Sunday, January 18, 2009

South Korea Part 3 {Everland, Lotte World}

A group picture with C's good friends since grade school, their wives, and kids.

We were blessed to have such a wonderful time on the trip. Everyone was kept warm, safe and in good health, in spite of the subzero temperature. There were no accidents, although looking back now, it would seem that the skiing lesson was one accident waiting to happen. tee-hee!

Everland Resort is South Korea's largest theme park. In 2007, Everland ranked tenth in the world for amusement park attendance. Everland is obviously patterned after Disneyland, the structural design, the mascots and general atmosphere are very much alike.

posing for a souvenir shot at the entrance of Everland

No trip would really be complete without this .

The Skyline ride, akin to a ski lift, offers an easy way to get from one side of Everland to the other.

One of the highlights of Everland for the kids is the safari bus ride which shows animals such as tigers, bears, giraffes, zebras, elephants roaming in a contained habitat. It is a much better version of the Zoobic Safari. It boasts of the Liger, which is a hybrid cross between a male lion and a female tiger. This mutant breed is reputedly the largest of all cats, with the heaviest liger weighing in at 1,700 lbs and reaching more than 10 feet long. Ligers have a tiger-like stripes in its body on a lion-like tawny coat. The male ligers notably also do not have a mane.
The Liger and his Ligress

And since no tourist can really leave Korea without doing the customary stop at Lotte World, we headed there on our last day. Lotte World is divided into two sections – Adventure Land (an indoor park) and Magic Island (an outdoor park). Since it was winter, most of the extreme rides at Magic Island were closed off. That did not deter C's speed lust, however. He braved the long queue to get on "the French Revolution", an intense high speed train that makes 360 - 540 degree twists and turns.

I don't really recommend putting Lotte World in your must-see places when you visit South Korea. It's in ours since we have the kids with us and we know they are going to have fun here. If you're short on time, you can skip this and not miss a thing.

having fun with the camera while waiting for the gates at Lotte World to open.
We lined up for our turn at the Lotte World picture spot. Where in Lotte World is B?

Here she is, having a "moment". She could not be persuaded, could not be forced (even with my glaring eyes) to join us. Upset that she missed watching a show that was ongoing at the floor below us.

Travelling with kids involves a lot of hard work, and there are times (like when they call for the third bathroom break of the day… and it’s only been two hours into the journey) when I really think it is more trouble than it is worth. Our schedule wasn't as flexible as our previous trips because we joined a tour group. We had to deal with early morning wake up calls and constantly turning in late at night. The long hours on the road, as we moved in and out of the cities in our travel itinerary, made them listless. There were times that I questioned our sanity, what were we thinking bringing three kids along to freezing Korea!!! The fact of the matter is the kids are out of their familiar routine so things expectedly get chaotic. I just had to learn to accept that and acknowledge the reality that I need to adjust my tolerance level to have the most wonderful time with my kids. A high-strung parent is the last thing a fun-filled vacation needs. Travelling is only fun for the kids when the we (the parents) have fun ourselves.

One set of squirmy arms and legs is challenging, think of three sets as a wrestling match! Three to dress up, three to bathe, three to assist in the public toilet, but on the upside there’s also three to hug and three to love!
Despite people saying that traveling is lost on kids, we will continue to bring them with us wherever we go. Happiness is never going to be about the number of countries we have visited, it's always about the adventure we had once there - wherever "there" may be. Traveling doesn't always have to mean riding on a plane. It could be as simple as taking out the car and driving to a local destination - it's more about experiencing something new. The reward of course is, hopefully, having kids who are utterly at home in the world... truly citizens of our interconnected world.

Being able to look at a photo and give a chuckle or to giggle uncontrollably in recollection of something... these are the travel souvenirs I wish my children would carry with them as they grow older, forever locked in their hearts. It is true that traveling creates character, tolerance, insight and confidence, but most of all it creates memories, which, hopefully, will keep us connected even when distance will later separate us.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Blow, Blow, Winter Wind . . . (South Korea Part 2: Nami Island, Mount Sorak, Gyeongbok Palace, Ski grounds)

As we got off the ferry at the wharf of Nami Island, it seemed like we stepped into winter wonderland. The sight that welcomed us was almost magical. There was a naturally formed ice sculpture, made of tree branches that grew out in different direction that appeared to be calling out to us to explore this beautiful island. And that was what the kids did as they made a dash in all directions towards the snow covered grounds, everyone wanting their own private spot in this winter heaven, curious how snow actually feels like in their hands. And all parents were as quick with their cameras to capture the wonderful time the kids had in the snow.

The central path of Nami Island

J on a respite from all the walking

Mount Sorak was another place that provided lots of snow time fun for the kids. Also known as Soreaksan in the native language, it is the third highest mountain in the country, with the main peak (Daechung) at 1,708 meters above sea level. It is one of most popular Korean tourist spot, and understandably so because of its breathtaking scenery, beautiful temples and numerous walking and climbing trails.
Snow had built up on the ground, soft snow that reached almost knee-high,
perfect for making snowballs and snow angels.

