Hello there, or should I say, 안녕하세요!
I should probably start this off with a little background on myself. My name is Warren Wigh, and I am 24 years old. In June I graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a Bachelors of Architecture, Architecture. Upon graduating I was hired on full time with a company called Jacobs, which is an international company specializing in engineering, architecture, and construction management. (They also specialize in petrochemicals, mining, pharmaceuticals, technology, environmental health, anyway, the list goes on) I have worked for Jacobs for about two years now, starting as an intern in 2012.
In February I accepted an offer to work in Korea as a government contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers associated with the Yongsan Relocation Project, and I am located near Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Korea. (Technically, it’s Anjeong-ri, but Pyeongtaek is the closest ‘city’) On March 27th I flew out of SFO and on March 28, I landed in Korea!
At 4:30 in the morning, I climbed into the back of my parent’s Mini Cooper and we drove 4 hours to SFO. I was awestruck by the ample foot room that existed back there.
Four hours later, we arrived at the airport!
One last picture and goodbye with the parents!
Check-in was painless, although I was bummed that there is no physical interaction with anybody anymore. You have to check in and scan your passport at a kiosk, and after you pay for your luggage an attendant tags your bags for you. Otherwise, you’re only interacting with a kiosk. To add insult to injury, while I am a MileagePlus AND United Explorer, I still had to pay for my second checked bag. The first is complimentary as a United Explorer member. The second is $100. As a member the second should at least be the price of what the first would be if you paid, but alas- you have to pay the fee at the rate of the second bag. Low blow, United. Thankfully it’s going on my expense report.
The International Terminal at SFO is extremely easy to navigate and I had no issues getting to the gate. It was good to see that my plane made it into the terminal and was on schedule.
Long is the walk onto the plane… It’s at least .0001 miles long. It took forever.
Now, the only plane that United flies to Korea is it’s 747. It’s definitely showing its age, which is a bummer when you compare to the competition. There are no seatback screens, and the seats are the used-to-be-standard 17″ wide 34 degree pitch seats. I had upgraded to Economy Plus, which gives you 37 degrees of pitch and 4 extra inches of legroom. It honestly made a big difference. Plus, less people fly Economy Plus because it’s an extra $109, so I had an open seat next to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the open seat. I still had to crawl over the sleeping Korean man next to me, who I think was only awake on the flight for 20 minutes total. I think he’s the lucky one in this arrangement.
Since there were no seatback screens, we had a shared television that played some “okay” selections, and then turned on the movie I actually wanted to watch right before we landed. Sigh. They played the second installment of the Hunger Games, an episode of Two and a Half Men, some travel documentary on Germany, Disney’s Frozen, some random movie I didn’t bother watching, and Ironman 3. Guess which one we didn’t get to finish. 😡
The flight was delayed pushing off due to late arrivals, and we sat on the tarmac for a good 10 minutes as planes kept landing.
Goodbye San Francisco! This is going to be the last time I see land for the next 12 hours. We only saw land for the last 15 minutes of the flight, everything else was over water.
You know how everyone talks about how crappy airline food is? Well there’s a reason why everyone says it- the food sucks. We ate less than 30 minutes after take-off, and then it was lights out until “breakfast” which was at midnight California time, or almost 3pm Korean time. Right, “breakfast.”
Here is what they called “lunch.” What happened to dinner? Good question, I don’t know either.
Plenty of clouds. You can’t really open the window without being glared at, everyone keeps the windows closed because remember, it’s “bedtime.”
This is literally one of the most disgusting things I’ve eaten in years.
First time seeing land is actually as we flew over the airport. This is on an “island” that is mostly man-made. Incheon is actually one of the best airports in the world, and for good reason. I was thoroughly impressed with the airport. Transportation is amazing, easy to navigate, and free wifi! Plus, it’s brand new. They built it to replace the aging Ginpo Airport.
Weather was extremely hazy and just so happens to be the hottest day they have had in a long time. There are tons of small little islands around Korea, it’s pretty awesome.
Once I landed I followed the crowd because while there are a decent amount of English signs around the airport, it’s still hard to be sure. This is my first time having to go through immigration so I wasn’t sure what to expect. No pictures of immigration because they were extremely crabby. Plus, the immigration official didn’t appreciate the fact that I was staying for 9 months and I did not have a visa. He didn’t seem to know what my 700-19 form was, which disturbed me a little seeing as how there are a large number of military service members who get the exact same form when they initially travel into the country. I ended up getting a 90 day stay and had to promise to leave before that time was up. Okay, I “promise.”
