Saturday, February 28, 2015

Itaewon & Sweet East

Today we decided to explore a neighborhood we hadn't been to yet.

Itaewon (Eee-tay-wahn) is a very popular neighborhood among the expats that live here in Seoul. It's right outside USAG Yongsan. It has an antique furniture street, a fashion street, and tons of amazing restaurants. 

We've heard that at nighttime, the place turns into bar/club central. Seeing as we have two little minions in tow with us at all times, we decided it'd be best to go during the day. 

Itaewon is very different from other parts of Seoul we've seen so far. There are street vendors literally lining the sidewalks. The sell socks, hats, funny t-shirts, more socks, fried squid, toys, anything they can make a little money on. 

And the amount of store fronts in this place is astounding. Everywhere you look, there's an entrance or stairs leading down or up to a doorway, or an alley with more stores. It's crazy. Koreans love to shop!

This toy vendor (above) was set up in the ramp going down into a parking garage.

When we go somewhere new, we usually try to have one shop/restaurant/activity planned... and the rest we kind of just discover along the way. 

Today our plan was to hit up a dessert cafe called Sweet East.
While I love a good chocolate pie, one of my absolute favorite desserts is funnel cake. Never in a million years did I think we'd find funnel cakes in Seoul. But we did. And holy moly, was it good!

Sweet East doesn't just serve your normal, boring fried pancake batter. 
They've taken it one step further and created a menu of specialty funnel cakes! Cookies n' Cream, Chocolate Banana, Strawberry, and Carmel Apple, or you can just get the Carnival Classic.

The lady at the counter was very sweet and spoke very good English. The funnel cakes come in regular or small sizes, and they also have quite the drink menu as well. 

We ordered a regular sized Carnival Classic funnel cake for the boys' and I to share and my husband ordered a piece of carrot cake. He also ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte and I opted for a White Chocolate Mocha.

These two could hardly contain their excitement.

The whole cafe was just adorable. Very clean, modern vibe. 
I also thought the bathroom was super cool and different so I had to take a photo.

The bathrooms we're behind a sliding wooden barn door. And on the inside was all stone (almost like stained cement). I was also relieved NOT to find a squatty potty. Yay for American toilets!

Anyways, enough about potties.
Almost all the tables were filled when we arrived (a good sign!) and it only took about 6-7 minutes for them to make our funnel cake and bring it to our table. They also brought glasses of water for the boys for free.

I couldn't even snap a photo fast enough before they dug into it. Understandable though, it was so good! The little red and black bowls are whipped cream and vanilla ice cream... Perfect! Our coffees were good also. Tasted a little different; not bad, just different. 

All in all, I totally recommend a visit to Sweet East dessert cafe if you are in the Itaewon area. Great service, good prices, and yummy food. 

Sweet East Cafe
34-91 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul.
Hours: 10am-10pm Mon-Sun
Phone: 02-790-3349
Method of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, Cash

If you are looking at the Itaewon archway, go to the right side of the road and walk toward Suji Deli. Keep going past the Deli (on your left) and then turn left into the first alleyway.
In this photo, the alley is right behind the right-most tree.

Keep walking down the alley until you see Sweet East on your right! (Refer to photo 4).

Happy exploring!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Adventure of the Day: Getting to know the staff at the ER

I had a to-do list about a mile long today.

Go to the immigration office to get my A-3 visa stamp...
Unpack the Unaccompanied Baggage shipment that was delivered this afternoon...
Clean out the Keurig so we can use it tomorrow...
Buy masks for "Hwang Sa" (yellow dust) season...

You know what was NOT on my list?

going to the ER to get a tire removed from my 5-year-old's nose!

Say what?
No, you read that right.
I said we had to make a trip to the emergency room to get a small, toy tire pulled out of my child's nose.

Around 4:30pm today I heard him scream that scream that every mother dreads. 
I ran into the living room and found him flailing his arms and running in a circle. I know people use this expression a lot but he really was running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. 

I immediately grabbed him and started doing my once over. No blood, no big bumps, no out of place bones. 

Me: "Buddy calm down so I can understand you"
Him: (still flailing) "MY NOSE!!!"

I thought he ran into the wall. If you know my sweet boy, you know this is not that far fetched. 

