Anyway, I thought I'd repost something I initially put up in January, a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman whose first few paragraphs go through my mind each time I have to make the unnerving transition between Asia and the US:
I had a bad day last Friday, but it was an all-too-typical day for America.I've ran out of time before my flight and don't have the time to really get into this as much as I'd like. There are certainly technological deficiencies: I mentioned, for example, that although Narita and Incheon had kiosks with free internet service, Chicago's O'Hare was charging $5 for the first fifteen minutes, and $0.33 for each minute after that. And if you live in Pittsburgh but don't have a car, you're going to have a hell of a time getting to the airport.
It actually started well, on Kau Sai Chau, an island off Hong Kong, where I stood on a rocky hilltop overlooking the South China Sea and talked to my wife back in Maryland, static-free, using a friend’s Chinese cellphone. A few hours later, I took off from Hong Kong’s ultramodern airport after riding out there from downtown on a sleek high-speed train — with wireless connectivity that was so good I was able to surf the Web the whole way on my laptop.
Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.
The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented. The disgusting track-side platforms apparently have not been cleaned since World War II. I took the Acela, America’s sorry excuse for a bullet train, from New York to Washington. Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.
All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that’s the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.”
My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.”
Those problems not withstanding, I will say that I've found the biggest deficiencies in American airports and airplanes are the people. Flying into Incheon is a treat, while flying back to the US---on a plane departing from Asia that has no bilingual crew---is a painful experience. There's a lot to be said for Korea's superior customer service and professional decorum, and those are some things I miss when I'm back home. Instead I get to listen to people cursing and yelling about their personal lives behind the counter, or to flight attendants mocking customer requests, or to people at information desks being impatient with visitors who speak English with an accent. And tuck in your fucking shirt.
* My coteacher in Gangjin said I wasn't allowed to take the airport bus from Gwangju to Incheon, and instead I had to fly as much as possible. Walked 15 minutes through Gangjin with two suitcases and two carry-ons. Took a two-hour busride from Gangjin to Gwangju. Went through the bus terminal there and took a cab to the Gwangju airport. Waited around for a few hours at the airport. Flew from Gwangju to Gimpo. Took a bus from Gimpo to Incheon. Because the flight from Gwangju left at 8:00 pm, that meant I had to spend the night at a local motel. It cost me $80 out of my own pocket. Stayed at the motel for roughly 12 hours, then flew to Beijing. Waited roughly six hours in Beijing, then flew to New York. Of course, the flight was delayed in New York for four hours. Finally made the two-hour flight back to Pittsburgh. I got to repeat that again on the way back a few weeks later. For anyone in Jeollanam-do reading: don't mess around trying to fly into Seoul, just take a bus to the nearest city with an airport bus and take it directly to Incheon. Your school is supposed to pay for it---mine never have---but even if they don't, it saves you a lot of aggravation, and it saves you from having to put yourself up at a love motel.