Our friend Jongsu showed us to the airport. We had all met that day in Seoul, where Faith and Ty had stayed for the night, and our friend decided to escort us on our last journey in Korea. We had another sad goodbye, and then headed to the immigration line, where suddenly the weight of the trip and of leaving our Korea lives behind struck us. We were red-faced and teary-eyed as we approached our immigration lines. We showed our foreigner cards, and because they need to keep the cards if it is your final exit, the officers inquired as to our intentions.
Seeing Ty’s expression, his tears, the officer asked with a rueful, understanding smile, “You’re not coming back, are you?”
Mine, confronted with my same expression and fairly open weeping, simply remarked, “Leaving forever?”, snatched my card from me, and went on with his merry day. If he had had a tip jar, it would have remained empty.
We were shaky in that airport, as we prepared to leave. We had our flights out of Korea, into and out of India, and a rough plan of what could happen in between. We had our backpacks. We had North American passports, and whatever money Korea was flinging at us through the door. We had each other. Also, we had several jars full of medication to stop us from losing all of our internal organs to parasites and jellybelly, so we were essentially ready.
But still, there was trepidation. Could we do this? Could we travel as a posse of three and not kill one another? Could we find reasonable accommodation in such a configuration? Would we spend all of our money and return home destitute, relying on familial piety to keep food in our bellies, and selling sexual favours the entire route from Trivandrum to Goa just to get back out of India? Were we going to die? From dysentery, or rampaging prostitutes, or angry elephants, or time-travelling Viet Cong militia? Would travel break our bodies–would calluses and sunburns and mosquito bites and tropical fevers consume our wretched shells? As we sat at gate 121 at Incheon International, all of these possibilities seemed about equally likely outcomes.
And we were as excited as could be.
Some heady mix of dangerlust and a desire for the unknown pumped us full of endorphins then. We were wired and ready to move, even as leaving Korea was doing a number on our hearts. Is it possible to feel all the things at once? To be basically hopped up on so much emotion you can’t really tell what you might possibly be feeling? We were a swell of superlatives, our mental states as much hyperbole as actual, human stimulus responses. We were about to get on a plane, and start our journey.
We stretched thoroughly and scampered aboard our Air Asia flight. The trick to enjoying an Air Asia flight is to constantly repeat the price you paid in your head as a mantra the entire 7 hours, so that you cannot for even a second consciously deal with the unpleasant fact that you are on an Air Asia flight. It is packed and uncomfortable and you get no food or entertainment and every few minutes or so a stewardess asks you to give them money for whatever thing. Everyone is angry and sad. People are crying hot tears openly, and then also drink the tears to stave off dehydration. Hot rods are wedged directly into your various orifices, and you must pay to have them removed. They hire out extra babies so that the ambient level of infant screams of pain and horror are at the proper, obnoxious levels. Approximately once per hour, the great demon Pazuzu appears to show you visions of the deepest hell. There are no televisions, but rather in every seatback, etched in blood, is the message: “Abandon all hope.”
But boy it sure is cheap.
We arrived in KL with little difficulty, and Faith and Ty, who had already been, quickly navigated us to our hostel. There a tortoise of a receptionist named Mohammed slowly, gently led us to our room, and answered our questions after several minutes where he seemed to retreat into his own brain to consider zen koans and the deeper mysteries of the universe. We sought out some cheap liquor, mixed it inside of our own room, and tried to flush away whatever mixed feelings we had about leaving, to whittle down our emotions to the simple, uncomplicated excitement of adventure.
So there we were in KL, the world totally before us. We began our exploration of the city, filling our bellies at every food court we could find, cramming satays and curries and dim sum into our vicious gullets. Mosques and temples and mandirs lined the streets, and we went to each in turn.
I was, of course, excited to be able to visit so many religious sites all together, and thus we trekked out to the Batu Caves, hiked the enormous stone steps to get in, and I tried my best to explain the gobs of Hinduism still congealed on the inside of my brain like old peanutbutter. Some people from Singapore asked to take a picture with us, as we were white and in a weird place, and I guess they wanted to cram all of the exoticism together.
Our only bout of real bad weather struck as we explored Kekloksi. The largest Buddhist temple in South East Asia, we traipsed its many apses and hidey-holes, stood before the hundreds of statues, and walked under nearly every archway. We tried to take a nice walk down the outer road to exit, when suddenly the heavens tore open and essentially an ocean fell on us. We kept trying to decide whether to hide in the trees or simply jog – what would allow us to be slightly less wet? As it turned out, neither, because we were already soaked. We slipped back into the temple and tried to dry off.
As we entered and exited this holy place, shop-owners offered us beer, misprint t-shirts, and hundreds of pieces of Buddhaphernalia. The sun soon appeared once again, and we rode back into town for more food, and for whatever else was about to come our way. This was Asia: rain and rice and Buddha and beer. Buses and trains and planes. Orange and red and gold.
We were ready for the journey. We hit the road.
*Title joke referencing both KL tourist site the Patronus Towers and spell from popular children’s fantasy series Harry Potter is stolen from my friend Tony, also probably every other person ever.