Seoul Pain

May 3rd, 2009

I’m presently working on a new definition of “not fun.”  It involves leaving Bangkok at 1:15 AM and flying four hours in a plane with an internal temperature of 99 degrees to Seoul, Korea, and then discovering that the layover here in Seoul is — cue the laugh track — eight hours.  Eight hours in an airport before thirteen hours on another plane that will probably also have an internal temperature of 99 degrees.  So it’s now 8 AM Bangkok time and I’m completely sleepless, and looking at spending eight zombified hours stumbling around the same damn shops they have in every airport in the world, except a whole lot brighter because this airport is where they keep all of the world’s spare light.  All the times people leave the lights on in rooms they’re not using, all the high-rise office buildings that glow away empty all night long, all the unobserved dawns that no one is awake to see, the supernovae from distant galaxies — all that light is painstakingly collected and then released here, in Incheon Airport, Seoul.  It’s so bright here that it doesn’t help to close your eyes.

On the other hand, I’m flying business class, which means I can squint sitting down, in a very nice lounge with a sensational Wi-Fi connection and an extensive line in potato salad.  There are three or four kinds of potato salad available at 9 AM.  Or, if potato salad isn’t your idea of an early morning snack, there’s some very nice macaroni salad.  And you can really see these salads, what with all the light.  You might not want to eat them, but you can sure as hell see them.

I have a feeling this is a trial that’s been set for me, one of those opportunities the world sometimes gives you to earn a merit badge.  My only memory of being a Cub Scout was earning three merit badges before hitting the wall on Badge Number Four, which required me to climb a rope.  I tried to hire another kid to climb the rope for me and was told that I was not demonstrating the sturdy moral fiber required of a Cub Scout.  I was led to the gate of the fort and the merit badges were ripped from my shirt and then I was pushed outside to wander the alone through the Badlands.  I had many adventures, too many to recount here, and survived all of them without ever once having to climb a rope.

But would I climb a rope if it would take me home in, say, twenty minutes?  I’d climb the rope to the biggest bell in Notre Dame, knowing I’d have to fight my way past Quasimodo, to be out of Incheon Airport and back in Santa Monica.  Lead me to the hemp.  Please.

14 Responses to “Seoul Pain”

  1. David Jenkins Says:

    Gee, let’s look at the bright side of things (pun intended). All that light means that nothing strange will grow on you. You’ve been irradiated!

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Yes, but my pupils have shrunk to a single micron wide and I’ve learned that all potato salads are, in the end, potato salad. By the way, does anyone ever actually eat pimento?

  3. Suzanna Says:

    What is pimento? There isn’t a vegetable called pimento.

    In any case pimento sounds like the least of your worries. I suppose next time you know you’re going to be routed through the Incheon Airport you’ll be ready for the flood of light armed with a dark pair of sunglasses or an eyemask.

    Welcome home Tim!

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    How dare you doubt me? Pimento is that red crap in the middle of a green olive and it’s also sold by the jar. I think it’s actually strips of red bell pepper that’s been insulted repeatedly, exposed to countless hours of NIGHT RIDER reruns, and then brined. Just to make it even less probable, I think it’s sometimes spelled “pimiento.” And it’s in TWO OF THESE POTATO SALADS and I think people cook with it mainly to improve the eye/hand coordination of their guests because eating around it can be tricky if it’s chopped finely.

    Don’t contradict me when I’m sleepless and have an eight-hour layover. It brings out the worst in me. (But I love you, Soozi.)

  5. Lisa Kenney Says:

    You poor guy! That’s all I can think to say. Oh, and I hope you’re home by the time you read this.

    Also, the captcha phrase I got was: Interment audibles. Hmm.

  6. Dana King Says:

    “except a whole lot brighter because this airport is where they keep all of the world’s spare light.”

    This kind of throw-away phrase represents the Easter eggs that make your writing so much fun to read without ruining the seriousness of the story. Clever, unexpected without having to reach. I’m glad to see you’re maintaining your standards under these trying circumstances. A lesser man would have Seoul-ed out.

