‘I’m sorry sir, but that flight was yesterday.’
Now I’ll admit, I’ve been known to have had some comical moments in my time, but that day in January 2014 takes the biscuit.
I’ve amassed quite a few nicknames which I suppose have spawned from my character- as most nicknames do- and that was ‘Paddy Last’ during his finest hour.
I had been really looking forward to going home; I had been in South Korea for about 7 months, and I was excited to see my family and friends.
I wouldn’t mind, but it was the most prepared I have been for anything in my life. I had checked-in online and printed off my boarding passes. I had my itinerary printed on paper and engrained in my memory. I had pre-booked my bus ticket to the airport. I had Christmas presents bought for all the family, and I was fully packed and ready to go about 3 days in advance.
It was very out of character for me to be so organised and on top of things- maybe I should have known.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare- I even beat the queue at the check-in desk. I excitedly plonked my luggage on the conveyor, and proudly handed the lady my passport and itinerary (half expecting her to congratulate me on being so well organised).
Her look of puzzlement that followed was a bit unsettling, and suddenly she hit me with it.
I don’t quite know how I managed it, but I missed my flight by an impressive 24 hours.
Looking back, how she was able to keep a straight face is beyond me.
Obviously at first, I thought she had made a mistake. I asked her to check it again-and again- and once more.
Panic set in when the reality of the situation began to dawn on me. After much deliberation with the airline staff, it was clear that I wouldn’t be making the trip home. I started to make some calls, because I didn’t know what else to do.
Cue the emotions.
I called Shem and explained everything- disbelief. We discussed my options, if any; maybe there was a possibility I could get on the next flight.
It was clear that it wasn’t going to happen, and I was forced to accept it.
He left me with a reassuring comment- which at the time I couldn’t fathom- but now I know he was right.
‘One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh.’
It was getting late. I decided that it would be best to get some sleep, and begin again in the morning.
The torment didn’t end there; things were about to go from bad- to weird.
Note: A jimjilbang (찜질방) is a 24-hour public bath house. They usually come fully equipped with hot and cold baths, saunas, steam rooms, and showers. Depending on the quality of the establishment, they may also have massage parlors, barbers, restaurants, and a lounge area where you can sleep. They are everywhere in Korea, including the airport.
I decided that a nice, relaxing soak and a steam was just what I needed after my episode. I would spend the night in the communal lounge area, and wake up feeling rejuvenated.
Everyone remembers their first jimjilbang experience; it can be a bit bizarre seeing old, naked Korean men washing each other, but after a couple of visits you get used to it.
As it was very early in the AM, I had the place all to myself; I headed straight for the hot bath. After a couple of minutes of soaking however, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one there.
A balding, tubby, Southeast Asian man approached. I thought it was a little strange that he sat right next to me- the baths are very big- it wasn’t proper jimjilbang etiquette that’s for sure. I took no notice of it however, because I was still shook up after missing my flight.
Sure enough he struck up a friendly conversation with me. I was in no mood for chit-chat- my mind was elsewhere- and responded with one word answers.
I soon noticed that although he was engaged, he wasn’t holding my eye line. Instead, his focus was aimed a little further south.
OK, this is weird.
After a couple of minutes of small talk, he extended an invitation to the steam room.
Ah here. F*ck this!
I politely declined.
Our little chat must have excited him because when he stood up to get out, I noticed in my peripherals that he was flying at half mast.
OK, it’s time to leave.
I was ready to call it a night, and put the entire miserable, bizarre incident behind me. I shuffled stealthily for the showers, and turned in.
I was still feeling dejected when I woke the next morning; I should have been breathing in the crisp Irish air by this time.
The messages began to flood in from home when friends and family heard about my latest triumph- funnily enough not one of them was a bit surprised. I afforded myself an ironic chuckle.
How do you manage it?
I needed to take my mind off things, and I was eager to make the most of my holiday.
I had made a couple of calls in desperation soon after I tried to check in for my flight the night before. One of them was to Daragh (Big Lad); as luck would have it he was also on holidays, and he invited me to spend a few days in Busan with him and his girlfriend, Katie.
What followed was a very enjoyable trip spent with some cool people; we ate, we drank, we explored, and we drank some more.
I got to know Katie a lot better as a result, after having only met her briefly at a GAA tournament earlier in the year. Not only is she a very warm, friendly person and a gracious host; she is also a ridiculously talented chef, and she can handle her sup better than Daragh!
I was never made aware of how much I actually curse until I spent some time with Katie- she doesn’t swear (I think I heard her say ‘frick’ once).
I also grew closer to Big Lad, as our friendship continued to blossom.
I understand now that no matter how bleak a situation may seem at the time- what’s important is how you react.
Perhaps I just wasn’t meant to catch that flight.
These things happen sometimes, whereby life puts you in seemingly miserable- and sometimes peculiar- situations; these are valuable opportunities for development.
Thankfully I can look back now, and laugh.