It's Abby here, Chelsea's mom. I have finally arrived to visit Seoul, South Korea, but really, my daughter! Thanks Chelsea, for allowing me to be an author of a post on your blog. I've been in Seoul about 24 hours now. Of course, the trip here lasted nearly 24! I flew out of Houston on Tuesday morning, and arrived in Seoul on Wednesday evening. Sounds super long, but it's especially that way because I "lost" 15 hours on the trip over. I think I'll "find" them when I return next week.
I thought I was really smart, because since I am afraid of flying (slightly), I had the doctor prescribe me Xanax. It was actually his choice, I just voiced my need for drugs and he gave me a small prescription. On the plane, I took one and another a few hours later. I didn't notice them making me drowsy at all but I wasn't afraid when the plane took off, so maybe they really DID work!
When we arrived at the airport, everything went smoothly. I ended up taking 2 large suitcases, each weighing almost 50 lbs. You are only allowed one free bag, so I had to fork over $70 for the extra. The largest held lots of goodies for Chelsea, both items from home she had requested, and Christmas gifts, and the other one held.... more stuff for Chelsea, a blowup mattress and some clothes that I will be wearing while here. Trust me, the postage would cost lots more for the probably 75 lbs of goodies I would have sent. Anyway, when Scott (hubby) lifted one suitcase to weigh it, the handle broke off. At least it still rolled. I could lift it by the side handle, but that's about it! It's going to the Korean dumpster after I wrap the gifts inside!
I couldn't have asked for a better flight! Considering I was in the next to last row, it turned out that no one sat in the middle seat so I had extra room to put a few items. I managed to put my carry-on item under the seat, so it was handy to pull out headphones, sunflower seeds, and other necessities of life on an airplane. I watched a couple of movies, including The Odd Life of Timothy Green which was really quite good! The selection was great, I had ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY FOUR movies to choose from! I watched another one which was a waste of time, I won't mention it's name in case it causes you to want to rent it to confirm that it was a waste. Ha! Anyway, I passed the time quite nicely, landed in Tokyo for a fairly short layover, and then boarded the plane for the final flight to Korea!
I really tried to keep awake but by this time it was well past my bedtime, so I just "rested my eyes" for a few minutes (an old expression that my dad would say when he was studying for a class but we caught him conked out). I really did that for maybe 15 minutes, but it was helpful. I gave my in-flight sandwich to a Korean man seated next to me, and in return he gave me a couple of small chocolates! Chelsea later told me that this is the culture here, to always give something when you receive something. I swear, I didn't know he had chocolate! I wasn't hungry because they fed us so much on the first flight! Also, in case you didn't know, in the "olden days" if you were on an international flight, you got free alcohol (those tiny little bottles!) however, times have changed. I drank water. Oh well.
So, yes, I made it to Incheon, which is the airport outside of Seoul. I followed the crowd as they seemed to know where they were going. I wasn't sure when we had to catch a train, I was kind of thinking I would follow the crowd right onto the tarmac for all I knew! But, after a cozy little ride on the train which took me from the "concourse" to the "terminal" I again followed the crowd to immigration. They checked me out, I had to give index fingerprints and have my portrait taken, then I was free to go collect my luggage. That was where it was supposed to be, as advertised. THANK GOODNESS the same thing that happened to Chelsea didn't happen to me, and I HAD my luggage!
I was kind of nervous about finding a taxi, but as soon as I walked out of the terminal, a Korean man asked me if I needed a taxi! I said, "I'm not sure if you will want to go this far" and showed him the photo of Chelsea's address. He said yes, 60,000KW which is exactly the amount Chelsea said it should be! Yay! Not a rip off taxi driver! He was actually quite chatty at the beginning of the drive. Finally he settled into driving like a bat out of hell. Occasionally his GPS would urgently flash and speak a lot of Korean, then he would shift into Neutral until the GPS quit acting up. After a couple of these incidents, I realized that when he was exceeding the speed limit, the GPS would yell at him, then he'd take his foot off the gas and shift into Neutral... the guy drives an automatic! I found myself wondering what my Dad would make of this style. I never did that even when I drove a manual transmission! Maybe he thought it saved on gas?
Halfway to Chelsea's area of town, Mr. Taxi pointed to his GPS and said, "You pay," I was a little puzzled, then realized it was a toll (which I'm sure he didn't know about ... HA!), after all, Chelsea's part of town is over an hour from the airport. I said, "Oh, ok!" what else could I say? No, you pay! I wouldn't do that to this nice man! After all, he had even offered me a cigarette when we started! And I don't smoke (he really wanted to, I could tell, but he didn't! I really appreciate that!).
