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.

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.

Seoul: Walking and Shopping 

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Tim wanted a birthday trip to Seoul. With his work schedule, we decided to go early instead of later in the summer. Pyeongtaek is much closer to Seoul than Daegu so our drive was about an hour and 15 minutes. We arrived well before check in so we just left everything in the car and headed out with the stroller. 

Tim wanted to check out Video Game Alley, which is part of an electronics market behind ipark mall. Many of the vendors had cool things, but the prices were way above retail. 

Ipark Mall is undergoing renovation so it was confusing to find certain sections. But we found some really cool things in the Gundam store, Lego Store, and the Studio Ghibli Collection on the third floor. 

We had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen before heading to Times Square Mall. The mall was nice, but expensive and did not have the electronics that Tim was looking for. But it did have some stores that Clarissa and I enjoyed for toys and stationary. 

We tried a different electronics market with no luck. It was funny because Tim had a list of places that he wanted to shop but wasn’t finding what he was looking for but everywhere we went Clarissa and I found something. 

On Tuesday, we headed to Olympic Park. It was a pretty park with random statues and monuments from the 1988 Olympics. I always enjoy seeing the flags from the different countries. It was cool because there was also a list of each event and who won each medal. 

Clarissa made a friend who was feeding fish. She enjoyed feeding the fish until the food was gone. Then she tried chasing pigeons. 

There is a nice playground in Olympic Park. Actually there are several, but Clarissa really enjoyed this one near the flags. 

You could see Lotte World Mall from the park, so we walked instead of taking the subway. 

Our first stop was the Aquarium. If we lived in Seoul, we would have annual passes. It was supposed to cost 29,000 won for an adult and 23,000 won for a child, but we showed our passports and received a discount so we only paid 63,000 won total. 

It was the best aquarium we have seen in Korea so far (we have seen 4). The tanks were all very clean. Ambient music played in the background. You could pay 1,000 won to feed fish or 2,000 won to give a bottle to some koi fish. 

The Aquarium is on b1 of the Lotte World Mall. The mall itself was great. There were several floors. Each of us could find things we were excited about. 

We read about a Teddy Bear Zoo. Once we got there, I realized it wasn’t really a museum, but a kid’s cafe. It cost 19,000 won for kids and 7,000 won for adults for two hours. Clarissa had a great time on the trampolines, in the ball pit, playing with Legos, climbing on the slide, and even riding a mechanical zebra. 

After the Teddy Bear Zoo, we headed to Coex Mall for dinner. We ate the best Mexican I have had in Korea so far at a place called On the Border. It was a little pricey, but so delicious. 

They have been remodeling the mall the past few years and it is finally finished. There were stores for each of us as well as a library. The YP Bookstore has a decent English section. Tim was able to find something on his list at the Gundam store. 

Our first two days in Seoul were really long. Clarissa did well with a late bedtime and Tim’s phone said we walked over 54,000 steps over the two days. 

First road trip in Korea

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We lasted almost eleven months in South Korea without a car.  During that time,  we did plenty of exploring by train and by bus. We decided that after we bought a car last week,  we needed to break it in with a road trip. A friend in Seoul wanted us to meet her sister who was visiting, so we thought that was the perfect choice.

Clarissa and I were sick on Thursday so I wasn’t able to pack ahead of time. We didn’t leave until 12:30 on Friday afternoon. We quickly realized that we needed hi-pass (similar to ezpass in the USA). We stopped at a rest stop to buy one. That was an exciting ordeal. The ladies at the counter said that we were the first foreigners to get hi-pass from them. It took a while to set up the account. Part of the problem was that we don’t have a Korean bank account so we can’t do automatic billing. We had won, so we just charged 50,000 (like $45) and went on our way.

Tim and I agree that the topography of the drive was similar to what we see driving from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Some of the architecture is different. But it didn’t feel that different from one of our normal road trips.

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Speed traps are a major difference. It is rare to see a police car in South Korea. Traffic violations are pretty automated. Speed limits are posted. There are specific police enforcement areas, which have signs posted. If you speed, a traffic camera takes a picture of your licence plate and a ticket is mailed to your house.

We don’t have a Korean GPS yet, so Tim just used the waze app that he used stateside. It worked wonderfully. Clarissa did well in the back seat the first two hours. I think that she liked being able to see everything. I had to move to the back seat for the last hour or so.

