15 December 2008

Back home for good

It's 3AM at home in Southern California - and I am glad that I'm back home, not just for a few days, but for a while at least.

It was a long day returning to Los Angeles, and not all that pleasant. I had too many souvenirs, and too many gifts that I had to carry from my relatives to my family; the latter is always a headache whenever I fly between the US and South Korea, and I can't stand it anymore. Needless to say, it was a challenge moving around with all my stuff - made even worse by the Korean tendency to cut lines and never queue. I made sure to make some choice comments about those "third-rate colonials."

After breezing through immigration at Incheon, I picked up my new Canon camera (which turned out to be a Japanese-made, Korean-market model, with Korean documentation, but between a multilingual interface and a multivoltage charger with plug adapter, I can use it in the US without a problem), then walked the entire airport concourse - at least the Korean Air/Asiana portion, anyway. (Foreign airlines use a new satellite terminal, which I may not enter without the proper boarding pass.) Incheon is quite annoying right now, due to restaurants being closed for creation of a new food court; the food court will open in a week, however. I wrapped up by going online for a few minutes with my laptop (free, courtesy of South Korea's leading online portal, Naver), and visiting a few San Francisco websites in anticipation of my Hyundai Genesis break-in road trip. Nice to know that the California Academy of Sciences has now opened its new permanent building; that will surely be a treat. (The wireless Naver connection was excellent - looks like my laptop is clean, and the government probably just targeted my apartment or my Ethernet card.)

The flight itself was on an Asiana 777 - the exact same one from October for my temporary return home then (HL7742), complete with video-on-demand. I watched Mamma Mia! - The Movie, which was as great as ever. It not only reminded me of watching the musical itself back in London five years ago, but also a routine that I had created back then. I had taken a Eurostar train from Paris to London, listening to some ABBA in anticipation of the musical; a few years later, I repeated that routine on an identical trainset - the KTX - between Seoul and Busan, and now listening to ABBA or the musical soundtrack is a routine whenever I take a TGV train worldwide! I then continued killing time by doing a 3-hour SimCity marathon on my new Nintendo DS, and by listening to a custom mix of mostly old Korean pop.

My departure from Seoul was on a good note. Taking off to the northwest, the plane made a 180-degree right turn, climbing over Gimpo Airport and following the southern bank of the Han River. I was able to get a marvelous nighttime view of Seoul, from about 16,000 feet up, identifying all major landmarks. Very impressive lighting! For decades, Seoul had been known for cut-rate night lights, and that's no longer true. I'll never forget that view - almost as lovely as Hong Kong. The lights stretched well to the north, being stopped only at the North Korean border. The rest of my routing was more or less as expected, flying just north of Tokyo and crossing the Pacific to make a landfall at Santa Cruz. No San Francisco views, however, due to the clouds.

I landed at LAX on time, but LAX, being the poorly managed pathetic excuse of an airport that it is, gave me a headache. My flight landed immediately after a British Airways 747, and had to stay on the runway for a while as the Speedbird was taking its sweet time on the high-speed turnoff; an EVA Airways 777 behind me had to go around as a result. The Speedbird proceeded to the international terminal alright, but my Asiana flight had to hold on the tarmac for a long time, waiting for a Cathay 747 and a pair of American flights to depart so that the gate would free up. This took 45 minutes! I certainly hate LAX - one of the worst air hubs in the world (alongside most of JFK) - especially after being spoiled by Incheon and Chek Lap Kok.

Fortunately, immigration and customs were a breeze. Despite the crush of passengers from both my Asiana flight and the bastardly Speedbird, and the ever-strict US Customs, the formalities turned out, for me, to be just that - formalities. No questions even asked, all I got was a "kamsahamnida" (thank you) from the customs official (my customs declaration was in Korean). For that matter, due to my United Premier/Star Silver status, my checked bags got priority handling, and I waited for only a few minutes to get them.

My drive home was done in my work car - a Honda Accord that's very similar to my rental Hyundai Sonata back in South Korea. I didn't like my car too much - due to its age and its iffy throttle (it's good, but it had been worked on), it was more difficult to drive than the Sonata, which I had gotten very used to over 9 days and 2,600 kilometers. As I parked, I was also looking for the power folding mirror switch from the Sonata - an absolute necessity in South Korea, but overkill/nonexistent on my Accord in the US. I'm being told that due to work demands, a coworker will need to take the Accord, and I'll have to use my BMW as the daily driver. Of course, nobody knows that I'm about to trade the BMW for a Hyundai Genesis. Also, my hated Samsung TV will probably find a new home at my office, so it looks like I'll get a new TV too. I'll make sure to look for a decent-sized, decent-priced LG.

I'm glad to be home. For good. I had been away for 46 days, a record; if I count all the way back to the very beginning of my Korean stint (mid-September), I've been away for 90 days except for a few days back home in October. All of this had proven to be very productive, and I look forward to entering a new stage of my life at this time, both personally and professionally. It also appears that I will need to vacate my hated house/neighborhood soon, due to a move. I'll strongly push for getting a small apartment of my own.

Of course, I'm not done traveling just yet. Sometime in spring probably, a return to South Korea will be needed - assuming that the 2MB government doesn't try to ban me as a political opponent. I'll use that as an excuse to visit either Japan or Taiwan as well. Even stateside, I'll travel (I may consider doing Vegas early in the New Year after all). And Europe would be lovely too!