Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for Living in South Korea

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We lived in South Korea for four years and when new people met me they asked me so many questions. I answered the same questions all the time. There are many forums and facebook pages for military spouses. There aren’t as many resources for civilian employees and families. You can ask questions on the active duty pages, but the answers are sometimes different than what you need. People kept telling me that I should write a book. So I did.

Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea by [Faust, Suzanne]

Say Kimchi: Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea gives you the information you need to know before you arrive in Korea about things like insurance, schools, and what to pack. It also includes random things you wouldn’t think of like:

  • You need a VPN to watch Hulu (or American Netflix).
  • Don’t choose media mail for shipping unless you are willing to wait 6-8 weeks for your items to arrive.
  • Shutterfly pictures and Christmas cards ship by media mail, so you will need to order by the end of October if you want them to arrive early enough for you to send them out on time.

This book was written specifically for DoD Civilians (GS and NAF employees) but it also includes helpful information for active duty and contractor families. If you have a friend thinking about coming to Korea, show them my book. It’s easier than reading every blog post I have written about Korea; though they are welcome to do that too.

Download Say Kimchi Tips and Tricks for living in South Korea

What a PCS really looks like for a civilian

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Monday was our third move in four years. This is pretty normal for an active duty military family, but we are civilians. Some of the process is the same, but other things are very different, so I thought I would share some of our experiences.

In the military, they often tell you where you are going and how long you will be there. This can change, but at least you have an idea of how long you will be in a place before the military moves you again. The military will pay for you, your family, your personal belongings, and a vehicle to get to your next duty station. You are usually authorized a week or so in a hotel before you leave your current duty station and when you arrive at your next duty station.

Government civilian life is very different. First, if you land a federal job in the United States, it is usually permanent. So you can do that job (unless they decide your position is no longer necessary) as long as you want. Theoretically, you could do the same job or at least move up in the same organization your entire career in the same location. However, there are rules about moving overseas. Most jobs are two or three year contracts and you can extend after that for a total of five years overseas before you have to return to the United States. At which time, you must complete two years in the United States before returning overseas.

Generally, if you have a job overseas, the government will pay for your move, just like they would an active duty service member. You receive a document called “orders” that tells you what you are authorized. Generally, the government will pay for the employee, spouse, and dependents under age 21 to travel to the new duty station as well as to ship one personal vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage. You can even use nontemporary storage at the government’s expense. There are also allowances for hotels before you leave your home of record as well as temporary lodging in your new location. There is a transportation agreement so that if you leave this position before a full year, you have to repay the government for the cost of your move. They did change the rules recently so now you will be taxed on the move however.

The process that went the most smoothly was the first move from Norfolk to Daegu. I really think the reason is that the Human Resource people in charge of the move were in Korea and so they are used to dealing with this PCS (Permanent Change of Station- Move) process. Tim received a tentative offer and a list of things to do like paperwork and a drug test. Then about a month later, he received an official offer with a travel date about six weeks after that. I don’t remember how quickly the orders came, but we had plenty of time to get flights and movers scheduled. Other than it being my first overseas move and our first big move as a family of three, it wasn’t a mad dash to get everything done on time (unless you count the snow…).

The other two moves, from Daegu to Pyeongtaek and Pyeongtaek to Arlington have been more stressful. I really think that part of it is that Human Resources is in America and they don’t deal with PCS as often. They don’t understand that the government won’t book your flights or movers until you have orders and so you really do need them quickly if your start date is less than 30 days away. Either that or they don’t care. I’ve never met them in person, so I can’t speak to that.

A government PCS is really a lot of hurry up and wait. Tim has been applying and interviewing for jobs since June. For the job he starts next week, he interviewed around Thanksgiving. The tentative offer was at the end of February (on our four year anniversary of landing in Korea) and the official offer came April 4. At which point HR gave us two options for start dates, April 28 and May 12. We chose May 12.

When applying for a government job (usually through usajobs), there is a section that talks about relocation. Overseas jobs and some stateside jobs say that relocation can be authorized. Many jobs say relocation is not authorized, so if you want to take that job, you will need to move yourself there. Tim was only applying for jobs that said relocation was authorized.

We were told that when you move from overseas to a stateside job, the receiving agency is supposed to pay for certain moving expenses, like hotels when you arrive back in the United States. This job said relocation expenses were authorized so we weren’t worried about it. After accepting the offer, Tim immediately asked about how long it would take to receive orders and how long we would be authorized a hotel in the US. It took a week for HR to respond and say that they would not be paying for the move itself. So of the four weeks we had, one week was wasted.

