CHAPTER XXX (DEAR DIARY)
Dudley said yes! Great news my Virgin Atlantic Chief Pilot had approved my six month secondment to Asiana Airlines in South Korea. He was the perfect Chief Pilot, a go-between and often punch bag between ‘his’ pilots and the company’s non flying management. If he thought that you were right, then he would back you all the way. If you were wrong then he would call you a ’dickhead’ and then move on. A man who held the respect and loyalty of all his pilots and of a kind I have sadly never met again.
So with more than a little apprehension I headed off to Seoul and six months wearing the brown uniform of South Korea’s second largest airline. I was to be employed as a Boeing 747-400 Captain, temporarily flying Asiana’s aircraft around the globe whilst they trained their own local pilots to fly this fabulous aircraft.
The contract was for six months, though as there was no interview, I would be employed should I successfully pass their simulator check-ride in Seoul. Being only 33 years old and a Boeing 747-400 Captain I was told by my agent might raise the Koreans eyebrows.
Deciding that it was cheaper to keep a diary than constantly call my wife, being 1997 e-mails and computers were still in their infancy, the following is a word for word account of my first month. Apologies in advance for the grammar and spelling!
Me off to Manila on-board an Asiana B 747-400
Only six days to go, or possibly 5 months and 30 days to go.
Welcome to Seoul, more like welcome to Sole, as so far it impresses you like something on the bottom of your shoe. Maybe..... the hotel will be an improvement; Alas no.
However, ideal for getting around as it’s strategically located between two freeways. Well, the brochure says it has two restaurants, a cosy pub and fitness room. Also, the hotel have a courtesy bus for running you around. Wrong, on all counts. The pub and restaurants are closed and have been for some time. The courtesy bus is no longer working, and the fitness room is a sauna for Koreans, and not the round-eyes.
The mini-bar only has soft drinks; and the air-conditioning is either on (but only six hours a night) or off, so you either boil, or freeze in an icy wind.
Maybe it’s only first impressions. Sad news today, Princess Diana has died in a car crash.....was Prince Philip driving?!?
P.S. Three meals in the coffee shop today.
Only five days to go, or possibly 5 months and 29 days to go.
No, first impressions were definitely correct.
Joy of joys today I get to leave the hotel. So a taxi ride to the airport and then a bus to head-office for paper-work checking. Made all the more enjoyable as you have to wear a jacket and tie; this is okay as it’s only 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity. Claire, please send more deodorant.
Well, after handing over licences, passports and 20 photos they (the slant eyes) still don’t believe who I am. So after explaining my life story from short trousers and spots to four gold bars (and spots) no they are still unsure. Nevermind, they say I can go back to the hotel, deep joy.
Oh well back to the coffee shop for more spaghetti. Yum Yum......
Maybe tonight I can sleep through to 3:00 am, which compared to last night will be a lie in.
Only four days to go, or possibly 5 months and 28 days to go.
Guess what, day off today, to allow time to prepare for tomorrows simulator. Good news though, an Aussie has turned up whom I’m paired with in training; at least a drinking partner. Stupid me, no he has hepatitis, caught in Bombay, and can only eat vegetables and only drink soft drinks.....deep joy.
Oh well after all day studying out for dinner. A local Chinese restaurant, surprisingly edible, the first plus point.
By the way I slept in till 1:30 am last night; aren’t time changes and jet-lag wonderful.
Excellent telly tonight Minder on the Orient Express.....but in Korean though. Arfur’s not quite the same, you expect him to drop kick Chisolm whilst speaking at 10 words per second.
Oh well tomorrow should be either interesting or soul destroying. I can’t help but have a hunch......
Did I mention that they have an entire T.V. channel dedicated to the korean version of draughts which runs for 24 hours a day, you have to ask why? How sad eh.
Only 3 days to go, or possibly 5 months and 27 days to go.
Bad start, training Captain wants proof that I am who I say I am. I’m starting to wonder if my aviation career was possibly just a dream.
Oh well here we go. Must have been the busiest simulator I’ve ever done. Not helped by sarcastic comments from training Captain like, what excuse do you have for doing that. All positive comments no? Funny really coming from a country which kill more people in aeroplanes each year, than the I.R.A. do every 20 years.
Big black mark though, I didn’t eat lunch with the training Captain. I wasn’t being rude but I prefer my food groups not to include animals with either antennae or tentacles. It gets worse.........
