Friday, November 4, 2016

Trip of a Lifetime!

Twenty-six years ago, Paul went on an LDS mission to Seoul, Korea.  We've been wanting to go there for a visit ever since.  The stars aligned, and Woo, Hoo!  Best vacation EVER!  We were able to spend two glorious weeks in beautiful Korea.

We try to be very careful with money, and I was touched when two different unexpected sources just "happened" that pretty much paid for the entire trip, along with our ability to redeem our stockpile of points for the flights, and through the generosity of friends and family living there who offered to host and feed us.  What a tender mercy, and we are so grateful! (We also couldn't have done it without such an immense support system of friends and family who sacrificed to help things go smoothly at home.)

10-22-2016 Saturday

We flew over the desert wasteland of Siberia into Incheon Korea yesterday and Chris (Paul's Brother who lives in Korea--he works for the State Dept.) picked us up and took us to Kang Young Il's house.  

Side note:  The 1st conversation we had with Chris was about diplomatic immunity.  He probably won't go to jail, but he could be kicked out of the country.  Here's hoping he keeps his nose clean!  I shouldn't tell this, but it was also a big perk to Paul that we had embassy plates as he drove around in the crazy, baffling traffic.

Chris, Kang Young Il, Paul and I

Kang Young Il was a member of our church and was very kind to the missionaries when Paul was here.  When she caught wind that we were coming, she graciously offered to host us overnight.  Chris came to dinner with us that night, and it was so delicious! 
There was a table full of side dishes, and the center of the table was a stove where they cooked our meat.  When the 1st one was finished cooking on the skillet-type pan, they changed the pan out for a steam-barbecue grill and cooked more meat.  
We ate three types of beef--Bulgogi from the grills and one was a side-dish of raw marinated beef.  It was delicious, but I only ate one piece because it didn't seem safe.  

Image result for korean raw marinated beef dish  
Raw bee

Image result for korean kimchi
basic standard kimchi
There were three sides of different kinds of kimchi (fermented, spicy cabbage). 

Other sides included chopchae (Paul calls them gummy noodles); a green salad with divine sweet tomatoes and lotus flowers and squishy sea cucumbers; two kinds of shrimp, quail eggs; two other types of salad--mint leaves and a spinach-dip type; kimchi chigae (soup); also super spicy octopus. I tried it all except for the spicy standard kimchi, as my mouth was already burning from the octopus, and I've had it enough to know that it only tastes good to me if I'm pregnant.  I'm not.  

Barley tea was served at the meal, and a fruity tea/juice was served at the end.  It was all delicious!  (Except the kimchi and the octopus.)  The table was just full of delicious food.  
I felt like you could roll me out the door when I was done, but Kung Young Il was worried that I barely ate anything.  It's probably some Korean thing to say no matter how much food your guest stuffs into herself.  She was very solicitous and constantly worried about my comfort.  There's a Korean saying at the dinner table that translates roughly to, "The person next to me died, and the food was so delicious that I didn't notice."  Exactly.

Kung Young Il had the barley tea in her home, and they drink it instead of water as the water must be either boiled or bottled.  My new favorite smell in the world is barley tea, and whenever I smell it I will return in my mind to the Heaven that is Korea.  
Image result for korean barley tea
Hot, cold, warm, it doesn't matter.  I love it!
We then walked around and went to a light festival where it was just a big park covered in man-made flowers that were lit up.  it was beautiful.
Kung Young Il lives in a very modern apartment.  It's big and open-no carpet anywhere.  The new apartments there are very tall, and one floor is one apartment.  They are SO QUIET.  The living room had a computerized panel on a wall that controlled the electronics throughout the house.  The outside walls were giant windows that looked out onto the city.  It was all tile and wood, and I enjoyed seeing all her knick-knacks and artwork.  The house was very quiet, clean, and spare--the exact opposite of ours.  I loved it!  What a cool opportunity to experience Korean life.

We had awakened Thursday morning at 5:30 am, and arrived in Korea Friday afternoon around 4:30 pm.  (14 hours give or take flying and a 13 hour time difference.) but basically we had been awake almost 24 hours straight by the time bedtime rolled around.  I was a zombie.  We staggered to be around 10:30 or so, and then Paul and I woke up around 5:30 am for no apparent reason.  (It was 3:30 pm back home.) We went back to sleep until about 7:30.

Now is the time to explain that I married a morning person who rises early, especially on vacation. 

We met Kung Young Il's husband and twenty year-old daughter.  She also has a son we didn't meet--he's at school far away somewhere.  
In Korea, they don't distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner; they're all just meals, so we had a huge morning meal with kimchi, a delicious oyster egg onion soup with the shells still attached, duk--a pressed rice that is like a big gummy patty that is really, really difficult to chew and swallow.  One of the duk was rolled in split dry lentils, and one was green and folded over a paste of soybean paste and sugar.  They both tasted good, but the consistency was just wrong for me.  
There was also a lettuce salad with a sweet dressing, quail eggs, tomatoes, etc. and some fresh persimmon-type fruit (YUM!).  The main dish was a California/sushi roll that was delicious.  I like seaweed.  

Again with the barley tea, oh!  I love that stuff!

We then drove with Kung Young Il and her husband to the Joseon Dynasty Korean Folk Village and stayed for about 5 hours. 

