Saturday, July 03, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 25: Crazy snowstorm and back to Japan

January 4, 2010
Japan/SoKor Day 25: Crazy snowstorm and back to Japan

This morning I woke up a few times to the sound of snow shoveling outside. Eventually I got up and looked outside, and there was TONS of snow out there! TONS!!!!!!!! I heard a British guy get in and say, "Man, it took 4 hours to get here". It was supposed to be only a 1.5 hr bus ride! The day before I'd scoped out the bus stop to the airport and it seemed pretty easy to get to but the traffic outside sounded insane, so I went to chat with the really helpful hostel guy. I asked him if he thought I should take the train instead and he said, "Yes, I think so!" A few minutes later he said, "I checked for you and Incheon is open, but traffic is VERY bad." I made a quick judgement call, weighed the options (thank goodness for the Computer Science degree -heh), and changed plans to take the subway instead. It turns out that this was an EXCELLENT last-minute change of plans, without this I probably would have missed my flight. Oy!

It turns out this was the largest overnight snowfall in 70 YEARS!!!!!!!!!!

From Korea Times:
The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said 25.8 centimeters of snow had fallen in Seoul, breaking the previous record of 25.6 centimeters set on Jan. 28, 1969. Weathermen said that the snowfall was the largest amount recorded in the capital since data were first collected in 1937.

From Associated Press:
SEOUL, South Korea — Seoul residents battled the heaviest snowfall in modern Korean history after a winter storm dumped more than 10 inches Monday, forcing airports to cancel flights and paralyzing traffic in South Korea's bustling capital.

The snowfall, which began about 1 a.m. (1600 GMT Sunday) and continue through Monday afternoon, was the worst since Korea began conducting meteorological surveys in 1937, the state weather agency said.

Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul canceled 224 flights before resuming service Monday afternoon, airport official Choi Choon-ja said.

More than 20 flights between Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, and cities in China also were canceled, with China also coping with a snowstorm. More than 100 flights to other regions were delayed, Incheon airport official Kang Soo-kyung said.

The snow and icy roads snarled traffic in and out of Seoul, with many commuters squeezing into packed subway trains to get to work. A regular Cabinet meeting also was delayed Monday because ministers were stuck in traffic.

About 3,600 workers were mobilized to clear the snow from Seoul's roads and sidewalks. About 5,000 soldiers also were dispatched to Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province, according to the Defense Ministry.

Here are a few extra photos of the snowfall on the street that I found on Google images (thanks to the people who took these):

So that was pretty crazy. Given the insane amounts of snow I am glad I changed course at the last minute and took the subway. I actually got to Seoul Gimpo Airport in only 1 hour, amazing. It's also super lucky that I had booked a ticket out of Incheon, because most Gimpo flights were canceled that day. After arriving at Gimpo, I changed to the Airport line. There was a commuter version of that train and there were lots of those, but I arrived with literally 5 minutes before the super fast express train was leaving - once per hour on the hour!! Time was definitely on my side that day! I jumped onto the express train and off it went. I was so glad not to have taken the bus to the airport, that would have been a mess.

I sat next to a businessman and he asked me about my thoughts of Japan vs South Korea. We had a nice chat about my travels and he told me he lives 30 min outside of the city and that trip took him 4 HOURS by bus!! He actually gave up on the bus after 4 hours on it and switched to the train so he could meet a business colleague at the airport. He said he was already a couple hours late, but he expected his colleague's plane was late.

I arrived at the airport and it was fantastic. There was a really awesome Korean Cultureal area there, where rather than rushing to your gate, you could listen to traditional Korean music and do arts and crafts!! It was really funny and awesome. I glued and painted a little wooden desk, and there was a lady playing a harp/sitar kind of instrument. Someone else there joked with me, saying, "This is so much more interesting than buying cigarettes at the airport!" There were lots of other cool things in the airport too, like showers, an actual hotel in the airport, a spa and massage room, crazy. Fancy airport!