Me: (trying to hold him) "What happened to your nose?"
Him: (holding up his car): "MY NOOOOOOSE!!"

Me: "You hit your nose with your car? Just wait a second and it will stop hurting"

At this point I'm almost laughing half because I really thought that it couldn't have went that far in there and half because I just laugh when I get nervous (it's terrible, I even laughed when he fell and busted open his head on an escalator when he was barely a year old. It's really embarrassing and I always seem really insensitive or insane, but I really can't help it). 

Me: "Okay, hold on. Mommy will get it out! Which side is it in?"
Him: (STILL flailing his arms) "BOTH!!!"

There were not one but TWO tires in his nose. One in each nostril. 
I had him blow his nose so hard that the tissue I was holding and my hand got completely covered in snot. I was able to get one of the little donuts from hell out with the tweezers, but I could barely even see the other one. It was turned sideways and so far up that you could only see the little tire tread of one edge. I was almost impressed. Thankfully, he was breathing fine. He said it hurt, but not that bad.

We called daddy to tell him what happened. "I have to go to the ER, our son stuck a tire in his nose." .... "Wow, okay. I'll meet you there." Not even surprised. That's what being the parents of two preschool boys does to you. Suddenly, everything is pretty normal. 

A medic, a nurse, two doctors, and two pairs of forceps later, the other tire was out!

Our boy was so nervous; on the way in he asked me what was going to happen and I told him. He sighed a big woooo-saahhh and said quietly to himself "Be brave!"
I love that boy, tire-nose and all.

Although, we did have a long talk about this situation on the way home with both children. Both my husband and I are mostly just surprised that it wasn't our youngest stuffing things in his nose. Usually, it's him with the crazy antics.

Not only were we dealing with nose full of tires today, but the Korean "Hwang Sa" or yellow dust is in full swing. The air is full of metals and pollutants coming in by wind from China. The air quality has been between 600-800 for the past two days; anything above 300 is considered hazardous for even the healthiest of people. 

We've been staying indoors as much as possible considering this, but the ER is a short walk/subway ride from our apartment. When in Korea, do what Koreans do. That has been our motto here so far. So today we donned our masks.

At least my boys make cute little ninjas! 

I hope you and your noses have a good, tire-free and mask-free day! 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Journey to Korea Part 2: Seattle to Korea

So you made it Seattle, what happens next?

We arrived in Seattle around 11:30pm the night before our 8am AMC (or Patriot Express) flight. If your flight schedule is similar to ours, I recommend you get off the plane in Seattle, get all your baggage off the carousel, and go find the AMC desk. Don’t worry, there are luggage carts for your to rent for $5 a piece right by the baggage claim carousels; we had 8 big suitcases and needed 2 carts. Take the elevators up one floor to the ticketing level. Come off the elevator and you are looking the airline check-in counters. Go all the way to the leftmost counter and that’s AMC (or Air Mobility Command). Our paperwork noted a check-in time of between 1-4ish am. When we got there around midnight, folks were already lined up; sitting or laying down on the floor with their luggage.

Tip: There are actually two lines to line up in (at least when we flew in Jan. 2015 there were). The one immediately at the desk that you see immediately is for single soldiers and families of 3 or less. Families with 4 or more people are to line up around the corner on the left side of the desk. There should be a sign.

We stayed with our luggage but some people chose to line up their bags and then go find food or somewhere quieter until time to check in.

Right before check-in time, an AMC clerk came around to everyone in the line and gave the sponsor (the soldier) a paper, on which they had to write the family members’ names and passport numbers. I also wanted to note, both our kids were so exhausted by this time they slept through the entire check-in ordeal. Our youngest slept in his stroller; so glad we brought that!

Our oldest fell asleep on his blanket on the floor. I may or may not have just dragged him on that blanket when the line moved forward.

