Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Traveling in Style

I finally met up with Shaun 250* at the airport and after a last meal of McDonald's and coffee, we went to the gate to see fi we could sit next to each other. After, getting our seats reassigned, we sat and chatted for the remainder of the hour and one half until departure. We began boarding and there was a slight problem with our boarding passes and we were again instructed to speak to the gate attendant (or “Gatekeeper” as I like to call them). We were informed by the woman at the desk that we had been upgraded to business class at no additional charge and to proceed to the plane.
Say what!?
While this was a welcome surprise, Shaun 250 and I paid merely a student's price for our tickets, at least $500 under what business class costs otherwise. We were escorted to amazing robotic seats which has controls for every angle of the seat, including a motorized, adjustable lumbar support (thank God!). Now this has turn into a 13 hour flight I don't want to end.
Not only can I stick my legs straight out, but there is a “sleep” button on the seat that essentially turns the seat into a very comfy bed. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Upon being escorted to our seats, attendants began services immediately with water, orange juice and champaign, all while referring to us by our last name, “would you like more orange juice, Mr. Stanhill?” “Um, yes please!” After take-off, they began service with warmed nuts and wine, followed by an appetizer plate of seared tuna on a bed of edamame and seaweed, cream of asparagus soup, cheeses and grilled, chilled bell peppers. After we whet our, a fresh, green salar with nuts, craisins, spinach, romain lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette lasted us unti the main dish of spicy Korean beef was delivered with a choice of three breads, rice, spicy bean paste and pickled root crop of a yellow constitution. Beyond the eccentricities of the main course, we were offered three kinds of deserts. I opted for the cheese plate with accompanying glass of port, naturally. The service has been a sustained quality found at restaurants like Ocean Club Grill in Scottsdale and Morton's of Chicago, the flight attendants personal, courteous and attentive. Shaun and I still can't figure why we were upgraded but it's a fabulous way to travel into the unknown, in style and comfort.

*According to the order in which we joined the EPIK Fall group on Facebook, members accrued nicknames in intervals of 50. I, for examples, was the 200th member to join and am therefor called Sean 200 on the forum. Time will only tell if this name will stick. When in the Philippines, there was another volunteer named Sean and I went by Sean Two, he being Sean One.  

Motown Blues

I'm sitting at the McNamara terminal in Detroit, waiting for my flying buddy to show up at the gate. Good thing I got here 4.5 hours early, being that I flew through check-in and now have to sit here waiting...and waiting...and waiting.
Abe's Famous Chili Burger
For having had a 12 hour or so layover in Detroit, I had a lot of fun. My friend Loren, from Peace Corps, lives in town and picked me up at the ungodly hour of 12:20 and we went to a bar to play shuffle puck, a game in which I have NO skill, not even after a Miller High Life or two. After a couple beers and playing shuffle puck with some folks whom I am convinced are puck hustlers, we departed for Abe's down the street, an epitome of a dive cafe and a memory I will cherish forever. Being that this was to be my last real meal in the U.S. for another year or so, I decided to go for broke and get the 1/2 pound chili burger with fries, the effects of which I am feeling this morning. I don't feel I am digesting the burger as much as wearing it, but the calories should last me until Seoul.
It was great catching up with her in her environment and loved the character and attitude of the establishments we went to last night.
It's hard to imagine what's in store for me on the other side of the Atlantic. I went to the Philippines knowing next to nothing about the country, the culture, the foods, etc. Not only had I found a home there, but I found family and friends that I still miss every day. It's hard to imagine not finding those kinds of connections in what will be my new home for 12 months. I guess it's the element of the unknown that is most exhilarating, not an if, but a when.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In the beginning...

Well, today must be the first day of the adventure. I FINALLY received my E-2 teaching visa in-passport from the Korean consulate in Chicago. This is the very last document I needed to get off the ground (literally) and over to South Korea. I leave Monday the 16th at 9:40pm and have a 12 hour or so layover in Detroit where I'll be meeting up with a a Peace Corps friend and pulling an all-nighter of sorts. I fly out of Detroit at about 12:30pm on Tuesday and will be arriving around 3pm Korean time on Wednesday, anticipating a long flight. I'm actually going to be on the same flight as another English Program in Korea (EPIK) participant, also named Shaun. It'll be nice to have some company on such a long flight, a rarity in my past travels.
This being Wednesday, however, I still have a lot to get done. I'm a groomsman in a wedding for my dear friends Brian and Kari, two of my best friends in college, on Saturday the 14th. Fortunately, my dad will be flying in from Tampa to go to the wedding in Fargo and I'll get to see him, as well as my mom, the weekend before I leave, which is to say I'm lucky at best.
Today is my last day working at Casey's General Store and gas station making pizzas in the back kitchen. Tomorrow will most likely be set aside for packing, making phone calls, collecting some last minute things (like deodorant), etc.

Google Image Search for Gyeongbuk Do
I still don't know where I'll be teaching other than in the Gyeongbuk-do (also known as the Gyeongbuksangdo) province. I know it is one of the most rural and underdeveloped provinces, but I am thrilled with this. When I was in the Peace Corps, Philippines, I lived in a very underdevelped and small rural village on the island of Leyte. Having grown up in urban centers, I have come to love the country and the quality of life that comes part-and-parcel of that experience. I may wind up teaching at more than one school, which is sometimes a condition of rural teachers, but that's fine as long as it's not going to bust my chops.
Anyway, I'm up for anything they throw at me. I am going abroad to teach for a number of reason, but one is to place myself in unfamiliar settings: adapt or falter. And I intend to adapt. It's going to be a lot easier for me to say goodbye this time around, compared to when I left for the Peace Corps in 2008 as I am not leaving college, friends and community. I am living in my mom's basement, for the time being, working at a gas station. While it will be difficult to leave my family, there is far less to feel sentimental about considering I'll be gone for at least 12 months. But we'll see. I guess it's hard to know for sure until you're away and homesick.