From Baltimore to Seoul…

On the day I left for Korea, I faced every traveller’s worst nightmare.

image description: a plane window, seen from behind; the back of the seat is blue and there’s a brown fuzzy bit from a stuffed animal in the seat in front poking out towards the window

No, not a long delay or a cancelled flight.

I forgot my passport at home.

*insert Pac-Man dying noise here*

In my defense, I hadn’t slept well and woke up at 4:30. I remember my friend Carin pointing out to me not to leave my bag and I thought I had slung it across my shoulder, but I had actually slung across my Hydroflask in its carrier. Normally I don’t use my large 32 oz Hydroflask but wanted it for the long flight, and my muscle memory must’ve thought that I had grabbed my bag.

I didn’t realize I didn’t have my passport until I got to the check-in desk. Cue the frantic messages and phone calls, and somehow I managed to get a hold of my roommate before she left for work. The problem was then having my friend Carin drive from BWI airport all the way into DC and back with enough time for me to catch my flight. I wasn’t worried about catching the actual flight, but about the bag check-in, which cuts off 45 minutes prior to the flight.

I cut it close, but in the end, Carin and LaTroy came through for me and I made my flight.

I didn’t run into too many hiccups during my flight. When I first checked in to BWI, it took a bit of time for them to check me in because of my cat, but after a quick looksie at my paperwork, they verified that I was good to travel. My newest piece of luggage came in exactly at 50 pounds, which was great, but I knew that my second, older piece of luggage was going to be overweight, which was another fee.

The big question: how best to get Merlin through security. While I had asked for a private screening, I was told that I’d still have to send all of my luggage through the xray machine and take Merlin out of his carrier anyways which kind of… defeats the purpose of a private screening? So I waited until the last possible minute, reached in, wrestled him from his harness (which would have set off the metal detectors), and held onto him for dear life.

He squirmed a bit but he was mostly calm. I waited for what felt like ten minutes until the TSA agent gave me the go-ahead to walk through the metal detector, and then she told me she’d have to swab my hands. I asked her if I could put my cat back in the carrier and she asked if I was traveling with anyone, implying that if I was, I could hand the cat over to them. Luckily, she allowed me to put him back in the carrier and immediately swabbed my hands which, by that time, were covered in black fur.

My carry-on bag got pulled aside for extra screening and this time, it wasn’t because I was flying with coffee. (Pro-tip: if you fly with coffee, be sure that it’s easily accessible because they will have to screen it as coffee is apparently often used to smuggle drugs and/or money.) Turns out I had another “organic material” in my bag: cat litter. The TSA agent opened it up, put a little litter on two pieces of paper, administered two separate chemicals, and then let me go. She told me to take out the litter the next time I flew and there wouldn’t be a need for the extra screening.

I was initially planning on sneaking away to a family restroom to let Merlin have the chance to use the toilet before my second flight, but by the time I got from my previous gate to the next, they had already started the boarding process. I had only given Merlin a small amount of food in the morning, so I hoped he was going to be okay. I took someone’s advice from the internet and bought a bunch of cardboard shirt boxes that I could fill with litter and then dispose of.

The first flight from BWI to Detroit went by smoothly and quickly. The second flight from Detroit to Incheon wasn’t too bad either–I mostly slept or stared into space, although I did watch “Parasite” for the third time.

When I finally got into Korea, my overwhelming emotion was… I’m sweaty. Really, really sweaty. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not they’d let me into the country (they did, and that was painless), or even whether or not they’d let Merlin into the country (I had all the right paperwork)… I was just sweaty and pretty miserable, waiting in line after line.

Going through customs was an interesting experience. When I got to the first agent, she peered into my bag and her eyes lit up. “Ohhhh he’s so big and cute!” She then told me that I had to move to a different line and she shouted at her colleague (in Korean) that she had a cat.

