Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thoughts From A Church Pew

Good Morning! And happy Thanksgiving to you all! I love this holiday perhaps more than any other because it feels good to stop and smell the roses, count your blessings, and let a meal wing you back to the memory of childhood dinners on the good china.

A week and a half ago I sat beside my daughter in a church pew on a military base in South Korea. I looked around my seat at the (mostly young) men and women, the newlyweds and the single folks, the families with young children, some with a baby on the way, those who left family on the other side of the world for one reason or another, and I felt so much love for these people who I don't even know, that I wanted to cry.

I listened as the pastor reminded everyone there were sign up sheets out for Thanksgiving dinner, people opening up their homes to share a meal with singles who might want a home cooked plate of turkey and dressing or families who want a full table on this day of gratitude, and I thought this is America. Right here.

I thought about life back in the states, about all the angry noisy noise and how our all day news and our 'friendly' social media feeds and our television screens are filled with so very many complaining about so very

We have that luxury in the land of the free and in 2019 we've run with it full throttle.

Someone said something I don't like. 
They need to be verbally assaulted, eviscerated, labeled. 

Someone is going to give a speech on my college campus and I already know I don't like or agree with anything they will say-think-feel so they should be protested, banned, their every sin laid bare. 

Every little thing an emotional trigger for somebody somewhere.

Me Me Me 

Meanwhile, on a military base in S. Korea young men and women get on with things. They rise at dawn as the trumpet blows. No calling in sick, no skipping class or an assignment, no tweeting their outrage and discontent from the warmth and comfort of a 60K a year dorm room paid for by parents or exorbitant student loans.

They get up and put on a uniform. They head out to pt because there is value in being both mentally and physically fit. They do their jobs, large and small, the seemingly menial and the obviously meaningful because it takes all kinds to make the world go round.

They grow in ways they didn't expect and develop the sort of skills and character traits America was built on...self-discipline, adaptability, patience, courage, selflessness.

As I sit down at the table with family today I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for our military men and women. They can't jump in the car and go to mama's for the weekend, in fact here in S. Korea most don't even have cars.

Or packages delivered to their door 24 hours after hitting purchase.

Or their favorite television shows, favorite stores and restaurants, or a million other things we take for granted every single day.

Some are homesick for America and go to bed tired from the mental energy it takes to live an ordinary day in a foreign country, base or no base.

But these soldiers are tough and resourceful and optimistic and they will find a way to mark the holiday. It won't be grandma's homemade rolls on the table or watching the game with dad, but it will still be a day of giving thanks.

And while we're giving thanks let's also remember the young wife married just a month before moving around the world, far from the only hometown she's ever known. And the mama with a just turned one year old who has yet to meet his grandparents in person because 7000+ miles is just not that easy or affordable to arrange.

Think of the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, best friends, missing their soldier today and every day.

Think of all we have at our fingertips here in the USA and be grateful without any buts! attached.

Vow to hit pause before hitting send-publish-share on words that do nothing in the way of adding peace to this land we love.

Hug the people you're with knowing there's a mama somewhere who would love to do the same but who settles for FaceTime and phone calls squeezed in around upside down time zones.

May your Thanksgiving day be blessed!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

South Korea Scramble

There are a few million bits and pieces I still want to mention about our trip east so I'm going to drop them here. I guess you could also call this post Picture Overload, but whatever.

We were away for a month give or take a day, four days of which were spent traveling, four days in Seoul, and four days in Tokyo. I know! I haven't even mentioned Tokyo here yet, but we'll get to that. Let's wrap up S. Korea first.

When your 'kids' live far from home it's so nice to see their space up close and in person. If you read my daughter's blog you might have seen the video tour she posted of her apartment which was great, but it makes a mama's heart feel better to see it in real time for herself.

The apartment and grounds are really nice and we spent a lot of time on the playground with the mancub. I might have gone down this slide a hundred and seventeen times but how could you say 'no more' when this is the reaction you get every single time?

The second day we were in town this fabulous thing happened-

Coffee with my friend from England. She and her husband have been so kind to my daughter and it was wonderful to catch up in person.  They also attend the same church as my girl so we were able to see her hubs and daughter a little later on in our visit too.

We walked into 'the ville' several times while we were visiting. So interesting to see how people live all around this great big world. Of course we indulged in the famous and delicious Korean BBQ one night-

And we ate some 'this is not your typical takeout' takeout-

As is true of toddler households the world over, mornings typically began with a whole lotta track works-

Halloween happened while we were there and the cutest little Woody you ever did see wore his costume around to a few neighboring apartments for his first taste of trick or treating. Also you need to know his mama is completely amazing, having just arrived home from the hospital a couple of hours earlier. 

One afternoon hubs and I walked to the local Anjeong-ri market, more commonly referred to as the 3/8 market since it's only open on dates ending in 3 or 8.  

The produce was amazing along with lots of fish and other foods, snacks, and candies. 

We stopped in a newish coffee shop on the walk home for a cup of tea which never disappoints here. 

Real china and attention to detail make it so. 

One beautiful day we ventured to a nearby park to run and play and worry about a kite someone managed to get stuck in a tree.

Speaking of trees, the ginkgo trees were everywhere, a gorgeous shade of bright lemon yellow. Apparently once the leaves drop the female of the species has an extremely unpleasant odor, but we weren't in town for that. 

We read a lot of books. A lot a lot. Maybe thousands, but particularly this one-

His favorite is the story of 'Noah' and the Whale, and every time we read this one the mancub expressed great concern at Jonah's sandals coming off as he sunk into the sea. 

We also ventured out to toddler story time at the library on base-

There were somewhere around fifteen kids in attendance and there was paint!!

God bless the mamas and the librarians! 

Mostly we did a lot of this. 

