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.

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.

2017 Year in Review

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I feel like 2017 flew by. It was quite an eventful year for us with plenty of changes, adventures, and blessings.

In January, Tim was TDY in Hawaii for a week. The army paid for his plane ticket, hotel, and gave him per diem for food. Even though Hawaii was not on our original bucket list for while we live in Korea, we decided that Clarissa and I should join him anyway. The two of us had a wonderful vacation while he worked. I was able to catch up with two friends from home who were living there. Clarissa made new friends and either went to the pool or the beach each day of our trip.

After our trip, Clarissa decided that she finally wanted to wear panties and be potty trained. That changed my backpack contents significantly.

In February, Clarissa and I went home for the first time in two years. We got to catch up with family and friends in Virginia. I was also able to attend my favorite women’s conference while we were there. We also went to see Tim’s family in Pennsylvania where we both had our first sledding experience.

In April, we moved from Daegu to Pyeongtaek for Tim’s new job. Our lifestyle is very different in our new city. In Daegu, we never found a church home but Clarissa and I regularly attended PWOC and the library storytime. In Pyeongtaek, we have a church home but we don’t attend PWOC or storytime.

In June, we spent a week exploring Seoul. We decided that we should stick to spring and fall vacations as it was very hot during our vacation so we spent a lot of time indoors enjoying air conditioning.

Clarissa and I attended Vacation Bible School on post in July. It was so different just showing up and being a small group leader than being director of the whole thing. I enjoyed it so much more. Clarissa had fun as well and made a new friend. There was also a preschool program specifically for her that made it less overwhelming than being with all of the big kids.

We also experienced our first monsoon season this summer. It rained a lot most days, which was a blessing since Korea had been in a drought the past three years. Humidity was high as usual, but it didn’t seem horrible as long as the past two summers here.

By summertime, Clarissa and I had established a routine of going to the farmer’s market for produce. In Daegu, we mostly shopped at the commissary. But here, there is a farmer’s market within walking distance twice a week, so we go there often.

This fall, a friend started a playground playgroup at our apartment complex. So we spent a lot of time playing outside with friends. There are four playgrounds in our complex. Clarissa’s favorite has a trampoline. Her second favorite has plenty of sand.

We also started officially homeschooling this year. Clarissa and I are working through the God’s Little Explorers preschool curriculum together and really enjoying it.

In November, we went on vacation to Okinawa. The 85 degree days felt so hot after the 50 degree fall days in Korea. But we still enjoyed our week of exploration. Clarissa even got to play in the water at the beach three times. I got to mark dressing like a geisha girl and exploring a cave off my bucket list.

Holidays were also different for us this year. Clarissa and I completed Truth in the Tinsel as usual. But we had more traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with our church family. We took the train into Seoul for some exploring on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Seoul: Korea War Memorial 

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Every time we visit Yongsan, we pass the Korea War Memorial. This trip, we decided to check it out. I assumed that it was about the Korean War. That is a big part of the memorial, but the museum really covers all of the wars in Korean history. 

Outside are several statues from the Korean War in the 1950s. Most of them have plaques that explain each statue in both Hangul and English. 

This one was pretty cool. The statue is two brothers. One is an officer for the South Korean army, the other a soldier for the North. It’s so easy to forget that families are still separated because of this war. Inside, it showed each of the 21 countries that fought with the South. 

There was a great gift shop. We found some cool things for the veterans in our lives. The reflection pool had a place where you could buy food to feed the fish. We paid our 1,000 won, but the fish weren’t interested. 

In front of the museum were flags for the United Nations and the individual countries who helped during the Korean War. 

The inside of the museum had several different sections and memorials. Most things were in Hangul and English. I think it would take a few hours to see everything. This would have been better if Clarissa was a bit older and we had studied Korean history. But she did enjoy seeing the different boats and weapons. 

When Clarissa saw this model of Hwaseong Fortress, she asked if it was The Great Wall. I explained to her that mommy and daddy walked this Hwaseong Fortress before she was born in 2012 but one of our next trips will be China so we can walk on the Great Wall. 

Back outside, there are several planes, boats, tanks, and missles. Some South Korean, some American, and some captured from the North. 

Behind the machines was a children’s museum. The children’s museum was…interesting. Admission was free but you needed a ticket. Tickets were for a specific time: 9-950, 10-1050, etc. We arrived at 1130 and they were hesitant to give us a ticket for 11-1150.

The museum was very small. There were a few activities, mostly in Hangul. Each station had an ajumma attendant. Some were nicer than others. One lady was trying to push us through because of time but we still had ten minutes left. That was frustrating. The coolest part was this exhibit. 

The top picture is Korea today. The bottom picture is during the war. Same exhibit, just from a different angle. 

It might be worth it to go at the beginning of a time slot, but Clarissa was content to look at the big things outside. There was a place to park your stroller as you entered the children’s museum. 

Seoul: Insadong and Museums 

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We started our Wednesday morning at the largest Kyobo bookstore in Seoul. They had a very large English section and a reading area for kids complete with a world map. It was mostly college textbooks and children’s books with a large section of books perfect for homeschooling.

Next we headed to Insadong.

We walked through Tapgol Park to see some architecture.

Insadong is my favorite place to shop in Seoul. There are street vendors and shops all over the place selling traditional Korean items and crafts. I found something for everyone on my Christmas list.

We had lunch at Cafe Hollywood on one of the side streets. It is an Asian fusion restaurant so they have traditional Korean food but they also have things like pizza and French fries. They have a Cafe on the first floor and a restaurant on the second. The fresh squeezed juices are amazing.

Clarissa’s favorite part of Insadong was Dr Fish. For 9,000 won, you put your feet in the water and little fish come and eat the dead skin off your feet. At first, she was afraid because it tickled. But by the end, she let them nibble her hand. Apparently my feet are the most gross, because the fish seemed to like me best…

After Insadong, we took the subway to Children’s Grand Park to see the Seoul Children’s Museum. 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.

On Thursday we headed to the Gwacheon National Science Museum. It costs 4,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for kids age 7-13 (Korean age). Honestly, we were not impressed with the museum itself. Most exhibits were in Hangul only. Several were broken or closed, including the dinosaurs. The space section was pretty good.

There were also a few dinosaurs outside.

There was a planetarium and a space world you could pay extra for, but Clarissa wasn’t old enough. She did really enjoy the insectarium though.

They had an exhibit at the end that showed how people could eat insects that we thought was funny.

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.