This is Anne. Anne is an English teacher who was sitting next to Mike on the train last night and asked if he would be willing to proofread an assignment from one of her students. Mike obliged and thumbed through the work on her iPad, and the two struck up a conversation. She found out we’d be leaving Seoul soon, and wanted to give him a gift. The two made arrangements to meet at the Kintex conference center today, so she could bring it to him.
She’d told Mike about her desire to be a missionary, so we wondered if we were going to get a bible or something. Later Mike and I had a conversation about what we would do if she brought us a packet to smuggle on the plane. Or, like, a baby or something really weird – with a couple of tough guys to rough Mike up and “make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
This is where our conversations go, because we are marginally kind of awful people with weird senses of humor. And because no one in the US would go out of their way to bring a thank you present in return for editing someone’s homework, so we know better than to accept the simple fact we could be on the receiving end of a straight-up thank you.
Today on the way home from our conference, Mike and I stopped to watch a little drama unfold. There were several young police officers making clucking noises and beating bushes along the side of the road. A little crowd gathered with us. A mallard swooped overhead and landed in some tall grass beyond the sidewalk. One of the officers showed her a cardboard bucket, his fingers pinching the top closed. I could hear the noises from inside the bucket and hopefully the mother duck could as well.
Earlier, Colin had remarked how groups of police officers walking together in double lines on the sidewalks reminded him of first graders on field trips. I thought it was a little strange, too. Why is it that we see so many groups of what look like kids not much older than my sons, grouped together with fluorescent “police” vests, being led around as if in training, and not a lot of individual officers walking or cycling or driving around patrolling?
If you’re looking for Days Five and Six to our Seoul Saga, you can stop. I didn’t do them. Our conference has started and those posts would have been about over air conditioned meeting rooms and trying to remember to exchange business cards with two hands.
Actually, the last two days were dedicated to a pre-conference. Today the bonafide conference started, and the opening ceremonies were more elaborate than I expected. Like, by a long shot. I guess when forty-some-thousand Rotarians get together in a room, it causes a stir. We heard from the UN Secretary General, and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (home country of our international president, K.R. Ravindran), and that of the Republic of Korea.
Today is also Jack’s birthday, and with an afternoon light on actual conference activities, we let him set the afternoon’s agenda.
There have been times on trips like these when I remember the word “adventure” is actually a rather loaded term. Sometimes, it means more than a rip-roaring good time. Sometimes “adventure” means “what the hell just happened and how can we avoid it in the future?”
I’m going to tell you what just happened, but first you have to hear about the rest of our day. It was fabulous.
On Monday, when we’d visited Gyeongbokgun Palace and the Bukchon Hanok Village, we’d taken the short walk to see the Changdeokgung Palace, to find that it was closed on Mondays. Then yesterday, when we’d made it to the Seoul Tower, we’d planned to stop at the nearby Korean War Memorial, but it was a long day, and I actually forgot. So we decided we’d tick both those things off our list today. Neither is especially close to the other, so it would be a haul.
It really doesn’t matter that we didn’t have to be anywhere this morning first thing. I was up at 5 am again anyway. This lack of sleep is going to catch up with me, I’m sure.
Today we took a really long ride on the subway to the center of of the city to visit Seoul Tower, the forested Namsan Park, and the surrounding neighborhood.
We disembarked from the train at Myeong-dong, which is worth mentioning only because I’m traveling with teenage boys as well as someone pretending to be. I really should have prepared myself for the onslaught of jokes pertaining to whether or not one can find Myeong-dong or the relative size of Myeong-dong compared to any other dong.
Were it not for the unparalleled kindness of strangers here, we’d have missed out on our scheduled tour of Panmunjom and the DMZ I’d scheduled weeks ago, which would have been a huge shame. Jack wrote a blogyesterday alluding to that kindness (and has since said something about Koreans being the Canadians of Asia, which was as accurate as it was clever), and I’ll expand upon this morning’s adventures in a later blog. Otherwise, this entry would be way longer than necessary.
As far as the tour goes, I have to offer a shout out to Jen and Ted of Thrifty Nomads, who were a great resource, and whose advice I took in booking the same company, the Panmunjom Travel Center. There is no other way to visit the DMZ except through such a company. Those wanting to participate need to plan in advance. The tours do sell out, and even if they didn’t, all of those wanting to join the tour need to go through a multi-day vetting process beforehand.
At about 3 am, I woke up in a cold sweat wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. This was after arriving in Seoul yesterday afternoon, finding our apartment (first time in an airbnb), and mustering enough energy to wander around our neighborhood to find some dinner.
The cool thing about airbnb is we were able to find a much less expensive lodging option than any of the area hotels Rotary International had blocked for this annual convention, and locations much closer (as in a difference of an hour commute or more) to the conference center, to boot.
One downside: no concierge. No one to recommend a restaurant where there might be an English speaking waiter to translate the menu. No one to give you a heads up that you’re not in a section of town that caters to tourists, and there won’t be any helpful subtitles in English on directional signage.
Okay, I’m planning a family trip and I’m periodically keeping people updated on details, which is sometimes how we do things around here.
In a couple of weeks we’re bound for a conference in Korea and taking the boys. Mike and I are currently getting mileage out terms like “Seoul Brothers,” and taking bets on which of our kids will be the first to freak out when he’s served kimchi.
We’ve traveled with the boys since they were really young and I can say without a bit of sarcasm that family travel is an area where teens win out over any other age.
Or maybe it’s just that our perspective’s evolved. First there’s the journey. If you’ve flown with babies and toddlers, everything else is cake. The only thing less fun than flying with a crying baby, after all, is trying to pretend you’re not the silly person who brought the baby on the plane.