Mother’s Day Weekend

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Our original Mother’s Day plan was to take the train into Seoul and explore Hongdae, but it rained all day so we had to change our plan.

Tim drove us to the new Starfield Mall in Goyang. We started with lunch at Shake Shack. The food was pretty good. They let me order my burger without a bun. Clarissa would not share her French fries with me. The ice cream was good too. The prices weren’t bad either. Clarissa was most excited about the foosball table but there wasn’t a ball for that.

There was a fun train set up near the restaurants. Clarissa was very excited about this as well.

The mall had four floors plus a basement level. There were a few kid cafes and a water park that we did not check out. The Toy Kingdom in this mall was the best I have seen so far. It had its own Lego store and each aisle was labeled in Korean and English. Clarissa really enjoyed pretending to drive the train as well.

Tim liked that the Electromart was broken into different parts so that the clothes were on a different floor and he could focus on the things he wanted to see. There were lots of fun stores like Daiso, Art Box, and Flying Tiger Copenhagen plus several that I had never heard of before. On the basement floor, they did have a really nice supermarket called PK Market that had gourmet foods and No Brand which is Shinsagae’s generic brand that has some snacks that we really enjoy. We bought some fun things.

Another fun thing happening at this mall (until June 30) is a Frozen display in the middle of the first floor. You could take a picture with an Elsa or Anna statue. They even had dresses you could buy to dress up like either Elsa or Anna. At one point in the afternoon, there was a performance where a man and a woman sing Frozen songs in Korean. Clarissa thought it was too loud, so she wasn’t really smiling in her pictures.

 

I think this Starfield Mall had the best variety of stores. They had great parking as well. Our only complaint was the temperature. It was pretty muggy from the rain and the air conditioner was not on inside the mall. It would probably be more comfortable in mid summer with the air conditioning on full blast or in the winter time.

When we arrived at the mall, Tim saw a sign that said IKEA was 5 km away so we decided that we should go there afterwards. As usual, we were not disappointed with IKEA. I think this parking lot is better than the other location. There were plenty of fun furniture items to look at and we ended up buying some new comfy towels to replace our nine year old newlywed towels. Also, they had delicious food for dinner.

On Sunday, we went to church. At the end of the service, Pastor Al called up all the mothers and mothers to be. He read us an inspirational poem, anointed us with oil, and prayed over us. It was really cool. Plus, he even thought to have someone go to the Sunday school class and relieve the teachers so that we could participate as well. I felt so blessed and appreciated.

After church Clarissa and I did our usual church lunch followed by a trip to the library on post. We went to the PX for some baby shower shopping. Then, we came home to eat pizza and watch Nim’s Island with Tim.

I had a great weekend with my family.

Mr Toilet House Field Trip

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A few months ago, someone posted pictures from what they called “the poop museum.” Clarissa saw the facebook pictures from their adventure and immediately wanted to go. Tim wasn’t super interested, so when our homeschool group planned a field trip there Clarissa and I planned to attend.

Mr Toilet is in Waze. The Waze directions can be confusing because the exit numbers are incorrect sometimes so our 45 minute trip turned into closer to 90 minutes. Thankfully we were riding with friends so the ride wasn’t miserable.

Mr Toilet House has two parts. On one side of the road is a giant building that looks like a toilet. The person who brought western toilets to Korea used to live there. It is a museum to the history of toilets now. It was actually closed for renovation when we visited.

Thankfully the outdoor sculptures were still available. It was interesting to see some of the old versions of toilets. Each sculpture had a wooden sign that was written in both Korean and English so that everyone could learn.

Across the street was a Culture Center. Behind the building were a few pretty toilets and urinals.

If you go upstairs to the fourth floor, you can look out and see the big toilet and giant poop sculpture.

On the second floor of the Culture Center is a playground of sorts for the kids. Clarissa and her friends had a great time going down the toilet slide. There were also a few games like putting a ball through the digestive system and watching it come out the other end. There were many displays about poop as well. Again, most of the displays were in Korean as well as English.

We were in and out in less than two hours. The kids had a great time! I think they would enjoy going back again. Admission is free. Like many museums in Korea, Mr Toilet House is closed on Mondays. They don’t sell food there but there is a drink machine outside the giant toilet so plan accordingly.

My first Korean wedding

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We have lived in Korea for three years. A few times I have heard things about Korean weddings, but I was never invited to one until recently.

