Korea Trip – Part 14: Time To Go Home

On April 14th (day 15), we packed up and headed home. The kids played with their cousins and said their goodbyes to their aunts and uncles. My mom was staying in Korea for another 6 weeks with her sister. My dad was heading home to Michigan, and although we left separately, we ran into him at the airport.

The kids were great on the flight home. This time, Grace took one for the team and sat with them the whole way. I was still recovering from Octogon.

Our trip was amazing and exceeded my expectations in every way. The kids had a great time and hopefully these pictures will remind them of it. For me, I’ll always remember it as the time the kids got me addicted to Temple Run 2 (they’re scary good at it).

Korea Trip – Part 12: Uncle’s 80th Birthday Party

I mentioned that one of the reasons for our trip to Korea was to celebrate my mom’s oldest brother’s 80th birthday (all related through my aunt). On Saturday, April 13th (day 14), we all met at the Imperial Palace Hotel for pictures with the family. The party was actually 3 celebrations: two 70th birthdays and my uncle’s 80th.

Dinner was excellent, and was followed by speeches from each honoree and video tributes produced by the family. One of the persons being celebrated was a well known MBC news anchor, so it appeared his video received some professional assistance (wow). My cousin’s daughter did an amazing job on our family’s video.

It was unclear for what, but at some point Jen won a prize, and all she had to do to receive it was to give a speech. No pressure. Sandor got up voluntarily and gave a typically hilarious speech in perfect Korean, which he learned growing up among the Amish in Lancaster. The audience was befuddled.

This was an amazing gathering for my mom and her family. Looking forward to my uncle’s 90th birthday party.

Korea Trip – Part 11: Lunch with Jiyong

On Saturday, April 13th (day 14), we had lunch with Jiyong, Yeonoo, and Kiwon. Unfortunately, Gina had to work and could not join us. This would be the last time we would see them on our trip, so we were glad to be able to get together. Yeonoo went off to study (on a Saturday), Kiwon went home, and Jiyong graciously gave us a ride back to the hotel.

One of these day we hope they will all visit the states together. I think Gina has seen one too many Terminator movies as she perceives the US to be too dangerous. I think she feels okay in Canada, so maybe we’ll meet up there?

Korea Trip – Part 10: National Museum

On Friday, April 12th (day 13), Grace, Jen and I took the kids to the National Museum in Seoul. They had some really well-done exhibits for the kids. There were also many interactive activities and crafts to keep them busy there for a while. It was probably the most engaging touristy thing they experienced on the trip.

Afterwards, we went to Doore for lunch, which was another Kimchi Chronicles stop. We met my parents there. My uncle also joined us as he was in the city for work. The food was excellent.

We walked around Insadong and randomly ran into my aunt, Liz, Clarence, and the kids. Even though we were all tourists, it still seem coincidental given there are 10.5 million people in Seoul. The kids had a great time together wherever we went.

Korea Trip – Part 9: Paying Respects to Im Grandparents

Almost exactly 10 years ago, my maternal grandfather passed away in Korea. My parents came to San Francisco and we flew together to Seoul from here. I don’t recall exactly why, but Jen was not able to coordinate with us and the timing didn’t allow for her to make the trip. When we arrived at the airport, my mother’s best friend came to meet us. She also came bearing the news that my mom’s mother had also passed away while we were en route. This was unexpected, and my mother was expecting to see her mother.

All of the siblings and the next generation spent the next couple days receiving many people who came to pay their respects. Most had only heard my grandfather had passed away, and were surprised to see both my grandparents’ pictures at the funeral home.

Though sad, there was something romantic about them dying only a day apart after 70-some years together. They lived a long, adventurous life. My grandmother was funny and sweet. My grandfather was more stoic, but knew how to enjoy himself. They lived in Japan for decades before moving back to Kwangju and then Seoul. They traveled a lot with my parents, once going on a trip around the world (leaving my sister and I at Clarence’s house for a summer). Later, they traveled across the US with my parents, aunt and cousin. My grandfather enjoyed taking photographs and many of his photos were hung in our house growing up.

It was a sad occasion, but a great opportunity to be with a side of my family that I had seldom seen growing up. On April 11th (day 12), we took the hour and a half journey to visit their resting place.

