Sand to the beach (part 1)

I’d written in an earlier post about my plan to bring my new Korean girlfriend along for my weekend jaunt to the Philippines.  In the monger parlance I’m bringing sand to the beach.  The potential for disaster with this plan is evident, but the chance that this woman might just enjoy this aspect of my life made it worth the gamble.  Here’s how it is going so far.

Prepared for any contingency.  Monetarily at least...

Prepared for any contingency. Monetarily at least…

The first stage of the journey obviously was getting here.  Eun Oke was supposed to meet me at my house at 1700 which would give us plenty of time to make the airport for our 2100 flight.  I walked home from work so she could park her car in my garage (parking on the street in Seoul can be a bitch).   She calls at 5 and says “what time do I need to be there?”.  I told her now and asked her where she was.  “Home” (an hour away).  I told that’s not going to work, so she said I’ll take a cab to Incheon airport and we’ll meet there.  I was a little frustrated about this turn of events but nothing to be done but make my way to Seoul station and catch the airport railroad on my own.

Eun Oke arrived about 30 minutes before I did and to her credit she had worked her way through half of the longish check-in queue when I joined her.  And she was looking smokin’ hot in her cut-off jean shorts, so all was forgiven.

Who could stay mad at that?

Who could stay mad at that?

Our Asiana flight departed 15 minutes late and arrived at Clark a little after midnight.  We were seated at the back of a full flight, so of course we were at the end of the line for immigration.  It was here that the Eun Oke made an astute observation: out of the hundred or so folks in line (primarily Koreans) she counted only four other women.  “What’s up with that?” she asked.  “Probably here for the golf” I lied.

If getting there is half the fun I expect we will have a blast!

If getting there is half the fun I expect we will have a blast!

After clearing immigration, we made our way to baggage claim.  What a fiasco!  My bag came out early and hers came out last.  Apparently they only have one trailer to haul the bags from the plane to the terminal.  Or so it seemed.  Bags would come out in spurts, then stop for awhile, then start again.  During the hiatus, I could hear the tractor starting up to fetch another round of luggage.  I took this opportunity to remind Eun Oke that in the PI frustrations like this are best just laughed off.  So we did.

As bad as the wait for our bags was, getting through customs was infinitely worse.  Now, I’ve done my share of traveling over the years.  But in no airport I’ve been in anywhere in the world did customs search every fucking bag!  I don’t know if this is something new or if they were looking for something specific based on a tip.  When I made it to the front of the line they had me unzip my bag, gave it a cursory glance, and sent me on my way.  Didn’t even ask to look at the backpack I was wearing.  So it was an entirely pointless exercise.  Ah well, grin and bear it, right?

The driver arranged through the Orchid Inn was there waiting.  Now this is on me, but I *assumed* he worked for the hotel.  Nope.  I was preparing to give him a tip when we arrived at the hotel when he told me “that will be 450 pesos”.  I’m thinking what the fuck, I could have taken a cab for that price.  Eh, I’m committed to maintaining a “who cares” attitude this trip.  Paid him the 450 and checked into our just before 2:00 a.m.

Stay tuned for part 2.  Eun Oke’s first experience on Walking Street in beautiful downtown Angeles City.

The life of PI

Here’s a photo dump from last week’s Philippines adventure.

Let's go!

Let’s go!

My "cottage" at the Camp Holiday resort.

My “cottage” at the Camp Holiday resort.

What passes for a beach at Camp Holiday...

What passes for a beach at Camp Holiday… That’s the port of Davao City across the water…

A street scene in Samal..

A street scene in Samal..

Maria's business...

Maria’s business…

Hard at work..

Hard at work..

Lechon for Maria's birthday

Lechon for Maria’s birthday…

...and a cake of course...

…and a cake of course…

I got a pedicure and the local kids treated me like a zoo exhibit...

I got a pedicure and the local kids treated me like a zoo exhibit…

Hot day, cold beer, lunch on the way...

Hot day, cold beer, lunch on the way…

Letting me know I was not welcome...

Letting me know I was not welcome…

Maria on the beach...

Maria on the beach…

Me on the beach...

Me on the beach…

Low tide...

Low tide…

Palm tree and water...

Palm tree and water…

Climbed these steps to the waterfall. Not as many as Namsam, but a fair hike...

Climbed these steps to the waterfall. Not as many as Namsam, but a fair hike…

Was it it worth the walk?

Was it it worth the walk?

There was this...

There was this…

...and that...

…and that…

A river runs through it...

A river runs through it…

At dinner I gave our waiter a round of applause...

At dinner I gave our waiter a round of applause…

Great minds think alike...

Great minds think alike…

Visited a resort that was much nicer than the one I stayed in...

Visited a resort that was much nicer than the one I stayed in…

lots more expensive though..

lots more expensive though…

The obligatory water lily photo...

The obligatory water lily photo…

A beer with a view...

A beer with a view…

Chillin' at Camp Holiday...

Chillin’ at Camp Holiday…

Here's a little eye candy for you ladies...

Here’s a little eye candy for you ladies…

Next up was the bat cave...

Next up was the bat cave…

No batman though...

No batman though…

or robins either...

or robins either…

 

but there was a carabao..

but there was a carabao..

So, having seen all the sights on Samal, we moved on to Davao where the Philippine Eagle Center is a must see tourist attraction...

So, having seen all the sights on Samal, we moved on to Davao where the Philippine Eagle Center is a must see tourist attraction…

I came...

I came…

...I saw. And then I left.

…I saw. And then I left.

Next up, the infamous Japanese tunnel...built with slave labor by Filipino P.O.W.s in WWII...

Next up, the infamous Japanese tunnel…built with slave labor by Filipino P.O.W.s in WWII…

Apparently it was an underground garrison that went on for some 7 kms...

Apparently it was an underground garrison that went on for some 7 kms…

The commander in his office counting tribute from the locals...

The commander in his office counting tribute from the locals…

Hey guys, MacArthur says will return...

Hey guys, MacArthur says he will return…

Tyranny is nothing to brag about. Just sayin'...

Tyranny is nothing to brag about. Just sayin’…

And then we did the crocodile farm...

And then we did the crocodile farm…

What a crock...

What a crock…

Me having an identity crisis...

Me having an identity crisis…

hungry goldfish...

hungry goldfish…

When we got hungry we ate here...

When we got hungry we ate here…

Hey, give me that! I saw it first!

Hey, give me that! I saw it first!

Nothing left to do now but reminisce...

Nothing left to do now but reminisce…

That’s all folks!

Damn it to hell

Or as my father used to say “that just frosts my balls”.

Philippine Air was supposed to send a car to take me to the airport this morning. Apparently they sent it yesterday.  Philippine Air:  Putting the “in” in competence.  In front as it were.

I was perturbed by this turn of events but fortunately I had kept some pesos in my wallet for contingencies such as this.  Caught a cab at the hotel taxi stand, loaded my bag in the trunk, told the driver to take me to the international terminal at NAIA and we were off. Before we were out of the parking lot I noticed the driver had not set the meter (something I have learned to always check).  When I called him on it he said it is 500 pesos to airport. And I snapped, saying (well, yelling technically) “bullshit!  it doesn’t fucking cost anywhere near that much!”  Then instead of turning on the meter like I had asked, he had the audacity to want to negotiate a price for the trip.  I screamed “stop the fucking cab, you’re not taking me anywhere”.  He said okay, okay, I’ll turn on the meter.  I’m like “bull fucking shit, stop the goddamn cab and give me my bag!” I’m yelling at the top of my voice by now, and for those who have not heard it, that’s really scary loud.  My kids never feared spankings as much as they did my “big voice”.  I’m sure all the other drivers in the taxi queue heard every word of it.  Anyway, the driver popped the trunk, I grabbed my bag and stomped back to the hotel doorman.  Who didn’t seem to give a shit, simply asking me if I’d like another cab.  Yes, thank you.

I could see the other taxi drivers gathered around probably discussing who was going to get stuck with driving the insane ‘Kano to the airport.  In short order a cab pulled up (not the first one in the queue I noticed) and when I hopped in he had the meter on and ready to roll.  Clearly he got the memo. After an uneventful ride we pulled into the airport and the meter totaled 126 pesos.   Having given all my small bills to the homeless I handed the driver a 500 peso note and told him just give me 300 change.  He said he didn’t have any change.  Mother Fucker!

Well, I wasn’t going to let him back door me into the 500p fare I had refused the first driver. So I told him to wait while I went for change.  Which was easier said than done.  I couldn’t get into the airport until I had gone through two layers of security (boarding pass check then bag x-ray).  I went through the first and realized that my plan was flawed.  Saw a semi-officious looking dude and asked if he could change a 500.  He could and did.  There was no exit from where I had entered, but the change guy said something to the guard and I was able to go out the in door.  Gave the driver his fare and a too generous trip and was on my way again.

While waiting in line to check my bag I did something somehow that resulted in a feeling like I imagine getting stabbed in the ribs would feel like.  At first I thought, shit I’m having a heart attack, but since it’s the right side I guessing I pulled a muscle.  Still hurts when I move an hour later.  Should make for a pleasant flight.

