Back to Korea

For a military brat, four years spent in one location amounts to a heck of a lot of time, even if it was split over two separate moves.  In fact, it makes the place feel like home more than anywhere else in the world.  Oddly enough, its Korea for me. So, given the opportunity to return and visit for a bit while the hubs was on TDY, the kids and I jumped on the chance.  It’s expensive to fly there from Arizona, though, but I found a crazy weird fare from LA to Seoul that was only cheap when I added a Philippines stopover. All of which requires us to be very portable; can’t take a rolly bag easily on a ferry boat or in a tuk tuk, but I also can’t get away with limited beach clothes as Korea can be cold in February.  We opted for backpacking, and limited the pack to include one outfit for each potential climate, plus a little pack pillow and ultra light sheet.

Our first step was heading to L.A. for that flight, so we boarded the local city bus to our Amtrak station. Already the trip was an adventure with a unique clutch of strung-out druggies picking a fight with a potentially drunk workaholic sharing our bus. It was simple, though, to walk from the bus terminal to the train station where we noshed on our sandwich dinner and waited for the overnight train.  All aboard!  Our seats were listed at lower level, but we were assigned upper level and I wished I would’ve spoken up.  On our return trip, the train was quiet in the smaller lower level seating spaces, but on this outbound trip the drunk guy in front of me didn’t allow my mommy-senses to fall into a deep sleep. He wasn’t raucous, just obviously intoxicated and snoring like a freight train.  Avi slept like a baby beside me, however, and woke in Palm Springs quite excited to watch the wind turbines in the dark.

Zoe sat across the aisle with a very nice grandma named Mary from a farm in Oregon. Mary told Zoe all about her life in Tanzania where her husband was a workforce trainer, and about how now they own a farm in Oregon and have lots of cows and sheep and goats and chickens.  Zoe taught her how to play solitaire.

The train rolled into L.A. Union Station an hour early, alleviating any worries I had about being late for our flight, and we quickly followed signs to the FlyAway bus direct to LAX airport.  We hopped off the bus at terminal 1, and spent our buffer couple hours at the USO eating free food, soaking up coffee,washing up a bit, and watching some TV.  The USO is such a wonderful organization!  Thank you!! Refreshed, we walked down to the international terminal to check in for our Asiana Airlines flight to Incheon.

We spent the 13 hour flight attempting to stay awake by watching tons of movies on the little personal in-seat screens.  For a family with limited screen time, binge-watching is a special treat.  I think Avi watched Coco twice, and Zoe cried while watching Born in China because the stinking creatures die; thanks Disney.  Zoe and I did nap for a few hours eventually, but I think Avi stayed awake the whole time.

Stepping off the plane in Incheon instantly felt normal.  No nervous buzzing or rushing or finding, not even nostalgia or reminiscing; just an average day heading to the Songtan bus, which we just missed and needed to wait 45 minutes causing a bit of a crying sleepy not-a-fight-just-bickering.  We got donuts to sooth and then fell asleep hard on the bus.

Bryan was there waiting at the Songtan bus terminal and dragged us home to a fellow pilots’ apartment who graciously let us ‘house sit’ while she was off the ROK.  Songtan looks a bit different with a plethora of new high rises jenga-ed into the Sinjang area near the gate and a new entry to the shopping road; otherwise its all the same. Feels like home.

We get to spend the next ten days tricking ourselves into believing we live here again.  We wander around downtown for shopping and Korean food.  We go to the park, and walk on base to see movies or eat at Chili’s.  Our family has a rule:  We will ONLY ever eat at a Chili’s in Korea.  So, we have had to do that. Seems not to have changed since three years ago.

The best part has been visiting with friends.  Jiyoung met us for lunch the day after we arrived, and we talked and talked like time hadn’t passed.  She was surprised at the size of the kids, but they have such fond memories of her its like visiting a favorite auntie.  There were hugs and squeals and we met for coffee and dinner at her house with her husband and girls; it was my turn to be surprised at these new young women.  I remember watching her youngest walk in front of our very first Korean apartment on her way to and from primary school.

On base we get to visit quite a bit with another good friend and her brand new spastic jindo dog.  Betsy was in Korea when we left, she left, and then returned.  Her kiddo’s and mine are having a blast off; so much so that we have visited again and again and my kids want to come back to live in Korea!

We really are having the best time pretending we have moved in.  Our mornings are relaxing school time while we wait for the yellow dust to pass (yes, that is still here and still yucky), and afternoons find us doing playground tours, visiting the cute puppy up the road, or hiking around Buraksan.  The other day we walked across town to a small local jjimjilbang for some public bathhouse action, and returned via the trails. I miss having a place to hike in trees without driving.  I miss the workout equipment along the trail, too.  It was fun to see Avi enjoy the same trail we used to hike once a week while Zoe went to the elementary school for special and lunch.  Such fond memories of my little man and our sushi lunches.  I am jealous of our friends who get to stay  and experience spring in all its glory with the pink and white blossoming trees and roadsides covered with yellow forsythia.  It has been nice weather for us, so warm we can feel spring just over the hill, while nights are cold and we are glad to have our winter coats.

The food is also a highlight.  Street food.  I love street food.  So we’ve eaten the shopping road.  We’ve eaten at Mr. Kabab.  We’ve eaten at Thai 2.  We got our fill at the Bulgogi house.  More food to come!  And the kids’ indoor playlands! I’ve missed these, so I can drop them off to play and go shop.  A couple days ago we drove down to Camp Humphreys, the big army base to the south, which is now massive.  No really, its massively massive. It puts me in mind of Ramstein in Europe; a little America in another country.   It was simply wild to see how much of the construction that began when we left has been finished and continues.  I guess that is like the whole country; constant construction.

It’s good to be back!

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