On the way home, we asked to be dropped off at a Bukchon Kalguksu for lunch, which was on Grace’s Kimchi Chronicles itinerary. We walked towards Insadong and it looked like rain. Lucas, my dad, and I decided to take the subway back to the hotel while the ladies and Olivia went to shop a bit.

Back at the hotel, we did our afternoon happy hour thing with the kids before all heading out to dinner with the Hau family. We went to PoCha, which wasn’t a real pojangmacha, but adequately provided the experience. The kids were tired, so I took them back to the hotel while the rest of the family stayed to eat and drink.

Korea Trip – Part 8: Lotteworld with Haus and Dinner with Ims

On Wednesday, April 10th (day 11), we went out with Liz and Clarence’s family. We tried to go to the Children’s Park, but it was mostly closed for renovations. We changed plans and went to Lotte World. We were advised not to go there on a weekend, but Wednesday was very managable. The longest line we waited in was about an hour. We didn’t stay long as we had to get back to the hotel.

That evening, we went to my mom’s oldest brother’s home in Ilsan. There, we saw his three daughters and their families. The oldest, Seock-Ah, had visited us in SF some years ago, but I hadn’t seen Gina or Kyung-ah in ten years, nor had we met all the kids. It was great to see all the cousins and second cousins together.

My aunt is an amazing cook and prepared a huge feast in honor of my uncle’s 80th birthday, which was a big reason for our family reunion. My uncle lived with us for some time during the 70s, which made for some hilarious and memorable times together. I was so happy to see everyone doing so well.

Korea Trip – Part 5: Seoul with the Rhees

On Sunday, April 7th (Day 8), we spent time with my dad’s family, including my aunt, my cousins, and their families. We all met at the hotel and then went to a historic area of Seoul where there are many traditional houses. Like any good tourist trap, we paid to see the inside of one, and realized they had dish washers hundreds of years ago.

It was cute to see the kids play with each other, even though they couldn’t really communicate. Afterwards, we went our for Italian food at Villa Ottimo, which was excellent. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen this side of my family (though Jiyong and Yeonoo have visited the states a couple times since then). It was great to spend time with them and see how well everyone is. I hope it isn’t another 10 years.

Korea Trip – Part 4: Watching the Final Four

On Saturday, April 6th (day 7), Liz and Clarence’s family arrived from NJ. It’s been a while since the kids were able to play together. It was raining out, so we just relaxed at the hotel that day. Jen also arrived from NYC that day, so we all had dinner together (with Dave) at the JW Grill.

The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and got ready for Michigan’s final four game. I was stressed about how we were going to watch it. It clearly wasn’t on broadcast and CBS blocked the online stream outside of the US. I tried a US proxy server, but the connection was too slow. Finally Clarence came through with his Slingbox, so we were all set.

Fritz came over to watch the game with us. Michigan pulled it out in an exciting game, despite the fact that Lucas was wearing Syracuse colors. Go Blue!

Korea Trip – Part 3: Exploring Seoul

On Thursday, April 4th (day 5), we were back to sightseeing in Seoul. The great thing about the JW Marriott was that it was attached to the Shinsegae department store, with many food vendors, a food court, and restaurants. It was also right above a major subway stop, which made getting around the city really easy for the kids and our group.

We went to see Gyeongbukgung Palace. Afterwards, Grace made reservations at a special samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) restaurant, called Tosokchon. It was a good thing we had a reservation, as the line to get in was down the block. Afterwards, Dave, Charles and I went to go check out the electronics mart. Thank goodness I didn’t find anything except an iPhone cable. For dinner, we all went down to the food court in Shinsegae, which had just about any food option you could imagine, including Johnny Rockets.

On Friday, April 5th, we walked along the Cheonggyecheon river, had lunch at Bulgogi Brothers, and looked around Myongdong and Namdaemun. The kids didn’t last long there, so my dad and I took them back to the hotel early so the ladies could continue to shop. That evening, we had one of our nicer dinners in Seoul together at Hanilkwan. My mom’s sister also joined us for dinner.

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Korea Trip – Part 1: Arriving in Seoul

Grace’s Mom wanted all of us to go to Korea together. My mom’s brother in Korea was celebrating his 80th birthday, which happened to be during Spring break, so we coordinated all familes into one big trip.

