Chasing the sun

Flying home for Christmas as Chris Rea almost said (driving from Geoje would take too long) and feeling the sense of occasion.  My last visit to the U.K. was in May and seems like years ago.

A new route this time and starting with a new connection.  Flying within business hours gives access to the Samsung helicopter service and what a boon it is, reducing the two hour drive to Gimhae Airport to a fifteen minute flight departing from the hilltop just next to my apartment.

The chopper itself was an eleven-seater of comparatively limo-like refinement compared to the four-seater that blooded me a year ago, yet it remained a very immediate almost tactile form of transport.  The view from the window was superb, lit by the bright morning sun: the expanse of the yard, the winter-naked terraces of the island paddy fields, the immense new bridge being built between Geoje and the mainland.  Next the vast industrial lowlands of outer Busan, still clearly being developed but including a massive container port that was deserted save for one MSC setting out part-laden (a sign of the times…?).  So much of that coastline looks reclaimed, low and unprotected; what will become of it should the seas rise?

After boarding the bus that met us off the helicopter, I gamely followed the two Korean men who disembarked when it stopped only to find myself in the domestic terminal.  Perhaps I missed a trick there…  A bit of navigation got me to the international terminal and aboard the Lufthansa flight via a rather surgically bright lounge.  A quick stop at Incheon for for crew change and a passenger top-up provided opportunity to experience a more dimly lit lounge modelled on an aged library before getting on with the longhaul business.

The sunlit view downwards remained virtually cloud-free and became majestically barren soon after the Chinese seaboard.  From Beijing past Ulan Bator and heading into Russia (next marked stop: Irkutsk), the terrain was as beige and empty on the ground as it was on the inflight map.  Variety was provided by rare dark patches of water and vast tracts of snow.  Passing thirty-odd thousand feet above at near five hundred miles per hour and seeing the same expanse beneath for over an hour gave ample time to reflect.  Low cloud interrupted shortly before the Sayan Mountains, clearing again over the Western Siberian Lowlands to reveal more of the same; this time punctuated by occasional single sodium lights or clusters of a dozen shining starkly in the dusk.

Travelling so far north at this time of year, we ran a close race with the sun to Munich and landed just before dark.  With the connection to London delayed (I heard there was an inch of snow at Heathrow five days ago) that particular contest is certainly concluded.  Now it might be more a question of getting home before morning but get home I will.

Season’s Greetings to you.