Tim completed his full contract with this job overseas, so they owe us a pcs as described in our travel agreement. This means that Tim’s Korea job will pay for flights, shipping, household goods, and a personal vehicle back to our home of record which is Norfolk. They will also pay for hotels before we leave Korea. But that is where the money was supposed to stop. The gaining agency was supposed to pay for the PCS from Norfolk to Arlington as well as some hotel time in Arlington. Our Korea HR ladies were pretty confident that the new job would pay for this, as it is the common course of action.

Two weeks into the process, the new job said no. We still expect you to be here, but we’re not paying for anything. The posting says “may pay for relocation” so we’re not going to…Lesson learned. Before you accept a job offer, ask if they are paying for moving expenses. Just because it is listed in the job posting doesn’t mean they will actually pay for anything.

It got pretty stressful at the end of our time in Korea. Our lease was up on our Korean apartment on April 30 so we needed to move out before then, but we couldn’t schedule movers until we had the orders. The week before, Tim asked someone in HR about expediting his orders and the response was, “We process them in the order we receive them and it’s not fair to people who have travel dates before yours.” I was curious how many people were ten days out like we were.

April 30 was a Tuesday. Tim had unsigned orders the Friday before which let him tentatively schedule movers but the guy in charge wasn’t happy about it and wanted him to come back with the signed orders on Monday morning. He did have signed orders on Monday morning but they were incorrect because they said we were moving from Daegu to Arlington instead of Pyeongtaek to Arlington. But we were able to move out on time. The corrected orders came on Wednesday so we could book our flights. That gave Tim three days to run around on base getting all of the out processing done and sell the car. I had to take multiple taxis Friday to get all of the paperwork done for Mittens to fly with us (I will post more about that process next week).

By the time we knew we were moving, the hotel at Camp Humphreys was full. It was really hard to find a pet friendly hotel near Camp Humphreys so we ended up staying at Osan for the rest of that week before we left. It was kind of fitting to end our time in Korea there because Tim was actually stationed on Osan Air Force Base from 2005-2007, so that is where his Korea dream began. Tim had his favorite Thai, Sawatdee, three days in a row before we left.

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Pictured is Tim standing where is old dorm room was when he lived on Osan.

Then we had to figure out how to get to the airport. There is a bus that will take you from Osan to Incheon, but it doesn’t allow pets. I tried hiring a pet taxi, but he wasn’t sure that he could fit the three of us, Mittens, our suitcases, and her crate into his van. Plus he didn’t have base access so we were going to have to take multiple taxis to the main gate to meet him anyway. So the day before we left, we found a friend with a van (who actually used to work with Tim in Daegu but is at Humphreys now) who took us from Osan to our hotel near the airport. It was a little tricky because hotel check out at Osan was at 11, but check in at Incheon wasn’t until 2 so we spent a while moving our six suitcases, three carry ons, the car seat, Mittens, and her big crate from where we were staying to the hotel lobby so that we could be in air conditioning while we waited for our friend to come.

I was glad that we went to a hotel near the airport the day before. We had a morning flight so we wanted to be closer. Plus I didn’t want Mittens in her crate longer than she needed to be since it was already a 14 hour flight. We arrived to our hotel with all of our stuff, and they didn’t have a record of our reservation. Thankfully I had my reservation email from hotels.com. The hotel was actually pretty bad. The air conditioning was not turned on in the hotel yet even though it was over 80 degrees “because it’s not summer yet.” So we were really hot and the beds were Korea hard.

The hotel advertised that they had a shuttle to the airport. That was only half correct. There is a bus stop across the street that will take you to Terminal 1 of the airport. So we had to get our six suitcases, three carry ons, Mittens, her crate, and the car seat across 6 lanes of traffic…Thankfully it was 6 AM so it wasn’t super busy and there was a median. But it wasn’t an easy experience.

Once on the bus, someone took interest and said he would help us. He helped us cart our luggage from this bus to the next bus stop that took us to the bus for Terminal 2. He then helped us bring it into the building and then we parted ways. We found out he was actually former Korean Air Force and was a pilot for an airline now. I was so thankful for him. I don’t know how we would have gotten everything there on our own. It took 3 luggage carts and Clarissa had a hard time pushing it.

I was really stressing about Mittens being rejected for the flight, but she was fine. At check in someone came to get her and put her on the plane. We were allowed in the priority line through security because of Clarissa. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, just really long.

