Thursday, September 25, 2014

We're officially Korean drivers

Well after living here for 2 years using an international drivers license that was only good for one year, we finally made ourselves legit. We made an appointment with Andrew (not to be confused with Andy) in the business office to take us to the DMV.

We'll start here. Because I was driving and I am a woman, I was allowed to park in the women only parking spots (right next to the handicapped space). I had read on the internet that these spaces were roomier to help women drivers. Andrew told us that that was not true, but it was more of a women's rights issue. According to my favorite source, Wikipedia, "In 2009, the city government of Seoul painted 4,929 parking spaces pink so that women do not have to walk as far to their destination and make the city more conducive to wearing high heels." This must be true. All the women in Seoul wear high heels all the time. It's a fact.

We went into this building: THE DMV!

 These women took all our documents.
 Then we waited.
 Getting your Korean license really isn't that difficult as long as you know what to do. For those of us from Colorado, we are required to get our licenses apostilled, whatever that means. Basically, have Jim drop off your license at some government building downtown Denver and then the people at that building will mail you your license and the apostille statement to you. And the licence or apostille statement had to be notarised too. Bring that, your license, your passport, cash, your ARC card, 3 passport pictures and your itinerary for your next trip out of town (they'll keep your state license until you can prove that you're leaving the country and need it back, so we brought our tickets for our trip for winter break) and you're set.

While August waited, he made friends with this woman:
 I love this woman because she gave me a sweet pat on the shoulder when Andrew told her that was the mother of twins. She said that twins are so much work and looked at me sympathetically.

 Next, we walked to a building next door to get our eyes checked.

I see that kindle in your hand Jim...
Aced it!
 Then more waiting...

 And BAM! There it is! How about that?!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Olympic rowing

Today was the perfect day for rowing. I've never actually been rowing, so I didn't know for sure, but it was overcast and warm. Our coworker, Rich, got in touch with the Korean Rowing Association and set up a time when we could use a boat. The boats are located in a park that was built for the rowing and kayaking races of the 1988 Olympics and, we found out today, also for the 2014 Asia Games. The park is really nice with lots of green space for playing or picnicking.

We walked through the gated off area for the athletes practicing for the Asia games to meet up with the rowing association people who had a boat ready for us.

This says "Doping Control Center" 
Boats, tightly wrapped up

Jim reading his kindle as we wait for everything to get figured out
 Here are some guys on the Kyrgyzstan team getting ready for practice. They got in and just glided away. They really made it look easy.

 Here's our boat. I was really intimidated to see this. We rowed with our shoes off, just incase we tipped. I was relieved to take my shoes off because when I saw this boat, I was sure I would tip it just getting in. Rich assured us that this was a very stable boat and perfect for beginners.
ahhh, look at our boat and the water waiting for us!
our boat
boat selfie! (still at the dock)
My view for the whole ride. This guy never smiled, I think he was a little
worn out by the very, very novice team we'd assembled. He was with the
rowing association and he served as our coxswain.

And we were off. I was so nervous, the boat felt wobbly and Rich was and our coxswain were the only two who knew what they were doing. We started off going two people rowing at a time (with the other two just resting the oars on the water) and then occasionally would attempt all four of us rowing together.
The coxswain kept singing "row row row your boat" really loudly. Just
kidding. Our coxswain didn't say anything at all. He didn't speak English.
Ruby helped us by taking a lot of these pictures. She also took a video of us. For the record, the coxswain told us to turn around. I know that earlier I said he didn't speak English, but he got the point across that it was time to turn. I don't think he anticipated how long it would take us to do so because we got right in the way of a kayaking team-an official kayaking team, an official Korean kayaking team. They appear around 1:30 in the video. Also note that the videographer is 7 years old, so the quality is terrible.

Hey! In case you were wondering about where this place is, here's a little map. We were rowing where the little blue dot is. See the rectangular blue space? That's the rowing part of the park. In the bigger picture, we are east of Jamsil. 

Tsukiji Fish Market and the Meiji Shrine

One cannot go to Tokyo and skip eating sushi-it's the best in the world. Even if you don't like sushi, you've got to at least try it, or so I kept telling myself.
Our last full day in Japan, we took the subway to the Tsukiji fish market. We weren't ambitious enough for the actual auction (for that you have to get there around 4am) but we got an early start. As you might imagine, there were many interesting sea creatures to taste and look at.

Ruby tries a Japanese omelet
Grace tries dried sardines from a guy who told us he loves the Denver Broncos

There are many sushi restaurants peppered throughout the market. We decided on one where the 5 of us could all sit (some of these restaurants were very small) and one that looked at least a little bit popular.
Sushi chefs
We ordered two combo platters. A $20 one for Jim and a $10 one for the kids and me to pick at and eventually give to Jim.

