Saturday, February 06, 2021


8:30am pickup from home, 9-something check in at Delta with two male employees bad at their jobs (one wore a mask under his nose, the other refused to read English on my visa that is in English and Korean, both of them telling me worst case scenarios of traveling during pandemic). 10:35am takeoff, landing in Detroit 25 min later to meet non-alarmist Delta gate agents. Temperature check + paperwork, oral interview, and a little after noon we get on the plane. After cleaning my area with wipes given upon boarding, I hear a big white dude crowing about how cheap his trip to Asia is and how he wants at least 3 more pillows and then yells across the aisle to converse with a random guy. Given how empty the flight is, I ask to move seats and get on the other side of the plane, wipe my new seating area, and prepare for departure after 12:30pm on Wed.
14+ hours and too many dairy/salty snacks later, land in Korea at 3:56pm on Thurs. Only about 30 min sleep though I could stretch out across three seats and watch an Evander Holyfield film that my sister edited first, a Linda Ronstadt documentary last. Because I knew there would be no bathroom for a while, I went to the first one out the gate, which meant I ended up near the end of a giant line for checkpoint #1: quarantine. That took over an hour. I wore too-warm clothes and my temperature (98.86 degrees F) was too high for them to let me go to the next checkpoint, so I had to wait to be checked twice more. 6:11pm: checkpoint #8, holding area. Eventually to checkpoint #9, a holding area that took even longer, though this time we could go to the bathroom if we needed.
8:12pm: the bus we boarded 6 min ago leaves the airport, only to arrive at the airport at 8:30pm (first I thought we had circled, but later my cousin explained that Incheon airport built another terminal that is really far away from the original site) to pick up more folks. 8:45pm: begin a sleepy bus ride to Yongin, a city 20 miles from Seoul, to arrive at the Golden Tulip hotel at 10pm. The guy in the blue baseball cap is mad that there is no proper dinner and that we aren't allowed to run across the street to the convenience store. The face shielded guy is an employee covered from head to toe in protective gear.
The suitcases are sprayed down and we sit down in the lobby to record our temperatures on the app we downloaded at the airport hours ago. Then we are allowed to check in one by one, get our covid tests, and be sent up one at a time in elevators to our rooms.
10:25pm: the first bed I've seen in over 24 hours. Of course, because of jet lag, even though I was extremely sleep deprived, I only slept about 5 fitful hours.
I wanted to cry when I opened the bag of "food" we got on the way to the elevator: all processed junk. But I was so hungry that I heated water in the electric kettle to have my cup of ramen, showered, and went to bed.
My room faced east, and the mountains reminded me of all the ones I saw when landing. 7:40am: call to my room saying the covid test was negative (that's why we had to sleep overnight, waiting for test results). The caller instructed me to leave my room at 8:10am, not earlier. I reluctantly left bed and wrapped up the hazardous waste bag of my trash to place on a small wooden platform directly outside of the door, and we were taken in small groups to the lobby and directly to our transportation. Mine was a quarantine taxi that departed at 8:16am.
9:16am: arrive at Fulbright building. I didn't stay in these apts when I was a junior researcher but had friends who did, so the layout was familiar. I can see people out and about through the huge wall of windows and finally recognized one area that was under construction all the other times I had been here.
I had asked for fresh fruits, veggies, and eggs before departure, so this was in the fridge, with more cup ramen and other dry goods on the counter.
11:11am: with help from the assistant via a phone app, I figure out where the utensils are! Then I make oatmeal (my bags were heavy because I brought the entire orchestra: oatmeal, oat bran, chia seeds, cinnamon, walnuts, dates. My fear of lacking food has only strengthened with age).
The view on one side, this is the area that had been under construction for years and leads to a subway station.

And to the right. A big building directly in the middle. Though horribly tired, I manage to stay awake until 7pm! After 1am, I wake up and call home for a while, then figure out how to turn off the heated floors and go back to bed around 3 or 4am. Up again at 8am and it's Saturday: time for oatmeal. A few hours later, I cook a small soup to go with warm rice from the cooker (I had to beg an employee downstairs to help get me groceries because of quarantine logistics), and wonder what I'm going to do with the 3 kilos of rice that was delivered. I eat a lot, but can't eat that much rice over 12 days. Now: fighting sleepiness but glad to be in one place for a bit to get my bearings.

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