There was a guided tour with a headset to listen to as we wandered.  We saw everything from pagoda type homes to straw thatched peasant homes.  People dressed in the traditional dress and reenacted some of the lifestyle. (Joseon Dynasty from July 1392 to October 1897).

The English translations were very entertaining.  Here is a sample taken from the map they gave us.

"Wow~It's great~!
Let's have a big round of fun
Why not come to this place where you can enjoy traditional performance including our mirth and spirit and really-alive people in the Joseon dynasty are bustling!"

We watched a 4 act performance of (1) a traditional drum/dancing group with an assortment of percussion instruments and bright costumes.  

They had caps with that each had a revolving stick hooked to a long ribbon that they flung around with their heads.  They were amazing, and it was beautiful.  
Then we watched a (2) horse show with acrobatics, bow and arrow tricks, swords and whips.

They had (3) modern dancers that did a combination of break-dancing, flips, popping-robot stuff and Gangnam Style.  
We then watched a (4) traditional wedding reenactment. 

 During the wedding, and old woman quietly crept to the front of the crowd and then sat calmly in the dirt to watch the show.  At the end, the people closest to her helped her up and she went on her way.

For lunch at the restaurant I had Mongolian barbecue beef and curry rice.  They served water, and I really hope it was clean.

As we left the Village to go, we stopped to buy ice cream and two little girls came up to me and said, "Ice cream is delicious!"  I complemented them on the English and they went away giggling.  It was fun to walk around, several people said, "Hello" as we walked by.

After touring the Folk Village they drove us to a real Buddhist Monastery.  Oh, beautiful Korea in the autumn!
We saw a staggering amount of Buddha statues, many rock towers, a big mural of the life of Buddha, some beautiful temples, and many decorations.  

It was built upon the side of a high hill, and was just breathtakingly beautiful with the leaves falling and all the color.  

For $10,000.00 won ($10 US) one can buy a little prayer key chain thing and write your wish on it and hang it at the monastery on a tree or a wire.  It will remain there for a year.  
There was a small fountain/spring with some community dippers to catch the water from an drink it.  We declined to participate in that one.  
Inside the temple.  One could remove her shoes and pray inside.

Rock towers everywhere commemorating people they love

Many, many Budhas.  Some with familiar hand positions.

Finally, our friends drove us over 2 hours to Chris and Shennie's home in Seoul.  We drove there during rush hour, which seemed like a bad idea.  Chris and Shennie live on the American Embassy soil, and security is tight.  They have a large American-style home, and I wish I'd insisted that Kung Young Il had come in and stayed for a while, so she could see it.  But when we arrived Chris and Shennie weren't home and the neighbor told us to just walk in, which we did.  I didn't feel comfortable showing her around, as I had never been there.  But she was so gracious to show us her home, and it would have been nice to show her a little of how American's live. 

Things that surprised me:
--How many people know English, and how many translations are provided.  It's kind of like the Spanish translations on so many things in America, I guess.  
--How much old and new is scrambled together.  I liked how Kung Young Il referred to time:  It had been 26 years since Paul was here, and he commented on how much it has changed.  She replied, "Yes, it has changed twice."
Her husband explained that a generation is 10 years, so it had been more than two generations since he had been here.
--Seasons are so much a part of the traditional culture.
Doesn't seem real somehow, but we took this picture while we hiked the steps.

--There is a lot of Chibi-style cartoon characters everywhere, and a lot of English sayings on t-shirts.
--Whereas little girls in America will leave the house in full princess regalia sometimes, the little girls here wear a hanbok (full traditional wedding dress.)  So darling!  Also, most people here have one or two children, and often they dress their kids alike.  It was cute.
--The people like to pose for pictures, either with a two finger "peace" sign or some other pose.
--There is not much paper waste at all.  The dishes at restaurants and food court are real, not paper.  The napkins are very small and thin.  The Koreans are required to sort all their trash before they take it out, and they are very careful to conserve.

I just feel so thankful that Kung Young Il would open her home to us and show us how they live.  She's never lived anywhere else, she's only visited China once, and I felt that it was a real immersion into the life of a Korean family.  It was an amazing experience. 

Such generosity, that they would give us so much of themselves!
I will love her forever.

I think the picture that we got from being in their home was one of upper-middle or even upper class living in Korea.

10/23/16 Sunday

Last night we had a little trouble finding Chris and Shennie's home, on the Embassy land.  They were at a church activity and weren't home yet.  We  let ourselves in to their American-style home, and I heard gasps behind me as I walked into the hallway without removing my shoes.  Oops!  My brain was already back in America.  Really, who knows how many times and people I have already inadvertently offend while I've been here.  
Seriously, it is so beautiful here!

In an interesting twist of culinary fate, we ate borscht for dinner that night!  They'd had a cultural night at church, and since they had just transferred from three years in Kazakhstan,  there was a crock pot full of borscht.  That also was delicious!  Oh, I am eating my weight in food here!

I woke up in the middle of the night again (3:30 in the afternoon back home) and couldn't go back to sleep.  I laid there and marveled at Kung Young Il's amazing generosity and thoughtfulness.  She bought milk and bread--just for me!  She offered it a couple of times, and I declined.  I should have eaten some just to acknowledge her thoughtfulness, but it didn't occur to me that she would have it there for any other reason then just to have it.  Doesn't everyone have milk and bread?  No, you ninny!

