DMZ

DMZ

One of the most amazing things about living in, or visiting The Republic of South Korea (ROK as it is regularly know or SoKo as it is known to expats living here) is the ability to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that place between North and South Korea completely unlike any other place on earth. Let me start with some background information….

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army, under the rule of Kim Il Sung, invaded SoKo by crossing over the 38th parallel. Kim Il Sung had decided South and North Korea should join forces as the entire country would be better off (in his not-so-humble opinion) being Communist. I think he took a leaf out of Mao Tse Tung’s book and determined that people didn’t really need to think for themselves when he could think and decide for them! But let’s go back a little further shall we:
Korea had been a part of the Japanese Empire since the beginning of the 20th Century (there is still some animosity towards the Japanese even today; some places wouldn’t service my Toyota because it is Japanese, and there are very few Japanese products available, but that’s an entirely different story). After Japan fell at the end of WWII, Korea fell into the hands of the Americans and the Soviets. What to do with this Imperial possession, became the question. In August of 1945, two aides at the State Department were given the task to divide the country in half. They drew a line at the 38th parallel. The top part (North Korea or NoKo) occupied by the Russians, the bottom (SoKo) occupied by the Americans. What followed was the emergence of two Korean Dictators, the anti-communist dictator to the South, Syngman Rhee, and the communist dictator to the North, our buddy Kim Il Sung. Understandably neither really liked the idea of their country being divided particularly by some outsiders, but even more so, they disliked each other and there were plenty of skirmishes along the border even before the Korean War began with approximately 10,000 soldiers killed.
On that day though in 1950, people, particularly the Americans, were taken aback. They thought this was the beginning of a communist uprising to take over the world and that just wasn’t going to happen on their watch! As far as America was concerned, this was a fight of good versus evil, east versus west. In Harry Truman’s own words: “the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.” So when they readied their troops for battle, the USA wasn’t just fighting for SoKo, they were fighting a war against communism itself. At first the war went pretty badly for the allies with the South Koreans understandably scared, untrained and not disciplined at all, to top it off it was one of the hottest, driest Summers on record and I can assure you Summer in this country is pretty bloody miserable at times, and the American soldiers were getting incredibly sick and even dying from horrible gastro diseases, after drinking water from rice paddies (human waste was the main fertilizer). President Truman and his main man at the time, General MacArthur, decided to change things around and go on the offensive and this was great until the Chinese thought they were trying to take over Communist China and their crazy leader Mao Zedong/Mao Tse-tung/Chairman Mao wasn’t going to sit down and take that! He sent troops to NoKo and warned America to back off unless it wanted full scale war. Truman, the diplomat, didn’t want that, but General MacArthur thought this an appeasement to China and North Korea and he was all about a full scale war. The two men’s opposing opinions eventually led to MacArthur getting fired for insubordination and President Truman starting peace talks (new military commanders in tow) with NoKo in 1951. Obviously they talked each other’s ears off for the next two years with most of the problems stemming from what to do with prisoners of war. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 and allowed the POWs to stay wherever they liked, a new boundary was drawn that gave SoKo an extra 1500 square miles and created a 2-mile-wide “demilitarized zone” that we were going to visit today.
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The alarm went off at 0500 (5am) Saturday morning. We’d had a late night the night before having decorated and been through a Halloween haunted happening, but having to also clear out of there by 2200 (10pm) as it was still a functioning location and all decorations needed to be removed in a timely manner. Awesome night though. We were all tired. The DMZ tour was only for kids 10 and older so we had left one child at a friend’s house after our haunted do and the other went to his friend’s house at 0600. Then we were off to catch the tour bus.
The tour had been co-sponsored by our Family Readiness Group (FRG – a group in the Army life made up of family members that supports the needs of both families and soldiers by helping to maintain morale, and if possible sponsor events). We had 24 people on the tour bus that were part of our group. Our bus tour was through Osan ITT (for any military or family members reading this and wanting to know more). We left at 0700. Unfortunately there was something going on with the speaker system/bus driver and we couldn’t hear a lot of what our guide said when we first got on the bus but then they put on a fascinating DVD from the History channel talking all about the history and the various skirmishes since the Korean War armistice. Yes, the war has never really ended and every time a new Kim comes into power they seem to get a little bit crazier.
Kim Il Sung ruled for 47 years, the man called himself supreme leader and ensured all NoKo’s knew him by that name. I don’t really know a whole lot about his reign of terror, I mean reign of leadership, but I’m pretty sure he scared the bejesus out of most people and when he decided to pair up with Mao Zedung for the Korean War, they probably shared a laugh and knocked some torture ideas back and forth, collaborated a little, found best-practice methods and all that jazz. What is really crazy is that four years after Kim Il Sung’s death, he was named the Eternal President of the Republic! Seriously! A dead man is the eternal president and the presidency itself was written out of NoKo’s constitution! Where does that leave his son and grandson you ask? His eldest son, Kim Jong-il, became known as the Dear Leader and later, the Great General. As far as I can tell, he didn’t do much more for NoKo than his father, other than sleep around a lot. He fathered two sons before super crazy boy (I mean current leader), that were considered the black sheep of the family, in fact the eldest put it out there that his family shouldn’t have complete control of NoKo and on top of that, he got caught in a plot to visit Disney Tokyo! I mean seriously, that was it, he was done! And rightfully so! There’s no room for fun in NoKo! He apparently lives in China now, not sure how much fun he’s having there either, but the Chinese seem to have a sense of humor unlike crazy Kim. The second son was a bit too feminine to rule, not quite sure what that means, but nonetheless, there was no go for him to lead NoKo! That left the third son, to yet another mother, Kim Jong-un to lead the way (taking command in December, 2011) after his father’s untimely death. And we’ve all seen what a catastrophic, I mean, charismatic guy he is! I guess he wants to completely differentiate himself from his father and grandfather so has attempted to develop an academically-focused, extroverted and extremely masculine persona.
This video (I’m not sure if you would see it on any other tour buses) makes you understand a little more, the serious nature about living here in SoKo and how this isn’t actually a joke at all. Even though I may have made a few jokes about the crazy man to the north. It also only tells of the NoKo invasions/skirmishes but there have been raids or incursions by SoKo as well. Always two sides to a story but I’m far more inclined to believe the Americans and SoKo’s given the information I have researched and read/seen/heard since taking an interest in going on this tour to the DMZ. I can’t list them all but I’ll try to brief on the main points.
  • 1958: NoKo agents hijack airliner en route from Busan to Seoul. 28 passengers released, 8 remained in NoKo.
  • October 1966-1969: The Second Korean War or the DMZ Conflict occurred. 299 SoKo’s killed, 550 wounded. 43 US personnel killed, 111 wounded.
  • January 17, 1968: The Blue House Raid. A 31 man detachment crosses into SoKo to kill President Park Chung-hee and very nearly succeed. 28 of them were killed, 1 captured but the other two were never accounted for. Unfortunately 26 SoKos and 3 American soldiers were also killed, with numerous more injured.
  • January 23, 1968: The USS Pueblo (United States Navy) is boarded and captured with NoKos saying it was in their waters and US vehemently denying that saying it was in international waters. 1 sailor is killed the other 83 are captured and only released when US retracts its statement saying it was in NoKo’s waters. As soon as the hostages are released at the ‘Bridge of No Return’, the US retracts its retracted  statement and says it only agreed to say that to get its people back. Fair enough, I say. The ship is still in Pyongyang and is apparently a museum now.
  • Nov 1969: four US soldiers are killed in DMZ.
  • Dec 11, 1969: a NoKo agent hijacks a Korean Airlines plane flying from Gangneung Airbase to Gimpo International Airport. 39 passengers were returned but the crew and 7 other passengers never came back.
  • 1974: A second assassination attempt on SoKo President Park Chung-hee that went wrong, inadvertently killed his wife. a high school student was also killed.
  • 1974: The first infiltration tunnel in SoKo is discovered followed by the second in 1975, the third tunnel (the one we visited) in 1978 and the fourth in 1990.
  • August 18, 1976: The Axe murder incident. This one did break my heart a little and there are reasonably graphic photographs on the movie. Some civilians went out to trim a tree that was blocking SoKo’s view of NoKo in the DMZ, and the NoKo soldiers came up and started attacking them with the axes they were using to trim down the tree. 2 US soldiers died and 9 US and SoKo soldiers were injured.
  • In between there were a number soldiers killed when they crossed the lines in both directions and a chinook was shot down when it strayed across the line with 3 airmen dead and one briefly held prisoner.
  • Nov 1987: Skirmish at the JSA (Joint Security Area – also on the tour). 1 American and 1 SoKo soldier are killed.
  • December 17, 1994: US Army Kiowa crosses 10km into NoKo border, one dead, one held prisoner for 13 days.
  • May 1995: NoKos Fire on SoKo fishing boat killing 3.
  • April 1996: several hundred armed NoKos enter the DMZ at the JSA and elsewhere, breaking the armistice agreement. As with many other events, NoKo denies this ever happened.
