Apologies for the posting hiatus! As one might imagine, turns out moving internationally is a seriously busy business. I’ve barely had a moment to unpack let alone ruminate long enough on anything to post. But as I’m stealing a few moments, let’s recap on how the flight back to Canada land went!
The morning of our departure dawned and we awoke to our stripped apartment which no longer resembled Ricky’s home of the last two years.
We went through the motions and got dressed and ready, nerves clanging slightly (me in particular because of my anxiety of my overweight luggage). I had to drop by my apartment at 8 to pay my final bills to my landlord and say goodbye to my co-teachers – as well as unload a bunch of stuff on them that I couldn’t get rid of and thought the school might like.
Before my main co-teacher arrived, I took a brief farewell video of my apartment as I realized it was not only the last time I’d be there but I’d never taken the video I’d promised to upload here, giving a tour of my place. On a last minute whim, I then did this. It’s a bit lengthy but it was kind of my own closure and goodbye at the same time so bear with me.
Just as I finished, I saw my co-teacher standing outside my apartment building so I called down from the window and let her in. We chatted while waiting for my other co-teacher and landlord, and she said she could call two taxis for us to arrive directly in front of our apartment to bring us to the bus terminal where we’d be catching a coach to the airport (which saved a lot of trouble considering one of my wheels was broken and we each had four sizeable bags).
Getting my bills paid was fairly easy. My landlord was very nice to me, I think especially because he hated the previous English teacher staying in my apartment so much (“David…” he’d grumble whenever the topic came up).
After that was a tearful goodbye to my co-teachers. I hadn’t cried saying goodbye to anyone else but I guess everything welled up when it came to them. I gave them each a farewell letter I’d written the night before and headed back to the apartment, reeling from the reality that this was really really it.
At the apartment, we did a final check of everything, lugged our bags downstairs, and loaded them into the taxis my co-teacher successfully called. After that it was two hours of snoozing on the bus to Incheon airport.
Once there, I felt my nerves a-jangling once more. Here was the final test: would my luggage be over the weight limit and how would I deal with that?
Well, it turned out it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I had to get rid of a few kilos, which meant I tossed some unnecessary items and (more painfully) a pair of shoes, but after some redistribution and a bit of cheating (putting notebooks and heavier magazines in my “documents folder” and keeping that outside the suitcase), I weighed in at exactly 50lbs, and 22lbs for the smaller ones.
It wasn’t too long before we could check in, thank god, and due to Ricky’s innate British sense of queuing, we managed to find ourselves at the near front of the line.
Customs luckily didn’t take too long after that, and in no time we found ourselves wandering the duty free in search of a food court, craving anything that wasn’t Korean.
What should we find but Taco Bell?
A heavenly meal later, dragged out across an hour, we headed down to our wing of the airport and readied ourselves for boarding. I swear this whole time in the airport zoomed so fast, there was barely any time to get impatient (though I still managed because I was giddy with the prospect of takeoff, forever leaving contact with Korean soil).
In no time we were boarding, and although I wasn’t looking forward to the next nine hours of sleep deprivation (we’d decided to go sleepless so as to counteract jetlag best we could upon arrival), the movie selection was none too shabby. I got through Cabaret, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and The Age of Adaline before my eyes began to bleed with the dryness of the air circulation and the altitude pressed against my brain so I developed a banging headache.
On the plus side, we got a fairly decent meal of beef and potatoes – with which I got red wine, although in retrospect that probably didn’t aid my headache. It did come with the most wonderful bread and butter though, and a damn succulent brownie. The only thing I didn’t touch was the bag of cold kimchi.
Unfortunately my stomach wasn’t up to Western food just yet (or maybe just not airplane food), and I ended up feeling really sick the rest of the way, declining the second meal and lying my head on the tray to do anything to make the flight feel less painful. And to think I used to want to be a stewardess…
Finally we had touchdown.