And now I am stuck in the worst international terminal I have ever visited.  No restaurants or bars and no where to vape.  Free internet though which permitted me to share this rant.

You’re welcome.

Beggars can’t be choosers

Wrapping up my visit in the not-so-lovely capital city of Manila.

Yesterday afternoon I had some time to kill so allowed myself to be enticed into getting a massage at one of the joints in the mall adjacent to my hotel.  The already cheap one hour full body massage was on special for only 180 pesos ($3.83).  The masseuse asked if I preferred hard, medium, or soft.  I went medium and damn when she was cranking on my back and shoulders it was f’n painful.  Of course, male pride wouldn’t allow me to scream in agony so I just lay there gritting my teeth while my torturer said “you have lots of tension”.  Anyway, it was mostly good and I feel no aftereffects this morning.

Last night I cabbed over to Makati, the upscale area of Manila.  There’s a strip of bars on Burgos Street I’d read about over the years so I wanted to give them a try.  Well, I made it to four of them anyway before reaching my self-imposed limit on alcohol consumption. The bars that I saw were all of the “girly” type which I don’t particularly like.  The girls get a commission on overpriced “lady drinks” and some of them will outright harass you until you relent and purchase one for them. At my first stop “Shampoo”, I’d taken like two swigs of my beer and the mamasan started in on me to buy drinks for the girls.  Told her I’d think about it once I’d finished my beer.  She kept on and I finally lost my temper telling her “do you think I’m stupid?  Do you think I don’t know how this works?  I’ll buy a lady drink if and when I’m ready.  So leave me the fuck alone”. .I wasn’t so popular after that and I left.

The next bar was called “Bottoms”.  I was happy they had an actual bar in the bar.  When you sit alone at a table it is like an open invitation to be besieged by thirsty bar girls.  Usually you will be left alone at the bar.  Sometimes anyway.  Not at Bottoms.  Girl stood on my left and another stood on my right (apparently they are not allowed to actually sit at the bar).  They weren’t pushy on the drinks though and we engaged in some friendly banter.  I eventually rewarded their good behavior with a lady drink for each of them.

Moving on, I stopped in “Dimples”.  It also had a bar so I plopped myself down.  A couple of gals approached but I channeled Greta Garbo and told them “I want to drink alone”.  Surprisingly they actually respected my wishes and I wasn’t bothered again for the duration of my stay.  In addition to the drink beggars I also dislike the music played in the girly bars. It’s normally loud techno-pop dance crap which grates on my nerves pretty quickly.  Yeah, I know.  Kids and their music these days said the old codger.  To Dimples’ credit they had a nice mix of tunes played at a reasonable volume.  Even a few country songs!  I had a nice time there but there was still one more place I wanted to see before I ran out of time (and money).

I had read about Crazy Horse on some of the Philippines forums I frequent and I wanted to see if it was as good as everyone was saying.  It is. It had a large stage chock full of very attractive young women who could actually dance.  They did choreographed performances every bit as good as those you see in K-Pop girl band videos.  And best of all I did not get approached or pestered even once for a lady drink.  That’s how it should be, a great selection of girls willing to keep you company if company is what you want, but you have to make the first move.  I really enjoyed just sitting there watching the gals dance and chatting with the other customers a bit.  When I was ready to depart I walked to the stage and gave my favorite dancer a 100 peso tip for her efforts.  Yeah, I’m a cheap Charlie but she seem appreciative of the compliment at least.

Caught a cab back to the hotel with no problem (they’ve got that much on Itaewon at least).  Driver got lost on the way and was asking the drunk man in the back seat (me) for directions.  I just shrugged and said I don’t know, it’s by a mall.  He stopped and asked a trike driver which I guess worked because I did sleep in the right hotel last night.

This morning I enjoyed my last free breakfast and walked to the convenience store for some Coke Zero.  It was locked up tight, not real surprising I guess for a Sunday morning in a Catholic country.  Across the street in front of the also closed mall was a group of homeless folks laying about on the sidewalk. Most of them were young children. A depressing sight that I don’t expect I’ll ever get used to, and frankly, I’d hate myself if I did get used to it.

I learned a long time ago that it is a fool’s errand to give money to a beggar on the street.  As soon as you do you will be besieged by fifty others.  It can also be dangerous as I’ve heard of do-gooders being surrounded and having their pockets emptied by the prying fingers of these hungry waifs.  So, I just don’t do it.  I always feel like a prick when I tell a filthy child “no” when the say “I’m hungry”.  After a few days I actually get depressed.  Which is one of the things I’m going to have to factor into my decision on whether the PI is a viable re-retirement option for me.  One thing I’d consider doing is sponsoring an orphanage with a monthly stipend of some sort.  Maybe that would assuage the guilt I feel when I can’t (or won’t) respond to beggars.

Anyway, I looked in my wallet and I still had some small bills amounting to 160 pesos. I walked across the street and handed them to the oldest woman in the group whom I assumed was the grandma.  I didn’t technically break my “no beggars” rule because they hadn’t asked, I just offered.  Ah well, as I walked away five or six young boys followed me asking me to give them money too.  I told them that’s all I have but they persisted in their efforts.  I kept moving so as not to be surrounded and finally let loose.  “No goddamn it,I told you that’s it.  No more!” I used my big voice which put them back on the heels a bit and I made a beeline to the security of my hotel.

All packed up and waiting for my ride to the airport and the completion of my journey back to the first world.

Living dangerously

Stuck close to the hotel last night.  I checked out the mall and then walked the perimeter of the hotel grounds hoping to find a bar something of interest.  I saw lots of homeless folks sleeping on the sidewalks and the beggars were more annoying than the mosquitoes. Given that I was alone and in unfamiliar surroundings I opted for some canned San Miquel Lights from the local convenience store and drank in my room.

Up early this morning.  Got my internet fix then headed downstairs for my free breakfast. Decided to test my luck on the mean streets of Manila.  I stuck to the main streets, primarily Roxas Blvd.  Which took me past scenic Manila Bay.

I'd been warned to be careful using my phone on the street. Apparently there is an epidemic of snatch and run thefts. Hence this is the only picture I snapped today...

I’d been warned to be careful using my phone on the street. Apparently there is an epidemic of snatch and run thefts. Hence this is the only picture I snapped today…

I walked from the Century Park Hotel in Malate as far as the EDSA complex in Pasay City and back again.  Stopped twice at Jollibee for a large Coke Zero and not so coincidentally two piss breaks.

Not a bad mornings work considering I didn't have the proper footwear and my heel was screaming with every step...

Not a bad mornings work considering I didn’t have the proper footwear and my heel was screaming with every step…

I’ll probably cab back to EDSA tonight to check out some of the bars I saw there.

I surrender. Socks with sandals it is. I feel like such a heel.

I surrender. Socks with sandals it is. I feel like such a heel.

Wish me luck!

That didn’t go as planned

My flight out of the facist republic of Davao (no smoking/vaping area anywhere on airport property!) left 20 minutes late which was worrisome because I only had a one hour layover in Manila.  We arrived 45 minutes before my connection was scheduled to depart. Then waited 10 minutes for the jet occupying our gate to get the hell out of our way.

It seemed to take forever to deplane, but once in the terminal I hightailed it to the transfer desk.  They said I could still make my flight, just exit the terminal, turn right, take the elevator to the 3rd floor, go through security and immigration, then on to my gate.  Alright then.

Well, they had one guy doing immigration and several people ahead of me in line.  Once that was done I was dismayed to discover that gate 11 was at the opposite side of the terminal.  I hoofed it over to the gate as fast as my screaming heel would allow and was relieved to see a line of passengers still boarding.  Until I saw it was a flight for Busan.  WTF?

I asked the gate agent where the Seoul flight was and she said it had already closed.  Apparently I missed last call by one frickin’ minute.  She said don’t worry, we’ll re-book you on another flight.  I asked what about my luggage?  She told me it hadn’t made the flight either.

So, a helpful agent walked me back to where I had started and a couple of other Philippine Air folks went to work on getting me rebooked.  I declined a flight out at 0100 on Sunday morning, so it will be a Sunday afternoon departure for me.  To their credit, Philippine Air is paying for my hotel and meals during this extended layover.

Now, what to do with my weekend in Manila?  I have an empty wallet and a suitcase full of dirty clothes.  There is a mall behind the hotel though so I reckon I’ll wander over and find an ATM and a couple of shirts.  Maybe a bar as well.

I’m a little concerned because immigration stamped me out of the country and no one has stamped me back in.  I’ll guess I’ll worry about those ramifications on Sunday…

In search of Samgyeopsal

I had promised Maria a samgyeopsal dinner for her birthday.  Once upon a time she had lived in Korea for ten years and she was jonesing for a taste of “home”.  I did a quick Google search and found this restaurant which had gotten good reviews:

From Davao, not Heaven. Located outside the SM Mall a couple kms from the hotel...

