Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mission Accomplished

The Guerra family has finally arrived. We have lost all sense of time, we are slightly dazed, confused, and barely have any Korean won in our possession at the moment, but we are together. To everyone who prayed at different stages of this journey, THANK YOU!  I believe it's only by the grace of God that we made it to this point.

The trip
Lucas and I did pretty well on our 14-hour direct flight from Chicago to Seoul. All I can say is Korean Air is fantastic. The food, the service, and the amenities were all top-notch for economy-class seats. On my personal media player, I managed to watch three movies (Thor, Fast Five, and most of Adjustment Bureau). This is also basically the number of non-children's releases I've seen since Lucas was born, so that was exciting. Lucas slept for most of the flight and I got some sleep as well. Lucas was awesome on the plane, played happily in his seat, ate his snacks in between meals, and made me proud. The harder part was after arrival at the airport in Seoul (4:00am local time). We breezed through immigration and customs and then had to chill with the luggage for about an hour and a half until the luggage storage could open and I could store our 4 suitcases. After that I was able to walk around with Lucas and we explored the entirety of Seoul Incheon airport. They have some lovely gardens, and we enjoyed that, but after several hours, we were maxxed out. Those were some difficult final hours waiting for Carlos as my patience and energy wore thin and Lucas' crankiness level grew. 8 total hours for me and Lucas in the airport. It was an amazing relief to finally see Carlos emerge from the arrival hall doors. He says his 30-hr travel day went just as expected, no complications, and he met some interesting people on his flights. Fortunately for us, all of his luggage miraculously survived the trek from Mexico City to Tijuana to Tokyo to Seoul. Unfortunately for some of his flight-mates, theirs didn't. Again, we appreciate the prayers on that front so thank you!

What an exhausting blur that was. Our hired van-taxi driver was waiting for Carlos' flight to land. The moment I had greeted Carlos, he whisked us out the door to the van and we spent a surreal 1.5-hr ride just enjoying being together for the first time in a  almost exactly a year. Carlos gave Lucas some lovely origami creations that were made for Lucas by a little girl on the Tijuana-Tokyo flight. Lucas plalyed happily and then slept for the rest of the ride. We were delivered to our apartment, which is on the 5th floor with no elevator, but home nonetheless. A hired cleaning lady was in the process of deep-cleaning it when we arrived, and Lucas pleaded to go down to the playground in front of our apartment building, so he happily went there with Carlos while I stayed at the apartment waiting for my Korean co-teachers to arrive and get me oriented. They showed up soon after that and told us that the cleaning was going to require several more hours, so they suggested that we all head over to the air-conditioned school. We were super exhausted and not thinking clearly, so we went ahead with this idea even though we hadn't even had a chance to open our suitcases and wash up or anything.

Of course, those familiar with how things work in Korean schools will know what comes next. There we are, grubby and sweaty, all of us 48+ hours since our last shower and about as long since our last period of decent sleep. And suddenly we're being introduced to my principal, assistant principal, and a host of other teachers and administrators.

But it gets better. After 2 hours touring the school and meeting people, and a quick stop at the nearest store to get some food staples, I was informed that in the eventing would be a special dinner for all the teachers, to honor both the exiting teachers and the new ones. We were all invited. We were slightly taken aback due to our level of exhaustion, but OK, we thought. Let's just get showered, changed, and washed up and we'll go. Then Carlos spoke through with some sanity and said probably he and Lucas should stay home because Lucas was starting to run out of steam. Which was an excellent point. So I figured I'd shower quickly and go. Then they told me there was no time, I had to leave IMMEDIATELY. Shocked, I quickly informed Lucas that I would be leaving for awhile and he'd be staying with Daddy, I dug out a diaper and pajamas, and told Carlos, "good luck". And that, my friends is how I went to this special dinner wearing the same clothing I had been wearing since I left Chicago on Monday night.

As I walked away from the apartment, I heard Lucas crying and I started regretting my decision, but I also knew Carlos had been doing really well with him and the little guy was probably just tired. I was directed to the principal's car, and off we went to some (seemingly far-off) locale for the dinner, which was delicious, huge, and full of all sorts of Korean staples. I loved all of it and only wished that Carlos and Lucas could be enjoying this instead of the basic noodles we had purchased at the store earlier.

Once again, those of you who have done the Korea teaching thing can probably predict the next step, which is that once we had all eaten, I was asked to stand up and introduce myself to the entire staff.  I actually was mentally prepared for this but when the time came, I was so beyond tired that I could hardly eke out a polite greeting, but hopefully they understood. Everyone kept saying I looked tired. You think?

The Apartment
I arrived back at our new home after dark. I found Lucas and Carlos totally passed out on the bed. Lucas was clean, diapered, and was clutching the new toys Carlos had brought for him (Spiderman, Batman, two Ironmen, and a fully-functional Batmobile!). Carlos woke up and said the cleaning lady was stayed and cleaned for a very long time, and that he and Lucas actually fell asleep before she had even left. He also eased my conscience by letting me know that Lucas only cried through his bath and then was fine until he fell asleep.

I finally got to explore the apartment at this time. We'll post pictures later. It's old, but perfect for our family. We have a kitchen featuring all the essentials including microwave, toaster oven, new fridge, stove, rice cooker, and lots of utensils. We have a small room that works as a cleaning supply closet and contains our washing machine (still need someone to explain how to use it, everything is in Korean). We have a large bedroom with a Queen-size bed, desk, TV, fan, and our favorite: air conditioner! There's a second bedroom that includes an armoire for our clothes, some shelving, ironing board and lots of space for Lucas to play. Then we also have a back patio totally screened-in that has a lot of racks for us to hang our clothes to dry. The neighborhood is full of apartment buildings, lots of kids, but it's partway up a mountain and very quiet. We have small general stores right on our street, and the bus that gets us to the subway into Seoul and everything else runs right along our street. It is home and we all like it.

We all woke up at 4:30 am. If anyone knows the members of my family, this is astounding. Utterly amazing. We lay in bed for about 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do, and then we all just got up and had breakfast and started our day. Carlos and I saw the sunrise. I'm pretty sure the only time we've ever seen a sunrise together, it was because we were up too late. So this was a morning for the record books. Let's pray jet lag works in our favor, we can adjust a few hours forward and then suddenly all be morning people. Whoa.

And this morning I'm at work as of 8:30 am. I'm currently enjoying my first "free period" and I don't have to actually teach until Monday. I'll be learning the ropes and getting things ready today.

Also during the day the English teacher who I am replacing will hopefully be meeting up with Carlos and Lucas to show them around and help Carlos exchange a load of dollars into won, plus possibly find a place where we can use our US debit cards until we have Korean bank accounts. He speaks Korean pretty well, so it will be helpful for Carlos to have a navigator today while we get set up.

And that is that for now. We are just so surreally happy to be all together in a country where we all have legal status to reside! It's incredible.

So thanks again for your prayers, and we look forward to all the great stories we'll have to tell.