Girls Trip to Seoul

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I have never been to a Broadway show. And I never pass up an adventure with the ladies at my church. So when we started talking about going to see Lion King Live, I knew I wanted to go.

We met up at church at 3pm and the eight of us piled into Jen’s van for our hour and a half drive to Seoul Arts Center Opera House. I was glad to be a passenger instead of the driver. I hate driving in Seoul traffic and there were many u-turns to find a parking lot that actually had spaces available.

We did make great time and decided that we would try the restaurant at the opera house because it was easy to find. The food was actually really good and reasonably priced for a venue like that. I was able to get a classic burger and french fries for 11,000 won (like $10) and the pizzas and pastas were between 20,000-30,000 won ($20-$30). Everyone enjoyed their food.

Then we had about an hour before the show so we stood in line to take pictures. It was very cold outside and they didn’t have the heat on in the hallways so we were in our jackets for all of our pictures. There were programs for sale, binoculars (which they called opera glasses) available to rent, as well as a coffee shop and a vending machine for drinks.

Photography was forbidden in the auditorium itself which was actually a very comfortable temperature. We bought the cheapest seats (60,000 won so like $50) so we were on the fourth floor in the last two rows of the theater. But we could still see and hear everything that was happening on stage. The theater wasn’t sold out either which surprised me.

I had never been to a Broadway caliber production before and I was actually very impressed from the beginning. The giraffes came out first which were dancers on stilts. They must have needed very strong abdominal muscles for that. They were all in sync with each other’s movements. There was a live orchestra and drums. The costumes were great and the sets were simple but I really liked them. I was actually very impressed with the caliber of actors, dancers, and singing in the show. The show was mostly in English with what was probably an African song or two in the mix but there were Korean subtitles on a large screen off to the side.

The story was very true to what I remember of the movie, except that Rafiki the crazy monkey was a girl in the live show. But all of the usual songs were there. There were a few Korea specific jokes in the show. For example, they talked about going to Dongdaemun Market and Zazu said “don’t send me back to Everland Zoo!” Also, Zazu sings “Let it Go” to Scar instead of “It’s a Small World.”

One of the ladies said she was going to come back with her kids. I think kids would enjoy the show and there were actually several in the theater. Lion King is in Seoul until the end of March and then it moves to Busan, so there is still time to go see the show.

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After the show, we headed back to the car so that we could go to our next location, Dongdaemun Market. I guess we didn’t really do our research on this one because the night market is closed on Sundays (which actually means Saturday night). So we went to Doota (a big department store type mall) which had cute stuff but department store prices. The better deal would have been the outdoor market, but it wasn’t there that day. There was one small section of outdoor shops in yellow tents so we went there. I had some street food (chicken kebab) and a few of the ladies found hats and things to buy. It was only about 20 degrees outside and the usual Korea wind so we didn’t last super long anyway.

We left Dongdaemun a little after midnight and went to a 24 hour McDonalds on the way home since ladies were hungry again. It was a wonderful adventure. Maybe will try Dongdaemun again in the spring when it is warmer.

Our favorite books about South Korea

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In honor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I thought I would share our favorite children’s book about South Korea. Some of these we own and some we have borrowed from the library (actually all are at the Camp Humphreys Library).

 

One of Clarissa’s favorite books to borrow from the library is Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell. A little girl is adopted from South Korea and comes home to live with her new family in America. She doesn’t know any English but her family quickly learns a few Korean words, specifically “goyangi” because of their pet cat that the little girl loves so much.

We own Bee-Bim-Bop by Linda Sue Park because Clarissa loved it so much when we borrowed it from the library that we read it every day for a week straight and actually had to learn to make bibimbap from the recipe in the book.

Last year, we reviewed Carole P. Roman’s If You were me and lived in… South Korea. I think Clarissa likes it because it talks about some of the places we have visited. I think it gives you some idea of Korean culture as it discusses Korean words for mom and dad, money, school, and sports.

Lately, Clarissa has been interested in Sori’s Harvest Moon Day by Uk-Bae Lee. This story is about a little girl and her family and how they travel to their grandparents’ house for Chuseok, which is one of the two major holidays in South Korea. It is interesting to see how another culture celebrates a holiday to honor ancestors and spend time together.