..........I pased the simulator. But.......tomorrow I have to report to the ‘headmaster’ and the personnel department to surprise, surprise have a face-to-face chat to explain that yes I am who I am and can I provide proof. Maybe DNA testing and a personal recommendation from Interpol would suffice, but I doubt it.
I am starting to think that I could possibly be an imposter, who has embarked on a masochistic holiday, of the worlds worst eateries. Tonight proved it was true.
Never, and I mean never, be persuaded to try a typical korean restaurant.
I thought I was safe with strips of beef to be cooked on my own personal Bar-B-Q. No, unless you like scrag end, accompanied with about 10 indescribable dishes; one of which was suspiciously like a monkeys hand in some sort of sauce. My soup had spring onions, and oh, two baby daddy-long legs, an accident or on purpose I will never know. By the way the main dish the waitress called ‘pup’, need I say more.
Can’t wait for tomorrow, it’s bound to be a real hum-dinger.
Well, 5 months and 26 days to go, or possibly 1 month until end of training.
More importantly only two more dinners to go before changing hotels. Hopefully I won’t be sharing my bed..........with bed bugs in the new one.
So much for my interview with the ‘headmaster’ he was an admin manager in his early twenties; who has taken my log book to check that I’m once again not an ‘imposter’.
This afternoon was spent with the United Nations of Asiana. Steve from Oz, Casea from Mexico, Vladomir from Bulgaria, Mark from Los Angeles and Kapoor from India. Still no other Brits. After hearing the horror stories of what’s been happeninh here no -one from the ex-pat world can understand why no Asiana airliner has gone down yet. But at the moment it seems inevitable.
‘The pub is not closed’. Good news, not. We were told it’s closed, but is actually a brothel closed to the round-eyes......No great loss.
Excellent Chinese tonight, again..........
5 months and 25 days to go; or still one month until end of training, and then being sent home or allowed to stay. I’m no longer bothered either way.
I forgot, yesterday Mr P.J. Lee asked if after 6 months has elapsed, would I like to extend my contract. Words could not explain my delight and excitement at this prospect. I think not somehow.
Great excitement today back to the airport to open local bank account, at last a positive reason for being here. We were told yesterday that Lufthansa pilots were used to start the airline up 8 years ago. And 8 years ago they were paid $27,000 U.S. per month; where have we gone wrong, that should just about suffice for the penance of being here and putting up with the Korean trainers, or so I’m led to believe. I think best I make my own mind up; but somehow I can’t help think that I’m in for a short sharp shock.
5 months & 24 days to go. Who knows when training’s going to end, not me.
Today was so boring, what can I say except good night.
5 months and 23 days to go. Can’t wait to get home now.
We had a lecture today about how to find local Korean bookstores, and also a Korean folk village up in the mountains. I just can’t wait but we had to look interested and enthralled.
Not a lot more to say except good Italian tonight, now that’s pretty boring. A bit like life here.
I’m not quite at the point where they have to take away my razor blades or shoelaces to protect myself. But watch this space.
5 months and 22 days to go. I’ve given up to working out when I’m finished here.
At last we get to learn something from a Boeing Test pilot Jack. But mainly about what we discussed was how to survive and cope with the korean crews. Best of all at least I don’t have to eat korean food in the canteen to prove that I’m ‘culturally adjusted’.
Boring evening the locally ‘Wendys’ is rubbish.
Oh well lethargy has set in I’m off to bed.
5 months and 21 days to go.
Another test to day Korean Air Law, we’ve now just found out that Korean Law’s a bit stricter than what we’re used to. They have everything from fines up to the death penalty; more good news, not......
One more day of box ticking. Again, ground school took 1/2 hour this afternoon on a topic Virgin would take two days.
Korean Air lines nearly lost another aircraft in Guam last week we’ve found out. The Yanks have banned them from flying at night to Guam. Hoping that they won’t hit the mountains during the day; some hope.
Good Chinese tonight but cost an arm and a leg.
Oh well, I’m listening to my first cassette of Coronation Street and Eastenders with a commentary from Claire. Now this is sad.
5 months and 20 days to go.
Well, what can I say another total waste of time al day spent at the administration building talking to incompetents that can’t make decisions, or unwilling to do so. Spent three hours going around in circles. However, we got our rosters which are totally unworkable/unfriendly.
No passport, no I.D. pass, no medical certificate, no visa, no uniform. A complete shambles.
Already my contract (re. days off) is being ignored. But according to ASIANA a contract is a broad outline, and not binding, I think not.