Once we landed at Dulles, I was concerned about how we were going to get everything where we needed to go. But the immigration line was really short and they had Mittens ready for us when we got there. She seemed pretty terrified but she was in one piece. One of the managers was like, “Do you need a big luggage cart?” and told one of the workers to help us. He carted all of our luggage to the rental car shuttles and helped us get on the rental car bus.

By this point, Mittens was crying because he wanted out of her crate. The ladies on the bus thought she was funny. Tim went in to pick up the rental car and Clarissa and I stayed outside with all of our stuff. I was able to move Mittens from the massive hard crate she hates into the smaller carrier and she calmed down.

We went to my aunt’s house to pick up some mail and sim cards for our phones. Tim’s worked fine but mine didn’t. Clarissa wanted McDonald’s so I went in to order her a happy meal. Happy Meals have different options here than they do in Korea and I had been awake for almost 24 hours at that point. The lady spoke excellent English but had an accent so I really didn’t understand her and had to keep asking her to repeat herself so I could order Clarissa’s food. I was so embarrassed. Tim and I had Chickfila for lunch and then we headed to the hotel.

The first day was the hardest. We lasted until almost 6 PM and then were up before 1 AM on Tuesday morning. We headed to Denny’s for breakfast about 2 and then were at Walmart by 3. People aren’t as judgmental about bringing a little kid out in the middle of the night as you might think. At least I didn’t see any dirty looks and no one said anything, even if they were thinking it.

We looked at a house on Tuesday that we really liked but decided that the commute would be too far for Tim. Wednesday we bought a car. It was actually going to be difficult because we don’t have a permanent address yet, but since we used USAA for our loan, it was fine. We saw two houses Thursday and applied for one of them. The rental application is tricky though because online applications want a bunch of information that doesn’t work if you’ve spent the last four years overseas. First of all, Korea isn’t an option for location and I don’t know how they would follow up with my Korean landlord anyway.

There are a few areas that we have been to multiple times and decided that we like to hang out there. There is so much to see and do. Tim finally started to get answers from the new job about how to report. You can’t just walk in to the pentagon…We’ve been asking questions for weeks and now that we’re here they just decided to call him to answer some of his questions.

Our favorite things to do in Seoul with kids

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I got a lot of feedback on our top 10 places to visit in South Korea with kids post so I thought I would add to the series with a top 10 places to visit in Seoul. During our four years of living in Korea, we have probably spent a total of two months in Seoul and I feel like we haven’t seen everything yet!

Just a reminder that Clarissa has been five and under the entire time that we’ve lived in South Korea. So our list may be different than a family with older kids, teens, or no kids.

Neighborhoods

There are two neighborhoods in Seoul 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 last 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.

Palace

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.

Outdoors

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.

Mall and Aquarium

If you get hungry or want to walk around in some air conditioning Lotte World Mall is near Olympic Park and is our favorite mall in Seoul. This is our favorite mall because all of our favorite stores are there. Tim really likes the Hi Mart. Clarissa gets excited about the Toy Box, Lego, and Studio Ghibli. I really like Butter, Flying Tiger Copenhagen, and Miniso. But there are several floors of shops and restaurants in the mall itself. Also attached to the mall is Avenue L which is a higher end mall. Avenue L also has an art museum. Inside Lotte World Mall, you can take an elevator to Lotte World Tower and look out over Seoul on floors 118-122. There is also a kid cafe inside called Teddy Bear Zoo, which is pricey but Clarissa really enjoyed her time there.

Also located on B1 of Lotte World Mall is Lotte Aquarium. This is our favorite aquarium in South Korea. There are several large tanks with whales, sting rays, and even penguins. There is a spot where you can pay 1,000 won to feed a small tank of fish. Then you can feed carp with a bottle for 2,000 won. There is also a free touch tank. There are food stands within the aquarium as well as face painting and a craft area that you can pay for as well. Aquarium admission can be pricey, but if you show your military ID or American passport, you can get a discount. It should cost us over 90,000 won to get in, but we usually only pay 61,000 won.

Temple

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 (did not make our top 10, but if you aren’t going to get to Lotte World Mall or if you need some lunch, it is an acceptable mall) which also has some shopping, good food, and a decent aquarium.

Zoo

Sometimes the zoos in South Korea make me sad. The animals don’t seem very happy in their small cages. But there are some exceptions to this. Our favorite zoo in Seoul itself (Everland Zoo is probably better but way more expensive) is Seoul Grand Park Zoo.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. There is also a petting zoo and insectarium. There are plenty of restaurants that sell Korean food as well.

Museums

There are a few museums worth taking your small children to. The Figure Museum was very close to the Apgujeong subway station and easy to find with the statue in front. There were six floors of exhibits with each floor having its own theme. All three of us really enjoyed the museum.

