The Unfriendly Country

March 5, 2008

in Odds & Ends Stories

A few years ago I was on a business trip to the Orient visiting Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul. This story tells of the frightening experience I had during my visit to Seoul, Korea and the problems encountered one week later when I was due to leave for Hong Kong.

I was arriving in Seoul on a flight from Tokyo approaching Kimpo airport from the east – the sky was so clear you could see all the way across the peninsula to the Yellow Sea. As we began our approach to the airfield and were reducing altitude, an announcement was made in several languages that all window shades were to be pulled down, they were to be kept down from that moment, and were not to be raised so we could see outside. Needless to say, many passengers, myself included, raised the shades a little until the voice, again in several languages, told us to remove our hands from the shades and keep them pulled down.

In the short amount of time in which I looked out, I could see machine gun posts at every intersection of the waterways running through the rice paddies. Every gun was pointed towards the north. We gracefully touched down onto the runway. A few minutes into the flight every passenger had been given an immigration form to be completed prior to landing giving details of nationality, how long we intended staying in Korea and the purpose of the visit. At that moment there was a high degree of turbulence. My handwriting is not very clear at the best of times (except to me), and because of the movement of the plane my signature was not very legible.

The aircraft taxied to the terminal where everyone disembarked via a portable staircase that had been wheeled to the exit door. We were screamed at by a military office to look only straight ahead. The entire atmosphere was very unpleasant and it appeared as though we had arrived in a country that expected war to break out at any time – something they had always worried about since the end of the fighting in the middle of the 1950’s. The terminal windows were all covered by a wall of sandbags and large anti-aircraft guns with crews were sited around the terminal and on the roof – all pointed towards the north – the militaristic atmosphere was frightening. Inside the terminal armed guards were everywhere. One arriving passenger was being frog marched by two guards screaming at the top of his voice as he was dragged through a small doorway.

I cleared customs and immigration and met the import merchant who was to accompany me during my stay in Korea and travel with me to Hong Kong. We took a taxi to the “Lotte,” a fairly new beautiful hotel in the center of Seoul. I cannot say I enjoyed my visit to Seoul where everywhere one went there was so much of a military presence – also the smell of the national dish, “Kimshe,” was everywhere and overpowering. While I was there the city was “buzzed” by the North Korean air force and we were forced to exit our taxi and shelter in a nearby building. When the authorities decided it was just another false alarm, green banners were lowered from the tops of all the major buildings showing it was “all clear,” replacing the red banners that had been lowered at the approach of the aircraft.

I concluded my business after several days, and with the import agent accompanying me, arrived at Kimpo for our flight to Hong Kong. As I presented my passport and exit papers at the departure desk, the trouble began. As I have written, my handwriting is bad and the officer at the desk could not match my signature on the entry form to the signature on my passport. I tried explaining that the poor writing on the entry form was caused by turbulence on the aircraft. He then, in a very loud voice, screamed at me “This not your passport” – a ridiculous statement as the photograph of me had been taken just two months ago when I renewed my passport. I was yelled at in broken English and was taken to a room where there were several other officers. I was made to take every piece of paper out of my wallet and briefcase while I was questioned about every item. My paper money was counted to make sure I had less than shown on my entry form to ensure I was not smuggling money out of the country.

While all this was going on for about half an hour, I wondered what had become of my import agent. He was a citizen of Hong Kong and I had no idea where he was. I had visions of being locked up in a Korean jail even though I had broken no laws. Finally I was told I could go and asked them to return my travel documents. I was told I was to have another interview with a senior officer who would return my papers to me if he saw fit to do so.

I was led to the gate area by two soldiers who gave my papers to the senior official. He glared at me, threw my wallet and papers across the gate area and yelled, ” GET OUT – GO NOW “. Believe me, I have never moved as fast as I did that morning. I picked up everything and stuffed it into my briefcase. I could hear a lot of shouting coming from the end of the tunnel that I had to take to reach the aircraft. As I ran towards the plane I could see and hear the cause of the disturbance. The airport people and the aircrew were attempting to close the door but my agent was standing in the doorway with arms outstretched stopping them. As he saw me he called out to me to hurry as the plane, because of him, was late in leaving.

I was never so pleased in my life to leave anywhere – I doubt if I would ever return to Korea – a country with most unpleasant memories. I never knew if the incident was real or if they were having fun at my expense. So totally different to my other travels where I always felt I was welcome.