Groundschool non existent we turned up, but were asked to sign an attendance sheet, and go back to the hotel. More box-ticking.
Hey-ho tomorrows’ another day off in paradise. Cheesed off of korea signing off.
5 months and 19 days to go.
Excellent breakfast, average lunch, at Wendys hamburger ‘restaurant’, and a passable dinner in the coffee shop. This was interspersed with spending all day going through the manuals and working on the simulator profiles which we’ve been given. If nothing else you can’t say that I’m not prepared. You can also say that today was once again mind-boggingly tedious.
There’s at least a Chinese laundry underground behind the hotel as my four shirts (in two weeks) are now looking, and probably smelling, a bit shabby.
I can’t say much else except that I’ve survived another day here.
5 months and 18 days to go now.
Would you believe it, back at the administration building, they were prepared, well almost, for us. Licence, passport (plus a dodgy visa) and our uniform were ready, no mean feat to get all this in one morning.
Also, I received my roster which takes some working out due to criss-crossing the international date line. For example; returning to Seoul from Los Angeles if you meet at the airport to fly home, (this must be bad/sad I’m now calling Seoul home, will someone please hurry up and get me out of here.), say on a Tuesday you land after an 11 hour flight on a Thursday.
Hey-ho, back to the training centre for day 1 of simulator training.
Yep, you guessed it all the revision and preparation a total waste of time, as the training Captain (Whom, I must say was a total Gentleman of the first order.) wanted to evaluate us. Basically, trying to find out if I was a Captain, now where have we heard this before.........
What this guy was trying to teach us was at times down-right dangerous and totally out of place. But we’ve been briefed to nod and agree; and come out with comments like “I’ve not thought of doing it that way before” or, “that’s a very good alternative way of doing this”.
Oh well, it’s just another hoop to jump through. I’m going to be excellent at croquet after this, or I should be ale to get a job in a circus; as I’ve never jumped through so many hoops.
Guess what day off tomorrow. Best have an early night; because tomorrow is bound to be pretty hectic! Oh well another 24 hours of pure delight and excitement to look forward to.
I can’t help but feel that I’m turning into a cynic here.
Exasperated of Seoul,.......signing off.....
By the way the uniform would impress the most introverted Mexican, as I’ve never seen so much gold braid; and the hat, well it’s got to be seen (certainly not worn) to be believed.
5 months and 17 days to go now. But who’s counting, eh!
Day off today. Achieved absolutely nothing today most things are close, as it’s ‘Chusok’, korean thanksgiving and they have four days of national holidays. So nowt to do except go for a walk and read a book.
Maybe tomorrow will be a bit more inspiring.
However, in four days time I’ll be in Los Angeles, can’t wait.
It seems like I’ve been here for an eternity, and not just two weeks.
5 months and 16 days to go now.
Day 2 of simulator training, no problems here, everything went well. Apart from that not, a lot else except we managed to get our medical certificate, so now we’re completely legal. Whatever that could mean here. Where rules are made to be bent and I’m sure everything is run or obtained on a corrupt basis. Uh, oh, I’m becoming cynical again; but then again I have been here more than two weks.
Oh, well i’s now just an eternity and one day. Civilization in Los Angeles is only three days away. I can’t help but think that word’s come down from somewhere to look after us (us, being ex-pats) as so far everyone has treated us fairly and, dare I say it, humanely.
5 months and 15 days to go, nearly finished the contract, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
Well up at 5:30 am for more simulator. I’m doing more time in the ‘box’ than I did on conversion training in the U.K.
Today we get to fly with the Chief Pilot, I can’t help but feel that the knives are out and being sharpened today. This was especially true as I was told that my performance was to also be judged by the head of ‘standards’, now that has to be a contradiction in terms, in Korea. All went well, and both instructor pilots said that I did a good job. This was extremely positive. I believe (but this is either paranoia, or cynicism once again) that again, because of my age, nobody or no one person wanted to be responsible for releasing me to line flying. I reckon this was probably a more important session today, than our checkride tomorrow.
Met up with Howard Taylor one of the two ex-B.A. guys. He took us to the pizza parlour. Unfortunately they had run out of salad for the salad bar, and also run out of pasta; well it’s not Rome, nor Naples I suppose.
So we ended up in ‘Wendys’, at least the foods recognisable here, but bland.