Another favorite was  Seoul Children’s Museum located in Children’s Grand Park (Please note there is a zoo here as well, but I do not recommend it…). Admission costs 4,000 won per person but children under 3 are free. It was well worth the cost. There were 4 floors of exhibits that all of us enjoyed. You could pretend to be blind and get on the subway, learn about animals or space, play dress up, build a house, or play with water. Most exhibits were explained in both Hangul and English. If we lived here, we would buy a membership. I think the museum is geared towards kids second grade and under.

 

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.

When can we go back to Awesome Farmland?

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In September, Clarissa was invited to ride horses at a birthday party at Anseong Farmland. I had been planning to take Clarissa there anyway, so we were really excited to go.

General admission to Anseong Farmland costs 10,000 won (about $10 USD). If you want to ride horses, it is an additional 8,000 won ($8 USD). That price pays for one 3-5 minute ride around the ring. They have riding helmets available and a staff person leads the horse around the ring.

Clarissa was a little nervous at first since she is generally afraid of heights and things that go fast. But with each lap, she seemed to relax a bit more. She was disappointed when she only got one turn. I think if we go back, I will have to pay for more than one turn…

General admission gives you access to the petting zoo. You can pay additional money at each station if you want to feed animals so bring won. One thousand won (about $1 USD) will pay for two carrots to feed rabbits, horses, or donkeys. You can also buy hay for goats, sheep, cows, and alpacas. They had food for pigs as well but they were performing when we were feeding animals so I don’t know what they eat.

There were plenty of animals to see, even if you were not feeding them.

There are several different buildings at Anseong Farmland. Some are restaurants and others are experiences. You can make pizza in the dairy experience. I should note that is Korean pizza, so some of the topics may be different than what some Americans are used to. But you can just add what you like.

There is also a building to do art. One of the restaurant buildings also has a mini trick eye museum.

The kids all enjoyed climbing and taking pictures with some statues. There was a playground on the grounds as well. Clarissa also enjoyed the carnival area. Most rides cost 3,000 won ($3 USD). Sometimes there was a discount if you paid for multiple rides at once. Clarissa’s favorite ride was the bumper boats that we did together. She also enjoyed “diving the train.”

Certain times of year they also have tractor rides but it was still considered summer when we went so we didn’t get to try that. Clarissa keeps asking when we will go back to “Awesome Farmland.” She can’t say it correctly and doesn’t hear the difference between Anseong and Awesome. I think we will try again now that the weather is cooler.

I think Hongdae is my favorite

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We have planned to go to Hongdae a few times on a Saturday, but rain has canceled our plans. I was excited to go today, even though it was a Tuesday so I would miss the art market.

I think Hongdae is my new favorite place in Seoul. It feels different than most other sections of the city. Actually it doesn’t feel like you are in a big city at all. It feels more suburban with a bunch of cafes and artsy things.

Very close to the Hongik University Station exit 6 is a store called Object. It was really cute. Four floors (three for shopping) with coffee, books, stationary, and jewelry. I found several things that I liked there.

The next stop was Gundam Base. We all had fun looking at the different models and figures. Tim and Clarissa found one to work on together.

We found a very small, but still fun Xiaomi store. It wasn’t on our list for the day but we randomly passed it. We loved it in Hong Kong so we definitely had to check it out.

Then we saw a very large ArtBox. This is the best one we have visited so far. Clarissa and I found several art kits to work on together.

The next planned stop was Crow Piercing. I had my ears pierced twice growing up. One of my ears always got infected so I let them close up. I have been talking about getting my ears pierced again for at least a year so I did my research to see the best place to go. Crow Piercing was highly recommended so I chose to go there. I was not disappointed. I got to choose my earrings and he pierced my ears very quickly since part of the holes were still there anyway. It only cost 8,000 won (like $8 USD). I found a few other earrings for after my ears heal as well. It was very clean. My guy spoke great English. They are open from 1240 – 11 PM everyday.

Our last stop in Hongdae was Clarissa’s favorite. We went to Bunny Cafe. We all enjoyed feeding and petting the bunnies. It was a very clean place and the owner and bunnies were friendly for the most part. One bunny did bite Tim though.

We headed to I Park Mall for lunch. They have finally finished all of the renovations there. It looks great, but some of our favorite stores are gone. We could have skipped it.

The highlight was definitely the Studio Ghibli Store. We went to one yesterday at Lotte World Mall but this one was way cooler because it had the house from Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro‘s tree.

