Flying Back to America

The flight from South Korea to San Francisco was the hardest flight I’ve ever taken (and I’ve been on quite a few!). I had been feeling unwell for a few days, but nothing that crazy or unusual. After about 2-3 hours on the plane, I started feeling my face get really hot and itchy, but I didn’t think much of it. When I went into the bathroom though, I saw my face looked blotchy, red, puffy and hives were forming. I went back to my seat and realized I had no Benadryl or antihistamine, so I found a flight attendant and asked if they had any. He said he would look around and come to my seat and let me know – he seemed newer and slightly less experienced than others on board.

I went back to my seat and tried to relax, but that became difficult as I felt myself getting much worse. I could feel a fever coming on strong and my face getting worse, but the scariest part was slowly feeling my tongue start to swell. I’ve had allergic reactions before, but never over the Pacific Ocean! By the time the flight attendant came over, anxiety had come over me and I felt significantly worse/ When he realized I was crying he quickly said, “umm let me go find someone else to come over,” because he was not equipped to deal with a crying sick girl. An older woman flight attendant came over and asked what was going on and told me to come with her to the back of the plane. We went towards the kitchen area and before I knew it, I was surrounded by 7 flight attendants who were all trying to figure out what to do with me and how to handle the situation. After feeling my forehead and realizing I had a fever, they gave me ice and water to try and cool me down.

They made an announcement asking for a doctor on board and one man came forward, but because he was Korean they needed to find a translator as well. The main flight attendant arrived to figure out what was going on and help the situation. They found a medical kit, but needed confirmation from someone on ground before being able to open it and give me any medicine. The main attendant called a landline in America and explained what was going on and described my symptoms, asked me lots of questions, and asked the doctor questions. The doctor found a syringe in the kit that wash’t clearly labelled and wanted to use it on me because he believed it was the right thing based on how it looked. I was shaking my head and getting more anxious, especially because I’m also allergic to many medicines. Without proof of being a licensed doctor, they couldn’t let him actually treat me, and I was a little relieved to be honest. The attendant and whoever was on the phone had to map out an emergency landing route just in case I got word or my throat closed up or something! This did not help me relax. Then he tells me the closest landing option is only 3.5 hours away in Alaska! Which only made me feel that much worse.

The other flight attendants did what they could to help – gave me more water and a snack, handed me cups full of ice to put on my face and suck on, and most importantly they just talked to me and comforted me. It’s that much scarier to be in this situation alone, so having people genuinely care and take the time to show you makes all the difference in the world. In the end, they gave me some pill, a slightly stronger version of Benadryl and took me back to my seat so I could try to sleep. I struggled for a long time to fall asleep and felt truly uncomfortable and awful, but I did fall asleep eventually. The flight attendants came over to my seat throughout the flight to check on me, brought me extra drinks, and even waited for me outside the bathroom in case something happened or I needed assistance – how amazing are they?! I feel so grateful for how they treated me and cared for me. United Airlines has really wonderful people working for them.

As the flight approached the last hour, the woman who had originally taken me back to the kitchen came over and let me know that because they had to call that landline, protocol insisted that I would have to be checked out before entering the airport. As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough (I’m easily embarrassed) – no one else would be able to get off the plane either until it was sure I was okay. As landing announcement were made (fasten seatbelt, final time to collect garbage, weather is good, we should be on the ground soon) they also announced that everyone would have to remain seating once we landed until further notice because of an emergency. This was announced multiple times. People were stressed and not pleased because we were already late as it was, and then after we hit the ground, we were more delayed waiting for an aircraft to leave our gate.

Once the main door was opened, two women in fancy suits from the CDC came on board and walked to my seat with a flight attendant, helped me gather all of my things, and took me off the plane. They asked me lots of questions and checked how I was doing, but luckily I was feeling much much better! They asked if I wanted to see paramedics, but I felt okay enough to keep going and was embarrassed as it was with such a fuss being made. They let me go, I went through customs (before everyone else because I got off the plane first!) and I went to my next gate. I just wanted to get back to Los Angeles and lie down on a real bed.

The rest of my trip went smoothly even though I didn’t feel great. I made it safely to LA and felt better pretty quickly after some real rest, a shower, and non-airport/plane meals. I never figured out what caused the reaction, but hopefully it won’t happen again. Moral of the story – pack Benadryl!

