I’m in Seoul, Korea! It’s just for a layover, so it doesn’t exactly count as visiting Korea but it’s fun to think about being in a country I haven’t been to. I’m here on a layover to Taiwan where I will be visiting extended family and attending my cousin’s wedding. It’s a short trip and I’ll be back in Saipan before I know it.
Apparently, Saipan used to have direct flights to Taiwan — and I was actually hoping that that would be the case when I finally figured out that I was coming here. It seemed so natural that if I was living in this area of the world, I’d be making a trip or two or three out to see my relatives here. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. When the economy in Saipan was better, there were many more direct flights from all over Asia (and Russia…. is Russia a part of Asia?? .. central Asia??…. how do I not know this? so embarrassing). The flights used to arrive and leave during the daytime too… what a novel concept.
Actually, I have never been to the Saipan airport for an international flight during the daytime. Generally, the flights leave and arrive at around 2 or 3 AM. I had to arrive 2 hours early per regulations for my 2:40 AM flight and the airport was alive with tourists traveling and doing their last minute pre-plane ride shopping among the duty free shops (.. although I guess all of Saipan is duty-free).
Anyway, now I’m in Korea which was the cheapest way to get to Taiwan even though if you look at a map, it’s not the most obvious way. It’s a beautiful airport with lots to do although I chose to sack out in a lounge for my 4.5 hr layover (longer than my flight time to get here!). I’ve already eaten a hot Korean breakfast and had my coffee. (I did think seriously about buying Starbucks here though.. the smell was just so tempting and absence does make the heart grow fonder even though I basically never went to Starbucks or any coffee shops back in the States). I’ll take a short 2 hr flight to Taiwan from here and make it there by lunch time. The one nice thing is that I don’t have to deal with jetlag (although I don’t usually get it since I’m so used to working nights and days and crazy hours).
Sorry for the lack of pictures and this exceedingly wordy post… put my camera uploading cord in my baggage so I don’t have it.
Here are some thoughts about Korea so far….
1) SNOW! It is -3 deg Celsius here. While I intellectually knew that it was winter, it’s hard to “feel” like it’s winter in Saipan. Landing here, I saw snow on the ground and actually whipped out my camera to take a crappy picture of it through the airplane window because I was so excited. I kind of took a long time on the jetway of the plane just breathing in that “cold crisp winter air” … haven’t felt ‘cold’ in a long time. haha..
2) The airport is totally setup for tourists! First of all, there are signs all over the place for activities inside the airport. There are free use of computers that are connected to internet, quiet lounges that show movies continuously… and even a place to take a FREE shower! I did momentarily contemplate the shower but the thought of the million other tourists that had used them squashed that thought and I settled with brushing my teeth instead.
3) Winter clothing… I have seen more puffy jackets here than I have ever seen in my life. period.
4) “Transit Tours”… a genius idea! I actually have become somewhat of an specialist in long layovers since for some reason, that is part of my traveling often. It first started back in med school when I had my first long layover in London on my way to Africa. I had 10 hours to kill and while Heathrow is nice, it’s not 10 hours worthy… I stored my luggage, hopped on public transit, went downtown armed with my mp3 walking audio tour and had a wonderful time visiting all the major sites of London like a true tourist. (And made time for Fish and Chips and a brew!) I am going to Cambodia for a two week medical trip in a month and know I have a 12 hour layover here in Seoul. I found out there are set tours here to visit the DMZ, downtown Seoul, or other historic sites around ranging from 1 hour to 8 hours in length. Genius I say! Prepackaged for me and considering I speak absolutely no Korean, will make my life much easier. I’m excited to pick out my tour and it will be so nice to get out of the airport and actually say I got to visit Korea!
5) ….. and if you want, MEDICAL TOUR! Not only could I have a ‘transit tour’ in Seoul, but I could actually have a medical tour. It’s medical tourism at it’s finest — everything you could ask for during your LAYOVER… what the?!
Here are some examples…
Do you want a standard checkup A package.. blood work, urinalysis, chest x-ray, EKG, and consultation? .. that’ll be 1 hour and $200 please.
Do you want standard checkup B (this one kills me!!!) … package A + an ultrasound of the abdomen and an EGD… okay .. an EGD??? That’s an esophagogastricduodenoscopy.. i.e. they put a camera into your mouth and look down your esophagus, stomach, and early small intestine to check it out. umm.. if you want stardard checkup B, they can also get it done in one hour and it only costs you $115 more? WHAT?! that’s a steal.. maybe I’ll just do it for fun (like right.. doesn’t sound fun at all!)
there are about 15 other packages .. but the grandmaster complete health program will only take you 4 short hours and cost you $1800 and you will get… program B PLUS a brain MRI/MRA (look at your brain and you blood vessels in your brain), a CT scan of your chest, ultrasound of your thyroid and heart, and an abdominal and pelvic CT.
Okay, I just think it is really a little ridiculous but I guess that’s just how it is nowadays. I mean… from what I understand, people from China are paying someone on Saipan $1500 or something like that to have their baby at my hospital with very little prenatal care so… it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, it’s weird to see it in paper and advertised so freely. My advice: eat healthy, exercise, spend time outdoors, everything in moderation, regular health check-ups without excessive testing, get medical advice from a medical professional when needed.
Keep in touch! Will update soon from Taiwan.