Ah, I forgot we (Ian and I) had to have lunch with the two simulator instructors. You guessed it once again I wouldn’t feed this to Henry my King Charles spaniel. They had an alternative on ‘whitebait’ it was dried baby fish but more like eels. No way thanks.
5 months and 14 days to go. Or once again another hoop to jump through as this is our checkride.
Up again at 5:30 am, at least we finish early.
The training Captain seemed like a reasonable and friendly guy. All bodes well, but watch this space...........
..............I flew what I thought was the best simulator detail that I had flown throughout my 15 year career. You name it, everything was thrown at me in 2 1/2 hours, and everything was thrown back.
Ian unfortunately didn’t fly very well, I thought that we were going to crash a couple of times, and also run off the runway a couple of times. It got to the point where I was really starting to feel for him, as we all have off days.
Well, we left the simulator and our training captain went for a chat with the ‘head of (so called) standards’. I thought this didn’t bode well for Ian, as I thought he he might have failed.
How wrong could I be.
We were told that we had both passed the checkride, BUT. I was told that there were many criticisms of my flying, my management of the flightdeck and also my crew-relation skills. I was debriefed on everything; the only positive comment was that my flying of the aircraft was, Okay. I very nearly told him to shove it; but I thought that this is what he wanted, as he couldn’t break me in the simulator so he would try in the debriefing.
On the othe rhand Ian was complimented mainly, and his debrief took about three minutes, mainly talking about his military flying!
We refused lunch, and I an said that he was virtually ‘gob-smacked’ by our debriefing, and said that he reckoned it was only going to get worse for me.
I bumped into Jack in the hotel on our return (He was the Boeing training captain) and explained what happened. He stated also that it’s going to get worse on route-training. Deep joy, watch this space. I won’t let the B******S win though!
5 months and 13 days to go.
Todays the day; Escape from Hell, sorry Seoul. We get to leave and go to Los Angeles. Hopefully I won’t have a shouter or a screamer today. Just in case my bags are packed; and Ian has strict instructions that if I don’t return to send my bags on, there’s positive thinking for you!
Well, someone likes me Captain Park-Dong-Min, an absolute gentleman is the training captain today. Twelve hours time and I should be meeting Claire....................at last.
Nothing more to add except at last things are going my way. I’ve got Claire...........................and also Western people and Western food.
5 months and 12 days to go.
Still in L.A. Life is at last wonderful again. The only downside is that we leave and go our separate ways.
Uh oh we managed to get Claire’s ring, as I said to the jeweller....Wow....!
5 months and 11 days to go.
All good things come to an end, today we part and go home. But I’ve had the best time in the last two days than I’ve had in the last three weeks. At last I’ve stopped being cynical; or is writing that being cynical.
It’s been great being with Claire again, it’s also been nice to see the guys from Virgin again. Being in Seoul and working for Asiana certainly concentrates your mind, and makes you realise what your giving up at home. I just hope it’s all worth it.
5 months and 10 days to go.
Well on my way back to Seoul, today doesn’t really exist as we cross the international date line. Don’t ask me how it works.
5 months and 9 days to go.
I think todays Tuesday, nope I’m wrong it’s Wednesday. Today we landed back in Seoul, a good trip with nice people.
Nothing to do with the rest of the day except eat and sleep. Oh well back to my usual boring routine. I don’t think anything else happened.
5 months and 8 days to go.
I can’t believe I’ve been here nearly a month, even though it certainly feels like it. Joy of joys nowt to do today. Caught up with Ian, and compared notes on our flights, so far so good. Lucky guy is going home to Sydney.
I have to go to the admin building today. At last I’ve gt my log-book back. Major row with Mr. P.J.Lee, told him in no uncertain terms that I have ten days off next month. Great, route-training isn’t going to finish until November, deep joy. Well, it didn’t take long, cynicism is back to stay.
Not a lot to say, today has to have been the most boring day out here so far and that’s saying a lot. I even cleaned my hotel room, why? Also, I’ve done more washing. God, get me home soon.
Hopefully tomorrow will be better, but only if....if....if.....So what, it’s going to be the same me thinks.
So that was my diary from the first 23 days in Seoul. In the next chapter I will expand on what I have written and add the value of hindsight to my comments. I will also explain in more depth about Seoul, my training my flights and why Korean Grandparents were told by their government to look behind their sofa for U.S. Dollars!.
Looking back it can’t have been that bad, as three years later I returned to Seoul to work for Asiana’s nemesis, Korean Airlines. They said once you’ve been brown you can’t go blue but I did!