Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Korea and Japan: a late Yule present

Back during the winter holidays, I didn't get any gifts for anyone. And I mean that literally. Nobody got anything from me. At all.

Part of it was that I didn't make the time to do any shopping. And part of it was that C made sure that the people who matter most got gifts from our family. But mostly I think it was because everyone I would have bought gifts for doesn't need anything. On the contrary, most people I know complain that they want to simplify their lives rather than accumulate more stuff.

But I didn't want to be a Scrooge, so I told my family that my gift to them would be an all-expenses-paid adventure to the destination of their choosing.

I spent the next several hours arguing that Disney Land did not count as an adventure.

This heated debate subsided into the kind of subsurface boiling that lava might do after a violent volcanic eruption. A few days later C turned to me with narrowed eyes and said, "I want to go to Japan." I'd been called to account, and now I'd have to put my money where my mouth is. "Sounds fun," I replied.

Of course we couldn't actually get away until after the school year was up, so we planned the trip for the first two weeks of June. Which means that at the time of writing, I've had just enough time to recover from jet lag.

The trip actually entailed a week in South Korea - visiting my sister, who is stationed there right now - followed by a week in Kyoto. It was probably the best vacation we've had.

We flew out of Denver on a Thursday, caught a connecting flight in Seattle and landed in Seoul on Friday evening. The time zones are such that you lose a day in transit. My brother-in-law picked us up from the airport and took us to their home in Pyeongtaek. Travel is exhausting, and I don't sleep well on planes. So we had just enough time to settle in and hang out for a bit before going to bed at a pretty normal local time. We all got up the next morning feeling more or less adjusted to the new time, which was a pleasant surprise.

The next few days were spent going all over the place, seeing museums, visiting temples, going to amusement parks, walking through markets, and playing at a water park on the US Army post where they work.

One particularly nice coincidence was that their neighborhood, comprised largely of Americans working for the military, held a barbecue one evening while we were there. We enjoyed a sense of community that I haven't felt in a long time. There's a unique bonding that takes place when you're all strangers in a strange land, or so to speak, that doesn't happen much here in suburban US of A.

C and M at a street market, Osan, South Korea
Korean War Memorial, Seoul, South Korea
Korean War Memorial, Seoul, South Korea. A trove for AFV enthusiasts.
Tofu vendor at a street market, Pyeongtaek, South Korea
Traditional dancers and musicians, Korean Folk Village
Buddhist temple, Kwang Duk Sa, South Korea
Kwang Duk Sa, South Korea
T-Express roller coaster, Everland, South Korea

Our week in Korea flew by for me. Before I knew it, we were being shuttled back to Seoul to catch a flight to Osaka. From there we traded in our pre-paid vouchers (acquired from a stateside travel agent) for rail passes and took a JR train to Kyoto. The train station is essentially part of the airport, so it was much less stress than I thought it would be. Still, I'm glad that we insisted on fitting everything into a single suitcase plus backpacks. Shepherding two kids through public transportation is challenging enough without a lot of extra baggage.

Even though we didn't manage to do much more than one destination per day, Kyoto was a whirlwind of palaces, temples, museums, and trains. It was a great choice for first-timers in Japan, as there is so much history there, and the city is quite manageable in size. I think Tokyo probably would have been a bit overwhelming.

Nijo-jo (a shogun's palace), Kyoto, Japan
Tea house, Imperial gardens, Kyoto, Japan
M and some monkeys, Iwatayama Monkey Park near Kyoto, Japan
A train station somewhere north of Kyoto, Japan
Trees at a Buddhist temple (Yasaka?), Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Waterfront, Toba, Japan. We were on an island, so the kids wanted to see some water.
Katsuya Terada work at the International Manga Museum, Kyoto Japan
Imperial Palace, Kyoto, Japan

It was a great experience being a visitor to such very foreign countries. I mean, everything from the landscapes and architecture to the languages and alphabets were completely new to us. It's really humbling to immerse oneself so thoroughly in the unknown.

The flight home was from Osaka to San Francisco, and from there back to Denver. It all went smoothly enough, but while we once again arrived in the evening and should have gotten a good, on-schedule night's sleep, I was slower to adapt back to Mountain Time. Hopefully tonight I won't wake up again at 03:00 wondering whether I'll be able to coax myself back to sleep for a couple of hours.

There will be more about this trip to come. There was simply too much to encompass in a single blog post.


  1. Glad you guys had a good time, that looks like a crazy amount of fun. I've always found Japanese architecture breathtaking. We're looking forward to traveling when V is a bit older but have a ridiculous bucket list already.

    1. Thanks - it really was a fantastic trip. The architecture was one of my favorite parts, too.

      Back in 2006 we took F to London and Dublin when she was about 10 months old. I'm glad we did it, but it was really stressful for all of us. I don't have a whole lot of data, but I think 2 or 3 years old might be the ideal time to start to traveling with a kid. And if South America is on your list, that's a good way to get far from home without a big timezone change.

      We've got a long list of places we want to go as well. Some of them probably need to wait until the kids are old enough to do some backpacking.