Thursday, October 29, 2009

Korea Revisited

Because of my limited internet access while we were in Korea and the lack of time I've had since we've been home, I feel like I never got to talk about our trip to Korea as much as I wanted to. I've been meaning to wait and do it when after I had a chance to go through all the photos I took so that I could post photos and talk about each one, but at this rate it's going to be months before I get them all done and I'll forget my stories by then.

So today, and maybe occasionally over the next week or so, I'm just going talk about what happened on our trip and share the photos I have had a chance to go through so that I get them all down in my blog before I forget them. My blog has been kind of a journal for Clarissa to read when she's older and I want to make sure that she has all these stories. So some of it might be long and boring, but it's important to me to write it all down. I won't feel bad if you skip it, it's almost more for mine and Clarissa's benefit more than anything.

So just humor me, I have a lot to talk about!

Let's start with the plane ride over there. You all know how much I hate to fly, right?! I've literally been terrified for months about getting on that plane. The morning we left for Korea was so hard for me. I was emotional anyway because we were about to go get Clarissa, plus I've never left the boys for that long and I was having a hard time thinking about being away for that long. Add that to the fact that I was dreading getting on the airplane and I was kind of a mess!

I always worry way too much about flying and it always ends up not being as bad as I thought. Will someone please remind me of that the next time I freak out about flying?? The flight from Boise to San Francisco was a piece of cake. It was close to two hours but I swear it felt like 10 minutes!

The flight from San Francisco to Seoul unfortunately did NOT seem like 10 minutes! We flew Singapore Air and really it was as comfortable as economy class on an 12 hour flight could be, but still, it was long and not all that much fun. When we got on the plane the pilot announced that it was going to be a bumpy flight because we would be flying around a typhoon. Seriously, the last thing a plane phobic person wants to hear is that they'll be flying around a TYPHOON! I was pretty sure that we'd all be dying a horrible firey death.

But we didn't and I survived. It was a pretty bumpy ride at times, but thankfully turbulence on a great big plane doesn't really feel as scary as turbulence on a little plane for some reason. Frankly, we were so tired that I'm not sure anything would have phased us much at that point!So for 12 long hours we ate really bad airplane food, we watched a bunch of movies and we tried to sleep for a while and finally we made it over the ocean, around the typhoon and I looked out the airplane window and saw Japan!! I watched as we flew over Tokyo and it was really amazing. For a girl who had never left the country before and hates to fly, seeing Japan out the airplane window was when it really hit me that I was embarking on a pretty amazing adventure!

Finally we passed Japan and crossed into Korea. I'll never forget seeing Korea for the first time outside the airplane window. For two years I have waited and hoped for Clarissa and thought about her life in Korea every single day, and suddenly I was seeing it for myself. I sat with tears in my eyes and watched the sun set over Korea out the airplane window. It was an experience I'll never forget.

We landed at the Incheon airport, which is on an island just outside of Seoul, and we made our way through the airport. I was so happy to have my feet on the ground again and all the way through the airport I kept saying "can you believe we're in KOREA?!" It still didn't seem real! The Incheon airport has been ranked one of the best airports in the world and it's REALLY nice! It's huge, but really easy to maneuver and it's really clean.

Oh! Here's something cool about the Incheon airport! First of all, they have a big kids play area in the airport to keep your kids happy while you wait which is amazing, and second, they have really cool family bathrooms. There's a little room off the main womens bathroom (maybe the mens bathroom has one too, I don't know) and you slide open the door and there is a regular sized toilet, the CUTEST little toddler sized toilet and a baby changing area. How cool is that?! I changed Clarissa in that room on the way home from Korea and I couldn't get over how nice it was.
Anyway, back to the story. At this point we had been up for something like 19 or 20 hours and we were completely exhausted!! We got our luggage and went to airport entrance where a driver from the agency was supposed to meet us, but we were a little early and he wasn't there yet. That was OK with me because I was so excited to actually be in Korea that I just wanted to look at EVERYTHING! I went in a few of the airport stores and I bravely used Korean money to buy lipgloss at a cute little makeup shop. I was so proud of myself! It was also the first chance I had to use the tiny bit of Korean I know, which I was all excited about! (Seriously, the amount of Korean I know consists of things like Hello and thank you. Not so impressive.)

