We landed in Seoul at 5:30 pm after 11 hours in the air, almost all of them flying due north. Not only did we change latitude by 64 degrees, we also changed continents and, by some standards, worlds. Though Korea is a technological powerhouse, it still lacks what some may qualify as first world amenities. For the next nine and a half months, we will not be able to consistently drink the water, use Western toilets, eat uncooked fruits or vegetables, or speak the native language. Are we up for it? I guess we’re about to find out.
If Korea is a litmus test, we’re going to do just fine. Fortunately our travel mojo kicked in after three weeks of lounging at the beach and we became whirling dervishes of mobility. The kids power napped on the plane and Tom and I worked the internet. Though Korean Air temporarily lost Dax’s skateboard, upon arrival, everything else went smoothly. We found a cheap hotel, spent a fun evening at Airport Town in Incheon and one amazing day in Seoul. Though many of you at home were apparently sweating bullets that our kids were in the world’s nuclear hotspot, we joined the millions of South Koreans who take proximity to North Korea with a grain of salt. They were talking and writing about Pyongyang’s test of the previous week, but no one was fearing an impending influx of refugees or nuclear confrontation. In fact, if we had had two days, we would have joined a DMZ tour to the border. Remember, as an ancient Chinese proverb suggests, “May you live in interesting times.” If you do, embrace them.
Our day in Seoul started with the historical heart of the city, Gyeongbok Palace. We didn’t get very far before it began–Andrusmania. Like every other Western family that passes through, we became instant celebrities. No sooner had we walked through the main gate when a group of giggling, fawning high schools swarmed around Dax and McKane and begged Tom to take their picture with them. Assuming the obligatory peace sign pose (a favorite with the Japanese as well and possibly the most enduring legacy of Richard Nixon’s foreign policy), the boys indulged their Korean fan club. From that moment on, we were the objects of gawks, gazes, smiles, and nods of approval. Anyone who could speak English approached us to strike up a conversation. In the National Folk Museum we met some exceptionally nice and ably conversant mothers and children. We had the kids pose for photos and told them how much we were enjoying our visit to their country. When they asked how long we would be in Korea, we weakly responded “one day.” They were disappointed and befuddled. How do you explain that in choosing an 11-month itinerary, you still have to leave out a majority of the world’s countries? How do you tell them that Delta gives you only 6 stops and they were just a layover on the way to their much bigger neighbor to the north.
Everywhere we went we met people who were friendly, concerned and eager for us to love their country. The kids couldn’t believe we had only one day and grilled us as to why we couldn’t stay a month. They would have to be satisfied with a few traditional meals, a hug from a spirited Korean youth, and photo shoots with school girls. Next time kids, next time.
Oh, I almost forgot. Things here are open late, some even 24 hours. I love you, Australia and New Zealand, but your 8-hour business days were killing me. We’re ready to eat late, shop late, and live late. And to top it all off, they have scary mannequins here too. In this case, bizarrely undersized ones. These little guys are apparently making kim chee for giants.