Monday, November 9, 2009

Korea Revisited, part 3

So we're up to day three of our Korean adventure! Let's review-day one we flew halfway around the world, met Jin-Ha and had our first Korean dinner, day two we met Clarissa and traveled by train across Korea, visited Clarissa's birth city and watched the sun set at the beach.

Day three was full of lots more amazing adventures! The day before we had been told by our social worker that a tour guide was going to be picking us up at our hotel at 9am to take us on a walking tour of Seoul. We were really excited to do some sightseeing so we woke up that morning ready to go!

After a minor mix up (we were waiting for our tour guide in front of the hotel and she was waiting for us in the lobby! Oops!) we finally met up with the tour guide and we were on our way. I've been dying to tell you about our tourguide because we were completely in love with her! Her name was Ji-Hee and she's a college student in Seoul. She was super bubbly and friendly and a complete joy the entire day. She actually had just gotten back from spending a year in the US, so while we were excited to talk to her about Korea, she was just as excited to talk to us about the US. We were amused by her obsession with Pottery Barn and The Cheesecake Factory and she was amused by my love of Korean dramas, lol We had a lot to talk about! We have actually kept in touch with Ji-Hee since we've been home and there's a chance that she's going to coming to stay with us next summer!! Here is a photo of us and Ji-Hee:

She started off by giving us a little lesson on getting around in the subway. She showed us how to buy a subway card and how to follow the colored signs to get where we needed to go. We took the subway to Gyeongbokgung palace, which is a 600 year old palace in the middle of Seoul. When we got there we met up with another tour guide and another adoptive family and we were excited when we realized that we knew the other adoptive family from the Korean adoption message board we both post on! We enjoyed spending the day sightseeing together!

One of the things I loved most about Seoul was that it was such an interesting mixture of old and new. There are brand new big glass skyscrapers right next to palaces that are centuries old. It's really neat to see.

According to Wikipedia, Gyeongbokgung Palace was first constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867. It was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name of the palace, "Gyeongbokgung," translates in English as "Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven."

When you walk through the front gates of Gyeongbokgung Palace, you feel like you've transported to another time. It's hard to believe that you're still in the middle of a modern city. They have palace guards who stand at the gates dressed as the ancient guards would have been and everything looks like it's been untouched for centuries. Unfortunately it hasn't been though. When Japan controlled Korea they burned most of the palaces in an attempt to erase Korea's history and everthing had to be rebuilt. It breaks my heart to think of that beautiful palace being burned.

On a tangent, I think that's one of the things I love so much about Korea. Throughout history they've endured so much and no matter what happens they rebuild and go on. They're very proud of their culture and I think they appreciate it even more because they've had to fight so hard to perserve it. I thought about that a lot while I was at the palace. Knowing how much work went into perserving the beautiful palace and all the history that went with it made me really grateful to be able to see it. I felt a lot of love and respect for Koreans and their wonderful culture that day.

The palace is actually several buildings which are all spread out on the palace grounds. We saw the Kings private residence, the room where they held their political meetings, the Queens private area, and lots of other interesting little buildings. The architecture is beautiful and the rooms are furnished the way they would have been when the palace was being used. Ji-Hee was a wonderful tour guide. She knows a lot about the palace and it's history, so it was fun to walk through the buildings with her and have her explain the history behind each room.

After touring the buildings we walked through the park that surrounds the palace. What a beautiful and peaceful place! Again it was really hard to believe that we were in the middle of a gigantic city. It was quiet and beautiful and I enjoyed every second of our time there.

After resting at the park for little bit the group decided to head over to Insadong to have lunch and do some shopping! YAY! :) Insadong is an area in Seoul which is basically a long road lined with really neat shops that have a lot of traditional Korean art, pottery, jewelry and lots of fun souvineers. If you want to go souvineer shopping in Korea, Insadong is definitely the place to go! We actually ended up spending a lot of time (and money!) in Insadong throughout our trip.

Insadong is basically across the street from the palace, so it was a short walk to get there. When we first got there we decided to stop for lunch. Insadong is one long street and it has lots of little side alleys that shoot off from it and there are tons of neat little restaurants in those alleys. Our tourguides took us to a really neat little restaurant in one of the alleys and we had delicious lunch! One of the dishes we had there was called Tang Soo Yook, which is kind of a Koreanized version of Chinese sweet and sour pork. It was SO good!! Seriously, I'm thinking about it now and it's making my stomach growl. I want to go back to Korea just to eat at that restaurant again, lol. I actually have another story to tell about that restaurant later....

After lunch we walked through Insadong and had a lot of fun doing some souvineer shopping. I bought Josh a traditional korean stamp with his name in English and Korean and I bought Matthew a traditional Korean wooden mask that he had been begging for ever since seeing one at Jin-Ha's house on the webcam one night.

Finally after six hours of walking through the palace and shopping in Isadong, our feet were tired and we were exhausted so we decided to say goodbye to our wonderful tour guides and the other adoptive family and we took the subway back to our hotel to rest.

