Travel: Unexpected Discoveries
Updated: Oct 26
The things I thought would be issues when traveling to Korea with my family amounted to nothing.
On the other hand, things I never dreamed would be an issue, like laundry (virtually no dryer in Korea) surfaced as challenges. We did wash at mom's place and hung them to dry on her clothes rack. When we ran out of room on the rack, we carted the bag of wet clothes onto a taxi to hang the remainder in our hotel room. That's right... underwear on the towel rack of the umpteenth-star hotel room. Turns out my family generates more-than-the-average amount of laundry. I had to send a bag of laundry to the dry cleaner and hand wash things. Can't remember when I last hand washed anything.
And what about the paper towel/napkin situation? Audrey said the first thing she wanted to do when she got home was to go to our favorite chicken wing restaurant that supplies you with a roll of paper towels at your table and use up every last one.
Getting from point A and point B required bus or train or taxi or all 3 in one outing, which is an ordeal to one who usually just hops in the car and goes. No kids around except ours. Locals are too smart to drag their kids around all day, lest they melt down, like ours did.
I packed 20 lbs worth of adapters/converters and none fit in the round electrical socket. Not only are the plugs round but the sockets are all round and set in like an innie belly button.... square peg in round hole don't fit. The hotel had a single round adapter in the room that we could use, so we queued up our tablet, Nintendo, itouch, cell phones, DVD player on the electrical socket, fighting over the priority of our respective devices.
How could I forget to mention the towels? When we went to home stay and asked the owner - aunt (mom said to call her that since she is her longtime friend from middle school) - where we could find bath towels, she said, "There is a towel in there already". Mind you, the size of the towel in the bathroom is what we would call a 'hand towel' in the States.
When I looked at her incredulously, she just laughed unapologetically and said she gave away her larger towels since she didn't need them. I thought to myself, "How large were they - face towel size?"... when Audrey gave me a look, "How do you expect me to..." I just asked for another 'towel' from aunt and told Audrey she could do it.
This towel situation goes back to my number 1 issue, which is the dryer. Large towels won't dry on the clothes drying rack on the veranda, you see. When we get home, we are going to use every bath towel in the house, then throw them all in the dryer in the extra hot cycle.
When I asked Ki Hwa uhnee about the dryer situation, she said that Koreans do not believe that dryer heat is good for the body, which is why they do not have it. When I asked Hannah, my Skype friend and Korean teacher, she said it is because electricity is expensive. She said there are some gas-powered dryers but not many. The cost of electricity may be the reason that aunt does not turn on the air conditioner, so we almost melted into the sheets the first night we were there. We are definitely spoiled in the States. People in other counties sweat in out. We are laughing about it now, since we are in the comfort of our air-conditioned home.
Our first outing away from the hotel was to Itaewon. Traveling with four kids under age 9 requires a lot of potty breaks, so upon arrival, we stopped off at the Starbucks. When I asked for a cup of decaf coffee, the clerk just looked at me like I had three heads. There is no decaf in Korea, I bet. That gives an insight into their culture. One of our taxi drivers said that Koreans are the kind of people who bite into candy that is supposed to be sucked, meaning they are in a hurry. That is consistent with an experience on an elevator. The lady behind us, obviously irked at the speed with which the nine of us, with toddlers and strollers, loaded into the elevator, harrumphed behind us. When the doors opened, she yelled 'ppilee, ppilee' in Korean, which means 'hurry, hurry'. We unloaded as fast as we could. Even with this experience, I feel a sensitivity and gentleness from the Koreans, that I can't put my finger on.
During home stay, Aunt's grandkids came over one day and Rachel and they played hide and seek in the house in Korean, while Audrey wrote their names in bubble letters. Her granddaughter spoke really fast so I had to skip over every other word she said. Even so, I could barely register what she was saying. I took the 4 kids to the corner grocery store, looked at Korean junk food and haggled over the number of treats I would buy them. That is the experience I signed up for by moving into home stay.
Of course, this all happened after I changed our return flight back, having broken down from the pressure of my kids giving me the sad, 'I am homesick' look from morning until night. Next time, we will do more sitting around and less running around. And delayed flights are not fun, especially after having been in the airport or on a plane for 19 hours.
Despite it all, I do love Seoul- especially the people, the food and shopping, in that order. I can't wait to go back. Just remind me to pack a suitcase of paper towels, a clothes dryer on wheels and a Korail public transportation card.