Tag: South Korea

Trip of a lifetime: One year later.

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Exactly one year ago, my family took a very important trip. We went to South Korea. We also couldn’t help but add Singapore and Japan to the list (which were AMAZING), but let’s face it. Korea was where it was at on a very personal level.

If you’re new to the blog, let me quickly catch you up. My brother and I were adopted from South Korea when we were only a handful of months old. We’ve been raised as Aussies and until 2014, we’d never been back to Korea before. The opportunity came up (after years of talking about it) because everyone in the family was free to do it at the same time in June 2014. We just had to seize the moment and book that shit in!

We travelled for a month. Myself, Mr Unprepared, the Little Mister (who was 2 and a half), my brother and my/our parents (adoptive but I prefer to call them my ‘real’ parents because they are).

Looking back on the experience a year later, I have so many mixed feelings! Some of my memories are just amazing. I feel so much pride that we undertook such a crazy journey – especially with a 2 year old in tow. We ate some amazing food, we soaked up the culture. We lived out of suitcases. We just threw ourselves into it and got as much out of the experience as we possibly could.

I feel grateful. I am so glad I had that experience. On a personal level, it really cleared some things up for me. I’ve never had a desire to find my biological family. I mean, never say never, but up until now my feelings have not changed. Going to Korea really made me feel comfortable with this. The language barriers, the cultural differences (travelling with a child really highlighted this). Being reunited with your birth family would be an enormous undertaking. It wouldn’t be that easy. And that’s if your biological relatives even wanted to meet you (there’s a lot of shame). I don’t think I am missing enough in my gorgeous life to be willing to go through so much. I am at peace with that. Really, deeply peaceful about it.

This trip changed my life. I wondered if I’d feel a strange resentment towards the country that gave me up and made me look ‘different’ from a lot of my Aussie peers (a great source of curiosity for the ignorant). Would I want to back pedal and claim no likeness to the Korean people? Would I feel so culture shocked that it traumatised me? Would I feel ugly if I compared myself to their beauty standards (they’re big on plastic surgery and the K-pop image)? Where the hell would that leave me after spending my childhood feeling inferior to my white friends (luckily I’m well over that now)?

Turns out, I realised I own my identity as an individual. A unique person who has an amazing story of my own to tell. I got to go to this strange (to me) and wonderful country and I got to sit on both sides of the fence, so to speak. I realised I’m different everywhere I go! And I’m so stoked with that! I’m just me. I’m not a culture. I am not a race. I’ve never felt more ownership over who I am in my life. That trip made me stronger. I will be eternally grateful for it. It changed who I am because it didn’t change who I am. How’s that for confusing? But do you know what I mean? Realising that visiting Korea wasn’t going to unravel me or throw my identity into chaos and confusion, was so…oh I don’t know the word. It was positively powerful.

There are some tough memories of course. The weird, overwhelming sadness I felt at times. Shit had happened to me in this country. It led me to an amazing life, but shit happened. Shit I’d always wondered about and felt sensitive about (rejection issues anyone?). While I’ve worked hard for a lot of my adult years to understand myself better and to grow through these feelings, visiting there unexpectedly (who was I kidding?) opened up some wounds again. I felt very tender. Add the fatigue and stress of wrangling a 2 year old – probably leaving me a bit more vulnerable – and there were some feelings/moments that still feel very raw to this day. I hope that rawness fades over time.

Sometimes I even think, who the eff did we think we were trying this kind of trip with a small child?!! The things we did! The stress we were under daily! The fast pace of the holiday! Even the child free me would find it a huge task! It really wasn’t the kind of trip you would normally plan, with a toddler in mind. At least not something I (a big chicken) would normally plan! But we just had to do it. We couldn’t waste time. No-one wanted any regrets. This was the trip of a lifetime and I am so grateful that our beautiful Little Mister got to share it with me. With us. How very special.

A lot of fun was had. Some days I just walked around in awe. I couldn’t believe I was able to have such an amazing experience. I wanted to absorb everything I was seeing. Oh, if eyes were cameras, dammit!

So a year on, I feel a bit jealous of the travelling me of 2014 (certainly doesn’t help that my parents went to New York without me – the injustice!!), but I feel happy to be home too. Feeling more settled than I have in a long time.

Hashtag f*cking blessed.

Peace out xo

Where I’m from.

This post has been inspired by Fat Mum Slim’s September Photo a Day challenge x

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When people ask me where I’m from, it often means “Why are you an Asian looking person living in Australia? How did you get here?”

I’m fairly happy to answer that I’m adopted and that I’ve been in Australia all my life – it’s pretty much all I’ve known! Earlier this year, I got to visit my birth country (South Korea) for the first time. The photo above is a shot I took at night time on the beach of Busan, the city I was born in. While it brought up a lot of feelings for me, it was also a really cool place. I’m so relieved I liked it so much!