One thing I'll always remember about our trip to Korea was how exhausted we were!! We crammed SO much stuff into the short time that we were there and we were constantly on the go. Dealing with jet lag, the emotions of meeting Clarissa, never getting enough sleep at night and spending every day walking for hours was hard. We always hated to stop and take a break because we knew that our time in Korea was limited and we wanted to experience everything we could, so for the most part we pushed on, even when there were times that I think we could have curled up on the nearest bench and happily fallen asleep!

But that afternoon I was particularly tired. We really had hardly slept for the past three days and my body was screaming at me to sit down and rest! So we went up to our hotel to rest for a bit.

We hadn't been up there very long when Jin-Ha called to tell us she had a big adventure planned for us! Rest time was over far too soon!

I know I've said it a million times, but Jin-Ha was wonderful to us on that trip. We saw and did so many wonderful things when we were with Jin-Ha that we never could have done if we had been on our own. Our adventure that night was no exception!

First she picked us up and took us to her house. Getting to spend some time with her family in their home was so much fun, we loved getting to experience their culture and see what life is like for a family in Korea. They live in an apartment building, like most people in Seoul, and it was really fun to visit. They have an awesome balcony on the back of their apartment that looks onto a playground. I liked it a lot!

Jin-Ha has two sons who are about 8 and 12. Off on another tangent, Koreans actually count their age differently than we do into the US, so their Korean age isn't the same as it would be in the US. Koreans consider babies one year old when they're born. They don't start at zero the way that we do. Then instead of changing to the next age on their birthday everyone switches to the next age on Korean New Years Day. So if a baby is born in December they're one when they're born and then when Korean New Year comes along in January they would become two! So in that case a baby who was a month old by our counting would be considered two years old in Korea. Interesting, huh?! Anyway, that's why I'm still not sure how old Jin-Ha's sons actually are, lol.

My point in talking about her sons was to say that I've never met two sweeter, more polite children in my life! Her younger son was with us quite a bit during our trip and I absolutely love that kid. We totally wanted to take him home with us by the end of the trip! We didn't spend as much time with her older son, but he was so nice to us while we were there. One thing I was particularly impressed with was that when we got to their house he was watching TV and instead of just mumbling hello like most American teenagers would do if their moms friend came to visit, he got up and bowed to us so politely. I was impressed by Korean teenagers our whole trip. They're a lot more respectful than American teenagers.

After spending a little time with their family, Jin-Ha made us a delicous meal and we had a really fun chopstick lesson from her older son. We really enjoyed the time we spent at their house!

After we ate it was about 7pm and we were off on another adventure! We all got in Jin-Ha's car and she took us to a park where they were having a music festival. Jin-Ha lives close to the World Cup stadium in Seoul and we drove past it on the way to the park. That thing is HUGE and they were having a game there that night. We could hear the crowd from quite a distance away! It was really cool!

I already told the story about our experience at the park in a post I made while we were in Korea, so I'm not going to tell the story with as much detail this time. But let's just say that it was an experience that I'll never forget!

I really had absolutely no idea where we were going or what we were going to do there until we got there. The park is called Sky Park and they call it that because it's on top of a mountain! It's absolutely beautiful there, but in order to get to the top you have to walk up a really steep path up the mountain. Normally I would have been fine with that, but I was so ridiculously exhausted by that point that I thought there was no way that I was going to make it up that hill. My body was screaming at me to sit down! Jin-Ha and her younger son, who came with us, are total balls of energy and were sprinting up that path like it was no big deal. I, on the other hand, probably looked like I was five seconds from passing out and dying, lol.

It was a long walk but we did eventually make it to the top of the mountain and I was SO glad we did because I had a wonderful experience there that night. Again, it was one of those things that we never would have done without Jin-Ha. It wasn't a tourist experience, it was a real authentic Korean experience and those experiences are the ones that meant the most to me on that trip. I'm really grateful that we got to experience real life in Korea away from the typical tourist spots.

We sat on the top of that mountain overlooking Seoul that night and we listened to beautiful traditonal Korean music and had a wonderful cultural experience. I can't really even express how much I grew to love Korean people and their culture while we were on that trip. I feel such a connection to Korea and I felt so blessed to be on that mountain that night. I will always be so grateful to Jin-Ha for giving us those special experiences.

At the end of the night we went back down the mountain (easier than going up, by the way!) and Jin-Ha took us back to our hotel where I very happily climbed into bed. Finally, it was time to sleep!! :)

And so ends day three of our amazing Korean adventure. Look for part 4 coming whenever I have another chance to sit down and type it all out!:)


The Drama Mama said...

Your stories are so vivid! I love reading them, I feel like I am on the trip with you in Korea. What an amazing adventure you have had!

KrisJ said...

What an amazing day!! Makes me sad that we didnt go! I would love to buy a few of those photos so I can print them for Malia if you dont mind??