It was also where we started our fun little game of pointing out poorly translated English. If you ever go to another country, "spot the poorly translated English" is a fun game to play. We had a good time with that through our whole trip. :)

So I bought lipgloss, we giggled at the Kraze Burger slogan (in case you can't read it, their slogan is "It's my burger more than a burger") and we waited for our driver.

In the meantime, here's something interesting about Korea. Korea is obviously a very technologically advanced country and I read a statistic that 90% of Koreans own a cellphone. At the airport you can actually rent cellphones for $3 a day (plus per minute call charges). Super cool! So we stopped and rented a cellphone for the week so that we could call home and make calls during our trip. We used that thing a lot!

While we waited for the driver I took video:

Finally the van driver arrived and we made the trip into Seoul. The airport is actually about an hour outside of Seoul, so it took us a while to get to our hotel. It was an amazing ride though because we finally got to look around!

Here are the first two things I observed about Korea. First of all, there are some BEAUTIFUL bridges around Seoul that are all lit up at night. I saw so many pretty bridges on our trip. I really wished I could have stopped to take pictures of them.

The second thing I observed is that Koreans are crazy drivers!! I spent way too much time worrying about dying on the airplane on the way over there when what I should have been worried about is dying in a car accident while I was there! We had some interesting driving experiences while we were in Korea. For one thing, practically every single car has a GPS navigation system on the windshield-and they also broadcast live TV! So you'll be flying down the freeway at 70 miles per hour and everyone is watching TV while they drive.

But driving in Korea is an interesting thing, which leads me to the third thing I observed. Koreans are extremely nice and respectful of others. They might be driving 70 miles an hour, watching TV and weaving in and out of traffic, but they're all very calm about it. Cars will pass on the right, swerve into other lanes, merge into traffic like they have a death wish, and everyone is all very nice about it. Cars will move out of the way for each other, no one honks and screams out the window and I didn't see one middle finger! I saw no road rage in Korea!

So pardon the tangent, but seriously Koreans are the calmest, nicest people I've ever met. One day on our trip we were in a cab in Seoul and our cab driver came about two inches from running over some guy crossing the street (because that's what happens when you watch TV while you drive!!). I totally thought he was going to hit him and we were going to see him flying over the windshield. But he stopped just in time and the guy walked around to the side of the cab and I was fully expecting him to start screaming obscenities at the cab driver for almost plowing over him and the guy leaned into the cab drivers window and smiled and waved. The cab driver waved back and the guy continued crossing the street. I LOVE Koreans. :) I have a ton of stories of the nice people we encountered in Korea, which I will eventually get to.

Anyway, back to the story, the van driver finally got us to our hotel. It was a REALLY nice hotel, called Lotte City. From what I could tell, the Lotte company (pronounced Low-tay) pretty much owns Seoul. There are Lotte hotels, a Lotte amusement park, a Lotte mall, Lotte Mart, which is like Koreas version of Target only bigger, and all sorts of other Lotte things. Actually, we later realized that the Korean grill we own is a Lotte brand. The Lotte name was everywhere in Korea.

The Lotte City hotel is in a business section of town and it's really kind of a business hotel. It's a new hotel, very modern with lots of glass and marble. It has a really pretty fountain out front and a Dunkin' Donuts across the street. :) There are a LOT of Dunkin' Donuts in Seoul!!

We got checked into our hotel and a few minutes later we finally got to meet my friend Jin-Ha!Remember when I talked about how NICE Koreans are? I think Jin-Ha is the ambassador of nice Koreans. We couldn't have had a warmer welcome and she showed up with a bag full of food so that we'd have breakfast in the morning. That came to be a theme with Jin-Ha. Everytime we turned around she was providing us with more food. She constantly worried about us being hungry!

I actually took photos of the food she brought because some of it was so...foreign! Jin-Ha's husband owns a milk company, so she brought us a bottle of milk from his company, which we thought was kind of neat (we actually washed out the bottle and brought it home! I think I'm going to keep change in that bottle...), and she brought us some fruit and some snacks that I still have no idea what they were, but they were good!

