Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Next Flight to Korea

I joined the Navy to be a Cryptologic Technician.  If you have no idea what that means, we are pretty much on the same footing.  I didn't have any idea either.  Between my junior and senior year of high school, all it meant was a cool name, a fun test, and not worrying about college applications.  It also meant that I signed up for 5 years instead of 4 and by graduating from school, I would get a $5000 bonus for that extra year.

I actually signed up to learn Chinese.  When I got to DLI in Monterey, I found out they taught Mandarin and not Cantonese.  In my youthful naivete and ignorance, I didn't want to learn Mandarin, the language of the Chinese government.  I wanted to learn Cantonese, the so called language of the Chinese people.  Believe me when I say that the pretension of such a position does not escape my notice today but back then, I thought I was being idealistic.

They asked what else I would like to learn and started offering choices.  I'd heard that Arabic was the hardest language for English speakers to learn, so in my arrogance, I chose that.  Arabic was a 67 week long course and was followed by 5 months at Goodfellow AFB for C school.  The second course required a Top Secret / Special Compartmented Information security clearance but was essentially what to do with our language skills once we had them.

I spent the next two years learning nothing but Arabic 8-12 hours a day, 5 days a week.  This was the most intensive language training you are ever likely to receive, and I swear, I didn't appreciate the opportunity at all.  I was a terror to my instructors, mostly native Arabic speakers.  I challenged their culture, their foibles, and their values on almost a daily basis.  Three separate instructors threw things at me in the course of class.

The day I graduated from C school, I got my bonus check.  A check for $4,000 isn't something I saw every day.  I converted it to travelers checks and started a month of leave.  My parents and sister had come to see my graduation.  They took me to the airport.  I planned to take military hops to Korea to visit my girlfriend who was a Korean linguist and graduated from school ahead of me.  She was stationed in Pyongtek Korea.  Military hops are space available flights that are dirt cheap (usually less than $100) but have a waiting list and are first come first serve, with some exceptions due to rank and/or status.  Unfortunately, space available and first come first serve turns out to be a bit of a problem with only a month off.

You see, a lot of people want to fly to Korea.  Some, like retired military, don't have anywhere to be and had been waiting for months already.  I didn't have that kind of time and I had brand new play money burning a whole in my pocket.  I did something that very few people ever get to do though many dream of it.

I walked up to the ticket counter and asked for the next flight to Korea.  There was a flight leaving in a few hours but tickets cost $1700.  No problem to me and my recently flush wallet.  I counted out $1700 in travelers checks and I was on my way to an actual, honest to god, world spanning adventure.

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