  • June 1997: 3 NoKo vessels cross the Northern Limit Line and attack SoKo vessels. 14 NoKo soldiers cross 70 metres south of the center of the DMZ. 23 minutes of gunfire are exchanged.
  • June 1999: the First Battle of Yeonpyeong
  • June 29, 2002: the second Battle of Yeonpyeong leads to sinking of SoKo vessel and 6 SoKo sailors deaths.
  • Mar 26, 2010: SoKo naval vessel sunk by NoKo torpedo. 58 survivors recovers, 46 dead.
  • Nov 23, 2010: NoKo fired artillery at SoKo island. 2 SoKo marines and 2 SoKo civilians dead, 16 injured. About 70 SoKo houses destroyed.
  • Oct 6, 2012: NoKo Army Private defects to SoKo.
There are plenty more incidents to read about but these are the main ones in my opinion. What is interesting also is the whole loud speaker propaganda war going on at the DMZ. NoKo is known for its loud speakers talking the communist talk at the border towns, but I guess SoKo decided to get in on the action at some point and put their own loud speakers up. Unfortunately for the North, SoKo’s amazing technological advancements mean their speakers are louder and far superior. Every now and again SoKo plays its own propaganda messages talking about how great it is and how defectors are always welcome. They talk about soap operas and even play Kpop (SoKo’s own music version – Psy is the first well known world-wide Kpop artist with ‘Gangnam Style’). After the sinking of the ship in 2010, SoKo responded with the song “Hit Your Heart” by the Kpop girl group 4minute. If you get a chance, have a listen to it. NoKo were so pissed off by such a response amplified by 11 gigantic speakers that they responded by threatening to turn Seoul “into a sea of flames” if it didn’t turn off the music!
Back to our Tour
We arrive at what looks like an amusement park and in fact is an amusement park surrounded by shops and monuments and history. Only in South Korea. We are not sure how this is going to work as the guide really hasn’t said much to us but he takes us all to the toilets, tells us to be back on the bus at a certain time,  then people seem to scatter to do their own thing. Hubby has run back to the bus to collect our winter gear as it is bloody freezing and the guide waits with us telling us to go with him. We literally get a personal tour of this place, avoiding all the crappy tourist stuff that he (and we) have no interest in seeing. We see this war memorial erected by the local people and listing the names of all those killed from this area in the Korean War, also known as the Six-Two-Five in SoKo after the day it started. There’s also a rusty old train that has over 2000 bullet holes in it from the train driver speeding back to SoKo after seeing the advancing army on the other side, he survived! We go and look at a statue of President Truman and a number of other monuments as well then return back to the area where the shops are to run into some of the other people we know, one of who is Korean and is eating freshly steamed, warm snails from a cup. My daughter says she should try one but then backs out, I tell her I will try one first then she can (what’s a mother to do but lead the way when it comes to trying new things! 😜) Big mistake! It was tiny, but the taste was big. Yuck. If I liked fishy tasting fish, then it might have been ok, but I don’t and it wasn’t!
We boarded the bus to the next stop which was the ‘Third Tunnel of Aggression’. This is really cool and you can’t take any photos due to security reasons when you get inside but it’s worth trekking down that tunnel nonetheless. It’s a steep walk with the need to stoop happening more often than not. There are hard hats available on either side as you begin your trek down but no one tells you to wear them. It’s weird actually because about 3/4 of the way down there is a tram to go back out (not sure if it was running, as we didn’t see it moving anywhere but the sign reads that you can’t ride it if you have a hard hat)! On another note, you will need your hard hat. The clanking of hats to ceiling was a constant throughout the trek both down and back up again with I, myself hitting mine twice. Seriously, you have to stoop unless you’re short. It’s a haunting experience when you get past all the usual touristy stuff with the walls narrowing and the ceiling getting ever closer. The lights begin to dim as you make your way down the 265m path. Once at the end, one pauses and wonders what all the fuss is about until one looks through the square hole into the other side of the tunnel where a North Korean could be waiting (not really, as SoKo has taken control of the tunnel and put machine guns in places we couldn’t go, but it does make it all the more real). The tunnel goes to a depth of 73m (240ft) (That’s a long way down and a lot of digging) and spans a distance of 1.7km (1.1 miles).
Next stop was the Dora Observatory or as we called it, the overlook. Basically we listened to a KATUSA (Korean Augmentation To the United States Army – a SoKo enlisted person drafted from a pool of qualified volunteers who are subjected to mandatory military service then ensconced within a variety of departments/areas within the Eighth United States Army) talk about some of the history and tell us about what lies on the other side in NoKo. There are binoculars to provide zoomed up views of life in NoKo, there’s even a fake town called Kijong-dong. I guess this town was built in the 1950s in an attempt to lure SoKos to defect and move over there. But observations throughout the years have noted windowless buildings and no inhabitants since its construction. There is a huge map on the ceiling showing you what and where are located, as you are looking into the real life view of North Korea. It was a foggy day for us, so my view wasn’t that great through the camera lens but still incredibly interesting. Most people seemed to flock to the binoculars on the center and right side of the viewing point but if you head to the left, you can hear more clearly the propaganda being put over the loud speakers from the NoKo side.
This was followed by a trip to Dorsan Train Station – the train station that would unite the NoKo and SoKo if it could ever happen. It’s a touristy trip with lots of money invested by many in a dream that will probably never happen but a dream that needs to be kept ignited nonetheless. We got our souvenir train tickets to Pyongyang and went out to the train tracks. Like I said, interesting but not my favourite site on the tour.
Our next stop was lunch and unfortunately, this wasn’t anything to write home about. If you do the same tour as we did, it’s a Korean buffet, the tour guide and bus driver sat at their own table with the owners and had special food cooked for them whereas the rest of us just got to eat the 5 or 6 choices given including mini pork cutlets, want-to-be chicken nuggets/fried chicken with a choice of two sauces, one of which was awful and definitely not sweet and sour as we know it, the other though was good. The spaghetti looked terrible and my daughter spat it out, so I’d give that a miss too. There were fries but they’d been sitting out for a long time and were quite mushy. The beef bulgogi though wasn’t bad.
Finally we went To the JSA – Joint Security Area. Very interesting. Somber, haunting, weird. Somebody asked me if we wanted to make the guards laugh, my response was an immediate no. It’s not like the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace, this is a real life war zone. Millions have been killed throughout the past 70 odd years. It is really quite haunting to stand there looking into North Korea, seeing a guard over there who has been brain washed into thinking his country is the finest there is to offer.
When you sign up for a tour to the DMZ, you will be informed of the dress code and it is a very strict dress code at that; a “neat and presentable appearance.” No faded or ripped jeans, no flip flops, or open-toed shoes, no clothing with profane or provocative text, no sporting gear, nothing excessively baggy or sleeveless. It’s a propaganda thing, basically we don’t want NoKo to be able to use anything you wear as propaganda, no possibility of them saying, look how poor those people are and how great we’ve got it here. There’s also strict rules about pointing or gesturing of any kind. You feel kind of intimidated standing there and don’t want to do anything to draw attention to you or your group. There’s also restrictions on what nationalities can go to the DMZ and if you’re South Korean, you want to book way in advance as you will face a rigorous background check before being allowed to go.
When you are standing there looking into North Korea (not pointing, not gesturing, not making faces, not doing anything but taking a gazillion photos and looking in awe) you will see in front of you lots of blue buildings. The two buildings in the center are marked by a cement line which is literally the division between SoKo and NoKo. On your tour, you will be allowed to enter the United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) room. This room has held numerous conferences, peace talks and not so peaceful talks. Half of it is located in North Korea, so when you enter the room and cross over the concrete border, you are literally in North Korea! Very cool indeed, Vern with all the surrounding hoopla and rigmarole. And the guard who stands at the NoKo door is the coolest looking Korean I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure these guys are picked out for their looks and ability to wear shades and that helmet and still look frigging cool. I know they’re picked out for height. Seriously, is this guy cool or what?
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Never in the world has there been a place like this. A country so advanced in technology bordering, even hinging to another country to the North that is so repressed. A country divided and still at war some 70 odd years later! I have had mixed emotions throughout my time living here in SoKo but I have to say this piece of history opened my eyes to a much bigger picture and made me appreciate the South Koreans so much more. I also understand the serious nature behind the US Forces’ motto ‘Fight Tonight!’ We never know when this country will go into another all out war and with Kim Jong-un (crazy) leading the way, it is a very real possibility.
I don’t want to scare any of my fellow military spouses living here as I think war is a possibility in a lot of places in this day and age, but I just want to reinforce the seriousness of where we are living. When your spouse is involved in an exercise, it’s because they need to be ready for anything. When they have to do so many things and obey so many rules that are very different to both the United States and Australia, it’s because this place is like no other. But it offers opportunities like no other also.