We departed on March 29th from SFO. In addition to flying with Addy and Charles, coincidentally, our friends, Eugine and Ed, were also on our flight with their family. Also crazy was that I bumped into my b-school buddy, Manish, and his family, who were on their way to visit his wife’s family. They were in our row.

Singapore Airlines is the best and I’ll never complain about a 777. However, the 3-3-3 seating presents a challenge for a family of 4. I took one for the team and sat with the kids for the 11-hour trip to Seoul. The kids did great (thank you, Apple iPads) and ended up sleeping at a time that was very late for them. It might have been best if they just stayed up, but they were troopers nonetheless. This was also our first big trip without a stroller and it wasn’t missed at all (look for them on Craigslist soon).

We departed at 2:30pm and arrived at 6:45pm the following day. We arrived at the JW Marriott and met up with Grace’s parents, who had already been in Korea for a few days. My cousin, Jiyong, and his son, Yonoo, also greeted us at the hotel, which was so nice of them. Dave also arrived from NYC later that evening. Everyone was ready for a real night’s rest despite the time difference.

We made a strategic decision to book a suite, assuming the sofa in the living area was also a sleeper. It was not. We got a twin rollaway for the kids and they slept in it together for two weeks. Lucas fell out of it only twice: once while laughing, the other time not so much. The other great thing about our package was that we had breakfast included every day, including access to the executive lounge, which served drinks and food all day. This would have been great for me, except I gave up Diet Coke on Tuesday, January 8th. I stared down those Coca-Cola Lights every day.

The first day was a true tourist day. We took taxis to the start of the City Bus Tour. With a group this large, it was hard to make a decision for lunch, and thus, we ended up at KFC. It was awful. Our first stop was a whopping 200m down the road. We saw the first of many palaces and stuck around to see the daily changing of the guard. We stayed on the bus for a while just seeing the sights and didn’t get off again until Namsan Tower.

I should note that this was only my 5th trip to Korea, and every trip beforehand was generally summertime. Spring there was beautiful and I enjoyed needing a coat or sweater. There were beautiful views from atop the tower. Our last stop was at the Hyatt Hotel, which is where my family stayed during my first trip to Korea in 1979. From there, we took taxis to our first dinner in Korea together.

Grace has been obsessed with the Kimchi Chronicles. I only watched for glimpses of Heather Graham. Grace spent hours pouring over all the episodes and mapped out an itinerary around visiting as many of the same restaurants as possible. Our first stop was Pro Ganjang Gejang. I chronicled the debacle already on Facebook:

 In one day here, I’ve learned that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We searched for lunch yesterday before boarding a city tour bus and ended up at KFC. Gracie’s main interest in coming to Korea was to retrace the Kimchi Chronicles, so our itinerary is scheduled around food. Last night, we went to Pro Ganjang Gejang, which specializes in spicy raw crab. The kids slept through dinner and I didn’t really find anything appetizing on the menu.

Grace did not fully disclose her potential raw shellfish allergy, which explains why she always has to wear gloves when preparing shrimp. Grace ended up booting when we got back to the hotel. Her brother Dave was consulting with local physicians and Grace was asking if I was prepared to stab her in the heart with the kids’ epi pens (okay, thigh). Dave kept an eye in her while I went downstairs to find dinner. Surprise, I came back with a Big Mac meal (except I gave up diet coke). Lucas is not yet awake and I am loading up on Frosted Flakes on anticipation of day #2. There better be a bi bim bop in my future.

Grace was still wrecked the 2nd day and the kids were on a whacky schedule. I took Lucas to breakfast twice that morning as he slept through the first one. Grace stayed at the hotel while we went to explore Insadong. Grace’s aunt and uncle from LA happened to be staying there for a while, so we met them for lunch and then went to their apartment.

Grace finally rallied for dinner at bibigo, which was much more my speed. I’m not sure if the parents enjoyed it as much.

I decided we were there for too long to try to post the hundreds of photos in a single post. These are definitely mostly for the benefit of Lucas, who likely won’t remember much from this trip. I’ll be sure to remind him he had an amazing time during his first trip to Korea.

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