Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Time Shock

Well, I tried to wander around before the lectures yesterday, but the falling snow put the kibosh on that idea. If I'm similarly stymied this morning, at least I have the bus tour this afternoon.

I did wander out later during the morning coffee break -- partially to look around and partially to get away from all the smoke. The smoke in my room has lessened somewhat, which means that much of it was probably due to the previous inhabitant. But the section of the hotel with the conference contains a lot of people, and thus a lot of smokers. It always shocks me to see someone lighting up at a random place indoors. I want to say, "Hey you can't do that," but of course they can; it's only my American sensibility (and that's even a sensibility limited to parts of the country).

Speaking of the part of the hotel with the conference, an adjacent room featured a metal detector and a bunch of cops hanging around outside. The next time I walked past it, I put my glasses on and saw a sign with the Korean flag, another flag and the words "Welcome Reception." Then it was off to the Flags of the World web site to identify the other flag as the Mongolian flag. I did a news search, and sure enough, President Bagabandi of Mongolia was due to visit Cheju. Cool.

Last Friday, George warned me about the effect of the time difference. He said he had stayed up on the entire flight to Kuala Lumpur last year, and then he had gone to sleep right afer arriving -- the standard suggestion for dealing with jetlag. He said everything was fine until about 8 PM the next day, when he was overcome with sleep, only to wake right up at all hours of the night.

I, by contrast, napped some on the flight over. But I sayed up most of Korean "Monday" and went to bed around 10 PM. I woke up at about 6:30 and felt pretty good. I went down and had an overpriced breakfast at the "Cozy Cafe", checked my e-mail and went to the morning talks. I was feeling pretty good; maybe I was better able to handle this time difference than George. Wrong. After lunch, I was dead. During an endless series of 25 minute talks, my modus operandi was: listen to the first 5 minutes of the talk, decide the speaker didn't have anything interesting to say that couldn't be gleaned from the proceedings, nap for 20 minutes, wake up, clap, repeat. I went to my room and took a nap before the reception, wandered around there for a while, checked my e-mail (yeah, I'm obsessive) and went back to sleep.

I did, however, beat George in the sleeping through the night department. There are some areas you just shouldn't try to compete with me -- probable primality testing and sleeping are the two that come to mind. I made it through the next day (Wednesday) pretty well, though I decided to get to bed by about 9...for some reason sleeping 9-6, which corresponds to sleeping 7 AM to 4 PM Eastern Time, seemed like a good compromise. Well, at least it gets me up and using the computers before everyone else.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Smells Like Greensboro

I'm trying not to be jaded. Really. I recognize how lucky I amm to be able to jet around the world. In the past twelve months, I've been to Belgium, England, California (3 times), Minnesota (twice), Arizona (twice), Michigan (twice) and Illinois. But here I am in Korea and the biggest culture shock I'm having is from how much everyone smokes. My hotel room reeks just as much as ones I've had in Greensboro, North Carolina and in Winnipeg.

Landing in Seoul went smoothly. Immigration and customs, I'm sure, will be more of a hassle in the US on the way back. I looked around for a while and found the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal. It's funny how my experience traveling was more important than the language/culture barrier when figuring out where to go.

Everything went so smoothly, in fact, that I managed to get on an earlier flight to Cheju. For whatever reason, I was in economy class on this leg. No matter; it was only an hour to Cheju, an island off the southern coast of Korea. Once there, I pretty easily found the No. 600 bus to Chungun, the resort area where my hotel is located. Looking out the window, I could see the streets of Cheju City...lots of neon, Korean characters everywhere, but other than that not clearly so much different than English cities. After a bumpy hour crossing the island, I arrived at the Cheju Shilla hotel.

It had taken me until I got to Korea to find my hotel in my guidebook, so I had had some trepidation about the quality. I needn't have worried. When I finally did find it, it was labeled "super-deluxe". Pictures of world leaders who stayed here -- Clinton, Gorbachev (in his pre-Pizza Hut, Soviet leader days) -- adorned the walls. Actually, you could say that it was more of a culture shock staying in a fancy-schmancy hotel than the fact I was in Korea.

After checking into my room, I headed for a conference tutorial session that was already in progress (it hadn't been on the initial program, so I hadn't planned to arrive in time for it). After a few minutes on braid groups, I was feeling pretty groggy, as well as concerned that my house might be in ashes half a world away. So I ducked out and headed for the hotel's Internet center. The price was 5000 won for 30 minutes of service. That seemed like a fair price to check on the continued existence of my home, but there didn't seem to be anyone to pay. Oh, well, an ever fairer price! The alarm appeared to be eminently false, so I dashed off a few quick, "look, I'm in Korea" e-mails and headed off to bed.

It's somewhat easy to forget where I am when I'm in the hotel, especially during the talks. Fortunately, one look out the window reminds me. To the north is the snow-capped peak of an extinct volcano. To the south is the sea with a fleet of what appear to be fishing boats anchored just off shore. I'm up pretty early -- it's already Wednesday here -- and the sun is about to rise, so I'm going to try to get in a couple of hours of wandering around by the beach before the first talk.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Classes of Service

Because of the length of the flight to Korea, my employer sprung for a business class ticket for me. This expenditure seemed fairly extravagant.

This judgement did not pervent me from resolving to enjoy the hell out of the experience. With almost 48 hours in transit and less than 90 on the ground in Cheju (yeah, I'm a nut), flying was going to be a significant portion of this trip.

Perhaps due to the lack of business class on the Dulles to San Francisco leg, I ended up in first class. Woo hoo. Of course, I had gotten about 3 hours of sleep the night before, so I was not awake to enjoy most of the flight. Still, I slept in a really comfy chair instead of the cramped chair I would otherwise be subject to. And the meal service was comparable to being in a restaurant instead of...I don't know; the guest of a bad cook who doesn't like you. As I was warned by a colleage who has more experience with United, they offered teh meal service in order of number of frequent flier miles, which meant when they got to me, I was pretty hungry, and they were out of the fruit.

I arrived in San Francisco and hustled to Gate 102 for my flight to Seoul. I turned on my cell phone only to receive a message from the alarm company saying that a fire alarm had gone off at my house. Oh, crap. I called them back, and all they could tell me was that they had called the fire department and hadn't heard back. Nice. I asked them to check into things and call me back. I made a few frantic calls to get someone out to the house to look into things. ADT then called back to let me know that the fire department hadn't seen any signs of a fire, and had thus not broken into the house. I felt a little better, but ultimately I had to get on the plane without knowing the fate of my worldly goods.

The San Francisco to Seoul segment had me in business class. I'm not quite sure if international business class is inferior to domestic first class. The flight attendants may be a tad less obsequious. The chair, on the other hand, is quite amazing. (Go ahead, click on that link to see it.) It comes with 7 pages of instructions. The most notable feature is the leg rest, which comes out of the chair in La-Z-Boy-like fashion. There's also an individual video screen, which I had permanently tuned to the map channel. As I was writing a draft of this entry, we crossed the International Date Line and entered Russian airspace. (Is this such a great idea?)

I was somewhat bothered to be in the front row -- it's the dreaded lack of a seat in front of you for storage purposes -- until I discovered the seat next to me was empty. Wow. A place to pile all my junk!

So after a bit of napping, I resolved to stay wawake and try to adjust myself to Korean time. Let's see, if it's 10:45 AM there, that means it's...8:45 PM yesterday back home. Weird.