 

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To my friends with no kids…..

To my friends with no kids…..

Sometimes we really envy you. Sometimes we look at all the wonderful things you get to do, the adventures you get to have, the ability to leave your house on a whim, and we feel alittle, tiny, ok, sometimes it’s a bit more like a gut wrenching dislike towards you! Don’t get me wrong, we love you, but sometimes we really envy your freedom!
We remember the carefree days of adventure and fun. We remember not having to pack an entire day’s worth of snacks into a handbag. We remember not having to make sure everyone has hats and a change of clothes, to pack the sunscreen, to ensure everyone has towels, to make sure there’s water bottles for all, oh and other drinks if we are going out for the entire day, I mean who can survive on just plain water for an entire day’s outing???? I mean SERIOUSLY! We remember when there was just one person to take care of, hmm, let me throw on some clothes and be on my way…… Lol! Those days are gone baby! Now it’s, let me throw on my clothes then go and get clothes for everyone else or ensure the clothes they are wearing can actually be seen in public. Then brush hair, clean teeth, making sure breakfast actually happens before teeth cleaning (yes, we’ve done that before). 
Then there’s the matter of what everyone is going to eat! In my house, living in Korea means we have to plan very carefully. I am the only one who eats Korean food (well the son is starting to eat it given he gets it every day at his school) but this means the whole family sits in the car and thinks about where we are going and where the nearest place is that has food they will all eat! This is a serious conversation that normally ends with me rolling my eyes and giving in to them. Unbelievable! We may have literally finished breakfast 5 minutes beforehand but the conversation always takes a shift to what we will eat if we are out long enough. And the minute we get in the car, bellies that were full five seconds ago are now so hungry they could eat anything, well anything other than what was on the menu for breakfast anyway; “Mum, I’m starving!” “You just ate breakfast and said you were full.” 

“Yes, but that was ages ago, have you got any snacks?”

“Only leftover cereal.”

“Oh, well I guess I’m still full for now.”

Yes. You are! 
We were supposed to go camping this Fourth of July weekend. The forecast said a high chance of heavy rain (it didn’t end up quite like that, in fact, it would have been a beautiful weekend to camp) but we had to decide on Thursday and at that point in time, given the forecast, we called it. So, we did what parents of three kids do, we spent most of our time at the pool, yes we got rained on a little but we had fun. Hubby played mini golf with them yesterday too then we all played today. We love doing family stuff, but sometimes…..

This afternoon came and I really felt like spontaneously going somewhere. We have some friends who just yesterday went out for a drive, discovered a winery and hung about all day having wine tastings and doing spare of the moment stuff. Not us. There is no spontaneity unless it is a spontaneous run to the pool (I have pool bags at the ready now). We were coming home today and I suggested we take a drive and I would show hubby this lovely walk along the river. Well I got busy looking at Facebook and we missed the turn, he wasn’t keen to go anywhere anyway (but he gets to leave the house daily too) and dear son started with “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” 
I then suggested to dear husband that we go to this other place, but we missed that turn off too, finally he turned around and went home. Everyone got out of the car so happy to be home, except me. I wanted to have some adventure. I wanted to find that hidden gem winery, or that charming temple, or anything honestly. But no, home again. Requests to go to the pool again tomorrow in hand. There won’t be any winery visits, we may try to bike ride to the tea house (given dear son will be at school) so I may just be able to twist some arms and coax all into that but there will be no leaving the house carefree and wild with no idea of where we’ll go for the day. For now, those days are gone. I know tomorrow I’ll wake up and want to go to the pool and want to hang out with my kids, but for just a while today, I really wanted to adult, yet adult without responsibility & that just can’t happen anymore, for now anyway.
To my friends without kids, sometimes we envy you, but that’s why we stay in shape right now. One day the kids will be gone and you’ll see this ninety year old woman dragging her husband to some crazy spontaneous places/outings. I’ll make him do all the things we couldn’t do now and we’ll have an amazing time. To my friends without kids, have a blast, enjoy every second you can. I may envy you today but it makes me so happy to see you living life to the fullest! 

Répondez s’il vous plaît 

Répondez s’il vous plaît 

RSVP. Répondez s’il vous plaît. Literally translated into English meaning ‘respond please’. It has been a term used for a very long time, probably originating when King Louis XIV, at his palace of Versailles, created a set of rules in the form of a ‘ticket’ or, in French; ‘etiquette’, setting out the guidelines for the correct way to behave when in his Court. These ‘tickets’ were either put up around Versailles or sent out on the back of invitations. Though, this is but one theory of the origin of the term and how we still use it today when talking about modern etiquette, it certainly makes sense given the French led the way for etiquette in the modern world through the 19th Century. 
Why such background information on this blog? Well I guess it serves as a reminder that even in this day and age of incredible technology, where snail mail is rarely used anymore, one can still have manners! 
A few weeks ago, my daughter was having her 8th birthday party. We sent out invitations (my daughter handed them out at school with her teacher’s help) to 8 girl friends, 18 days in advance. Why 18 days? Well, I guess I thought three weeks was too long and two weeks was too short, so I found a happy medium. The party consisted of two parts; a sleep over with the option of me picking them up from school directly or the parents delivering children to our house (enabling them to meet me, ensure we were hygienic etc), and a party the following morning at something called a kids’ café. The café needed numbers, as does anywhere one books a party, so we gave them 10 (we have three kids of our own including the birthday girl). I made it clear on the invitation that each child was more than welcome to do either one or the other or both, that was entirely up to the parent but I did need an RSVP. I gave them my mobile phone number, my name and said please call or text by the Monday prior. 
Now let me give you a little bit of background information about what it’s like to live in an expat community as part of a Military Installation in South Korea: the children are bused to and from school. Most people are only allowed one car, meaning getting about can sometimes pose a problem, this is because of an agreement with the Korean Government, so not something that can be trifled with (Driving in Korea can be scary anyway, so it’s actually a good thing). Given that we have only been here for 5 months, we had only been to one school function for our daughter’s class and it was a play. We brought donuts, watched the kids perform then left the kids to their donut party, not really something we socialized at. Our daughter had been to two birthday parties though, but one of the girls had already PCS’d (military acronym for moving when the military tells you to move) & I did have the other girl’s mother’s number. 