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Our original plan was lunch at Osan, shopping at the BX, and dinner when we arrived at Dragon Hill Lodge. With our late start we didn’t get to Osan until almost four so it was more like an early dinner.

We went off post to Sawatdee, Tim’s favorite Thai restaurant. He got curry and I had drunken noodles. Clarissa ate spring rolls.

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We then headed to the commissary for our weekend breakfast items. Finally, we went to the BX. Osan’s exchange is by far the best in Korea. There are several kiosks and small shops in addition to the main exchange. We actually found pink gloves that fit Clarissa’s hands at one of the kiosks. Also, the exchange has good items and is laid out in a way that actually makes sense (which cannot be said for the other ones).
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Needless to say, it was worth the three hour drive. I bought two pairs of jeans that fit and looked cute. Tim got some new work clothes. Clarissa even found a Finding Nemo sippy cup.

We let Clarissa play in the playplace for a bit to burn off some energy and then decided we should eat again because everything would probably be closed by the time we arrived at Yongsan. Tim had a sub from Charley’s and Clarissa and I split a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

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Tim did very well driving in Seoul. It was almost 9:00 by the time we arrived so the traffic had died down some. But it was still pretty busy.

Our room at Dragon Hill Lodge was very warm. I put our food in the refrigerator (but didn’t realize until morning that it wasn’t cold). It is PCS season (lots of families moving) so we ended up with two double beds. Now I know what it is like to share a bed with my two year old…

We were up early on Saturday so that we would have plenty of time for exploring. Our sausage wasn’t cold so we decided to toss it. We opted for a fast food breakfast on the way to Changdeokgung Palace. We took line 3 to Anguk (exit 3). It was a very short walk from there.

As we arrived at the Palace, it began to snow. So we decided to just pay the 3,000 won admission and walk around on our own.

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The palace was pretty. But honestly wasn’t as large as the other one and seemed to have similar style. It was way less crowded, probably because of the snow. To be fair, we also didn’t see the whole complex. It started to snow harder and Clarissa was very cold. We decided to go inside for some hot chocolate before heading back to the subway.

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We needed an indoor thing to do so we headed to Coex mall. I believe it is the largest underground mall in the world. It was one of Tim’s normal hangouts during his Air Force days. Clarissa picked out some Tayo stickers and an Octonauts puzzle at Daiso (like a Dollar Store) so she was happy. We also brought her to the entrance of the aquarium so she could see some fish. We all felt better after some food.

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The snow stopped and it warmed up to about 37, so we decided to head to Bongeunsa Temple which is very close to the mall. It is the same subway stop, just a different exit (Samseong on line 2).

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It was a very large temple complex. There were other people walking around but it was not busy at all. They have a templestay program where you can spend the night there. They also had a large hall for weddings. There were some monks playing drums and chanting, but not many.

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After the temple, we decided to head towards base. Most of the places we wanted to see closed at 4:30 or 5. Clarissa fell asleep on the train and even slept some on the walk to base which surprised me because it was so cold outside.

We didn’t find anything interesting at the Yongsan px so we headed back to the Lodge for dinner. We went to Green Street. I ordered a steak and Tim had a spicy Asian dish.

We had originally planned to have brunch with Tim’s friend on Sunday but she was sick.

We decided to head out early and go to Hahoe village in Andong on the way home. It really was in the middle of nowhere and took three hours to get to. It would have been so worth it though. The place was huge and had several sections of traditional houses, shrines, and stores.

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We didn’t get very far before it started sleeting. We decided that since it is only about an hour from Daegu, we will just go again and make a day of it. There were several small museums (mask museum, world doll museum) to see as well.

Apparently January in Korea is not a good time for exploring. We need to wait until it warms up a bit to see more. But it was a great first road trip.

A Mostly Seoul Adventure

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I finally finished unpacking our first shipment at the house. Then, the furniture that we ordered while living in South Korea arrived ahead of our Household Goods. So now I have two couches and two dining room tables. It’s kind of funny really to go from living out of suitcases in a fairly empty apartment to having too much furniture. But our apartment is large enough that it’s fine. First world problems right?

Clarissa and I have developed a routine that works. We stay home and play at the playground on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Wednesday we go to base for PWC (Bible study) and grocery shopping. Thursday we go to story hour to see our friends, have lunch with Tim, and pick up a few more items at the commissary. The weekend is for exploring as a family.