Here's my next tangent-Korean fruit is HUGE! From what I could tell, Koreans don't really eat a lot of sweets (aside from Dunkin' Donuts, I guess!), they eat a lot of fruit. We ate a lot of fruit in Korea and it was all delicious and it all looked like it was on steroids! We ate grapes the size of plumbs and pears the size of melons! Koreans are very proud of their Korean pears. Someone told me with much pride that Michael Jackson liked Korean pears. They're gigantic and REALLY good. They're crunchier than any pear I've ever had, more like an apple. Yum. If you ever go to Korea, make sure you eat a pear!

And speaking of food, that brings me back to the story. After Jin-Ha met us at our hotel she took us out to dinner. At this point I think we'd been up for close to 24 hours and we were completely overwhelmed and exhausted, but really excited for our first real Korean experience. We were so blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with Jin-Ha while we were in Korea and we got to experience a lot of things that we wouldn't have if she hadn't been with us. I'm really grateful for that.

She took us to a little restaraunt near her house. One of those "real" Korean places that a tourist would never go because they'd have no idea what to do there! We sat on the floor around a little table that had a grill in the middle of it and they brought us strips of pork to grill on it. Then they brought us lots of little bowls filled with all sorts of things I've never seen before. I saw this same type of meal several times during our stay in Korea. Every meal involves lots of little bowls full of interesting things, most of which I still can't identify.

One thing I CAN indentify is kimchee. Kimchee is served with pretty much every meal in Korea. Kimchee is basically fermented cabage that has been marinated in a really spicy sauce. Koreans LOVE it. Me? Not so much, lol. Let me just say that I am NOT an adventurous eater. I knew that food was going to be the hardest thing for me in Korea because it's hard for me to try new food. I'm ridiculously picky. I did try everything though! I even ate seaweed! Multiple times! I never thought I'd eat seaweed...

You can tell that Koreans are proud of their food. It's always served beautifully and I could tell that they put a lot of work into it. Korean food tends to be spicy though, since a lot of it is made with red pepper paste, which my tounge can only handle in small amounts!

Anyway, that first meal with Jin-Ha was really fun. It was really neat to see real Korean food and try lots of new things. I think Jin-Ha was amused watching us try all of the food that she sees every day but we'd never heard of before.

So here's my last tangent and then I'm done with stories for the night. Koreans use chopsticks with every meal. The table is set with chopsticks and a spoon, never a fork. That was fine, we were super excited to work on our chopstick skills, but every single time a Korean person saw us holding chopsticks on the entire trip they would inevitably wrinkle their brow and offer to find us a fork. And on the entire trip no one was ever able to sucessfully track down a single fork for us! We didn't really want a fork, we wanted to use chopsticks, but apparently we were doing it all wrong. Jin-Ha's son tried to show us the right way to hold them, but he eventually gave up on us. :) We ate just fine and we manged to get food to our mouths, but Koreans seemed to be really amused by our chopstick skills. We tried, we really did! :)

Ok, I'm going to bed now. That was a super long post about a lot of random things, wasn't it?! At this rate it's going to take me a long time to get through all the stories of our trip. I've got lots more to talk about, so stay tuned! :)


Christine said...

I just LOVED reading your story about your trip and SO look forward to reading more. :) Do you have any Korean restaurants near where you live? It's one of my favorite foods to eat. You can get those gigantic Korean pears at a Korean market. My favorite fruit from Korea is the massive persimmons. YUM! Unfortunately I could eat there every day... my family? Not so much. LOL. Thank you for sharing these stories. They really do make me miss Korea. :( Most of my family is in Seoul and I even have a cousin who is a congressman in Korea. Anyway, I look forward to reading more and seeing more pictures.

Just Us Jumbecks said...

Loved your story and look forward to hearing more. Our family is waiting for our 4th child to come home from Korea. We have 2 bio kids and a 3 yr old who came home at 4 mos old from Korea. We didn't travel last time but fully intend to this time and want to take all 3 kids along. We have great family conversations about what it will be like to fly there into the arms of our child and experience the culture. I soaked up every word of your story and look forward to hearing more.