After collecting my bags (like usual, they were the last to come out) I met a fellow from Jacobs who came to escort me from the airport named Marty. Since my bags took so long we missed our 4PM bus and had to catch the 5:10 bus. While waiting we happened upon this:
There was a full symphony orchestra playing, in the airport. We stopped at listened for about half an hour before walking to our bus stop. While walking I grabbed the Korean version of a Gatorade while profusely sweating out of every pore of my body. Oh, and Koreans don’t really like air conditioning. It was hot in the airport and I was lugging about 130 pounds of luggage so needless to say I was hot. And the bus didn’t really have air conditioning, it was the equivalent of an asthmatic mouse coughing through a straw. It wasn’t much. I definitely regretted wearing a sweater that day.
We get on our regional bus and it’s the most fascinating thing I have been on in a long time. Recliner chairs. Plus, a clock. I have never seen a physical clock on a bus. Maybe that’s how they stay so timely?
The drive to the bus station in Pyeongtaek took a little over two hours and it was dark by the time we arrived. The cool part was we got to drive by a lot of different things.
Korea has a lot of cool things to look at. Most of their bridges are unique and different, and are built very quickly and efficiently. And to say that Korea is growing quickly is a massive understatement. There is a huge amount of money being poured into the economy and construction is happening at an alarming rate. Entire cities are being built, and they are being built quickly. It’s fascinating to see and mind boggling to think about- it’s a huge undertaking. When I come back to visit in a few years I’m positive that I won’t recognize this place.
Korea pays for its’ infrastructure through tolls, and there are many toll roads. If you’re smart you use a ‘fast pass’ where you pass through these things. Otherwise, pay at the toll booth. There is no carpool lane, but there is a bus lane which lets you get around traffic if you’re riding in a bus.
This is the city of Osan. The US has an air base here. We passed through Osan on our way to stop at one of the bus stops. It’s fascinating to see the number of apartment buildings that are here.
A taste of home.
We stopped at the bus stop just as the sun was setting.
Now we start to get into the part of Korea that is more traditional Korea for the lack of a better term. Buildings close together, narrow roads, neon lights everywhere.
Gas is the equivalent of $8-$9 a gallon here. ($1,890W / Liter) Luckily, I get to buy gas on base at a steep $3.50/gallon.
We finally arrive at the bus station, unload my bags, and find a taxi. Our driver knew little english, so we just said “Main Gate” and he knew where to go. Once we got close, we kept an eye out for our hotel and told him to turn when we saw it. Once we arrived we paid the cab driver and walked up to the hotel.
I walked inside and secured a room. What’s different about Korea is in order to secure a room you give them your name and phone number. She asked how long I would be staying and I said I wasn’t sure because I still have to find an apartment, so she said to just come down and let her know a day in advance when I’ll be leaving. No deposit, nothing. Korea is very trusting, and trust that you will pay them. I can get used to that kind of mentality.
Once I got to my room the phone immediately rang and it was the front desk. Apparently another Jacobs guy by the name of Kevin had asked about me earlier in the day. Kevin got to Korea about a week ago and is at the hotel until Monday. And what do you know, he’s in the room next to me. So Marty and I knock on his door to say hello. Kevin comes to the door and says, “Oh, Hi Warren! Uh, hold on” and slammed the door. He comes back with pants on this time and asks how was my flight, etc. and we invite him to dinner. He already ate and had “some drink” so we told him a little more doesn’t hurt, so all three of us took a walk to go find something to eat. By this time, it’s 9PM Korean time, which is almost 6 hours after I landed, and close to 25 hours since I left my house in the states.
We step into a restaurant which the equivalent in the states would be Korean Barbecue. However, that’s not what it is called in Korea. I played the “I’ll have what he’s having” game and we sat down and drank beer while our food cooked.
Kevin had shots of Soju while Marty and I had Korean beer. We had sausage, chicken, beef, and pork that’s grilled on a grill in the middle of the table. You have sides that you can eat with the meat, and they give you a little bit of each side. It’s a variety of vegetables. A big difference between KBBQ and food like this in Korea is the server does a lot of work to help you cook it. They turn it for you occasionally even though you can turn it yourself as well, and they help cut it up into manageable pieces for you. Great experience. You would think that with service like that you would leave a pretty generous tip, right? Wrong. You don’t tip in Korea, ever. It’s considered rude.
The meal came out to 40,000W which I paid for since I didn’t have any Korean money, and Marty and Kevin gave me cash.
By the time I made it back to my room it was 7am back in the states, almost midnight here in Korea. Time for bed.