Yesterday I pulled a DELTA (didn’t ever leave the airport) at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport (KIX). And now through the miracle of the internet you too can share in the adventure!
The day began with an 0600 wake-up call via my trusty Samsung Galaxy. I frittered around for a bit before making it down to the Airport Limo bus stop near my apartment at 0645. Said bus arrived ten minutes later, I paid my W7000 fare, and was off to historic Gimpo International Airport. Note to travelers: I’ve never seen the Airport Limo full up, but this time we left folks standing at the stop after mine. Plan accordingly.
I arrived at Gimpo without incident at 0730 and waited in a long ass line to check in with Korean Air. My flight was at 0905 so I wasn’t too worried. Sure enough, I had my boarding pass and was through security/immigration by eight. Jee Yeun had directed that I purchase her favorite perfume at the duty free store. My last trip to Kansai I wasn’t able to find it, so with time to kill I went shopping in the Lotte duty free store and found what I (she) was looking for. I was $78 poorer and also burdened with carrying (and not losing) a shopping bag for the entirety of my trip, but hey, the things we do for love!
I paid a little extra to fly Korean Air as opposed to the low-cost carrier Peach Air which I used on my previous trip to Osaka. I figured Korean Air would be a little more comfortable in coach but it was every bit as cramped as Peach. Still, I did have the convenience of flying out of Gimpo (much closer to home than Incheon) and Korean Air served a breakfast snack (cinnamon roll, yogurt, pineapple) and free beverages, all of which I would have paid extra for on Peach. Anyway, we left on time and arrived on time with the wheels down, so no complaints.
Another benefit to Korean Air is that you arrive at the main terminal, avoiding a longish bus ride from the wasteland that is terminal 2. After deplaning I made my way to see the immigration man. Apparently coming to Japan for less than a day raises some red flags. On the arrival form I had listed my destination as my return flight to Korea. Immigration man asked me what I would be doing in the land of the rising sun. I told him I’d be taking the train into downtown Osaka and doing a brief tour of the city. He looked at some flight schedules posted on his desk, so I helpfully showed him my return flight info. “That’s eight hours from now” he said incredulously. “Yes it is” I agreed. He shook his head, stamped my passport, and I was off to customs.
Apparently coming to Japan for less than a day without luggage raises some red flags. I recounted my tale of doing a brief tour of Osaka before returning to Korea. He then checked the stamps in my passport and noticed that I had almost exhausted my second 90 day tourist visa in Korea. He asked when I was going back to the US and I showed him my flight info for September 10. He then wanted to know why I was going back to Korea. I told him I have a Korean wife who wants me to return (hard as that may be to believe). He kinda of laughed and said “oh, a Korean wife”. Then he wanted to know what was in the shopping bag, and I told him it was perfume. Apparently buying shit duty free in one country only to carry it back to that same country raises some red flags. “Who’s the perfume for?” he asked. “My wife” I responded. He gave me a look and asked to see the shopping bag. Finding only the perfume and my spare pack of smokes I figured I was good to go. Nope. He decided to search me. Well, it was more of a pat-down than a search. Not sure if he thought I was a terrorist or a drug mule. But finding no weapons or contraband he finally sent me on way.
Having successfully managed a legal entry into Japan, the only thing I had to kill was time. I wandered around the four floors of the terminal to reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. Then I walked over to the train station to see what was going on there. I guess they were having some kind of festival. There was a line of tents with merchants selling various goods and foods. And some loud ass music and dancing. I saw some wild haired Japanese girl band members posing for photos with their fans, but when Gangnam Style started blaring through the speakers it became all too surreal for this oldster, so I headed back to the airport.
I spent three days in downtown Osaka a couple of years ago and despite my protestations to the immigration and custom authorities I was never seriously planning on making the journey this trip. The only real temptation was the chance to ride on this baby:
Back in the airport I decided to find me some lunch. Lots of places to choose from, almost all of them catering to the Japanese palate. And truth be told, I’m not real keen on the cuisine of Nippon. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that after quite a bit of indecisive meandering through restaurant row, I finally settled on…McDonald’s. Yeah, I’m that guy. At least I was yesterday. I ordered me the Big Mac set and whipped out the plastic only to be told they only take cash. So, I had a yen to eat but no Yen to eat with. I was kind of astounded because everyone uses plastic money (or e-money from the smart phone) in Korea. So, it was off to find an ATM.