We rode the subway to get to church.  Paul wanted to visit the area where he had been a missionary the longest (6 months) to see if he knew anyone.  Church was so awesome!!!

When we stepped out of the subway, there just happened to be some Sister Missionaries standing there.  They were so happy to see us, and we were so happy to see them!  They were waiting for some girls who were going to church with them who will be baptized soon.  
One of the missionaries is from Virginia, and she had only been there for 3 months.  She was happy to speak English.

The ward (congregation) we went to had 3 or 4 sets of missionaries working in it, and one of those translated for me during the main meeting.  He's from Smithfield Utah!  I'm going to text his parents tomorrow when it's not the middle of the night.  

Paul and the Sunday School manual on helped me to understand some of Sunday School.  

Then there was a sweet English teacher who helped me during Relief Society (the women's meeting).  

We began the Relief Society meeting with a few minutes of yoga! This should become a world-wide practice, in my opinion.

I can't even explain how much love and acceptance we felt at church!  So many women hugged me, and so many men shook our hands or bowed to us.  They would stop to talk and welcome us.  Oh, I felt so loved!  

We were introduced to a student who is attending a school in America.  It turned out to be one 10 minutes from our home!  We invited her and her cousin to come to our house on Christmas day.  Now that I know, I hope to always be aware of others who are coming from different cultures.  I was so thankful for a chance to pay it forward and am excited to see her again in December.

There were very few children in the ward--like 5 maybe, and only one baby that I could see.  It was impossible to know who the mother was, as so many women always encircled her and they passed that cutie around all day.

The missionaries gave me some fliers that advertised free English lessons in Seoul that I could hand out as a way to introduce people to our church, and I gave one to a woman and her little girl on the bus after showing her a picture of our freakishly large family.  People here have one or two children, that's it.  They are losing population.  

I love being here at my brother-in-law's home.  They have 5 children, and it just feels like home.  Their kids are darling, and the baby is particularly delicious.  (They, too, are a freak show with so many kids.)

10/24/16 Monday
This morning Paul and Chris went biking and since we weren't planning to leave the house until about 10:00, I asked him to let me sleep.  I slept. And slept.  At 9:30 I woke with a gasp and wondered what time it was.  I'd slept about 12 hours (except for the middle of the night hour that I couldn't sleep).  I staggered around, trying to get ready to go.  I guess the adrenaline has run out and the jet lag has set in.
Anyway, we went to two of the marketplace in Seoul.  Nam Dae Mun and Dong Dae Mun. 

Words cannot describe the Korean marketplace!  I loved it.  We started with a treat, hoduck which was a delicious pancake with sweet filling. 

Oh, the marketplace!  It's a million little shops in tiny little spaces, inside buildings and outside, with a million different owners, each in his or her tiny little space.  Anything you are looking for is there, if you can find it.  People sat minding their shops, eating their lunches, which were not convenience food.  The whole amazing atmosphere and smells and it was just teeming with people and I just soaked it in and felt giddy like a little kid. 
Inside this little store were a lot of tiny stalls.  Each was its own "store"

There were the most modern things for sale, carried in on the backs of workers in an impossibly high stack.  
One of the shop owners told me not to touch the stuff, only look.  

Old and new--man carrying in supplies on his back, next to a very modern building.

Shennie said that those rules only apply to that square foot of his shop.
One of my favorite parts--Korean taffy making.  This lady was adorable.
We stopped to watch a woman make candy.  She would fold it over and stretch it and was counting the times it would double over in English. By the time she was done, the candy could be spread apart like silk threads.  She put some pine nuts inside it and wrapped the honey taffy thread rope around it.  It was really good. It was called Ta Rae--Korean traditional taffy.

We Chinese food in the food court, but it was just like Korean food in my mind.  We had tong su yuk, which was a batter-fried pork with a sweet and sour sauce, jjajangmyeon which Chris and Shennie called "motor oil noodles," kim pop which was the California roll/sushi thing we had for breakfast the first day, and mu which was a thin sliced marinated radish. I enjoyed it all.  

10/25/16 Tuesday
This morning we rode the subway into the Seoul Temple to attend an endowment session (with English translation headsets).  
Korean Temple
The asked us to be the witness couple, which made me cry. 
It was beautiful to see the Celestial room with its unique decorations.
Afterward, we happened to bump into the Seoul mission president's wife, Sis. Sonksen and a bunch of sister missionaries that had attended the session previous to ours.

She is friends with Andrew's mission president and his wife!  (Her husband is from Fresno, CA.)
We then had a really cool conversation with a young woman from Russia, who flew to Seoul for a week to attend the temple.  She works in the temple around 6 hours a day, and stays in the dorms that are connected to the temple.  What a sacrifice to be a member in Russia.  I admire her so much!  We offered to take her to lunch, but she declined--she doesn't like Korean food, and would eat at McDonalds later.

We rode the bus back to the Keeleys, and then headed out on our own for a couple of days. 
Seems kinda high up, huh?

We drove to the Garden of the morning calm in Gapyeong.  I know that I just keep saying BEAUTIFUL, but seriously! 
Here is where we climbed a little...

We stayed in this hotel room.

And ate at this restaurant.  The bowl in the middle of the table just had water in it, and we were able to add vegetables and meat to it.