The Gundam Base was fine too but we had already been to the one in Hongdae. They were comparable so you only really need to go to one.

Because we still have not seen everything in Seoul…

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We spent Columbus Day weekend in Seoul. Though we have spent a lot of time in Seoul since we moved to Korea, we wanted to try a few things we had not tried before.

Our first stop was disappointing. We wanted to check out the Seoul Animation Museum. Apparently it is closed. I took a picture of the outside so that other people could find it before we realized that it wasn’t a museum anymore. Oops.

Our next stop redeemed the day. I had never heard of the Figure Museum before a friend mentioned it this week. It was very close to the Apgujeong subway station and easy to find with the statue in front. There were six floors of exhibits with each floor having its own theme. All three of us really enjoyed the museum.

Next we headed to Lotte World Mall for some dinner and shopping. Clarissa chose a kangaroo to paint. The staff member used a hair dryer to dry it so that we could take it home.

Since Clarissa was in an artsy mood, we decided to check out the Lotte Museum of Art  in Avenue L which is connected to the mall. It was an exhibit of Kenny Scharf. He was an animator for Hanna Barbara so we recognized some of his work. Some of it was pretty weird. But it was all very colorful.

Before leaving we decided to try Lotte World Tower. The views from the 118 – 122 floors were amazing. It was a very clear day so we could see very far.

It was 5pm by then so we headed to Itaweon for dinner. I had read about a gluten-free Cafe so we headed to Sunny Bread. They are only open Wednesday through Sunday so this was our only opportunity to go. There were a few things left in the pastry case so we bought one of each to go so we could try it all. Very tasty.

Finally we arrived at Manimal for dinner. It was very close to the pedestrian bridge from Noksapyeong, across from Buddha’s Belly. I have never been to an American style smokehouse. I expected it to smell smokier than it did. Tim and I ordered a platter to share. We chose three meats and three sides. All of it was delicious but way too much food. We could not finish it so next time we will get the platter with two meats instead.

Last beach day of the summer

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We were invited to a beach day with some friends at the end of the summer. Korea’s official beach season is pretty short. It actually starts on Tim’s birthday (July 13) and ends on Clarissa’s birthday (August 20). Some beaches are open a little later, until the end of August, so we decided to go to Eurwangni Beach in Incheon.

Eurwangni Beach is about an hour and a half drive from Camp Humphreys. Tolls cost about 11,000 won each way ($11 USD). The beach itself is pretty small. The waves are very calm and it is shallow for a good part of the beach so it is a great beach to bring small children. The sand area is clean. There is a public bathroom, shower area, and free parking right next to the beach. There is also a small playground and a path to explore the rocks along one side of the beach. There are plenty of convenience stores and restaurants for when you get hungry.

We had a wonderful day playing in the water and exploring. The water was fairly warm. Clarissa started her own shell collection.

After dinner, we looked out to see the sunset over the water and noticed that the tide had gone WAY out. I have never seen the tide go out that dramatically before. It was really cool to be able to see all the little crabs and critters out in the wet sand. The sunset was beautiful to see.

Clarissa and I really enjoyed our day with friends. We both decided that we would like to live near the beach next. This is definitely our favorite beach in Korea!

 

Our favorite Korean Water park

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One of our favorite malls in Korea is Starfield Hanam. It has a little bit of something for each of us. Tim likes that there is an Electromart. I really like Flying Tiger Copenhagen. Toy Kingdom is Clarissa’s favorite toy store. The pet store is amazing and there are several fun places to shop. Tim’s favorite restaurant is Pei Wei and I appreciate that they have an On the Border.

For Clarissa’s birthday last year, we went to Starfield Hanam. She got to pick out a new toy at the toy store. But this year, Tim wanted to take her to the water park in the mall, Aqua Field. It was pretty expensive (112,000 won for the three of us) but we all really enjoyed it. Our Korean friend was able to buy us tickets online at a discount.

I had a receipt on my phone to show the workers at the front desk. They gave us each a ticket with a number. The number corresponded to our shoe locker number. We took off our shoes and then went on to the main locker rooms, where we used the same locker number again. The locker rooms are gender separated. Over age 5, children must go to the correct locker room. There was an option to use the spa as well, but we just chose to use the water park this day.

Your ticket is good for six hours. That lets you use the water park. Your locker key is like your room number in a hotel. You can use your locker key to rent life jackets (5,000 won), lounge chairs (30,000 won), or to buy food. When you leave the water park, you give the worker your locker key and you pay your bill.

The three of us really enjoyed the water park. Many families brought their own life jackets and floaties. We didn’t so we had to rent one for Clarissa (it is required for children under 120 cm). It only cost 5,000 won anyway. There were small kickboards around that anyone could use.

