Monday, June 13, 2005

My trip to Seoul, Korea !

A few months back, I happened to go to a week long trip to Seoul. It was a memorable trip, especially, because it was my first foreign trip. Before that, I havn't even happen to see an plane from near, let alone sit in it. So, my excitement level touched statosphere, maybe even beyond that, just by dreaming about the whole trip.
Packing done, visa done, air tickets done, our "Asiana Airlines" plane was supposed to leave at 1.40 a.m. on Saturday morning. Excited, dressed in casual clothes, we reached Indra Gandhi International Airport at about 11 pm on Friday night. After saying good bye to parents and friends, we moved inside and from there on, the real show started. Once inside the Departure Area, first of all, we reached a place where people were getting their luggage tied up. I was told, thats the first step in a lengthy procedure that was supposed to follow. There were about 4-5 people standing in the queue. I simply hate, hate and hate standing in a queue. But, on that day, I was so excited that, I didn't mind even that. After standing for a while, my turn came. I handed the person, my heavy luggage. He just put it on a machine. It got automatically tied up with a strong white plastic strip around it and I moved on to the next step i.e. finding an Asiana Airlines counter. Reaching there, I handed over my passport and ticket to the operator there and I was asked to put the check-in luggage, which I had tied up earlier, on a metallic strip beside the counter. The operator put a white patch around the luggage plastic strip, which I think is used for the identificaion of luggage. Later, when I saw it after reaching Seoul, it contained the flight no., my name, country of origin, bar codes etc. After that the roller of the metallic strip moved and my luggage vanished inside a hole nearby. I specifically asked for a window seat and I was obliged by them and given a boarding pass. That done, we were supposed to fill an emmigration form. There are two different forms. One for the Indian nationals and the other for non-Indian nationals. Seeing the speed with which we were moving, I thought we will just pass whole of the procedures in half an hour and therefore, I was wondering, why was I supposed to reach the airport 3 hours before the flight departure time. Then, I realized, it was India. There were no Indian national forms available at that time. Many of the other pessangers were also eagerly waiting for the forms to arrive. We couldn't do anything, except for waiting for the forms to arrive. After waiting for about half and hour (and cursing the airport authorities hundereds of time), forms did arrive. They all vanished as soon as they arrived. Thank God, we got ours atleast. After filling them, we again started in a queue, waiting for the emmigration check. After waiting for a long time, that seemed ages to me, my turn came. The officer there was a typical Indian government official. I simply hate them.I handed over my documents to him and he took them, put them on his table and started drinking his coffee. Once, he looked at me and I just gave a smile back. Meanwhile the queue started becoming quite a long one and I could see people staring at me and wondering - Why I wasn't moving ahead and Why their turn was not coming. After drinking the coffee at his own leisure, the official stamped my papers and I moved on. It was already 12.30 and only the last thing that was left, was the Security Check. After that we could sit in the Departure Loudge and wait for our plane to start boarding. Reaching the Security Check, we were told to wait till 1 a.m. and were not allowed inside. I didn't understand, why they keep wasting other people's time, as if others have nothing important to do in life. Anyway, after waiting till 1 a.m., we again went to the security check guard and this time we were told to wait 15 more minutes. Our plane's boarding time was 1.20 a.m., anyhow we waited. After the Security Check was over we reached the final frontier and now just boarding and take off were left. There is a display panel there, which keeps on displaying the status of various flights, so that the passengars are kept informed and could take appropriate action. Some Indian Airlines plane going to US was boarding, but still our plane's status showed - "Security Check". It was already 1.40 now, the official departure time and still the panel showed - 'Security Check" and not boarding yet. I had a perception that although Indians don't have any value for time and one hour late is normal to them, but International flights were on time. I was mistaken on that. Now it was already 2 a.m. and I started worrying a lot. Maybe the flight left at 1.40 a.m. without taking us, who knows? There was no way to know that, only that screen display, which kept showing "Security Check". At 2.05 a.m. we got a hell lot worried and found an airport official there and asked him about it. He immediately called someone on the wireless and came to know that the flight had already boarded and was about to take off. Huh! Its India. a fool like me could have expected anything better. We and a few other pessangers who had joined us by then, were rushed down from the staircases at the back of the loudge and from their a small vehicle carried us to the plane. It was already boarded and we and a few others were the last to reach. If we had waited at the Departure Loudge for another 10-15 min, then we would have surely missed the plane. Huh, In India, nothing works as it should.
