The Longest Tuesday in History
Well, Seoul was a disappointment, although I can't blame the city for that, just the circumstances.
Darcey and I took a taxi to the airport at 10 p.m. Monday night after we joined Ryan and the production crew from Rocketfish Studios at Cineleisure to watch the Simpson's Movie. It was hysterical, consistently funny all the way through. I want to watch it again, with Americans this time, because there were jokes that we laughed at that no one else did. Like Mr. Burns saying "Finally, a rich, white man has all the power." See, funny!
It was bittersweet leaving. I've had such a fantastic time, quite possibly the best vacation of my life so far. But I'm ready to go home. I miss my easy going life, where I don't mind just vegging at home all day if I feel like it, where I can buy something or ask a stranger a question and not have to try to interpret their answer. So like a fat man after a night at Sizzler, I am ready to leave, satisfied and full of new, great memories, my desire to travel completely sated for now. But when I left I couldn't revel in the perfectness of the trip, because I'm leaving without Ryan.
I hate being emotional and try not to be as much as possible. Plus I'm fairly independent, I like being alone. For those reasons, Ryan was actually surprised when I got a little weepy when it was time to say goodbye. He liked knowing how much I'll miss him. I do like to be alone, and I did handle a week of solo sightseeing just fine, but I knew that I had him to come home to and tell about my adventures. That's not the same as really alone.
The bittersweetness of the end of my KL holiday turned into run of the mill traveling about 10 minutes after I left the hotel. I was instantly out of emotional mode and into functional mode. Figuring out logistics, making plans and decisions. That is as much traveling to me as any of the sights.
I entered the airport pushing a full luggage cart and pulling Darcey's stroller behind me, as I headed toward the Korean airlines check in counter. An employee intercepted me before I could get there and took the luggage from me, checked me in, switched me to an aisle seat, all while I waited. It was such good service.
The flight was 6 hours long, and Darcey slept maybe 4 hours total, although not consecutively. There was a lot of turbulence, the scary kind, and the flight attendant told me she had to be held. Darcey, that is, not the flight attendant. I expect the flight attendant handles turbulence just fine. I ended up getting about an hour of sleep that whole night.
Which put my 12 hour layover/sightseeing opportunity in Seoul off to a bad start. I can deal with tired when there's fun to be had. Sadly, Seoul was fresh out of fun. What they did have was plenty of rain.
The other day I was talking to my mom about taking the whole family back sometime, maybe at Christmas. Only thing is, Christmas in KL is the rainy season. Who cares about a little rain, I said to my mom. It's not like we're going to melt when we get wet. Or multiply like Gremlins (can you imagine taking them home on the plane?)
Now that I've tried sightseeing in the rain, I can say with certainty, it stinks. I took a bus from the airport to a certain stop, where I got on the Seoul City Tour Bus, fulfilling my previously unrequited desire to master foreign public transportation. Seoul is not at all as foreigner-friendly a KL was and since the characters are so different from our alphabet, I couldn't piece any information together either.
I mentioned earlier that if you want to humble a proud person, send them to a foreign country. I've decided that a foreign country is also the place to go if you ever want to appreciate the generosity of strangers. I can't count the number of people who have gone out of their way to help me. Today it was the 3 guys who helped me find the right bus. Later, it was the man who, out of nowhere, stopped me in line at the National Museum to remind me that our bus pas included a coupon for the museum ticket. So many people have helped me drag or carry the stroller up and down steps. One held an umbrella over me while I folded the stroller. And on a less welcome note, about half of the Korean women in the airport went out of their way to tell me that Darcey was cold. (You can't win 'em all.)
So with help I got on the right bus, and the driver made sure I knew when my stop came up. I got on the City Tour bus and started a tour of Downtown Seoul. The city reminds me a little of KL - lush, verdant green all around the city, some low rolling hills also covered in trees, and tons of shopping. They have one mall complex that has 10,000 vendors, no joke. It must be freakin' huge.
I picked four things to do on the tour - the National Museum, the Seoul Tower, a market, and a palace. I was most interested in the palace, which was the last stop on the tour, and the museum was first geographically but least interesting. And once I got into the museum, I remembered - I don't like museums. Some are good, of course, I don't dislike all museums. Just most of them. The ones full of 2,000 year old pottery fragments, which incidentally look exactly the same no matter what country you're in. And just as boring.
I didn't spend long there, had a sushi roll for lunch in the cafe, then went out in the downpour to catch the bus. I had an umbrella which kept me and Darcey dry, but the stroller and my backpack were getting soaked.
