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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Miracle to the 34th Country

SOUTH KOREA | Monday, 9 November 2015 | Views [517]

View from Carlsen's flat

View from Carlsen's flat

The past 24 hours have been another major test of my travel endurance, and I sure hope when I'm 50 or even only a few years from now I can endure this type of experience and laugh about it with a friend over a coffee or a glass of wine. In the past 24 hours I've been to four countries (Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, and not just the airports!). The other day on Lombok I was telling a couple of guys about how I'd love to climb Mt. Rinjani but now I'd be cursing it for having my flight to Singapore cancelled the other day. The plan was to arrive in Singapore on Saturday morning and stay with Owen, a young man I met and hosted in Melbourne, and my flight here to Busan was scheduled to leave very early this morning at 1 AM (today is Monday) but I didn't book the flights together. From Bali to Singapore I had a flight with Jetstar and from KL to Busan I'd be flying with AirAsia. My Saturday flight was cancelled, marking my second time I've spent an unexpected extra day in Bali (last year my flight wasn't booked due to a technical problem). The Australian airlines cancelled their flights yet many of the Indonesian airlines were still operating. Sounds like good news, but not really! Indonesian airlines have a lousy safety record and many of the country's smaller airlines are banned in the EU for that reason. Most people would rejoice at being stuck in Bali for a few days but due to my flights not being booked together I really had no choice. Lion Air is one of Indonesia's airlines banned in the EU and their safety record is iffy at best. Flying into KL with Garuda Indonesia, the country's best airline, would set me back over $500 so my only real option was to book a flight to Singapore via Jakarta with Lion Air. In Indonesia, I'd much rather have my feet planted on the Earth! Ning said Lion Air "sucks" and that the service is terrible and they often lose baggage. That didn't matter to me; all that mattered was that I got to Singapore in one piece. Where is a whole bottle of wine when I need it? As one of only two or three foreign passengers on a flight full of Indonesians I'll admit I was nervous and looking out the window the whole time. As a bit of consolation the view of Java's volcanoes from the plane is a view like no other. As we touched down in Jakarta it seemed as if the plane wasn't going to stop in time and run out of runway. The passenger next to me was nervous as well, and I said to her "and my girlfriend wonders fly I don't like to fly domestically in Indonesia." Bali to Jakarta by land takes about 33 hours nonstop but it wouldn't matter if it took 33 days as long I was alive at the end of it. Ning would be arriving a couple of hours later for a business trip but I didn't have enough time to wait for her and give her one final hug. Going through immigration there's another thing I can smile at: the departure tax for Indonesia is now included in the price of the ticket. The flight to Singapore would be rather uneventful and I'd arrive at 2 PM. By then I was so exhausted! I didn't sleep at all Saturday night because I was so busy packing and I had an early flight. My phone was dead and I sat for over an hour trying to charge it as I feasted on a katsu curry bought from an on-site convenience store. That hour I hung out nearly cost me my trip! Singapore is hot, icky, and not very pretty. Trying to find the cheapest way to the Malaysian border I'd be sent in 27 different directions (exaggeration) and a vending machine would rip me off as I tried to get a drink before heading off in a bus to Malaysia. I'd drift in and out of consciousness as we drove toward Malaysia. Unlike last year there were almost no queues; good thing since it was after 6 PM and the bus didn't turn up on the other side so finally I just got on a different bus. Once in Johor Bahru a tout at Larkin, the bus terminal kept trying to rip me off. The bus to KL cost 40 ringgit and he tried to charge me either 20 Singapore dollars or 55 ringgit, thinking he was going to get a hefty commission from me. Seriously? I've been there, done that, seen that, and felt that. Sticking to my guns I bought a ticket directly from the driver at face value. I had seriously contemplated hitchhiking to KL but I figured I didn't have time to screw around. What was worse is that it was after 7 PM and the bus trip would be more than four hours. Coincidence, because I was watching Cinderella on YouTube the other day and now I'm trying to reach the airport by midnight but with no intentions of turning into a pumpkin. I tried to pay the driver a tip to drop me at the airport but he wouldn't accept it, and we didn't get to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) until 11:40 PM. The clock was defintely not in my favour! By