February 28, 2010
Korean Diaries : Destination Suwon
It has been more than a week since I landed here in Suwon, South Korea. When I was informed about the opportunity to travel to South Korea, a first foreign trip of my life and I sighed "at last " :). It was pretty much due with Korea being a second home (even though it might be rented and double taxed :P) for the employees of the company. Was informed about the same about a week before the trip and I was pretty much excited, with butterflies flying inside my stomach. There was a mad rush of people going to South Korea from our company and the seats on this route was pretty much filled up. So I ended with a strange itinerary of Bangalore-Chennai-Hong Kong-Incheon.
The whole week in India was filled with some or other shopping , since I had never been away from home for such a duration , leave alone overseas.... Then came the D-Day of 21 st Feb 2010, the day of my first international travel (well technically speaking its on 22nd Feb). I took a taxi from my home and landed at the Bangalore International Airport at around 6 pm to catch the 7.25 pm Jet Airways flight to Chennai. At the check-in counter the person in charge did a through check-in for the Chennai-Hong Kong-Incheon route even though they didnt have any tie-up with Cathay Pacific. This was a bit confusing to me , never even having heard the term of "Through Check-in" :P. Even though it was my first overseas trip I was kinda alone with no idea who and all were travelling and I was mentally prepared to do it all alone.
Anyway spotted a fellow employee since he had the travel bag given to us at some point as gifts :).Introducing myself, tagged along with this guy for the first leg of the journey. The jet airway flight was a very crammed place to travel if you are travelling in economy class. Boy and their service in terms of food was really bad, with a couple of slices of bread and cucumber stuffed in between. Anyway not sure whether this is done in other routes too since the total duration of the flight was very less lasting for only 40 mins.
After landing at Chennai airport saw my luggage being hauled in the conveyor belt?????!!!!!... and all the talk of through check-in by the lady at the BIAL went down the drain :P. From then on decided never to blindly rely on whatever the people say to you on such journey and always double check. By this time met a lot of known faces. Took the luggage and started the mammoth task of waiting for 7 hours for the next leg of journey, i.e. Chennai-Hong Kong , scheduled to take off at 3.15 am. Sight seeing in Chennai at this time of the day was not an option, so we decided to spend the time in the airport itself. Thankfully the climate was cool and not humid as one would expect in these parts. Also came into memory the time when I had spent nearly 6 hrs stranded at the same airport due to heavy rains. Why do I get always stranded in the same airport :(.
Anyway when we started the check-in process again at 12 midnight the International Departure Terminal looked nothing short of a Kumbh Mela... Every inch of space was taken .. huge lines for check-in at various airliners... and add to that the "hippies" completing the feel of the Khumbh mela, the only thing missing was the Ganges. After check-in at Cathay Pacific and passing the immigration was finally let into a much spacious room from where we had to just board the plane. At exactly 2.45 am they started boarding. The plane was an Airbus A330 a huge and spacious plane, the service good and leg space upto expectation. They served us Indians some Indian vegetarian food, and me being an Indian was not sure what it was, it seemed like a vada, but taste was totally different :P.
Was able to catch a few winks of sleep and by around 11 am HK local time, landed into this awesome Hong Kong International airport, an island right in the middle of the sea, felt like we were going to meet a watery grave just few seconds before touch done, when suddenly the runway strip of the airport comes into view. De boarded the plane and entered the airport. This airport was huge and there was a humongous distance going from one side of the airport to the other. First time in my life did I feel like I didnt belong to this place, an alien feeling, a feeling of isolation . Even though i had been in most parts of India I had never ever felt the same, which somehow could be contributed due to some similarity we would share w.r.t. , the face, the language , the color, the food, the religion or even the world famous "Indian Habits" :P.
When we landed at the Hong Kong airport, the atmosphere was slightly chilly but as the day progressed the temperature started to drop very rapidly. Out came the woolens reserved for the climate of South Korea. At around 2 pm local time started boarding to the Cathay Pacific flight to Incheon. Now this flight was a Boeing 747, Jumbo jet and believe me the nick name is totally apt. The service provided on this route was a wee bit better than the earlier flight from the same carrier.
We arrived at the Incheon International airport at around 6.30 evening local time. This airport has been bagging the "best airport in the world" title conferred by IATA for the past 5 years, and believe me it met that expectation. A metro train running right in the middle of the airport terminal, flat escalators :P. For people from India all these things are very new :). After immigration, collecting the baggage and exchanging a few dollars, we came outside to platform 7A to catch a Limousine bus to Suwon. As soon as we came out of the the doors of the airport and was exposed to the true temperature of this place, my bones shuddered uncontrollably. Never was I exposed to such low temperature, with high density steam rising from my mouth and nose :P. As if a raging bull ready to charge :P. Caught the bus to Suwon, the journey which was for an hour. The city of Suwon is a provincial capital , home to nearly a million people.
Our stay was confirmed at an Indian Guesthouse, owned by Koreans and run by Nepalese . But due to the heavy rush had to stay temporarily at a motel. Now the definition of a motel as in Western culture is very different from those in these parts of the world. Motels or Love Hotels are places where young couples make out far from the eyes of their parents and this is socially accepted in a big way and a huge industry is catering to this demand. These are available on hourly basis or for whole night and very cheap hence suitable for a budget traveller too :P. The room itself is decorated in a very appropriate way with mirrors everywhere :P. Also the TV provided to us was huge at around 55 inches :). Had one of the worst possible sleeps during the night , with constant nightmares and uneasiness. Guess that is called Jet lag..... not sure though. !!!!
Coming from India this Korean city seemed to be very dull and unexciting. Everything is done perfectly here, the driving with honking unheard off (except the delivery boys on 2 wheelers jumping lights, footpaths etc..... they are worse than Indian 2 wheelers :P ), the walking,the cleaning etc..... hence a less exciting place :D. Now we know what we miss when we come abroad, the same things that we criticize and despise back home :D.
Also Koreans are one of the most hardworking people in the world. They work like almost 24x7 , making their work spaces a miniature replica of their homes. Now this part gives us Indians a complex and we start to follow their worktimes. One day passes, another couple of days passes and then in the end we revert back to our Indian timing :). There is no way we could cope up with their work hours. Also they are heavy drinkers and have a very high suicide rate, dont know whether this is related to the previous point or not. But one thing has to be admired is that the Koreans have completed built from scratch the nation which was shattered during the Korean and World War II into one of the most technologically advanced, developed nation of the world.
Koreans also have a very hi attraction towards gadgets and everything you see , have buttons and LED's on them. They have even not sparred the humble commode equipping it some add on functionalities from below :P. Also once on a walk across the city saw that they were building an underpass at a busy junction. But it was not blocked at all. They had setup a temporary metal structure and below that they were digging..... the traffic flow was seamless..... The steel for the temporary structure would have with more probability come from India, still India is a long way in implementing such methods. Our VIP's roam roam the foriegn countries in order to learn and adopt the good practises, but these sort of things never comes within their radar.
Anyway my on-site stay has just started , but havnt so far got an oppurtunity to visit any tourist places. Got to check it out during my stay here :).