Entring the plane, around 3-4 Korean air-hostesses were standing in a line. They bowed at us, and not knowing what else to do - we also just bowed at them and moved foward. One of them took our boarding passes and started walking in front of us, leading us to our seats. I came to know that first there is a Bussiness Class block in the plane, followed by 2-3 blocks of Economy class. The Business class had 3 seats in the middle, 2 each on the left and right side whereas the economy class has 4 seats in the middle and 3 seats each on the left and right side. In the second block of the economy class, we were given seats in the second row on the right side. I just thanked the airhostess and sat on my seat. Scanning the surroundings, there was a big LCD screen in the front of the block, whole of the block could see it. On the back side of every seat there was also a small LCD display screen, which could be tuned to see whatever was being displayed on the front big screen, or you could customize it to see the preloaded movies etc. At that time the security features of the plane, how to use the seat belt etc. was being shown both on the big screen and the small LCD display. We were asked to fasten our seat belts as shown on the screen, as we were about to take off. I had thought that fastening the seat belt would be quite a complicated job, but it turned out to be a fairly easy one. As I was sitting on the far right, there was a window on my right side and I could look outside. Seeing outside, I could see that I was sitting just a few meters back of the right wing of the plane and I was able to see almost whole of the right wing. Although the wing did obstruct my view a little, but nevertheless it was a fabolous view. The plane was standing with its head towards the airport and there wasn't any much space for the plane to move foward. I wondered - How the pilots will manaveur that. Slowly, the plane started to move and I was very excited and thrilled to see that. It was just like sitting in a train and as if it had started to move foward. No jerks, no bumps, nothing.The plane made a U-turn and slowly and slowly started moving foward. After a while I could see small lights at the bottom on the road and I just thought it was the runway of the plane. At that time it look just like sitting in some moving vehicle like a car or bus or trian, nothing extra-ordinary. After a while, the plane had gathered quite a speed and suddenly I felt a small thud and we were air-borne. The small thud was due to the tyres of plane, leaving the ground. Nothing else was felt inside the plane. We could have been moving at 1000 km/hr straight upward, we could have been standing still - sitting inside, it just felt the same. Nothing changed. Technology surely has advanced a lot. After soaking all that, I just saw outside and saw that the outside view was tilted at around 30-45 degrees. We were moving up. It was night and I could see the airport, it appeared to be very small.I could see small lights of Delhi, lighting in a very beautiful manner. The scene was marvellous. It cannot be explained in words. As we were moving up at a rapid pace, greater and greater part of Delhi came into view and everything became smaller and smaller. I wished I could stop everything just there and keep watching the view for a long long time. After a few seconds the view below vanished, everything appeared dark outside - all black, nothing to see.
The big screen and the small LCD displays are connected to the navigation system of the plane and they keep on displaying, where we are, at how much height and what route we will follow. It showed that we were moving towards Kalkota and then we will move towards far east and then go straight up to reach Seoul, touching only some of the eastern edges of China, while moving North. I failed to understand, Why we have to first towads straight east and then move North? As far as I know, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line connecting them. On Earth, its understood that we have to move along the road, so we might not be able to go straight, towards the destination. But, in the sky, we have all the degrees of freedom required, we can move in any direction we feel like. Then, why were we supposed to take that peculiar right angle path Economics also failed to explained that, it was only a wastage of fuel and money. I kept wondering about it, as there was nothing outside to see, except for blackness. The only visible light outide was that of the the tip of the right wing of the plane, which was constantly blinking.
As we moved over some parts of China, the plane sometimes came to a lower altitude and I could see clusters of light on the ground of some Chinese cities. The view was very beautiful and I could only say - Wow! due to lack of finding any appropriate words to describe it. Most of the people in the plane were sleeping by now, but for me, sleep was the last thing I could ever even think of. I was thoroughly enjoying the journey.
