Andreas Gursky, Schiphol, 1995
Andreas Gursky, Schiphol, 1995
  1. Upon checking into my hostel, I realize that its Airbnb pictures were probably taken the last time the place was cleaned, at least five years ago. I discover a colony of hairs camping out by the side of my pillowcase. I immediately cover my pillowcase with a towel while wondering if lice exist in Korea.
  2. After returning from dinner, I see that my belongings are all gone from my bed. They have been replaced by a large extended Korean family, the members of which are now peering at me like mice from the room’s many bunks. The room, they say, was devoid of luggage when they moved in an hour ago
  3. After frantically searching the hostel—which isn’t hard, as it consists of only three dingy rooms—I inexplicably find my suitcase and backpack on a bed in the room next door. The new neighbor to my possessions states that they were there when he, too, moved in an hour ago.
  4. The Korean parents from 2. are worried about me staying in my new room, which is currently occupied only by me and the man from 3., a Swede whose entire head is covered with a tattoo of tree branches and whose ears would probably collapse if he took all of his piercings out. They take me back to my original room and settle me into one of their children’s beds, forcing two of their sons to share a bunk so that I do not have to undergo the horror of sleeping in such close proximity to someone who they seem to assume is the leader of Swedish Satanists.
  5. I am awoken at 5:50 am by someone’s alarm clock, chirping with electronic bird noises. Fortunately, this is when I have to wake up anyway to make my flight. Unfortunately, it seems that I may not make my flight, as my laptop and passport are nowhere to be found.
  6. After searching every open, dirty inch of the place, I pace around the hostel and text at least five people in a panic, asking for advice about what to do.
  7. The Korean family, woken up by my pacing, call the hostel owner and manage to get the keys to open every security box in the hostel. My passport and laptop are found in a box that I haven’t been anywhere near. I have no idea how they got there, but upon finding them, I burst into tears and resist the urge to hug every member of this family that I have only known for six hours. The father gives me his business card and urges me to call if I’m ever in Daejeon.
  8. I have spent so much time looking for my passport and laptop that I won’t make my flight on time if I take the metro. Cringing as I imagine the cost, I hail a taxi. The driver doesn’t stop moving his mouth the entire 40-minute drive. As I disembark at the airport, I am just as happy about the sudden silence as I am unhappy about the 45,000 won I spent.
  9. The automated check-in machine at the airport won’t accept my passport. I soon realize that this is because I am at the wrong airport. I am not, in fact, departing from Incheon International Airport, but rather from Seoul’s older, more regional Gimpo Airport. My flight leaves in 65 minutes. The airport officials push me towards a taxi and tell me that I will probably make it on time.
  10. Thirty minutes and 45,000 more won later, I am at Gimpo. My initial flight, though, has been delayed. I am transferred to a similar flight on Korean Air that will leave me one hour to transfer in Beijing. The Internet has told me that international transfers in Beijing take at least two and a half hours. The counter attendant for Korean Air tells me I can do it if I walk fast enough.
  11. I cannot walk fast enough. Probably because the transfer does not involve just walking, but also transferring buildings by bus and going through security a second time. I make it to the Air China ticket counter five minutes before my Beijing-LA flight is scheduled to leave.
  12. I wait in line for three hours. I miss my flight.
  13. I quickly realize that my lack of Chinese language skills may be partially to blame for my long wait. A white American couple walks up to the receptionist (who has pushed me to the side to wait for a yet-unidentified customer service representative), and the two begin to talk to her in fluent Chinese. They get what they want, something that is beyond my Princeton Chinese 101 level of comprehension, and are gone within 10 minutes.
  14. I am not going to be leaving Beijing in the near future. The receptionist for Air China tells me that there are no more flights to America today. I find this difficult to believe. I ask about Canada. There is a flight to Vancouver, but I’m not allowed to take it. I ask why. The receptionist’s response is a forceful “No.” Her English has reached its limit, and my Chinese reached its own limit hours ago.
  15. I am rebooked for a flight that leaves 27 hours later and will not take me home, but rather to Dallas, at midnight on a Sunday, with no chance of flying to Austin until sometime on Monday. I am signed up for the GRE on Monday. I consider giving up on applying to grad school this year.
  16. At some point in the midst of this chaos, I have lost the American SIM card to my phone. My Korean SIM card no longer works now that I’m in China, and without my American SIM card, I’m unable to use iMessage. I wonder if my parents think that I’ve been sold into some sort of airport human trafficking ring, and then note that it is the middle of the night in Texas and they are probably thinking nothing at all.
  17. I’ve been waiting for someone from the airport hotel to pick me up for at least an hour. The Air China receptionist tells me that someone already came. I continue to wait.
  18. Finally, a man bursts into the hall, yelling something in Chinese (probably the word for hotel, which I forgot long, long ago). A group of weary-looking people gets up to follow him, and I do, too.
  19. We board a Chinese-style tourist bus, every inch of seat covered with lacey doilies. As we wind through the run-down neighborhoods surrounding the airport, I can smell the pollution from inside the bus. The sky is dark grey, and all the buildings we pass are similarly washed-out from years of pollution.
  20. The hotel receptionist tells me that I am not allowed to stay here. My ticket, she says, is from Korean Air, and they are only authorized to hostel Air China customers. At least, I think that’s what she says. I have stopped making the effort to communicate with people. I simply hand her my documents and say that I must spend the night here. There is lots of talking on the phone, angry hand gestures, and some yelling. I am allowed to stay here.
  21. The receptionists tell me that I can take the 1:20 shuttle bus to the airport tomorrow. My flight is at 3:40. Hell no, I think. I ask to take the 10 a.m. shuttle.
  22. My Beijing hotel room makes me yearn for the hostel I stayed at in Seoul. I’ve been booked in a room with two double beds and am sharing it with a stranger. The room has no windows. This can’t be legal, can it? I wonder. I sleep with my passport inside my shirt and my arms wrapped around my backpack, and I spend seven fitful hours wondering if the hotel will catch on fire and I’ll die unable to escape due to the lack of windows.
  23. The next day, I arrive at the airport six hours before my flight and spend four hours in the security line before making it to my gate at 3 p.m. I don’t think I would have made my flight if I had taken the 1:20 bus.
  24. Twelve hours later, I AM IN AMERICA, thank Jesus and Mohammad and Buddha and all the minor religious figures I am forgetting.
  25. My excitement dies moments later when I realize that I still have to buy a ticket from SFO to AUS (no way I am going to Dallas), and that the next flight is in six hours.
  26. Six hours later, my excitement dies more when I realize that my flight is delayed a further four hours.
  27. A child is scream-laughing next to me while jumping on a public art installation that seems to double as a xylophone. My eyes are bloodshot and I haven’t changed clothes in multiple days and I think my socks may have fused to my feet.
  28. At 2 a.m. on August 14th, 2016, I land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (which I’m pretty sure is only international because of one flight to Cancún). It’s 4 p.m. in Korea and 60 hours after I left. I’m now fused not only to my socks but probably also to my shirt and maybe my shoes too.  But my mom is here to pick me up and my suitcase didn’t get lost and finally I can go to bed (with no stranger next to me) and not worry that I’ll die in a fire.

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