Visiting Korea really taught me a lot about myself. Clarified for me a lot of feelings I’ve had surrounding my adoption. I am so glad I got to experience it with my family – Mr Unprepared, the Little Mister, my parents and my brother (who was also adopted). Today, if you were to ask me for my honest answer about where I’m from (and were willing to hear the true answer straight from my heart), I would tell you nothing has changed. My answer is ‘Australia’. It’s my home. It’s where my real family are from – the family I’ve known and loved (and been loved by) all my life. I am very happy with that. You know, hashtag blessed and all that.

You can read more about my experiences visiting my birth place here:

Busan: The city I was born in.

How it feels to revisit the place I was born.

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On a whole other note, today marks the last day of September. That means that the challenge I set myself – to blog along with Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day challenge for the whole month of September – has come to an end! I must say it has been so wonderful to do. I was feeling a bit ‘blah’ after I’d finished blogging about our big trip to Korea and Japan, so this came along at a great time, when I needed my creativity to get sparking again. Some posts have been better than others this month (oops), but I have really enjoyed writing a lot about stuff I might not have thought of, had it not been for Fat Mum Slim’s daily photo prompts. Thanks, lady! 🙂

I admit that it was very time consuming and at times, tiring. I found that weekends were the hardest. I skipped one day. I wrote some of my blog posts a little late. By the end, my posts were getting a bit short. By the end of the month, I was kind of secretly looking forward to today. I am so grateful for my new followers, who I am assuming came to me, because some stuff I wrote during this challenge caught their attention – hello! I am so glad to have you here! I loved that blogging daily (or almost daily) kept me motivated and documented my daily life in a way that tells my story for a snapshot in time. I really hope that after this challenge I am able to find my own daily inspiration (although days off will be great too)! For those who have stuck by me during this month, while I tried something different, thanks! Back to regular programming as of tomorrow (whatever that is)!

I will just stick to Instagramming my #fmsphotoaday from now on, I think!

You can check out Fat Mum Slim’s prompts for October here, if you like! If you choose to blog it, let me know! I’ll cheer you on! x

See you in October, everybody (that’s tomorrow so you won’t have long to miss me)! 😉

Orange…and black.

This post was inspired by Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day challenge x

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These are the hats Mr Unprepared bought while we were overseas. The top one is from Japan and the bottom one is from Korea. Both countries are absolutely mad for baseball. Both have teams called the Giants. Both teams wear the colours orange and black, which is quite a striking combination. Haha striking. Baseball. Get it? Unintentional puns are my specialty.

We’d watched a travel doco about South Korea before our trip and it had featured a bit about the baseball culture there. We’d learnt that the team for my birth city was the Busan Giants and it was quite amusing seeing the different chants and dance like rituals the fans undertake while watching the games live. It looks like amazing fun! Mr Unprepared decided that, despite us never giving baseball even a thought, he would adopt the Busan giants as ‘his’ team. Which was actually quite touching because I was born there and it was his left of centre gesture (very him) to show me he’s got my back. And that he likes sports, but mostly that he’s got my back. That trip was a pretty big deal, being my first time back, you see.

So we got the Little Mister a shirt to grow into for next summer and Mr Unprepared found a hat.

Then we got to Japan. We figured out pretty quickly that the Tokyo team is also named the Giants and by now Mr Unprepared was on a roll. We were hanging about outside the Tokyo Dome (a huge stadium) one night and there was a game on. Oh how we wanted to go in!! We had an early start the next day, though, and it would probably be just a bit too much for the Little Mister to deal with. We were SO CLOSE. You could just about feel the excitement. One day we’ll do it!!! One day!!

Mr Unprepared had just bought a hat and I think he liked being a part of the crowd – he almost looked like he was going to the game haha.

I have no idea how each teams’ seasons ended. Or anything about them. I doubt we’ll ever remember to check in during their baseball seasons. But it’s fun to think of them as ‘our’ teams anyway. The hats are fun souvenirs, with good memories attached.

Have you got any cool (or even daggy) travel souvenirs? Tell me about them by leaving a comment!

Trees are green.

I have a problem. I really like trees. I don’t know how this happened. I mean, I care about the environment but I’m not exactly into botany. I don’t know the names of trees. I can’t even keep them alive if I’m really honest with myself. I don’t even spend all of my spare time looking at them. It is a little bit of an obsession that has crept up on me. I think I just really like the colour green. Which helps.

So you can imagine my joy when we were in South Korea and Japan (and even Singapore). Trees. Everywhere. Beautiful trees. If you were to ask me to sum up the scenery in one word, I’d say trees. I love the trees. The greenery. OK, so that’s more than one word. Whatever. Which surprised me because if you had asked me what I thought the scenery would be like before the trip, I would have probably thought of cityscapes. Skyscrapers, apartment living, the occasional cherry blossom (at the right time of year). Maybe a river or two.