Check in was fairly easy. Same as check-in would be with any other airline. They called families up much faster than they called folks from the other line. I was thankful for that. We were third in the family line and it only took us about 5-10 minutes to get called to the desk. The clerk at the desk asked us how preferred to sit so she could book specific seats for us. The AMC flight had seats in a 2-3-2 pattern so we chose to sit parent/child and parent/child one right behind the other (just like we had done on the previous flights) because it seemed to work well.  She printed our boarding passes and weighed/took all our baggage and we were on our way! If you have a stroller that you will be gate checking (keeping with you in the airport and checking at the gate when you get on the plane), make sure the gate-check tag they put on it says “OSAN.” You definitely don’t want your stroller to get left in Japan! Also, I should mention that I was worried about the size and weight of our carry-ons and they didn’t even end up inspecting them. Actually, they didn’t even ask to see them.

After leaving the counter we went straight to the security checkpoint. As it was super early in the morning, there were only two lanes open but that was fine. It still didn’t take long and it was the same process as any other flight (no liquids over 3oz, shoes off, pockets empty, stroller and carry-ons through the conveyor belt thing). My three-year-old was sleeping and they let me carry him through with me, my five-year-old walked through on his own.

The TSA agent at the security checkpoint had told us about a Children’s playroom in Concourse A so that’s where we headed. We wanted the kids to be as tired as possible for the long flight so they would sleep. The playroom was very nice. Because it was 2am there were a few people in there sleeping on the comfy, padded floor but we let the kids play anyway.

AMC flights take off from the S-gates, which are in the South Satellite. You will need to take the Transit tram (kind of like a subway) to get there. This map shows a map of Concourse A, you can find the Children’s Playroom and the entry to get down to the Transit tram.

The tram does not open for operation until 4:30am so I recommend letting the kids play in the playroom for a bit, getting a snack and COFFEE from McDonalds or Starbucks (the only places that seemed to be open that early), and then head to the tram right at 4:30am.

When we got to the South Satellite, we found a quiet corner near our gate to relax/sleep in for a bit since we still had about 3 hours until time to board. I was worried about finding an outlet to charge our devices but there were plenty around the gate area. There are a few little stores and places to eat in the South Satellite too, if you are hungry or want to pick up a few magazines for the flight.

We boarded the plane right on time. They called for families to board first which was really nice. The airplane was pretty standard. Comparable to Coach class I would say, maybe a bit more legroom though. Television screens in the middle every 3 rows or so and a big one in the very front.

We were on the plane for about an hour before the pilot finally came on the intercom and told us that we had to “de-plane” because there was a problem with the plane’s GPS system. Both our kids were sleeping at this point so it was a huge inconvenience, but what can you do? I’d rather wait and that be fixed than take off in a broken airplane, for sure! They did, however, let us leave our carry-ons on the plane if we chose to. We left most our stuff and only took our “snack bag” and our blankets and wallets (with the passports, IDs, and boarding passes in them) with us back into the airport.  We didn’t end up getting back on the plane until 3 hours later. This was by far the hardest part of our trip. It had been such a long journey for most all of the passengers already; everyone was ready to get back on the plane and go.

Finally, we did re-board the plane and get in the air. They fed us breakfast shortly after takeoff (even though the delay had caused it to be closer to lunchtime).  Breakfast was your choice of eggs or pancakes, a plain bagel with cream cheese, a fruit cup and whatever you wanted to drink. The flight attendants were great. They brought us drinks (free) whenever we wanted and were also very understanding of our children having to go potty every 5 minutes. (Okay, that’s a little dramatic… it was more like every hour. But, it felt like more often).  They also fed us lunch, which was your choice of beef or chicken, pasta salad, a roll, chocolate cake, and crackers with cheese.

Tip: It seemed like they sat all of us families who had small children up front. So, if you are a family with older children or have no children I would suggest requesting to sit towards the back of the plane. (:

We landed in Japan about 10 hours after takeoff. They asked us to remain seated and a Customs Agent came on the plane to do a walk-through. They let the passengers staying in Japan off first. After that, they took all of us going through to Korea to a terminal (a holding area).  There were not a lot of outlets available there to charge devices so if you need one, find one quickly upon arriving. There were also vending machines with candy, snacks, water, and soda and restrooms. We were there for about an hour.  Our three-year-old ran laps around some of the chairs in the terminal and our five-year-old slept like a rock the entire time.