Then when it was cooked, we pulled the meat and veggies out and wrapped them in these round rice papers after soaking them in the hot radish water to soften it until it was a gummy texture.

It kind of made a little burrito-type thing.

When the waitress was explaining why we should order this meal, she kept speaking about the dessert at the end.  When we finished the meal and asked for our dessert, she pulled out a bowl of different vegetables with some hot bean paste and dumped it all into our pot to cook.  It was soup.  With a bowl of rice.  Dessert.
I think she meant a 2nd course.  It was a funny joke on me.  Also, delicious.

10/26/16 Wednesday
Every time Paul takes a food picture, I look interesting.
 This was our "American Breakfast"  in the hotel.  Eggs, orange juice, sausage (a hot dog) ham, kiwi, apples, oranges, 3 pieces of toast, and of course, cabbage salad.  Um, it is required to have cabbage at every meal.

We headed to the Seoraksan Mountain and did a pre-pre-hike hike up to a Korean Budhist monastery and then a pre-hike hike up the mountain to a rock.  

We then rode this tram up the Seoraksan mountainside.  No worries, there was a sizeable hike at the top.  We were going to hike down, but didn't have time. (Also, I might have died.)
Don't worry, we were able to climb to the top
Quite a lot of the translations here are wacky, but in front of the Buddhist monastery there was a quote that was right on the money.

"Every creature living in the sea of suffering longs to have eternal happiness."

We then headed to the ocean, and I just sat on the beach for a really long time while Paul caught rare water Pokemon for The Game Master (16), who really doesn't want anything but Pokemon from Korea.  

I feel that part of me is missing, and I find that piece in the rolling waves of the ocean.  It's my healing place.
After the beach, we drove to the next destination.  We drove and drove.  And drove.  And drove.   Past construction guy dummies posed along the route, past farm after farm of beautiful crops and people working in the fields.

We kept on driving, and our route took us up a mountain onto dirt roads.  We drove and drove, farther away from civilization and closer and closer to nowhere.  Our British GPS lady stopped saying, "Carry On" and started to lose her stiff upper lip as we continued to drive.  "You're going the wrong direction." she repeated over and over again.  But we went where she told us to go, and there was nothing more!  It began to get dark.  I started to giggle.

Then, right on cue, a Fairy Village/Bad Dream/Pintrest Fail of a castle appeared in the air before us.  It was our hotel, the Happy Elf.
By this time we were both laughing to so hard it hurt.  

Our room, a fairyland for lovers.  The netting behind the headboard came from a circle of flowers on the ceiling.  There was also a chandelier.

We had no idea where to get dinner, and found a flyer advertising breakfast (which we had purchased for the next day) which also had a dinner advertisement on it.  We were miles from EVERYWHERE, so we found the cafe, and peeked into it.  Luckily the girl who spoke English was there with the cook, eating her dinner.  They were surprised to see us, and graciously allowed us to purchase dinner, even though they weren't planning on us, and everyone else (the workers) had already eaten.

The bed in our room was just as hard as the floor we had slept in the night before.

I forgot to mention, the Koreans heat their floors, it's how they heat the house--with a hot water system.  I LOVE warm floors.

A Word About Bathrooms in Korea:

I experienced something new just about every time I had to use the facilities.  
There was everything from this squatter:
Shennie was kind enough to demonstrate the proper use of the squatter for me.  She said she'd spent  a lot of time trying to figure it out, and no one was willing to show her. 
Fortunately, I was spared from having to use one, but I paid for my unwillingness once when some old ladies got off a tour bus and felt desperate to use the toilet.  The bathroom was empty when I started, and I had ducked into the only stall with a real toilet, possibly the "Handicapped Accessible" stall, which was funny, because to get to the bathroom in the first place, we had to scale about 30 wooden steps.  One lady was a 100 year-old psyche ward escapee that walked in on me, got angry, and wouldn't shut the screen until I finished my business and left her to it.  She pounded on the screen while I helplessly did my thing, and then cussed me out when I finally finished. Hell hath no fury like an ajumma with a full bladder facing a wimpy foreigner, I guess.

Anyway, to use the bathroom that featured the squatter (in the public market) women must walk past the very public, open men's room and just try to keep their eyes down as they did so.  (Paul remembers old ladies with their mops, mopping between the men's legs as they stood at urinals.)  

To this very decorative Happy Elf Hotel toilet,

Some of the apartments had amazingly automated deluxe bidet-style toilets with more selections than a remote control (all written in Hangul).

Then there was every conceivable experience in between.

Once I sat down in a freezing bathroom after a hike and the toilet seat was heated, (Oh, bliss! Thank you to whomever left it on!) but there was no paper in the stall--not even a place for it.

Some of the bathrooms had the toilet paper on the OUTSIDE of the stall--thus forcing you to assess your needs before the deed.  Some figured we wouldn't need toilet paper, maybe.

Most of the public toilets had instructions on the door.  My favorites were the animated ones that showed us how to use the toilet--we don't stand on the seat and use it like a squatter, we don't put trash in, but we do put toilet paper in, etc.  Some of the English translations in the bathrooms were hysterical.

Most had hand washing facilities, but rarely was there a paper towel.  Sometimes there was an air dryer, and some even apparently piped cold air in from the Syberia for your hand-drying experience.  Most of the time we just waved our hands around to dry them.

