One Christmas, three countries

I was packing right down to the early hours of Christmas morning. I started all the preparation for my final departure from Korea early, to avoid this very scenario. But there I was, 2am, 3am plodding along. Maybe I’ll get that bit right next time.

I finally finished, slept for an hour and then started getting ready. I took my suitcase and bags downstairs. One, two, three carry on pieces. Oh boy, I’ll figure that out at the airport, I thought. Andrew got a cab from his place to mine and I got in. At the bus terminal, Deborah was waiting to bid me my final farewell. 6:10am came and Andrew and I departed for Incheon Airport. I waved goodbye to Deborah 😦

After talking for a while, I fell asleep. Then, I woke up to the realisation that our bus had turned into satan’s a$$ crack. I peeled layers off, drank water and endured the rest of the sweaty ride.

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Check-in time was the highlight of my Christmas Day (apart from finally seeing my sister later that night). Andrew wanted to sing carols in the line, so we did. I had brought candy canes and chocolates to give people, so after each carol I’d wish people a Merry Christmas and give them out. We struck up various conversations with the different people around, who we encountered as the line snaked its way up to the check-in counters. That was great. I heard about some rather wonderful trips. Some going home to see family, some travelling around Europe, some moving abroad to study. I loved hearing each of them!

My suitcase was 1kg overweight, the woman at the counter declared, “Christmas ser-vi-suh.” Service, Korean speak for freeness! She hadn’t asked about hand luggage yet and I braced myself. There the mound sat, further emphasised by my coat, my blazer and my thick scarf. D’oh! She didn’t even bat an eyelid at it *phew* she just put a couple of stickers on them.

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Andrew and I said our goodbyes ㅜㅜ and I boarded the Aeroflot plane for the first leg of my trip. They gave lunch and dinner, but it was a 9 hour flight with no snack between meals, which I thought wasn’t very good at all. I had an apple and Snickers left over from what I was giving people, so I had those. I watched a couple of movies and slept a lot.

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We landed in Russia on time, despite our 30 minute delayed departure. I had three hours to kill at the departure gates in Moscow. That’s when sheer tiredness unfolded upon me. I got myself a salmon and cream cheese bagel. After the 3 hour wait was a 4 hour flight, which I correctly predicted -after that first flight- they wouldn’t give a snack on (unless they did while I was sleeping).

I woke up in time to see the dazzling amber lights of the city of Hounslow below, as the plane descended into Heathrow Airport. Baggage reclaim, immigration and picking up some bubbly in duty free all went quickly and smoothly. It was thereafter that my old frustrations with London were quickly rekindled.

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I needed wifi to contact my sister. No open networks. GAHHHHHHH! Everywhere you go in Korea has [free] wifi, so this was already irritating. There was one that Heathrow Airport offered, 45 minutes free, after you enter a bunch of details. I did that, three annoying times, none of which resulted in wifi connection. I gave up and decided to use a pay phone. Insert £1 to start. £1???? £1!!!!!! To START. Then 20p/min thereafter. In my outrage, I refused.

I found an information …cart… and I asked the lady there about the wifi. She knew nothing other than there was wifi available. Right. She was initially helpful and let me make a call to my sister. The call dropped and we hadn’t exchanged any details yet. Then, at some unknown but fairly immediate turning point, the lady transformed into a huffing, puffing, tutting, rude mess. I remained calm and handed her back the iPad and said in a neutral tone, that it was fine and I’d sort something out. Meanwhile, my inner voice was screaming at the top of her lungs, “THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN KOREA!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Sigh. Making calls on an iPad is absolutely ridiculous anyway.

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I stood nearby fiddling with the wifi again, I paused and turned to her and spoke, again in no real tone. I told her that she was very unhelpful and that she was rude and that I couldn’t understand how she could be acting like that while working on an information desk. At this stage she was packing up the cart. She started wheeling away. I asked her if there was another information point that we could go to. She said it was the only one. I exhaled sharply with a slight laugh, eyebrows raised, to fully disclose to her that I thought we were all pretty damned, if she was our only point of assistance. I felt worse for the other people around, clearly tourists, stranded or trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

Eventually, Dallas (my sister) got on to me and told me where my taxi was waiting. I went out to find it. Rain, of course. After that first hour, I thought, yep, welcome back to London. I prayed that the taxi driver didn’t want to engage in small talk, I was just too exhausted to even muster that. He didn’t. Thank you, Addison Lee, for sending that angel. I knocked out on the ride there. We arrived. I paid and I gave him a Snickers bar.

My sister came out to the taxi. Warm embrace. Rejoice! I was finally back in LondonTown with 30 minutes to spare.

~~~The Wandering Pier

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