Right back to the story……
The invitations were handed out. 1 week passed. Nothing. On day 12, the Friday before the response was due, I asked my daughter to remind her friends to RSVP through their parents. I gave her some cards (yes, I have cards with my telephone number and blog website on them – some even have the names and ages of my kids on the back so I can give them to other mothers with whom I meet and connect, that way they can remember who I was, who my kids are and which of their kids would connect with mine). She gave out a couple of them and reminded them to get their parents to let me know. Day 15: RSVP requested date. Nothing. Day 16, I again asked her to remind her friends to let us know if they could come, the party was on the Friday night/Saturday morning and it was now Tuesday. I then sent a text to the only mother who’s number I had and gently reminded her of the party on Friday night, she almost immediately responded and said yes, her daughter would be there, but she wouldn’t sleep over or come the next morning. Ok, at least one child was coming. I also asked if she had any other parents’ information and she had one of them and said she would find out if this other little girl was coming. On the Thursday night, I heard from this same mother who told me that yes, the other little girl would be coming but also not staying the night, nor would she be at the café the following morning. I appreciated her letting me know, though I did question why the girl in question’s own mother or father couldn’t respond to me directly. Odd. Finally, at 7pm, I got a call from one of the other little girls who said yes, she was coming and she was staying the night! Yay! A little late but my little girl was literally starting to feel heartbroken at the thought that no one wanted to come to her party nor stay the night with her, so this made her very happy.  At 9pm, I got a text from one other mother saying that her daughter would be there on Friday night.

 Four out of eight. As for the other 4 girls, I’ve still not heard from any of their parents. Just plain slack and inconsiderate as far as I’m concerned. 
As it turned out, only one little girl stayed the night and the other little girl, who’s mother sent me the text at 9pm, did come to the party the following morning, though she didn’t stay. We had booked a party for 10 kids and had paid a deposit. We were unsure how it would work when we turned up with only 5 so I asked my neighbours’ little girls to come along, literally at the very last minute (they go to school with my son and are his very dear friends). Luckily they could join us and wow, did we have a great time! 


The slumber party turned into “The best party ever,” according to all the little girls who came. We did makeup, nails and toenails. My girlfriend came along to help out and brought costume jewelry too. We let the girls decorate our faces after we done theirs and they loved it! We had an ice cream bar that any fro yo place would have been jealous of and it was just a lot of fun. 


But what if I hadn’t reached out to that mother? What if my daughter hadn’t gone to school every day for a week and asked everyone to remind their parents to let us know? Why has society gone in the direction of not using common courtesy, even decency, anymore? I admit we have gotten so busy that I have forgotten to RSVP on time, but I have always sent a response as soon as I’ve remembered. My heart was literally breaking for my little girl when she came home on the Tuesday before the party and we still hadn’t heard from anyone. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to strangle the necks of the parents or just burst into tears at the devastation on my baby’s face. It shouldn’t have come down to that! 
We live in an age where our children grow up far too quickly as it is. I know there are far more important things going on in the world than a simple RSVP, but when that lack of response means breaking a child’s heart, it should be important. It should be of the utmost importance. We are letting our own busy lives, our procrastinating tendencies, our own slackness all get in the way of the little things that make life grand when you are a child, things like an 8th birthday party! And I haven’t even discussed the implications when it comes to events like weddings
Répondez s’il vous plaît. RSVP. It’s more than just about you! 

Life – Not so Redundantly!

Life – Not so Redundantly!

It’s been a while. It’s been crazy busy! It’s definitely been an adventure. I’ve been asked to categorize this blog but I can’t. I can’t because A: My interests are so varied they cannot be categorized into areas that would normally classify as categories and B: The crap life shoots at me and mine, cannot be classified either and you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way! 😆
We have been busy living, we have been busy doing. Unfortunately not necessarily doing everything I have wanted to do, but doing stuff nonetheless! “Come to South Korea”, they said, “it’ll be fun!” they said, “you’ll love it”, they said, “You’ll get to do lots of traveling!” They said. Well, we are so busy socializing every weekend that there’s no time for anything else! Between our kids’ birthdays and birthday parties, between other kids’ birthday parties, between end of school parties, between the numerous social occasions we find ourselves part of because of hubby’s work, between all the crazy stuff that consistently happens on a daily basis, even we, are incredibly busy, there has been no more time for travel, there has been no time for writing, there has been no time! Let me see, aside from my Jeju writings, when was the last time I wrote about anything in my life? Yes, it’s been a while! 
We came back from Jeju and I spent Tuesday May 31st unpacking and washing, Wednesday I had my follow-up Dr appointment (that I previously blogged about) followed by a Family Readiness Group meeting where we all brought a Mexican themed potluck dish. In between both appointments, I had to begin making dear son’s birthday cake as his party was on Sunday 5th June. It’s best to make the cakes early enough and freeze them ensuring they are the correct shape, etcetera, with plenty of time to make adjustments if necessary. I got one cake made on the day and followed it up with another on the Friday. We had a function to go to on the Thursday night followed by another one on the Friday night (both for hubby’s work). Friday day though, my girlfriend came over and watched as I made the cake, then made my own marshmallow creme fondant (taken from this blog:  http://thefarmgirlrecipes.blogspot.kr/2011/04/marshmallow-creme-fondant.html?m=1), the fondant is delicious! The only problem is the high humidity here did cause it to start to ‘melt’ by the Sunday morning, meaning I had to do some rearranging by the time we got to the party. But the best part was that every single kid (and adult) ate that fondant, unlike the normal response I get to store-bought fondant. 
 The function on Friday night was then followed with something called an ‘at the gate’ sale. We literally set up shop at the gate and soldiers and spouses grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and sold them to people coming in. It was actually lots of fun, they had set up a dunk tank and a fairy floss machine (cotton candy machine) and had a great system going. Unfortunately we didn’t get there until 9pm as the previous function ran a lot longer than expected, but we got right into it upon arriving. Hubby had worn appropriate clothes to get dunked (and I had changed into comfortable clothes for the bbq event). He got dunked almost immediately (maybe with a little help from his wife) then we talked to other soldiers, family members, their kids and people passing by and had a great time. I had jokingly said to someone that I wouldn’t get in the dunk tank seat for less than $50 & unfortunately, that statement was heard by someone willing to pay it! He did keep missing however and I was hopeful I would walk away unscathed, but alas, the husband got his revenge dunking me into the ice-cold water (literally, water filled with ice!!)! It was definitely fun and something I never thought I would get to do, so no complaints from me and no, I didn’t have a white T-shirt on, get your mind out of the gutter! 😜
Saturday morning was cake decorating time, but only briefly as we were then meeting my lovely friend I had made on the plane on the way over here and watching her son play baseball. We followed that with a long, relaxing lunch, enjoying catching up after so long and reinforcing the knowledge that we were meant to meet on that fateful trip! Then it was home again to keep going with the cake! Spider-Man. 3D. It was a tad redundant but thank goodness I borrowed a pasta machine from my friend to help roll out the fondant. The cake came out pretty nicely and dear son was over the moon:


His party lasted until after 3pm and we got home, absolutely shattered. Monday was a Korean holiday but it was also a day I was able to get into (for a very last minute appointment) an ultrasound of my thyroid gland. Long story, but a couple of years ago, there were nodules on my gland and we have to check them every so often (& all is great right now). I asked the same friend who had hung out with me during cake prep on Friday if she wanted to join me in going to Seoul and she did. It was such a nice drive there, amazing how different it is when there’s no traffic. The appointment was smooth, I organized for someone to collect dear daughter in case I was delayed getting back and we even had a lovely lunch, eventually. This friend and I seem to have bad luck when it comes to eating at restaurants each of us recommend; they are never open! And that’s exactly what we found once again in Seoul. Dear son was with us which didn’t help matters when it came to lots of walking! Eventually though, we found quite a nice restaurant by accident and were very impressed by the food!