The rain just got worse as the bus drove it's circuit, and I decided that I would do my sightseeing from the bus. But then the second factor to make this a rotten day kicked in - I was so tired that kept dozing on the bus. I would nod off and then one second later jerk awake so violently that I almost gave myself whiplash. Over and over, for the rest of the 2 hour circuit, I would fall asleep and then instantly wake up. Oh, it was so painful. I wanted nothing more than to lay down and take a nap, but I was so afraid of missing my stop that I couldn't. When I think back to what I saw from the bus, it is all hazy and I can only picture a few fleeting images - the front of a palace that I had really wanted to go in, driving through the forest on the Mount Something in the city, lots and lots of storefronts with names written in Korean.
I finally got back on the bus to the airport after standing in the rain and in a 2 inch deep puddle (no wonder everyone else was huddled at the other end of the stop.) I felt a little better knowing the ropes this time, handed over my 10,000 won note for the fare and settled into yet another bus seat. I must have gotten a second wind or something because I didn't want to sleep so much this time. We crossed over a body of water (a river?) between Seoul and Incheon, where there was what looked like frost on the ground and on the water. Could it have been that much colder there? It doesn't seem likely, but I don't know what else it could have been.
Back at the airport, I was seriously regretting choosing the 12-hour layover. I had the best intentions, but now that I had slept through a tour of Seoul and still had five hours until my plane left, I truly wished I was on the earlier flight. I kept busy wandering around the terminal, but there was a kiosk where the women employees would come out from behind their post and stop me to coo over Darcey. Every time I walked by, they would do this. So at some point, I decided that I couldn't take it anymore, and limited myself to just the left half of the terminal for exploration.
I stopped for dinner at some restaurant, where I didn't understand the menu very well, and ended up ordering too much food. I got a sushi roll and an order of vegetable fried rice, which seems fine, except that both items were considered full meals with soup and stuff, so I sat at a table looking like a complete idiot. (Not like the Indian food I bought two orders of on purpose, but could gorge myself in the privacy of my hotel room.) Ah, who cares, I'm never going to see any of them again anyways.
Darcey had a massive blowout diaper about 30 minutes before boarding. When I changed her, I realized that somehow I was going to walk on the airplane with just one diaper left. I thought I had packed enough, and I had the backup plan that the airline would give me some, the way China Air presented me with a bag of diapers, formula, and baby food.
Well, this isn't China Air, and all I got for her was a sticker book on the first leg of the trip. Knowing that only having one diaper on a 10+ hour flight was a really, really bad idea, I asked the flight attendant at the gate if they had any diapers on board or if I should go buy some. She said yes, but the other flight attendant there said no, so I asked them to check for sure. Yes, definitely, was the confirmed answer.
So I wrapped Darcey's poopy clothes inside the blanket of hers that I had dropped in the puddle at the bus stop and shoved it in the bottom of my backpack. I took out the brick which is the South Korea tour book I had bought, and stuck a note on it saying "Free! Take it if you want it." I left it on a table, hoping that someone else could use it to plan more fun in Seoul than I had.
I boarded the plane and the flight attendant handed me a bag with diapers and wipes in it. I stuck it under my seat, but it was a good thing I got it, because Darcey pooped again during take off. (And it wasn't a particularly scary take off, either, she must have a weak constitution.) I waited until the seat belt light went off, then grabbed the bag and the poop-meister and headed to the bathroom. When I opened the bag, I marveled again at the language barrier - I don't know what the flight attendant thought I wanted, but what she gave me was six handi-wipes and a box of Kleenex. I grabbed my last diaper, changed her, and held my breath (and hope that Darcey holds something else) that we wouldn't have any incidents in the next 10 hours.
The flight was predictably boring, although it was made worse because they didn't show any movies at all the entire time. It would have broken things up a little, even though I was prepared with my own entertainment. Also, the flight left at 8 p.m. but they didn't turn the lights down until 11, because they were busy selling duty-free cigarettes and lotions and stuff. I was still as wasted as I was earlier, I wrote in my notebook a completely unintelligible paragraph, I wish you could see my handwriting because it is atrocious. Here's what I wrote:
"The sleepiness hasn't worn off yet. I keep nodding off. I just wiped drool off my shirt and let's just say it wasn't produced by the one of us for whom it is acceptable to drool in public."
