Setting off to South Korea



   Today marks the beginning of a new adventure into unknown and unfamiliar territory. The South Korean dream begins as I continue to wonder, “Why South Korea??” My daughter reminded me - - it’s THE big adventure. Yes, that it is!

   I received many well wishes from my friends and family in Israel as I set off. I appreciated their/your kind words of support even though I know in their/your hearts they/you wish that I was finally back in Israel for good. Please bear with me. I'll be back! Truthfully it was a bit strange and unusual not hearing the long-time familiar chant encouraging me to stay put. I guess true friends really understand that we all have our paths to follow. G-D has a plan. Even though I had planned it differently from the start, I ended up selling my house and moving in the dead of the NH winter. Then Israel became the first stop on this 7th decade adventure so that I could be there for my daughter's wedding. At least I know now where I belong even if, meantime, I must sow more wild oats first.

   So here it begins. I ventured out from Tiverya (Tiberias) after spending a bit more time with my daughter and new son-in-law. Inbal dyed my hair in my favorite colors. I just can’t be all gray these days. Those who know me know that I love variety and change. Thank you Inbal! You’re the best! You should know that I get many compliments when people notice the colors peeking out from underneath the top layer of professional and natural gray.






   I left early on Thursday morning. Inbal drove me to Haifa to catch the 9:15am train to the airport. Being a wonderful daughter she escorted me into the station, helping me lug the suitcases, and we said our sad good-byes there. The train ride was about an hour and 45 minutes. It goes directly to and into the airport terminal. From there it's not far to check-in, thank goodness.

SMART PACKING?

   I am the world's worst packer. I inevitably over pack. Because of the open-ended nature of this adventure the suitcases filled up with all those “just-in-case” extras. Additionally, as a traveling musician I have one suitcase just for the musical equipment (some I've left behind this trip) and my awesome Little Martin LXE1 travel guitar slung over my back. Heaven forbid I should leave behind my small VOX busking guitar amp that also runs on batteries (yes, I have to bring the extra batteries too!). If only I wanted to spend over $1000 I could have invested in an even smaller more powerful travel amp. I'm thinking now it might be worth it! Oh well. Next trip! I can't go without my Airturn portable mic stand (guys, I love it but could you make it a bit more lightweight!), a music stand (eh, I could have left it behind), tablet holder, microphone, cables, digital recorders, external battery charger…. business cards, posters and stuff for promotion. For the just in case scenario that these things might not work I added two "hard copy" music books. (I've included a few brand names and links just in case any musicians are reading this - thank you.) I left my juggling balls behind this time but brought a few very lightweight juggling scarves just in case I find myself performing for the kids! For some reason I couldn’t find my tin whistles. Where the heck did I leave hide them this time? 
   
   There isn’t a soul who would go anywhere these days without the stack of electronics we all seem to need. Clearly we can no longer survive without our smart phones, laptops, tablets, speakers, all the chargers and whatever else that goes along with all that.


    The other suitcase houses my clothes, toiletries and such. Apparently my brain insists that I must have something for every season; summer, winter, spring and fall just in case my best made plans change again. What if I suddenly decide to travel to Africa, Australia or New Zealand in the summer here BUT it's winter there???? I must also have clothing for performances. Then there’s the shoes. My feet love my Berks. Heck, I've been wearing Berks since I was sixteen. My feet were so happy last year when I finally purchased a pair when I needed new sandals. I also need to have walking shoes, sandals by Source (thanks again Inbal!), flip flops for the showers in public dorms and shoes for performance. A just in case first aid kit goes without saying (though it needed to be said!). Actually, I’m really glad I have it. It’s come in handy a few times already. These days one must include essential oils to assist in staying healthy! I bring them even though I have no idea how to use most of them. I left the mess kit behind but I took the cutting board and cutlery just in case the only eating utensils end up being chopsticks. Maybe I should be sure to put them in my purse too?!