It was a pretty short flight from Japan to Korea. Two hours maybe? I can’t remember for sure. Everyone on the flight slept almost the entire time. Upon landing at Osan, Customs came on board again and did another walk-through and then we got off the plane and were taken to the 2nd floor of a building to get briefed and start filling out paperwork for Customs. The briefing was about 15 minutes and then we went down the hallway to stand in line and wait for our turn to check-in with our IDs and fingerprints. The line took about 45 minutes to get through. After that we went downstairs to get all our luggage and declare things for customs. There were people there readily available to help those of us (families) that had a lot of bags. The hardest part was digging through our bags to find the things we had to claim. The only things we claimed were two small foldable knives, my prescription medication, and the fruit we had brought for snacks on the plane. We laid all this out on the table and my husband (the sponsor) had to answer that he wasn’t hiding anything else. They let us keep everything but one of the knives. We had no idea this was going to be a problem or we wouldn’t have brought it. My husband had the option to stay longer and fill out paperwork for them to ship it back to someone in the US or give the agent signed consent to destroy it. He signed consent for them to destroy it so we could be on our way quicker. This whole part of the process felt very rushed and our kids were exhausted and cranky.

We stopped for (another) potty break after clearing Customs and then continued out to the busses to go to Yongsan. They were nice charter busses. Families and officers going to the Dragon Hill Loge hotel on one, and soldiers going to barracks on the other; luggage went underneath. It was about an hour ride to Yongsan.

When we arrived at Yongsan, we were taken to the 1st Replacement building just across the parking lot from the hotel.  We were told to leave our luggage on the busses and had to sit through a 30-minute briefing there (with our children) and fill out more paperwork. Luckily, there is a small play area in 1st Replacement’s building and I took the kids out there while my husband (the sponsor) stayed in the briefing and the briefers didn’t seem to mind. After, we got all our luggage off the busses, took with us what we could, and crossed the parking lot to the hotel to check-in. Our children found new energy and were very excited that we had finally made it and we were too!

If you made it this far and you are still reading, then congratulations! If you can get through this ridiculously long post, clearly you are resilient and will do JUST FINE on this journey!  Happy travels!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey to Korea Part 1: Getting to Seattle

We have two boys, ages 3 and 5. So, when I found out we had orders to Korea, naturally, I was worried about the flights. I did research, research, and more research to read others’ experiences. So now that we’ve made it through, I thought it best to pay it forward and write a few posts about our journey to the ROK. We flew regular, civilian flights to get to Seattle and then Patriot Express from Seattle on. Of course, your voyage may be a little different but this was our experience.

We took leave in Ohio before our trip so we had to drive a rental car from there to the Nashville Airport (where Transportation booked our tickets from). We travelled with 8 big suitcases, 4 carry-ons, and a stroller so we needed something with a lot of space. We rented a mini-van and folded the back seat all the way down. This worked extremely well for our family of four. All the suitcases fit in the back and our boys still had room to wiggle a bit in their middle bucket seats. We used Hertz for our rental and I would recommend them. The price was comparable to all the other companies we checked; no hidden or unexpected fees when we paid, and the return agent even helped us unload our massive amount of luggage at the terminal.

When we arrived at the Nashville airport, things moved pretty quickly. We had about 2 hours until takeoff, but considering everything… that ended up being the perfect amount of time. We first pulled into the “Rental Car Return” garage. The Hertz agent took down our car’s mileage and our names and then got us a Hertz driver to take us over to the Departures terminal. There were luggage carts available to rent right outside the Departures doors. The cost $5 each to rent; we got two and piled them completely full. We (very carefully) pushed them inside and parked in a corner where the boys and I waited with all the luggage while my husband walked down to the Hertz rental counter to close out and pay. It took him maybe 10-15 minutes. When he got back, we got in line at the Southwest Airlines counter to check our 8 bags and print our boarding passes. Our small circus act definitely caught the attention of other travellers in line. Both our boys were so excited, they didn’t hesitate to tell everyone that we were moving to Korea! They all wished us well (and lots of luck!) and we got through the line in about 10 minutes. At the counter, we used the self-kiosk to print our boarding passes and designate how many bags we were checking. The clerk checked my husband and I’s IDs, weighed all the bags one by one, and then took them to be loaded. We left with our carry-ons and the stroller and took the 2 (now empty) luggage carts back outside to return them. You get a quarter back when you return them.