Amazingly, my plane was actually only 1 hour late due to the snow. We sat on the runway for almost an hour while a hilarious de-icing machine/cherry picker thing sprayed hot soapy water at the wings. Funny.

Once I arrived in Narita, it was much warmer and things felt way more familiar again. I went to the Keisei station, jumped on the train, and remembered my Japanese words quickly. Japanese is so much easier to remember than Hangul! I zipped to Narita Stn. quickly, and then cabbed in Narita City to Wakamatsu Honten, a fancy Ryokan where I was staying for my last night of the trip.

I arrived and tea and a cookie were waiting for me in my room. Very nice! A grandmother, the proprietress of the Ryokan, laid the tea out for me and gave me a warm cloth to wash my face. She said she would bring me dinner in 45 minutes, "Please relax." Dinner came exactly 45 min later and it was unbelievable. Tons of small dishes, all exquisitely prepared and laid out neatly on the table. There were a few local seafoods and other non-kosher ones like I expected, so I picked around that stuff as best as I could. There was still lots of good stuff to eat and I knew it would be worth just getting the standard meal and eating as many of the items as I was able to. The Sashimi was GREAT!

There was also some miso soup in a bowl with another bowl on it as a lid. It was sortof fused together in some sort of steam vice grip and I tried super hard to take the lid off. Finally it burst off and I poured a ton of soup directly on the crotch of my jeans and the fancy floor chair I was sitting on. Haha! Crap!!!! That was ridiculous. Oy, what a long day. :)

The food was great, and there was Melon for dessert. Also the meal came with plum wine which was also excellent. After the huge and incredible dinner, I took off and went for an after-dinner walk around the streets of Narita City. I saw some guys making sushi which was cool. I ended up walking all the way to the train station which was great, so the next morning I'd know where to go and could walk rather than taking a cab. After a while I walked back via a market and bought a cute little solar powered nodding cat ornament from an old couple who ran a souvenir store there.

I headed back to the Ryokan and put on a robe and some sandals and wandered down to the onsen bath to try it out and relax. That was fantastic and a great relax after a crazy day of travel and not knowing if I would catch my plane and get out of South Korea in time for my chill evening planned in Narita and my flight back to San Francisco the next day! It was nice to relax. I had the onsen to myself which was awesome. After the bath I sat on one of the "preening seats" in the sort of onsen locker room and there were razors there and other useful stuff like hair brushes. I had a nice hair brush, dry and shave and was ready for some TV up in my room. On arriving back in my room I'd noticed that while I was gone all the plates had been removed and a roll-out futon bed had been set up! I watched a few weird things on TV and then had a really nice relaxing sleep after a long day of travel.

Tomorrow: back to San Francisco!

TONS of snow!!!!!!!!!

This was a pretty clean street compared to the main street, which was covered in snow overnight

Piles of snow on all the cars, this was nuts!

In the airport, safely!

Probably the coolest airport ever. Rather than racing to my gate, I spent time listening to Korean traditional music and making arts and crafts. AMAZING!!

A lady performing traditional music at the AIRPORT!!!!!!!! This place was so fancy.

The design for the little painted desk that everyone got to create... at the airport

Another example of that really cool origami desk lamp

Tasty Korean beef before getting on the plane

Arrived at Wakamatsu Honten Ryokan in Narita! They brought in some green tea and cookies and a hot towel and said I should relax and dinner would arrive in 45 minutes.

Huge, amazing, varied Ryokan meal! There was some seafood I had to politely skip over but I could eat most of it and it was fantastic!

The proprietress of Wakamatsu Honten, bringing in my food and setting it out neatly on the table, and then posing for a photo!

Amazing dinner, beef cooking, sushi, tempura, fish, miso soup, tofu and more and more.

More photos of the dinner

Dinner! I hope that shrimp didn't feel bad that I couldn't eat him.

Great final meal on the last night in Japan!

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