I don’t know why Americans complain about the hassles at airports. Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport has it that you cannot leave the Philippines without paying a deportation tax. The cost was 500 PHP, which equates to just under $5 USD. Or the price of a Whopper. I turned my bill – among the last of my pesos – over into the waiting hand of a federally-licensed employee, a dark and slimy slug of a man, who I am certain pocketed the money instead of placing it into the cash register.
At least he performed the deed with a smile.
Manila gave me two final send offs. The first was salesgirl working in one of the promenade stores that are squeezed into the margins of the isles. She informed me that her co-worker thought I was cute. I stated that my wife agrees with her.
The second was the furry little rodent, a small mouse or chipmunk, that kept darting throughout the Asiana lounge.
Korea was beautiful. I sat in the main terminal of Incheon and watched the sun’s rays triumphantly arc into the tall, curved windows allowing total access to the skyline knowing that these same rays recently surrendered to darkness back home. With the sun came life. More and more travelers, vacationers and commuters alike, began filling the airport. Lights turned on as the various bodegas sprang to life and commerce. My flight arrived on time, but, due to timings of international connections, I arranged to spend the day in Seoul through a service Asiana provided.
My day trip into Seoul wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10 AM, giving me four hours to roam around, eat breakfast, chat with a few locals, get rid of breakfast in their extremely clean restrooms, and watch a football match’s results from the previous day. As nice as Incheon is, it simply cannot fill up four, long, jet-lagged hours when you are on the wrong end of customs.
The day trip into Seoul was extremely pleasant but perhaps too short. This was the guide’s first solo expedition and occasionally struggled with her English. My excitement of seeing this Asian country won out over her detriment and my lack of sleep.
Seoul presented itself as any international city. The new, the modern, the hi-tech was crammed right into the mountain relegating the old, the antique, the historical, to back ways and malls. For, as is the case with many old cities, especially on an island, space is always limited.
The tour highlighted the top tourist traps. The Blue House, South Korea’s equivalent to the White House – minus the cowboy hats – was beautifully snuggled between the mountain and river Han as a perfect symbol of power. Next came the Jogye-sa Buddhist Temple and Gyeongnuigung Palace, Seoul’s yin-and-yang representing current use with the displayed past. The tour had a quick in-and-out stop at the Seoul Museum of History, which would have been much more impressive if English was more prevalent. Perhaps this was simply South Korea’s answer to the entirely-French Louvre.
Lunch consisted of …get ready for this… Shabu-Shabu. It was presented as a Korean barbecue, which made the marinated chopped steak come out a lot more tasty then the cold seafood presented back in Manila. My full belly prevented me from saying “thank you” in Korean. Either that or it was my inability in learning the multi-syllabic phrase.
And any tour would not be complete without shopping. Actually, this tour could have withstood the stop as Korean trinkets are even more cheaply-made there than the junk pedaled in America.
Then, with Shabu-Shabu in my belly, the tour bus headed back to the airport for my eventual flight across the ocean and home. Customs were a breeze and after two Jack-and-cokes, the lights in the cabin dimmed, as did my eyes. America waited for me.
My connecting flight in LAX did not.