After witnessing the biblical loading of my parents-in-law's luggage, two-by-two, upon our aluminum ark, we passed the carry-on gymnastics of the security screen, and celebrated New Year's Eve with an impromptu countdown at the gate. I also had to 86 the garlic clove that had somehow found its way into my pocket.
"And they came, two-by-two..."
Despite initial and final turbulence our trip from O'Hare (ORD) to Incheon (ICN) was surprisingly benign. Lan and I slept for nearly 8 hours of the 12 and half hour flight near the Arctic circle down, along Japan, and evading North Korean air artillery (j/k). The Boeing 777 flown by Asiana Airlines is amazing, despite being smaller in dimension than a 747 it feels roomier, it has enough head and aisle room to keep even oversized Westerns comfortable. Asiana has amazing service and airline food, although having a panicked Korean airline attendant sprint down the aisle during bouts of severe turbulence was not reassuring. However, sleep mask in place, propped in my neck pillow, and with my wife using my shoulder and chest as a head rest we made it safely to Incheon.
Incheon is truly cosmopolitan airport, our stroll to the transit gate was decorated with antique Korean cabinets on loan from the national museum. Due to a long layover I (thought) I had arranged rooms at the Incheon Air Transit Hotel, however due to a glitch in the reservation software only one room was reserved, however as luck would have it, they had some left over to book us all. Although the rooms are small, this is certainly an oasis for the weary traveller with an extended lay over. After a brief nap, the Young Vietnamese-American Women's Association of the Midwest and myself explored the duty free shops of Incheon. Yes they have everything. Yes it is expensive even if it is tax free.
Feeling dehydrated, energy deprived, and not brave enough to venture far outside the confines of my regular breakfast repertoire, we hit up (in turn) SmoothyKing, Dunkin' Donuts, and another American coffee vendor. As we browsed the different duty free shops we were politely pounced upon by employees eager to sell their wares. Interestingly, Incheon has two Korean Traditional Culture Centers where foreigners can attempt traditional crafts for free. Theoretically, you are only supposed to do one craft, but there are two separate centers. We made a traditional head ornament by folding ribbon and later blotted ink on wet rice paper to create impressions of the underlying tile.
A traditional Korean wedding reenactment
International travel is surreal enough without an extended time in a transit center. I'm literally in the small space between countries, I'm not officially in Korea but I'm still their guest. We are sealed under a Plexiglass and steel structure with different cultures moving rapidly by, oblivious to the wonder of it, getting there or getting home is simply more important. Outside in an alien terrain sit mighty craft on the scattered snow of the Korean winter, rocky hills disappear into the low ceiling of the clouds. Communication is a broken cant assisted by gestures, body language, and patience. Dining is an adventure in trepidation: Will this pager they gave me really signal my order? What will the order actually be? Figuring out how much something costs a challenging psychological calculus, communicated by careful pronunciation and blind faith that thrusting cash at the vendor will generate a result of some kind. Being in the Incheon transit center is something between the movies Terminal, Men in Black, and Star Wars (or see the Time Scout series by the late Robert Lynn Aspirin).