While I process the nature of my return to Korea and everything to do with my glorious time in Toronto, a brief look at the hellscape that was my trans-pacific trip back.
As we’ve discussed, I don’t do well with long plane rides, which is a problem, in that I keep taking them. I had booked a flight back to Korea leaving at 8:30 a.m. Toronto time, subjecting myself to a Draconian 5:00 wake-up, but a planned 3:00 p.m. arrival in Korea. Every other flight has landed me in Korea at obscene night hours, meaning taking the last train back to my apartment or waiting around for early morning buses, so an afternoon arrival seemed heavenly in terms actually feeling like a human being again. I was prepared for everything to go swimmingly.
The first bump: I was put on stand-by, because they oversold my flight, and just-becausies, apparently. I hovered around the check-in desk, hectoring the long-suffering flight attendants and feeling my blood-pressure rise. I had work on Monday! I had groceries to purchase! I had to check if my apartment had succumbed to mould in my absence! They finally summoned me by name, assured me that they would get my bag onto the plane, and waved my annoying ass away. (At the same time, they were calling passengers by surname to come to the desk. They apparently did not realize that calling for “Passenger Kim” to a plane full of Koreans might yield some confusion.)
The flight into Vancouver as largely uneventful, and I contented myself to free snacks, and enjoying the liberally censored versions of AMC and HBO television.
Soon I was in the glorious Vancouver airport, far more drenched in Canadiana than Toronto’s modernist husk of flight-related sorrows. Artificial Boreal forestry covered every hall, every sconce, every moving walkway. Enormous aquaria abounded with Pacific coast marine life. Mawkish/beautiful totems loomed in the cavernous heights. I jogged through the airport, got my new ticket (because they had switched out the planes for Toronto-Vancouver, nearly every person had shifted seats, which meant an extra hour of trying to scramble people into configurations vaguely resembling those they had requested months ago at purchase).
But soon we were in the air. I would be in Korea maybe only an hour late, meaning I could still get food, still clean my apartment, still down a bunch of allergy medication and bliss off into jet-lagged slumber.
But our plane made a sudden turn, and our pilot noted that one of our air-conditioners was broken, and thus we would be setting back down in Vancouver. He left a gloomily ominous “Our staff on the ground are working out options for your future travel plans” and cut off communication, while the flight attendants scrambled to translate this missive of dismay into French and Korean.
My heart sank. No groceries. No extra hours of sleep. No relaxation. I began constructing apologies emails in my head to my co-teacher and principal about why I did not arrive to work the following day. I especially disliked that my fate laid in the hands of these anonymous ground-staff, who I of course envisioned to be a coven of witch-trolls tossing the rune-carved bones of pheasants and varmints into a hissing cauldron of putrid brown sludge approximately three-hundred stories underneath the Vancouver airport. Would these CHUDs find a way to get me to Korea at any time within the next week? The vagueness of the messages being distributed to us on the plane only fueled my imagination, as I became convinced the warlocks in charge would shove me into a Vancouver area motel with a Korean roommate and sequester us until they deigned to unearth another aircraft, feeding us only pesticide-shellacked wheat from the prairie provinces in the time between.
When we landed, we were herded to our gate, and told another jet was waiting for us. Hooray! Saved! I nixed things from my “Michael’s Awesome 5 Bonus Hours of Being Awake” list, but was satisfied that we would be departing soon. As pittance for our inconvenience, we were told to assemble into an enormous queue and receive a 10 dollar voucher for whatever gruel Vancouver saw fit to distribute to the great unwashed that sluiced through its gates (for the record, I was also boned going back to Toronto, and got this same voucher in the Incheon airport while I waited 4 hours for my plane. There is approximately nothing you can eat in the Vancouver airport for under 10 dollars that one could consider a meal, so it was either I accept a bag of Skittles as enough or fork out additional cash to round up to the purchase of real food.)
After downing airport poutine, I jetted for our revised gate, and began to sit. I made friends with the other bedraggled passengers nearby, making small-talk about our travels, and feeling deliriously full of myself when I got to give directions and Korea advice to someone going there for the first time. We were assured our flight would take-off at 5, and so it was around that time when we began receiving regular announcements about delayed catering trucks, and thus a delayed flight.
As we waited for our culinary masterpieces, our sizzling piles of fermented okapi kidneys or whatever qualifies for airline meat, I imagined what was being communicated over the airport walkie-talkies. “Still late. Probably another hour or two. Make announcement roughly every 15 minutes that we’ll be boarding in approximately 10 minutes, continue to do so for next three hours.” As I became more embittered, the messages changed in my mind, rotting and becoming sinister. “Let’s just fuck with them at this point. Let’s make them sit until they develop bed sores and need amputations. Maybe they’ll starve to death. Maybe they’ll turn on one another, get all Lord of the Flies, and open up some seats so we can overbook this flight. We certainly are evil.” Logic and sanity fled from my brain, and I became nothing but the waiting, the boredom, and the gentle, aimless rage that is last refuge of anyone at the whim of airport staff.
We finally boarded and, after a meal, I took some pharmaceuticals ferreted into my greedy palms before I originally left Korea. I slipped into the chemical embrace, and tried not to realize that by the end of my flight, I would have been in transit for a solid 24 hours.