Monday, June 20, 2011

Seoulmazingly Tired

Some of you may watch a show called the Amazing Race.  For those that don't watch it, I'm pretty sure most of you are aware of the premise of it.  The show revolves around teams who race around the world completing tasks and experiencing the world in a way never thought possible.  Well, I'd be lying if I said that is what I competed in a week ago, however, a foreigner operated magazine in Seoul did their best to create an amazing race style event in Seoul.

The race consisted of 35 teams scrambling around Seoul for twelve hours (There were 16 stops).  It was an epic marathon of sweat, eating, getting lost, and experiencing more in one day than I have ever done in Seoul.  The events included some relatively easy tasks such as finding an establishment, or beer tasting.  There were also some creative tasks such as writing our names in Korean, getting kids to guess English words, making and selling Kimbap (Korean version of a California roll), and trying to catch water balloons blindfolded.  However, for my team, the most terrifying and horrid tasks were the eating tasks.  They weren't bad because everything we had to eat was something I had eaten before.  They were horrible because nobody else on my team could eat them, meaning I had to ingest all of them.  The first eating challenge was not difficult at all.  I think they may have run out of the original item, or the fish they chose did not ferment at all.  Either way it was simple, but chewy.  The last challenge however was where the race separated the strong from the weak.  Enter canned silkworm larva.

Now, for anyone who has ever been to Korea, they know about this stuff and tend to avoid it like the plague.  Put it this way, most Koreans don't really like this stuff.  In essence, Beondegi (bone day gi) is boiled silkworm larva.  However as unappetizing as that sounds, the stuff smells and tastes like three week old gym socks.  And this is the fresh stuff that is made in the markets and stuff.  The canned version of it, like the canned version of pretty much anything is nastier.  When I realized that I was going to have to eat an entire can of Beondegi I immediately began to fear for my team.  This was the one thing in Korea that I was afraid of having to eat.  I have had them a few times before and they're not good.  The biggest problem is that when you bite into them they tend to explode and squirt foul tasting liquid.  One at a time they are manageable and do not cause much of a gag reflex.  However, when you have a mouth full of them and they all explode at the same time, you can't help but gag.  Luckily one of my team mates had a bottle of vitamin water.  The taste was so bad that I was having to put ten to twenty of them in my mouth, fill it with vitamin water, and then chew and swallow.  Afterwards I had to drink again to help keep them down.  There was actually a few times I almost threw up while eating.  Not fun.  Needless to say though, my ability to power through something this nasty was a major reason for our success.

I wish I could say that we won the race and our team was showered with adulation and honor, however, we came in 16th of 35.  This is not as bad as you'd think.  When we hit our first pit stop we were 11th.  However, at the next pit stop, due to some unfortunate directions and getting lost we were 32nd.  In 6 stops we managed to pick up 16 spots.  I'll count that as a win any day of the week.  We emerged from the day, worn out, exhausted, and happy.  It was a great day, and while the result may not have been great, I would do it again if it ever presented itself.  I had a great team.  My team was Gisela, Malani, and Hana.  We all did our parts and supported each other when we needed it.  I'd do it with them again, however, I might choose to make them eat the silkworm larva next time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Prohibitive Cost of Flying

While living in a foreign country, you tend to track certain things.  First of all, if you are being paid in the local currency and not your currency you tend to keep a real close eye on the exchange rate.  Other things you pay attention to are health scares, family issues, and the price of flights.  Now, normally, I'm not one to balk at the notion of spending 600 or 700 dollars to cross an ocean.  I understand that the price of a flight is not directly proportional to the services you receive.  I have been on some flights which cost 500 dollars and had excellent service, and others which cost 800 dollars and had no service.  I have also had the pleasure of sitting in a 2,000 dollar one way seat and I must say that the service was ridiculous. 

Now, my current dilemma.  I have for the past few months been desiring greatly to spend a week or two in San Diego.  You can call it home sickness, or just a general longing to see people and places that I have known for a long time.  In fact, I have been looking into traveling to San Diego for several months now, and the entire time there was one giant, glaring issue.  The price of a flight from Seoul to LA or Seoul to San Francisco has risen drastically.  We're not talking by 100 or 200 dollars, but in some cases by over 600 dollars.

I have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how exactly this cost increase has come about.  Part of it can be attributed to the weaker dollar driving up costs, but actually, the dollar was roughly the same strength the last time I went back home.  Maybe it's when I'm travelling, being August and generally considered peak season for traveling I am expecting an increase in price, but not 600 dollars.  That doesn't explain it.  Honestly, I'm having a really hard time finding out why the price has increased, besides the fact that, the price has increased.  That is truly the only reason I can find for such a drastic increase.

Then, in the back of my head I thought of two things, one which was dismissed rather quickly, the other I haven't been able to shake off.  At first I thought maybe the earthquake and subsequent radiation leak had cause airlines to change their paths thereby incurring more costs.  This theory, while holding some potential, is pretty much false.  Most flights going to the west coast of the United States, and the United States in general go by a northerly route when leaving from East Asia.  They fly north past Siberia, cross the Bering Strait and then follow the coast line down.  Unfortunately for the radiation theory, the only radiation found on this path is from the now defunct USSR.

Which leads me to a small article I read several months ago.  It was talking about how 10-15 airlines had been convicted in court of conspiring to artificially inflate and maintain high prices.  Several of these airlines just happened to operate out of Korea, Japan, and China.  In fact, most of the airlines were fined severely by the US government.  Not that I saw any of that money but hey, I'm just the little guy.  Now, considering that many of the airlines who operate trans pacific flights lost billions of dollars in fines to the US government, it only makes sense that they will try to recoup some of this money by raising prices and fees on their long haul flights.  This increase in prices would also cause a corresponding raise in the prices of other airlines.  I'm just guessing, but this does seem to make some sense here.  If some airlines are charging a much higher price, what is going to stop those airlines who don't need to charge as much from raising their prices, but maintaining a price about 100 dollars cheaper to get increased business.

No matter the reason, it still is baffling to try and figure out just how some of these flights can cost so much more in such a relatively small amount of time.  When I flew home for my sister's wedding it cost me 750 dollars on Singapore Airlines.  For those that don't know Singapore Air is widely considered one of the best international carriers in the business.  They were only 50 dollars more expensive than the other guys but the service and comfort was more than worth it.  If you take that exact same flight booked through the exact same website, the current cost is 1600 dollars.  That is an increase of almost 1,000 dollars.  Someone explain to me how in just 1 1/2 years the cost for the exact same flight can cost nearly 1,000 dollars more. 

My biggest concern, is that while I do yearn to visit San Diego and spend some time with people I miss, the cost of flying there is quite possibly going to derail those plans.  For the cost of the flight, I could spend almost two weeks in the Philippines traveling.  It's frustrating, but it may mean instead of coming back I take a short ride over to Japan and see some things that I have been wanting to see for a long time.