Another book we borrowed from the library is called The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park. This story is about a boy who lives by the sea. His family has the important job of lighting a fire on the mountain each night if everything is calm. Each mountain has a family to light a fire. This way, the king will know if there are invaders in the land. If the fires are not lit, then the king will send soldiers to help. One day, the boy’s father hurts his ankle and he has to light the fire himself.

The library on post has an entire section of Korean children’s literature. Some of it is Korean folktales and others are books written in Korean. But these are our favorites.

Our top 10 places to visit in South Korea (with kids)

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We’ve lived in South Korea just shy of four years and have been on countless adventures (apparently I have 80 posts about Korea on this blog…) People always ask our favorite places to visit. Here is our top 10. Keep in mind that our entire time in South Korea, Clarissa has been five and under so a couple with no kids or teenagers may have a different list.

Please note that I am putting these in order based on location so that you could feasibly plan a trip from this list. Tim and I do think that if you did a trip to South Korea, this would give you a decent idea of cultural things though.

Seoul

There will be a post at some point about our favorite things in Seoul itself. But for now, these are our favorite places in South Korea that just happen to be in Seoul.

There are two neighborhoods that we really like and for different reasons. Hongdae (Hongik University Station exit 6) is very artsy and modern. You can buy lots of cute jewelry, art supplies, and gundam here in modern stores. On a visit there this fall, I got my ears pierced and we visited a bunny cafe.

My other favorite neighborhood is Insadong (Anguk Station or Junggak Station). It is another artsy area but very different. Here you can buy traditional pottery, silk scarves, wall paintings, and plenty of other Korean knick knacks. Some are in carts that only accept won and others are in stores that will take your credit card. While visiting this area, you can also let fish nibble the dead skin on your feet or visit a temple.

There are several different palaces in Seoul. Our favorite (and close to Insadong) is Gyeongbokgung Palace (Gyeongbokgung Station or Anguk Station). The palace grounds are huge and lovely. They even have a changing of the guard ceremony several times per day. The entrance fee is 3,000 won (less than $3 USD). If you want a different experience and to get in free, there are several shops nearby that will let you rent a traditional hanbok and walk around a few hours looking like a Korean princess.

Another cool place is visit is Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station or Mongchontoseong Station). You get to see all four seasons at this park so you may want to go more than once. There are several miles of walking trails, cool trees, monuments and sculptures, flags form all over the world, buildings from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and even some playgrounds for the kids. If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall (didn’t make our top 10 but we do like it) is nearby and has plenty of options for eating, shopping, and a decent aquarium.

Korea has a large Buddhist population so there are temples all over the place. Many of them look similar and have architecture much like the palaces you may also visit. But, if you are going to visit a temple while visiting Seoul, we recommend Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Temple Station or Samseong Station). It is one of the largest temples that we have seen as it is a complex instead of just one building. It is pretty much across the street from Coex Mall (again not our top 10 but we like it) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Suwon and surrounding area

Clarissa refers to Hwaseong Fortress as the Great Wall of Korea. We were impressed that she did the three mile plus hike. There are several places to rest as you walk. I wouldn’t bring a stroller as you need to go up several flights of stairs, but a carrier would be fine. It isn’t a dangerous hike at all. There is a palace inside the wall, but it is not better than Gyeongbokgung that is listed above. There are several monuments and bells. There is a place to learn archery at certain times of day. You can get snacks at a convenience store. It is very pretty during certain times of year. At certain places on the wall you can see most of Suwon.

I went to several different folk villages in Korea and the best one is the Korean Folk Village in Yongin. We have been twice. There are several different houses and shops set up so that you can see how peasants and rich people and governors have lived in Korea over the years. Several times per day there are shows with horses, acrobats, or folk dancers. I grew up going to Jamestown and this was the closest thing I experienced to this. There is also a great Folk Museum that has exhibits from many countries around the world to see how indigenous peoples live. A small amusement park is attached. There is admission for the folk village and museum, and you can also add on rides at the amusement park or different experiences like pottery making for an additional cost. There is plenty of Korean food available for purchase as well.

