Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The first few days

FYI: I wrote this post two days ago in Word since I don't have wireless right now. So all of this info is a bit late, but I still wanted to get it online. I will do another post with info from yesterday and today later tonight or tomorrow.

It’s 4a.m. and Mark and I can’t sleep. I woke up and a multitude of thoughts are running through my head as I process the experience we’ve had over the last two days.

Here is how the last 48 hours have gone for us:

 The flight was not as bad as we imagined. We left St. Louis for Washington D.C. at 7:50 a.m., but not before having a last breakfast with our parents at Denny’s. 

It was sad saying goodbye to them (I will admit I had a little breakdown in Lambert Airport when we waited for our flight and read the sweet letters written to us full of advice from my parents. Probably not the best time to read those, but they were much appreciated.)

When we boarded the plane for D.C., both of us had butterflies in our stomachs. That flight flew by.

Then we got out at the D.C. airport, had some Potbellies sandwiches and got ready for the looooong leg of the flight from Washington D.C. to Tokyo. When we first bought the tickets, we upgraded to economy plus and it was WELL worth the price. Mark even had a few inches between the seat in front of him and his knees.

The flight was kind of interesting – we went across Canada, over Alaska, through the tip of Russia to China and then Japan. We were well above the clouds, so there was nothing to see outside the windows, but it’s cool to think we were technically in 4 other countries.

The airplane was huge, here's a view of the area we sat in.

On the flight the stewardesses were constantly bringing around snacks, drinks, and 2 meals. Some were definitely better than others though… this chicken dish was not a hit. It was bright yellow - ugh...

Later in the flight we had some vegetarian lasagna that was pretty good! Sorry no pic of that.

Here's a shot of the outside of the plane (taken at Tokyo's Narita Airport).

In Japan, we had to go through a security checkpoint and we were both shocked at how happy and friendly the workers were. A far cry from the pissed off employees who appear to hate their jobs at Lambert.

After a 2 hour layover (that really flew), we boarded the plane for our final destination… SEOUL KOREA!

This flight was extremely smooth and before we knew it, we were walking off the plane to Incheon International Airport. There is no other way to describe this airport besides WOW! I have never seen such clean, shiny floors in such a public, crowded place. There were swarms of people, but everyone mostly seemed to keep to themselves, except when we reached the escalators. For about 5 to 10 minutes Mark and I just followed the crowd because they all seemed to know where they were going… we sure didn’t. 

When we reached the escalators, we heard a stampede made up of tiny Asian stewardesses.  Apparently there is some type of race down the escalators that we were not aware of because these tiny little girls were sprinting full speed, shoving their way down the escalator towards something?? When we reached the bottom, we realized there is a train that takes you from the concourse to the terminal. It arrives every 5 minutes and I guess these girls were determined NOT to wait because when they got to the packed train, they wedged themselves in.

Customs and immigration were a breeze. And (woohoo!) our luggage followed us safely to our final destination. 

Then we stopped at the currency exchange to convert every penny into Won. The American dollar is pretty strong against the Won right now, so that worked in our favor.

One thing we were both shocked by was at the currency exchange, the door to the booth was wide open with money sitting on the counter. Guess there really isn’t very much crime in Korea!

To the left of the currency exchange booth are sliding doors leading to Korea. It was kind of a whirlwind because the minute we stepped foot through these doors, we were greeted by 4 waving Koreans: my birth father, my brother SangKwun, his girlfriend Emily, and my birth father’s best friend, Yung. After a few brief hugs (and I mean brief -  Mark didn’t even have a chance to capture anything with the video camera), the took control of the situation. They began herding us toward the exit to their cars. (They got some sweet spots just steps away from the exit.)

We were informed that we were heading to my birth father’s apartment. The ride lasted about an hour and there wasn’t much conversation as there were some high emotions and our only translator (Emily) seemed slightly overwhelmed. She did tell me that SangKwun said something very sweet – that this meeting is like a dream to him. J Me too…

One thing that seemed to break the ice between the cultures were many references to Mark’s height. Just one of the many jokes we’ll hear over the next year I’m sure.

We arrived with our 6 overstuffed bags to birth father’s apartment and dropped them off. We then immediately walked the streets of Korea searching for a restaurant open at 12:30 a.m. After several blocks and a quick cab ride, we arrived at a 24 hour Korean restaurant. Sorry, I will get better at learning names as we go along. We all sat on the floor and I made my first faux pas by stepping on the main area in my tennis shoes. I guess I’ll have to get used to this removing the shoes thing. 