When we got there I could not stop myself from taking photos. It’s an addiction and you (and Facebook) are lucky that I did not post every single one. OMG everything was so beautiful and green, you guys.
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Really really really old trees. Trees on cliffs. Trees in the middle of RESTAURANTS. Trees at temple sites. Trees near the beaches. Trees in the middle of bustling cities. Trees on mountain tops. Trees in parks. Trees trees trees. That’s a lot of beautiful foliage everywhere, y’all.

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Does anyone else love trees as much as I do? Are you another unlikely tree fan?

Busan: The city I was born in.

So I have already blogged about all of my mixed up feelings about visiting the place I was born (before being adopted and becoming the superstar that I am today 😛 ), but now I will show you what it is like from more of a tourism point of view.

Honestly, I loved where we were staying – right on the beach. It’s a really popular destination within Korea (and even for people from the US and other parts of the world). We were there right before the peak summer season and it seemed like the perfect time. When I’d heard that Busan was known for its beach, seafood and shopping, I was stoked. I felt really excited because I got a kick out of the fact that I was born in a place that has all the stuff I love. I really wanted to enjoy the place I was born. I may have had a whole lot of crazy emotions kicking about inside my head, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying so much about it.

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On the top right is the Sea Cloud Hotel where we stayed. We were somehow upgraded to a suite and it was reeeeeally nice! It looked out onto the beach and had big windows that made us feel so alive after staying in a few little shoeboxes! One highlight was visiting the Busan Aquarium (the Little Mister LOVED IT). It wasn’t much different from all the aquariums at home, but it was a great experience and to see the Little Mister running from display to display with such joy was worth it. On the bottom right is the Little Mister doing his favourite activity – smashing Mr Unprepared’s sandcastles. It was great. You could buy a little beach bucket and spades etc really cheap at a convenience store under the hotel and we had a beautiful, relaxed day playing on the beach (that was the day I was a leeeetle hungover so it worked out well).

Why was I hungover? Um…so one night, my parents generously offered to look after the Little Mister so that we could head out and see what the night life of Busan had to offer. My brother, Mr Unprepared and I were so ready to let off a little steam.

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In my defence, I did not plan on getting so tipsy that night. But a few factors didn’t help.

1. Street drinking is legal. Like, you can walk down the street sipping a beer and no-one will arrest you or make you pour it out. Yet, we only ever saw one person on the streets who was really drunk in a sad way. We knew street drinking was legal because we totes did our research. Aren’t we good? If we hadn’t known this, we might not have enjoyed cocktails that were made at a street stall and poured into convenient plastic bags with straws in them (bottom right).

2. Alcohol was CHEAP AS. On the bottom right you can see my Busan BFF making those cocktails in plastic bags. He’d shake up a good quality cocktail and it only cost about $3.50 Australian!!! Of course, this made it easier to indulge in cocktails throughout the night. I may have overindulged as a result. I do not generally condone binge drinking and it’s certainly not something to brag about, but as a lover of cocktails it really was so easy to *ahem* sample all that was on offer. Although I do regret trying this thing called ‘Hooch’ (bottom left). It was made somewhere in the Netherlands and tasted like weird orange lolly water and I had no idea what liquor was even in it, but it was gross and it was cheap and it was something we found in the convenience store and bought for the name alone.

We stopped off at the Fuzzy Navel, a small bar where the cocktails were great and there was a DJ upstairs who played awesome remixes of American R&B songs. I think we were having the most fun of anyone there, because we were a bit early (us parents had to make sure we started early in order to finish early – glam life). We then headed to Thursday Party (it was a Friday night but that wasn’t stopping us) – a chain bar that had an American influence. It was playing all our favourite songs from around the time I was 18 and partying (so please don’t do the maths) and it had a fun atmosphere. That’s probably where the most damage was done, as my brother and *darling* husband decided it would be fun to keep buying me random things off the cocktail menu every time I looked away. Then I decided I’d like to drink them. I couldn’t resist being a bit greedy because at home I’d buy two good cocktails and be broke for the rest of the evening. In Busan, I felt like I was living the high life.

We watched some girls play a beer pong game and tried miserably to be my brother’s wingpeople, but they liked us better than him at first because he was a stickler for the rules. Great fun. Sadly, our carriage was going to turn into a pumpkin soon (and we didn’t want to get too nuts on account of the whole ‘being parents’ thing) and we reluctantly left my brother to head off to a nearby university precinct for more shenanigans with our new friends.