On our first trip to the Folk Village, we went to Everland the next day. Everland is an amusement park with the same caliber rides as a Busch Gardens. There are different countries represented as well as food. Clarissa was only 2.5 so she was too small for all of the rides except Thomas the Train. But the real reason that we went there was the zoo! Admission to Everland will cover the zoo and the rides. But the zoo alone is worth the admission. It is the best zoo in South Korea because of the size and quality of the exhibits. It is also the only zoo in Korea that has pandas. There is a safari ride that takes you over land and water to see animals close up. You can also pay extra for a pony or camel ride.

If Clarissa was making this list, she would add Anseong Farmland to the Suwon and surrounding area. However, this would not be easily accessible by public transportation so it would really only be worth going if you already live in Korea and are planning to be in the Pyeongtaek area (Camp Humphreys or Osan).

Busan

People head to Busan for the beach. The water in South Korea is pretty cold in my opinion, but Busan has some very pretty beaches. Our favorite is Haeundae Beach. It is a very nice beach, but also very crowded during tourist season (July and August). You can see some pretty parks nearby or a sand castle festival in May. I like the contrast of the water with the tall buildings. There is an aquarium right on the beach, but you can skip it unless you have really young kids who need something to do.

Another cool temple is check out is Haedong Yonggungsa. You can take a bus near Haeundae Beach or you can take a taxi. It is a beautiful temple, on the side of a mountain and right on the water. There are plenty of statues and shrines inside it to see. We happened to go the week of Buddha’s birthday so it had special lanterns.

If you’re going to be in Busan and are looking for a fun park to go to with your kids, I would recommend Busan Citizen’s Park. There are so many beautiful plants and different playgrounds. Your kids will love it! It’s not super easy to get to with public transportation, so again, this would be great if you have a car.

A quick trip for our favorite things in Daegu

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We’re about four months from DEROS (Date of Estimated Return from Overseas). No, we don’t know where we’re moving yet in the United States. But we know we’re leaving relatively soon so we decided to go back to some of our favorite places in Daegu this weekend.

Most military families are in South Korea for two years, though some may extend for three years. Since we are a two months shy of the four year mark, most of our Daegu friends don’t live there anymore so we mostly went for the food.

Saturday morning we drove down to Daegu. The traffic wasn’t bad until we got to Daegu, which is normal. Thankfully Daegu traffic is not as bad as Seoul traffic. When we arrived at Camp Walker, our first order of business was lunch at Awesome Burger, which is near gate 4. We were able to meet up with one of Tim’s friends for lunch. Tim got his usual hellgate burger. I got a regular burger with no bun. Clarissa just ate french fries. We were all very satisfied with our meal.

The next stop was the library. While we lived in Daegu, the Camp Walker Library was pretty much Clarissa and my favorite place. We were there at least once per week. They ordered a bunch of books from my wishlist so I know that I like the selection there. I was disappointed that none of our friends were there. It looks like they may have moved as well. But Clarissa and I still found several books to borrow (you can borrow books from any army library in Korea while stationed on peninsula).

At 3:00, we headed downtown to our hotel, Novotel. We stayed there when we were moving in and out of Daegu so we knew we liked the location. We did forget however, that the temperature is always awful. It was set to about 80 degrees but they did give us a fan for our room. But the view is always great.

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After settling in, we did some shopping. We hit up Daiso (like a Family Dollar), Mango Case (cellphone accessory store- the place to go if you need a screen protector or case for a phone or tablet. They apply it perfectly!), and S Dot (like a Michaels- located next to the Play Station Store). Then we headed to our favorite Korean Barbecue right as they opened at 5:00. If you wait until 6pm or later Kyung Sung Market is packed! (Kyung Sung Market is in Banwoldong a few doors down from Mir Dental)

The food was delicious as usual. Our usual Dunkin Donuts wasn’t there anymore. So we decided on Auntie Anne’s for dessert and walked backed to our hotel. There were some pretty Christmas lights and some people singing Christmas Carols in Hangul on our way.

We did something unusual for us, and just relaxed in the hotel room (we usually run around for hours until we come back to the hotel room and crash when on vacation). Sunday morning, we had McDonald’s for breakfast since it was across the street from the hotel. On our way back to the hotel, it started snowing. Clarissa enjoyed catching snow on her tongue. It was fun to watch the snow from 21 floors up, but you can’t see it as well in the pictures.