Look at Grace, she's all smiles before that sushi goes into her mouth. I'm so proud of her-she ate the whole thing. She gagged and came very close to throwing up right there in the restaurant, but she managed to get it all down.
Jim loved the sushi.
I tried it. I liked one of them, the salmon one, but the rest were a little too fishy for me.
No regrets though. What a great experience. After we were done, the kids got suckers that looked just like sushi, they were very happy with that!

After lunch we took the subway to the visit the Meiji shrine. It's the beautiful forest right in the middle of the city. The trees were each planted by hand in the 20s. It's so peaceful, it's hard to believe it's surrounded by such a busy city.

These are barrels of sake

For our final night in Japan, we ate udon noodle soup for dinner and sang karoke! At first Grace was too embarrassed to go with me to sing karoke. Can you believe that they had songs from Frozen as selections?!

We highly recommend Japan. There's so much to see and do. The people are incredibly friendly and helpful. Each time we were lost and took a minute to look at a map or stop to try and figure out where we were a Japanese person would come up to us and ask if we needed help. More than once we said yes and were escorted by said stranger to where we needed to go. I feel like that, like Seoul, Tokyo is a place you could live for 25 years and still not see everything. It's a little intimidating that way.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tokyo Disneyland!

Jim here filling in for Irish.

When we were planning this trip last June we knew that  taking the kids to Disneyland would be a big part of it. There is a proud tradition of people coming from Korea to Japan for just this reason.

Transportation in Tokyo is a little tricky, taxis are far more expensive than in Seoul and the trains have several overlapping companies.  So we planned to take the train up to Shinjuku where I had read that there was a bus straight to the gates of the park. From what I read it seemed like we couldn't miss it, but I was wrong.

Getting on the train at rush hour involved pushers shoving the last people in as the door squeezed shut around us. After a transfer we got to Shinjuku, and then spent a long time walking around, eventually finding the bus terminal, then learned that there are multiple bus terminals. It was incredibly frustrating and while I did not fall to the ground in a tantrum I started feeling like it. Eventually we got a cab to take us to the correct terminal and we were on our way.

Arriving at Disney we saw that Halloween was already being celebrated, which meant grown ups were allowed to dress up as Disney characters and a lot of people took them up on this offer.

The kids were all surprisingly low key at the start of the day. None of the screaming with joy and gratitude that I had expected and kind of looked forward to. They just went in like going to Disneyland was an every day kind of thing.  Fortunately they grew to enjoy it more as the day went on. And now a week later I am still reminding them how lucky they are to have such great parents. 
"Thanks mom and dad you're the greatest!"

We started the day on the Star Wars 3D movie ride. 

From there we figured out how the fast passes worked, got our times for Space Mountain and some of the other big rides. With August's staggering rate of growth he is tall enough to go on all of the rides, including Space Mountain. While we waited for our fast pass time to come up we went on some of the smaller rides. like the teacups
From there to "It's a Small World" where a little girl turned around and stared at me for the entire ride. Something about me seems to be interesting to very little kids, maybe the bald head? For whatever reason it happens pretty often. Then with the song stuck in our heads for the rest of the day we got lunch and watched the first of several parades.  Disneyland loves to put on parades, and my kids loved watching them.

When it got a little hot in the afternoon I pushed for a show in a theater just because the air conditioning sounded nice. It was animatronic bears singing about a road trip across America sung mostly in Japanese with some English mixed in. I remember hearing a strange version of "On the Road Again" right before I fell asleep. Irish said I wasn't the only one napping in the theater. Feeling refreshed we went out, bought some turkey legs to eat and kept on waiting in lines.
Bringing my kindle was a great decision

 August's assessment of Space Mountain "That was not good, I did not like that, it was not good" Later he rode Thunder Mountain and he liked that more. I think it was just the dark that bothered him in Space Mountain, not the roller coaster part. With 5 of us any rides that had two seats meant one of us had to go alone and to her credit Grace kept volunteering, she was incredibly brave.

Late in the day we got dinner, rode on Mark Twain's riverboat and then watched one more parade, This one I was impressed with as well.

August wearing his own Sully horns, watching Sully go by. 

Walking to the gate after the parade we saw Pirates of the Caribbean with no line at all so we jumped on one last ride. It was a lot different from how I remember it, influenced by the movies, but strangely they still have the creepy part where they are picking up and running off with women. 

From there we found our way to the train where everyone started falling asleep after a very long very fun day.