 The walk around the area was also entertaining, the Koreans love to have fun things about and the location of poop bags to clean up after your doggy’s mess, (though empty) cracks me up every time I look at the photo! Pardon the pun! 


Dear son also loved the giant gorilla in a store filled with all sorts of realistic animals, though I’m not sure where anyone would put them? Definitely an interesting feature! 


All-in-all, a lovely day out filled with good company and a great outcome! 
Should I stop here or keep going? It does get interesting, I promise! 😊 That entire week though was a tad insane! I ran around like a crazy person and got very mad at a number of parents as well when they didn’t even bother to RSVP to our daughter’s 8th birthday party on Friday June 10th (coincidentally my sister’s birthday). I had given the invitations out (through DD) 18 days prior. Things work differently here. Most kids who live off post go to school by bus. We hadn’t met many parents from her class, there just wasn’t the opportunity, in fact, I only had one parent’s phone number. But should I have to go chasing them? I’m thinking an entire blog will be devoted to this subject alone, given the story. Needless to say – Parents you need to step up! Of the 8 invited, we finally heard back (three on the night prior) from 4. 50% deemed it worthy of a response! 
I did get an opportunity to finally see a great craft store here though on the Wednesday prior, with loads of art supplies also. Some things were cheap, some were OTT (over the top) but it was three stories of lovely things and I do like lovely things! I’m not a scrapbooker or anything (though I wish I was) but the painting supplies and other craft supplies and model toy supplies were fabulous! I got my styrofoam ball and pot ready to make dear daughter’s birthday cake, all of which was a surprise to her. It was actually very easy, tedious, but easy and it came out splendidly. There were 42 cupcakes covering the ball though, something I wasn’t expecting but luckily I had enough supplies to make a second batch of cupcakes. I made homemade buttercream icing (using the Wilton recipe) and mixed it with a couple of store bought (I’ve noticed American kids like their store bought icing but it’s too runny so I like to mix it. It was basically a 4:1 ratio, 4 cups of homemade to 1 cup of store bought Betty Crocker. I got 5 bowls and mixed up 5 different colours and was very happy with the outcome. And so was my DD! She loved it! I think that cake got more pizzaz than the Spider-Man cake. It was amazing how something so simple had such a big impact. One of the parents actually thought it was a bunch of flowers until she smelt it! 


Maddy’s birthday party was a two part affair, a slumber party at our house followed by a trip to this amazing kids’ cafe here in South Korea, called La Cartata! Hubby had another work event that involved families so even though I missed out, it was a great night for him to take our other two along for this event and leave Maddy and her friends here to have Mummy’s undivided attention. Mummy even got her friend to come over and help chaperone and oh what fun we had. We did the girls’ makeup, they did ours. We did fingernails and toenails and they did ours. They loved it! Maddy even said that although she was worried because no one had RSVP’d in the beginning of the week, it ended up being the best birthday party ever! And I must agree. I set up an ice cream bar for the girls as well and they each grabbed a cone, a waffle bowl or a regular bowl and got a choice of so many toppings to put on their ice cream that even a fro yo place would have been a tad jealous! They all thought they had gone to Disney! It was seriously a huge success. Brilliant! Best of all, we two adults had fun (aside from the screaming) but when there’s 7 & 8 year old girls around, screaming is par for the course as my friend soon found out!


Saturday morning worked out a little differently than we had planned. Only one girl stayed the night, yes one girl out of the four actually stayed, though one girls’ mother did say she would be coming the next morning. It was just a bit odd. They are now all turning 8, I thought they would be old enough to stay the night, but I guess not, though only 2 out of the four actually mentioned this to me when they RSVP’d, leaving the other two Moms to mention they would be picking their child up that same night, when they dropped them off. But what did I expect? Given all that notice and everything? 😉 I understood the no overnight thing, but not the not coming to the party the next morning, I even offered to swing by and pick them up (like a true minivan owner) but no. One girl had sport, the other was ‘busy’. All very odd. 
So here we were, heading off to this amazing venue that I had already paid a deposit on, not sure if they were going to go ahead and charge us for the 10-12 children we said we would have, yet us turning up with our three (literally our own three kiddos) plus one, with the possibility of another coming. I reached out to our neighbours and suggested we take their two little girls with us also and I’m so glad we did because they all had an amazing time. Two hours in the best kids’ cafe I have ever been to; a race track, a bounce house, a ball playground, numerous rooms filled with toys and activities, food, cake, and most of all fun! What more could a kid want? They had a magnificent time. On top of that, the place is clean, the staff are amazing, you can see your kids almost anywhere they are, yet you can sit there and adult if you want to! Yay! Once again, brilliant! The two parents who’s girls did come, were amazed at how great this place was and our neighbour’s little girls have been begging to go back! 


On the Sunday, we had another birthday party to go to followed by a dinner on a rooftop. The day was fun yet filled with the interesting; let me just say this, it isn’t only us who have our share of adventures! They had hired a bounce house and a cotton candy (fairy floss) machine, in fact the same one we had hired just a week before. We all have transformers allowing 110V through our houses alongside of the 220V standard local power. Anything you rent from the post/base, will always be 110V and in this instance, it tore through the transformer. I kept walking past this one particular spot saying how much it smelt and everyone kept putting it down to the fairy floss machine, but I knew it wasn’t, I didn’t push it hard enough though as it took smoke coming out of the little storage room before anyone really questioned the smell. Their entire 110V was kaput for the day, yet the party wasn’t even half way through. We did all we could to help but hubby and I were both too exhausted to try to entertain even more children so we eventually called it quits, knowing we could go and adult on our friend’s rooftop. It was just that time. And relax and adult we did (for such a short time mind you, given everyone had school the next morning). But it was nice after such a huge weekend that was literally all about the kids. We actually got to see something called a hummingbird moth. This moth has the same peculiarities as the hummingbird. It doesn’t seem to stop moving and uses its long beak type thing (called a proboscis) to suckle from the nectar of flowers. It is captivating and beautiful, yet most definitely not a bird. Not something we expected to see and truly appreciate on a rooftop in South Korea. 


And that is where I think I need to call it for this particular blog. Life here is filled with entertainment on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s extremely funny, yet sometimes you have to search for the humour. I feel like the only way to get through all of the craziness is to search for the humour. And sometimes I have difficulty doing that. I don’t like writing when I feel pessimistic or when I cannot see the funny side to something. It just feels like the world has enough pessimism and those of us who write to share/entertain, should write when we are feeling good and able to share in a positive way. Especially when I am writing of my crazy adventures here in South Korea. I haven’t shared anything too personal for a while because yes, we have been stupendously busy, but I’ve also not had the inclination to want to share in the light I would like to share. Obviously I’m also pretty good at getting on my high horse about things (i.e. RSVP’s) but when it comes to this crazy life, I want to share with you in a serious yet satirical way, underlined with a little bit of sarcasm and an optimistic sense of humour. Stay with me if you enjoy my writing. I won’t stop. I cannot stop. I just may have to delay every now and again. And please, as always, talk to me, let me know your thoughts. If you like my blog, share it. If you want more, let me know what you want more of! Email me at Aussiemumsadventures@gmail.com. 

