Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Korea #1: Three Airports and I get into hot water



769 words; reading time four minutes


Getting to Korea from Boise required three flights and 17 hours in the air.  Two days later I was in hot water.  That may sound miserable but I had a great time getting to Seoul.  How privileged we are to be able to travel.

Rolling out of bed before five in Boise wasn’t great fun but a window seat flying over forests, past volcanoes and down the Columbia River into Portland is always a treat.  A few things about the Portland Airport:

·      Once on the ground I came upon a lovely exhibit of string instruments made by local craftsmen.  The work of a medic at 17 in Vietnam who worked in refugee camps around the world, “Doc” came home to make beautiful banjos.  http://www.docsbanjos.com/  

·      Since 9/11, dozens of Portland musicians have volunteered to play in the airport from six in the morning until midnight.  “Getting through security is stressful.  We want people to welcome travelers with our music,” said a cheerful woman pianist who struck up a conversation with me while knocking off some Shubert in the main hall.  

·      Over at Powell’s Books airport store, Linda provides good advice about books for young readers.  Since she reads about a book a day, which including children’s books, I asked if she has time for anything else and she said oh, yes, working for the union.  Powell’s staff belongs to the Longshoreman’s Union!  Remember the tough tactics of Harry Bridges and the West Coast dock workers decades ago?  Same folks.

·      Portland has been named best airport in the U. S. four of the last five years, a sign tells us.  It’s small enough to deal with the stress of travel more gracefully (the rail line into town greets you shortly after arriving) than O’Hare could ever manage but it excels by reflecting Portland itself, where the arts and crafts thrive. 

My flight to Korea takes me through Tokyo on Delta.  I decided to cash in half of my horde of Delta miles going back many years in order to fly business class.  This is pleasant but unlike those around me who fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, I’ve got work to do and the time passes quickly while the pullout bed goes to waste.  Maybe it helps that they serve only wine and no longer offer liquor or beer.

Our flight path takes us not far from Russia but clouds cover everything so I see Asia for the first time only when gliding into Tokyo’s international airport, Narita, which is far from the city.  And what do I see in verdant land below me, the first time I sight the Asian mainland?  A golf course.  Then another one.  By the time we land I have counted seven, plus four race tracks.  Japan the serious looks more like a land of fun and games. 

 

The Narita airport is another of the open, clean-design national showplaces I saw in India and at Charles de Gaulle in Paris.  Busy as it is, there is a sense of calm and playfulness in this one, both from what’s on the wall and from attractive play areas for children. (detail from a wall hanging below).  

 
 


 Desk crews and stewardesses make the same fashion and cultural statement:  slim, elegant women with hair pulled back in the mode of a bullet train. 



The last two hours is on Asiana which is very cheerful and friendly and serves everything.  It is also the South Korean airline whose plane crashed at San Francisco five days later.

 Now I’m at the Inchon Airport, Korea's international welcome mat.  Inchon was voted the best airport in the world last year but before I can judge for myself I’m headed to bed, after a little hot water.
Below the airport's main floor I take myself to Jim Jil Bong or “Spa on Air,” a 24 hour spa.  For $19 you can shower, lounge around in hot or cool pools and use the steam or dry saunas, which I do.  Then you grab a mat and a small square pillow and join others who are sleeping on the floor, in open areas or around soundless television sets, everyone in sleeping clothes, some couples cuddled up.  (Private rooms are also available. ) I figure I’d do as so many Koreans of modest means do and sleep on the floor with everyone else. 
By the time I get to sleep it is the 31st of June.  That’s because I’ve crossed the international date line, losing a calendar day.  I’m eager to begin whatever I’ll experience in Korea before regaining that lost day when headed home on July 29. 

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