The new agent checked Merlin for his microchip and went over the signed paper from the USDA and asked to see the original rabies titer test results. Then I had to hand over the signed paper from the USDA and, seeing that I wasn’t so willing to give it up, let me know that it was only good for thirty days from the signing.

image description: a purple cat carrier with a mesh top seen sitting on the floor underneath a plane seat at my feet; Merlin is a black cat and only his bright orange eyes can be seen through the mesh top

I was particularly stressed out about that piece of paper and for a few days, there was a question of whether I would even be able to make my flight, as I wasn’t going to fly out without my cat. In order to travel to South Korea with a cat, the cat must first get a rabies titer test, the results of which can take up to a month. Then, within ten days of travel, the cat must have a full health check-up and the results must be sent to the USDA to be apostilled.

I took Merlin in for his check up on Saturday and the vet told me to call the USDA on Monday to make sure they got the digital paperwork. Problem was… Monday was President’s Day. I got a call on Tuesday from the vet, saying that they needed a more specific address to list on the form (not just “South Korea”) and I could only give them the school’s address, which I hoped would be enough. Oh, and they weren’t going to be able to send the paperwork digitally so I would have to pay for them to FedEx the forms.

I received the paperwork on Thursday morning, before my Friday morning flight. As you can imagine, I wanted to hold onto that paperwork for as long as I could because I had stressed out so much about it.

When I finally got through customs, I noticed that there was no one waiting for me as there should have been. I gave a call to the director of my school and he answered, apologizing for not being there when I landed. He had mistaken the terminal I was flying in to, so I waited a few minutes outside my terminal for him to pull up. Then it was an hour drive to my apartment.

image description: view of the interior of a plane being boarded; there are three sets of three seats each along the left of the plane and people can be seen sitting and standing

Merlin bounced back pretty fast from the trip. He threw up the little food I gave him before the first flight, but didn’t defecate or urinate in his carrier. He immediately ran out of the carrier and under my bed but came out a few minutes later to poke around the apartment. I will note that it was a few days until he used the makeshift litter box, probably because he was scared of my temporary roommate (another new teacher) and the new environment.

So, Lessons Learned:

1) It is totally possible to fly internationally with a cat. I am blessed that my cat is super chill and quiet and has been through a lot in his little life so he bounced back pretty quickly from the trauma of a 14-hour flight.

2) If traveling with a cat… realize that your cat will take up most of the space at your feet. You also won’t likely be getting into your carry-on in the overhead bin, so don’t pack it like you’ll be able to easily reach in and grab things.

3) Be nice to flight attendants. If they find out your favorite cookie is Biscoff (Delta’s cookie of choice), they may just give you extra cookies.

4) Sometimes plane food is great. Other times it’s worse than Mickey D’s.

5) For the love of all that is holy… Make sure you’ve got your passport!

image description: a picture of snowy mountain peaks outside of a plane window where a plane wing can be seen at the top left of the picture

Kpop Music Monday #14: Sunmi, “Gashina”

Hello everyone and sorry for missing last week’s Music Monday. I was understandably stressed out about my impending trip to Korea, but now that I’m here I can continue where I left off!

It’s only fitting that here I talk about my most listened-to song of 2018: Sunmi’s “Gashina.”

2018 was an interesting year for me, as I was set to start a new job around the same time that a long-term relationship ended, and I subsequently had to move out of our shared apartment. “Gashina” was the perfect song for all of my emotions, even when I first didn’t understand the lyrics. “I will live like the flowers, that’s who I am, can’t nobody stop me now, no try me…”

“Gashina” was a huge hit for Sunmi, who was one of the (original) members of the group the Wonder Girls, who you may remember as the group that got me interested in kpop. She’s gone on to release new music but nothing seems to have hit just as hard as “Gashina” did. Still, there’s no doubt that Sunmi is currently at the top of her game and we’ll continue seeing interesting tunes from her.

You May Notice Something Different about My Homepage…

Yes, everyone, it’s official: I’m moving to South Korea at the end of this month! I just bought my plane ticket and am actually currently on hold with Delta regarding taking Merlin with me.

