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.

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