One of the public bathrooms had a stall with a mother's toilet, a little kid toilet, and a little kid urinal with a cute bug painted on it to show where to aim.  Mom and the kids could all go together.  What a brilliant concept!

The private, modern apartment bathrooms were amazing.  I was surprised to find that they all use microfiber hand-towel sized towels to dry off after a shower instead of our bath-sized towels.

10/27/16  Thursday
Breakfast this morning was Pumpkin Porridge and Vegetable Porridge.  The cook seemed surprised and dismayed to see us again until we showed her that we had pre-purchased breakfast.  We were given breakfast in disposable tupperware and sent back to our room to eat.  We were supposed to wash all our dishes and take out and sort our trash before we left, which we did.
We checked out and talked again to the girl who spoke English really well.  As we drove away, Paul felt impressed that we should go back.  I had taken a couple of copies of the Book of Mormon with the hopes of sharing the gospel and being a Missionary in Korea, and I took a copy of one in English and one in Korean in to the girl and presented them to her as a gift.  She then presented me with a new $2 bill American for luck.  I was SO HAPPY!  I can't even describe it.
(I prayerfully set a goal before we left to give away 4 copies of the Korean translation of the Book of Mormon, and 1 copy in English.  I was able to meet my goal, and to also give away a pass-along advertising missionary-taught English classes in Seoul given to me by a Sister Missionary. I'll write about this in my personal journal.)

We then went to Yeongwol to the Jangneung Royal Tomb.  He was a prince crowned king at age 12 and usurped by his uncle, demoted, exiled and the forced to eat poison and die.  He's been made into a sort of national hero martyr and we saw his tomb and then visited the peninsula where he was exiled.
When we first got there, I was dismayed to find that the bathroom only had squatters except for a handicapped bathroom stall of sorts.  Instead of a door, it had a folding curtain thing that didn't lock.  As I was alone in the bathroom, I was relieved and started to use the facility.

A bus full of old Korean ladies wearing matching yellow jackets must have just arrived, because they quickly filled the bathroom, and two of them opened the curtain and started to come in on me. One of them left the curtain open, and another one started to come in.  She was furious, and started banging on the curtain while I finished my business.  As I left the bathroom, I met her with a loud "Hello!" in Korean, and she cussed me up one side and down the other for not using the squatter.  I just raised my hands up and shrugged my shoulders, and her friend met my eye and we laughed together as the grouchy old lady marched into HER OWN PERSONAL stall. 

It was interesting to see the beautiful structures, the breathtaking view and to watch a video about the intricate burial tradition.  A field trip of little kids came in while we were there and we got a lot of "Hello"s.  Two little girls were especially bold and spoke a lot of English with us.  One then offered us a piece of candy.  They were adorable and it was so fun!
We then drove to the exile island and walked up the 50 million steps to the top of the hill to buy tickets for the ferry.  When we got to the top, Paul said, "Oh, look!  An elevator."  Funny.
We then went down a million steps to the ferry, rode across, and walked through the beautiful park.

If there is a mountain to climb or stairs to ascend, then Paul will want to plow ahead, so we did.  We climbed SO MANY STAIRS, and then climbed down some of them and then up again to the other side.  Hundreds of stairs.  My calves are KILLING ME!
Then back across the ferry and up more stairs.

We then drove to Yeongwal and walked through the small open market.  We ate a a Paris Baguette which was delicious. 
 Paul had a hot dog and I had a bagel with meat, cheese and a delicious tomato sauce.  The bun in the middle was filled with a whipped peanut butter and was good.

We then drove through the country, and then hit rush hour traffic in Seoul, which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  It's almost easier to just close your eyes and hope for the best.  When it's not moving, it's a parking lot, and then when it is, it's a thrilling death ride.  Somehow we made it safely back to Chris and Shennies.

(On a side-note: Shennie has been very gracious.  Chris sort-of forgot to mention to her that he had offered us the use of their only vehicle for our road trip.  It made for some last-minute scrambling for dance, pre-school, and soccer plans.)
__ Friday, October 28, 2016
Today we flew to Jeju (or Cheju) Island, but before our flight, we had time to visit a National Museum by Chris and Shennie's home.  There was quite a lot more information about the Joseon Dynasty, with a lot of calligraphy, ancient books, woodwork, pottery, mother of pearl inlay, etc.  It was a nice way to spend the morning, and there were a lot of cute Korean kids having field trips.  We then walked through a park by the museum and then walked back to Chris' house.
On the plane to Jeju do there was an older Korean man sitting next to me.  I pulled out a granola bar and gave one to Paul, opened one myself, and then on a whim offered one to the guy next to me.  He never really looked at me, but casually took it and ate it while we flew.  
Kim Kyoung Nae picked us up from the airport.  I hadn't seen her for over 20 years, and it was so fun to see her again--this time in HER country. 