This is a dream ten years running, and I’m about to make it a reality.

Edited to add: the one-question questionnaire that I was given after the phone call was to rate the customer service representative based on whether or not I would hire them for a customer service rep job, one being “definitely not” and five being “definitely yes.” Never got that one before.

Kpop Music Monday #13: EXO, “Call Me Baby”

Up next is a song that was originally called “Call Me Daddy” but that was, well, uh…

EXO is one of the powerhouse boy groups currently active. Honestly, it was hard to choose a song because I really, really love the video for “Overdose.”

Recently, it was announced that member Chen was not only in a relationship with a non-celebrity, but marrying said woman, and said woman was seven months pregnant with his kid. How does this happen?

Having been a kpop fan for going on ten years, and being a woman in her damn mid 30s, I am happy to see idols date and marry. It’s about time that more members of older groups start settling down and pursuing happiness outside the idol world, in whatever way they choose. I honestly don’t remember what I felt as a teenager and how I dealt with dating rumors, but I think most of us were actually rooting for Justin and Britney to stay together, and Jessica and Nick were #goals.

Cultures are different, and the way brands are marketed vary culture to culture. Mint M&Ms were a thing in the UK long before they came to the US, for example. We plaster our supermarket aisles with crappy magazines detailing the inner worlds of celebs, and nothing, it seems, is off limit.

In Korea, idol groups are brands unto themselves, and a lot of the appeal of an idol is their availability. These are not just good lookin’ men and women, but they are single and available and maybe if you buy enough of their albums, you’ll be able to “hi-touch” them at a fan sign event. People freak out when they discover that their idol might possibly be dating someone, so idols keep their dating lives secret. And then fans get upset that their idol kept their dating life secret, so it’s really a lose/lose situation.

People were angry when it was exposed that Chen was going to marry and be a daddy, some even called for his removal from the group. Their excuses are all silly, in my opinion: either it was exposed at the “wrong time” and distracted from the group’s events, or now the group would be unable to be seen as anything other than “that group with the dude who is about to be a married father.” Married people are unprofitable, I guess.

But wait, there’s more… Singer Lee Jae-Hoon also came forward to say he was married with two kids. He confessed that he actually got married in 2009, but it was only announced in 2020.

And Hyuna (formerly of 4Minute) and E’Dawn (formerly of Pentagon) were kicked out of Cube Entertainment when their relationship of two years was exposed.

Can we just do away with all this secrecy? As a fan, you should wish for happiness for the idols you hold dear. It’s okay to feel sad to hear that your favorite idol is dating someone you deem unworthy but only they know what’s best for themselves. I honestly hope that the idol culture changes as we see the second generation of kpop stars get older and become more open about their relationships.

Kpop Music Monday #12: 2NE1, “I Am the Best”

Ten years ago, if you asked about the reigning “girl crush concept” group, everyone would know that you were talking about 2NE1.

The “girl crush concept” typically portrays strong, independent women, the kind of girls girls want to be. They’re often seen getting their revenge on cheating boyfriends or chilling with their friends. For me, no one defines “girl crush concept” better than 2NE1.

This week’s Music Monday (a few days late) is their song “I Am the Best,” another easy song for non-kpop listeners to become addicted to. Even without knowing the lyrics, you can tell it’s an empowering song by the sheer amount of black, metal, and interesting animals they have on set.

2NE1’s rise and downfall is too exhausting to write in detail, but the group started fizzling even before member Minzy left the group. There was a drug scandal with Park Bom (as well as plenty of plastic surgery rumors), and the overall mismanagement of CL’s American debut. None of this dims 2NE1’s light as one of the founding girl crush concept groups, something that even YG Entertainment’s CEO is still chasing after, in “prettier” girl group BlackPink. (He really said that. Gross.)

As much as I love “I Am the Best,” my favorite 2NE1 song remains “I Don’t Care” to this day. All of their songs are bops, though, to be quite honest with you. I will forever be a Blackjack.