Wheel of Fortune

The two weeks went by quickly and slowly at the same time. It seems like a lifetime ago that we arrived in Tokyo (for the second time), and yet it was already time to return to Seoul. Our morning started around 6:30 am with the semi-firm leave time of 7:50 from our hotel. From there, we planned to hop the train to the airport. As it turned out, to my own surprise, I was ready and we were walking out the door by 7:45. We dropped off the key to check-out and walked out to see a shuttle bus waiting. He was getting ready to leave when he us, so he hopped out and loaded our bags explaining the shuttle was complimentary. Score! So, we arrived at the airport before our original train was supposed to even leave. This gave us time to eat breakfast at McDonald’s before searching for where to check-in. As we were diligently watching the screen to see what counter to go to, a woman approached us asking us to take a brief survey. Like most people, we weren’t really interested, but she was nice and assured us it would be short. The city of Osaka wanted to know more about tourists’ spending habits while in Osaka as well as total money spent in Japan. The whole thing took about 3 minutes (if that), and to our utter surprise, she rewarded us with $30 worth of vouchers we could use at the airport shops and restaurants *luxury brands excluded*. We couldn’t believe someone just paid us that much for such a short survey. But at the time we couldn’t really focus too much on it because we were trying still to find our check-in counter. Two friendly Japanese girls at the information desk told us the airline we were looking for “didn’t exist” at this airport. “What? How can that be?!” Resisting the urge to panic or believe that I’d been sold fake tickets online, we went to another counter. The two girls told us more or less the same thing, but they said that there were two airlines flying out at the same time as marked on our tickets so maybe it was one of them. They pointed us in the right direction, and sure enough, when we showed the women at the ticket counter the flight number she said that it was “totally wrong.” However, they did have our names in the system, so we did indeed, have a flight!

With a sigh of relief, we headed to security which was teeming with people- way more than I see at American airports, and yet we got through the line much faster than I feel American TSA would have done it in. On the other side, we revisited the vouchers we’d received. Unsure we’d be able to really use them anywhere and still disbelieving that the city would pay each person $30 to take the survey, we wandered in search of a store. The first girl I asked said she didn’t recognize the vouchers, but the second girl I asked happened to be standing next to the manager. She didn’t recognize them either, but asked us to wait. Sure enough, within 30 seconds we got the go-ahead to go crazy (my words). We walked out having paid $15 for $45 worth of stuff. Not bad. When I started to comment on the amazing luck we were having (leaving ahead of schedule, free shuttle, McDonald’s breakfast, earning $30), Tim cut me off. He didn’t want me to say it out loud for fear I would reverse the juju.

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A real, and perhaps most famous, Pokemon: Pikachu which Tim told me translates to “Lightning Mouse.” How cute is that?

Our flight took off on time and our bags were there when we arrived and customs was a breeze so all seemed to be going well. We checked in with the local military liaison who provides a bus from the airport to the Army base. Unfortunately, it would be two hours until the next bus. No biggie, this gave us time to eat lunch and blog.

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Bimbimbap- The bowl of scrambled eggs (which also had rice and beef) is classic Korean street food. While the bowl of soup on the right was something spicy Tim ordered, I don’t remember the name. Anyways, I discovered I love bimbimbap. It was better than anything I had in Japan!

By 4pm we were on the bus and by 5:15pm we’d pulled up to our new “homtel.” The next obstacle was getting from our location to the downtown apartment where we’d stored our bags two weeks earlier. We took the metro which required purchasing tickets that bizarrely didn’t have our correct destination and making a metro change only to find we’d exited at the wrong station, and walking about 30 minutes more than necessary. It seemed like the juju might be reversing after all.

The owner of the apartment was out, which was too bad as we were hoping he could call us a jumbo cab (as we have no phone service or wifi and don’t speak Korean). So instead, we asked the little night security guard about a taxi. In his broken English and our non-existent Korean we conveyed where we needed to go. He called us a cab, told us it would be there in five minutes, and then waited outside with us. The cab showed up, Tim said to me, “There’s no way all our luggage will fit,” and the Korean driver had the same exchange with the security guard. He even showed Tim the trunk to prove there was no room. As the driver pulled away the guard made little squabbling noises of discontent while he called another cab. “Seven minutes.” he told us. Sure enough, seven minutes later, a new driver showed up, rolled down his window, slowed down, took one look at the baggage, and without a word, drove off.  The guard was trying, unsuccessfully, a third time to call a cab when Tim and I decided just to drag the bags back via metro. The guard made more squabbling noises but conceded. Grateful for his efforts, Tim tried to tip him to which he jumped back about two feet and crossed his arms making an X saying, “No, no, no, no!” When Tim advanced him the money, he jumped back further. I asked Tim to stop torturing the poor guy and so we thanked him with only our broken Korean and left.

As we reached the end of the street, a jumbo taxi came by. That was it! Our luck was here to save us again! As it turned out, though, luck must have had another fare already because the cab driver indicated he wasn’t stopping. Finally resigned to our fate, we then started the 1.5-hour trek from downtown Seoul back to our hotel. This really should have only taken probably 45 minutes, but since we were dragging five bags between the two of us the whole task of getting into a metro station, to the right platform and then changing lines not once but twice was made exponentially more difficult. Fortunately, there were elevators and escalators we could use within the metro stations but these often involved walking even further out of our way. On top of it all, we discovered the layout of the Seoul metro stations isn’t the most logical nor well marked. Nonetheless, we finally made it to the metro station near the base only to discover we weren’t entirely sure how to get to the main gate from there. We followed Tim’s best guess and after hiking uphill and then down for about 10 minutes we figured out we had gone the wrong direction. Fighting the urge to get discouraged, we turned around and made the 10-minute hike back uphill. Finally, at 9:30 at night we arrived back at our room. It turns out though that all of the hotel restaurants were closed leaving us only with the little convenience store where we bought some microwaveable pizza and beer. As it turns it out, you are supposed to have a ration card to be allowed to buy anything, which we didn’t know at the time. Fortunately, no one asked us for it. So, looking back, it seems the wheel of fortune finally spun back in our favor in the end. If only that wheel would have spun lucky before making the 1.5 hour duffel bag drag.

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