 Cover art  

   Believe it or not, and ashamedly so, I pondered a lot before leaving my siddur (prayer book) and Torah behind. Instead I downloaded the Sefaria app which includes most of the Jewish sources for study and practice and is much more lightweight! Truthfully though, I wish I had taken the “hard copies”. 


TRAVELING TO SOUTH KOREA:
   The heat of the summer is quickly settling in. I’ve been told that summers in Korea are hot and humid. Staying in Tiverya was good preparation. Unlike the nice dry desert heat that sets together with the sun, Tiverya stays hot and also gets humid. Now that I’ve experienced just one day in Korea I can tell you that indeed this is not the time of year to be here. I was forewarned but made a conscious decision to grin and bear it anyway. All I can say is that lugging those suitcases around in this heat had better, in the very least, help me lose more weight! It might also help me gain some muscle. 

   The journey from Israel to Seoul took about two days. The travel time was actually 15.5 hours for the flight and layover. However the actual door to door journey included waiting for trains, flights, and walking to the final destination bringing the travel time to almost two days. While waiting for the flight at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv one gets the taste of being in Asia if you fly any Asian airline. The lobby fills up with Asians and a few non-Asians. I noticed the Asians were a bit loud apparently living up to their reputation. I was impressed by one couple who had brought their kumkum (electric coffee pot). They were boiling water to make a bowl of instant food. Was it Ramen? I had packed a pita and egg sandwich to eat for breakfast prior to getting on the plane. I always have my mandatory bag full of nuts for the road!


      But who is that mysterious black blob sitting across from me in the lobby? 



   Never mind. Kudos to Israeli security. Even the pilots and flight attendants had to go through the mandatory security checks at the airport!



   I flew out of Tel Aviv via Hainan Airlines of China. I can’t speak highly enough of the airline, crew and service. I had no idea what to expect and was very pleasantly pleased. The staff was friendly and cordial not to mention great eye candy! The women looked stunning in their traditional-style modern uniforms. The men complemented them well. Most knew enough English to be perfect hosts. The food was good too. Happily, flying out of Tel Aviv meant there was an added food treat – chumous!!!!



   Additionally the plane was not full so, even though I was in the middle set of four seats there was only one other person in the row. We each merited two seats! However, I noticed something interesting about the Asian crowd on the plane. They were all eyeing the empty seats on the plane. As soon as the seat belt sign was off many of them scurried to grab one of the unclaimed seats. I remember doing that at the movies. LOL. These people are quick too!

   Hainan Air took me to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Already in Tel Aviv I was told that my luggage could not be checked through to South Korea because of the layover in Shanghai. I'm not sure of the reason. The great-looking Israeli attendant recommended next time flying via Beijing to avoid that mess. Take note!!! So this meant that I had to collect my luggage in Shanghai and start all over again with the whole check-in and security shebang. I had a fright at Shanghai’s passport control. The officer asked for my visa. Well, I didn’t have one since I was not actually planning a stay in China. This oversight caused a brief delay while the staff carried out additional checks regarding my situation. Since I was only transferring to a connecting flight there were no problems. I actually didn’t need a visa. Then there was check-in for Asiana Airline, my connecting flight. I'm not sure if I agree with the 5-star rating. The shorter flight on the smaller plane was limited to one check-in and barely a carry-on, which apparently and very clearly would be my guitar. So the bag with all my musical gear had to get checked. After much discussion with the staff, rearranging my luggage to safeguard the more fragile items that would now become checked in, removing a few choice items that I insisted would not (and they agreed to allow as part of my “purse”), decorating the precious and treasured checked-in bags with fragile tags, and finally paying $80 for the additional bag, everything worked out more or less to everyone’s satisfaction. I think I will definitely take the advice and avoid Shanghai if I do this again! I might think again about Asiana too. 

INCHEON AIRPORT & SEOUL:
   I arrived at the Incheon airport in South Korea on time late morning at around 11:35. My luggage arrived safely too, Baruch HaShem. After grabbing my prized suitcases off the rotating baggage rack (what the heck is that thing called?) I grabbed a seat in the baggage claim area and proceeded to re-pack my suitcases again for easier ground transport. No matter how much I rearranged everything they were still over-packed. After all I still had all the same stuff in them! Ugh. What was I thinking? Lesson still to be learned! 