Our favorite activity of the day was the indoor lazy river. We probably spent an hour and a half in there during our trip.

Aqua Field had several smaller pools inside as well as on the roof. None of us love sunscreen so we spent most of our time inside. But there was plenty to do. There were two large water slides for adults. The one I went on was pretty fast. There was also a kid section with small slides, small pools, a miniature lazy river, and a splash pad.

They had snack food for sale like ice cream and churros. But they also had a Johnny Rockets on the roof so you could get hamburgers and french fries if you wanted something more substantial.

The mall is about a 75 minute drive from Camp Humphreys but we still go there every month or two. I think we will try the water park again later in the fall since we enjoyed it so much. We went on a Friday so it wasn’t super crowded. It would probably be packed on the weekend. I would recommend going on a holiday where Americans are off but Koreans are not.

Asan Insect Museum

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A few months ago, we drove to Asan with friends to check out the Insect Museum. We were very disappointed when we got there and found out it was closed for renovation. In June, we headed back for another try.

The girls were very excited to take pictures with the animal statues outside.

We headed into the actual museum. It only cost 5,000 won (about $5) for Clarissa and I to get in. There were cups of food you could take to feeds the animals. We started with a room of models and diagrams.

Then there were a few different rooms with aquariums of fish, insects, and frogs.

Then there was a a room with small mammals and lizards. Clarissa enjoyed feeding the meerkat and watching the chipmunks run around.

Outside there were peacocks and geese. We also had the chance to feed rabbits and Guinea pigs.

There was one more room of bugs before we arrived at the butterfly room.

We packed lunch so we had a picnic at the playground after the museum. The girls had a great day. The Asan Insect Museum is definitely worth the trip (closed on Mondays).

The Great Wall… of Korea

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One thing on my bucket list when we found out we were moving to Korea was The Great Wall of China. It’s not a super easy trip to take with an active toddler so we haven’t made it there yet. There is a big fortress nearby so I wanted to see if Clarissa could do that before we took the time and money to go to China.

Camp Humphreys CYS took a field trip to Suwon Fortress on Saturday, June 9. For $10, we could take the bus and not have to worry about trains, buses, or parking.

The bus dropped us off near the palace. It wasn’t a large palace and the architecture looks a lot like Gyeongbokgung in Seoul. Clarissa really enjoyed it. She thought it was interesting to see how the castle looked for the king and queen. She also liked looking at their different rooms. The entrance fee was 1,500 won for adults and Clarissa was free.

Next, we headed to the entrance of the wall. We stopped for lunch at Burger King on the way. Clarissa had plenty of energy after lunch so she was ready to climb. She did really well on all of the steps. She enjoyed looking at the different monuments and seeing the city from the wall. She was especially excited to see a big bell because Tim has a small version of this in our apartment. You can get to the wall at several different spots and it costs 1,000 won for adults. Military and students receive a discount so they can pay 700 won.

There are toilets marked along the wall so you can stop if you need to. Several places also show where you can get off to buy snacks at convenience stores. Clarissa was excited that they had an archery class. But you have to be 7 years old to participate. It costs 2,000 won for 10 arrows. The class happens multiple times per day. It seemed like most of the day it was on the hour and at the half hour.

If you don’t want to hike the wall, you can also take a trolley or bike taxi from the palace. It will take you on a tour of the wall and the different sites along the fortress. I am not sure of price and I don’t know if any of the tour guides speak English. But if you just want to see things and not walk, you can pay for that instead.

After we finished the wall, we headed back to the palace area. There is a Cultural Foundation to the left that has an artsy street which reminds me of Insadong. We found some cute handmade jewelry. You can buy a personalized stamp with your name for $20. There are wood crafts that can be personalized as well.

We had a great day together. Clarissa did very well. She walked the whole wall (3.57 miles) with some breaks. I think she is ready for a China trip now. Though she said she doesn’t want to do it again! She said the Great Wall of Korea is good enough for her.

 

One more trip to Seoul

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Tim’s passport expires this month so we had to make a trip to the US Embassy in Seoul to get it renewed. We were warned that it would take forever so be prepared to wait. However, we were in and out in less than 15 minutes. If you need to go to the Embassy for a passport, I would recommend an early morning appointment. They will let you check in a cell phone but no other electronics are allowed in the building. Bring a book to read though because they keep your cell phone until you leave the embassy. They did have a corner with children’s books and tables to entertain your kids. They told us it would take two weeks for the embassy to receive our passport and so we registered for a courier to deliver it to the apartment instead of making a return trip. (This is 6,000 won if you live in Seoul, 8,000 won if you live in Gyeonggi-do, and 10,000 won for delivery anywhere else in Korea. You pay cash on delivery.) Update : Tim’s new passport was delivered in exactly one week instead of two.