The food was delicious –they kept ordering more and more dishes and piling food on our plates.  A popular dish is lettuce wraps – taking a lettuce leaf and stuffing it full of meat and vegetables. Then you are supposed to put the WHOLE wrap in your mouth like a sushi roll (but this is much bigger). I struggle with that and of course, Mark has absolutely no problem.  Birth father ordered Mark and Sang Kwun a beer.  It was adorable watching them cheers before every drink.  The Korean beer of choice is called Hite and it is actually pretty good.  (I snuck a sip between cheers.)

Here's SangKwun cutting up the kimchi with Emily watching him.

Here's birth father also watching SangKwun.

We then went back to the apartment and watched a little Korean t.v. I was yawning so they showed us our bedroom (with its own private bathroom.) The room is very spacious and comfortable except when I first noticed the bed. It’s a marble slab connected to a heating device covered by two thin mats. It has not been easy to sleep on, but I’m sure we’ll manage (even if it’s out of pure exhaustion).

Here's the little controller that you use to control the temperature of the marble.

We slept through the night and when we awoke SangKwun and birth father went and picked up some breakfast. Neither of us were huge fans, but we did enjoy the fresh fruit following breakfast.

This is a view out the window of the apartment. The green netting is for golfers to practice their drives. It's a double-decker building so people can hit off both levels. We learned that only affluent Koreans golf here since it's extremely expensive. 

Check out the mountains in the distance, pretty cool, huh!

Me and Emily hanging out on the couch.

This is the front of the apartment.
I was really surprised by how cheap gas is here! The bottom one is unleaded (I think) and translates to about $.85-.$90 per gallon!

SangKwun and Emily then took us shopping for a cell phone. In Korea, you cannot purchase a cell phone unless you’re a citizen of the country so we needed SanKwun to sponsor us. We got a pretty cool model that will be activated on Monday. (Many stores are closed in Korea on Sundays.)

We then went back and lounged around the apartment watching random Korean shows. They are quite entertaining with a lot of action, even though we cannot understand what they’re saying.

Then, birth father (I think I will start calling him Father on this blog to save myself a little typing) said that it was time for lunch. He drove us to Itewon (which is more Americanized since it’s close to the U.S. Army Base).

 We went to a fancy hotel and ended up eating on the 18th floor at the Sky Buffet. The view was incredible – we could see tons of buildings and the mountains behind them. 

W ate from a huge buffet. There was a TON of seafood, a chef braising ribs (Korean style of course), and an assortment of other Korean dishes. Father also ordered a bottle of French Bordeaux, which was delicious. The buffet was pretty expensive – about $30/person, and I’m sure I didn’t get my money’s worth since I was too chicken to try the raw seafood like the rest of the group. Mark dove right in, even eating a little critter that appeared to be a baby octopus. (He later informed me that it tasted like you’d imagine it would… rubbery. You can see it at 9:00 on the plate below. Ugh.)

The braised ribs... I liked these.

We finished off the meal with some delicious fruit and these teeny tiny bananas. Aren’t they cute! SangKwun said they are from Indonesia.

Here's a view of the American Army base. 

And another picture of the incredible view. The buildings go on forever!

Another place to practice your golf swing.

After that we went to KoRoot, the hostel that Mark and I were supposed to stay for the next 2 weeks. We walked through it and were shown our room. It was nice, but when I saw the distance the hostel was from my family, we decided to continue staying at their apartment. In the end of the day I’m here to get to know them better and it seems like a better use of my time to spend as much time with them as possible. Our decision seemed to please everyone, but particularly Father. He immediately provided us with a cool laser key to the house and our new bedroom to keep while we’re here.

One thing that is so cute is that the family is trying to teach us all about Korea. They first started by showing us the various Won bills and coins and explaining to us what they equal in dollars. Later last night they took us to a huge grocery store, Lotte, and showed us how to shop. They kept telling us to put whatever we wanted in the cart. I settled on some yogurt and cereal.

The grocery store was kind of overwhelming because there are Korean women at every turn shouting at you to try their free samples. Kind of reminds of a baseball game, “Cold beer here…” The supermarket was really nice and I was surprised at the number of American products available. I guess my family does not cook much at home because they had to purchase pots and pans and utensils to cook with at Lotte.

I also noticed there was a new package of forks on their counter when we arrived. J

After shopping, Father took us to a gym since Mark had mentioned wanting to join.  There I committed my second shoe sin and stepped into the gym wearing my shoes. I guess they work out in their socks? That should be an interesting experience.

To end the night, we went to a BBQ place where I learned how to BBQ Korean style. It was a lot of fun and we put the BBQ’d pork into the lettuce wraps again. They also ordered me a Coke. I’ve had 4 meals here so far and I can tell that we are both going to be big fans of Korean food.

