Going Home

The Korean cab driver is missing half of his teeth, has chew stuck in his bottom lip, and reeks of Kimchi, the fermented cabbage that sits in the sun for months baking on Korean rooftops. I kiss him on the mouth anyway.

The moments proceeding his cab lurching to a halt in front of me were spent with me slumped on the curb in hysterical tears as I realized he had just sped off with my purse in the backseat containing my airplane ticket and passport. It is amazing how one can go from happiness to despair to elation in a matter of minutes. God bless this man for glancing backward and noticing my purse in my newly vacated seat and for racing back to find me, so that I can catch the train to the airport. Can't miss this train. It only leaves once an hour. If I miss this, I miss my flight.

The cab driver is embarrassed but pleased at the kiss and my cries of "Thank you! You are the most wonderful man alive! I love you." There's the language barrier, but he gets the gist. I try to offer him money as reward, but he refuses and pats me on the back and shoos me along with his hands.

At the airport I rush through check in, looking over my shoulder the entire time. I am about to perform a "midnight run, the stuff of foreign English teacher legend. This is when you hate your job teaching English in a foreign country so much (usually because of the employer, not the students) that you have to flee the country, a fugitive in the middle of the night. If your school finds out you are trying to leave before your contract expires, they can notify the visa department and you will have to pay a large fine (about $2000) at the airport before you are allowed to leave.

There are plenty of teachers at the school to cover my classes so I am not worried about leaving my students, although I do feel guilty I could not say good-bye. My homesickness has just got the better of me, and the thrill of travel and living abroad has waned. All I can think of is America and how great it is. Land of ice cubes in restaurants, where water can be drunk from the tap, and where cheese is readily available (Koreans aren't big on dairy products). America, where I speak the language and can understand the street signs. A place where being blonde with blue eyes blends into a crowd and doesn't entice strangers to touch your hair or point and giggle at you on the bus. America, where clothes fit women with hips and breasts, because in Korea all the ladies have bodies like prepubescent girls without curves. America, where pizza toppings do not include items like corn and pickles.

My flight goes through Tokyo and the flight time is roughly 14 hours. The man behind me on the plane turns out to be crazy. Two hours into the flight he starts loudly blurting out "I hate you"… "I'm hungry"… "Fuck you!" and "What are you looking at bitch." The last comment directed at me when I get up to go to the bathroom and glance in his direction. I think he might have Tourette's syndrome or schizophrenia. He seems confused and gets more agitated. He elbows his neighbors, calls the flight attendants bitches, and paces the aisles. The stewardess moves the people in the seats next to him giving him the row to himself. She tells him that the pilot demands he stay in his seat for the remainder of the flight or he will be arrested. The plane is completely still and quiet. No one is making a sound except crazy man and eerily this continues for the last eight hours of the flight. It is only two years after 9/11 so everyone is on edge, trapped in a metal box with an unpredictable man acting like a caged animal.

I feel a sense of foreboding. It is finally hitting me, what I am doing? I am fleeing a good job, and going where? To what? I have no plans other than to just get home. The flight is strange, mostly because of crazy man (who later will be tackled and led off in handcuffs immediately upon deboarding), but also because I realize he and I might have something in common. I also feel trapped, frustrated, and confused. This flight doesn't feel like the beginning I thought it was going to.  

My aunt and uncle pick me up at the airport and ask me what I want for dinner. I am speechless because suddenly after two years I have so many culinary options. I choose Mexican, mostly for the cheese and because they don't have salsa in Korea. When we get to the restaurant I can't stop staring at everyone. They are all so huge! Not just fat (although there are plenty of obese people), but tall and burly. And hardly anyone has black hair. After coming from a place where all you can see for blocks are black-haired Koreans hurrying in all directions, I am feeling a little dizzy. I don't understand why: this is my own culture. Our food comes and I look at my plate heaping with melted cheese and greasy beans. I feel a little sick to my stomach. Suddenly all I want to eat is rice and Kimchi.

Category: Airports

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