Jeju Island – part 2

Jeju Island – part 2

Sunday
We make a plan to tour the rim road (1132) of the entire island today, stopping at famous beaches or landmarks, basically wherever we decide to stop. Everyone gets their swimsuits on and off we go (I brought donuts with us so the kids all have donuts for breakfast before we leave our room). We go down to the lower level carpark where they have car elevators (a very common thing in Korea and given the lack of space, I guess it makes sense), but they are not common where I’m from and they are very cool as far as I am concerned. They bring our car to us and we go on our way, forgetting the waze app for the time being and just following the map. Our first destination is Pyoseon Beach. It is raining heavily and the temps have cooled right down today and though I made sure the kids had long pants and sweaters, hubby and I do not. It is actually almost cold. Yuck!

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We stop and look at the Jeju folk village near the beach but we don’t get out as it is raining quite heavily. We do however, stop at the beach where everyone is eager to investigate but upon crossing the road and heading towards the water, all realize how chilly it is. Hubby and Hunter head back to the car whilst the girls and I use the public restroom. One thing you will notice throughout your travels through Korea is that there are normally public toilets everywhere. What sort of state they will be in is a different story, but I have honestly found that they are normally pretty good and if they’re not, then someone will soon come along and clean them. This particular instance was no exception. We were the only people in sight yet the toilets were open and clean. One other warning, Koreans do not flush toilet paper. Their sewerage system never used to be able to handle it so it has been done that way for a long time, but when Seoul hosted the Water and Sewerage Exhibition in 2008, they totally overhauled the pipes and have been upgrading pipes throughout South Korea ever since.

From there we kept going along the coast road heading towards Sinyang Seopjikoji Beach. We stopped at Aqua planet Jeju, but as it was now almost 11:30, we had missed all the morning shows and the afternoon shows didn’t start until about 4 and we would have had to pick one to attend, with a slim possibility of attending another one. Adult admission was ₩29,000 and children 13 and under ₩24,000 so, though it wasn’t too expensive, it did seem like a lot of money to pay given we had missed the morning shows and would only be able to see one in the afternoon. Also, we had just been to Underwater World in Australia in July of last year, so I wasn’t overly keen on going to another aquarium. I wanted to see the real under-the-ocean underwater. It was then I suggested we all go on a submarine ride. We had other friends who were actually on Jeju at the same time, but they were doing a group tour, and they had done a submarine tour the day before. It looked like fun. Hubby and I had done something like that once before in Malta and he didn’t want any part in it (he gets a little seasick unfortunately). So I decided to take the two girls with me and he and Hunter would go and get pizza (I forgot to mention we had found a Chicago pizza place on our way) then wander around.

Off to the Udo submarine tour, the girls and I went. This is also where I was somewhat surprised that no one spoke English. I don’t mean to sound conceited but this is something inviting to foreigners to partake in and the international common denominator language is English, yet neither of the women at the ticket booth spoke English, luckily they understood enough to at least write down prices and times for me, but that was all, the rest, including where I had to go to catch the boat to get to the submarine, was up to me to decide. Something else I found odd was the limited information on any of the submarine tours, available online. So I’m going to share that with you. It was ₩56,000 per adult and ₩34,100 per child. They do have a number of sub tours going daily and those are written on a board next to the ticket counters. It is all inside the port terminal, and you do have to pay to park in there so hubby just dropped us off and did (quite possibly an illegal) U-turn out of there. There will be a lot of people inside the terminal but most of them seem to be catching ferries to either Udo Island or some other unknown destination. You have to walk outside of the terminal about 15 minutes before your scheduled tour begins and wait underneath the covered area directly ahead of you, near the water. A boat will arrive that will take you to the submarine dock. The boat ride takes about 15 minutes and is not overly rocky or anything (we had some rough seas that day yet I didn’t feel anything until we were docking at the submarine). Then you are ushered off the boat into the submarine. You literally have to climb down a metal ladder into the submarine so it could be difficult for the elderly and for small children without a parent who can hold them. As it was, I went ahead of the girls so I could catch them if they slipped and I went last to get out for the same reason. After you find your spot on the submarine, the boat will begin to submerge. The tour on the boat is in both English and Korean and Chinese (I think). As you go to the bottom of the surprisingly shallow harbour (about 30 metres) you land on an artificial reef, then a diver will swim around the submarine feeding the fish, ensuring you (well no, not you, ensuring the professional photographer) gets a shot of the passengers with the fish in the window. It’s quite cheesy but my girls loved it nonetheless. Then you head over to a natural reef and look at some amazing coral, followed by some other interesting sites. The actual submarine ride is about 30 minutes long, so it’s all over very quickly. The professional photographer comes around at the end and asks for ₩5,000 for the photo he took, I paid it, just because, but I was happy to see another photo they took just before we boarded the submarine, was actually free as a souvenir. You could of course, upgrade, but I chose not to. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you have kids between the ages of 5 – 12. Otherwise, unless it’s something that really interests you and you don’t think you’ll ever have the opportunity to do something like this again, then give it a miss and do it somewhere else where it’s a little more natural.

From here, we met up with hubby and dear son, they had even bought extra pizza for us, which was both lovely tasting and very prettily wrapped. We headed back to our favourite rim road (1132) and continued our tour of the beaches and sites. Next stop, Gimnyeong Seonsegi Beach.

This beach certainly could be beautiful. There was white sand (I think) hidden underneath the netting and rubbish that covered most of the beach. I guess it wasn’t officially open yet (apparently July is opening season for a lot of the beaches on Jeju Island). We were just disappointed with not only the netting cover, but once again, the litter situation. I don’t understand how people cannot care about their surroundings, their earth, their neck of the woods, so to speak. It really does flabbergast me and this country in particular is particularly bad when it comes to trash. There is literally garbage everywhere! Half the time one cannot find a rubbish bin either, which definitely exacerbates the issue, but in a country that has 30 people planting individual plants in some fields (even grass blades getting planted individually) one would think labor could be better spent perhaps picking up the garbage that litters everywhere. I know that sounds super negative and I honestly don’t mean it to. It is just my perception of one thing that could so easily change if priorities were steered in a different direction. Just like Australia could so easily start making people who collect unemployment benefits start cleaning up our beaches, or contributing to society in some way that ensures they are participating in the betterment of our world whilst being paid by our government during a time of perhaps difficulty in finding regular employment. Simple solutions are sometimes the best and if Jeju was clean, wow!
The dark volcanic rock that decorates some of the shoreline, is very pretty. I loved the way the divets had been created leaving little tiny rivers ebbing through. Even the seaweed added something to the picture. From what I can see in other people’s photos, part of the beach ‘opening’ includes the removal of the seaweed. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re swimming. At least the sun was finally attempting to break through the clouds, so we all stood there soaking up the clear water combined with the massive wind generators in the distance, for quite a long time.