With six hours left before our return train, we decided to head to some of our favorite air conditioned places in Seoul. Our first stop was Lotte World Mall. We thought about doing the tower since we haven’t before, but it was a pretty overcast day so we figured it wasn’t worth it. We started at Hard Rock Cafe for a delicious lunch. We were the only customers in the restaurant for the entire time we were there. Apparently 11 AM on a Thursday is not popular. Since we were near the top of the mall, we decided to walk through each level before we got to the aquarium on B1. We found so many fun things to look at on our journey. Clarissa chose a small Jiji in a cage from the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. I found a lot of fun stationary.

Clarissa’s favorite was when we finally got to the aquarium on B1. We had two choices of aquariums this day, but this one is our favorite. It wasn’t very crowded since is was a Thursday after lunch and school is still in session for both Koreans and Americans. We had a great time. Clarissa was able to feed fish and sting rays.

Then, we headed to Coex Mall for Tim to check out Gundam Base. He didn’t end up buying anything, but enjoyed looking at all of the models available.

After our train ride, we went to our favorite restaurant, Sawatdee, for dinner near Osan. We had a few things to pick up at the BX as well. We had a very full day and enjoyed each other’s company. It was the second day in a row that Clarissa went on an adventure without the stroller and she did very well. Sniff. Sniff. I think she is actually becoming a big kid.

National Institute of Ecology

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Our friends from church invited us to visit the National Institute of Ecology with them for Memorial Day. They picked us up at 7:30. We added another family near Cheonan on our way to Seocheon and arrived about they time they opened at 9:30.

The admission prices were excellent. It was 5,000 won (about $5 USD) for adults. Children were 3,000 won (about $3 USD), but Clarissa was free since she is still under 5.

We boarded an open shuttle bus to the Ecorium. Inside this building there were 5 different climate zones (Tropical, Desert, Mediterranean, Temperate, and Polar), a restaurant, library (that had both Korean and English books), and an ant section.

The kids had a great time looking at all of the plants and animals in the different zones.

There were even two monkeys outside.

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The restaurant had several Korean food options for decent prices. Most dishes were 7,000 or 8,000 won ($7 or $8). If you aren’t a fan of Korean food, there were french fries available and also a convenience store to buy snacks as well.

The ant section was pretty cool. I didn’t know there was that much to learn about ants! The kids put on lab coats and pretended to be scientists learning about ants. Clarissa even pretended to give a lecture about ants. There were coloring activities and puzzles as well.

Inside the building was also a play area. Clarissa was able to wear a special suit with velcro and stick to the wall on her own. She got a little nervous when I let go, so she would reach for me and fall off. But some kids were more brave and would hang upside down.

After our exploring, we went to the playground. The playground was really nice. Clarissa was excited about the big tree house. But the main attraction was the water. They had a splash pad as well as a small wading pool for the kids to play in.

We decided to walk back to the car after that. The visitor center on the way out had a couple of movies and games, but if you’re tired, it’s not really worth going to. We also passed some deer and a big goat on our way out.

This was one of our first adventures that didn’t involve a stroller. Clarissa’s stroller wasn’t going to fit in the car with 7 people inside so we decided to leave it home. She actually did really well and walked the whole time (6 hours). When did she get so big?!

On our way home, we went to a Shabu buffet restaurant in Pyeongtaek that was pretty good.

An Afternoon in Cheonan with Friends

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Last Friday, Clarissa went with our friends to Cheonan in the afternoon.

We started at Ebony and Ivory, a used English bookstore to buy books for our next Ladies Bible Study at church. It is a few doors down from the Shinsagae Mall in Cheonan that I blogged about last year, across the street from the Subway restaurant. Brooklyn English Used Books near Camp Humphreys gets their books from this store.

The bookstore was full of books, all of them in English. Clarissa and I started at the Disney table at the front of the store. Books were 10 for 1,000 won (a little less than a dollar).

More than half of the store was Children’s books. There was so much of everything. We found several Magic School Bus that we didn’t already have, Fancy Nancy, Berenstain Bears, Little Critter, Clifford, and Curious George. There was so much more! Clarissa found some books from my generation of My Little Pony. We found so many books to use for kindergarten this year.