The next day I felt a feeling I hadn’t felt since BC (Before Child). That really really seedy feeling. Not sick, just bleeeergh. Thankfully we had planned ahead on having a quiet and relaxed day. I had a great pedicure by a slightly adorably awkward guy from the hotel across the road and we sat on the beach, even enjoying fish and chips (not something you find easily there) for lunch. It felt like we were at home, which is not the point of travelling, I know, but it was nice when we didn’t have the energy to expend on anything crazy and new. It was comforting! I also remembered why I hardly ever drink more than a couple of cocktails at a time…

It was a fantastic way to end our experience in Korea (apart from an overnight hotel stay near the airport) and we were growing more and more excited to see Japan. I was so glad that by the time we left, I had made peace with the place that I had been born.

Gyeongpo: a nice surprise.

For many years, when I thought of South Korea, I didn’t think of beautiful beaches. I thought of cold winters with snow and an ‘inland’ kind of feel. I wasn’t very educated on my birth country, mostly by stubborn choice (such a rebel), because I wanted to just get on with being an Aussie and no-one was gonna stop me! How wrong I was (well there is snow and every country has an ‘inland’ bit but I had no idea how much more the place has to offer).

While we were away, we visited Gyeongpo. It is a place known for its beach and a beautiful lake (the water looks like glass). It looked like it was undergoing a lot of changes to make it look really fresh and modern, as it is not far from where the Winter Olympics will be held in 2018. We visited in June (the very beginning of summer – felt like an Aussie spring day when we were there), so people were sitting on the beach (some even braving the cold water in floating tubes) and spending a day in the sunshine. 

It was lunch time when we got there and the Little Mister was getting over tired and frustrated. He had also been refusing a lot of Korean food and not drinking enough, so wasn’t feeling 100%, we suspected. We were feeling a little worried about this as we tried to find somewhere to eat lunch. There were mostly seafood places and to be honest, they were a little out of our comfort zones as we couldn’t tell which places might be safer than others to eat. Eventually, with no choices left, we went to a place that looked popular and just took the chance. We were seated in a little room, with a low table and cushions to sit on – very traditional. We had to all take our shoes off and as we sat down we wondered if there was any chance in hell that the Little Mister would sit still and not get onto the table or start grabbing things that he shouldn’t grab!! We weren’t even sure what he would eat!

We ordered some sashimi, some sushi and who knows what else, thinking that we weren’t too hungry or sure of the food. Considering Mr Unprepared is not a huge seafood fan (outside of the usual fish and chips), this was a big deal haha. Of course we were fed several side dishes that were very new to us. Omelettes, tempura octopus, pickled onions, and a massive feast of other things I can’t remember right now! It was surprisingly enjoyable, although the raw fish was quite the adventure! Watching my brother and Mr Unprepared chewing (and chewing and chewing) on some of it was quite amusing. There was SO MUCH of it that our minds boggled because at home, it would cost a FORTUNE to eat that much food, especially seafood. I think we felt a little bad when we couldn’t finish it on account of all the side dishes filling us up!

The beach scenery:

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We walked a fair distance around one side of the Gyeongpo Lake. It was beautiful and people were riding bikes – tandem bikes, pedal powered wagons and all sorts of other creative bicycle typed vehicles. We did witness a little crash that left a couple of young girls in tears, but all in all it looked like great fun. It would be a great place to exercise every day. The pathways even had a harder surface on one side for bikes etc and a spongier, more forgiving side for runners and walkers. So clever. 

Check out the scenery (and my brother doing his photography thing while I just stalked him and took a photo of him taking photos because that’s not weird or anything). There are some Olympic rings taking pride of place on a round-a-bout by the lake. It will be so fun watching the Winter Olympics in a few years time, knowing that I have visited some of the places that are sure to be showcased. I’ll probably just ignore that pesky sports stuff, though. Haha.

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Have you ever been (pleasantly or unpleasantly) surprised by a place?

South Korea: Unification Park, Gangneung.

While we were in South Korea, one of the places that the guys really wanted to visit was the Unification Park in Gangneung. You can read about it below. Basically, it was a centre created so that people could be educated about an attempted infiltration by the North Koreans in 1996 and how the South Koreans had managed to thwart the attempt.

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The park was set in a beautiful place. The water sparkled the most amazing blue-green and as the sun was shining the day we visited, it was just stunning…even with all of the concrete and barbed wire designed to stop any more North Korean invasions.

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I imagine that prior to the infiltration by North Korea, this would have been the most beautiful beach. As well as all the barbed wire and concrete, there was a guard tower that looked over the Unification Park. At one point we got a bit too close, trying to find a way up onto the road and the guys with machine guns were all yelling at us to get back. Oops! I mean, not scary at all. Not one bit. Well, a little bit.

Also on display was the North Korean submarine that had attempted to land there. It had run aground and then the South Koreans tried to burn it.