We had about 1 hour until boarding started at this point, so we headed straight for the security checkpoint because it looked pretty busy. There were six lanes open for ID check (this was around 5pm) and we just chose one at random. The TSA clerk check our ID’s and also our children’s’ passports. We proceeded to the X-ray scanners and metal detectors. I folded up the umbrella stroller and sent it through on the conveyer belt. We took off our shoes, emptied our pocked, and got out the laptop and sent them through in the bins. We were told we didn’t have to send our iPads through separately; they could stay in the bags. We sent our carry-ons through and walked through the metal detector as directed by the TSA agent. When we got through to the other side, it was CHAOS! Everyone was rushing around trying to get their things at once. We grabbed all of our belongings, walked bare-footed over to a quieter spot by the windows, and gave our boys their shoes to put on while we got everything else back in order.

By the time we had found a restroom and then walked down to our gate, we had about 20 minutes until boarding. We found a place to “park” by the window so the boys could watch the luggage being loaded onto the plane.

My husband stayed with them while I went to purchase a bottle of water for each of us. When I returned, it was time to start boarding. They boarded the “A” group and then called for family boarding.  With Southwest Airlines, you don’t get assigned seats, you just pick when you get on the plane. We gave them our boarding passes and found some seats near the back. Our plane had 3 seats on each side of the aisle. For us, a family of four with two small children, we decided to sit parent/child and parent/child, one in front of the other. This worked really well; both children got a window seat (which they both wanted), we could easily pass toys and snacks between the seats, and it cut down on sibling bickering since they weren’t sitting next to each other and each had a parent’s undivided attention. We sat near the back to be close to the restroom.

We had a brief layover in Denver where we got off and directly onto another plane at the gate next door. We got to board first since we were “through to Seattle” passengers but we chose the same seating arrangement as before since it worked so well the first time. The flight attendants from our first flight also transferred to our second flight with us. They were awesome. They let the boys get a peek in the cockpit, see all the buttons and lights, and say hi to the pilots. They also gave them extra snacks before takeoff and talked to them about their trip. They made them (and us!) feel so welcome. It made a long flight a bit better knowing that I could ask them for something, or help, if we needed it.

Both our boys did great on the first two flights! They each had their own rolling backpack that they carried or pulled themselves. Except when little brother fell asleep in the stroller on the plane, our oldest was a trooper and took both!

Here’s what we packed for each of them:
iPad mini
sticker book
coloring book and crayons
small container of play dough
one stuffed animal
fun neck pillow (which they didn’t really use)
snacks (carrots, apple slices, pretzels, goldfish crackers, granola bars)

My 5-year-old used his iPad and headphones the most and my 3-year-old favored the play dough and his sticker book. They both snacked A LOT! We didn’t really limit their snacks, especially since we were flying at dinnertime. But, we were thankful that we did NOT pack sugary snacks. I feel like that would have been a disaster. My advice? Stick to light whole grains, fruits and veggies, and a little protein if you can.

We made it to Seattle with no major issues or meltdowns. I hope you have the same luck! Check back for my next post, which will be about the second leg of our journey; from Seattle to South Korea!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Annyeong Haseyo

Annyeong Haseyo!

We made it to South Korea!

Actually, I'm a bad blogger... 
We got here three weeks ago.

Let me tell you, it's been a whirlwind of an adventure so far!
If this is any indication of how the next two years are going to be, we are in for a super fun ride!

No. -to answer your first question (if you know me). 
I have not tried any weird foods. 
I'm still trying to "find my feet" just being in this new country. But I PROMISE, eventually I will ingest things I cannot pronounce purely for your entertainment.

I want to say a quick few words about my children. The partners in crime. Pinky and the Brain. The brothers from the same mother (doesn't quite have the same ring...).
Anyways, I just wanted to say this:
my children are amazing.

Of course we've had rough times, where they've ran in front of someone on the sidewalk or fought bedtime many hours into the night. 
for the most part, 
they have taken this move better than I could ever have imagined. 

We are in the hotel here for one more week until our apartment is ready. They are more than ready to be in their own rooms, surrounded by their own things, sleeping in their own beds. However, until then, we'll make the most of #hotellife

Yay for blanket forts!