BC coastlines tipped into view as the plane angled for landing and let me say I’ve never been more overjoyed to see my homeland. Landing was more or less smooth, like the rest of the flight, and we found our way to immigration. Ricky’s obviously took longer, having to go through international passport processing, but as a Canadian mine took no time at all. After a brief self check-in, I submitted myself for questioning and was basically let right through. I used the time I waited for Ricky to get a luggage trolley and observe a genuine Amish family complete with bonnets and long skirts.
Before too long, I waved Ricky over to where I was waiting and we retrieved our luggage so we could transfer it to our connection flight. Directed by some super friendly, über Canadian employees, we did this with no trouble at all. In fact everyone was extremely friendly to us because we happened to be the only English speakers in a long line of Asian tourists; their relief at not having a language barrier with us was palpable.
After that came a long and agonizing re-screening process for our domestic flight, throughout which we kept smelling the acrid smoke of burnt matches and hearing warnings on the intercom about responding to a fire alarm. If there was a part of the airport on fire though, we luckily weren’t in the wing where it was happening.
Half an hour later and we were free to go wait in our departure lounge…for the next four hours of our layover.
Of the whole journey, this was definitely the most painful. It seemed never-fucking-ending. Particularly so because it meant being conscious through what for us was the 2am-6am period of what our bodies told us should be a good night’s sleep.
Around what would have been our breakfast time back in Korea, I got a sandwich from a café deli. The choice was absolutely to cry for. I did tear up a little actually, though that might have been the fatigue. But after two years of living in a country which thinks the epitome of sandwiches is honey mustard on Wonderbread with plastic cheese and various layers of pork cutlet or sweet potato, the options were indelible: brie with green apple on a baguette? Turkey bacon club with a thick slice of swiss cheese? Pesto tomato panini with fresh boccancini?
I ended up getting a spinach and mozzarella prosciutto melt on rosemary bread and devouring every last morsel. I also got a bag of Miss Vicky’s salt and vinegar chips but having lived in Korea where nothing is seasoned, the salt of the sandwich OD’d me momentarily for my saline intake. I’d been warned about this from Eat Your Kimchi, that Canadian food is intensely salty after you get used to Korean blandness. Also I got a terrible infection in my lip piercing from all the stress of moving so vinegar and salt…not the best of ideas.
Anyway, fast forward many endless hours and what felt like a repetitious and endless Wednesday, we were finally allowed to board.
Unlike what we’d previously anticipated, the flight was actually a mere four hours instead of six (!!). As it was daytime, we spent the first hour or so admiring the craggy white peaks of the Rockies, of which we had some of the most majestic views.
Evwntually giving in to fatigue, I plugged in my earphones and succumbed to the chillwave trance of Grimes and Purity Ring and Alt-J.
The anticipation of finally arriving was too much for me though. Almost bouncing in my seat, I scanned the twinkling lights of the incoming Montreal skyline for familiar landmarks.
“Look!!” I pointed to Ricky. “There’s the Olympic stadium!” (The Japanese tourist next to me slyly eavesdropped and snapped a shot of it as we passed).
And then it was touchdown.
It was 1am in Montreal, 2pm by our body clocks, and we were bone tired. Getting off the plane and collecting our baggage took next to no time – a mere twenty minutes to be exact.
My sister and father weren’t there yet so I busied myself by looking through the familiar sights, nearly fainting with joy at the beloved neon red sign by the exit:
It was as I was taking this photo that my family walked by. Then it was all hugs and reunions and greetings.
We wheeled our luggage to the car (my sister running over my bag of Miss Vicky’s chips…) and somehow managed to fit everything in the trunk. Getting home was delayed slightly by typical lame Montreal construction and a fender bender accident right in front of us, but at last we were home.
I ran around the house like, as Ricky described it, a happy puppy sniffing out its long-forgotten territory. My mom even woke up to say hello despite our efforts to be quiet and her wake-up time of 5am for her morning shift.
Once the adrenaline wore off though and we helped ourselves to a frozen pizza midnight dinner, we collapsed gratefully into the bed of the basement that had been arranged for us.
And slept like kings.
Anyway stay tuned for more adventures in Canada and experiences in reverse culture shock! We have some exciting times ahead and have already packed a lot in.
But til then, au revoir!