We attend church off post. There is an American pastor for the English congregation and his brother in law is the pastor for the Korean congregation. The daughter of the Korean pastor got married (my pastor’s niece) and the entire church was invited.

Most Korean weddings take place in a wedding hall. It is a very efficient process. The bride typically rents her dress. The package includes hair, makeup, and pictures as well. The groom’s family usually pays for most of the wedding.

We arrived to the wedding hall about 40 minutes before the wedding was to begin. They put out the full parking lot sign a few cars behind us so everyone else had to park far away and create their own parking space (totally normal thing to do in Korea).

We parked on b4. Every floor we went up, the elevator became more crowded. Korean elevators can hold a lot of people. There is no such thing as personal space.

We arrived on the 5th floor where our wedding was to be. The first stop is the money envelope. There is a line for the bride and a line for the groom. The person in charge of your line will give you a white envelope. You can write a note and then put your money inside. If you are not super close to the bride or groom, you can give 30,000 won (about $30 USD). The closer you are to the person getting married, the more you give. If you get married at a later date, they are supposed to give the same amount to you.

After you turn in your envelope, the person in charge will give you a ticket for the buffet. You can choose to go to the buffet before or after the ceremony. This is your wedding gift. There are no registries for what the bride and groom want in their kitchen.

Next, the guests visit the bride and take a picture with her.

The parents of both the bride and groom will be in the lobby. You are supposed to greet them. The mothers will be wearing traditional hanbok.

During the wedding ceremony, the mothers walk in together, light a candle, bow, and go to their seats.

Next, the groom walks in followed by the father of the bride and the bride (in a Christian wedding otherwise the bride and groom may walk in together).

There are no bridesmaids, groomsmen, or flower girls. The people who work in the wedding hall make sure that the ceremony runs smoothly. They hold the bouquet when needed or fix the bride’s dress.

The bride and groom recited vows by reading them.

 

Next, the father of the bride spoke to the couple. He encouraged them to love and take care of each other. The father of the groom welcomed everyone to the wedding. Then was special music. The bride and groom stood together for two songs sung by different people.

At this point in the ceremony, sometime the groom has to do something special to prove his love. I heard stories today about push ups and running down the aisle. Our groom today only had to say “horray!” three times.

To end the ceremony, the bride and groom bowed, first to her parents, then to his parents, and finally to their wedding guests.

They then walked down the aisle to the end where they kissed and flower petals fell on them.

Pictures were at the end of the ceremony. First were pictures of the immediate family, followed by pictures of extended family, and finally friends. The bouquet toss is usually staged so that you know who is catching the bouquet.

With the official ceremony over, we headed upstairs to the buffet. We had to give our ticket as admission. There were guests from several weddings in the same buffet. There was so much food! Most of it was labeled in Korean and English.

Sometimes you don’t see the bride and groom after the ceremony. We were at the buffet long enough that they came out in their traditional hanbok.

I had a wonderful afternoon with my friends. The wedding ceremony didn’t seem that different from an American wedding. The venue was interesting because there were so many weddings happening at the same time.

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Exploring Seoul for New Year’s Eve

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We took the SRT from Jije to Suseo again on Sunday for New Year’s Eve.

We took the metro to Gyeongbokgong so that Tim could try a Korean Subway restaurant for lunch. He enjoyed the original sandwiches in Japan and thought that the Korean selection was better than on post. I enjoyed my salad and Clarissa enjoyed her Korean potato chips.

After lunch, we decided to walk to our next destination instead of taking the metro. The sidewalk was a little icy in the shade but not as cold as we thought it would be.

We passed Gyeongbokgung Palace and Clarissa said, “I have been there!” Then we arrived at Sejong Art Center to see the visiting Studio Ghibli exhibit.

We paid admission of 15,000 won each for Tim and I. Clarissa cost 10,000 won admission.

The exhibit was two floors. The first floor was movie posters, a life-size Totoro, a replica of Hayao Miyazaki‘s desk, and a room of random movie memorabilia. We were not allowed to take pictures on the first floor.

The second floor had some cool models and concept art. We were also able to enter the cat bus. There was a long line to take a picture with a shadow of Totoro but Clarissa was not interested in that. The gift shop at the end was nice. We were each able to find something we liked and most of it was different than the Studio Ghibli store we saw last week at the Lotte World Mall.

Across the street from the Sejong Art center were statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi. There was also a small monument, but I couldn’t find a sign to see what it was for.

