There was some sort of minor problem when I checked in at the BMI desk at Manchester Airport (my flight was with Asiana (pronounced ‘ah-shi-ah-nah’ in Korean), but evidently they don’t fly to Manchester. I’ve probably been on more BMI flights than any other airline, even though I’ve never made a booking with them). Two check-in staff took a few minutes to obtain my boarding passes for Manchester and Heathrow as I stood there patiently.
I said goodbye to my parents, then extracted some money from a cash machine. At the time, I had about £170 in my current account, £10 in each of two savings accounts and about £200 on my credit card. I think I took out £150, with the intention of sending money back as soon as I get paid this month and paying off my credit card bill. Surprisingly, not all of the money was to go towards buying cups of tea and food at the airports. Obviously I also wanted money for Korea, and also I kept a fiver, a tenner and a … twentier to show my students.
I had a pretty long wait at Manchester because all BMI flights were delayed, even though the weather seemed very good across the UK. As I went through the security control, the guard who patted me down asked me to take off my walking boots to be X-rayed. When I just pulled them off, he said, ‘Didn’t your mum teach you to untie your laces?’ I didn’t explain about going to Korea and the practice of taking your shoes off at home and in restaurants and so on.
I took my laptop out of my stuffed-to-capacity laptop bag (it also contained my book (Von Bek), the edition of New Scientist my sister had bought me (the chocolate she’d got me I’d already eaten, and the puzzle book I’d left for my mum), my umbrella, the power pack (including the two-pin lead I got in Korea last time) and speakers for my laptop, my camera, my documents and various collections of coinage (Korea and more examples of British money). When I booted it up, I could only spend an hour waiting for it to install updates (eopdeiteu guseonghaneun jung). Fortunately it finished before my flight started boarding.
The plane down to Heathrow was possibly the least empty I’ve been on. I had a whole row of six seats to myself (as did most of the other passengers). The pilot must have been making up time for the delay, as we landed very shortly after we’d taken off.
At Heathrow terminal 3 there was another longish wait for the flight to Incheon (Seoul’s main international airport). This terminal was a little nicer than whichever terminal it was that I stopped at on my way to Canada, and also less crowded. I spent my time there reading, wandering up and down,and drinking tea. When the gate number for OZ 0522 came up I headed that way and sat next to a TV showing the BBC News channel.
The waiting area gradually filled up with Koreans – lots of girls and women – and a few oeguks. The plane started boarding and a long cue formed – which I didn’t bother joining, preferring to take my last opportunity for half a day to walk around. A couple of minutes later I was called to the boarding desk. That’s never happened to me before and I wondered what the problem might be.
Once I got there, no one told me what was going on, but they took my boarding pass. A minute later they handed me back the stub and I wandered away. Momentarily, I realised I could jump the cue and board straight away – my recruiter must have requested this.
I was in a window seat near the front of economy class – and, once again, the flight looked rather under-populated. When our meal came along I went for the Korean option – the main part of which was bibimbap. I accidentally neglected to bibim (mix) the bap (boiled rice) part of this, as the rice’s packaging made it look like a dessert (it was pink). I’ve subsequently seen exactly this pack of rice in a convenience store. So I had the rice by itself.
We’d taken off sometime after 9pm, and, of course, we were flying east, so night fell quickly (although all the way over the Baltic and much of Russia, there was a strip of orange cloud parallel to the plane’s course visible out of the window). And then dawn came even more swiftly – though the lights were off and the shutters down. Quite a few of the passengers slept lying down on three seats.
At breakfast there was no Korean option available for me, so I had to make do with ham salad and beef bourguignonne. I dozed during the approach to Incheon and came awake just as we were landing. Once I’d been to the toilet, gone through immigration and collected my suitcase, I exchanged £125 for ₩240,000-odd. Then I went out into the public concourse.
Where, after a moment looking around, I spotted a Korean man with my name on a board. This was David Kang, from English Cruiser, my recuiter, and he drove me to Nowon and my new hagwon.
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