Baby watching. 
Because no matter where in this world you may be...

There is nothing quite so sweet as a sack of sugar in the form of a newborn baby boy. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Little More Seoul

Our third morning in Seoul found me still coughing. So much so that after pantomiming my symptoms to a very helpful shopkeeper in a tiny store called something like CVS (trademarking is loose here) I purchased some sort of S. Korean cold medicine. There was not a word of English on the box so I took it to our very helpful hotel desk clerk who translated the dosage for me, and if that doesn't deserve a five star rating I don't know what does.

We had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel then headed out for an area of the city called Bukchon Hanok Village. Hanok is the word for the traditional wooden houses that once covered Korea, but have now mostly been replaced with more modern architecture.

We took a taxi because we were a bit unclear as to how to enter the village. Our driver dropped us off at the end of a road and pointed vigorously, which we took to mean mean walk in that general direction, so we did and eventually landed in the right place. 

This area y'all!

So charming! Old world meets new all over this city, but maybe nowhere more so than this little neighborhood.

The steep, winding, narrow streets and beautiful design-

Gorgeous front doors and beautiful gardens peeking over the fences. People live here and there are a number of signs posted regarding quiet hours (visit before 5 PM and not on Sundays) which visitors seemed to respect.

We saw so many people dressed in the traditional Korean dress known as hanbok.  I believe it is designed to be worn as semi-formal or formal attire during festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies but we saw people everywhere we went in the dress taking lots and lots of photographs.

Hanbok is colorful and beautiful and all five palaces in Seoul waive the entry fee if you're wearing this traditional dress. You can also rent outfits around the city but as a visitor I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that, although apparently many do.

After leaving the village we browsed a shopping area known as Insadong, then made our way to Seoul's most prominent temple, Jogyesa, headquarters for Korea's main Buddhist sect.

The temple sits in the heart of the city and the design is stunning.

By this point our feet were aching so we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Well hubs got ready for dinner and I put on my pjs, drank my ?cough syrup? and went to bed.

Hubs used to travel to this part of the world fairly often so while I slept he was able to meet up with a dear Korean friend for conversation, catching up on work and family, and of course traditional barbecue (I was sorry to miss that). I was so happy this worked out as his friend had just returned home after several days out of town, then had to fight traffic to make this dinner happen.

Sunday we took the train back to our daughter's home for another week with the grandest grandboys I know. We're soaking up all the minutes, trying not to count down the days or calculate how many months old this precious newborn will be the next time we see him in person or when's the next time big brother will snuggle up beside us asking to read 'Noah and the Whale' because that kind of thinking steals the joy from today, and we definitely don't want to do that.

Life is always teaching us something, isn't it?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mountaintops and Riverwalks South Korea Style

Since we were only spending a few days in Seoul we wanted to be sure and see the highlights. People watching, browsing local markets, and coffee in a local cafe are always on the agenda when we travel, but I also want to see some of the sites a city is known for. I'm a big fan of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides which are easy to use and have pullout maps of cities and subway systems.

If you have a short window of time to spend in a large city the DK Eyewitness Top 10 guides are especially good at steering you toward the 'don't miss' stuff. When you're using an underground metro system it makes sense to plan your day a bit so you don't waste time criss crossing the city unnecessarily and we used the Top10 Seoul guide to help plan our days.

We had beautiful weather the three days we were in the city. One thing you need to know about S. Korea is the air quality is not always good for outdoor activities. There are days you're advised to stay indoors and we do, which might explain the abundance of cafes and coffee shops here. We've had several poor air quality days since arriving, but the weekend we spent in Seoul was gorgeous.

Friday we slept in because that darn cold-ugh! then grabbed coffee and pastry at a nearby bakery. Actually hubs had coffee and I had the famous Korean milk tea which was scrumptious! This bakery offered the tea warm or cold, but the girl behind the counter told me cold is the way to go.

She was right-so good!

After breakfast we walked up the hill to get on the 'tram' that would take us to the cable car that
would take us to the elevator that would take us to the top of Seoul Tower.  If you read here you know how I feel about cable cars but when in Rome...

Seoul Tower sits atop Namson, a peak in the mountains that make up Korea. There are fabulous views from the tower observation deck and several dining and shopping options at the base and up top both. There's also apparently a Teddy Bear museum but we missed that.

When you get off the cable car, but before you enter the elevator taking you into the tower itself you see trees and fences and railings covered with padlocks.  Couples buy a lock and attach it to one of the 'trees' then throw away the key, symbolizing eternal love. It's a colorful sight for sure.

Way back when, during the Joeson era, Koreans used smoke signals to communicate, and Namsan was at the center of a network of chimneys used to signal warnings.

Depending on the threat anywhere from one to five beacons would be lit and then copied on successive mountains all the way up the coast to the Chinese border.

The communication and observation tower was built in 1971, stands 774 feet high, and has spectacular views from the top.

After leaving the tower we went back to our hotel for a small siesta then rode the metro to the well known Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in South Korea, to see what we could see.

Fish. Lots of fish. And people dining on everything from live squid to blood sausage and pig intestines. We stuck with less adventurous fare and sampled the mung bean pancake (Bindaetteok) and seaweed rolls (Mayak Kimbap).

The market was bustling and filled with locals on their way home from work on a Friday night, a fun place to explore.

After we left the market we walked along the Cheonggyecheon Stream to see the Lantern Festival.

This is a two week festival beginning on the first Friday in November each year and definitely worth seeing if you're in the city during its run.

The theme this year is "Your Seoul, Light Through Dream" and features Korean characters from Korean folk tales and stories-

Fairy tales from around the world-

and more-

It's beautiful and the walk along the stream really is so dreamy.

A magical way to end the day.