From Davao, not Heaven. Located outside the SM Mall a couple kms from the hotel…

The restaurant featured this large marquee out front touting the benefits of the Korean diet…

...who you calling fat?

…who you calling fat?

Anyway, we noticed from outside that the tables appeared to have the table-top grills installed.  Alas, after ordering we were told the samgyeopsal is prepared in the kitchen. That’s just not kosher.

Nothing to be done but try and make the best of it. Here's my attempt at creating a little Pinoy-Hanguk fusion.

Nothing to be done but try and make the best of it. Here’s my attempt at creating a little Pinoy-Hanguk fusion.

Ah well, we made the best of it. After dinner we had a traditional Filipino summertime (isn’t it always summertime here?) treat.

Halo Halo. A mixture of fruits and shit. Not exactly a smoothie, but close enough...

Halo Halo. A mixture of fruits and shit. Not exactly a smoothie, but close enough…

So, here in the tropics I wear sandals.  My feet are in open revolt…

...not to mention revolting. Painful it is. Went to the local Watson's drug store and purchased a variety of creams and ointments. Maria says I should wear socks. Fuck that, I'm not wearing socks with sandals. Just ain't gonna happen.

…not to mention revolting. Painful it is. Went to the local Watson’s drug store and purchased a variety of creams and ointments. Maria says I should wear socks. Fuck that, I’m not wearing socks with sandals. Just ain’t gonna happen.

Yesterday we hired a car and driver for the day (3500 pesos, around $70) and hit all the hot tourist spots in the Davao area.  That would be the Philippine Eagle, a WWII Japanese tunnel, and a crocodile farm.  I’ll include photos this weekend when I do my full-fledged trip report.

Anyway, on the way back to the hotel from our excursions, we noticed a Korean restaurant right across the street from our hotel.  Turns out it is the original Manna restaurant.  So we thought we’d try our luck again last night.  When we walked in we saw some diners grilling their meat on the table (shuddup!) so we decided to do samgyeopsal as nature intended.  After ordering I had a bad feeling, so I had Maria ask our server if the meat would be prepared on the table.  He said “no”, so we pointed to the other diners and were then accommodated.  I guess table cooking is by request only.

The samgyeopsal came in nice thick slices and seemed to have all 3 layers from which its name derives...

The samgyeopsal came in nice thick slices and seemed to have all 3 layers from which its name derives…

Cooking it up with some kimchi...

Cooking it up with some kimchi…

About damn time!

About damn time!

Speaking of kimchi, did you know it is the cure for everything?  So says the Manna menu:

..Alas, it doesn't work on cracked heels...

..Alas, it doesn’t work on cracked heels…

My return flight departs Davao at 11:40 and returns me to Seoul via Manila at 7:35.  See you there!

 

 

 

 

Greetings from the Philippines

Davao City to be precise.

Checked into a hotel that offers wifi in the room so I was pretty damned excited.  I have had a technician up to the room twice so far today to get it working.  Thought I’d better post while the posting is good.

The view from the room...

The view from the room…

President-elect Duterte was there to greet me when I checked in this morning...

President-elect Duterte was there to greet me when I checked in this morning…

Speaking of President Duterte, Davao City is his hometown and he’s been the mayor here for quite some time.  Davao is known as the safest city in the PI and that is largely due to Duterte’s being strong on crime.  By strong I mean that it is said he was not above using hit squads extra-judicial methods to rid the city of undesirables.  Some other things he’s done include closing the bars at ungodly early hours and making Davao City smoke-free.  I really dislike nanny-state shit like that but the people in this area are crazy about him.

I got a taste of the police state this morning.  I was minding my own business and enjoying a little vaping time when I was accosted by a law enforcement officer.  He told me sternly that I couldn’t smoke there.  I responded as I always do in such situations “I’m not smoking, I’m vaping.”  He seemed unimpressed and took me away…

;;;here. What a pain in the ass. I've since learned that Davao City's smoking ordinance does in fact specifically include vaping. Bastards!

…here. What a pain in the ass. I’ve since learned that Davao City’s smoking ordinance does in fact specifically include vaping. Bastards!

Anyway, this is clearly a city in which I could never live.  Still, I’ve got a full day to kill here tomorrow so I’ll have to find a discreet way to skirt the law.  I’ve already designated my hotel room a designated vaping zone.

Tonight it is samgyapsol for Maria’s birthday dinner.

Look for a full trip report with tons of photos when I return home to Korea this weekend.

 

 

Cebu later

Last weekend found me on lovely Mactan Island in tropical Cebu, Philippines.  It was good to get away for a change of perspective.  And the weather was nice as well.

There is much to like about the Philippines (and quite a bit not to like as well).  I had considered retiring there at one point in my life.  I guess it is still in play for the future, but these days I’m just taking things one day at a time and will see what happens next.

Now, Filipinos are generally happy people.  I like their attitudes.  For example, a fat man is thought of as wealthy.  And an older man is viewed as stable and mature.  So it is refreshing to go from invisible in Korea to being called a “hansome man” by the brown skinned lovelies.

Anyway, here’s some pictures:

Visited an old Spanish fort from the 1500s.

Visited an old Spanish fort from the 1500s.

One of the views from my hotel...

One of the views from my hotel…

...and another...

…and another…

Surprising comfortable beach side lounger...what a hansome man, eh?

Surprisingly comfortable beach side lounger…what a hansome man, eh?

Stayed at the Be Resort which was 90% occupied by Korean tourists.  I declared myself King of the resort anyway...

Stayed at the Be Resort which was 90% occupied by Korean tourists. I declared myself King of the resort anyway…

I could be a fuckin' postcard...

I could be a fuckin’ postcard…

A frosty San Miguel Light is always a nice surprise...

A frosty San Miguel Light is always a nice surprise…

Dined on a mountain top with great views of the city of Cebu..

Dined on a mountain top with great views of the city of Cebu..

...like this...

…like this…

...and this.

…and this.

Lapu Lapu, the famed slayer of Magellan...

Lapu Lapu, the famed slayer of Magellan…

Here's the story in case you missed it...

Here’s the story in case you missed it…

Speaking of Magellan, it is said that the original cross he planted in claiming the Philippines for God and Queen was at this spot and it's remnants are encased inside this one.  Who knows and cares?

Speaking of Magellan, it is said that the original cross he planted in claiming the Philippines for God and Queen was at this spot and it’s remnants are encased inside this one. Who knows and who cares?

I enjoyed this hotel view much better...

I enjoyed this hotel view much better…

...than this one.  When I saw the color of the water I nixed the bath...

…than this one. When I saw the color of the water I nixed the bath…

My favorite eatery was this floating restaurant...

My favorite eatery was this floating restaurant…

...featuring this view of the bay...

…featuring this view of the bay…

In the tropics it is crucial to drink plenty of fluids.  I was taking any chances, so I enjoyed a trifecta of beer, mango juice, and water.  Hell, I even inserted vapor into my lungs...

In the tropics it is crucial to drink plenty of fluids. I was not taking any chances, so I enjoyed a trifecta of beer, mango juice, and water. Hell, I even inserted vapor into my lungs…

and the cannons used to roar...

and the cannons used to roar…

dancing through history...

dancing through history…

A smorgasbord of Filipina beauties...

A smorgasbord of Filipina beauties…

Sadly they weren't on my diet...

Sadly they weren’t on my diet…

So, one morning at breakfast I ran into Tristan, a guy from the dart league in Seoul.  Must be long odds that we would both pick the same resort on the same weekend.  I told him to quit stalking me.

oui

oui

Tristan is French and apparently was an underwear model back in the day.  Hell, we are practically twins, don’t you think?

Anyway, except for the getting there and getting back it was fine trip indeed.  I’m thinking Thailand is next on my agenda.  My buddy Dennis is currently ensconced there.

You get what you pay for

I took a weekend jaunt out of the country which I’ll likely get around to writing about another day.  Today’s post concerns my carrier of choice–Air Asia.

The synopsis of my review can be aptly stated as “Air Asia sucks”.  Ok, it’s my fault for booking them.  Low cost carriers are pretty notorious for their poor performance.  I should have known better, and next time I will.

At check-in I was charged W30,000 which came as a surprise, although again, that’s on me for not reading the details on the website carefully.  Lesson learned.  So I boarded a pretty full plane at Incheon and sat down in my aisle seat.  Two largish westerners had the middle and window seats.  I was immediately distressed to discover my knees were pressed firmly against the seat back in front of me.  I had visions of that passenger reclining his seat and taking out my kneecaps.

One thing good I can say about Air Asia is that they have hot and friendly flight attendants, perhaps the best of I’ve seen.  Or maybe I was just dazzled by those tight, tight red uniforms that really showed off the curves.  So just before take off one of these sexy gals comes up to me and asks would you like a blowjob are you uncomfortable?  I told her as a matter of fact I was very uncomfortable.  She smiled and said let me take you to the lavatory for some hot sex exit row where there is a vacant seat.  I thanked her for her kindness and she left me to my fantasies.