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Tourists were able to climb inside and walk through it. It was all dark and very cramped inside. The area you walked through was very low and it still had the burnt, melted computers and radio systems inside. It was actually quite a creepy little place to be and I was happy to climb out and see the sunshine again! I would not recommend this for claustrophobic people (or probably people who see ghosts or something haha). Still, it was very interesting and kind of surreal to experience. Oh, and after we climbed out we realised they had hard hats hanging on a rack that you were supposed to wear in there. Oops.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom or military pride there, though. There at the bow of a 1944 US built military ship (used by the South Koreans), was this…

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Yep. Doesn’t get more random or out of place than that! I mean, you’re winding your way through the ship, seeing various artefacts and reading about war stories and seeing how the soldiers would have lived on the ship, and then BAM. There’s Jack and Rose. Without faces. Willing you to live out your Titanic fantasy. Not weird at all.

We also had a little laugh at the Korean to English translations. Watch out for that snppery floor, everybody! That’s OK. We’re crap at your language too, Korean people. All in good fun haha.

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This was about as close as I was willing to get to any North Korean stuff. Before the trip, we had thought about a visit to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), but I watched some YouTube videos and did some reading, deciding that I definitely did not have the courage. I know that thousands of tourists visit every year and it’s all fine, but I just felt like the atmosphere would creep me out more than anything. While I do find that stuff fascinating, I also find it disturbing. I knew that I would definitely not take the Little Mister with us. One wrong move and things can take a troublesome turn. I wasn’t willing to risk it and I didn’t think it was right for him to be there. I know other people have taken their small children before and had been just fine, but each to their own!

On another note, I feel that the most people know about Korea itself is the antics of the North Korean cult like leadership and the poverty and despair of its people. While that stuff interests (and horrifies) us outsiders, I hope that my blogging of Korea has helped to debunk any uneducated myths about what South Korea is like. I think that perhaps people do not picture beautiful beaches or vibrant cities rich with culture when they think of the place and just like I learnt a lot while researching and experiencing the trip there, I hope to pass on some of that knowledge…if only so people won’t keep saying, “Are you from North Korea?” when they find out I was adopted!

Korean snacks are weird and wonderful.

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 My happy tourist face in Insadong, Seoul. 

One thing that gave us a laugh in Korea was the great variety of creative street stall snacks. One favourite over there is a tube like ice-cream. It’s some kind of waffle-y cone with soft serve inserted at both ends and besides the fact that it looks ridiculous, it is frickin’ practical! Doesn’t drip. Ever. Which makes me suspicious about the ingredients that go into the ‘cone’, but then you are overcome with the joy of having a funny shaped ice-cream that doesn’t drip and you forget all of your worries. DOESN’T DRIP. LOOKS FUNNY. Who cares if it might sit in my stomach for five years? Mr Unprepared was over the moon with this culinary invention.

We had a ball when we got to Gangneung (where my brother was born). There was a massive festival on, along the river. It was a mass of noise and activity, with people everywhere! Market stalls went on forever on both sides of the river, filled with goodies. It was an intense experience, with cultural stuff to see – dancing and drumming, carnival style rides, souvenirs and just about anything else you can think of. Imagine the best ever weekend markets you’ve ever been to, then multiply all that by a million. OK, maybe not a million but maybe 999,999.

Luckily, the Little Mister slept through half of the experience, which is probably a good thing, because I don’t think he would have survived so much activity and excitement without a sleep!!

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It was a huge privilege to experience this festival, as I do not believe many people outside of Korea would have even heard of it or would turn up just for it. We had heard that even some Koreans had not heard of the small city of Gangneung! It was definitely well worth it and probably a rather underrated tourism experience.

It had been a long day, with that first 6 hour train ride with a restless Little Mister and we’d almost literally put our bags down and headed straight out. I was a bit tired (as we all were) and the excitement even got a bit much for me, because I burst into tears when we watched some traditional drummers! They were whizzing around like crazy, the beat of the drums was really loud and you felt it in your body. They were grabbing people out of the crowd to join in and suddenly, I was holding back sobs! I quietly told my mum I was overwhelmed and moved away. I suppose it was a bit to do with my adoption and the fact that I’d grown up with a couple of little Korean drums and masks in my home. To see it all right there for real – IN KOREA – must have stirred something up in me. I felt a bit silly because this was the place my brother was born – he was supposed to cry, not me! Perhaps I had been holding my breath for him a little too. He was fine of course – the bugger. I got my act together pretty quickly (my mum hugging me lovingly might have set me back a bit “DON’T BE NICE TO ME – YOU’RE MAKING IT WORSE!” haha) and we went on to enjoy the rest of the craziness.

