01 March 2008

The Flight from Hell

It was with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to my mum, dad and nephew Michael-Todd at PET Airport on the 29th of December 2007, having only had three hours of fitful sleep. I honestly felt like I was making a huge mistake. I kept shaking my head and saying, "What am I DOING?" Still, I walked through that gate...and only looked back once.

Sitting at gate 78, unable to even find the energy or motivation to listen to my iPod or leaf through one of the magazines I had bought, I sat there sighing deeply and staring off into space. Suddenly, I realised that someone was talking to me. The person in question was a lovely woman named Kathleen. Now, this lady was very excited and nervous, as most people boarding an airplane for the very first time would be. It was actually her first time in an airport and the kicker is...this lady is 62 years old! She's from Saguenay Lac Saint-Jean, but she's an Anglophone, of Irish decent. She has lived in Saint-Jean her whole life and is an English teacher there. In fact, when she found out that I was headed to South Korea to teach English, she suggested that I look for work as a teacher in Saint-Jean upon my return, as they're always looking for English teachers there. I thanked her for the advice, but of course, explained that I didn't want to be a teacher forever and that I was planning on most likely pursuing graduate studies after my Korean adventure.

Talking with Kathleen was very comforting. For one thing, her exhilaration at the prospect of boarding a flight for the first time was contagious. She told me all about her trip, and that helped distract me from my melancholy. She was flying to Chicago, then Minneapolis where she was meeting friends she had met on the Internet and embarking on a road trip to California. This was not only her first time on a plane, but also her first time travelling outside of Canada. Furthermore, she was sort of like a mother figure and really easy to talk to. I barely even scratched the surface on the bizarreness of my life, but she told me that I should write a book. I enjoyed listening to her stories about her teaching experiences in small town Quebec and tales of her rebellious daughter who has tattoos, piercings and pink hair, but is also a teacher. On top of that, I was able to offer her all sorts of advice and actually ended up coaching and calming her throughout take-off, in flight and during the landing, as I was sitting in the same row as her on the tiny Air Canada Jazz aircraft. So, that was the flight to Chicago...

When I arrived in Chicago, I decided to think positive. I was actually starting to feel a lot better, sitting there listening to The Colourfield on my iPod, watching people go by as I waited for the Asiana counter to open. I decided to go outside for a smoke and met a Jordanian man who works in Chicago and had just said goodbye to his wife and daughter, who were going to Jordan for the next six months. When he found out where I was going and what I was going to be doing there, he started asking for advice about English colloquialisms and pronunciation. He explained that when he first arrived in Chicago, he could barely speak English. He too, was a pleasure to converse with and he actually hugged me and wished me Happy New Year before we parted ways.

So, by the time I got in line at Asiana, now listening to Oasis on the iPod; I was actually feeling somewhat cheerful. I was one of two non-Koreans in line and was secretly re-living fond memories of Japan in my mind, telling myself that this was going to be an adventure and an unforgettable experience and that I'd meet all kinds of fascinating people along the way. I mean, I had already met two interesting people and hadn't even left Chicago. That's when it happened. That's when Don't Look Back in Anger was interrupted by who would turn out to be one of the most obnoxious human beings I've ever met in my entire life...Daniel from Kingston, ON. That's when everything really started going downhill...

Remember Spike & Chester from Looney Tunes? Spike was the bulldog and Chester was the annoying little sidekick terrier. Well, if you want to get an idea of just how annoying Daniel from Kingston was, just think of Chester. Better yet, while we’re on the topic of annoying, comic-relief sidekicks, just think of Jar Jar Binks. Honestly, I think I would have rather been stuck at Chicago O’Hare Airport with either Chester or Jar Jar Binks than Daniel. Words that spring to mind when I reluctantly recall the nightmare that was spending six hours stuck in the shittiest airport in America with Daniel are: ADHD, spastic, pseudo-intellectual, over enthusiastic, hyper, know it all, uncool, wannabe-raver, fake, egocentric, boring.

In fact, I am not going to waste any more time writing about him, because I just can't truly capture the level of his repulsiveness without the irritating tone of voice and affected mannerisms. So, the next time you see me, just ask me to do an impersonation. I have an incredible memory when it comes to human behaviour, and will never forget those dreadful hours spent with Daniel. If I ever feel the need to add an annoying sidekick to the novel that I will one day write, he will make an excellent reference. However, for the time being, I have more important things to do than write about him.

I’m sure that by now, you all know that Asiana Airlines lost my luggage. What you may not know is that when I arrived at Incheon International Airport (three and a half hours late, I might add, since the plane sat on the tarmac in Chicago for three and a half hours because there was something wrong with the cargo hold door) exhausted after being on that plane for 17 hours, emotional and still uncertain about my decision to come to South Korea, I had a breakdown. The breakdown in question occurred when I found out that the airline had lost my luggage. My eyes filled with tears, I blurted out, to some random Texan and his wife at the lost baggage counter, “This is a sign! I’m making a huge mistake! I wasn’t meant to come to this country! What have I done?!”

Well, here we are, two months down the road. I still feel that I’ve made a mistake coming here, but I’m trying to make the best of it, taking it one day at a time. Lately, I’ve been feeling somewhat depressed for myriad reasons. First of all, I found out for certain this week that my suitcase is lost forever. I am in mourning over the priceless items that I will never see again. Moreover, I found out that I will only be compensated for 460,000 WON (about $500) as this is the policy of most major airlines ($20 per kilogram for a maximum of 23kg). At least, I am covered by my mum’s insurance policy and have opened a file regarding my lost suitcase with Allstate. This means that I have a lot of work to do. I am in the middle of compiling a comprehensive list of all of the items that I have lost. Many of these items were purchased abroad; in England, France, Switzerland, Japan, Thailand, Egypt, so it is quite the daunting task. Some of the items are of sentimental value and can never be replaced, unless someone invents a time machine in my lifetime.

Furthermore, I’ve been sick for over two weeks and can’t seem to regain my health, as I feel extremely overworked and exhausted. To make matters worse, although I can’t say that I hate my job, because most of my students (both children and adults) are lovely and I am enjoying the freedom and creativity of planning all of my own lessons, there is a grave communication problem at my workplace and it’s really starting to bring me down. I truly feel that half of the teachers that I work with really don’t seem to care very much at all and there is a great lack of team spirit, camaraderie and unity, compared to other overseas teaching jobs that I have had. Lastly, and I may just be experiencing “Stage 2” of culture shock, but I honestly feel that I will never have the same affinity or sentiment for Korea as I do for Japan. My experience in Japan was very special and I realise that, now more than ever.

Now, to end on a more positive note…my manager at Gwacheon (Jin) was away on business in the Philippines and was temporarily replaced by Leo from the Sadang office, who is extremely helpful and kind. He volunteered to call Asiana Airlines for me and managed to get me a slightly better deal. In addition to the 460,000 WON, the airline will provide me with free return airfare to Japan. I’m thinking about heading there for my birthday in May, but have made no definite plans yet. It’s something to look forward to.

No comments: