Our plane landed just one hour after leaving Busan.
I looked outside my window and laid eyes on Jeju-do, the largest island in South Korea.
Travel had been a whirlwind ever since we arrived in the country, less than one day before the United States squad started their first round World Cup schedule.
I was still coming to grips with how small South Korea was compared to my home state of Texas. In fact, it occurred to me this might be just the second time I’d ever been on an island, the first being Honshu just a week before. Up until that point, life had been spent 100% on continental masses. Although Jeju-do was only 50 miles away from the mainland, I felt a sense of remoteness and isolation.
As we taxied, I looked out my tiny window. Although the hazy weather thwarted any attempts to survey all but the landscape closest to the aircraft, I still strained to pick out features like the new World Cup stadium or the island’s famous volcano.
Soon we arrived at the terminal, and I started to get excited. Waiting for us inside was Shupe, an old friend of ours from the Bruce Hall days. He had been in South Korea for several years, living simply while teaching English and scuba-diving.
Jim and I deplaned and found ourselves in a moderately-crowded terminal. As expected, a majority of those present were Korean, although we did encounter some of our fellow football fanatics. We had just touched down before a separate plane carrying the Slovenian squad, which was scheduled to play Paraguay the next day. Their fan contingent was gathered just outside security, waving all sorts of banners and signs written in their native language. Despite all of my years learning Spanish, Japanese, and German, I was fascinated at how foreign Slovenese appeared.
We still hadn’t encountered Shupe. Jim and I started to question if we had gotten something mixed up.
Suddenly, a leather-jacket-wearing dude with sun-bleached blonde hair and glasses jumped out from behind a thick column. It was Shupe.
Thrusting his forefinger high in the air, he belted out at the top of his lungs, “THE STARS AT NIGHT! ARE BIG AND BRIGHT!”
And like any good Texan, Jim and I instinctively dropped our bags and responded. Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! “DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!!!”
All surrounding Koreans turned their heads and looked upon us with wonder. Awe-filled whispers of “Ahhhh! Texas!” filled the room. Flashes went off as some captured the moment in photographs.