Mr Unprepared enjoyed a long-ffle. Now what’s that, you ask? It’s a long waffle. Duh. On a stick. Because everything tastes better on a stick. Name a food that comes on a stick that isn’t amaze balls. Yeah, didn’t think you could.

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These long-ffles (such a creative name *giggles*) were covered in donut frosting and had sprinkles and sh*t. Best. Ever. And while I don’t have a photo that my dad would probably want me to put on the blog, he did enjoy a curly potato thingy (on a stick – of course). You can see it in the top left corner in the photo above. Basically, they shove a whole potato into this cutting device (looks like something you’d buy from a home shopping commercial), which turns it into one long spiral. Then they deep fry it. Then they dip it into a seasoning, which is weirdly kind of sweet and not salty like you’d expect. Hey, I’m not arguing with any potato related magical voodoo. It’s potato. It’s fried. It’s on a stick.

That evening we had BBQ pork at a market restaurant (which we ordered purely through miming and guessing and a sense of adventure), with beautiful views of the river…and the old men peeing off the riverbank. Such atmosphere.

Oh and a couple of cities later (in a back alley of my birth city Busan), I had an ice-cream that came in a waffle cone shaped like a fish. Awesome.

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Toddler + Train = ?

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The infamous slow Korail trains.

While in Korea and Japan, our mode of transport between cities and towns was trains. We had decided that without vehicles of our own, trains would be a good way to see the countryside, have our own seats and also some aisle space for the Little Mister to walk up and down if he got particularly restless. It was also fairly affordable (although tickets for the bullet trains (‘shinkansen’) in Japan were kind of pricey they were worth it). The Little Mister could travel for free (without a seat) or we could pay for a full ticket so he could have a seat of his own in both countries. Reserved seating was definitely the way to go, because we knew for sure then that we would be fairly comfortable and would definitely get from point A to B on a chosen day at a set time. We had a crazy schedule to keep up so we could see everything! EVERYTHING!

Now, I could sing the praises of the fast ‘bullet’ trains in both countries forever. They were fast, efficient, comfortable and saved us hours we might have spent on a bus or in a car. The Little Mister rarely had time to complain or get restless – rarely is not never, but hello, toddler! Just imagine how fast you could see Australia if we had them! Crazy awesome.

The issues we had came when we had to take a slow train in Korea. Twice. For about six hours each time. We did it from Seoul to Gangneung and from there to Gyeongju. They just didn’t have the facilities in place to do anything else (although they might by the time the Winter Olympics are hosted near Gangneung). A bus might have been faster, but we’d booked the tickets ahead of time and had not got an extra seat for the Little Mister because we’d tried to save a little moolah and probably just thought he’d be comfortable enough. We had an iPad and all the other parenting tools we’d used on the plane – he’d flown well, so a train would be just as good, right? They were our first train experiences on our trip, so I guess you live and learn!

The Little Mister did NOT like the fact that he didn’t have his own seat. He wanted to be all grown up and independent. Daddy’s lap or a little space squeezed between Mummy and Daddy would NOT cut it. He knew the difference. He knew when he was getting ripped off. Also? Turns out that seat belts are the key. If he has a seatbelt, he’s as happy as a clam. If he doesn’t? FREEEEEDOM!!! The trains did not have seat belts. Need I say more?

Occasionally, there would be some free seats for a few stops and we’d be able to let the Little Mister sit in one. This made for more peaceful travelling. Until…the person who had reserved the seat hopped on and he got mad that someone had ‘stolen’ his seat. The iPad was not always good enough for him and while we had imagined he’d love staring out the window at the scenery, with all the cars on the roads and unusual buildings and bridges etc, he was too busy being mad at the fact that he couldn’t do it from his very own seat or that we wouldn’t let him climb up to a precarious vantage point (or one that might annoy another passenger). Fun times!

After the first six hour journey, we were definitely dreading the second one. It was a trying time. I admit my stress levels were not as low as I would have liked them to be! There was the anticipation of another crazy train ride with a 2.5 year old, plus I was feeling a bit emotionally off balance and anxious as we got a bit closer to my own birth place. Turned out this train ride was much busier than the one we’d done before. People could board the train without having reserved seats. Which meant that in the last couple of hours, everyone was stacked together standing in the aisles like cattle on a truck. We had seats but we were getting increasingly closed in on, with Mr Unprepared complaining about the fact that his face was in some dude’s butt or crotch for much of the journey. The Little Mister was angry at the ladies who had taken his ‘spare’ seat (the one in front of us). One of the ladies kindly (that’s sarcasm) reclined her seat ALL THE WAY while we tried to keep him on our lap in already squishy conditions. At one point he wanted to play with her hair and I was tempted to let him haha. Especially when he was whinging and she looked behind and gave him a dirty look. Ooooh, I wanted to pull her hair too right then. Yeah, people complain about children on shared transport, but not all of them are angels either! Apparently, my brother was stuck a few rows up next to a man who kept chewing and regurgitating his food over and over, in between making disgusting throaty sounds. YUM (more sarcasm).