  7. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    As Team Hallinan’s self-designated vegetarian, I speak to the pimento issue. And please understand that I’m breaking all the rules of our secret vegetarian society by letting you in on this…pimento is NOT a vegetable.

    It’s actually….lint. And I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to eat lint. There’s no protein in it, no soluable fiber. That leaves fat and carbs, and those are illegal in most states nowadays.

  8. Laren Bright Says:

    I keep telling you to take the train, but do you listen? As for pimentos, they are not lint. They are sunburned sea escargots with their skeletons removed. No really, just check Wikipedia.

  9. Sylvia Says:

    I have only just realised that the aceitunas con pimiento I get here in Spain are the forerunner to the olives with pimento in the US! This has never actually struck me before!

    Probably because here it’s a real piece of red pepper and not red gungy stuff.

    I hope you survive the potato salad onslaught. Stay away from the pimento until you are on my side of the world. 🙂

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I must say that I’m moved by all the expressions of sympathy and somewhat less moved by the fact that pimento seems to be more interesting than my plight.

    At least Sylvia demonstrates a familiarity with that little red loser, the pimento. Lint indeed. Sunburned escargots my left ear (but not with the diamond stud in it).

    Lisa and Dana — your sympathy and appreciation for my writing have won each of you a large jar of pimento with a use-by date of January 23, 2027. And if you don’t want to eat it, you could paste it all over your face next halloween.

    Just got a perfectly wretched review on BREATHING WATER from an absolute twit on the staff of the Phnom Penh Post. I’d probably be upset if I didn’t know enough to consider the source, which in this case is a putatively male larva who looks like Tintin, writes like Jimmy Olson, and who, despite holding a job on a newspaper, can’t read and interpret a relatively simple writing seminar handout.

    See? I’m not upset at all. Thank God the early reviews here are so good.

    And Lisa — my Captcha for this message is 20 1/8 quench. What could it mean?

  11. Betsy Bradley Says:

    Hi Tim, I just read that crappy review in the Phnom Penh Post & my first thought was “has this twit EVER written a book?” At least he ended the review kindly….and if I were you, I’d say ‘piss off, I have 20 books under my belt” and forgeddaboutit.
    I’m flying from Siem Reap to the US in July & the only thing I dread about traveling is….the traveling!! Omigod, I can only hope your Seoul experience is worse than what lies in wait for me. At least you got out of Phnom Penh without getting hit by lightning. Also, I can never eat pimentos again; they’re right up there with chicken FEET in Khmer food. (No offense,I like almost every other kind of Khmer food)

  12. John Lindquist Says:

    Hey Tim, I also read the review of Breathing Water in the Phnom Penh Post (on-line). The guy should get out more. He’s probably jealous of the fact that you’re more observant and could run rings around his journalistic or analytical capabilities. I don’t see where he’s proved any of his points.

    Anyway, I would like to suggest a culinary delight that will sweeten up anyone’s day – namely, Pomegranate Meringue Pie! (Use the juice, not the seeds.)

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hey, Betsy and John — I’m grateful for the support. I wouldn’t have written anything about the “review,” but I was flayed alive by jet lag and my nerves endings were exposed. Thirteen actual novelists whose work I really admire have had a very different reaction to the book — several called it “one of the best books of the year,” and Adrian McKinty termed it a “masterpiece,” and I’m going with their judgments as opposed to the twit’s. His piece isn’t even internally consistent, and if he can’t understand a one-page handout written in simple declarative sentences, it was probably a stretch for him to respond to a 130,000-word novel.

    Anyway, thanks a lot. And I’ll try the pomegranate meringue, John, if only to get the sour taste out of my mouth. I think I could have figured it out about the seeds, but thanks for making sure.

  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I’ve had half a dozen additional reactions to The Twit, including several from people who have read BREATHING WATER, and the consensus seems to be that The Twit isn’t worth wasting blog space on — even in a virtual space that’s infinite, as the Internet presumably is.

    So no more on The Twit. And thanks again to all of you who wrote to excoriate the teensy little twink. And anyway, it’s past time to move to the next post, which is something genuinely positive.

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