Darcey fell asleep as soon as the lights went off, and so did I - amazingly, we both slept for 5 or 6 hours, until they decided to turn the lights back on. I could have slept much longer, so I was a little disappointed. I prefer China Air to Korean Airlines any day.
I got off the plane at LAX, and the book I was listening to was so boring that I left it in my backpack as I waded through Immigrations over to the baggage carousel. It turns out that was a good thing, because the experience at the airport left me with so many amusing observations that I actually had to pull over and write them down. It seems as though listening to an ipod all day isn't conducive to thinking of funny stuff to write about. I'm going to have to keep that in mind.
The baggage carousel was so full of 300 people's bags that handlers came and took the bags off and made a wall of bags around the outside of the carousel. This meant that we now formed a human carousel to rotate around the stationary bags in order to collect our stuff. It took eternity to get all three of my bags, and while I was waiting for the third one, I started doing an inventory of that bag to see if I could just leave it there. I saw it, finally, still on the carousel, but I was behind the wall of other bags, so I asked the asian man near the carousel to grab it for me. Here's what I said: "Could you get me that bag, that blue bag, that small blue bag, it's right there, that small blue bag right there, that blue one, that one that just went past you." A handler eventually grabbed it for me.
A TSA employee, who I think had seen that whole exchange, came up to me while I was pushing my cart with the folded stroller on top, and said something completely unintelligible to me, but with a smile on his face like he was sharing an inside joke with me. I think what he said must have been, "We are massively inefficient, aren't we!"
When an international flight enters the United States, everyone is required to get their bags, take them through Customs, and then recheck them. I happened to be walking behind a guy who had two gigantic bags, probably ten feet long each, looking like body bags with wheels on the bottom. I felt so bad for him, it was the most unwieldy baggage I've ever seen, worse than pushing a cart and pulling a stroller. Then I felt bad for all of us, because if a guy can really check dead bodies on an airplane then what does that say for the state of security here?
One of the elevators I took made me question whether I was still in a foreign country. I was on the ground floor and needed to go up, and here were my options: C, P, T, and R. I stared at my options, trying to decipher the less-exciting sequel to the DaVinci Code - the Elevator Code. Eventually I located a sign near the top of the elevator with the key to decrypting the secret message.
C - Baggage
P - Planes (Not parking)
R - Unlabeled, must be the floor that takes you to the secret vault.
I got the extra screening at security. I'm sure I was profiled, after all, a woman with a baby strapped to her chest is the most likely to be carrying explosives, right? No, it was my hair clip that set off the metal detector. That's it, new security rule, no hair clips of any sort. Even rubber bands. As a matter of fact, no hair anymore either - who knows what could be hiding in there? Darcey's set.
By the time I got to my gate, an hour and a half of my two hour layover had passed. I couldn't believe how long it took to do all of that maneuvering. At one point I was suddenly hungry, ravenously hungry, the kind of hunger that indicates my body has started feeding on it's own internal organs, leaving the gaping chasm that is my stomach. My two choices to eat, quickly of course, was at Starbucks or some sausage place. I was sure that eating sausage would be a horrible mistake, so I got a lemonade and some cut up fruit, $8, welcome to America.
I had been carrying Darcey in the Baby Bjorn ever since the last flight landed, and she stayed asleep in it the entire flight to Salt Lake. She only woke up during the last 15 minutes or so, letting me nurse her until we got off the plane. She was perfectly happy and/or asleep while my mom picked me up, we gathered my luggage, and all the way home. She finally got a diaper change when we got home, probably 15 or 16 hours since I put the last diaper on her. Like the cruz of oil that never failed, she wore the diaper that never overflowed. It did smell, though, and within minutes of her change she pooped again. Like Ryan said, she prefers a clean palette for her art.
It was nice to be home again. Unfortunately, the jet lag meant that no matter how tired I was, I didn't fall asleep until 6 a.m. The kids were happy to see me, and I think it was genuine even if the first thing Noah did was ask about his souvenirs. The boys were healthy and happy, no ill effects from having their mother gone for 11 days. Does that mean something? Were they better off without me here? I'm not going to explore that question, I'm just going to look back at this fantastic vacation and appreciate the family members who worked so hard to take care of my kids, who provided me with this vacation even more than the money that paid for the plane tickets did. The best part is that in the days since I've been home, I've felt so relaxed, so calm, not frazzled and frustrated with life the way I used to. I feel more of a stillness. I want to hang up a sign to say "Days That I've Been Patient" - I'm up to three right now, and that feels pretty good. Maybe I need more vacations. I wonder where I can go next...