Days 13-14: Travel to Busan, South Korea
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 – Wednesday, June 29, 2016
To say that we were excited about seeing Annie, Dan, Maddie, Phoebe, Asher, and Calvin again after 3 1/2 years is of course an understatement. It was just a crazy day of traveling. We got up at 6:15 am to leave by 7 to get a train and ride it an hour to catch our 10:50 am international flight from San Fran to Seoul. At some point there was coffee. We were pretty nervous about jet lag since it is a 16 hour time difference to Korea. I looked up a few things online including a site called Jet Lag Rooster which gave us a sleep schedule (common sense stuff like stay awake when it’s normal awake hours, walk around and do stuff, don’t take a big nap, just a 20 minute power nap if you have to) but also a few tips I hadn’t thought of like drinking water instead of soda, coffee, or alcohol. So every time on our 11 hour flight we were offered a beverage, we asked for water. Well, I asked for sparkling water to make myself feel special.
Eleven hours is a long flight. Obviously there are much longer flights like to Australia. But this was my longest flight ever and the biggest plane I’d ever been on. I could have done a lot of things on the plane. Catching up on the blog, editing videos, editing podcasts, journaling all of my heart’s desires, but I really don’t even know where the time went. At least half of the time went to Minesweeper (you can get an awesome version for $.99, yes, I said awesome). I might have written a few thoughts. I slept. All I know is that 11 hours is a long time. I didn’t even watch any movies.
At customs, we needed to have Annie and Dan’s address, but somehow in all of our planning (which really was, “Hey can we stay with you a couple of weeks?) we didn’t have it. So I just wrote Busan. The agent wasn’t having any of it. So I was stuck awkwardly trying to communicate why we didn’t have the address. “We’re staying with family. They’re picking us up from the train station.” Blank stare. Finally, Nate’s phone dinged and Annie gave us her address. I showed it to the woman, as if to say, “See, there it is.” But she told me to write it on the paper. Then she told me I wrote quite messy. Somehow she wasn’t cross with me, just very firm of how things should be.
But my passport got stamped and we were on our way. I was so tired, but so excited to see the Collins. We had a 3 1/2 hour train ride through the beautiful countryside of Korea. Numerous times throughout our trip, we would be confused as to where to go and a Korean would come over to see if we needed help. Usually it was an adult that sent their child over (their English is better) to see what we needed. People are always very patient, kind, and helpful with us, even though we speak no Korean.
On the train I had to poke Nate to stay awake. We were approaching the 21 hour mark and hadn’t had any caffeine in nearly as much time. We were still pounding water, but I was to my sleep-deprived silly state. Nate was just asleep. The train I’m sure was moving quickly, but it felt like watching a pot boil. (Growing up, my family took long road trips. My wise parents instituted a rule early on: if you ask “how much longer” you have to go to sleep. It didn’t stop us from wondering that question, but if we wanted to see the world, we kept that to ourselves. Other fun tip: instead of juice, soda, or water, if we were thirsty, grapes. Not sure how well this worked from an adult point-of-view, but as a kid it probably stopped us from asking to pee every hour.)
Korean topography from the train, in a nutshell: There are tall buildings and green mountains everywhere. Korea is very beautiful and densely populated. There is an agreement not to build above a certain altitude, so for as far as you can see it’s massive apartment buildings (like 30 in a cluster) in a valley-type area, surrounded by lush, tree-covered peaks. There is very little single family housing anywhere we could see.
We weren’t sure who would meet us at the train station, but we followed the signs out. As we’re looking around, I see Maddy run up to me and give me the biggest and best hug I think I’ve ever had. I almost started bawling right then. My 6-year-old niece, was now almost 10 and nearly as tall as me. Then Phoebe, Asher, and Annie followed. Calvin was hanging back because he was only 5 months old the last time we saw him in person. He was just itching to give us a hug though. It didn’t take long for his shyness to melt away. Dan was parking the car and found us as we were heading his way. It was a joyous reunion. The next challenge was staying awake for an hour until we could crash for the night. They brought us some donuts and Dan took us on a night tour of the city, neon lights and skyscrapers galore. We headed out of Busan to Jeonggwan, about 25 minutes outside the downtown without traffic. Busan is South Korea’s 2nd largest city at over 3 million.
The Collins live in a sprawling typical apartment complex, on the top floor with vaulted ceilings. It’s nice and large and perfect for a family. Each complex has between 10-20 floors and holds between 3,000-10,000 people and each complex has 5-10 apartments and each section of the city has dozens of these complexes. Each complex has multiple playgrounds, schools are very close, there are mini buses to take kids all over. They have sacrificed single-family homes to have less sprawl, more parks and common spaces, and more green spaces. I’m not sure what Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities) would think of this urban planning approach, but it seems to work in South Korea.
For our stay all four kids crowded into one room, so we could have one of our own. The girls had made an adorable written welcome card and arranged a basket of treats for us, including homemade cookies in the cutest packaging, cute socks, and a few other cute things (there’s a lot of cute in Korea). I don’t really remember what happened after we arrived, if we ate anything or just crashed. It had been a long two days but we had made it!