been for me back in the States. First I had to lug my stubborn, ornery suitcase and carry-on bag to the busy eight-lane road by my apartment (only about a block away, but it wasn't fun) to catch a taxi. The taxi driver took me first to the wrong bus terminal, then, after I repeated myself about six times, he caught on and took me to the correct terminal. There, I waited to catch the airport bus, which was to depart at 6:00 (half an hour later than I had figured on, thus causing me a bit of concern). I grew more and more concerned as the minutes ticked away, with no sign of my bus. My flight was departing at 9:00 pm, and the airport is an hour away from Gyeongju. Finally, much to my relief, the bus showed up - at 5:59 pm! And, I am still rather impressed that we actually departed at 6:00 on the nose.

Check-in at the airport went slowly, but smoothly. I was flying on Asiana Airlines for the first time, so I had no idea what to expect. I was happy to discover that Asiana is almost as good as Korean Air (which is the best airline I have ever flown on). We had a pleasant, drama-free flight which wound up being half an hour shorter than scheduled. The airlines back in the US skimp wherever possible on service; you're lucky to get a small beverage and a minuscule bag of pretzels anymore (Southwest and Spirit being the two exceptions). Not so on Asiana! Our three-hour flight included a very pleasant in-flight meal. Since I didn't have time for dinner, I was quite grateful.

I was shocked and delighted to learn that my luggage had successfully made it to Manila without damage. Customs was a breeze, although the sight of all the soldiers and guards bearing ominous-looking weapons was a bit unsettling. I found a taxi, and we were off! Then came a problem: apparently, the hotel I picked was located in the middle of nowhere, resulting in the taxi driver getting lost at 1:00 am. When we finally made it to the Garden Plaza Hotel, I was dismayed to learn that their photographs online were a bit deceptive.

The hotel was located in a scary-looking part of town where I knew for certain I would not be taking any walks. Inside, it was much older and more run-down than I had expected from the photographs. The staff and the cockroaches were both very friendly, and the room was huge, but it was also more than a little bit creepy. In the photographs I took, it looks nicer than it really was. Overall, for the price, it was perfectly adequate, but I don't think I would stay there again.

Among the amenities of the room were a thoroughly confusing shower, an AC unit that shuddered worse than Katharine Hepburn in her older years, a refrigerator that didn't work, and an odd kitchen-area featuring numerous cupboards and another refrigerator that didn't work. The entire room smelled eerily like anesthetic, as though it were a hospital room. Still, at least it was quiet.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"