Our real adventure on this mountain began as we rode a cable car that took us to the viewing deck high up near the peak. The Sorak Cable Car goes from the park entrance area to near the top of a mountain called Kwongumsong. From the upper cable car station, a hiking trail leads on up to the top of the mountain . Another trail goes left from the cable car station to Allak Temple. The ride to ascend rewarded us with a spectacular view of the wintry forest, hundreds of feet below us. The foliage of trees with snow covered branches and the snow capped mountain range was a beautiful canvas of browns, slates, grays, blues, and winter whites.

view of the forest below from up on the lift

at the cable car station

As we step out of the lift, the crisp and chilly air that enveloped our bodies roused us from our state of inertia. The amazing spectacle that unfolded before our eyes tempted us to explore this mountain. To do this, we would have to determinedly climb up on foot. I looked up to the peak and saw that there were several hikers ahead of us. I was confident that the kids would be able to manage it, familiar as I am with their unending bursts of energy. The first part of the climb was effortless as steps were carved out along the mountain. As we got higher and the incline got steeper, the ascent got grueling as we only had the steel rails to hold onto. To make matters worse, the snow turned everything very slippery. This was something I did not anticipate, and made my climb harder since I had to make sure each step was made with caution. I tried very hard to maintain my footing, lest I drag R down with me, which would have been painful (and humiliating). I was embarrassed when I realized that my singular self-absorption to not fall over has resulted in delaying everybody behind me.
Look at the long line of people! I am sure every one of them wanted to overtake me. :)

A couple of guarded steps later, we reached another viewing deck. At this altitude, the atmosphere was decidedly hostile -the wind was fiercer and the air thinner. C prudently opted to stay behind with the two younger kids.
The peaks are so high at Mount Sorak that the top few hundred meters are bare rock.

As we climbed higher and it got colder and colder, I easily got out of breath due to the markedly decrease of oxygen in the air. I noticed the trees eventually thinned out. At the second viewing deck, all forms of vegetation disappear as a result of the harsh climate. The peaks are bare and rocky, with patches covered in snow and ice.
the hugeness of the rock is magnified by the comparison in scale to the hikers

The sight of the mountain range from this height emboldened J and I to complete the climb to the peak, if only to get an encompassing view of this dramatic vista - and the bragging rights, of course! :). We made our final ascent to the summit using our hands and feet to move over the huge and cold boulders. Finally after about an hour of climbing we were rewarded with a sight so dramatic that it was just like staring into eternity. I stayed as long as I can, wanting to preserve the scenery forever in my mind. The granite rock formations are so huge and dominant and the snow capped peaks made the whole area almost mystical.
taken at the highest peak of Mount Sorak

We were on a natural high afterward that the descent was just like flying down the mountain.

J sliding down a few meters of her descent

God smiled down some more on the kids as He made this a winter vacation in the true sense of the word. What could be more authentic than fresh falling snow on the day we visited the Gyeongbok Palace.
The Gyeongbokgung, as it is called by the locals, is the place where the affairs of state were conducted and numerous kings had lived in for 500 years during the Joseon Dynasty. This former seat of power is probably Korea's most famous royal palace. The palace was built in the late 1300s, and has been destroyed and reconstructed numerous times. The National Folk Museum of Korea can also be found in the northern section of the Gyeongbok Palace. It uses dioramas to illustrate the wide selection of folk and cultural history of the Korean people.

As we strolled around the pavilions and halls within the palace's spacious walled grounds, the kids ran around with tongues sticking out, happily enjoying their first ever snowfall.

Although I have tried sledding down an ice-covered slope a couple of years back, this was my first ski experience. Having shared that, I had no idea that the shoes and the ski plates were THAT heavy. We deposited our belongings on the ground floor of the ski resort and proceeded to change to our rented ski gear. Only, C and I had to walk with our ski shoes up to the slope's entrance located on the second level. Imagine us going up on the escalator clutching 5 pairs of ski plates and another 5 sets of poles between the two of us - and holding the two younger ones, as well. As it is, those 2 rascals still needed assistance stepping on and off the escalator using their regular shoes. I cannot begin to tell you, without sounding so terribly clueless, how we managed to bring the kids safely up, while walking like ducks ourselves - no thanks to our ski shoes. Even writing about it now, the recollection makes me roll over with hysterical laughter.
Skiing lessons were given to the whole group and everybody had a turn to go down slope once with the instructor's assistance. After that, it was each one for himself. If you pay close attention to the instructor and do as she tells you to, you will take to the snow the way a fish takes to water. I successfully managed to make a straight run down (no turns yet) 3 times , my barometer for success being: one, not falling over; and two, not causing anyone to fall over. What I found to be a problem in this overly populated trail was that almost everyone was either having lessons themselves or was an edgy novice skier. Personally, I think the most important thing for every beginner to learn before they hit the slopes is being able to control when to stop their downhill movement. Navigating the crowded slopes was actually more dangerous than a blind man crossing EDSA during the rush hour. tsk! :) I saw several unsuspecting people taken down from behind by reckless newbies who forgot how to stop.