My Day In South Korea

I was lucky enough to get the free upgrade from Cambodia to South Korea (perks of frequent flying) with Asiana airlines. Their business class was exceptional – huge comfortable seats that practically laid all the way down, big pillows and soft blankets (better and more legit than the normal airplane pillows/blankets), and a whole kit of things to help with getting through the flight (slippers, eye mask, ear plugs, etc). Not to mention the delicious meal! I am probably less of a fan of airplane food than the average flyer so for me to say it was a good meal is saying something. The flight attendants were also incredibly kind, considerate, and helpful. I still wasn’t feeling my best self on this flight and because we left after midnight I slept through most of it.

I was excited to finally arrive. Although I had an 11 hour layover, I felt stressed trying to rush to customs once we landed a little delayed because I only had half an hour to get through customs on the other side of the airport and find a desk in the main entrance of the airport. Because I had such a long layover, I found a free tour of Seoul that the Incheon International Airport offers to passengers of other citizenships who have lengthy layovers. I power-walked through the airport, to the train for the other terminal, through a quick customs line, and found the tour desk. It’s always intimidating to travel alone, especially with how sick I was feeling, so it felt good to meet an older mother and daughter (about ten years older than my mother and me) who were from America and kind of adopted me for the day. This is one of those acts of kindness that I’m sure they thought nothing of and haven’t thought about since but truly meant so much to me.

We all boarded a big tour bus which luckily had huge winter coats waiting for each of us – it was freezing out compared to Cambodia! I had not been looking forward to the reminder of winter, but had lugged around hiking sneakers the entire trip for the purpose of this afternoon in Seoul so my feet wouldn’t freeze. I was happy I had them even though they were annoying to drag around the past few weeks – many people on the tour had only sandals along. The airport is enough of a ways away from the city that I had time to get a power nap in before we stopped anywhere, but I missed some information (oops!)

Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung – a royal palace from the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in 1395 and is one of the largest palaces from that dynasty. The palace had been destroyed by a fire in the late 1500s during the Imjin War and then was abandoned for two centuries until eventually it got restored. The palace was again destroyed during the early 20th century, but has gradually been getting restored since. The architecture is beautiful and the history behind it makes it that much more interesting.

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Here’s the inside of one of the buildings:P1010142

The modern city is so close:P1010143

After looking at the palace, we drove to the Jogyesa Temple – the main temple of Korean Buddhism since 1936. The temple was originally built in 1395. We weren’t allowed to enter because people were praying inside, but we could look through the windows and see how beautiful it looked indoors.

The details of the building are truly amazing:P1010154

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After visiting the temple, we drove to Cheonggyecheon, an 11km long modern street in downtown Seoul. This site was originally the location of a major stream that was later covered over with infrastructure and a highway. In the early 2000’s, the then Seoul-mayor decided to remove the highway, change the buildings, and restore the stream – a project costing about $900 million. Today the area is very popular for both local people and tourists and has gained approval of many despite past criticism over the huge renewal project.

The street is covered in small shops and buildings now:IMG_0873

We all had lunch in a small restaurant. I had a bowl of rice with various vegetables mixed on top with eggs and hot sauce. It was difficult to eat because of my queasy stomach, but I ate what I could. After lunch we had some time to explore the shopping street.

I got to see how a Korean dessert is made from a special honey and corn starch:

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The dessert was really yummy!P1010163

We got back on the bus after having time to explore the area on our own. I couldn’t help but fall asleep on the ride back to the airport because I was exhausted from little sleep the past few nights, feeling sick, and having walked around Seoul for a few hours – but I wasn’t the only one sleeping on the bus. The tour guide made an announcement as we approached the airport because almost everyone had fallen asleep.

I had been nervous to have such a long layover by myself in a different country, but after going on the tour, I only had about 5 hours to wait. I found my way to security, which ended up being an extremely long process. Unfortunately the security line was poorly organized with not enough people working and small areas for people to sort their bags/take out laptops/take off jackets/ etc. There were a few hundred people in line when I walked over and it took almost two hours to get through! Because the line was so long, people who had to catch flights kept cutting the line, only making it take that much longer for people who went through the whole thing to get on with it. At times it seemed I was moving backwards more than forwards.

Once I made it through security, I found an Asiana club (another perk of frequent flying) and hung out in there for a couple of hours. The club is great because they have tons of free food, cleaner bathrooms than other parts of the airport, comfortable sitting areas, outlets for charging electronics, free and fast wifi, and even showers for people who want to freshen up.

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I was able to video chat with my dad and feel connected to home – always important after a long trip – and catch up on the internet for everything I had missed lately. I ate croissants and pretzels, which tasted extra good. Hours ended up flying by! Before I knew it, the time to go to the gate had arrived.

I took the train over to the other terminal, looked around in some shops, found my gate, and waited for boarding. In that moment, I didn’t know how difficult the flight back to America would be and what a scary adventure was waiting for me!

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