Sunday, June 8, 2014

Midnight Plane to Seoul

8 June 2014

Our hotel in KL, the Ancasa Express @ Pudu Sentral, always has gorgeous flowers in the lobby - there's always a beautiful arrangement on the registration desk, and then related floral arrangements in tall vases on a table by the lounge area.  And coordinating flowers on the coffee tables by the couches, picking up on an accent colour in the other arrangements and making that the focal point.  Even the cafĂ© where we have breakfast has a single spray of orchids on each and every table.  It's one of those small touches that just makes a place worth coming back to, over and over again.  Attention to details.

Anyway, I don't have photos that are relevant to the first part of today's blog, so enjoy the lovely flowers.

We spent our last few days in KL doing our normal leaving-a-country stuff - laundry, repacking and maybe culling, refilling toiletries if needed, any repairs of clothing or luggage, etc.  Nothing major, but necessary kinds of things.  And enjoying being in KL.

Aside:  If the movie "The Great Lion" is in a theatre near you, go see it!!!  This is the story of Malaysia's most famous lion dancers, and chronicles their growing up and attempting to win their first world championship.  It's filmed in Mandarin, but has English subtitles.  (The version we saw also had Malay and another Chinese language.)  Anyway, you'll see what lion dancing on stilts looks like in action - absolutely amazing!  Great movie!!!

So, we repack.  We're ready to go.  We have our plane tickets printed, our hotel booked for our first week in South Korea, and we get a taxi to the airport.  We have plenty of time since our flight doesn't leave til 1 AM.  We have a leisurely dinner in the outer mall area of the airport.  We try to spend our last bit of ringgits.  And then we check in our luggage, and head to passport control.

And we're stopped.  The young lady puts my passport through the machine again, looks at us, says "One moment please" and goes to talk to a few other agents.  Comes back and says, "You have overstayed your visa, please come this way."  O.M.G.  Panic!  "What do you mean we overstayed our visa, we came in March 8, today is June 7, we had 90 days, that's 90 exactly!"  "Please follow me."

Well, what can we do but follow her.  She takes us past all the passport control stations and into a back office, and delivers us to her supervisor, who may be the director of the whole passport control operations, we don't know.

I explain again that by our calculations, we're on our 90th day - when we came, what day it is today, etc.  Richard suggests using an online site to calculate the days.  The man says our error is that they count the first day we arrive as Day 1 - and there were 31 days in March and May - thus we are on Day 92, and we should have left on June 5.

We are crestfallen.  Once again, we have what seems to be a major problem - overstaying a visa is a major offense in many countries, and punishable by either huge fines, or time in jail.  However, we are obviously middle-aged travellers, and we obviously stayed til this date in good faith, merely having miscalculated the 90 day deadline.

 Mr. Passport Guy tells us to sit.  Richard keeps asking how much this is going to cost.  I keep saying shhh, maybe we can slide through.  Mr. PG comes back and calls us over, one at a time, to have us do this electronic fingerprint scan thingie.  We wait a bit longer.  I guess we came back as clear, because Mr. PG once again calls us over, stamps our passports and writes in something, and tells us we're all set and good to leave.  He shows me he's stamped the passports with 7 June, wrote in something about overstaying, and we just have to go through the security x-ray and we're on our way.  YAY!  We thank him profusely and head on out.

We still have time before our flight; Richard somehow finds a guy with a handicap cart who drives us at hyper-speed through the airport and to the escalator near our gate.  Really, the wind was blowing our hair all over, that's how fast we were going in the little cart!

And then, because this is a Phebe and Richard trip, our 1 AM flight is delayed until 3 AM due to needing to change aircraft.  We wait, and wait, and wait some more.  By the time we get on the plane we are dragging.

We fall into our seats, and fortunately no one has booked the seat between us.  We each have an aisle in the middle section.  We both fall asleep until about 6 or 7 AM.  It's a 6.5 or so hr trip, so we munched on the snacks we brought, drank water, and I paid for a cup of tea.  (They gave me a free refill on hot water.  Really, Air Asia charges for EVERYTHING.  Even a blanket.  Yes, it makes for an inexpensive flight.  Until you end up with all the add ons.)

Anyway, we arrive in Seoul two hours late, exhausted.  We get through the usual red tape, and go for coffee/tea and a snack, since we're hungry.  Paris Baguette seemed like a good place to reunite Dad's hat and Korea - I'm not sure if he was here during his time in the Navy or not, but he was in the vicinity so I figured why not.

We're in a hotel on the outskirts of the city, in a neighbourhood called Dongdaemun-Gu - I think that's pronounced DONG-day-mun-GOO, but I'm not sure.  Our hotel is rather funky - we're in the Toulouse Latrec Art room, with a large print of his "Divan Japonais" on the deep rose red walls, and his "Jane Avril Dancing" as the sliding window door.  Plus a crystal-trimmed sheer canopy over the head of the bed.  Recessed red lights along the edges of the ceiling.  (It does make one wonder about this hotel!)  And a jacuzzi in the front part of the bathroom.  Yes, people, we have our own jacuzzi tub in our hotel room.  And of course I spent an hour in there this afternoon, although I was so tired I think I may have dozed off.  It was delightful!

We had a great dinner with all kinds of Korean foods we've never encountered - we ordered the bulgogi steak set, which came with a spicy red soup with either egg drop or tofu drop, we aren't sure; something like a scallion omelet, in small squares; kimchee; what looked like roasted red peppers but was actually fish; spicy root vegs that we never did figure out what it was; some kind of smoked fish (or maybe it was eel); sticky rice; and then hot water poured into the sticky rice pot when empty, to make rice porridge.  Oh, and sheets of seaweed, like nori, that I used to wrap up the scallion omelet and eat it that way.  It was delicious (mostly - the fish was a little strange), and way more food than either of us could eat!  We had fun being the only non-Koreans in the place, and laughing at our food faux-pas - we weren't sure what the kettle of hot water was for, and I thought it was soup, so I poured some in a bowl.  Figured out it wasn't soup, poured it back in the kettle, much to the amusement of a man at the next table.

And we had gelato at a lovely coffee shop, where the barista chatted with us - he spent two years in NYC as a student, so his English is better than that of most of the people we've met thus far.  

Best news - there's an exhibit of Michelangelo's works here in Seoul!!!!  We're getting more info, and this will be one of the things we do this week.  Because who cares where you are if there's fabulous Italian Renaissance art around, right?

We'll also figure out where we'd like to go in South Korea, and start making plans to do that.

So, despite being at the point where we're only moving forward on mental energy because we're depleted, we've had a great first day in Seoul!!!!!

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