   Incheon airport is a friendly bustling place with people everywhere. I made the decision to take things slow to take some time to acclimate to my new environment. Following the advice from a YouTube video there were a few initial tasks that I needed to complete: 1) get some cash, 2) get a new Sim card and 3) purchase a T-Money travel card good for trains and buses and maybe a few other things. The Global ATM turned out to be domestic only but I finally did find a global one. I had to have cash to buy the T-Money card. I could grab a Sim card with the credit card. So I went to one Sim card place and the saleswoman there was amazing. She spoke English really well and was well informed. We chatted about plans and my Google phone etc. Then she pointed me to the place across the way for a better deal. Shhhhhhhhh. I got a 15-day plan meantime. I got the T-Money card at the same convenience store in the airport but still needed to pay into it. I wandered toward the train and found a global ATM, got the cash and finally paid into it. Again, a very nice staffer with great English helped me with that. By now it was about 3:30pm. I had been hanging around the airport for about four hours taking it all in. It simply felt so safe and secure there! Not that I was afraid of anything. I was actually enjoying observing and learning the way things worked. That's how I am. Like a cat that sniffs around its new environment. I am a Leo after all.

   Initial tasks now completed I headed for the last challenge – taking the train from Incheon Airport to the airbnb in the Gwanak-gu neighborhood somewhere in the Seoul vicinity. Fortunately the host sent me directions and maps. 


   With the help of many friendly Koreans, a trusted subway map in English, helpful loud speaker announcements at each stop and signs written in English, I managed the two connecting subway routes and got out at the Seoul National University stop. There a nice student from Chile guided me towards where I needed to be. 

  

   It was a bit trickier to find the apartment but with the help of another person I finally made it there. I did take note that it was the women who reached out to occasionally give a hand with my luggage. The men just watched me huff and puff. Though at one point the last guy grabbed the smaller lighter suitcase as we were walking on a slight incline along the road. It reminded me of a Chinese friend of my dad’s long ago. His wife always walked two steps behind him and was the perfect servant. Well, Korea is still a very patriarchal society apparently. L’at l’at as we say in Hebrew – slowly slowly. Give it time!

   Needless to say I finally got to the airbnb, the sweat literally dripping down my face. I plopped down in front of the fan and that’s where I parked myself for the evening. I was hungry but too tired at that point to tackle the challenge of choosing either a restaurant or kiosk or fruit/vegy stand from the numerous venues scattered everywhere here. Fortunately I had my just in case instant protein powder and nuts – enough to whip up a smoothie at the airbnb. (Fortunately there is a blender here!) The suitcases are now all opened with all the stuff just piled on top of each other. I’ll deal with that later!

   Here's a little tour of the airbnb. 

Enter leaving your shoes at the door. 
My room is on the left as you enter. This is the view from kitchenette. 

My room (unpacked bags on the right!)
Shared space
Kitchenette in front of you as you enter




All-in-one toilet, laundry & shower

   It seems I have a knack for choosing bachelor pads! There's a fan and air conditioner so no complaints! ‘Nuff said about that. So we are housemates. I was hoping to meet Byoung Joo, the airbnb host and owner who actually lives here. He arrived home late and we chatted briefly. This morning he went off to climb a mountain with a friend. IN THIS HEAT!!! Brave soul. I hope we'll get a chance to talk at some point. He’s a policeman who captures criminals. I can’t wait to hear all about it!

   I am now rested.  I am going to don some decent clothes, check out a food kiosk, and am thinking of taking on the challenge of an hour-long subway trek to the Chabad house in Itaewon. The rabbi said the best time to visit is on Shabbat (Friday/Saturday). Yes, it's Shabbat today and I must actually travel by subway to get there. Once I'm outside I may decide to try this challenge next Friday pre-Shabbat. Either way your prayers are welcome! 
  

   

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