 Jeju Island is PARADISE!!!  So beautiful!
We went back to their new, modern apartment that was quite similar to Kung Young Il's apartment, with electronic controls throughout the apartment, and huge surround-windows, but her house had some amazing frescoes carved into the wall panels.  We watched a little bit of Mirror Mirror with subtitles (a very weird American movie if watched through the eyes of a Korean, or even an American, I guess...) until Kim Sung Su was done with work.  He runs an English school, so works from about 4:00pm to 11:00pm each day.  
View from the apartment

Most Korean students go to school around 7:00 am (eating breakfast in the car on the way) and then eat lunch and dinner at school, and then go to more school at private after-school schools, like Kim Sung Su's.  They place a lot of emphasis on scholarship, and there is a big test once a year that pretty much determines a High School Senior's fate.  If they pass, they can go to college, if not, they can try again next year or get a menial job.
When Kim Sung Su was done with work, we picked him and they took us to a cool restaurant with a barbecue in the middle of the table, this time with hot coals inside and a screen on the outside to cook the meat on.  The cool tubes are exhaust fans.

Kim Sung Su and Kim Kyoung Nae

We ate marinated pork cooked on the grill, cut into bites and then wrapped in 3 types of leaves with onion, kimchi, different sauces, etc. wrapped in the leaf. There were some garlic cloves that were basically soaked in what could only have been Hellfire--it took me a few minutes to identify the source of the pain, and there was some pig intestine that I tried once, and some raw liver that I could not chew after the first spurt of bloody disgustingness filled my mouth.  I will always be thankful that I did Not swallow the raw liver.  Ew.  I woke up that night thinking about how disgusting that bite was.  There was also a green salad with yummy dressing, cold noodles in a spicy hot sauce, boiled egg slices, bean paste, and sesame oil to dip in.
We  drank "Cider" which was like a 7-Up soda.  Overall delicious!

Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016
Mayli's 18th birthday!  I really missed her.

For breakfast Kyoung Nae cooked a kind of breakfast sandwich with thick toast, fried eggs (fully cooked!) mozzarella cheese, sweet pickles, milk, juice and mayo, mustard, and ketchup.  It was an American breakfast for us, as they usually skip breakfast.  
We then drove a few minutes to the coast intending to go fishing, but the waves were too choppy and the wind too harsh.  I stood and soaked in the waves for a minute, and Kim Sung Su explained that his mother had been an ocean diver.  
"This is my mother" Kim Sung Su said as we came to this statue

When he was a small child, there was a central well on the island about 1 km away from his home where they would have to pack the water for their home and family.  
Woman carrying water to her family

Oh my happiness!

We drove along the coast, stopping to watch some brave souls wind-sailing, and then saw fence lines with flags waving from them. 

 Turned out that the "flags" were squid drying, and there were several roadside stands with little old ladies waving dried squid at passers-by.  We stopped and bought one, which she warmed on a hotplate and cut into pieces.  

Squid jerky.  It was ok tasting, and made the car smell.

We then hiked up to another monastery, and Kyoung Nae showed me that I could take my shoes off and go it--it was really cool.  

(Before I was worried that I would be killed as a foreigner--like in the bathrooms with the ajumma.Image result for korean old lady)  
All through the island, there were statues of the little fertility god that Paul innocently purchased for each member of his family when he returned home from his mission. His sister had to point out that the hat of the fertility god was a lot more than just a hat!

So, we purchased a few more for some select family members.Also some chocolate made from these molds.

For lunch we had chopche and rice. Kim Sung Su had a seafood soup.

Then we went on a very long, arduous hike. It turns out that Kim Sung Su is also a brisk hiker, and luckily his wife was short and stubby like me, so we were able to go at a more acceptable pace, kinda.
We then walked through the local marketplace which had more fish than I thought possible.
Also pig heads, and other pig parts

Also stuffed intestines

and fish, lots of fish.

We watched them torch this and then tasted it.  It was a cream cheese, pasta, shrimp filling inside a clam shell.  It was good.
Then we tried a corndog-looking treat that was a big cheese stuffed fishstick.  Not my favorite. 

We then went to the Korean version of a Walmart which was very discombobulating right after so many Korean markets.  Very weird.

We went from the market to a church Trunk-or-Treat.  The Koreans don't really do Halloween, but the missionaries and foreigners take over the ward and have a Halloween party for everyone.  It was a lot of fun--there was one decorated car trunk, and the candy was Korean candy, like scorched rice drops, etc.  One of the American members that were there teaching in a foreign school brought Rice Crispy treats, which were a HUGE hit, (who knew they don't have them here?) and some Halloween napkins which were totally unique to the Koreans.  Kim Sung Su saved one.

There were 3 sets of missionaries in the ward, and I slobbered over them all.  I made them give me their parents' phone numbers and I texted their Mamas with their pictures.  It makes me so happy when someone does that for me!

Sunday Oct 30
We had a delicious lettuce salad with cheese, tomatoes, peppers and an oil dressing, a fruit salad, and mandu, which is my favorite so far.

We then went to church, which was again, so much fun!  There are Koreans, Americans, and Phillipean members, so there was a lot of translating going on. The missionary translating into my earpiece would get mixed up sometimes and it was funny.  He did a great job, though.
It was fun to see the cute young Korean translator while an American was speaking.  He would forget to stop and let her translate, and her grin would get wider and wider until the congregation would start giggling and he would stop and apologize.

I was impressed by their amazing faith.  They were very humble and loving, and sacrifice a lot to be members here.

After church we had a delicious lunch of chicken legs, rice, kimchi and breaded tofu cubes.  My favorite food in the country so far has been the food that Kyoung Nae prepared at home.

