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Narita, Japan

To spare you some of the more boring bits here I will not go into lengthy pontification of my flight from the Dirty D’ to Narita in Japan. There just wasn’t too much to note. It was the first overseas flight that I have taken and also the first to provide two and a half meals. The half being a wee sandwich about the size of a Twinkie although far more delicious. All of which were rather decent and scarfed down by yours truly seconds after arriving on my seat back tray.
The plane was very nice, the flight felt shorter than I had imagined and there was a large screen in the middle of the plane on which I could see where exactly we were in our progress and our flight path. That is, when there weren’t obnoxious kids movies playing. Our flight left Detroit and went on a steady arc up through Canada, over Alaska, across that land bridge deal between Alaska and Russia and down towards Tokyo. Silly me, I thought that the quickest way from one point to another was a straight line… then I began to wonder why we had flown like this? To avoid bad weather? To constantly be above land in case of an emergency landing? Who knows.
The fourteen hours seemed to tick by rather quickly and I got a little reading done in between small fits of restless sleep. The announcements being made over the plane would rattle off information in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
My stay at the Narita airport was very short and my connecting flight gate was very close to the gate I arrived at. I wanted to do a bit more exploring of the airport but we were cordoned off in some obscure side-wing of the place. I browsed around the little convenience store there and marveled at the myriad small Japanese foods and Hello Kitty and Gundam items for sale before taking my seat patiently next to my departure gate.
After getting onto the plane bound for Gimhae airport in Busan it was just another short two hour hop from Tokyo to Busan. This time the plane was more crowded, smaller and was apparently host to one crying baby and a first grade class of about twenty five, very vibrant and very much still awake children. I at this point just wanted to be wherever I was going and was, quite frankly, done with airplane travel for the day.
It was on this flight that I also learned about the Korean avoidance in covering of the mouth when coughing. The man across the aisle, roughly five times, throughout the flight coughed directly on me. At first I thought it was a fluke and he was just rude for not excusing himself. I began to realize somewhere in between the second and third hack that this was one of those fabled cultural differences I would be learning about.
After eating a delightful box lunch of rice, shrimp, fish roe with sides of assorted fruits and veggies I was feeling in better spirits upon departing from the plane. My customs check went very well and only took about five minutes.
I must at this point digress and mention that the staff at both the Narita and Gimhae airports were of much better ilk than those employed by the Detroit airport. In fact, they were down right accommodating in comparison.
After grabbing my luggage and arranging it all into somewhat safe wheeled towers so that I wouldn’t harm myself or others I walked towards the airport exit.
I stepped out of the departure area and was soon found by the director of the company that recruited me. He goes by Simpson. It is normal practice that Koreans, that are learning English or deal in any business with English speaking people, will adopt an “English” name. At first you are kind of taken aback. Similar to if you are calling a customer support line for your computer and a kindly voice picks up and announces in a thick Indian accent. “Hello, dis’ is Jone-a-tin.” You find yourself thinking, no, sir your name is not Simpson or Josh or Harry… but at this point I did not care to reason out the eccentricities of Korean/English name giving customs.
Simpson, seeming tired, showed me to his car and helped me to load my bags into the back. Soon we were zipping through toll gates and side streets on our way to Brian’s apartment. Brian is the director of my school and I was told that would be staying at his place for a couple of days until the current teacher I was replacing vacated the apartment I was to take over.
As Simpson and I zipped through the countryside, which I couldn’t make out too well seeing as it was night, he flipped on the radio and lit a cigarette amidst plaintive coughs from deep in his chest. I’m afraid I wasn’t too much of a conversationalist for this, the first Korean person that I met. I was understandably tired and just wanted to be able to plant my feet somewhere for more than a few hours.
The first thing that you will notice in Korea is the lack of usable space. This is not to say that it has gone to waste by any means. What becomes readily apparent are the amazing amount of towering apartment buildings that sprawl across the landscape. Koreans realized they couldn’t utilize, thankfully, the popular American ideal of urban sprawl. They instead build up into the sky and down below ground instead of spreading laterally. This shows in the beehive apartment spires and the underground bars and shopping centers that radiate from beneath buildings and subway stops.
What I noted also as we were zipping across Gwangan Bridge were the large amount of red neon crosses dotting the cityscape. In fact korea is one of the most Christianized Asian countries. As I would later find out, complete with their own televangelist channels on T.V.
I was just sitting back taking in all of this and wondering exactly where I was being zipped off too.
I soon found out. I arrived at Brian’s apartment building and was ushered upstairs by Simpson, who again was kind enough to help me with my bags. I stepped into Brian’s place removed my shoes at the door and after Simpson and Brian chatted for a bit in Korean I said my formal hellos to my new director. Brian is a great guy and made me feel very welcome. I took a shower, brushed my teeth and then was nearly set to turn in for the night.
Brian showed me the room I would be sleeping in and I brought in my myriad pieces of luggage. He asked me to come down to the school the next day around one p.m. and took me out onto his balcony to show me how to get there. The school is only a couple of blocks away from his place and it would be my first trek out into Busan.
Here I was, exhausted yet still excited and ready for some shut eye. I guess that is when culture shock set in, and only for a few minutes, for me. I had just been on a series of planes for roughly sixteen hours, whisked across a strange new city by a stranger, taken to another stranger’s house and was expected to sleep soundly…

permalink written by  Native_Kurtz on February 24, 2008 from Narita, Japan
from the travel blog: South Korea - Busan - Teaching Abroad
tagged GwanganBridge

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