Korea, particularly South Korea, was one country I never thought we would be visiting during our sojourns abroad. It had always been a distant, exotic location. But, visit we did and how!
Our son was stationed in Maui, Hawaii. To reach his place, we had to take Korean Airlines as it was one of the airlines which touched Hawaii. We would disembark at Honolulu and take an Aloha flight to the Maui Island.
Seoul being the hub of the Korean Airlines, we would halt at Seoul. If on the onward journey the halt lasted a couple of hours, it would be an overnight stay on the return journey and vice versa. (Those days they were not yet demanding Korean visa).
Before starting the journey, we had registered as ‘vegetarian’ with our travel agent in Bangalore. I was a strict vegetarian and Ramu’s non vegetarianism was limited to chicken. The Korean (Buddhist?) fare being famous for not only what flew, walked and swam but also for what crawled, slithered and fluttered below and above the earth, Ramu did not want to take any chance (and hence the order for ‘Asian Vegetarian’ food)
But, imagine our shock when we were served two non-veg trays on the flight. The air hostess did not know a word of English. The steward, the ‘senior’ steward and the ‘seniorer’ steward all came one by one to convince us that what we had ordered was indeed according to the instructions they had received. Obviously somebody had goofed up in the food (order) chain. Any amount of our explaining would not help. Even our suggestion- to take away the non-veg items and serve the rest of the items could not enter those super- technical Korean brains. It was all or nothing. We preferred to forego the whole tray and managed to survive only on snacks.
When we got down at Seoul, the freezing weather came as a shock. Having set off on our journey from the ever hot Madras to the sunny islands of Hawaii, we were not at all prepared for the intense cold in between. Our luggage, except for our hand bags also had been checked in at Madras, to be collected only at Honolulu.
There was no aerobridge to convey us cosily to the terminal. A metal ladder with freezing hand rails was positioned for us to get down from the aircraft (oooh, my unprotected hands!) and we had to run to the waiting airport buses in the deadening cold wind. Once we reached the airport, we were dished out tokens for different hotels for our overnight stay. We told the man at the counter that we preferred to stay and spend the night in the heated airport lounge. He screamed, “No, No, security! Security!” as if we would blow up the terminal in the night.
We, the token holders of an obviously small hotel, were collected and taken in a small van to the hotel. We had a restricted view of the city of Seoul through the small windows of our modest transport.
The first thing we noticed on arriving at the lounge of the narrow multi-storied hotel was the board at the ‘Reception’. The Korean currency equivalent to an American dollar ran into several zeroes. Feeling very rich, we thought of ordering a good vegetarian lunch. But the waiter promptly put us in our place in his broken English that we were entitled only for a particular menu which included ‘one ice cream’. We asked for two ice creams, explaining to him that we would pay out of our own pocket for the extra ice cream (as ice cream was one thing they could not tamper with). But, once again the language barrier was too thick to penetrate. He kept wagging his finger, repeating ‘One ice cream’.
The vegetarian dish we got was something sweet and sour and quite tasty. Later we felt happy that he did not give in to our request for two ice creams as the bowl we got was huge and more than ample for the two of us.
With the hunger pangs somewhat assuaged, we retired to our room. Room? It was a cold vault. I noticed a single switch for the AC. I tried putting it in reverse assuming that it would operate the heater. But, the room continued to be freezing. Even if we were to ask for help from the staff, how to get it through their head that what we wanted was not AC but a heater? Both of us being senior citizens, the quilts and blankets provided were not enough to create a warm cocoon. In sheer helplessness, we clung to each other for life throughout the night like ‘Babes in the Wood’ and managed to survive the night.
In the morning, we were too relieved to be herded into the small van and taken back to the heated Airport departure lounge for our onward journey to Hawaii.
.As we left Seoul airport, I did not even feel like saying ‘Kasaveda’, a word I had picked up from the airport announcements, which perhaps meant ‘Thank you’.
Hilarious! I'm always in awe of you and your perspective about life, Vimala. This is yet another masterpiece from the cherished writer. Am sure the Korean episode will be with you all life.
Kasaveda for writing the article!
Thanks for sharing this with me else I'd have been blissfully ignorant of this piece. Brilliant as usual. Am all smiles.
By Sonal, Kolkata
you guys are such characters!!!
Your's and Ramu's sense of humour must have kept you both warm ! Come to think of it-- are these the same blokes who produce such wonderful TV, Fridges etc ? I am surprised !
It's written brilliantly well. I felt the chill of those moments from your words. You are a class apart Vimaladi! Thanks for keeping me inspired!
By Tanuja Chatterjee
Thank you, Sonal, Sneha, Aparna, Tanuja and Seetharam, for your very sweet comments.
By Vimala Ramu
I can imagine how you must have suffered the cold. How nice that you could turn that episode into a vicarious shiver for all your readers.
That was terrible!
No food, freezing night without warm clothes..........How did you survive? That was a close shave.
By Geetashree Chatterjee on March 19,2011
Thank you Seetaram, Geeta and Eva. In retrospect, I can see the funny side of it. But while actually experiencing.... brrrr !
By Vimala March 20,2011
Neat humorous punches throughout!!
Almost had a virtual tour while reading..
By Kakuli Nag on October 13,2011
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Your's and Ramu's sense of humour must have kept you both warm ! Come to think of it-- are these the same blokes who produce such wonderful TV, Fridges …