It was just overwhelming and we could not comfort the Little Mister for the life of us. He had skipped a much needed nap that we had naively hoped he would have on the six hour journey and he was MELTING DOWN. I swear time slowed down just to spite us at that point! Even my parents couldn’t keep him still for too long at a time (usually the grandparents have the magic touch). At one point I just started to cry a little. I wanted to have a tantrum too, but damn it, I was the grown up. It was just hell on earth. I don’t often lose my patience with the Little Mister (we’re talking almost never – don’t worry I have other flaws haha), but I admit I did a couple of times on our trip. It was just intense and there was often nowhere to go. We were all just…stuck. I couldn’t go and cool off. He couldn’t get up and walk the aisles. No-one could get a break. The stress! Not to mention, we hadn’t slept awesomely for a few nights because the Little Mister was sharing the bed with us!

From then on, we resolved to get the Little Mister his own seat whenever there was one available. For the rest of the trip. Money would be no object! We would pay anything!!! ANYTHING! At that point, I probably would have remortgaged the house just to have some peace haha. On the few times we couldn’t get an extra seat, the trips were really short or the seats were really wide and the Little Mister couldn’t tell that it wasn’t ‘his’. Thank goodness! He was still often restless, but there was nothing like that second 6 hour trip. I don’t think we could have survived it!! The best part of going through that? At the end of that hellish 6 hour train ride was the comfort of knowing it would never happen again. PHEW!

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Shinkansen in Japan. Fast train. Fast is good.

Pororo Theme Park…and trying to find nappies.

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A few days into our time in Seoul at the beginning of the holiday, we started to feel that the Little Mister needed to have some fun of his own. He hadn’t had much ability to run around and just be a toddler. He had sat in his stroller, been passed between adults and had indulged us in seeing a bunch of grown up stuff. We were feeling a little bit guilty and as we were just starting to get a feel for the trip, we weren’t perhaps feeling safe enough to give him too much physical freedom in certain places yet. Also, the weather had not been so kind to us for a couple of days so it had been more challenging. Might have been the celebrity child thing that was throwing us off too.

Despite our exhaustion, Mr Unprepared looked up some kid friendly places and it was decided that the Pororo Theme Park in D-Cube City was going to be our destination. Basically, Pororo Theme Park was a play centre not unlike the ones we have at home, in one of the big shopping centres outside of the city centre. We took the subway there and while it was a longish commute (probably took about half an hour one way), it wasn’t too hard to navigate. The shopping centre itself was right on the train station (there’s info on the website).

Pororo is a much loved children’s show in Korea and the Little Mister loved it. He had no idea what they were saying on the television, but what’s not to love about an animated, bright, happy and adorable looking penguin and his friends? Let’s just say that he greeted the sight of Pororo on the TV in a similar way in which he enjoys Peppa Pig. Yeah, we’re talking the big leagues haha. In fact, they consider Pororo to be the president of the children of Korea. Yep. It’s serious!

We found the theme park and it was a crazy experience. The staff there knew NO English and we figured out how to buy tickets for the three of us and somehow managed to check our stroller into the ‘valet’ parking (so great). We had a locker key given to us where we needed to store our shoes and anything else we didn’t want to cart around, before we could go and play. It wasn’t a huge place but it had a little train that did rides and a little 3D cinema. There were the usual slides, ball pit and book reading nooks or a spot to watch episodes of Pororo on a loop. This area was made to look like you were inside the bottom of a tree trunk and was toddler height, so it was fine if you wanted to sit down in there with your child, but terrible if you had to chase after them!!

The Little Mister was in heaven to see other little children and he ran about at a million miles an hour. There were all the familiar ‘kid’ things for him to do, see and play with and he was stoked – especially after the strange sights, sounds, foods and people he had encountered already. We were a little confused at first with the signs on the cinema and the train ride because other than the times they were running, we had no idea what they said. We tried to go to the little cinema because it was the time written on the sign, but realised everyone was leaving. That time was the time it ended! It wasn’t rocket science in the end but it took a little extra guessing. We managed to time the train right and the Little Mister was strapped in with a stranger child (they looked at each other a little confused about what they were doing and where they were going haha), before being taken on a little ride around the park and through some cute tunnels and stuff. Parents were everywhere waving at them and I swear at first the Little Mister wondered if he was ever coming back but he was so brave haha.

They had a replica of Pororo the penguin’s house set up in the park and the Little Mister loved it. It was a little toddler sized house he could play in. He climbed on the hard, plastic bed and pretended to sleep (as pictured above), but looked at me like I had two heads when I joked that he should climb into the pretend bath haha.