this time I had two options: pay through the nose (about $60) for a taxi that would take approximately 45 minutes or take the last KLIA-bound train that would leave 22 minutes later, taking 32 minutes, and costs only $10. Opting for the latter it allowed me to calm down a bit and remember some of the things Ning has taught me. When the train came I sat quietly and let out a great big smile! In my heart I knew I was going to miss my flight but at that point I smiled and told myself "Chris Farrell, you've done the best you can do; the ball is now in the other court. You just have to hope it bounces your way." The baggage drop closed at 12:30 AM and I didn't get to the airport until 12:45 AM. Arriving to an empty terminal I had that awful sinking feeling yet I spotted one figure about 15 metres away. Frantically I said "I'm on the flight to Busan." "The flight to Busan is closed sir" he said. My heart sank but I kept my cool, smiling big the whole time. I was in a situation where I'd be so grateful I'd shout him a bottle of duty-free liquor if I had the time to pick one up. He said the only options are to jump on the Seoul-bound flight tomorrow morning at 8 AM or wait until Wednesday for the next Busan flight. In either case I'd have to purchase a new ticket. When I told him I could make it he said "it's a long way to the gate, there's no way you'll make it sir." When I explained I'd been stranded due to the volcano in Bali he said "you can speak with my supervisor at counter X16" so I made my way over there with a big smile. He seemed to have sympathy for me and he contacted the flight crew asking if they could still take my baggage. He said "the good news is you're already checked in and I could give you your boarding pass; the main problem is your baggage." I said with a smile "if you could get me on the flight somehow I'd be forever grateful" and I explained how I did absolutely everything in my power to get to the airport on time. There were no liquids in my checked bag but I do have an expensive multipurpose knife that my father got me as a gift; it wouldn't be allowed in a carry-on. I suppose in a desperate situation a member of the flight crew could store that for me. All along I figured as long as the flight hasn't taken off, there's a chance. A slim chance, but a chance! After a short phone call, he tagged my bag, handed me my boarding pass and said "you're gonna have to run sir, and fast!" Smiling even bigger I didn't even have time to get his business card! I would love to put in the absolute best good word for him! After that disastrous AirAsia flight last year to Darwin my two latest AirAsia flights have gone really well. Running with Olympic intentions I quickly made my way to passport control where I was the only passenger. Starting to sweat hard I ran with all my might. My shoes are very loud so what few people were still in the terminal could hear me running. Going through security was easy as well and they seemed to know I was late for the flight. It was as if the Red Sea opened up for me throughout the journey as I continued to run until I nearly collapsed in exhaustion. As I ran around the corner to the gate I'm sure the desk personnel could hear me. They examined my boarding pass and said "have a safe flight." Finally, on the plane I was! The flight attendant could see how exhausted and sweaty I was so she gave me a few cups of water. Feeling like I had jumped in a bathtub full of sweat I let out another smile in amazement of getting here and getting on my flight. Ning's words, a smile, and some Olympic prowess combined with some old-fashioned "Chris Farrell luck" got me through! Toward Korea I was heading, and coffee with chicken satay on the plane never tasted so great! AirAsia typically frowns upon people consuming their own food or drinks on flights but at least they don't charge an arm and a leg for everything. I was so exhausted this morning I passed out across three seats without the aid of a blanket or pillow. At 8 AM this morning we would touch down in Busan. The Korean customs official criticized me for not writing down the address of my CS host but I explained to her that I came very close to missing my flight. She asked "is this your first time to Korea?" She didn't say "South Korea" but instead just "Korea" and I let out another smile and said "yes, and I'm happy to be here!" After the heat and humidity of Bali and Singapore, Korea comes as a shock! It's slightly cold and the sky is dark, when rain threatening to come down at any moment. After a ride on the Busan Metro and hanging out at a coffee shop in awe for a couple hours my host, Carlsen, would meet me. I was ready for a half-bottle of wine and a very long nap! Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I'm still asking myself how I managed to pull this off! Here in South Korea I've now been to 34 countries and, no pun intended, it's a miracle that I'm in my 34th country visited. 


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