There were adult books too. They had a science fiction section, complete with an entire table devoted to Star Wars. There were fiction and nonfiction books as well a comic and religious books as well. I’m sure anyone who walks in will find a pile of books to read.

The prices were great! I would have stayed for hours. But Clarissa and her friend got restless after about an hour so we left with what we had picked out already.

On the way home, we went to the wholesale market in Cheonan. They had one building for fruit, another for vegetables, and a third for seafood. We only went to the fruit building. They had several stalls of yummy fruit at good prices. It was an air conditioned building with a bathroom. Vendors took both won and credit card.

Another day in Busan

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One of Tim’s friends from his Air Force days has been in town for work. Tim decided to take a day off of work so that we could all spend a day in Busan together.

We woke up really early so that we could make the 730 train from Cheonan Asan to Busan. We arrived at Busan station about 930, bought Tim’s friend a metro card from a convenience store, and headed to Haeundae.

We started with lunch at Subway. Tim prefers the sauces at Korean and Japanese Subway restaurants to the ones on post so we tend to go there if we see one on our travels.

Next, we headed to Haeundae Beach. The water was so clear and pretty. This time of year the water is cold so no one was swimming. Clarissa had a great time chasing pigeons.

There was a sand sculpture competition earlier in the week. It was fun to see the sculptures. They were huge and very detailed. It was interesting because of the descriptions of the sand castles. It would give a generic description with details of a movie but would never say “This is iron man.”

Next, we headed down the boardwalk to Dongbaekseom Island. You can walk up a bunch of steps to see the water and get to a lighthouse. We didn’t want to mess with that and carry the stroller. So we went the other way behind the hotels. It was actually a really pretty route. There was a very steep but paved path to a statue and monument of Go-un Choi Chi-won.

Further along the path was the Nurimaru APEC House where the APEC conference was held in 2005 and 2014. After viewing the meeting place, we went outside to the bottom floor and had great views of the lighthouse and Gwangandaegyo (the largest bi-level bridge over the ocean in Korea).

We needed a snack after all of our walking so we headed back to the restaurant area and saw Softree ice cream shop. I had read about their shop in Seoul but didn’t know they had one in Busan so we decided to check them out. They had excellent ice cream with interesting flavors. Clarissa enjoyed the plain but I had magic lamp. It had caramel drizzled over it and some crushed cookie (not gluten free but definitely delicious).

We decided to check out Haeundae Market while we were there. But it was mostly just food so we didn’t stay long. The plan was to take the 181 bus to Haedong Yonggungsa but the next bus was at least a 20 minute wait so we hopped in a taxi instead. It was less than 10,000 won which isn’t bad.

I don’t think I have ever been to a temple this large. It was definitely a complex instead of just one building. It was different than other temples that we have been to because it was on the side of the mountain instead of just in the city and it was right on the water. It was beautiful. There were also more statues than we have seen in one temple before.

Along the way, Clarissa and I had some great conversations about Buddha, Buddhism, worship, and sacrifices. There were lanterns set up everywhere in celebration of Buddha’s birthday that was two days before our visit. We talked about how it would be like our Christmas since that is when we celebrate Jesus’s birthday. She is definitely a thinker and not afraid to tell me her opinion. It will be interesting to see how God uses that gift as she gets older.

We were afraid that if we took the subway back (45 minutes from the beach) that we would miss our train home, so we took the taxi back to the KTX station instead of just back to the subway. We had some yummy Korean food for dinner and Clarissa enjoyed her french fries.

 

I learned how to make kimbap!

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I went to a church baby shower last week. I brought my usual veggie tray with hummus and some sugar cookies.

When I arrived the ladies were in the kitchen making kimbap. Kimbap is a traditional Korean dish, often used as an appetizer or side dish. I wanted to watch because I have never seen anyone make kimbap before. They invited me to join.

The ingredients were already cooked and cut. But basically, you need seaweed and sticky rice. Then you can add whatever veggies or meat that you like. We had spam, eggs, tuna, carrots, spinach, and radish available.

First, you lay two sheets of seaweed on the tray. Next, you add the sticky rice to the seaweed. You can fill the entire sheet of seaweed or do less if you want. Then you add whatever filling you choose. You might choose to make one with spam, carrots, and spinach. Another may have tuna with egg, radish, and spinach. The possibilities really are endless. Only fill about two inches of the seaweed.

Now it is time to roll the kimbap. You use the wooden mat to roll the seaweed over the topping, making it as tight as possible. Once you have rolled your kimbap, roll it again to make sure it is tight.

Once you are satisfied with your roll, cut it into pieces about as thick as your ring finger and serve.

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.