2 hours of sleep. That’s all I had gotten before what would become one of the longest single days of my life. The lack of sleep was definitely not my choice, as a key snafu kept me up till 3:30am and I needed to head to the airport for my flight home at 5:30am. Thus began the last day of my Asian adventure.
From Shanghai, it was a short 90 minute flight over to Seoul, where I had an 8 hour layover. No sleep to be had there (though we were served a rather enormous (and delicious) Korean breakfast)! I felt like a zombie, but after my original 5 hours in the futuristic Incheon Airport, I was not keen on spending 8 daytime hours there (see: “Lanterns in Seoul”)!
Considering that my bag was checked through to JFK and I had my onward boarding pass, leaving the airport and returning for my later flight was a breeze! There was no line for immigration on either end and before I knew it, I the day had flown by and I was back in line for Security.
Considering that I had taken 5 flights within Asia, I’d gotten rather used to not having to deal with removing my shoes, as most airports could care less (with the exception of Paro airport in Bhutan). As we approached the metal detector, everyone faced the same question: “Where are you heading?” If you answered anywhere on U.S. soil, then you were handed a pair of slippers and told to remove your shoes.
Ever since the liquid restrictions came down a few years ago, I’ve had a system where I simply bring an empty bottle through Security and then fill it up at the water fountain. Considering the 14 hour behemoth ahead of me, I had taken the same preparations this time. But as we boarded the 747, every single piece of carry-on luggage was subject to a thorough hand search. As the guard came across my newly filled up bottle of water, I was informed that regardless of where the water came from (even if I had bought a bottle post-Security), I could not bring it on the plane! I was flabbergasted…I mean we’d already gone through Security where they checked the exact same thing. Is the idea that they don’t even trust their own secured area now?
As the sky grew darker, I settled in for the long run in my home for the next 14 hours. The smiling flight attendants made their way down the aisles passing out free amenity kits (which, I might add, we did not receive on my outbound flight) consisting of slippers, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste. The food continued to rank as some of the best airline food I’ve ever had (tied with Druk Air), as I enjoyed wonderful Korean Bulgogi Ssambab (and no, that’s not a typo)…essentially lettuce wraps that you stuffed with rice, bean paste and some of the most wonderful beef I’ve ever had!
I can’t sleep on airplanes, but I have noticed that as I get more of these epically long flights under my belt (this was my sixth) I have a much easier time sleeping on them! I’m sure the extent of my tiredness helped, but I slept for a full 7 hours!
As dusk finally began to fall some 28 hours after I watched the sun rise, the plane made a sweep over Manhattan on our descent to JFK Airport. I looked down out the window and spotted one of my favorite spots in the city…Central Park. And as those wheels touched down and the chatty immigration officer stamped me back into the U.S. (which is not a usual circumstance…in all my overseas trips, I only have one other U.S. entry stamp), I felt happy to be home.
As I left the terminal and made my way to the Subway, I encountered that of so familiar snarky New York attitude in the AirTrain agent. Between that and the decrepit old Subway car that was, of course, delayed, I realized just how much I missed this place!
It really has been a grand, life changing adventure that has now come to a close. But that doesn’t mean life is suddenly going to be dull! I have an apartment to find, a life to re-establish, a new found appreciation for this fine city in which I reside and a million stories to tell! So stay tuned, because this is not the end, but the beginning of the next chapter!