For the return flight I “upgraded” to Row 1 hoping to have more leg room.  There was a bulkhead in front of me so I couldn’t stretch them out, but no one was squashing me under a reclined seat either.  Plus, I had a front row seat for viewing the lovelies who are there primarily for our safety, but will do *almost* anything to make your flight as comfortable as possible.

Sadly, they couldn’t do anything about the passengers surrounding me.  The guy in the window seat had the most disgusting cough I can recall hearing, I mean the sound of the phlegm being hocked up for the deepest recesses of this dudes lungs was like a gurgling brook.  I literally winced every time he coughed, which was often.  I noticed the flight attendant give me a sympathetic smile, but what could she do? Meanwhile, the Korean brat behind me kept kicking my seat while his mother egged him on ignored him.

Oh, and we left over an hour late.  I was due to arrive in Seoul at 8:00 p.m., but we didn’t touch down until 9:30.  I’ve never seen the immigration line so long before (probably ought to consider coming back on Monday next time).  So, by the time I got my passport stamped, grabbed my bag, and cleared customs, it was well after 10.  Which meant I couldn’t catch the express train to Seoul Station.  The slow train got me there at 11:40.

I queued up for a taxi and got one in short order.  Unfortunately, we were on the road before I realized the driver was drunk.  Well, I wanted to get home and it was really not going to work being dropped off on the road late at night.  I had told the driver to take me to Haebangchon thinking I could manage to get close to my apartment as we passed Noksapeong station.  Instead, he took the back way but I knew that would get me close as well.  And suddenly at the top of the hill with a good mile or so to go to my destination he stops and turns on the light.  “Haebangchon” was what he slurred out at me.  I said “anio–Noksapyeong yak”.  And then he got pissed and said something about that’s not what I had said.  I got pissed back and said this isn’t where I’m going.  He then shouted “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH” and drove on.  Well, he got me to the kimchi pot gate a couple of blocks from my apartment, and that was good enough for me.

Walked through the door after midnight tired and hungry.  Fixed a quick salad, set my alarm for 0600, and hit the sheets.  Where I tossed and turned due to some unexplained muscle aches.  Got up for some Motrin at 1:30 and fell asleep sometime after 2:00.  When my alarm went off I was still exhausted so I had to make a groggy decision–get up and go to work and not be worth a damn all day long or go back to sleep and go in a couple of hours late.  I chose the latter, and texted my boss of course.  When I arrived at work at 9:30 they were announcing the death of Mr. Kim to the staff.  A fucked up 24 hours for sure.

I did manage to drop 3.5 pounds last week, which puts me at a 14 pound reduction in my first three weeks of diet and exercise.  I’ll take that!

It’s a small world after all

I had planned to post from Cambodia, but I got distracted.  Then I went into one of my periodic funks.  Woke up with good intentions this morning, but the internet wasn’t working.  But I can’t stand to leave a post half finished, and can’t bring myself to post before I complete this one,  And so, here’s my trip report.  I doubt it was worth the wait.

When I left Korea Wednesday afternoon it was snowing.

Cold and snowy to sweltering in about 6 hours time...

Cold and snowy to sweltering in about 6 hours time…

Getting there proved to be a bit of a hassle.  The flight out of Incheon was delayed for over an hour, not due to the weather but because we were waiting for connecting passengers.  I was kinda pissed because I had paid significantly more for a direct flight to avoid the hassle of being delayed when making a connection.  Oh well.

So, with the delayed flight I didn’t arrive in Phonm Penh until nearly midnight.  But my trusty buddy Dennis was there waiting as promised.  We taxied to my hotel, I dropped my bags and we stepped outside to grab a drink and have a chat.  Luckily (or not) the street in front of my hotel was lined with bars.  Given it’s proximity and us not knowing any better, we selected the Candy Bar (open 24 hours) as the place to sit and catch up with each other.  Unfortunately, given the nature of the bar we had some difficulty holding a conversation.  Some Cambodian lasses were bound and determined to provide the company we did not want.  After trying repeatedly to get them to move on to customers who might have some interest in their womanly charms, I finally offered to buy them each a drink on the condition that they drink them at another table.  And they agreed.  Problem solved.

After awhile Dennis went home and I retreated to my room.

The room featured a fine walk-in shower which amply supported my girth.

The room featured a fine walk-in shower which amply supported my girth.

The Hotel Lux Riverside was a clean and comfortable lodging at the budget price of $50 per night including breakfast....

The Hotel Lux Riverside was a clean and comfortable lodging at the budget price of $50 per night including breakfast….

My original room featured one queen sized bed. I negotiated a half price room for my last day (my flight left at 11:30 p.m.) and they moved into a room with 3 beds. Never saw that before...

My original room featured one queen sized bed. I negotiated a half price room for my last day (my flight left at 11:30 p.m.) and they moved me into a room with 3 beds. Never saw that before…

Anyway, I’d give the Lux a 3 star rating and it was conveniently located.

Thursday morning I stepped outside into the humid warmth of a Cambodian January.

 

A daylight street view in front of my hotel...

A daylight street view in front of my hotel…both sides of the street are lined with bars.  Ah, there’s a mini mart in there somewhere too…

Dennis wanted to take me to an upscale place for lunch.

So, we negotiated a $3.00 fare with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a place called Digby's...

So, we negotiated a $3.00 fare with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a place called Digby’s…

Now, tuk-tuk’s (pronounced took took) are ubiquitous, cheap, and surprisingly comfortable.  Another thing that was convenient is the currency.  U.S. dollars are the standard, and the Cambodian riel is only used for amounts of less than $1.00.  I used the riels I received in change to keep the beggars at bay.

As might be expected, there is a lot of poverty in Cambodia.  But having said that, it didn’t seem as in your face as it does in the Philippines, at least in the capital city of Phnom Penh.  The beggars were not as aggressive either and seemed pleased to receive what amounts to pocket change.  It’s a sad thing to witness of course, but overall not as depressing as it is in the PI.

In due course we arrived at Digby's where I enjoyed the biggest and perhaps best club sandwich I've eaten. Despite having a big mouth (or so I've often been told) I could barely fit that beast of sandwich between my teeth.

In due course we arrived at Digby’s where I enjoyed the biggest and perhaps best club sandwich I’ve eaten. Despite having a big mouth (or so I’ve often been told) I could barely fit that beast of sandwich between my teeth.

After our fine lunch, we headed over to one of the local temples Dennis wanted me to tour. It turns out that Cambodians have a tradition similar to the Spanish siesta.  And to our dismay the temple was closed until 2:00 p.m. As we stood there pondering our next move a tuk-tuk driver offered to give us a one hour tour of the city for $15.  Dennis being familiar with the going rates for local transport immediately told him that was ridiculous.  After some back and forth, they agreed on two hours for $15.  And we were off to see the sights.

I regret that given the amount of time between the trip and this write-up and can't really say what purpose these buildings serve. Just enjoy the architecture like I did, OK?

I regret that given the amount of time between the trip and this write-up I can’t really say what purpose these buildings serve. Just enjoy the architecture like I did, OK?

Here's another one...

Here’s another one…

Certainly we can all appreciate religious symbols such as this...

Certainly we can all appreciate religious symbols such as this…

I had it in mind to pose with this elephant thinking that the contrast would make me appear smaller. You can see how that worked out for me..

I had it in mind to pose with this elephant thinking that the contrast would make me appear smaller. You can see how that worked out for me..

A tuk-tuk rider's perspective...

A tuk-tuk rider’s perspective…

There's this...

There’s this…

And this, which may or may not be part of the palace complex...

And this, which may or may not be part of the palace complex…

Now, when I mentioned earlier that a tuk-tuk was surprisingly comfortable, I was referring to the head and leg room.  They are not however air conditioned.  Riding around in the heat of day mired in traffic congestion is hot and dirty work.  In due course, I found myself thirsty and craving a cold beer.  I had already grown fond of a local brew called Angkor, which is not to be confused with another popular brand, Anchor.  It’s all about the pronunciation I suppose, but I sometimes found myself with a beer opposite of the one I intended to order.  Anyway, as we were riding along the river front I recalled reading about the historic Foreign Correspondent’s Club housed in a fine old Colonial-style building.

So we had our driver stop and wait while we enjoyed some beverages and the view...

So we had our driver stop and wait while we enjoyed some beverages and the view…

After the city tour, I retired to my room to recuperate from the heat, shower and change clothes, and then head out for a night on the town.  Now, regular readers know that I’m not averse to participating the bar scene, but I’m not enamored with girly bars so much.  And that’s all there seemed to be in the vicinity of my hotel.

I guess some definitions may be in order.  In the Philippines they have “go-go” bars featuring bikini-clad young women dancing on a stage enticing you to “bar fine” them (early release from work) so that you might engage in some consensual adult activities (for a price of course).  No go-go’s in Phnom Penh, but the girly bars operate on the same principle.  No dancing and the gals are generally more conservatively dressed, but they surround you at the bar giving you puppy dog eyes looks in the hope that you will consent to buy them a drink (for which they earn a tidy profit of a dollar or so).  These girls are also available for being bar fined.