Hamdeok Seoubong Beach was next on our list, well my list really, put together from the little I could find on the Internet without reading super long blogs like mine! 😜 and it was definitely worthwhile seeing. Very pretty. Crazy, even during non-peak times like May 29, but worthwhile. Unfortunately, the first thing we see is a massive group of garbage bins that stink to high horses, filled to the brim, overflowing in fact, with all sorts of garbage. This place is very scenic yet this is what you see as you walk from the carpark. The green grass opens up before you as you cross the road, in the distance you can see some sort of point or bridge, something that goes out towards the water. There’s a beautiful statue of gold fisherman holding their net, lining a small piazza (square) right beside the beachfront road. The restaurants right opposite Hamdeok Beach seem to be traditional Korean restaurants (which would be fine except the one we walked past doesn’t seem to be overly clean once again). The restaurant that sits right on the beach though is a different story. A little more international with the focus on gourmet coffee and ice cream, but with such vogue-ish offerings come vogue-ish prices.

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The beach itself was looking very green- as in lots of seaweed (I guess the cleanup crews weren’t in hurry just yet for this beach either). But the walk out on the pier/dock/bridge (not really sure of the best word to describe it) was very nice. There were a couple of pontoon anchor things out, we assume during peak season these have many things available for hire, docked to them. The bay is quiet with calm waters and shark nets so quite protected and the perfect location to take part in all sorts of activities. Once again, all of these things were not operating during our time here. There was a little bridge leading out to the pier and the view from there looked over to an amazing hill that bordered the seaside. Covered in grassland, it reminded me of the charming knolls that litter the landscape in southern England and Ireland, with all the charm but a little more warmth, on this day anyway. Truly magnificent. No wonder Koreans love to come here.
The sun was definitely attempting to shine, but not nearly enough to entice us to pay the prices at the lovely waterfront restaurant in Hamdeok, nor to wait the half hour to be seated. It was time to get on our way and see the next beach on our (my) list, Samyang Black Sand Beach. We drove on our ring road once again and followed the signs, low and behold, before we got to the black sand beach, we passed these really cool looking huts and a sign indicating a historic (prehistoric) site. I am all about random heritage sites. Yes, there’s the modern day tourist stuff but the history buff in me just has this steadfast curiosity about the way people thrived in previous times and I guess my husband shares it because the minute I suggested we call in, he pulled in to the nearest cross road and looked for the car park closest to the site. I jumped out to find out how much it would be and was pleasantly surprised when the very nice gentleman at the information office told me it was free.

Jeju Samyang-dong Remains – National Historic Site No. 416.

Definitely well worth it for some insight into South Korea (particularly Jeju) during 100BC. Amazing to imagine this now well-developed area as it was then with this indigenous culture thriving on the sea and the land, trading, using pottery, decorating themselves with jewellery, living within huts, yet socializing within their village, with both a village elder/leader, but also a meeting place. If this sort of thing interests you, I would definitely suggest going here. It is clean, well organized with some interactive stuff for the kiddos (all in Korean mind you but don’t be afraid to just go with it) and just plain educational.

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Samyang Black Sand Beach itself was very disappointing. Here we were, four of us remembering black sand beach on the Big Island in Hawaii, hoping to bring some black sand home without being cursed, yet, instead, we were hoping to find a small corner of that beach that wasn’t covered in litter. It was pretty atrocious! The worst beach thus far. The kids kept begging me to take their shoes off and step onto the sand (there’s a wrap around concrete stairway/footpath that literally does wraparound this very small beach that we made them stay on until I could find a small stretch of sand that was free of rubbish). Once again, I was shocked at the lack of care given to something viewed as so incredible. Dog crap everywhere and rubbish piled upon rubbish. I did find a small area the kids got to hang out in but that was it. No begging or pleading could change either of our minds about where they could and couldn’t step on this beach. It was rather disappointing and very sad for those of us who care about our environment.

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Today, our timing actually worked out, we had been heading for Jeju-si for dinner and taking our time getting there, and it all actually worked out. The kids even had extra pizza from the Chicago pizza still in the box if they didn’t like anything on the menu for dinner. We were trying to follow Trip Advisor (of whom I am a huge fan, but once you download the app, becomes a very difficult app to use here because it keeps saying you need wifi, yet I have a smart phone that accesses the Internet). Anyway, we used hubby’s phone to locate at least some of the top ten international restaurants from both Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. Some difficulty was had again using the Waze app to find addresses. I’m not sure what the best way to go is but I suggest researching restaurants close to your hotel prior to going to Jeju, including dishes they serve as well as hours they are open, as well as possibly calling them ahead of time to ensure they will be open during your scheduled trip. You may also even want to plot them on your physical map because heaven knows what your GPS will do once you are on Jeju. We were hoping to find one of a number of international restaurants recommended on Trip Advisor, Trazy and Lonely Planet but had a lot of trouble entering addresses. We eventually decided on Cooking Story BOB, or D Stone Pub as they were supposedly near each other, but couldn’t find either on said Waze app, so I just put in the local landmark of Yongduam Rock (Dragon Head Rock) and clicked on the first thing that came up on my Waze app with fingers crossed. Somehow, we accidentally found D Stone Pub, pulling into it without even knowing we had found it. The reviews were right, in that it is a lovely view and the food is very eclectic. None of the kids wanted anything on the very short menu, instead opting for hot chocolates. These were expensive but honestly some of the best hot chocolates I have ever seen or tasted. Wonderful. Highly recommended. Hubby and I shared a taster of the beer on offer and he ordered a burger (it was ok but had a distinctive mayonnaise on it that he didn’t particularly like but his fries/chips that came with it were wonderful, unfortunately there were only about 5 on his plate) whilst I ordered the spaghetti. Very interesting take on spaghetti with large pieces of broccoli in the mix, but the meat was very tender and the entire dish worked very well. I would highly recommend this dish. It was definitely pricey though with the entire order totaling about ₩65,000 and the children didn’t eat.

We were done with our explorations for today so opted to drive through the center of the island to get back to Sogwipo and were shocked at how foggy and rainy it was as we neared the volcano in the middle. This did remind us of Hawaii in places and was quite majestic and haunting all at the same time. We made it though, no headless horseman to be seen and once again were reminded that the Sogwipo side of the island just didn’t cut it like the Jeju-si side.

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Jeju Island Part 1

Jeju Island Part 1

We had been told by many people that Memorial Day weekend (the last Saturday, Sunday, Monday in May) was a great time to visit Jeju Island, also known as the ‘Hawaii of Korea’. So we booked our package mini holiday and off we went.

So let me first start with the entire month of May being both chaotic and not necessarily the best time for me (please read my other blogs if you’re interested in knowing more). The week leading up had been very busy for all the family with Hunter’s birthday, field days for both girls, exams for Ally, excursion for Hunter, busy days for the husband, dental appointments for three of us, you name it! We were ready for our little holiday! Unfortunately expectations and reality didn’t quite meet.

Thursday night we had Ally’s choir concert, followed by multiple things when we got home. Friday the kids all went to school but hubby (who had the day off – sort of) and I had to go and pay a deposit for a birthday party, do a couple of errands, then he had to call into work and take care of some business whilst I did some grocery shopping. From there we bought Maddy’s birthday present, and that was it, day over, the kids came home from school, we got them showered and dropped our dog off then headed to the dentist. Friday night was a late night, with our dental appointment taking longer than expected, then it was home to pack. I fell into bed about 1am only to awaken at 0545. Yay.

Saturday

Everyone was tired when we set off for Gimpo airport at 7am. Thank god for the Waze app. If you live in South Korea, you will soon find this a necessity. We took a couple of wrong turns even still, but I had allowed us plenty of time for error and/or traffic (something one must always allow for in South Korea). We eventually made it to domestic departures and the domestic car park, only to be told the wait to get into the car park was itself about 1 hour, what! Yes, if you plan to park at the domestic terminal at Gimpo airport, allow yourself at least 1 hour. Panic mode did set in a little then but I had seen a lot of cars waiting for something at the actual departure area and hubby suggested maybe we could leave the car there. We took the loop back around and pulled up behind all the cars and I jumped out and found someone who spoke English to ask. This was valet parking. For an extra ₩15,000 we could leave our car here and have it delivered to us upon our return and we wouldn’t have to wait in the other line. “Yes! This will work!” we said in our haste, not quite realizing at the time that parking itself was also going to be more expensive than we had originally planned. All in all, it cost us ₩55,000 (about US$50) and we parked at 0900 Saturday morning until 1900 Monday night, but we made our flight, so it was worth it for us.