Last weekend we tried a fish barbecue place. Even if most signs and menus aren’t in English, you can figure out what a restaurant serves pretty easily because there is usually a sign with an animal outside. The fish place across the street from our apartment always looks pretty busy, so we decided to check it out.

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We were not disappointed. The ladies were very nice. One took Clarissa over to see what they were doing in the kitchen when she was bored. We chose barbecue shellfish, which was excellent. Not too spicy for me. They bring everything out on a tray. It cooks in front of you on the burner at your table.

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My two favorite side dishes were the boiled peanuts and the seaweed. Clarissa ate both side dishes as well.

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Tim had to go to a training in Seoul on Thursday so we decided that Clarissa and I would come too and we would stay for the weekend.

While we were waiting for the bus with our suitcase and stroller, an older woman took a liking to Clarissa. She kept trying to play with her. She even gave her money! She then carried the stroller on to the bus for us. We took the bus to the subway to the KTX station. Clarissa did very well considering she didn’t get a nap that day.

Once we arrived in Seoul, we took the subway to our hotel. The plan was for Tim to carry the suitcase and I would hold Clarissa’s hand and the umbrella stroller. But Clarissa didn’t cooperate so Tim was superman and carried both the stroller and suitcase up multiple flights of stairs while I carried Clarissa. When we arrived at the hotel, they wanted to give Clarissa a gift of a teddy bear.

On Thursday, Tim went to his training and Clarissa and I explored Yongsan. We went to the commissary because you can’t request a product in Daegu if they don’t carry it at Yongsan. The commissary there is probably three times bigger than the one on Camp Walker so I do have a few requests to make.

Thursday night we took the subway to Gangnam. Clarissa wandered into a shop and I actually did buy some shoes. Now I can say I have been shopping in Gangnam (like in the song Gangnam Style).

We had dinner with Tim’s friend Minnie. She is really cool. Teaches fifth grade. I got to see a picture of Tim from 2006. We made plans to visit her soon where she lives in Suwon (about a half hour South of Seoul).

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Friday morning we headed to Coex mall, one of Tim’s favorite hangouts during his Air Force days. The mall has recently been remodeled so it looks very different and has different stores. While at the mall, we took Clarissa to the aquarium.

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The Coex Aquarium is very nice. Clarissa loved it! She was running from tank to tank yelling, “fishy!” I tried to capture it on video but it never happened.

She loved looking at all the fish.

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Clarissa enjoyed watching the penguins and otters. She had no interest in touching anything in the touch tank. She was afraid of the big sharks.

Friday night we had dinner with Jocelyn, Aaron, and Amari. We went to a Mexican place first and the guy asked if we were Tim, party of 6. So we sat down and had some chips while we waited for our friends. Wrong Tim. We didn’t have a reservation and it was a long wait for a table, so we left. They wouldn’t let me pay for the chips we ate.

So we ended up nextdoor at Buddha’s Belly. Best Thai food I have ever eaten! And if you know me, that is saying a lot. If you are ever in Itaewan, I highly recommend it.

Friday night I posted pictures from the aquarium. A friend who was actually visiting Seoul saw them so we decided to meet up on Saturday.

I met Yongki in 2003 while we were both attending Old Dominion University. I was leading a Bible study and he was the only one who came. It actually worked out really well. He had learned to read English in Korea but didn’t know how to speak it. We met once a week all semester. I invited him to several holiday meals at my grandmother’s house over the years. I always thought it would be cool to visit him in South Korea. The funny thing is that now I live in Korea and he doesn’t.

We decided to meet at Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was great to see Yongki again as it has been about three years since Tim and I last saw him. We were able to meet his brother and wife (who is a tour guide for the Seven Churches tour in Turkey. If you are interested in touring the seven churches in Revelation, let me know and I will hook you up).

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The architecture was pretty cool. Tim took way more pictures than I did. It is hard to take pictures and keep up with a toddler at the same time.

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On Saturday night we decided to have dinner on base because there is a Mexican restaurant on Yongsan. I haven’t had Mexican in months, so this was a real treat. Tim must love me!

Sunday we came home by KTX, subway, and bus. Did I mention that Tim was superman? He carried the suitcase and the stroller up the stairs and in the rain. We decided that next time we are leaving the stroller at home because most of the time Clarissa wanted to walk or be held so we carried it most of the weekend.