I found one in short order, but it wouldn’t accept foreign cards (in an international airport for crissakes!). I had a brief moment of panic as I contemplated spending the day without the basic necessities of life (beer). Although I did have W50,000 or so I could have exchanged if I got desperate. I walked around until I found another ATM and this one worked, so I filled my wallet with one Y10,000 note ($96). Flush with cash it was back to McD’s. After dining I checked my watch and saw that I had managed to whittle a whopping 1.5 hours off my 8 hour layover. The day was proving to be almost as long as this post!
I went upstairs to the Korean Air counter to see if I could score an earlier flight home. No dice. They said I couldn’t even check in for my flight until 3:30. What to do? With Yen to spend and nowhere else to go, I opted for the KIX Airport Lounge. They charge Y410 for 30 minutes, and Y120 every 10 minutes thereafter. But I bought the 6 hour package for Y3090 ($30) which provided me a cozy booth equipped with a computer, reclining chair, and free soft drinks (beers were Y210 each, and I had several).
The “booth” is basically a small cubicle, with walls about 4 feet tall. Cozy I guess you could call it. But from here I was able to explore the nooks and crannies of the internet in relative comfort. I got sleepy around 1:30 or so and reclined that chair full back and tried to catch a nap. Unfortunately, the folks in the common area were being a bit on the noisy side. So I pulled up YouTube on the computer, found a Neil Young album that I favor, put on the headphones, and enjoyed the soothing rhythms of the 1970s. I fell asleep somewhere during the last song on the album (Words Between the Lines of Age). I haven’t napped in a recliner for many a year and I had forgotten just how pleasant an experience that can be. I awoke at 3:30 feeling relaxed, refreshed, and almost perky. And with four more hours left until my flight.
The lounge came with a largish library. Everything was in Japanese, but it was still quite impressive.
I didn’t even bother trying to make sense of those. But there was also a large magazine rack. Also all in Japanese. But I figured at least I could look at the pictures.
Now, I’ve been around for awhile (shuddup!) but seriously, I was pretty shocked. The girls in the magazine I picked couldn’t have been a day over 16. Now, there was nothing overtly lewd (no more than you’d see at the beach really), but something about it just made me feel icky. I quickly returned the mag to the rack hoping no one would see me and think I’m a pervert. So, it was back to YouTube and mind numbing American television (World’s Dumbest) for me. And soon enough my time in the KIX Airport Lounge reached it’s conclusion and it was time to begin the process of my return journey to Korea.
Check-in, customs, and security went off without incident (I was a little worried I might get hassled over the perfume). Reached my gate with 45 minutes to spare and a pocket full of Japanese coins. Interestingly, the Y1000 note is the smallest unit of paper money in Japan, so the coins multiply like drunken rabbits (I added drunken so as not to be cliche. Regular readers will attest that I avoid trite phrases like the plague). I found a vending machine that sold cans of Asahi beer so I bought me a tall can and enjoyed it with tobacco in the smoking lounge. I noted that I had one 500 denominated coin left so I went to the convenience store and picked up a Coke Zero and a bag of pretzels. Handed the coin to the clerk and she said “that’s Korean money”. D’oh! So, I gave her a Y1000 note and wound up with more change.
Flight back was uneventful (the way I like it!). As we approached Gimpo I noticed the highways were jam packed and made a mental note to take the subway instead of the Airport Limo home. Korean immigration didn’t seem to mind my less than a day out of country and awarded me another 90 days (I only needed one). Customs didn’t care about the perfume either. I exchanged my remaining yen (except for the coins of course) for Won and then hoofed it to the subway (a pretty fair piece, especially at the end of a long day).
Only problem was I wasn’t sure about the subway route. I rarely venture out to the Gimpo side of town so none of the stations were familiar. There were two lines (5 and 9) and I didn’t know if either connected with line 4 that takes me home. I went to the information counter and despite lacking a common language was able to convey that I was going to Gireum and learn that line 5 did in fact intersect with line 4 at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. It was a long haul but I made it safely home by 11:30.
And there you have it. I guess the only question new visitors to LTG may be asking is “why?” The short answer is because I’m stupid. When I did my visa run back in June I miscounted the days. My tourist visa expires on the 9th and my flight to the USA is on the 10th. The events described above were actually the lesser of the pains in the ass available to me to rectify my unfortunate inability to count.