After a while, I could see faint glow outside and it became clear that morning was about to arrive. Only after a few seconds, there was enough light outside to see everything. It was a fantastic view. The sky was very dark blue and the Earth also seemed to be of that color itself, just having a greyish tinge. It was difficult to locate the horizon, although it was clear that the horizon was well below us(I had to lower my eyes to see it) , but the sky and the earth were merging so seemlessly that it was very difficult to locate where one ended and the other began. I love natural beauty and it felt great to enjoy such a beautiful view. After a while golden Sun rays began to illuminate the sky and earth. I wasn't able to figure out - where the sun rays were coming from, but most probably, they were from the front. I wished, I could just enter the cockpit of the plane and see the sun rise. It would be so beautiful, beyong imagnation. Nevertheless, now the horizon was showing different colors. Sometimes it was turning purple, some times blue, then reddish, then orange and finally bluish. As the amount of light increased, the mountains, rivers, patches of greenery and other things also started becoming visible on Earth. Earth looks beautiful from sky. The entire view was so mesmerizing that I wished - I could keep seeing it for the whole of my life. It cannot be explained in words. Someone who has seen that with his/her own eyes can only understand, what I am trying to explain and what I am not able to put in words.
The journey was supposed to be of 7 hours and a 20 minutes and we were supposed to reach their by 12.20 p.m., Korean time. When around half an hour was left for the journey, some papers were handed over to us to be filled. After filling them, we were waiting for the plane to land at Incheon International Airport, Seoul. The big screen was saying that just 2 minutes were left for landing. I looked outside and now the sky was overcast with clouds and below I could see the ocean. The ocean wasn't of blue color, as I had imagined it would be. It was of greyish color. I don't know why it appeared like that, but suddenly, a thought came to my mind. Just 2 minutes to land! Have they gone crazy? Are they landing on the ocean? man? How could they land in just 2 minutes when the only thing below I could see is the vast ocean? Only, 1 minute left for landing and still no land in sight. God! either their navigation system has gone crazy or this is my first and the last journey on plane. Just 50 seconds to go, still no land, only ocean. 40 seconds - still ocean. Okie let me say my last prayers, thats the end, they'll just drown us in the ocean.It started raining, a perfect setup for the great tragedy, I am going to witness. 30 seconds reamining, huh, a sigh of relief, there I could just see the land below, we are fast approaching towards it. Now I could see small roads, a small truck moving on it and just in 5 seconds we are now above the airport, ready to land. again a small thud and we have touched land after 7 hours and 20 min of hovering in the sky.
It was raining when we landed. We were the last ones to move out of the plane. as at the time of departure, airhostesses were standing in a line at the entrance of the plane and bowing to everyone, who was leaving the plane. as we moved out of the plane, a Korean was standing on our right side. He also bowed and Welcomed us to Korea and Wished a happy stay. Korean airport is so well built that if I compare the Delhi airport with it, it won't even be 1% of it. There also, first thing was immigration check. There were more then 20 counters for that and a lady there made sure that each and every counter had just 4-5 persons standing in the queue. In just 10 minutes all the pessangers had passed through. In India, it will takes ages to reach an effeciency like that. Maybe, we never will reach that sort of efficiency. Now came the luggage claim part, which we had checked in at the Asiana counter at New Delhi. as we reached there, an official was standing their with our luggage. We were the last ones to reach there and all the other pessangers had already taken their luggage and might even be heading towards their destinations. He cecked our passports, matched it with the luggage slip and handed us our luggage while welcoming us to Seoul. In 15 minutes flat, we were outside the airport with all formalities complete and ready to go.
Seoul's international airport is located on the sea coast and the city is at an hour's drive from there. The 12 lane highway that connects them is a wonderful peace of engineering and Seoul city is itself a very beautiful one. If you want to learn the meaning of cleanliness, visit that city. The only Indian city that comes closest to its comparison is Chandigarh. Delhi - I won't even think of comparing it. Most of the red lights at Seoul are meant to allow the people cross the roads and in my week's stay there, I didn't see even a single person jumping any red light or not following any traffic rules. People are very loving and caring and if they see that you have some trouble. then gladly come foward and offer their help. Although their is a language problem, most of the people don't understand or speak English, but, nevertheless they helped us in everyway they could. Food is also a very big problem there. You dont find Indian food and you can't even go to any restaurant and ask for anything because firstly everything is in Korean and secondly you don't knw what to ask for. The only place where you can go is McDonald or Pizza Hut and ask for a burger or pizza. There also, they don't understand English, so you have to point to them - what you want. Burgers and Pizzas are also made in that Korean style and the ingredients in them are also typical Korean. Moreover you can't keep eating Burgers and pizzas, three times a day, for the whole week. Searching for an Indian resturant, we did find one. You had to walk for 5 kilometers to reach there and one roti costed Rs. 100. A lunch for two will cost atleast more then Rs. 2000/-, which will include a dal, some rice and 2 rotis, but anyway atleast it was Indian.
