Sleepless in Seoul

It is very quiet in Seoul’s Incheon Airport at 2 in the morning. I know because I have been laying awake, listening to the quiet while trying to persuade a body that is still in central time US that I desperately need sleep after the long flight over the Pacific.

The thing my body and mind both are having a hard time with is the math of this time shift. By flying so far west, I have gained a day. I flew out of Chicago Sunday morning at about 7, and arrived here in Seoul, Republic of South Korea, on Monday at about 3 in the afternoon. This means a trip that took some 17 hours, with less than an hour on the ground in San Francisco between one plane and the next, has put me some 14 hours ahead of myself, so to speak.

Incheon has a transit hotel within the airport, especially for travelers who have a long enough layover between flights to book a room for 12 hours and get some sleep. Our next flight to Busan, the city on the south coast where the World Council of Churches Assembly will be held, doesn’t leave until 7:20 a.m.

When they said the hotel was in the airport they really meant it: my small room has a window overlooking a large arrival hall where passengers check in and go through security. Right now the only person out there is an early arrival from the cleaning crew. Or maybe she’s working late–time being relative at the moment.

Yesterday’s 11-plus hour flight from San Francisco to Seoul was long enough for the inflight entertainment to run three full length movies plus a concert movie and a couple of TV shows. However most of the people who packed the 747 jet liner seemed more interested in sleep.

In between attempts at sleep I did have an opportunity to talk with some of the people seated near me. The woman across the aisle was immediately friendly and smiled at me when I found my seat, asking where I was from. She spoke great English with a strong Korean accent, and was reading a book in English titled “Following Christ.” I hoped she might be going to the WCC Assembly too, but she quickly explained that a Mormon friend had lent her the book, and she repeated several times that she was interested in the Mormon faith. After the long flight as we were filing out of the plane, she wished me well in Busan with another of her wide smiles.

The men sitting on the other side of me were part of a group of 23 Korean businesspeople who had spent eight days in the United States. From their description, it sounded like a business trip mixed in with a lot of sightseeing. In those eight days they had managed to go to Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and even got in two days at the Grand Canyon after the government shut down ended and the national parks reopened.

I had been studying materials for the WCC Assembly, and Timmy (I couldn’t pronounce his name so he fell back on his nickname) asked about the conference. I explained a bit about the World Council of Churches, how many people are expected, what church I come from. He borrowed one of the print outs of a PowerPoint on the WCC Assembly that I had been looking at, and read it intently. His friend sitting next to him immediately looked up the WCC on the web, using his smart phone.

Then Timmy told me that he also is a Christian. He is an elder in a church in a city some ways north of Busan. He and his friend both seemed excited that many Christians from many different countries around the world are coming to their country.

That’s about all I learned about my seat mates. My knowledge of Korean is nonexistent, and though one of them spoke a lot of English, when we hit a word or phrase that we couldn’t push over the language barrier the conversation would lapse. And everyone would go back to the more important business of trying to get some sleep.

The friendliness and welcome I have already received from South Koreans encourages me–even in the middle of a sleepless night.

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