We then took a nap for about an hour, and then went driving around.  Kim Sung Su was the 1st person to be baptized on Juju island, and he took us to the place in the ocean where he was baptized.  
There was an hour long hike which took us up and down the cliffs of insanity.   
We then ate rice and kimchee and a beef stir-fry and beef chopche which is another favorite--a gummy-noodle thing with veggies and beef, and more salad, etc.  When she cooks a meal, she really cooks a meal.
We sat on the couch and watched some of the Piano Guys on youtube before we ate, and then we sat around the table and talked about school and families, etc for a really long time.  I can't describe the love I feel for these people.  It feels like we're lifelong friends.

Monday, Oct. 31

We had a breakfast of pastries from the bakery, with yogurt, fruit, cheese and cereal.
Then we stopped for a souvenir at a "stationery" store and headed to the airport.
At the airport, I felt impressed to share a Book of Mormon and a big bag of Jelly Bellys with a cute little family.  It makes me so happy to do that--like I'm a missionary in Korea!

We ate lunch in the airport at a Dunkin' Donuts.  It was fun to see the different donut fillings that aren't quite American--like a bean paste donut, etc...funny.  We just got sandwiches.

Then we went trick-or-treating on the Embassy grounds with Chris and Shennie and their kids.  They all ran out of candy 45 minutes into the designated trick or treat time, as everyone seems to have invited Korean friends and friend-of-friends to celebrate the American holiday with them.  I don't blame them, it's a pretty fun experience.

Tuesday, Nov. 1
Today we went to the DMZ, but we weren't scheduled to be at the USO until 10, so we went to the Korean War museum.  We walked around about 30 minutes looking at the statues, tanks, weapons and planes until it opened at 9:00, and then we toured the museum until it was time to go to the  DMZ tour.  

Paul's dad fought and was wounded in the Korean war.  After his mission, Paul's dad met him in Korea and they toured around together before going home.

I now feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the general history of the country from the 3 Kingdoms time, through the Joseon Dynasty period, through the Japanese rule until the end of world war II, and then the Korean war to the present.

At the USO building, we boarded a bus and headed for the DMZ (Demilitarized zone between Communist North Korea and Democratic South Korea). It was only about an hour from Seoul.
Optimistic map of the subway after reunification
The security was tight, and they checked our passports about 4 times in various areas.
As soon as we got this far, a Korean military guy came and firmly blocked us from going farther.
We visited the railroad station, and purchased a ticket as though we would be able to ride through North Korea, Russia, China, to Spain, maybe?  Anyway, they were very clear that they had high hopes for reunification some day, and were planning for it.  The fall of the Berlin wall gave them a lot of hope.
The South Korean guards around the tracks were all business, and they quietly moved to block anyone who looked like they were about to be stupid.  It was a very sobering and solemn tour.

Side note:  It seems that the tour was recently modified and restricted even more when President Clinton was there visiting and he jumped out of the car and ran into a restricted area before the guards or the secret service men could stop him.  Lovely.
They were very strict about where and when we could take pictures.

We then went for lunch.  There were two choices, it cost 10000 won for the bulkolgi buffet which we had.  It was good.  There were sides of kimchi, rice, french toasty bread slices, scrambled eggs, cabbage salad, seaweed, and duk (I don't like this).  
We then went to the Observation post, where we were introduced to more of the history and the explanation about the DMZ.  We could then look through binoculars to North Korea.

North Korea
They were playing loud propaganda music.  It seems that there are a lot of petty things going on at the DMZ.  When North Korea isn't blasting propaganda to South Korea, South Korea is blasting KPOP at them.  Which would be worse? (Possibly the KPop)
It was kinda fun to think that just beyond that mountain is a whole arsenal of weapons just ready to go.  The American soldier working there said it was supremely boring, with the underlying knowledge that the potential for extreme excitement lying just beneath the surface.  He claimed to be looking forward to his Afghanistan duty in 6 months.

One of North Korea's observation points

They also had a little tiff about building sizes, trying to outdo each other, and also flag height.  Kinda funny in a really sad way.  The South Koreans do it all tongue-in-cheek, but the North Koreans are deadly serious.
Sky scraper apartments in North Korea don't actually have elevators.  30th story owners have a hard life.
Also, the village was made to tempt South Koreans to cross over--they played a lot of propaganda advertisements loudly.
No one took them up on it, and it's not real anyway.

So, the North Koreans started digging an elaborate series of tunnels under the DMZ in the hopes of a surprise attack, and they found some of them.
We were able to visit tunnel 3.  It was an incredibly steep tunnel down and back up, but it was mostly paved, so it was a smooth path.  We had to wear helmets and duck down sometimes.  We could peek through a hole in a wall into the North Korea side of the tunnel.  They were pretty pleased with themselves that they had turned a potential disaster into a tourist attraction.
We were then able to go to the Joint Security Area, escorted by an American soldier.  Before we went in they carefully scrutinized our passports again, made us sign another release form, and then told us the rules.  They made sure no one was drunk, drugged or crazy, and told us not to make any hand gestures at all, or to take pictures unless they told us to.
We were then put into two orderly lines and we walked out to the building.  There were about 5 South Korean soldiers standing at attention in a menacing way, facing the North Korean building, and there was one North Korean soldier glaring at us the entire time from the front of his building.
There is a building on the line that both countries share and take turns with.  When they're negotiating, they each sit on their side of the table.
I thought I was in my soldier pose.  I guess I need to practice my look.
Americans in North Korea

We went into the building, and were able to go into their side of the building, so technically we were in North Korea!  We could then take pictures with the South Korean guards at attention if we didn't stand too close to one, and didn't go behind the other.