Signed, Lawrence Bently

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

paul July 8, 2008 at 11:15 am

hrm.. this happened in 2008?

i find your story very hard to believe as i visit seoul almost every year. IN fact, international flights now do not land in Kimpo (it used to about 20 years ago), but lands at in-chon airport now(as far as i know)

i am a world traveller (for business) and Inchon airport is one of the better airport.

now in terms of 'unfriendly', i probably share this with you. In korea, if you are walking about with a smile on your face, people will think you are a retarded or on drugs. this is a culture thing, and this is something you need to learn to appreciate if you want to travel around the world. actually, you don't even have to go far to see this. if you goto New York, you may feel the same unfriendliness.

in regards to the smell of 'kimchi', i am sure this is true. but you have to remember that you probably are not free of your cultural scent either. first time i traveled to US, i could not believe the stench of cheese coming from everyone. it was appalling. even now, i dread traveling to some countries, such as India for fear of smell of curry, France for fear of smell of BO.. in fact almost all continental european countries.. specialy Russia.. good lord.

when i goto HongKong, i can smell thousand year old eggs. when i goto thai land, i can smell the spices they use in their cooking immediately.

at any rate.. your story defaintely sounds like something out of the 70's.. and if you keep this in context with other places in 70s, this is not too abnormal..


Ken July 17, 2008 at 3:46 am

I read the above “story” with great amusement. I have worked and lived in Korea, with many flights in and out of Kimpo. The “story” was pure fabrication. Kimpo has not been sandbagged since 1953, any North Korean airplanes flying over seoul would be immediately shot down by Patriots, I have never been told to close the window cover on approaching Kimpo.


Lawrence Bently July 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I thnk the above person sees things

through rose coloured spectacles.

I did not say the trip was in 2008- I

wrotebthat it occurred several years ago – in the mid 1980's.The airport wa s sanbagged exactly as I described it with machine gun posts at every

adjoining corner of the waterways surrounding the airport.

It is all very well to be nationalistic on behalf of ones country but to say the story was made up is taking things a little too far.

Lawrence Bently


Garrett September 14, 2008 at 2:10 am

So for you, "several years ago" is actually over TWENTY years ago? Either you're ESL, or else you're a liar.


Isabel April 2, 2009 at 9:42 am

Geeze no one makes up a story like that, and it was a good one, give him a break.


Bill April 2, 2009 at 11:03 am

I was stationed in Korea during the late 70's and mid 80's. If this had been in the late 70's I would have understood. The then Korean president (Pak Chung Hi) had just been assasinated and for several months there was turmoil because of a power struggle between a few generals. In the mid to late 80's there was a lot of protest against the American military bases but, no immediate threats from the north.


jag April 2, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Twenty years ago!! And you bored the shit out of 'all' your friends since then. This reminds me of the HILARY Clinton story of arriving in Bosnia or somewhere under fire, bombs bursting on the tarmac. I have to admit it sounds a little spotty. Anyhoo, I'd probably throw you out of my country/home too. Sounds like a 'I stayed at a Holiday Inn' story Bent,Sorry,no star for you.


MJ April 3, 2009 at 1:50 pm

"The Orient"?

What is this, 1910?

For those people who don't try to exoticize, it's called Asia.


Kay April 3, 2009 at 6:56 pm

To write "several years ago" when referring to something basically a quarter of a century ago is deliberate deception (to put it nicely) on your part.

Stop dissembling and own up to your deliberate misrepresentation.


Rob April 3, 2009 at 8:11 pm

As if they used broken English in Korea. You're lucky they didn't just throw you into a cell for a few days while they 'examined' your passport, and refused to communicate with you in any kind of English.

Regardless, you landed in a city that is part of a country technically at war, and only 30 miles away from the war zone.

Like, OMG! They had guns and stuff?!?

This is the stupidest story I have ever read.


peter griffin April 4, 2009 at 8:59 am

You are definitely one of my hero figures along with Quagmire and Marcia Brady.


Beastman April 8, 2009 at 12:44 pm

You guys are so damn pedantic!

The story was interesting and it wasn't false so why the complaining?

I was a little dissapointed that none of the Lawrence Bently I read about in 'Neanderthal Man' was prevalent here. That story had me in stitches.


Sharon April 8, 2009 at 4:49 pm

This is the same Lawrence Bently who wrote of how inconvenienced he was by flying in a 757 in a different forum. Seems like he just likes the sound of his own voice (or can now smugly note that he is "published").



Hack October 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Yes, he wrote the story Neanderthal Man. Which reach recieved terrible reception at best.


Oh Okay May 27, 2009 at 10:53 pm



Michael K June 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

I flew into Korea in 1982 and it was a very nice and beautiful place. I smelled the smells. But I have also been everywhere from DCA to PPG. Smells are merely memories. I was yelled at on the street by some soldiers when I took a picture. But over all. It was a wonderful trip. I think Mr. Bently is a whiner.


patsytp January 22, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Until two years ago, my Father in Law was a Training Captain on sims (ex SQ) in South Korea and he has never had an issue at all with travelling there and back on a monthly basis… in fact he often anecdotes about his encounters there. I've flown through there once and spent the night (Korean Air) and again, never had any issues at all. Maybe you just 'played the part' a bit too well!


Leave a Comment
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post:

Next post: