Thursday, July 02, 2009

Day 4 – Korean Road Trip

J. and I slept a pretty solid 9 hours and were pretty much over any jet lag. A. and R. woke up around 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, but we were all feeling a lot more human than we were last night.

Our hotel, the Sejong, is right in the middle of a big shopping district in Seoul. You go out the back door and see a mix of American brands (New Balance, The Gap, Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery and Dunkin Donuts, among others, are right nearby) and Korean stores. The area is hopping with young people in the evenings. It reminded me a bit of Times Square, as all the lights lit things up like it was almost daytime.

Today started early, with a 7:30 buffet breakfast in the hotel. The food was pretty good. It was mostly American style breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, etc). One of the nice things about this trip is that many of the meals are included. It seems we average about one a day on our own, which means that we aren’t out of pocket money for meals as much as we are on a regular vacation.

After breakfast, we had an orientation session with the Korean Ties staff. They come very well staffed, with local guides, Ties staff and even a social worker. The social worker was actually someone we had met before, as she used to work in post-placement services at our home adoption agency, Wide Horizons for Children.

Much of the orientation revolved around our visit to the Korean adoption agency, Holt Childrens Services. Tomorrow, we’ll be returning to the place where we first met the kids a decade or so ago and get to meet their foster mothers and have lunch with them. I’m expecting it will be a very emotional experience.

After the orientation we boarded two buses for today’s outing. The busses are divided into two groups – the yellow bus for the families of the younger kids and the orange bus for the families of the older ones. The oldest adoptee member of the group is 28, and there are a number in their 20s.

J. and R. hit it right off with some of the kids on the trip. R. has found two girls a bit older than she is that are hanging out together, while J. is running around with three other boys around his age. It’s really been great to see the kids bond so quickly. A. and I are making some friends among the other parents, as well, which has been really nice.

Our first stop was an early lunch, around 11:30. This time we hit a Korean buffet place in Suwon, a suburb of Seoul. It took us about an hour to get there from the hotel. Seoul is huge. There are over 10 million people in the city itself and over 13 million in the metropolitan area. One thing we discovered from our guide is that most of Seoul south of the Han River was nothing but rice paddies as recently as the 1970’s. You would never know that from the built-up, modern city there today.

The restaurant was quite good. There was a lot of stuff there that we couldn’t identify, a few things that we weren’t exactly sure what they were but were brave enough to try (and most of it was quite good), and some things that we were familiar with. A few of the things we knew we didn’t try (fried octopus, anyone?)

We wrapped up lunch and headed over the the Hwaseong Fortress. The fortress was built over 200 years ago and has been incredibly well preserved. We only spent a short amount of time there, but we were lucky enough to see a reenactment of Korean warrior training, which was fun to watch. The young men were all in period costume and using spears, swords and martial arts to attack one another.

While we could have easily spent all day at Hwaseong Fortress, we left for our next stop at the Korean Folk Village. The village is essentially a Korean version of Old Sturbridge Village, with old buildings from Korea’s past and costumed interpreters. Our guide led us around, showing us how Koreans lived a couple of hundred years ago. We saw some farm houses, tools, animals and such. After the tour, we saw a wonderful drumming demonstration and a rope walker. This guy was able to do some amazing stunts on the rope, making them look easy when they no doubt took enormous strength.

We also grabbed a few souvenirs at the gift shop in the village. One thing I noticed was that the hard sell was on from pretty much the moment we walked in. I’m not sure if it was because we are foreign tourists or if they just do that to everyone, but it quickly got a bit overwhelming for us. I was probably a bit rude to some of the women there and I feel a bit badly about that, but if a store clerk in the US got that aggressive I probably would have told him to back off or just left the store.

We got back to the hotel around 6 and decided on American style food for dinner. We found a place called Kraze Burger, which was pretty decent. It was no Five Guys, but it was a significant step up over the McDonalds/Wendy’s/Burger King type of food.

Good day today overall. We got a good, healthy dose of Korean culture. More tomorrow!


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