Korean airports are a huge contrast to Vietnamese airports. While Vietnamese airports were small and narrow, Korean airports were large, pristine and futuristic. The Vietnamese staff had basic looking uniforms, but the women wore elegant Ao Dai. The Korean staff were generally taller with, in my honest opinion, more professional uniforms. The women were beautiful in their sky blue outfits.
I walked through the bustling crowd of people. I saw families happily greeting each other while lovers and spouses got emotional after having not seen their partners for a long time. There were a lot of posters with different names written boldly to attract the other passengers who got off.
One white sign caught my attention when I saw my name written in plain but audacious black ink. The woman looked exactly like the picture in her email profile. She was young, but perhaps younger than me by a few years, medium height, pretty, and her hair was stylishly cut into a short bob that was bleached blonde. This was the Japanese woman who agreed to be my roommate deeming me in her words, ‘trustworthy enough’ to share the rent with her.
I jogged over to her.
“Bian Nguyen?” She questioned bluntly.
“Are you Nora Asami?” I inquired brightly. She gave a little nod while giving my person a once over, her lips pursed.
“You only brought that one bag? Do you have your suitcase ready?”
How could I forget something so important? At Asami’s incredulous stare, I could tell she was already reconsidering my reliability. Embarrassed, I immediately went over to the luggage pickup area.
I anxiously looked for my blue and black case as different baggage rolled by and people picked up to go on their merry way. When an hour passed, I was suspicious and nervous.
“Should it really take this long? Are you sure you checked in your luggage at all at your home airport?” Asami came over to note, agitatedly.
“I am absolutely sure I did. Maybe it’s just taking a little longer than usual,” I insisted and kept my eyes stubbornly on the entire machine. I looked around to spot a Korean officer keeping an eye on the whole area.
Approaching him, I spoke about my worries and complaints, but he shook his head.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, miss. Sometimes, it just takes this long,” He brushed off. I settled back reluctantly.
When the second hour went by, Asami impatiently jotted down the apartment addressed, gave it to me briskly and left, not wanting to wait for me any longer. That’s when I really panicked. I have just arrived and my unfriendly roommate already ditched me. And where in the world was my suitcase?
The officer whom had noticed my fidgeting this whole time began to look at me with slight pity.
“Miss, wait for me a bit. I will check on your luggage number,” I gave him a great look as he left.
My shoulders lightened when at the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar black and blue luggage rolling in my direction.
“O-Oh! Officer! I found it!” I called back and quickly rushed to snatch the baggage safely in my arms. I frowned and smelled velvety material. Strange. It did not smell like the body spray I dabbed it with. Maybe it was the effect of being stored in the plane for so long?
Unbeknownst to me, in the corner, a man was staring inquisitively at the luggage in my arms and then back to the one he was holding which had an uncanny resemblance.
“Did you find it?” The officer ran back to where I was panting with his hands resting on his knees, his back bent forward.
“Excuse me,” A deep male voice interrupted us.
We both turned around to see a tall man approaching us. He cut quite the impression with his leather jacket, black cap covering dark locks paired up with black sunglasses.
He handed the case in his hand showing me the tag attached to the handle.
“Is this your name and number?” The stranger asked. I peered curiously down at the tag and my eyes widened.
“Yes! What were you doing with it?” I demanded in sloppy Korean, looking up at the man suspicious before I decided to check the tag of the one I was holding. Before I could get a clear look, his large hand reached out to take the luggage from my hand while pushing the one he had towards me.
“Just giving you back the pack you carelessly almost forgot about. Next time, a thief would not be so kind,” He cocked his eyebrow giving me a brief glance. I bristled but muttered a thank you.
He turned to the officer.
“As for you. It is your job as an officer and a member of the South Korean workforce to uphold the utmost responsibility and care for your clients and fellow people. Are you sleeping on the job?” He berated in such an imposing manner, no one had the heart or nerves to talk back or interrupt.
“I will not bring this issue to your manager. However, I and everyone else do expect proper performance from you next time.”
With that, he turned on his heel and rolling his baggage with him heading in a different direction.
The officer and I could only stare at his proud, retreating back.
“Wow…” I breathed. “It’s pretty…Intense here huh?”
There was no reply and I turned to look at the officer who had a pensive look on his face before his head shot up in shock, startling me with him.
“That man just now, if it weren’t for his cap and sunglasses, doesn’t he look familiar to you?” The officer pondered before his eyes looked like it was about to boggle out of its sockets. He then fumbled to take out his smartphone with case that had colorful writings all over it.
“What are you talking about? What are you doing?” I questioned, definitely bewildered now.
“This phone case has been my autograph collector for many years now,” He answered with a giddy grin before running after the man. I stared, flabbergasted. What? Was it someone famous? I should know him if he was! But then again, it wasn’t like I had a very close look.
With a shake of my head, I checked myself out and then stepped outside to call for an Uber, struggling with the new Korean app.
Inside the car, I looked around me. It was so different from Saigon. The air was bright, clean and people walked here and there on the sidewalks, getting ready about their day for work and exercise. The weather was chilly, but pleasantly crisp. I made sure to tuck myself in a warm coat and scarf.
The car stopped once it has arrived at my apartment. With the door password I obtained from Asami, I unlocked the door to room 471. Inside was smaller than I thought but that was to be expected as it was all I could afford for now.
Asami who was reading a Vogue magazine on the couch looked up at me.
“Ah, looks you were able to get here in one piece after all,” She mused with a quirk of her glossy lips. She stood up and pointed to the duck tape that lined, separating what looked like to be her glamorous side of the room to my blatant plain and unfurnished side.
She smiled apathetically at me as she pointed to a list on the wall that was titled “RULES.”
“You stay in your lane. Don’t talk to me other than is necessary, don’t touch any of my things, do your share of chores, cook every other day, pay your part of the rent and we will get along perfectly.”
It was a day for first impressions on me indeed.