After checking out of the hotel we went to our favorite emart (like a Target) in Wolbae. It was a great emart when we left a year and a half ago. It has since been renovated and is even better. It includes a kid cafe and an electromart now so we were happy.

We headed back to Camp Walker for Tim’s favorite pizza. Italy and Italy is right outside gate 4. It was snowing really well by the time we got there. We like it because you can customize your pizza or pasta. The food was great, as always. Tim’s friend came back to see us for lunch.

The snow let up about the time we got out of Daegu. The traffic was only bad in Daegu as well. Since it was primarily a food vacation, we had to go to Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant when we got back into town. Sawatdee (in Osan’s ville) is our favorite.

That time we were the only people at Anseong Farmland

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The last time we went to Anseong Farmland was for a birthday party. It was a Saturday at the beginning of September so it was pretty crowded. We had a great time and Clarissa has been asking to go back for two months. Today I decided the air was clean enough and it was still warm enough to go. I am so glad I did.

We went arrived on a Wednesday afternoon about 3pm. The website said that they were open every day from 10-6 so I figured we would be okay. There were only four cars in the parking lot so I was a little concerned that the place was closed. We walked up to the ticket counter and purchased a farm horse ticket (12,000 won for children and 17,000 for adults gets you general admission to Anseong Farmland plus a horse riding experience).

We walked over to where the horses were and realized that it was time for people to get horseback riding lessons. Either that or there was a school there on a field trip. We were willing to wait. A man came out and said, “Uh. We’re full right now.” I asked if we should come back later and he said, “Um. No. Come with me.” He proceeded to take Clarissa and I to a different barn where the ponies are kept. He took out a pony on a leash, showed Clarissa what to do, and let her walk around with the pony. Meanwhile there were at least 10 other kids with a Korean teacher having a class.

 

He then took us back to the barn and told us to wait while someone warmed up a different horse for Clarissa to ride. So we watched as a tall horse and a smaller horse warmed up and trotted around the arena. Then it was our turn. Clarissa went first. The trainer walked Clarissa around the circle five times. During her ride, Clarissa learned that her horse was actually also a five year old girl. She was thrilled. I had my five laps around the circle too but there aren’t great pictures from my ride.

During my ride the trainer asked where we traveled from. I am pretty sure that they assumed we were on a trip from America and not Americans who live in Pyeongtaek. I don’t know if everyone else will get the same experience. But we had a wonderful visit!

Our next objective was to feed some animals. Last time we were there on a Saturday so there were people selling animal feed everywhere we went. On a Wednesday afternoon we were the only ones walking around and that was not the case. We got to pet bunnies, but there was no one selling carrots today.

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Thankfully there was actually an attendant selling food with the farm animals. Usually, you pay 1,000 won for a small basket of food. He gave us a heaping bowl for the pigs and then when we asked for food for the sheep, he gave us 3 baskets for the price of one and said, “service” (that means free). Clarissa had a great time feeding sheep, goats, pigs, deer, and cows.

Then we went up the hill to see the donkeys. The man came out of his shack and gave us four carrots for free when he saw us looking at the donkeys. We walked around a bit and then saw the horses. So we went back to the man and I was prepared to pay for more carrots. Last time, we paid 1,000 won for two carrots. This time I gave him 1,000 won and he gave us 8 carrots!

On the way out, I noticed there were two houses for birds. In the first house, we went in and birds kept landing on me. At one point I had one on my head, one on either shoulder, and two on my arm. None would go near Clarissa. There was a machine to buy bird food, but you needed to have 500 won coins. So we only bought one container of food.

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Then we went to the other house. There was an attendant there cleaning. Clarissa wanted to look at the birds more closely. He said, “Do you want to feed them?” and proceeded to pour birdfeed in Clarissa’s hand. When the birds didn’t come, he put some in his hand, whistled, and brought her closer. They came to him and then he moved his hand next to hers and they started eating from her hand.

Clarissa and I had a wonderful afternoon. We were at Anseong Farmland about two hours. I highly recommend going on a weekday. There wasn’t a tractor ride though so if you want that you probably need to go on the weekend. But we so enjoyed having the place to ourselves. Clarissa loved our first trip but kept saying this was so much better.

