Monday, June 28, 2010

Liquid Sunshine

Sunday morning (June 26th), we woke up at 4am unable to sleep. We were still battling a little jet lag. It's tough trying to adjust to a 13 hour time difference, so I've decided to use that time in the morning to update the blog and make sure I'm capturing as many of our experiences as possible. It's working well, so I'll try to keep up with the routine. I know that if I don't update the blog daily, I may never get around to writing it down.

Actually our morning started even earlier than 4am. We both fell asleep early the night before. We wanted to see the South Korea world cup match which didn't start until 11pm, but new that there was no way we would be able to stay awake. A little after midnight, we were awakened by noise as we heard people cheering on the Korean team. We turned on the television to see what was happening and ended up staying up for the next hour watching the rest of the game. Unfortunately South Korea lost in a very close match. The whole time we have been here, the South Koreans have been very excited about their soccer team. There are red shirts everywhere. They even closed off several blocks around city hall where hundreds of thousands of people watched the game on the big screens. We really would have loved to experience this, but knew there was no way we would be able to deal with that much excitement late at night.

When we awoke the second time in the morning (at 4am), we flipped on the television and watched the US world cup match too. It was another tough loss, just like South Korea. Only after watching both games did we realize that if both teams had won, they would have played each other just a few hours after we arrive back in the US with Zachary. That would have been a fun match to watch together.

The weather forecast for our day in South Korea wasn't good (rain) so we decided to go visit some indoor sites. We decided to use the subway. The subway system in Seoul is huge, clean, and very efficient system. For the most part, it's very easy to use. The system has both Korean and English throughout. You can choose to purchase a card for single use between two destinations or a charge card that you can load specific denominations of money that can be recharged as necessary. Since we were new at using the subway, we decided to start out using the single use card. They machines that dispense the cards have English instructions, so getting the cards was a simple process that we completed in about 2 minutes. We walked to the entrance where you scan your card, but couldn't figure out how to enter our card to get through the gate. After passing our card over multiple areas of the machine, Laura realized that we were supposed to place the card on top of the machine in order to pass through the gate. We walked down to the loading station and encountered our next small confusion...we had to figure out which direction we needed to travel. There are clear signs everywhere, but we knew that if we hopped on a train without ensuring we were going in the correct direction, we wouldn't end up at our final destination. We took our time, making sure that we understood the correct direction to travel in order to connect to catch the next train. We caught the next train without a problem.

At our transfer point, we got a little confused because there were two different loading areas instead of one. In order to get to our loading station ended up exiting the subway system, so we had to get another single use card. The rest of the subway ride to COEX went off without a hitch.

When we arrived at COEX, we met up with Laura's friend Barbara and her niece Hayley. They were the ones that we had met the previous day in Insadong. COEX is the largest underground mall in Asia. To say it is huge is an understatement. In addition to stores and restaurants, there is an aquarium, movie theater, and kimchi museum. We just wandered around without any real plan on what we wanted to see. We checked out a few shops to see if we could find a some small Pororo items for Zachary and found a little Pororo figure that contains a liquid for blowing bubbles. I can see us blowing bubbles in the hotel room, trying to keep him occupied.

We found the kimchi museum and decided to go inside to get a little more information about Korea's most famous food. There were some very nice displays about the history of Kimchi, how to make kimchi, and various other pickled foods that can be found around the world.

There was also an area where we could sample various varieties of Kimchi. At the end of the museum, we noticed a couple of children's books (translated in English) of Korean folk tales. The artwork was beautiful, so we decided to get them to share with Zachary as he grows.

After exiting the museum, we continued to explore the mall, making our way back towards where we started. It was around lunch time, so we decided to find a place to eat. Since Hayley wanted to have pizza, we decided to go to Pizza Hut. We heard they had some unique varieties of pizza and wanted to give it a try. We decided to try the bulgogi pizza. It had bulgogi meat (beef that has been marinated) with sweet peppers, onions, and mushrooms. It was very good.

Having seen enough of the mall, we decided to walk around outside a little. It was still cloudy and humid, but the rain had stopped. We visited a Hyundai Department Store, thinking it would be a good place to find inexpensive items. Instead, we found that department stores in Korea tend to contain more high end items. We browsed a couple of floors then decided to leave.

We walked to the subway, trying to decide what to see next. As we stood near the subway ticket machines, a very nice Korean gentleman came up to us and asked us if we needed any help. In many of the subway stations, there are people there to help people find their destinations on the enormous subway system. We decided that our next destination would be Lotte World. The gentleman helped us by letting us know which stop we should use. While assisting us, he asked us where we were from and why we were visiting. I told him that we were adopting a little boy. I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. I know that adoption can be a sensitive subject to some Koreans. When I told him about our adoption, his face instantly changed and you could see the gratitude in his eyes. He reached out his hand to me, shook my hand, and giving me a very heartfelt "thank-you". This wasn't the first time that we had been thanked by a Korean for adopting Zachary. It was a very touching moment in a very public place. It meant much to both of us.

We thanked the gentleman for helping us, then caught the next train to Lotte World. Lotte World is also an indoor mall that also has a hotel, ice rink, Kidzmania, and an amusement park (both indoors and outdoors). We explored the mall area which ended up being very similar to COEX. As we walked into the food court area, we noticed an open area in the distance. Thinking that it was the ice rink, we dedided to go take a look. What we found had all of us staring in awe. Below us was a huge ice rink, but above us was the large indoor amusement park covered with a glass ceiling. It was similar to a small park at Disney World, complete with rides, a stage, and a large parade. It was absolutely amazing and totally unexpected. We just stood there, trying to absorb the experience. It was very surreal for all of us.

Now that we had seen the indoor amusement park, we wanted to take a look at the outdoor one. After a few wrong turns, we finally made our way outside and found it. It looks like a small version of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, complete with a castle.

If we hadn't been so tired from all the walking, we probably would have gone inside. Knowing our limits, we decided to head back to our hotels and call it a day. We grabbed a bite to eat at Seoul Station, bought a few items of food at the Lotte Mart, and went back to the room.

It was a very nice second day in Seoul. After seeing some historical sites the previous day, we were able to enjoy some more modern experiences. We've enjoyed both. The last two days have been filled with excitement and amazing experiences in Seoul. Who knows what the next few days hold for us.

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