Maybe I’m just getting old (shut up!) but I really just prefer to sit at the bar and enjoy my beer in peace.  To be honest, I get irritated at being pressured to buy drinks for gals who’s company I don’t really desire.  I mean, after the standard “what’s your name?”, “where you from?”, “how long you visit?” and of course, “buy me a drink?” there just ain’t much conversation to be had, in English at least.  So, my tactic was to have one beer and move on to the next joint.  Never let ’em get too close!  Ha!

The next day Dennis suggested we try a local Korean restaurant. And so we did.

The next day Dennis suggested we try a local Korean restaurant. And so we did.

Interestingly, they only featured beef, no pork. The galbi was as good as any I've eaten in Seoul. and I was very impressed with the quantity and and quality of the various side dishes. Even got to use my limited Korean vocabulary with the waitress. A very enjoyable meal...

Interestingly, they only featured beef, no pork. The galbi was as good as any I’ve eaten in Seoul. and I was very impressed with the quantity and and quality of the various side dishes. Even got to use my limited Korean vocabulary with the waitress. A very enjoyable meal…

In the it’s a small world department, I got a facebook message from an old Itaewon darts friend Tom who had seen my post about traveling to Cambodia.  Turns out he’s teaching at an international school in Phnom Penh.  So, naturally we made plans to get together to drink a few and throw a few.  They only have one bar with darts apparently, and those are of the soft tip variety.  It’s not a game I like, but given the lack of alternatives, I made the best of it.  Tom says he’s the top rated player in town and he won 5 of the 9 games we played, so I guess he still is.  It was fun for sure though and great seeing him again.

Back in 2013 I had run into Tom at a darts tourney in Las Vegas.  There he introduced me to his friend .    I didn’t know if he’d remember me or not, but the first time I met him at work it was all “good to see you again!” and the like.  Now, we always get a little dart talk in at the conclusion of our official business.  Small world indeed.

I told Dennis I’d like to venture out to see the infamous Killing Fields.  He’d never been, considering it to depressing to see in person.  He, being the good host that he is, consented to join me.  To my way of thinking you need to remember these victims as examples of just how cruel and depraved human beings can be if we have any hope of preventing such crimes in the future.  I actually hold little hope in that regard.

I just didn't take many pictures. I mean, do you really want to snap a shot of the tree where the Khmer soldiers would smash the heads of infants and young children. The whole was just too much to believe, but you had to believe what your eyes were seeing. Mine often through tears. Dennis was right, it is too depressing.

I just didn’t take many pictures. I mean, do you really want to snap a shot of the tree where the Khmer soldiers would smash the heads of infants and young children. The whole place was just too much to believe, but you had to believe what your eyes were seeing. Mine often through tears. Dennis was right, it is too depressing.

It should come as no surprise that I ventured out to the bars that night hoping to take the edge off the inhumanity I’d seen.  But I was also on a mission to find a “regular” bar like my beloved Shenanigans back home.  So, I walked past all the girly bars between my hotel and the riverfront, ignoring the plaintive cries of “Darling, come in!”.  Eventually I came across a bar called Cadillac and took a peek inside.  It seemed normal enough, just a couple of customers and not a bar girl in sight.  When I entered I noticed a sign saying the bar was “no smoking”.  That’s the only bar I saw on this trip with that restriction. Of course, I don’t smoke–I vape.  Being the polite S.O.B. that I am, I asked the bartender if vaping was ok.  I’m not sure she understood, but when I showed her my e-cigarette she shook her head no.  Ah well, I turned around and walked out.

I was a half block up the road when the American owner of Cadillac came out and hollered “come on back, vaping is fine, just no smoking”.  Well, by now I had it in mind to get me a massage, so I told him I’d come back later.  Which I did after having a very fine (and legit) full body massage (1 hour for ten bucks).

The owner of Cadillac bar turned out to be a Texan named Chance. When I arrived the staff were bringing in the outside seating and I asked if he was closing.  He said no, he just didn’t want any tour group popping in and wanting to order up a bunch of food. So I get me an cold Angkor and I’m happily vaping away when Chance insists I join him in a shot of whiskey.  So we did our “cheers” and then he invites me join in a game of “liars dice” with another customer and Chance’s Cambodian girlfriend.  I had never played the game before, but it’s apparently a pretty common bar game involving dice and lying.  You can get the gory details at the link above.  There is some strategy and logic involved and despite that I managed a second place finish in debut event.

And now it was closing time at Cadillac and Chance bought me another shot, then invited me to go along with him and his gal to another bar for some after hours drinking.  I declined at first but Chance wouldn’t take no for an answer so I soon found myself en route to a joint called Sharky’s.  Getting there was interesting as well.  Upon leaving the bar I discovered that Chance and his gal were both on motorbikes.  Chance said I could ride the few blocks to Sharky’s on back with him.  Well, I hesitated because a) I’m a big guy who’d look ridiculous on the back of a little scooter and b) I knew Chance to be every bit as drunk or more as I was.  His girlfriend must have read my mind because she piped up and said “or you can ride with me if you prefer”.  I accepted her offer because a) I’d still look silly but she was very pretty and b) she had only been sipping wine and didn’t appear all that drunk.  And she was pretty.

I haven’t said much about the traffic in Phnom Penh, but it is  quite a spectacle to behold. Only a handful of intersections are governed with traffic signals.  Instead people play what appears to be like a choreographed  game of chicken.  I don’t know how it works without numerous accidents  but somehow it does.  There was only one major intersection to cross on the way to Sharky’s but witnessing the “chicken” ritual up close from the back of a scooter was pretty intense.  When the tuk-tuk and Chance’s girlfriend both declined to yield I briefly considered the irony of meeting my destiny on a dirty street in Cambodia, but at the last moment the tuk-tuk braked and she swerved and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Sharky’s turned out to be another nice “regular” bar.  Much bigger than Cadillac and featuring live music, pool, and a pickpocket who lifted a $100 bill out of my jeans.  If stupidity were bad luck, you could say I was unlucky.  I should have been much more careful.  It was very late and that unpleasantness put a damper on my spirits, so I caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

Dennis suggested we take a river cruise on my final day in town, and so we made our way down to the waterfront and overpaid for a couple of tickets.

A Mekong River cruiser...

A Mekong River cruiser…

 

On the other hand, we had the whole boat to ourselves, so maybe it was a bargain.

On the other hand, we had the whole boat to ourselves, so maybe it was a bargain.

Ahoy there matey...

Ahoy there matey…

I think that's the King's palace...

I think that’s the King’s palace…

I had mentioned the poverty, but it was striking seeing how people lived on these tiny boats on the river bank overlooked by fancy hotels and large houses.

I had mentioned the poverty, but it was striking seeing how people lived on these tiny boats on the river bank overlooked by fancy hotels and large houses.

You can really make it out because I'm crap with the camera function on my phone, but I observed a woman bathing and washing her hair in the river alongside her boat. I had earlier notice that the lavatory in our river cruiser emptied directly into the river. Ah well.

You can’t really make it out because I’m crap with the camera function on my phone, but I observed a woman bathing and washing her hair in the river alongside her boat. I had earlier noticed that the lavatory in our river cruiser emptied directly into the river. Ah well.

A little more drinking in the afternoon, dinner at Cadillac (not bad for pub fare) and then off to one of the worst airports I’ve seen (even worse than Manila if you can imagine that) and my red eye flight home to Seoul.  I was able to sleep most of the way and landed on time at 0630.  Exited the airport railroad at Seoul Station into snow flurries.  And I’ve pretty much been sick ever since.

"Smoking in bed is not advisable". At my age I don't know that I'll ever be smoking in bed again. But I saw some Cambodian hotties that I reckon would be.

“Smoking in bed is not advisable”.
At my age I don’t know that I’ll ever be smoking in bed again. But I saw some Cambodian hotties that I reckon would be.

 

 

 

I’m going to PP today

This afternoon I’ll be making my way to the airport and then boarding a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  First time visitor and I’m fortunate to have my old friend Dennis who’s living there as my tour guide.  My readers will no doubt rejoice in the prospect of me actually having something interesting to post about for a change.  Well, at least there should be pictures.

In other news, last night I was joined by fellow bloggers  Kevin and Charles for a delightful dinner featuring Gino’s NY Pizza.  Definitely the best pizza I’ve enjoyed in Korea, and my companions who have much higher standards seemed to agree.  First time meeting Charles and I really enjoyed his wit and dry humor.  I reckon Kevin will be posting some photos over at Hairy Chasms soon.  I’ll give him a link when he does.

Anyway, all packed up and ready to go.  Even remembered my phone charger.  I do believe this change, temporary though it may be, will do me good.

 

I’m ruined

Picking up where I was left off…

Arrived back at the lovely Columbia airport 12 hours after arriving there for the first time. Used our lunch voucher for dinner and moved over to the gate to await the arrival of our flight to Charlotte.  Which was delayed for “mechanical reasons”.  At least this time the only thing I was missing was some sleep in Charlotte.  Quite a few other passengers were not so lucky and had to be re-booked.  I could relate to their pain.

