There are days when things start to go wrong right from the moment you wake up. We all have those days when nothing seems to go our way. Yes, absolutely nothing. Every step we take on that day just backfires, royally.
But then, there are those very rare times when the day starts off at the bottom and just when you tell yourself, “Uh oh, it’s one of those days”, things start to work its way towards the top, and by the time the day ends, you forget all about the bad start and tell yourself, you had a great day.
This is the story of one of those days.
- The Shitty Start
It was a cold morning. At 5.30 am, when my alarm went off for the second time, I finally decided to get up and head out. I tried to be extra quiet because all my roommates were fast asleep, having gone to bed only a few hours before after an extended booze session. Just outside the main door was Rico, a tall Finnish dude with a cigarette in his hand. He was my favourite roommate because he had an endless supply of Kim Jong Un jokes. We knew we will probably never see each other again, but our friendship was not deep enough to evoke any emotional outbursts. We said your goodbyes and shared a geeky three finger handshake.
At the Gimpo airport, the lady at the Asiana Airlines check-in counter asked me if I was there to change my flights. She told me that I was there very early. Checking in at 6.15 am for an 8 am flight was not that early, I thought. I wondered why she asked me that. I shook my head.
“No, I want to check-in for my flight. Please give me a window seat if you can.”
She asked again if I was sure I wanted to check in for my flight right then.
“Yes, and I have one check-in baggage.” I was getting irritated. Lack of sleep, no showers, a slight hangover and the same question being asked again and again. The fake friendliness that I carry around while travelling was wearing thin at this time. Sensing it, the lady quickly printed me a boarding pass.
Gate 18, Seat 21 A
Things started getting murkier at Gate 18. My flight was not listed for boarding from the gate.
Curious, I asked the airline official at the gate about my flight. “Maybe the departure gate of my flight has changed.” I told myself.
“Your flight has a lot of time.” She repeated the lines of the lady at the check in counter. She even gave me the same confused look.
“The flight leaves in 90 minutes.” What was with these people today? 90 minutes is not that early.
She took my boarding pass and showed me the time printed on it. It said, 1950 hours not 0750.
My flight still had 12 hours!
I looked at my boarding pass and my online ticket confirmation carefully. I could not believe I made such a stupid mistake. I could see, from the corner of my eye, the airline official smiling. Yes, it was embarrassing.
It all made sense now. The lady at the check-in counter asking me if I came to change my flight, the stares from the security officials at the checkpoint.
I kept asking myself one question. “How?“
I remembered the night I booked the tickets. I had gone out with a few of my hostel mates who convinced me that I needed to visit Jeju. That night when we stumbled back into the hotel under the blissful influence of soju, I took out my laptop and booked the flights. And worse of all, I did not care enough to check the tickets even once before coming to the airport. Big mistake.
Did I wake up at 5.30 am, braved the cold weather for nothing?
I knew I could not go back to my hostel, because I had a room booked at Jeju and had the whole day planned. I had to go to Jeju.
I decided to dash my way outside to get fresh tickets to Jeju from the Asiana Airlines counter. The lady at the counter had a smile on her face that said, “You understand me now, don’t you?”
She smiled and nodded, when I asked her to find me an earlier flight to Jeju.
Finally she looked up from her computer and declared that she had tickets for a 12’o clock flight but I have to pay about 18400 wons extra for that. Realising that, given the situation, it was the best deal, I gave her the thumbs up and it was official. The 12’o clock flight was mine.
2. Then Things got weird
I had around 4 hours to kill, so I decided to head to the airport information counter and ask if there were any shower facilities at the airport. They did not have any at the airport but they told me that I could get to a nearby Korean spa by the shuttle bus. I did just that and it took a bit of looking around, but I finally managed to find the Spa.
This was my first Korean Spa (Jimijillbang) experience, so I was excited and nervous at the same time. At the locker area, I got cold feet. I just could not pep talk myself into dropping down my pants in front of strangers.
But I soon realised, after seeing the other guests stripping down to their birthday suits like pros, that being naked in a Korean spa was probably not that big-a-deal. Inside the shower and sauna rooms, I saw friends scrubbing each other’s back; kids running around and having fun while their fathers talked to each other about baseball, weather and North Korea. It all seemed so normal and chilled out. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding among the guests to not look below each other’s chins.
After spending a considerable amount of time sweating it out in the herbal sauna rooms, taking a few extra long showers and relaxing in the pools of varying temperatures, I exited the establishment relaxed, refreshed, rejuvenated and smelling like lavender. I had forgotten about the flight fiasco and was ready to fly off to Jeju.
3. All’s Great That Ends Great
The receptionist at my hostel at Seogwipo, Jeju advised me to visit a nearby waterfall. She was kind enough to give me a map, which was in Japanese, and encircled the hostel and the waterfall on it. It was late afternoon and I thought hanging out near a waterfall will be a nice way to spend the evening. The greenery, the blue sky, and the falling water was surprisingly calming but things got interesting when I saw, by the side of a cafe almost hidden from view, an Olle pony.
Walking along the Olle walking trails is a popular activity in Jeju Island. These are anywhere between14-19 KMs long of varying difficulties.
I grabbed a couple of drinks from the cafe and decided to follow the walking trail and see where it took me. One of the first places that the trail took me was in someone’s backyard where a scary looking dog barked at me until I got out of there.
But, soon I was climbing hills overlooking the Seogwipo city, walking on boulders on the sea shore and marvelling at the beautiful rock formations which added character to the clear blue water. At various points in the trail, I met people who were also walking the same route.
By the time I reached the end point of the trail, it had started getting darker (and scarier). I realised I was on a hill with no one in sight. There were no bus stops or taxi stands. I had no options but to continue walking along the only concrete road that I saw, hoping that it led to a happier place.
After about half an hour of walking, I reached a small shop selling household grocery items, manned by a lanky, pale, middle aged man. The first thing I noticed about him was that few of his front teeth were missing which produced low whistling sounds whenever he spoke.
He spread out my Japanese map on the road and tried to find the place where we stood. After an anxious few minutes, he got up shrugged his shoulders, smiling.
“Can you call me a taxi?” I asked. It was dark and the thought of walking alone along the empty road was creeping me out.
His eyes lit up and he ran inside the shop, loudly sighing, “Taxi….”
He came out with his cell phone and called me a cab.
We talked a bit while we waited for the cab, mostly by hand movements. I remember how he nodded weirdly whenever he laughed. I learned that the shop was owned by his father. He also told me that he had a brother who worked in Seoul. When I told him I was from India, he loudly gasped, just like every Korean I had met, “Indo!”
When the cab arrived, he waved me goodbye and asked me to visit his shop the next day.
When I got back to my hostel, I was greeted by my new roommate, Hanor from Incheon. He seemed like a pretty nice dude, and before we knew it, we were talking about gimbaps and watching Korean TV shows.
It was almost midnight when he decided to go out and grab a couple of bottles of Cass.
That night, I made another impulsive decision under the influence of alcohol. I decided to accept Hanor’s offer and visit Seongsang Ilchulbong and U-Do Island together.