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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Arrival In Jeju

I was prepared to be dazzled by Narita airport, but it wasn't anything special, particularly after the attractions of Incheon. It was dark already and only 5 pm Tokyo time. I kept wondering in an abstract sort of way what I have gotten myself into. I hope I will be able to do all those projects to which I have agreed. The freelance writing/editing gig is looming particularly large in my worries, never mind the pressure of teaching tired teenagers and anxious adolescents.

Ok, whereas the terminal wasn't exceptional, Narita's runways after dark are exquisite galaxies of green and blue, lacy networks of pavement-imbedded illumination. While we paused in the takeoff queue, the flood lights in a cavernous hangar switched on--work continued after dark. A low vehicle towing a jetliner went by--the shades on the windows were all up, and the lights were on inside, showing all empty seats. We took off from runway A13, which despite my determination to be asuperstitious, made me happy, as that's my favorite number. I was perversely hoping to experience an earthquake while in Japan, but the ground remained stable. There was an evening rainbow of red to blue and black at the horizon, the last traces of the sunset. The lights of Tokyo gleamed white and amber as far as the eye could see. I got one glimpse of an iconic mountain--I was startled to recognize the silhouette of Mount Fuji--before the aircraft turned sharply and the ground was lost to sight. We curvetted and climbed sharply and leveled out over the city, a hug bulabyrinth of lights. The more modern parts are grids, the older bits organic growths with the most intense illumination, neon red and pink and blue. Impressive. The aerial view bespoke prosperity of an extraordinary national level. It looks like a GoogleEarth space photo. We were in the air for fifteen minutes before we finally crossed over darker countryside! I wondered what James Doolittle would have thought, and how the view differed from that his pilots saw?

I wasn't able to see much coming in to Tokyo, as I wasn't in a window seat and the Korean girl next to me left the shade down except for the few minutes at the coast. But what I could crane my neck to observe was neat and clean. Perfectly rectangular fields, precisely gridded villages. Even the evergreen trees were all straight, shooting upwards exactly perpendicular to the coastal plain, stacked on top of little eruptions of hills, like model foliage on a pre-Internet terrain map or historical diorama.

We had been in the air a little more than an hour, but hadn't yet reached the peninsula when I looked out the window and suddenly felt we were flying upside down, as there were huge bright stars, enormous lights, in the blackness below. Each was alone, and they weren't exactly spaced. They were constellation-worthy, shining out of the sea, dwarfing the boats anchored closer to shore, and the tiny phosphorus webs glowing around the seaside cities. What on earth?! Were they windmills?

Once through immigration, I changed the money in my pocket, recharged my transport card and took the metro from Incheon to Gimpo. Thank God for the "dry run" of this transfer I had had a few months ago. Trying to figure out all the details on scant sleep would have been brutal, but I knew where to go. And God blessed me at my destination as well--while I was pushing my 150 lbs of luggage from the metro towards the airport, who should spot me just outside the station but the lady who runs the airport cloakroom. She had actually already closed down (it was almost a quarter of ten, and although I didn't know it, the room closed at 9:20), but she helped me the rest of the way to the room, unlocked it for me, and checked my two heaviest bags. It cost $30, but it was worth every penny.

The room on the hotel's sixth floor was small but clean, the lower foot of its metallic wallpaper scarred by generations of luggage. The room was a double, or what passes for one hereabouts: there was a full sized mattress (firm, but not the quite the briquette featured by the hostel where I spent my last night in Seoul in September) and another single crammed next to the far wall. Allegedly, the ceiling heater was adjustable by a remote control, but I turned it down from 25C to 19C without discernible effect--except on the water temperature in the shower, which refused to warm. I shivered violently under the gush of chilly precipitation for a few minutes and then it occurred to me that the heating systems might be connected, and sure enough, when I increased the heat in the room, the temperature of the tap water finally ascended to a reasonable level. This was a huge relief to me, as what I dearly wanted after 24 hours of travel was a proper scrub with hot water. But sleeping in a Saharan draft afterwards was a challenge.

I didn't sleep much. Four hours. But it was refreshing to be able to lie down. I cannot sleep in a sitting position. I am so grateful not to have had to talk to anyone except for the mani-depressive exArmy guy on the first brief leg of my travels yesterday. He was nice, but I really could not carry on a reasonable conversation for long, and listening to the history of his still functional but battered and darned embroidered jacket, which he had acquired in Korea back in the early 1980s for mere $26, and the necessity of hiring a contractor to replace the rotten siding on one face of his house, was sufficient for my human interaction in the enclosed space of an aircraft.

Thank God the Korean Air people didn't require me to pay another vast song for my two overweight suitcases on my final leg to Jeju next morning. I was glad that I went ahead and checked my nominal carry-on as well, because we were bussed out to the plane, I would have had to ascend the large metal  staircase, and hauling up that book-filled case along with my 40-lb "personal item" (my backpack stuffed with all my electronics) and my bed pillow, my heavy coat and shawl would have been a wee bit difficult.

The school director met me at the airport and drove me across the island. My apartment is plush by local standards--two rooms, plus a bathroom and a porch with a good-sized refrigerator and washing machine. I was instructed to rest for a few hours and then come to the school to observe a class (one of the nine I'll be teaching, for whom another teacher has been substituting). I couldn't sleep, but busied myself with unpacking, which I accomplished in relatively short order. The former resident had left a great assortment of odds and ends, including tea, nuts, and cookware in the kitchenette cabinets, hangers in the closets, bath shoes, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies, pens, wastebaskets, and the other smalls that make for comfortable life day day to day, which is just such a pain to try to acquire when one is in the last throes of fatigue on arrival at an unfamiliar destination. She even left a MetroCard, and a packet of homemade kimchi in the fridge with a note that a friend's mother had made it, and she hoped I would enjoy it. I live a five minute walk from school. A walk which I must quickly take, as I am due to be shown some of the instructional resources in just a few minutes!

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