Got into Charlotte around 10:00 and went looking for a place to spend our dinner voucher. Everyone was closing up, so we settled for a couple of Papa John’s mini pizzas to go. Then we headed out to wait for the hotel shuttle to pick us up.  It proved to be a pretty long wait.  There were “no smoking” placards posted throughout the vicinity but I was surreptitiously sneaking a vape now and again.  And then a blonde woman showed up with two female police officers standing with her.  Made me too uncomfortable to vape in the presence of the law.  Observing this intruder piqued my curiosity.  She was not under arrest, that much was clear.  So I figured she must be some sort of celebrity getting police protection from the unwashed masses.  But then I thought, what kind of celebrity takes the freakin’ hotel shuttle bus?  She looked a little familiar, but too rough around the edges to really be a star.

Well, about then the Baymont Suites shuttle arrived and I lost interest in the faded flower. Until she loaded into the bus in the seat directly behind me.  Whereupon she loudly announced “this is the first time I’ve taken public transportation”.  Everyone on board ignored her.  Then she said “can I borrow a phone?  Someone stole mine.  I really need to call Charlie Sheen.”  I figured maybe she was crazy or worried about HIV.  Or both.  She then asked the driver if he could take somewhere to by a burner phone.  He said he would after he dropped us all off.  Next the wayward lass professed to being hungry and offered to treat all of us if the driver would stop for fast food.  No one cared much for that idea and she continued mumbling about having not eaten all day long, so I offered her my pizza and she happily accepted.  Next she was thirsty so I gave her my diet Pepsi.  She went on for awhile about how nice and generous we had been and thanked us profusely. Truthfully, I just wanted to shut her up.

Shortly thereafter we arrived at our hotel.  Curiosity got the best of me and I asked the damsel in distress her name. Brooke Mueller was her response.  I didn’t recognize the name (which was probably disappointing for her) so I just said nice to meet you and good luck and then I exited the bus.  Once I got to the room I Googled her and saw that she was in fact a B-list actress and Charlie Sheen’s ex-wife (or more precisely, one of them).

 She's much prettier in this pic than in real life. Or at least her life now. Frankly, she looked like an old prostitute who had been ridden hard and put up wet. Kind of felt sorry for her.

She’s much prettier in this pic than in real life. Or at least her life now. Frankly, she looked like an old prostitute who had been ridden hard and put up wet. Kind of felt sorry for her.

There wasn’t much sweet about the Baymont Suites, except the room was gratis.  And we were only going to be there for 5 hours.  I took a shower and hit the sheets, woke promptly at 0400, dressed and headed downstairs for the ride back to the airport.  I noticed Brooke wondering aimlessly around the lobby, couldn’t help but pity her situation.  Hope whatever trouble she’s having in life works itself out.

So, we arrived at the airport right at 0430 in anticipation of our flight to Dallas boarding at 0530.  Our bags had been checked through from Columbia to Incheon which was nice except for the not having a change of clothes thing.  Heh, it was sort of like camping! TSA was just making final preparations to open for business and our boarding pass said we were “PRECHK”.  So we waltzed right on through wearing our shoes and everything!

Used our breakfast voucher for coffee and bagels and I noted our plane was parked at the departure gate.  I took that as a good sign we wouldn’t suffer a mechanical delay on this fine morning.  Sure enough, we boarded and departed on time and landed in Dallas with 2 hours to kill before our connection to Seoul.

We spent part of the time sharing a French toast breakfast (that's my half). Then Jee Yeun went off to spend money in the duty free stores whilst I tried and failed at finding decent WiFi.

We spent part of the time sharing a French toast breakfast (that’s my half). Then Jee Yeun went off to spend money in the duty free stores whilst I tried and failed at finding decent WiFi.

As I dawdled over my coffee, I saw a thick flume of black smoke rising up behind our ride to Seoul.

Smoke and fire on airport grounds can't be a good thing, right? Well, whatever it was it didn't impact our flight which left on time.

Smoke and fire on airport grounds can’t be a good thing, right? Well, whatever it was it didn’t impact our flight which left on time.

Ah, but American Airlines I had one more surprise for me this trip:

A pleasant one for a change!

A pleasant one for a change!

First time in Business Class for an International flight.  Jee Yeun was upgraded as well, but our seats were on opposite sides of the plane.  So a stranger had to endure my snoring and flatulence.  Man, those seats are amazing though.  You can go from upright to lay down flat and everywhere in between.  Food was pretty damn fine as well.

The freaking entertainment system offered the same sorry list of crappy movies that they had on the outbound journey.  I actually tried to watch three of them, but couldn’t make it to the end on any.  Too lame, too predictable, lousy acting–you name it.  Oh well, never slept better on a plane ride, that’s for sure.  And of course, I’m ruined for life now.  Coach will only seem more oppressive and uncomfortable in the future.

And now I’m finally back home in Seoul.  Just in time for tomorrow’s predicted 2-6 inches of snow.  Ain’t life grand?

 

 

 

You can’t get there from here

Apparently.

Up bright and early this morning.  Gassed and returned the rental car, checked our bags and got our boarding passes, made it through security mostly unscathed (Jee Yeun’s rice cooker in the backpack did get TSA’s attention and she got the extra screening I predicted).  At our gate and ready to go with 45 minutes to spare.

And then came the dreaded announcement that due to “mechanical issues” our plane would be delayed for an undetermined amount of time.  I only had a 1 hour 50 minute window to make my connection to Narita so I was a little more than concerned.  There were 50 people with similar concerns in line with the gate agent, so I made the decision to return to the check-in counter.  The man there seemed to be wanting to help me and seemed to realize that my connection was in jeopardy.  Assuming a re-booking was going to be necessary I sent Jee Yeun a message to come join me up front.  She was none to happy about lugging my heavy backpack (in addition to her own) all the way from our gate. Shortly after she arrived the agent said “well, it looks now like your flight from Columbia will be departing on time after all”.  Which put me in a bit of a panic since it was two minutes to departure.  You’ll recall I missed my connection to Columbia in similar fashion.

So we hustled our way through security again and rushed to our gate (fortunately, Columbia is a small airport) only to find the long line of people waiting to be re-booked by a solitary gate agent.  I realized the guy at the check-in counter had just not wanted to deal with resolving my situation so he sent me on a fool’s errand.  Well, I wasn’t going to stand in that line for hours, so I broke out the phone and called American Airlines reservations.  “Mike” on the other end of the line seemed to want to help, although his intermittently placing me on hold for lengthy periods was disconcerting.  After one of those long holds he came back and asked if there wasn’t an agent on the ground in Columbia who could assist me.  So, I gave him the facts of life.

After explaining that I didn’t have time to stand in a line that didn’t appear to be moving and the agent at check-in being worthless, I reiterated that I needed to be in Seoul and ready to work on Wednesday morning.  I said I didn’t care what airline or what airport I traveled from, I just needed to get there.  “Mike” told me he understood and put me on hold again.  When he came back he gave me the helpful news that there was a direct flight from Los Angeles to Seoul, but then unhelpfully he explained he couldn’t get me to west coast in time to catch it.  He said he had checked for flights from Chicago, Dulles, and Charlotte as well and there was just no way I was going to make it back to Seoul today.  So, I asked him about Plan B and he put me on hold.  When he returned he told me he could get me on a Columbia to Dallas, Dallas to L.A. flight.  I’d arrive at 11:00 p.m. and could catch a Korean Air flight to Incheon at 11 the next morning.  I sighed, told him to book it, and got placed back on hold.

All told, I spent 45 minutes on the phone with “Mike” (I don’t even want to think about what the roaming charge for that call is gonna cost me) but I had a new reservation in hand. So, it was back to the check-in counter to retrieve my baggage.  This time I encountered a much more helpful agent.  As she set about printing my new boarding passes she had difficulty with the Dallas-L.A. leg.  So, she got on the phone with someone to work it out and stayed on the phone for over an hour.  No shit.  The end result was I now had an entirely new itinerary–Columbia to Charlotte where I’d spend the night.  Then Charlotte to Dallas where I’d connect with an American Airlines flight direct to Seoul.  At this point I knew I was fucked either way, although I’d prefer flying Korean Air.  Whatever.  She gave me boarding passes for everything except  Dallas-Incheon, explaining I’d check-in for that flight upon arrival.  I told her nope, I needed seats, preferably exit row.  She got back on the phone for awhile and told me I had an aisle and center seat reserved.  Still no boarding pass, so I guess I’ve got to take her word for it.

Then she gave me my freebies.  Vouchers for lunch, dinner, breakfast tomorrow, and a hotel room.  Except the hotel room was in Columbia.  So she went back to fix that.  I had already decided that I’d never fly into Columbia again.  When something goes wrong, and it seems like it inevitably does, you don’t have many options.  From now on I’ll be using Charlotte.  When the agent came back with my corrected lodging voucher she told me “I never fly out of Columbia, I always use Charlotte.  You should too”.  Yep.

