Post-46: One Night in April of 2009 (Pt. 1): At the Airport

In post-45, I said I would collect and publish some of my recollections of the night I arrived in Korea.

It amazes me that the memories are vivid, even as I sit here in the spring of 2013, four years later. I remember specific conversations, events, feelings, and thoughts. The added benefit of hindsight seems to have given me much more to say than should fit in one post. Below is Part I. There will be at least four parts.

Part I: Due to the Swine-Flu Inspection, a Late Arrival
I arrived in Incheon Airport in the evening. I think it was April 29th, 2009.

As I was making my way through the baggage-area — which was still in the secure area, so no “normal people” allowed — a Korean man approached me and asked if I was in the military. In preparation for this…endeavor, I’d recently gotten a haircut and so my hair was on the short side, so his question was fair. He wanted to guide me the appropriate way. His face took on a look of puzzlement or surprise when I responded with a ‘No’. Or maybe it was just plain old indifference.

I walked out of the baggage-area, and thus out of the secure-area of the airport, and into the “Arrivals” area. A woman was waiting, holding a humble little sign bearing my name. Her name, she told me, was Melinda. I thought this was pretty interesting, being that I have a cousin with the same name. I have no idea how old she was, though I assume she was 25-30. I remain bad at guessing Koreans’ ages. She said she’d been in Washington state, I think it was, some time ago, perhaps studying. She was now the assistant to this recruiter who had gotten me the job. I’d thought that recruiter was a one-man operation, but it seems he had an assistant after all, and she got stuck doing the “pick the new guy up at 10 PM” chump work.

She was tired and a bit annoyed. I think she was good at hiding her annoyance by Western standards but not particularly good at hiding it by East-Asian standards (as I look back on it now). It was the late evening, after 10 PM.

My plane was late. No wonder she was annoyed.

The plane had been delayed in Japan due to the worldwide H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus scare, then in full swing.

PictureMany Japanese wore surgical masks in the
airport that day in 2009, but most of us
foreign passengers didn’t; felt too awkward

It was something out of a dream or a movie: A team of mask-wearing Japanese doctors had inspected each passenger on our plane (freshly arrived from the USA) at Tokyo Narita airport. They used some kind of device that I didn’t recognize. Some people had died of H1N1 in the USA by this point.

We then had to fill-out cards about our health status, and obviously they’d be ferrying-away, for isolation, anyone who answered that he or she had flu symptoms, a big disincentive to answer “Yes” to the “I have been coughing recently” prompt. The Japanese authorities instructed us all to wear masks like those at left. They provided the masks, but few of us wore them. I remember murmurs of “Do we have to wear these?”  An Indian woman from New Jersey, sitting next to me, was among the first to take her mask off. She was married with adult children, and was visiting Tokyo as a tourist, alone, she told me. Anyway, that Swine-Flu inspection slowed everything down.

I apologized for being late, despite it being the H1N1 virus’ fault. I asked Melinda how long she’d been waiting. I can’t remember what she said, but I do remember her suppressed-exasperation. I think she’d been standing there, holding that damned sign, for two hours or more. Poor woman! This was in the days before smart phones, remember, so she couldn’t just dawdle away the time smartphoning, as people do today. But now, here I was. . . .

[This is the End of Part I]

[Next: Part II and Part III and Part IV and Part V]