We decided to walk Cheonggycheon (River Walk). Next year, we need to come back at night. The display looked good in the day but would be more exciting to see at night. I expected to see Santa but was surprised that baby Jesus had a spot as well.

There were interesting murals along the wall to show the history of the different dynasties.

We also thought it was neat the way they were remodeling a Hanwha building. The bottom was the new style and they were working their way to the top.

Next we headed to the IFC Mall (still decorated for Christmas) to check out the bookstore and have dinner at On the Border. The food was great. During dinner, Tim noticed that there were firemen walking around. We were on the first floor. As we headed to the second floor, the fire alarm went off and they said “Attention. Emergency!” and a bunch of stuff in Korean. At which point, everyone ran to the escalators and stairs to get outside on the third floor. We could smell smoke but didn’t see any. There were several firetrucks and ambulances lined up outside. Thankfully, we were planning to leave anyway.

Our last event of the day was Strasbourg Christmas Market a few blocks away. I expected bigger and more European. They had some traditional meat and desserts to buy in the cabins outside. There was a big tent with vendors inside that had things ranging from scarves to air fresheners to jewelry. Most of the vendors inside were Korean. But I found some cute things. Next year, I think we will try the German Christmas Market that is earlier in the month.

We enjoyed our day riding the subway and walking the city streets.

Christmas Adventures in Seoul

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Christmas is very different in Korea than it is in America. We wanted to do something fun for Christmas but still stay warm. We thought that if we went to some of the bigger malls in Seoul there would be Christmas decorations like we are used to back home.

On our anniversary, Tim and I went to the train station to buy our train tickets. Round trip tickets were about 15,000 won for adults and 7,000 won for children.

On Christmas Eve, we attended our Sunday morning service at New Creation Church. After service was a Christmas feast potluck so we had fun eating lunch with our friends and eating yummy food.

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On Christmas morning we drove to Jije Station to take the SRT to Suseo. While we waited in the lobby for our 9:55 train, Clarissa was greeted and given gifts. The employees gave Clarissa two lolipops and a cardboard train model to put together. One of them also took off their reindeer antlers, placed them on Clarissa and then took our picture on an instant camera. On the platform, she received another lolipop and a small bag of goldfish.

The train was very similar to the KTX trains that we are used to. Assigned seats with plenty of leg room and an above your head compartment for bags and strollers. The seats were very comfortable. The ride to Suseo was only about 20 minutes.

Our first stop was Coex Mall. We ended up at McDonald’s for lunch since it was right outside the mall. We figured we should eat before the rush. We had a great time visiting some of our favorite stores: Gundam Storefront, Asem Hobby, Butter, and Jaju. But we were very disappointed that there were hardly any Christmas decorations at all.

Next, we took the subway to Lotte World Mall. Here we were not disappointed. There were lights and Christmas trees everywhere. There was even a space in the middle of the mall for performances so there was a live bells performance, a choir, instruments, and a magician throughout the day.

We had plenty of shopping adventures in Lotte World Mall. We enjoyed the Studio Ghibli Store, Copenhagen Flying Tiger, Butter, Miniso, and Hi Mart. We also went to Ex Monster. When we went over the summer, you could go through and see all of the Marvel movie statues and models. But this time, you had to buy something first so we were disappointed.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, which Clarissa and I had never been to. The food was a little pricey, but wonderful! Clarissa kept saying, “I don’t like it, I love it!” about the music videos playing and the lights on the walls. The manager thought she was so cute that he gave her a set of four Hard Rock Cafe pins as a gift.

We caught the 640 train from Suseo back to Jije Station to go to home. There was a parking lot specifically for SRT passengers. When you leave the station, there is a kiosk to pay. You type in the last four digits of your license plate number and the computer pulls up a picture of your car and you pay with your credit card. It was reasonably priced. We were parked for about 9 hours and paid 8,400 won.

When we got home Tim and Clarissa built one of our purchases together, a mama bear and baby bear in pink.

Airport limousine bus to Incheon

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One nice thing about living in Pyeongtaek is that we live closer to Seoul. It makes for a nice day trip. But the airport is actually in Incheon, not Seoul, which is at least a 2 hour drive.

On our vacation to Okinawa, we decided to try the airport limousine bus instead of messing with traffic, tolls, and airport parking. It was very easy.

