Readers, I’m back. After two weeks of Hawaiian sunshine melting away my inclination to write I’ve shaken the sand out of my hair and am back at my keyboard.
Well, technically I’m not at my keyboard. I’m typing away, bleary-eyed, in front of a free wifi terminal at Seoul’s Incheon Airport.
You see, I missed my connecting flight to Beijing. And it wasn’t even for anything dramatic like a snow storm (I departed from Honolulu) or sudden illness (Korean Air’s airplane food very much agreed with my stomach). There was no high speed dash down the travelator and no guilty party I could angrily shake fingers at. I missed my flight because I set my watch by the one clock in this futuristic airport that was an hour behind. By the time I realized my mistake, my plane was just pulling out of the suction tube that holds it to the terminal building. It was twenty minutes too late.
I feel idiotic. I had so many chances to check and re-check the time. What was I looking at if not the many, many, digital clocks?
Oh, I remember, I’ve been wearing my wobbly-legged glasses that are on the verge of being tossed out. They have become so loose they slide down the bridge of my nose to rest at the tip, making me look like a Victorian school marm. With the extreme temerature shifts that my travel schedule has put on these glasses, the lens have already started to pop out of the frame. In short, they don’t really help me see that clearly. After encountering the first airport clock that said 4.40pm and the second one that said 3.40pm, I decided that the second one had to be correct and set my watch accordingly, never to squint at another clock again until it was too late.
Ok, so I have bad eyesight, my contact lens were out of commission after my husband put Chinese mustard on them the night before (that’s a whole other story), and eleven hours of flying from Honolulu to Seoul had made me particularly bleary eyed. So I didn’t see my mistake. But, didn’t I hear the PA system alerting delinquent passengers to get to the gate?
No, I didn’t. Unlike at Beijing Capital or Charles de Gaulle, or really any airport I’ve been to, the Korean PA announcer’s voice is particularly melodious and the “beep beep”s harmonious. None of the constant stream of sounds broadcasting over the speakers conveyed any sense of urgency. I tuned it out, like Muzak in an office building elevator.
Then what was I doing for three hours (actually four) instead of paying attention to my connection time?
I admit rather guiltily that I was indulging in my favorite airport activity — checking out local DutyFree.
Hear me out, I rarely buy things at DutyFree but I like to look, and compare, and see what kinds of cosmetics women are buying in a country where I don’t have the chance to step outside the airport. I consider it some kind of market research.
But still, there’s no getting around the admission that I missed a connecting flight, for the first time in my life, because I was aimlessly strolling around DutyFree shops and eating fish cake udon at the cafe near Gate 27. (I was also, by the way, contemplating getting the spicy seafood ramen at Gate 32 because 27 had run out in the “extra hour” that I didn’t, in fact, have to kill).
To make matters worse, my mother-in-law is nervously flying alone on JAL, looking forward to meeting up with me at Starbuck’s at the Beijing airport. She has travelled a lot but this is her first time going to a country where she speaks absolutely nada of the language. Me getting stranded in Seoul pretty much means her getting stranded in Beijing.
Crap. There’s also the matter of four train tickets to Harbin that I spent much effort purchasing while I was in Honolulu, so that we could leave for the ice festival within 24 hours of touching down in Beijing.
And there’s two suitcases full of Hawaiian gifts I carefully purchased for my Harbin relatives that, even if I make the first flight out of Seoul tomorrow morning and still make my train to Harbin on the same day, will be floating around in international lost luggage purgatory.
How did I screw up so royally bad? It didn’t help that when I showed up at the Korean Air Transfer Desk saying, “I missed my flight, can you help me?”, the man behind the counter looked at me like I was an elephant with three tusks. Doesn’t he deal with this all the time???
Blame schmame, I simply have to find a way to pass the night. The airport hotel was out of the question — fully booked (by equally negligent travelers as myself I hope!) and too expensive anyway. I roamed the brightly-lit lanes until I came upon an ideal nook. It’s a modest “rest & relax” area on the second floor, with windows overlooking the gates downstairs and a clear view of one gigantic clock. There is a bathroom and water fountain nearby, and I checked out the shower room to find that it’s free. In the morning, the cafe here will hopefully serve breakfast and until then, I can while away the insomnia on these nifty free computer terminals. It’s like the Mesopotamian river beds, fertile with everything I need to stay civilized for twelve hours.
I pieced two lounge chairs together to make a bed, strapped my camera bag to my arm, put my boots on my feet (if I lose these I’m frost-bitten dead meat when I land in Beijing ), and settled in for my night of homelessness. It’s a little chilly — I’ve never longed for a fleece blanket with so much intensity — and my backpack makes an odd-shaped pillow and some Slavic peoples are in the computer corner laughing too loudly, probably at YouTube videos. But as far as homelessness goes, this is probably as good as it gets.
Sweet dreams everyone and fingers crossed that my next update comes to you from Harbin.