They took a video of our entire car, handed us a piece of paper and we went and found our checkin counter. Our travel agent told us we wouldn’t need ID’s for the kids to check in but we thought it best to be prepared, so we bought their passports with us (thank god we did that too as we’d still be standing at the counter 3 days later had we not)! Bring your little one’s passports. After checking in we were told to wait for 15 minutes so they could notify us of any issues with our bag, we did, then we left. Unfortunately something was taken from our bag, we were not notified until we reached our hotel in Jeju and found the notice in the bag but we couldn’t read what was taken either and couldn’t find anything missing, so who knows! The lock never went back on to our suitcase (we only took one check-in for all of us), the zipper was closed over our son’s walkie talkie, so the antenna was sticking out through the zipper as well). Oh well.


We get to the Jeju International airport and have been given a piece of paper (more like a booklet) directing us to the car rental location. it is raining. We hum and ha about whether we should all walk there and eventually decide yes, we should. We nearly get hit by a taxi as we are crossing at a pedestrian crossing with a green light, so, with Hunter in my arms, I karate kick the side of the taxi, I am a little pissed off by now and that just really made me mad. The taxi speeds off and the whole family are a little in shock and awe at Mummy’s kicking skills! 😜

Eventually, the rental place is located and the exchange is actually very easy. Yay! It’s the little wins! Everyone is starving, so the plan is to make our way to our hotel (we are staying at the M Stay – Taepyeong-ro 353beon-gil 14, Seogwipo) and look for somewhere to eat along the way, here is where we hit some trouble.

Let me give you some background information; I have picky eaters and a reasonably picky husband. I too am not fond of many foods on offer in South Korea. I worry about meat being something other than beef, pork or chicken, I’m also concerned about which part of the animal they are using. We all like very lean meat and that too, is something not found in too many places. None of us eat ‘fishy’ fish and I’m about the only one who will eat anything else that comes out of the sea. Jeju Island was challenging to say the least and given that horse meat is consumed regularly on Jeju, I was very skeptical about what meat was actually what. 

We found no restaurants of appeal on the hour long drive to the hotel. We finally pulled into the hotel and the rain has gotten heavier but it was still somewhat warm so the plan was to find some food then get in the pool and take it easy for the rest of the day.

Ms Lee (our travel agent at the CTO on Camp Humphreys) had told me there was a pool but it was outdoors, I said that I didn’t mind, as long as there was a pool. Well we arrive in the hotel, which is very nice mind you, I check in and ask where the pool is. At first they didn’t seem to understand me, but that wasn’t the problem at all, the problem was the pool didn’t open until June 1st! Not good! Not good at all. No one is happy.

Ok, let’s tackle this from a different angle, let’s just unpack, we’ll wander around and get some food then we can tackle the pool issue. So, we head to our very modern, very small room. I pull out the snack bag, thankful I brought something with us and everyone eats a little bit of something to tide them over so we can wander the streets near the M Stay Hotel to find something that all will eat. And I laughed and laughed.

We literally walked those streets for about two hours. There was an abundant amount of fish. The streets were dirty and filled with filthy garbage. The rain had started to subside but the puddles everywhere made one cautious to walk, in case a hidden danger lurked within. I carried my son, well the husband I took turns, because he only had open toed shoes to walk in. The minute the sun came out, everything started to smell too. We walked by restaurant after restaurant hoping to find something, anything. We stopped at a pizza place but the salad bar looked awful and the pizzas had fish on them. There were some barbecue pork places (Jeju is well known for its ‘black pig’) but the places either smelled too fishy or weren’t as clean as anywhere I would have liked to dine. We found a bakery that also sold pasta but not like any pasta any of us would have eaten, though we did buy a yummy cheese focaccia for the kids to share until we found somewhere suitable. During our adventures of hangry whining, we did stumble upon a very pretty street that was closed off and filled with artisans and their wares. The street is named after the artist who’s place of residence for a period of time (more of a small room within a hut) is along it; Lee Joong Seop (Lee Jung Seob). You can find more information about this famous oil painter here: http://m.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=352


Eventually, when the hunger overtook us and the whining would shortly lead to someone getting hurt, we had to stop. Angel In Us cafe seemed the place to do that. We had been into at least 15 cafes – all of them offering coffee, cake and beer. Yes, I kid you not, if you want to eat/drink those things, you will be just fine!
So the hubby checked the menu at Angel In Us and there was a grilled cheese & ham sandwich. There was also a ham, egg and cheese ciabatta that I opted for. It was a small fortune, but anything to stop the rocky road we were on. The entire family was at the point well beyond walking on any egg shells. Hangry could no longer define anyone!

The sandwiches and ciabatta arrived, we all dug in. Mine was actually pretty good but the cheese and ham toasted sandwich was smeared in some sort of awful sweet mayonnaise type sauce. They all spat it out almost in synchrony. It would have been funny at any other time, but not now. Dear son decided he too loved my ciabatta and proceeded to eat most of it. I couldn’t bring myself to order another one given the whopping price and the small size. Hubby forced himself to swallow his sandwich given how hungry he was and the small fortune we’d spent on his sandwich too! I was sure that he wanted to behave like a three year old at that point in time, laying on the floor, kicking and screaming and partaking in a tantrum of tantamount proportions, but he didn’t. Somehow he kept his cool. If you know my husband then you know it takes a lot for him to get upset but when he’s hungry, it is a completely different ballgame. We are all done by now, just done. It is time to head back to the hotel and eat some snacks then come up with a new game plan for where to eat dinner. Off we go.

By now, I am sorting through a list of international restaurants in Jeju. Unfortunately, the family were a tad tainted by the idea of eating somewhere local given the quality of restaurant we had seen so far. I had posted something on Facebook about the frustration we were all feeling but I hadn’t really given the entire story about the cleanliness of the numerous restaurants we had already observed, so I think some of my FB friends were fairly quick to judge even the fussiness of my family, but to be fair, it had thus far been a pretty horrid ordeal. I had read some rave reviews about a place called Gheckos, so we headed to the car to try once again eating somewhere. We drove the 14km to get to the restaurant and though I had read that some thought it difficult to find, we actually found it fairly easily, it is literally just off on a side road, rather than the main road. Unfortunately though, Gheckos was closed for renovation! Can you believe it? Here we were, 2 adults, 3 kids, Having had nothing decent to eat for the entire day, and the one place we were relying on being open, the one international restaurant that was at least sort of on our side of the island, was closed for construction! Some expletives were said.


Hubby is looking at me for some answers and I am looking at him saying I have none. None whatsoever. We sat there, somewhat in shock and awe for about 10 minutes, neither of us knowing what the best move was. It was now after 8pm Saturday night. Eventually, I suggested we meander down the road for at least another few kms and see if any of the resorts (there were some on our map) were open and if they had restaurants serving international cuisine in them. There weren’t any. Resorts or restaurants. Well there was one place that looked pretty dodgy and had some fishy looking pictures and everyone said no in unison. So we turned around. We had passed a McDonalds about 8km back near the stadium so that was where we headed. Bloody awful McDonalds! What else could we do by now? Some basic food was bought (the McDonalds was dirty also) and to the hotel we returned, hoping Sunday would be a better day, thank god it was, in some ways.

m.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=352