We called a taxi to pick us up at about 730 and then waited at the bus stop. It is the same bus stop as the 20 bus by the main gate (in front of the Volvo dealer /Christine Realty).

The purple bus was right on time, 7:55 AM. The driver got off the bus to help us store our luggage. He asked if we were going all the way to Incheon because the bus makes several stops.

The cost is very reasonable. Adults pay 13,300 won (a little less than $13) and children pay 6,700 won so our family of 3 paid a little less than $30 to get from base to the airport which I think is great for a 2.5 hour trip. You can either pay with won (exact change) or your tmoney (subway) card.

The bus was a comfortable temperature. The seats recline. Each seat has a vent and a light. There is even space overhead to put your coat and bookbag.

On the way back, you actually buy a ticket. Once you clear customs in Incheon go straight and there is a sign that says airport limousine bus. There is even a desk for foreigners.

There are two options for your trip home. You can either take Anjeong-ri outside the main gate, or you can go to Pyeongtaek Station. The bus for Pyeongtaek Station comes more often and is the same price, 13,300 won for adults and 6,700 for children.

We chose to go to Pyeongtaek Station because the next bus was in about 50 minutes instead of the 2.5 hours we would need to wait for the bus to Anjeong-ri.

The bus from Incheon to Pyeongtaek took about 2 hours (1.5 if you are going to Songtan). The bus station was closed for the night when we arrived. After leaving the bus station, turn left (towards Daiso). In a couple of blocks you will arrive at AK Plaza /Pyeongtaek train station where there is always a line of taxis waiting.

The taxi from AK Plaza to somewhere near the Anjeong-ri gate of Camp Humphreys should cost about 10,000 won ($10).

Both busses were easy to use and comfortable. I think next time, we will see which bus fits our schedule better to decide if we will leave from Anjeong-ri or Pyeongtaek bus terminal.

Seoul Grand Park Zoo

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Today, Clarissa and I took the monthy CYS trip to Seoul Grand Park Zoo with some friends. I had never been to this zoo before and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Seoul Grand Park is a subway stop on line 4. The zoo is exit 2. But you can also get to the Science Museum at exit 5.

The parking lot brings you to the bathrooms and a place to buy tickets for the elephant train that will take you to the zoo. You can walk if you prefer. The guy said it was a 15 minutes walk. But the train was super cheap. Adults pay 1,000 won (about $1.00) and little kids like Clarissa pay 700 won.

After our train ride, we bought tickets to the zoo. Adults pay 5,000 won (less than $5.00) and preschoolers are free. We thought we would also try the theme garden which also has farm animals which costs 2,000 won. A combination ticket for both was 5,600 won.

The zoo was great. We saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, tigers, and bears.

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A lot of Korean zoos near Daegu were sad. But this zoo was actually very good. The animals had similar enclosures to what I see in the US. They had maps in English and Chinese in addition to Hangeul. There were also signs throughout the zoo in English. The names of animals were in English and several directional signs were in both English and Hangeul.

There are several restaurants for lunch. Plenty of Korean food but they also had a Lotteria and a Nazar Kebab. The Lotteria does not sell French fries but most of the normal menu was available. The vegetable bibimbap was good. The price for food was what you would see in town instead of inflated prices.

There was an insectarium that was pretty good. It was two floors and I really liked the layout because you could only flow in one direction. There was stroller parking outside. Clarissa really enjoyed the insects, spiders, and frogs.

There was a section on the map for a dolphin encounter and marine life so we walked all the way to the end to see them and apparently they had been released. I guess I should be happy for them. But the girls were pretty disappointed.

Thankfully, we found crocodiles, snakes, and lizards on the way back.

There were plenty of random animal statues for the girls to look at and take pictures with.

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We had to get back to the bus so we didn’t have time to do the theme garden or the farm animals. But we really enjoyed our time at the zoo. I am sure we’ll go again.

For my Camp Humphreys friends : CYS does a family field trip to Seoul every month. For $10, your family of four ($15 for families of 5 or more) rides the bus from post to the location of the field trip. The bus leaves the old CDC parking lot (across from the helicopter statue) at 9 AM and returns at 5pm. You can go anywhere you want from the location in Seoul, just be back in time for the bus. For example, last month the trip was to Lotte World. We rode the bus and then walked down the street and did Lotte World Mall and the aquarium instead. You are responsible for admission, but taking the bus is worth it to avoid traffic and parking.