We got to the Dongdaemun area and he was asking me where I wanted to be dropped off. Looking around didn't help much, since I had NO IDEA what to look for, and there are a LOT of neon lights/signs, which I couldn't read. How was I to know? He had plugged in the address from the picture Chelsea had sent. He pointed left and said, this way? I said, (after looking at the GPS), "OK." At the end of THAT street, he parked and got out and asked directions at a chicken shack (that's what it looked like). Turns out we were about 25 feet past the entrance to Chelsea's apartment building. I had the driver call Chelsea's Korean phone number, she came running out the door and hit me like a ton of bricks! Finally I get to see my baby girl! Together, she and the building superintendent figured out how much to pay the guy so he left happy. We went up the elevator to the 3rd floor and I saw her apartment for the first time. It IS a tiny little thing, but she keeps it very tidy and picked up. We blew up the air-mattress and I collapsed in bed.
When I woke up, I got to use the shower, the infamous bath/sink/shower/whole room combo. It's really not a bad setup! The shower head hangs on the wall, you can take it off to wash whatever bit you want to get extra clean, or just stand under it and do your (washing) business. After I dried my hair using her Korean hairdryer, I found out that my curling iron doesn't work. The light came on, but that was it. After borrowing one that her teacher friend/neighbor Erin had inherited from a previous teacher/tenant and finding that it had an American plug, I settled on letting Chelsea use her straightening iron on my hair to make curls. Don't ask me how, but she did it.
Later that morning, we headed out to purchase a Coke. I normally have a nice cup of tea, British-style, so I really wanted a little caffeine. My first sight of Seoul in daylight! My impressions: There are many busy people here. Someone is always hurrying somewhere. Mopeds and motorcycles drive on the sidewalks. Cars also, although they appear to be parking on the sidewalk, so that's ok, right? Many little shops, some I could figure out what they sold and some I couldn't. Some stores, especially bakeries and coffee shops are named English or European names, such as Tous Les Jours (which is "Every Day" in French), Paris Baguette, hmm I think I saw more, but can't remember the names. Quite a lot of Koreans spitting on the ground; I think that's why the Koreans remove their outdoor shoes and put on slippers when they go indoors. I couldn't imagine tracking "stuff" onto my floors.
I walked to work with Chelsea, and I memorized the walk from her apartment to her school. It really doesn't take that long. I made sure to look around me all the time so I would recognize landmarks on the walk back. "Turn left at the maple tree, cross three crosswalks, don't step in the spit patches." Meantime, I am absolutely mesmerized by the beauty and confidence of my only child, walking along beside me holding my hand, or slipping her arm through mine. How fortunate and blessed I have been to be called Mom by this extraordinary child. How did I (and Scott!) raise a child who can live ON HER OWN in a foreign country, who has done everything by herself here, and who has only called me ONCE in three months to cry from loneliness? I am really just stunned by her super-abilities: confidence, independence, responsible, caring yet extremely feisty!
Anyway, we arrived at her job and I met a couple of her co-workers going in the building, Erin and Sean. I'm so happy she has some good people to work with. Chelsea rushed off in the direction of children (I remember that sound from my own playground days!) and I attempted to return to the apartment. That worked out pretty well, except since I was walking on the opposite side of the street, I wasn't recognizing anything! I returned to the school area and figured out what the problem was. Made it home shortly afterwards, where I checked email and dozed off.
Later that afternoon, I returned to the school by myself, where I was invited to observe "Chelsea Teacher" in action. I really didn't know what to expect, but what I got were giggly little Koreans, and a very competent teacher! One class just had three girls in it. They did look at me quite a lot, but were pretty well behaved. The next class I could tell were more advanced, and they all introduced themselves nicely. They were learning about how animals take baths and Chelsea talked about the idea of symbiosis! Some animals live off other animals in a symbiotic relationship. We're talking high order thinkers here! What do baths have to do with symbiosis you ask? You've seen those birds that hang around on some mammals (cows, giraffes) and eat the pests off of them? That's what they were talking about in English class!
I met other non-Korean teachers and several Korean teachers. They seem like a good group of people, and I'm happy to know that she has some support. One of the Korean teachers was very nice, she told me that she was impressed with Chelsea's teaching abilities and was surprised that this is her first experience teaching! Go Chelsea!
After she got off of work, Chelsea took me to eat at the place that set her mouth on fire in a previous post. I even suggested it, if they could tone down the spiciness to a minimum. We told them, but apparently failed to get it across, because I could barely eat anything! However, my little picky girl who grew up on bread and cheese, was happily eating away! Boy, have times changed! On a bright note, when her dad comes to visit, I'm sure they will go to that restaurant straight away and he will enjoy it immensely! :)