Friday, August 22, 2008

Thoughts in an airport

I sit in the Incheon International Airport, a scant 9 weeks after my arrival in 韩国 AKA Ko Rea. It's been a halcyon, whirlwind penultimate week; with an ever-dwindling number of students, final meals to be shared, goodbyes to be said (most poignant: my bidding farewell to the bustling and cheap fried chicken stand near work...), and hella packing what to do up, I remained in constant (or at least, consistent) movement over the past four or five days.

I'm sure I'll later confront more directly my break-down of the summer, and those musings will comprise the cornerstone of another update; but, for the moment, I'm content to sit, satiated by the ever-passing moment. Let me paint a picture for those of you not embroiled, at the moment, in the unique, ubiquitous milieu of the international airport.

To my right: a dark sky gives way to rushing clouds. As piscine white scales slink by, the sun peeks coyly out from behind them, vacillating between hiding herself and teasing us with portents of glad weather.

In Korea, I've found her character to be that of a scintillating ingenue: in the last week, our relationship has been a tempestuous (though yet short of actually abusive) and attractive one. Three days of joyful, walk-about weather (we went running through the park Thursday afternoon; we'll always have that) gave way to a final Friday of fat, loud raindrops drumming in a cavalcade of tiny , frantic impacts against the windows of my building and the drenched Seoul streets outside. But she relented from her tantrum (my boss, at lunch yesterday: "I think Seoul is crying, that you are leaving"), coming out to bid me farewell today; I appreciate it.

Baby blue planes striped with white and emblazoned with the Korea Airlines symbol dot the runway, taxiing lazily into the gate. Below, airline workers bustle about, unhurried but efficient. From their pace and bearing, I imagine their conversation to be laconic, comfortable. Familiar.

I'm at my Gate. A line of passengers ebbs before me; from the demographics represented therein, I assume (is that ever safe?) that it is a midwest-bound flight. Obvious G.I.'s (a safe assumption, judging by the "JAMES" "ARMY" velcro-patch firmly attached to backpack) mingle with what looks like a college students' basketball team - ridiculous, in gym shorts, t-shirt, and tourist-issue rice paddy hat (he will never wear it in the States; it will lie in the corner of his dorm room, wind up as a frat house cast-off story, or in his basement) - and Korean mothers and fathers placating their hyperactive children. A White woman walks by me, bumblebee-yellow neck pillow already affixed: after the sartorial standards of Korea, it is hard to forget (but I will, I shall, forgive) the sight of loose sweatpants, threadbare ragged hems dragging under thin sandals, a loosely-worn hoodie bulging over a t-shirt one or two sizes too large.

The line empties. Two last basketball girls wait for their friend; she ambles out of the bathroom, gathering up her baggage. Her t-shirt (she looks like an M; it is an L; I notice these things now. Good or bad or what?) reads, in starkly white-on-black, off-centred, comedic (think Comic-Sans sans-cliche) typography: POLLY'S KITCHEN
an epitome of expatriated, exported culture(?). (I mean the t-shirt, and not the girl)

One last White woman jogs up, gulping for breath. An Asian man follows her, headphones askew and bouncing.

All is quiet on this front.

Then! Suddenly, out of nowhere, it seems, a rush. More out-of-breath travelers - the dilatory crowd - bolts up: a mother and her son, a tall Black man, and a few others. The procrastinators empty in, and again serenity takes her place in line. The people-mover scrolls by, travelers bound for other gates and destinations (Dubai? Mumbai? The Bay?) scanning past, as the waiting area lies dormant, deserted: floor lined with thin strips of cheap laminated-looking dark wood, cush L-back leather seats, and a sprinkling of early travelers either accustomed to caution or unaccustomed to traveling.

The Korean Job is over; now the Beijing Journey.

Post Scriptum, Visions of Seoul redux: A young girl in the airport passes, carting a small wheeled carry-on. Her shirt: AMERICANPIE AND FITCH. Clever parody or simply plagiarism? You decide.

Post Scriptum, Part Second: [excerpted from gchat]

Me: ...the 30-something woman with a young child sitting next to me is taking like 10 pictures of herself Myspace-style

P: hahahahahhahaa
are you in airport
how long until boarding

Me: like an hour

[a few minutes later]

Me: ....she's still taking photos

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