The daughter took time off from work to pick us up and drop us at her house.  She’ll pick us up after work and take us back to the Columbia airport for our flight to Charlotte.  Let the adventure continue!

What a long strange trip it was

Greetings from Columbia!

You know, I consider myself a reasonably savvy traveler.  Back in the day I would be flying somewhere for work three weeks out of every month.  I guess in the intervening years I’ve gotten stupid or something.  Or at least I was yesterday.

Things started out pleasantly enough I suppose.  We exited our apartment in Gireum-dong, crossed the street to the bus stop for the airport limo, and set about waiting for it to arrive.  A cab driver approached and asked me in near perfect English (including an English accent) if he “might interest me in transport to the airport”.  I asked him how much and he told me the usual fare is around W75,000 plus toll.  I sensed a negotiation was about to ensue so I called over the pro Jee Yeun.  They went back in forth for a while (in Korean of course), and in short order I saw the driver grimace and nod in agreement.  Jee Yeun had gotten a W30,000 fare including the toll, the same price as the bus!  I think we both felt a little guilty about it  and Jee Yeun told me to give him a big tip.  I told the driver during the drive that I was going to give him something extra for his troubles.  He told me that wasn’t necessary, he had agreed to the price and that was satisfactory.  At the airport I gave him extra anyway.

During the drive the cabbie asked my what I thought about Donald Trump.  I said I thought he was pretty much a clown, but he has a message that resonates with many Americans (including me).  I also told him I’d rather have a clown as president than a liar and a crook like Hillary.  Anyway, that was the first time I’ve ever discussed American politics with a Korean cab driver.  The driver then offered up the three best things that are uniquely Korean–Hanguel, Korean food, and Korean mothers.  I agreed on the first two, said I’d never had a Korean mother, but opined that Korean women are the most beautiful in the world.  He responded the women get even better when they become moms.  It was a much more pleasant ride than I’ve every had on the airport limo.

We got to the airport four hours before our scheduled departure.  The check-in counters weren’t open yet, so Jee Yeun had lunch and I went outside to vape.  After dropping our luggage and getting our boarding passes, we cleared security and immigration in short order, then Jee Yeun hit the duty free stores and I found a place for a beer and a sandwich near our gate.  Finally it was time to board and we ensconced ourselves in our exit row seats (for which I had paid a $350. premium) for the long flight to Dallas-Fort Worth.

A selfie for luck and we're on our way!

A selfie for luck and we’re on our way!

Room to stretch out my legs and no one to recline the seat in front of me!

Room to stretch out my legs and no one to recline the seat in front of me!

It’s been a long time since I’ve flown American Airlines, but I figured they couldn’t be much worse than United or Delta.  I was wrong about that.  The food was practically inedible, but that wasn’t really a surprise.  I have grown accustomed though to passing the endless time on board by watching movies via the seat back entertainment system.  Except for the first hour or so they crew couldn’t get it to work.  After a couple of reboots, it finally came on line but it didn’t turn out to be worth waiting for.  Unlike every other freaking airline I’ve flown, this was not an “on demand” system with dozens of movie choices you can watch when you want, for as long long as you want, or pause and resume later.  American’s system had six movies on offer, none of which struck me as “must see”.   Still, I had nothing but time to kill, so I clicked on one and saw that it had already started.  Clicked on another, same thing.  So, it was like being at the movies, you don’t get to choose when you watch at all.  Thanks for that American!

Well, at least I had leg room which proved to afford enough comfort for me to actually sleep on the plane. Interrupted though it proved to be.  Of course, the downside to the bulkhead row is that is where is they tend to put the travelers with infants.  And the one in the row across from us had an impressive set of lungs.  Once that kid managed to start napping, I was awakened by the most obnoxious snorer in history who was residing in the seat behind me.  I put on my headphones, played some classical music, and more or less drowned out the distractions. I was on the aisle though, so with irritating regularity I’d be bumped and jostled by folks making their way to the lavatory.  Ah well, the joy of flying and all that.

Arrived in Dallas with 2 hours to clear customs and then the real fun began. Being a U.S citizen myself and with Jee Yeun’s permanent residence status we were directed to an automated kiosk to handle the immigration process.  It actually worked like a charm, except Jee Yeun got flagged.  Which meant we were directed to the long ass immigration line we had previously avoided.  Ah well, we got through that queue just about the time our bags were arriving on the carousel.  Another line for customs where a friendly guy spent time chatting us up about Jee Yeun’s length of stay in Korea and my job there before sending us on our way.

Sadly, our way was blocked by the long line trying to get through security.  Only two TSA agents were doing the screening and they struck me as incompetent, although the four other agents standing around watching them were perhaps merely lazy.  It was more than a little infuriating.  When we finally got through (and redressed) we had thirty minutes to make our connection in terminal B (we were in D) which was doable but would require some hustle. But as we left the security area one of those cart drivers asked what gate and when we said B-35 he said hop on.  That was a first time experience and was much quicker than taking the “sky train” that circumnavigates the airport.

We arrived at B-35 at 6:10 just in time for the announcement that our 6:30 flight was being delayed until 7:45.  And things went downhill from there.  To briefly summarize, DFW is a crappy airport.  It is outdated, poorly designed, and disorganized. Plus, they don’t offer any designated smoking vaping areas inside the airport. Also, the WiFi sucks.   I didn’t have a working phone to call my daughter and say we’d be arriving late.  Two different pay phones wouldn’t accept my credit card.  So, we got the best WiFi signal we could find, sent a message via Facebook and hoped it worked.

With time to kill I reconnoitered the B terminal security line and judged I’d have plenty of time to enjoy some vape and re-enter the airport long before my delayed flight would depart. Jee Yeun wanted to shop around some so we agreed to reconvene at our gate at 7:00. As I completed my security screening at 6:50 I heard my name and Jee’s being called over the airport PA system.  Seems our plane was ready to depart with or without us.  So, I ran through the airport like only a fat old man can (not a pretty sight, trust me) and made it to gate B-45.  Only then realizing I was supposed to be at gate B-35.  So I did some more running in the opposite direction and reached the gate after it was closed.  The plane was still there however, so I found an agent willing to go down and see if they’d let me board.  I assumed Jee was already on the plane wondering where in the hell I was. The agent came back and told me the pilot had said “no more passengers”.  Which as it turns out was provident because Jee Yeun was not on the plane.  She walked up just as our plane was backing away from the gate.  If I had boarded and not found Jee Yeun there I would have had to fight my way back off the plane.  No way I’d abandon her in Texas with no money and no clue.

Nothing to do now but find an alternative route to Columbia.  I berated the agent who had made the 7:45 departure announcement, but truthfully I know these things can be fluid and I should have stayed within earshot of the updated announcements. The agent said the next flight with seats available was 6:30 p.m. the next day.  She said there was one at 6:30 a.m. that was sold out but we could try standby.  I didn’t like either of those options and told her I needed to fly tonight.  What about Charlotte I asked?  She said yes, there’s a flight out of B-41 at 8:10 and it has seats!  It took her an inordinate amount of time for her to do the massive keystrokes involved in completing the re-booking.  She finally called another agent over for help, and she told her she had forgot a step in the process.  Her tone and body language added an unspoken “dumb ass”.  Finally we had our new boarding passes in hand and we scurried off towards our new gate.  Before we got there I actually looked at the boarding pass which said I was going to Charleston.  The first word that came to mind was dumb ass.

So it was back to the agent who had first called the dumb ass dumb ass.  It took her awhile and some assistance from a supervisor (who’s the dumb ass now?) but she got us booked on the 8:10 flight to Charlotte.  Problem was, it was 7:45 by now and the plane was departing from D terminal.  So I got to ride the dreaded Sky Train after all.  Of course, like a dumb ass I got on going in the wrong direction which meant I had to visit every damn terminal stop before we came back around to D.  It was 8:05 when we detrained but luck was finally with us–the gate was relatively close to the station and the flight was delayed by 15 minutes.  Despite it being a full flight, I even managed to get me and Jee seated together. We connected with the daughter again via FB and she agreed to meet us in Charlotte.  And we were off on our detour to North Carolina.

Wheels down landing and then off to the agreed upon rendezvous point at baggage claim. Not that we had any baggage to claim, ours had made the trip to Columbia as originally planned.  No daughter in site, so Jee Yeun bummed a phone and we were finally able to hook up with our ride home.

Jee Yeun was a little distressed because all of her carefully purchased Korean food items (including her kimchi) were in the bags at the Columbia airport.  It was 1:30 a.m. by now and that burg of an airport had long since shut down for the night.  So we made a stop at a 24 hour Wal-Mart and stocked up with enough rice and noodles to get us through the night and morning.