The trouble (and I say that in a light hearted manner) came when we were trying to leave. We not only had to convince the Little Mister it was time (not an easy feat), but we then had to figure out how to get out of the indoor park. We retrieved our shoes, put them on and tried to go through the exit. Then someone looked at us funny when I tried to ask where we gave our locker keys back. A staff member tried hopelessly to mime anything to me, before grabbing another staff member who mimed just a little bit better. Apparently, you returned your key and got your little deposit back at a counter that was inside the play centre (and not at the ticket buying counter or gift shop counter outside it). I tried to go back in and they were horrified because I had my shoes on. HORRIFIED. The counter was only right by the exit. Just technically INSIDE. I had to juggle the Little Mister, my own shoes and all our bags (gosh you carry so much on a simple excursion when you’re travelling). Finally all was well and we mimed what colour our stroller was (no joke – weird hahaha) and got out of there.

Next stop was the floor that had a supermarket. We hadn’t been to a supermarket yet, because we simply hadn’t needed one with our hotel lifestyle and the convenience stores on every street. It turns out that nappies/diapers are not so easy to find in Seoul. We had not found any anywhere so far and I was starting to worry! I had only packed a few days’ worth and the Little Mister was tearing through them at a faster rate than usual, because toilet training had been abandoned (that’s another post I’m sure). We figured that a shopping centre further out of the city, that had a play centre in it might be a good bet. We found the Huggies (a nice familiar brand) and it turned out that if you looked really really closely, they had the weight/sizes written in romanised numbers (the way we recognise them in English) in the bottom corner. However, we found that getting the Little Mister’s size (he’s bigger than the average Korean kid his age) was a bit of a challenge. Often supermarkets didn’t stock anything above the size below the Little Mister’s (does that make sense? Confused yet?). We went home a little dejected with some toilet training pull up pants. Oh well, better than nothing! I am sure that if you know the city really well and where they stock certain things (guess it’s a cultural thing I never thought of), it might be easier, but in our ignorant Aussie fish out of water experience, we did struggle a bit in Korea at first when it came to ‘baby’ and ‘toddler’ type stuff. It just didn’t seem as readily available as it is at home. For example, in Australia, pharmacies and convenience stores in the major cities tend to stock just a few things everywhere you go. I found that as a mum I felt guilty that I didn’t know how to provide for the Little Mister in this way and it did weigh on me more than I’d like to admit. If you’ve been to Korea or lived there and found it easier, can you shed some light? Have you had similar experiences or was I too AWESOMELY UNPREPARED? 😛

We did figure out that there were supermarkets on the ground (or just below ground) floors of most major shopping centres, which was a great relief but it took us a while to understand it all, at which point I just bought EVERYTHING that looked like it would fit the Little Mister. I did not want to get caught out again and I had no idea if Japan would be the same! Also, it seemed that the further out you got from major city centres, the more ease you had in finding nappies and children’s things. Maybe it’s a population distribution thing. I guess it made sense.

In hindsight I would have carted almost all the nappies I’d need on the trip, even if I felt silly (everyone – qualified or not – told me I’d find nappies everywhere – duh – they’re nappies) or my bags were a bit heavier to begin with. It would have just brought peace of mind. It’s hard when you’re on the go constantly and you don’t want to waste half a day chasing nappies in shopping centres (particularly when you might not find what you need at the first place you go to – size or stock wise) when we could be sight seeing or exploring.

I must stress that Korea might not have had nappies etc everywhere I wanted to find them conveniently, but they were very child friendly. They had little urinals in the ladies’ toilets for women to be able to bring their children (no matter the gender) with them, as well as strap in seats in the cubicles for babies to sit safely while their mothers did their business. Such simple things that seemed fairly stock standard around the place and would make life so much easier for parents of small children. While they did not have high chairs (culturally it was obviously not a thing there), which made our lives harder because we are used to using them, they were more than happy to tolerate children in their restaurants and would even babysit or entertain the Little Mister if he got too wriggly!!!

I do not at all resent the fact that life is different there (even if it got a bit stressful). It was just a simple cultural thing that we weren’t used to. You just don’t think of these things until you get there!

We made it back to the hotel exhausted but glad the Little Mister had had some fun. As the holiday continued, he would get more and more freedom as we felt more comfortable and he became more restless haha. We had definitely bitten off almost more than we could chew, trying to cover so much ground in just under a month with a 2 and a half year old in tow, but we survived and he was never out of nappies (apart from one stupid incident in Tokyo where both Mr Unprepared and I thought the other person had some with us for a dinner outing – COMMUNICATION IS KEY, PEOPLE).

Have you ever had trouble finding an ‘every day’ item (for yourself or a child) in another country? Seriously, share your story if you have so I don’t feel like such a doofus!