The army tour guide told us that they named the N. Korean guard Bob, and that it was hard to tell them apart sometimes, especially when the weather was bad.  This Bob was the one who wore the cheap Rolex knockoff.  (They usually told them apart by their watches.)
North Korean soldier "Bob"
We heard some sobering stories about a massacre that happened as someone trimmed a tree, a shooting as a Soviet tried to defect, and some villagers who were kidnapped.

There are people living and working inside the zone.  They must have owned the property before the Korean war, or be direct descendants of the owners.  In exchange for living and farming such a dangerous area, they are free from taxes, and from the two year mandatory army service that men must serve.

Rumor has it that in North Korea men have a 10 year mandatory army service, and women have a 5 year one.

We rode the bus home to Chris and Shennie's and arrived around 6:30.

Wednesday, Nov. 2
We visited the Korean National palace with Chris, Shennie and their two little girls who were not at school with the older boys.  
Haechi--the Korean version of our dog

It was interesting to walk around, and we were able to watch the changing of the guards.  (This was from the Joseon dynasty again.  They've had a president since their liberation from Japan at the end of WWII.)

Only the emperor is allowed to have 100 rooms in his palace, so the other noble structures we visited only had 99, but this one had 100.

We then got back together with Hwong Young Il (apparently I've been calling her the wrong name the entire time--there is no K sound at the beginning of the name.) and she was able to have the ground tour of the Keeley's home, and then the experience of riding the subway with 5 rowdies.  I think it surprised her.

It gave me a chance to show her a little of how my life is, and we both really opened up to each other about motherhood and trials.  I'm amazed at how much we were able to share despite the language barrier.

We rode to the Namsan Tower in Korea, and then rode the tram to the top.  They pushed us in like sardines.  It was awesome!   The weather has turned and now it is COLD!
Trees covered in lover's locks

There is a tradition there that lovers take a little lock, write something on it, and then hang it from the fences or one of the incredibly many trees.  There were millions of locks. It was a romantic place.

The view of Seoul was breathtaking, and I was tearfully emotional as I stood there with my new friend Hwong Young Il, who I just love so much, and kind of said goodbye to Korea.  

It's amazing to me how much I felt like we connected, and how much we understood each other with the language barrier, and the time constraints, but she will be my friend forever.  I have sisters in Korea!

We ate dinner up there, it was not the pricey "dinner at the top of the needle" dinner, but it was decent.  
The boys played the "How safe is the safety glass?" game for a short shocking minute.  (Turns out it is strong enough.  Whew!)

It was really fun to play corners (the boys call it jello) on the subway on the ride home and squish each other.  We then started telling bad jokes.  I miss little boys!

As we passed some tourist trap stalls at the subway, Hwong Young Il stopped us and bought us some souvenirs.  It really touched my heart that she would want to give us ANOTHER gift, as she had already given us such a priceless gift of sharing her home and love.
I can't express how much I love her, and I REALLY have to keep in touch with her and see her again.

Thurs. Nov. 2

This morning we went back to the Dong Dae Moon market for a couple of last-minute bargains.  It was so cool to see how much the merchandise had changed from Autumn stuff to winter stuff.  They have specific colors for specific seasons, so the entire color scheme had changed, and cold weather merchandise was out in full swing.  
Bought a picture from this artist--he signed it and wrote our name on it, too. 

The baby let me do kissie-cheeks with her throughout the store, and that made me supremely happy.   Their 4 year-old has figured out that she just has to say, "My legs are tired" and Uncle Paul will carry her on his shoulders.  Those two have had a glorious time together, and Paul keeps teasing her that he's going to take her home with him.  I tell him that's fine, but he has to sit by her on the 14 hour flight.

We're flying out in a few minutes, and I'm so happy that the Keeleys allowed me to use their laptop, as there's no way on this planet that I'm going to have time to blog for a while.

So many kind and generous people here and at home have sacrificed so that we could enjoy this amazing vacation!  I can't express enough my gratitude and love for those who hosted us, fed us, schlepped us around, loaned us their vehicles, showed us kindness, etc.  

And we couldn't have done it without friends and family who were so willing to help us at home with our children.  

My visiting teacher and son together did roughly 10 loads of laundry, many friends helped with homework and getting the crazies off to school.  (Not for the feint of heart!)  All this while they were hopped up on Halloween candy and birthday cake.

Halloween was fabulous with so many to help, and Mayli's 18th birthday was special with all the love shown.  

Bedtime is always a nightmare, and we appreciate that there were those willing to experience it.  (They got the full-immersion version of our insane "Whack a Mole" bedtime routine.)  Thank you, thank you!  What an experience!


Shennie said...

I finally got to see everything you've been typing for so long :)
Glad you could come!

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but it appears that some of the images you have used in "Trip of a Lifetime" May be copyrighted material. Please take the copyrighted material down, or we may be forced to partake in lawsuit. Most of our images are not under the creative commons, but in fact under the CC BY-NC-ND license. View If you do not understand. Thank you, if you have any concerns or questions just email us at

Thank you for understanding,
Best regards, Stock company.