Our first apple picking experience

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I don’t think they have apple picking where I grew up. I know they do a few hours away but we never went. Obviously, if I haven’t been, Clarissa yet to go apple picking either. So we were excited when the homeschool group decided to go apple picking together.

We went to Yesan Apple Wine (in Waze), about an hour away from Camp Humphreys. Waze made it pretty easy most of the way. The last mile or so, you just follow the big red apple signs.

If you make reservations, you can do an apple making experience at 2:00pm. They had a really great system in place. Everyone signs in and pays for the number of personal pies you are making (7,000 won each). Then there is a classroom set up. The teacher comes in and demonstrates all of the steps. Find your name on a table and follow the steps. The teacher walks around during the process to remind you things like to put the egg wash on your pie.

While you wait for everyone in your group to finish, there are sliced apples to eat. They were delicious. Sweet and juicy. Then, we went downstairs to tour the winery (in English). The process to make the wine takes three years. The brandy takes longer. They make a few different apple wines, blueberry wine, and apple brandy. The adults got a taste test at the end.

Next, we went outside to pick apples (5 for 10,000 won). We were instructed to pick a basket. Then our tour guide showed us “a good apple.” The apple should be red with no yellow on it if it is fully ripe. Clarissa had a great time picking the apples off the trees. She picked a few for me too and wants to go back again.

By the time we finished picking apples, our pies were ready. So we sat down to eat them. They don’t offer utensils though so we ate one almost like a big cookie and then brought the other one home for Tim.

The whole process was about 90 minutes. Our entire group enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for families. In the parking area there are also chickens to see. There is a “gift shop” near the entrance as well if you want to buy additional apples, apple wine, or apple jam.

Korean Folk Village take 2

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We did a family trip to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin when Clarissa was two. There was a homeschool field trip there last week and Clarissa and I decided to go since she didn’t remember the first trip. There were actually several things that we did this trip that we didn’t get to do the first time so I was happy about that.

We decided to pay for the full admission which includes the Folk Village and the Amusement Park as well. Full admission is 27,000 won (about $25) for adults and 20,000 won ($18) for children. If you plan to skip the rides, adults pay 18,000 won for admission to the folk village itself. Children pay only 13,000. There is parking available for 2,000 won per car or you can take public transportation available. I saw several buses that said they came from Suwon station or Incheon Airport.

We started our beautiful fall day at the amusement park. Clarissa really liked the boat ride and the train ride. She was too afraid to go on anything else but the teenagers we were with loved all of the rides available.

If you look at the boat ride, to your right is a World Folk Village Museum. Clarissa and I kind of stumbled upon it while we were looking for a bathroom. It was honestly one of the highlights of our trip. There were nine different buildings with 2-3 different countries inside. Each country showed clothes, weapons, jewelry, or housing for an indigenous people of that particular country. The signs were in Korean and English. There were longer descriptions in Korean as well but we learned plenty without being able to read the longer writings.

Clarissa and I had some great discussions about all of these countries. She recognized some of the names like United States, Japan, China, Peru, and Australia. Some were new to her: Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Iran. There were maps on the wall so we could see where each country was on the map. I think we have a lot of books to read now so we can continue learning about these places and cultures.

We met back up with our friends for some gelato and then headed to the Equestrian Feats show. It was great! The performers basically did gymnastics on horses. It was only about twenty minutes and our attention was focused the entire time.

After the show, Clarissa and I wondered a bit and saw some different types of houses you would find in Korea at different points in history. There were government buildings, mansions, and farm houses. There were several additional experiences that you could pay for like making a clay pot or woodworking, but they close earlier in the day so you need to do those first. Clarissa really enjoyed walking through the jail and seeing the governor’s house, sitting in the governor’s chair, and pretending to be a prisoner on trial.

I was surprised that five year old Clarissa was interested in all of the buildings and houses. She actually walked the whole day without complaining. She kept saying, “What’s that? Let’s go over there…”

The Folk Village is open 8 hours each day. You can easily spend the entire day there and not see everything. I recommend it for children and adults.