Day 1 – welcome to incheon, check your old habits at the door please - Mikeroecosm

Day 1 – welcome to incheon, check your old habits at the door please

December 29th, 2006

I flew Korean Air directly from DC into Incheon, the airport nearest Seoul. My roommate Linn advised me to get the beef dish, instead of the other offerings. I did, and missed out on the korean specialty of bibimbap (bee-bim-bop), which i wouldn’t taste for the first time until almost 2 weeks later. this was my last time of “playing it safe.”

when we landed, i went through customs and immediately found my way to the baggage claim. the very first person i passed stopped me.

“captain thompson?”
me: no, sorry.
“private janssen?”
me: ha ha, nope.
“are you in the military?”
me: no, sorry.

he smiled, bowed to me, and continued walking towards the customs gates. i wondered if because of my shaved head i would be mistaken for military over here, and it didn’t take 5 minutes off the plane to get my answer.

i grabbed my bags off the conveyor belt (again, nothing amazingly different at this point, except that i am one of three white people around, i cannot read anything, and there is a slight cacophony of chopped noise coming out of the mouths of those around me that resembled nary a word in the english language), and struggled toward the exit gates with my two 50-pound bags, briefcase, and easel. another korean man tapped my arm, pointed to the racks of luggage strollers and said “free,” smiling with a nod. now we’re talking. i get my first confirmation that despite the barriers in language and culture, i am going to be able to prosper in this new land. taking a lesson from our trip to ireland, i am grinning from ear to ear and exuding all the positive energy and naivete i can. i’ve found it helps smoothe the rough spots.

cart in hand, i resume my confident stride into the waiting arms of korea. i cross the threshold of the exit and … a sea of korean faces overwhelm me. there were no less than 150 people all crowded across a rope-line 100 yards long. i immediately felt like i was the host of the today show coming out to meet his adoring korean crowd. i slowed down and scanned the crowd in amusement. i have no idea who or what i’m looking for, when on the far right, in an opening, i see a woman holding a white printed sign reading “Mikey”. the second i see this, she lowers the sign, and turns to walk away. my brother had told me that a man named sunshine* would meet me, but maybe i was mistaken.

two girls pick me up, one a supervisor, the other a teacher at my hagwon (private academy). their english is good, and i enjoy a chatty 2 hour ride from incheon into bundang. they ask if i want american food for dinner, and i immediately throw caution to the wind and say no – i want traditional korean food. no sooner had the words left my mouth, than i began to have second thoughts. i was with two strangers who i’d be working with for the next year. i’ve just landed from a 14 hour direct flight, jeg-lag is beginning to rear its head, and i have the weakest stomach known to man. do i really want to set myself up for the punishment i’ve just asked for? i imagined myself either visibly suffering through strange and unpalatable food, or worse, physically reacting to the foreign substance and having this be the first impression anyone in korea has of me. i’m thinking food isn’t the best forum to get to know my new hosts. what can i do?

i do nothing. as a matter of fact, i tapdance all over my second-guessing.

“although i’m not a big fan of spicy food, my new mantra is ‘bring it on’. so whatever you guys deem a good first meal, i’m in,” i basically challenge them.

they meet my challenge. 30 minutes later, i’m sitting in front of a bowl of unidentifiable vegetables, and a soup dish that has tentacles in it. yes, visible squid tentacles reaching out of the soup, with squirrely, curly little suction cups and all. and i creamed it.

our waitress challenged us, saying the dish was maybe too spicy for us. meaning me. she was trying to be merciful, looking out for my best interests. well lady, i happened to have left my best interests back in america along with all the other shit i used to own.

runny nose and all, i slammed all manner of food heretofore banned from my mouth. green peppers. yellow peppers. hell, i’d have eaten purple and pink spotted peppers if they’d have been put in front of me. i ate squid. and not just sampled – i ate it like it was potato chips. i ate shit i don’t even think you’re supposed to eat, and then i ate some more.

i’m in korea now folks. i ain’t here for the hamburgers.

*names have been changed to protect me from libel. i plan on being candid, honest, and opinionated, and would rather save others & myself from embarrassment, harassment, or legal trouble.


  1. f’n money. ur f’n money. bibimbop is nothing to regret. u ordered right on the plane. keep the editorials flowin. glad you had a good first meal. whats the deal with these comments… can i write whatever i want?

  2. comment moderation my ass

  3. Pretty funny! Keep them coming. Your stories make my day.

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