Not Quite Smooth Travelling

I spent my last full day in Seoul purchasing some discount hiking poles and looking around the fabric section of the Gwangjang Market. Or in other words, getting lost in the identical aisles of the Gwangjang Market. I could have passed the same teetering pile of fabric half a dozen times and not known it. This is not to say that all the fabrics were the same, indeed there was a vast variety of colour and composition, it is merely that fabric shops of any reasonable size have an innate ability to become labyrinths to the unsuspecting customer. Thus, it is hardly surprising that an entire market of fabric stores had me without orientation within seconds. Eventually I escaped the maze, sanity and wallet intact (there was a long moment where I debated getting a hambok after the fun I had wearing one). I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hostel and checking a few last minute details for my next stage of travelling. Because my flight to Japan was an early one, I’d elected to change to a hostel closer to the airport for ease of mind. This is where everything started to go wrong. Well not everything, just one particular thing that impacted on everything else. One very annoying little thing.

Remember how on my first day in Seoul I was complaining about the difficulties of getting money at an ATM? Well it happened again as I tried to pay for my hostel and again and again at the nearby ATMs. I was forced to cancel my hostel, though at such short notice they charged via the internet anyway. Ironic that I was forced to pay for something I could not have when the reason I was unable to have it was that I could not pay.

Having seen the train times, I knew there was no way I would have been able to stay at my previous hostel, where I technically still had a reservation, and make it to the airport on time. Hence I found myself sprawled and trying desperately to sleep on an airport bench while waiting for 04:30 and check in to roll around. It eventually did, and after a pleasant chat with my mother via the beauty of free, unlimited airport WiFi (take note all English airports), I checked in without a hitch.

The queue for both entrances to security was painfully long, so long in fact that the two ends collided out by the check in desks. I was reminded of the days when all the new security measures had only just been introduced and no one knew what was going on. Nowadays it is so streamlined in some airports as to be almost painless. My flight left on time and, other than a little turbulence, I naively thought I had left my troubles behind. More fool me, for in my pocket still lurked the card of doom, biding its time until I needed to withdraw my yen.

Safely through immigration and customs, I head straight for the ATM line up and start working my way down the line. To my utter devastation, not a single one would give me any money. There I was, stuck half way around the world, without a usable penny, or rather yen, to my name. I didn’t have a working sim card and with no money, I could not use a payphone. After a small meltdown and several failed attempts to phone home via Messenger, I found myself once more in front of the dreaded ATMs. This time my goal was only to get enough money for the pay phone. At the third machine along I started low and upon a miraculous success, worked my way up until the I once again got an error message.

This method was by no means perfect and I dread to think of the various bank charges I have incurred but I now had enough money for the train and my hostel, which was a marked improvement. Armed with my newly procured funds I took the JR line to Nagano where I said goodbye to English announcements and continued on to Yudanaka. I carefully monitored snow levels throughout my journey, after all my sole reason for coming to Yudanaka is to see the snow monkeys. Things did not look promising as the train set off from Tokyo. It was not until well after Nagano that dustings of snow began to appear and only in the final stretch, when we ventured in to the shadow of mountains, that any major snowfall occured. End of the line and I walked to my hostel, miraculously not getting lost. I enjoyed an amazing plate of sushi and some tempura with a couple of other guests before retiring for the evening.

An amusing aside observation is how airports and train stations gradually seem to be giving up on forbidding luggage on escalators. In Hong Kong, signs asked that people with big bags use the lifts but when I reached Seoul it was only if one had multiple bags that the lift was required (though the number of stairs in some stations made the lift a tempting option anyway); at Incheon Airport signs showed how to take two suitcase on the escalator; finally, when I reached Narita Airport in Japan, the escalator to the train station was labelled as being suitable for taking trolleys. On this last however, one must note the look of fear on the faces of those standing in front of the trolley.

And so it Begins

Leaving home is never easy, the packing alone is enough to make one shudder in horror, but to fly halfway around the world with only a vague idea of when one will return is even harder.  At some point between the 132 miles to Bath and the 6885 miles to Singapore there is a line where the prospect of going away becomes exponentially more terrifying.  This fear does not diminish the excitement buzzing through my veins.  However, it does produce a few tears as I say goodbye to my parents at the airport.  

Boarding the plane in the fog I consider how there was a time when this would have delayed my plane, but now it seems not an issue.  Perhaps there is a part of me that wishes the flight would be delayed, if only to halt the approaching unknown for a little longer.  The plane charges down the runway and begins to climb steeply through brightening white.  I stare out the window for the moment when we will erupt into the ever changing but increasingly familiar cloudscape that accompanies so many flights.  As always, my anxiety melts away with the start of my journey.  Undoubtedly  it will return on occasion but for now I am content to stare out the window and read my book as the plane to Gatwick soars on.

I spend the night in Heathrow’s Yotel, a small hotel chain that draws their inspiration from Japanese pod hotels. Each cabin is complete with a bed, bathroom area and a small pull out table.  Singapore noodles seem the most fitting food on offer from reception so I tuck into the warm meal in my small but comfortable cabin. An early night sees me prepared for an early start and I drag my suitcases to Terminal 3 in time to catch my flight.

There is little to be said for most flights; they are crowded, loud and difficult to sleep on. Furthermore, when one finally does asleep, they are abruptly awoken by turbulence, someone needing the toilet or for food.  The one enjoyment of my flights to Singapore was the opportunity to fly on an Airbus A380, seemingly a trivial matter but still something to cross off the bucket list.

As we finally touch down in Singapore, I am filled with nerves and I can’t help but think to myself “what have you done now? Flying all the way to Singapore to study physics! Bath was perfectly acceptable” but life is about pushing oneself above and beyond normal comfort levels in order to improve and grow. So I may be tired and missing home but instead I chose to think of the adventures to come and the stories to discover.