Since the kids were completely equipped with their skiing gears, they naturally wanted to make good use of their skis as well. Being in no position to offer any guidance, I took off their ski plates and we hiked up. This made the uphill climb easier for them, and anything that's easier for them ultimately makes my life easier, noh? :) Once we reached a considerable distance, I had them hold on tight to their poles and I pulled them down the slopes that way. Easy!

riding down a sled at Everland

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Saranghae, Korea! (South Korea Part 1)

Our flight was on Christmas day itself so it would appear that we spent Christmas in two countries.

We had two of the best airport lounge available for our use.
While the MIASCOR served a wide selection of mouth-watering and hearty meal in its buffet spread,
the Northwest Lounge won us over with its bright and airy interiors.

While we were busy enjoying the buffet spread out before us,
R was enjoying himself playing with the Northwest model plane.

Korea was a sensory overload, all five senses were simultaneously occupied, amused and involved as we allowed ourselves to be absorbed by the country’s culture, beauty, its people, food and scenery. Having two Asian superpowers as neighbors, China to the west and Japan to the east, it is no wonder that even in the face of its rich 5,000 year cultural history, its tradition, architecture, and cuisine is a pleasant mix of Chinese and Japanese influences. And yet, regardless of the lengthy years of foreign occupation, they have managed to retain their own alphabet and language syntax. The Korean language obeys a strict grammatical constraint requiring that the sentence end with a verb. Thus, it is no wonder that despite the presence of numerous Americans teaching English in Korea, English is still far from being spoken and understood in the streets.

Unsuccesful as the Koreans are in learning English, my two young kids showed their knack for learning a new language. In no time, they were peppering their conversation with newly learned Korean words. The guide was a very thoughtful and competent thirty-something lady who had a habit of passing around Korean goodies during long road trips. “Kamsa-hameda!”, B solicitously says. This delights the Korean who offers her a handful more of the sweets. B politely declines saying one is enough for her. The Korean guide wouldn’t take no for an answer, pushes the sweets into B’s hands, “Never mind, keep it in your bag or share it with your brother,” she says in her sing-song manner. Now mindful of the power this word has over the locals, both kids turned on their charm talking to the guide and several hotel staff with a generous sprinkling of Korean words. "Anyong Haseo!", they greet people. They are greatly rewarded, of course, with extra goodies and pampered attention.
With Chris, our super efficient tour guide and David, our tour photographer slash luggage porter slash part time nanny.

We greatly enjoyed the local cuisine, the infamous tongue-flaming kimchi included. Surprisingly, Korean fare is not spicy as we first suspected. The level of heat can be adjusted to agree with your personal taste as the kimchi and the bean paste are served on the side, in diminutive oriental bowls.

The challenge during the trip was to make sure the kids are done eating by the time our guide signaled (loudly at that) that meal time is over. Left to themselves, meal time can easily extend to over an hour. That said, one of our meal requisites is that B and R are both nearby, within an arm’s distance, so I can fill up their spoons for them to make the next mouthful a bite faster.
We were lucky enough to take pleasure in eating one breakfast in a restaurant that offered a wonderful view of a partly frozen lake. Ducks can be seen swimming near the water's edge, their webbed feet making ripples as they paddle speedily through the icy water. The disturbance the ripples make suddenly stop midway in the lake as it meets the calm and still frozen water.

The peaceful panorama was clearly a setting meant for an unhurried and sumptuous meal. The kind where you have a lingering and meaningful conversation with your "amore" as you take in God’s magnificence in the beauty of nature that is surrounding you. The kind of which I clearly wasn't having. While eating, J wanted me to take a photo of her making like Santa’s red-nosed reindeer. Her eyes eager and pleading, I had no choice but to oblige her request.

That done, I went back to concentrate on my food. Seated in front of me, R incessantly stops in the middle of the meal and stares absentmindedly into space, his plate full of untouched food.

I continuously remind him to pay attention to his food until I realized that I only had a few minutes left to finish my food myself. Some friends who were seated at the table nearby stood up to queue for the restroom. So I gave up and let him be.

Perhaps sensing my frustration, he tries to appease me and asks, “Can I not eat the popcorn?” I looked up from my plate, confused, “Huh?” What popcorn was he talking about now? I could feel the wrinkles in my forehead appearing as I brought my eyebrows together in displeasure. I gave out a laugh as I slowly realized that he mistakenly thought the small yellow dome on his plate was popcorn. Eggs seldom, if at all, make an appearance in our dining table due to the kids suffering from various food allergies. This was perhaps his first time to see scrambled eggs. Popcorn, yes. Hilarious!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blessed New Year

The start of the new year would be the perfect time to pause and acknowledge that everything that happens to us, happens for a reason. "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

As I reminisce on the the year that has passed and think of the things in store for me this 2009, a song popped in my head, "... I know who holds the future, and I know He holds my hands. With God things don't just happen, everything by Him is planned. As I face the future, with its problems big and small, I trust the God of miracles, to Him I give my all."

Wherever we are in life right now, we must give thanks for we know that all things are in His good and gracious hands.

A blessed 2009 to us all!