Made it to bed at 3:30 a.m. and woke up just a little before 8.  Drove the daughter’s car to the Columbia airport and retrieved our luggage without incident.  Then it was off to Enterprise to rent a car for the next ten days.  When it came to the part about proof of insurance, I gave them the name of my agent.  The counter guy called and came back to say my policy had expired in 2012.  I found that odd since I had renewed my policy in January.  So I got on the phone with the insurance company and we argued back and forth for awhile before I exclaimed in exasperation “I’m done with Traveler’s insurance!” The agent lady said “what?  we don’t handle Traveler’s insurance!”  I felt like a dumb ass then.  Anyway, the rental folks called Traveler’s and confirmed my coverage and I got the car.  A very nice Hyundai Accent.

We drove it to Planet Vapor where I restocked on vaping oil and bought a new and more powerful e-cigarette.  Jee Yeun was hungry and guess what she wanted–Korean food. Well, it’s understandable we had been out of Korea for almost 24 hours after all.

It was okay I guess, but not as good as the stuff back home.

It was okay I guess, but not as good as the stuff back home.

Next stop was the Korean market where she stocked up on everything she could conceivably need for the next 10 days, and I’d wager a month after that.  Well, you can’t be too careful I suppose.

I was dragging ass by now so was glad to get back to the house for a little afternoon siesta.  Woke up and got ready for some Friday night darts with the old crew at Rack’s (formerly known as Kwagga).

darts1

Took home second place money which was secondary to the enjoyment of getting reacquainted with old friends.

Ready to roll

Except for the packing part that is.

Flight leaves ICN at 6:30 so I’ve still got some time.  A procrastinator until the end is what I am.

If all goes according to schedule, I arrive in lovely Columbia, SC at 10:00 p.m. Thursday night (local time).  One stop in Dallas on the way and 17 hours in the air.  I will survive. Hopefully.

I completed all my pending work projects, but still feel a little guilty about leaving my boss in the lurch during my absence.  We’ve got two staff vacancies we’re having to cover already so my selfish act in taking vacation time only compounds everyone’s misery.  I’m hoping the holiday week will not be too busy.  Usually they aren’t.

In other news, this is my first post using my lovely new Toshiba laptop.  Ain’t she a beaut?

Ha!  Just noticed the mess I've made on the table unloading the accumulated crap from my backpack.  Ah well.

Ha! Just noticed the mess I’ve made on the table unloading the accumulated crap from my backpack. Ah well.

Go East old man

This weekend produced a rare confluence of events–I had no scheduled dart match on Sunday and a holiday from work today.  So, the wife said let’s go to the sea.  The East Sea to be precise.  And so we loaded up the hooptie and headed down the highway for Gangnuem.

Just like Columbus I managed to get lost a time or two trying to get out of Seoul.  Once I got on the proper expressway I inadvertently drove through the “speed pass” gate at the toll booth.   I don’t have a Speed Pass but there were no bells, whistles, or sirens so I figured I was home free.  Until we reached the toll gate at the other end of the expressway and I didn’t have a ticket to present showing where I’d entered.  We got sent to the office where they took my name and license plate number, charged me the W12,000 toll, and said if it happened again the toll would be doubled.  Suffice to say I didn’t make that mistake on the return trip.

Jee Yeun scored us an ocean view room for a mere W50,000

Jee Yeun scored us an ocean view room for a mere W50,000

Even the shower had a view.  I duly noted the view worked both ways...

Even the shower had a view. I duly noted the view worked both ways…

The sea of Japan East Ocean is pleasant to look at...

The sea of Japan East Ocean is pleasant to enough  look at…

It’s the off-season but after walking a few blocks we found a deserted samgyapsal joint that welcomed their first and probably only customers of the day.  Jee Yeun had a bottle of chunghwa to herself (I had a Cass) and she professed to be feeling na chwi-hae-sseo (drunk).  We made it back to the room without incident and she promptly fell asleep.  I did a little channel surfing on the TV and was asleep an hour or two later.  Yep, us old folks are just chock full of excitement.

Early to bed, early to rise and all that.  Which allowed me to enjoy this sunrise...

Early to bed, early to rise and all that. Which allowed me to enjoy this sunrise…

Shortly thereafter, we headed out to coffee shop a Korean friend had recommended and discovered it was one of the places we had visited on a previous trip...

Shortly thereafter, we headed out to coffee shop a Korean friend had recommended and discovered it was one of the places we had visited on a previous trip…

It's very small, but the outside seating is quite nice.

It’s very small, but the outside seating is quite nice.  And it opens early in the morning!

 

Next trip I'm going to have to try me a buger.  I've got a nose for good food.  That snot a lie...

Next trip I’m going to have to try me a buger. I’ve got a nose for good food. That snot a lie…

You don't live in this country for long before you discover that Koreans are passionate about their coffee...

You don’t live in this country for long before you discover that Koreans are passionate about their coffee…

My car has reached the age of consent in most jurisdictions, but she purred on down the highway like a champ...

My car has reached the age of consent in most jurisdictions, but she purred on down the highway like a champ…

Speaking of the highway, I was cruising along at a pretty good clip taking note of when my GPS warned me of the speed cameras.  I was halfway home before I figured out that those tricky bastards calculate your average speed between the cameras.  I’d never seen that done before.  According to my GPS, my average speed was 105 k/ph, and the speed limit was 100.  Surely I won’t be ticketed for that, right?

I kept thinking there was something fishy about the drive home.  Jee Yeun's souvenir from our trip.

I kept thinking there was something fishy about the drive home. Jee Yeun’s souvenir from our trip.

Anyway, it was good to get out of town and enjoy a change of scenery.

 

 

On the beach

Spent the weekend in Myrtle Beach, SC participating in the annual Ghost on the Coast dart tournament.  I was pretty disappointed with the way I played.  Several times I’d be sailing along with the game seemingly in hand, and then I’d inexplicably implode, throw a few bad darts, and snatch defeat from arms of victory.  At these big tourneys I don’t expect to beat the big shots, but it is exceedingly frustrating to lose to guys I know I could beat with just a little more consistency.  Ah well, that’s how it goes sometimes.

Me and my partner for the weekend.  Joel threw well so I can't help but feel like my sloppy play let him down.

Me and my partner for the weekend. Joel threw well so I can’t help but feel like my sloppy play let him down.

Over 400 darters in attendance made for a crowded dart hall and LONG waits between matches...

Over 400 darters in attendance made for a crowded dart hall and LONG waits between matches…

Reconnecting with my old pal Duke was one of the few highlights of the weekend.  Duke is the guy who first introduced me to the sport of darts in Korea back in 2005.

Reconnecting with my old pal Duke was one of the few highlights of the weekend. Duke is the guy who first introduced me to the sport of darts in Korea back in 2005.

Checked into my tenth floor room Friday afternoon and enjoyed this view of the East Sea from my balcony.

Checked into my tenth floor room Friday afternoon and enjoyed this view of the East Sea from my balcony.

Saturday turned cold and wet and without my yobo around to remind me to bring a jacket it was a chilling experience.

Saturday turned cold and wet and without my yobo around to remind me to bring a jacket it was a chilling experience.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

My sour mood followed me to the coast.  Last year Jee Yeun was with me and I keenly felt her absence all weekend.  I had several darters come up and ask me about her.  Truth is, she is much more popular than I am.  Certainly friendlier.  We talked Thursday night at length, and the bottom line is it looks like she won’t be coming to the States anytime soon.  Her mom is not feeling any better, her father’s Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, and the apartment hasn’t sold.  She said her mother is stressing out so she wants to move to the countryside to take care of her.  Selfish bastard that I am, I told her I needed her to be with me.  It became quite apparent that if I forced her to choose between mom and me I was going to lose her.

After a sleepless night I called her again and she assured me that her love for me was undiminished, but she was the only one in the family available and capable of caring for her mother.  So that’s her priority.  I do understand that.  But I don’t have to like it.  What I can do I suppose is return to Korea.  I’d prefer to go back with a job offer in hand, but I’m not sure how long I can hold out waiting for that to happen.  I did a little networking with my buddy Duke and he promised to send my resume to one of the contractors his company manages in Korea.  The job we discussed doesn’t pay much, but it does provide SOFA status and would put me back on Yongsan.  So if an offer comes through I’d be inclined to take it.

The hotel I stayed in allegedly had WiFi, but damned if I could get it to work.  That was a pain in the ass.  So I missed the email from the folks who manage my Chase credit card advising me of possible fraudulent use of my account.  I did get a cryptic text message from Chase asking me if I had ordered $543. worth of men’s clothing online.  These days I wear blue jeans and sneakers pretty much exclusively, so obviously I had made no such purchase.  I got on the phone with the fraud department and learned that there had also been charges for over $700. in computer equipment.  Fortunately, I won’t be responsible for the unauthorized purchases.  There is still a pain in the ass factor in that my account has to be closed and a new card issued.  I didn’t want to leave Jee Yeun hanging in Korea with no resources so they agreed to allow small transactions there until I can mail her the new card.  I asked how someone could have gotten access to my account and they didn’t really want to answer directly, instead alluding to the possibility that some merchant I had used had been hacked.  Damn these first world problems anyway.

And that’s where things pretty much stand in my so called life.  The world is turning.  I hope it don’t turn away…