The next day SangKwun and Emily took Mark and me to Insadong, which is a huge shopping area. There are tons and tons of stores (including an Adidas, Forever 21, and other familiar American names.)

Here we are on the subway on the way back from Insadong. It's amazing how clean and organized the system is.

Later that night we accompanied SangKwun and Emily to a wholesale market. For Emily and SangKwun's job, they purchase clothing from Seoul and sell it in China. And part of that entails going to this market. Basically every boutique in Seoul gathers in 4 huge buildings (like 5 stories tall with 100 boutiques per floor) to sell their top items. The market runs from 9p.m. to 4 a.m. and let me tell you, it's absolute chaos but really cool. And everything is cheap.

Before we went to the market, we made a pitstop in SangKwun and Emily's little Seoul office.

Here I am looking at a big bag of fabric swatches.

Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the market. I guess they're worried about people stealing the fashions and making their own.

Foreigners don't really go to this market, so Mark was quite the commodity last night. I mean, people were blatantly pointing and staring at him. And one woman even turned around, saw him and screamed. No exaggeration.

Anyway, SangKwun and Emily were awesome to shop with - tons of fashion advice and even bought me several tops and 2 pairs of jeans. But apparently Asian jean sizes are much smaller than American brands. One pair of jeans was one size bigger than my normal size in the US and I couldn't even squeeze my leg into them. And then I was informed that Korea only carries women's jean sizes in 25-30. And if you happen to wear a bigger size than that you have to buy guy's jeans. As a point of reference, I wear a size 27 in Korean jeans - not much range here at all!

Anyway, that sums up our first 3 days in Korea. Looking back we crammed a lot into those few days! A lot of adjustments, but we're both loving it here right now.


Julia said...

Ah, Kimmie! I love this post with the pictures and your very detailed account of your new life over there. It's so much fun to read about your first three days.

A few thoughts:
-is birth father wearing a sweater vest in that picture? I love him.

-Mark standing next to you and your brother and Emily is freaking hilarious. He's such a monster!

-Very sure of gas being so cheap.

-Nate is going to be obsessed with the golf nets when I show him:)

-I'm so happy for you! Great job telling the stories, keep it up even though I'm sure this post took forever. It's worth it! What a great journal to keep over the next year.

Love you!

Carey said...

Mark and Kim - i miss you so much!! This new life looks amazing!!! I love the pictures and all the details! and that food looks scrumtrulescent!!

hannah said...

I'm into your first real post about Korea! I'm so happy things are going well for you guys!

The bed situation concerns me. Those beds are no HMS! Will you have real mattresses when you move into your little apartment?

Sara said...

Kim - I'm SO excited for you. It looks like you guys are having a fantastic time. Keep the pics coming - you know I have no life, so I'll have to live vicariously through you!

Dad said...

Kim and Mark,

Thanks so much for the pictures and all the detailed description. We'll have more questions for you at Skype time! All is well here.

Kelly said...

I'm stopping over via Julia's blog. What an interesting and fun experience. I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!

Mom said...

Kim and Mark, I love the pictures!!
and the food looks great! We're so happy everything is working out so well for you. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during those Korean language lessons!! How will we ever communicate with you two when you return home?? Your blog is wonderful. It almost makes us feel like we're there.

Mom said...

Kim and Mark, I love the pictures!!
and the food looks great! We're so happy everything is working out so well for you. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during those Korean language lessons!! How will we ever communicate with you two when you return home?? Your blog is wonderful. It almost makes us feel like we're there.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the internet. . . .as Mom said, I feel like I'm there with you.

I'm so glad you guys are having a great time, and I can't help but laugh at how ridiculously ginormous Mark looks in Korea. A lady screamed. . .sweet jesus, good times. Too bad you didn't get a pic of her face.

All I can say is, I'm so HAPPY for you guys. Looking forward to future posts!

Kim said...

Julia: You're right, it's totally a sweater vest. Squeezable!

Hannah: We piled comforters on the bed and it's not to bad now... Weird how you can adjust to stuff. Last night I ate BBQ'd eel that they just scooped out of a fish tank. And I actually liked it... And today I ate spam. Didn't like that so much though. :)

Melissa said...

Kim - that is so awesome! Honestly though...I don't know how you are getting any sleep...

Kristin said...

OK i just have to say that the picture of you, mark and your brother and emily is hilarious! I can only picture him in that market. I was laughing out loud at work and had to show DeChelle the picture so she could see how tall Mark actually is. I am so excited for you guys! And super jealous! I love that you get to experience all these new things! We miss you! Can't wait to read more.