Apart from these two problems(language and food), you'll love the city and won't like to come back. Living there for a week, first time in my life, I understood, what hunger was. Although you do eat there, but your stomach is never filled and you always get a feeling that something is missing. I desperately wanted to come back to India and eat a lot of Indian food. Staying there, you start to miss very small things, which you don't even notice when you have them. For e.g., tea, newspaper,office people and other small things which you are used to.
At last, the week was over and time to return to India came. As I already told earlier, the Incheon airport is marvellous, I simply loved it. For departure, you can reach anytime of the day of flight, goto the respective airlnes counter, get you luggage checked in and after your security ceck you are inside and can roam around wherever you feel like. It just took us 15 minutes to do all that. That's called efficiency. Once inside, we had a lot of time to kill, as we had thought that it would take a lot of time for the procedure(as in India), so we had arrived quite early. The departure time was 4.20 pm. and we were already inside, with all the formalities done, by 3 p.m. Inside, the airport was like a mini-city, with everything built into it, shops, eating joints, banks etc. We roamed around and bought some gifts for our friends and families. After that it was time to catch the plane and head home. This time also I got a window seat, but, on the far left side. In the return journey, there wasn't much to see outside because mst of the journey was at night and you could only see darkness outside. Again, on reaching top of Delhi, the view below was marvellous.
After being used to Seoul's life for almost a week, I had slightly forgetten - what life in Delhi was like. Just landing at Delhi, made me realize all that. Coming out of the plane, we were again greeted by the airhostesses and after crossing the connecting corridor(that connects the plane with the airport building), we had to move a floor down. As it was India, the rolling stairs wern't running, so people had to walk down the other stairs. It was easy for us as we didn't have any luggage in our hands. But, you are allowed to carry upto 30kg in your hands and many people especially women had heavy bags in their hands. For them it was a struggle, to get down the stairs. Welcome to India - here everything is a struggle. After that it was the immigration check. Seeing the place there, you almost felt like running from there. All the walls covered with black tar, shabbily dressed Indians, no centralized AC running, people sweating badly, standing in a single line, that was the picture India was projecting to the world. My India - I used to be proud of it - standing there, I just feel like crying. The land of snake charmers, elephants, the land of dirt and poverty - if foreigners projected India like that, I thought they wern't wrong in that. After all an American or Korean bussinessman who might have come to India, along with me on this plane, must be seeing all that I was seeing and mnd you, I just had lived in Korea for a week and just in a week, I could see so much of stark difference. They have lived whole of their lives in their native countries, what would they all be thinking about India? On top of that Korea is just an Asian country, similar to India. What about America?
After standing for almost half an hour in a single line, sweating badly from head to toe, my turn did come. As usual the official took his own time to stamp the papers. That done, the luggage had to be collected. To my nightmare, there was a round metallic rolling strip and one guy was standing on one end. Luggage was coming on another belt, from the plane. The guy was dumping the luggage from that belt to the rolling metallic strip. People were standing all around the metallic strip, concentrating on each and every luggage that was moving in circles on the strip, looking for their luggage. It was totally a mess out there. Anyone could have taken anyone's luggage, no security, nothing. Moreover, all the crowd standing all around the moving strip, it was just a typical Indian drama. It took us almost an hour to find our luggage, get it out from there and after that we were out of the airport. Thank God, I was still alive.
After that reaching home took me 2 more hours, whereas it should have taken half an hour. Who else the culprit - traffic zams - even at 2 a.m.
Reaching home, I slept and slept and slept of God knows - how many hours. after brushing my teeth, I had a cup of tea. The feeling that I got by drinking it - I'll remember that whole of my life. Its just beyond words. I asked mom to make "aloo paranthas". I ate 6 of them - the highest number I had ever eaten in whole of my life. After that again slept for a long time. Slowly and slowly, I again became used to the Delhi life - i.e. STRUGGLE.










1 Comments:

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Silky Moon said...

Really beautifully described.

Your post reminded me my trip to Delhi ten years back. Only the faded memory of it left but I think I must write on it too. Hopefully I will write that soon.

Really well written post. :)

 

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