Busan Part III

Sun 7/3, day 18

We were really excited to go to church with the Collins. We got to church early and so Dan stayed behind while the rest of us went along the water front looking out at the Pacific Ocean. It was a strange reality that we had just been over 5,000 miles on the other side of the Pacific at Land’s End. It looked amazing and ominous. We were still jet lagging and the gray cloudy hazy rainy day reflected the state of our brains and bodies.

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Various dogs and their owners down by the ocean/river. Yes, those are pink puff tails.

Redeemer International Church is made up of mainly English speakers from all over the world. Dan is the pastor and we haven’t heard him preach in about four years. It’s always intimidating for me to go into a new church. I’m not exactly sure why because I have done it a lot. I get all shy and I hide in my journal, drawing or recording my nervous thoughts. I wanted to do interviews, but it takes a lot to work up to that and I was having a shy day, so even though it would have been pretty easy to talk to people, I didn’t. We stayed after for a potluck and I even waited in line with the men to get my food. Normally kids and women went first. Not for me today. There was a ton of great food, but it just reminded me of being a kid and visiting churches when my family traveled and how uncomfortable I always felt.

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After church and the potluck we headed to Shinsegae, a huge mall, they call a department store. It took over half an hour to even get in the parking lot. Everybody was here on a Sunday. This was definitely an upscale experience. The majority of the time we were in a stationary shop. I really think that I could have spent an hour longer, but at some point you have to go before you spend all your money on paper. Mostly kidding. Or not.

Nathan: We ended up at a bookstore, and I was browsing around and picked up a beautifully printed book that was in Korean. An older gentleman saw me pick it up and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. His English was better than average and I think he wanted to take the opportunity to continue practicing it. He told me about himself – he was a retired Buddhist pear farmer and had written an essay about Africa that took him to Seoul to meet with African leaders at one of the embassies (he showed me pictures of himself with the African leaders – I don’t remember which country, maybe Ghana).

Busan Part II

Thu 6-30 – Sat 7/2
Days 15 – 17

For the next few days we just chilled out and recovered from jet lag. We had one day that was super hot and we went to a playground, but we were too tired to do anything else. And the forecast? Rain for the next two weeks. Hot and rainy. Cooped up while being jetlagged didn’t seem so bad, but after three days, we really wanted to get outside.

But you know what you can do while it’s raining? Write songs on the ukulele, go to amazing restaurants, and try and learn Hangul (Korean letters). Annie, Dan, Nate, and I stayed up late every night playing cards: spades, Oh Pshaw, rummy. We did a lot of laughing and the kids told us to quiet down, more than once.

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Nate journal entry excerpt from 6/30:
30 minutes of quiet reading time is going on right now. Amy’s with Phoebe, Asher & Calvin. We’re in Busan, South Korea – 16 hours ahead of SF where we came from, 13 hours ahead of home. Crazy. It’s been over 3 1/2 years since we’ve seen my sister and her family. It’s so good to be here. The kids are much older than the last time we saw them. They each have fun and unique personalities and it’s fun to get to know them again. Calvin (almost 4) is super cute, very independent, a risk taker (seems like so far). Asher (6) is loving and loves (really loves) hugs. Annie says he has an engineer’s mind. We played with legos and lincoln logs. Phoebe (8) is funny, talented, loves her sister. We did origami together. Maddy is a little lady – Dan says 9 going on 19. Very talented songwriter – she sang a song about moving that was amazing, lyrically and melodically. We’ll work on the chords together later.

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Korea, Korea

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.

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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.

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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!

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Bay Area

Days 8-13: San Francisco Bay Area, California
Thursday, June 23, 2016 – Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 8 in Alameda

After a 10+ hour day of travel, my cousin, Mary, picked us up in Oakland and drove under the Bay to the island of Alameda. We last saw Mary in 2014 at the Benton family reunion, but this was our first time meeting Lily, their 11-month-old daughter. We’re not sure if Tim and Nathan had previously met, but it had at least been a while.

We were super excited for round 2 with my cousins. We were also stoked that Tim bought groceries for us and stocked the fridge. We dropped off our bags and took in the view. Tim had steaks going on the grill for tacos. After a long day, this was just what we needed. We shared a bottle of wine and engaging conversation with the sun setting over the beautiful Bay as our backdrop. Then we crashed.

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Day 9 in Alameda

Mary headed off to work and Tim brought Lily over for a quick visit. She had already been asleep when we arrived the night before and so now it was great getting to meet her. Lily is very different from Claire, though they are only a few weeks apart. Claire has siblings lovingly (and always) in her space. Lily has Riley, a very smart dog. Lily is very shy initially and just needed to warm up to us. She takes it slow with strangers. I tried to hold her and she lasted about 30 seconds before wailing. Nate tried to hold her and it was about 3 seconds before she was really trying to get back to dad. She didn’t seem to like his beard.

Lily and Riley play with each other like sisters and puppies. Lily sometimes puts things in her mouth to carry them around just like Riley. Insanely cute. Tim dropped Lily off and went about 30 steps to their used bookstore: Wilmot’s Books, a really cool shop off of the beaten path.

Nate had to work; I just chilled out. In the afternoon we took a walk along the waterfront, beach, and rocks. Just beautiful and cold for us Floridians, about 60 F.

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Everything in Alameda seems like a little Florida beach town. San Francisco and Oakland and masses of people feel faraway. It was quiet and restful and right on the water. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend this peaceful corner of the Bay Area.

Mary got home and treated Nathan and me to sushi and cheap beer. I loved reconnecting with Mary, who is the 10th out of 11 siblings and Charity’s younger sister. She was another sister/mentor figure to me growing up. I loved our time together, and getting to see her as a mama was amazing. Mary and Tim love being parents. Lily is a light in their life and it is refreshing to be around so much love. They waited a long time for Lily, but you couldn’t find two people more excited or prepared to be loving parents.

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Day 10 in Alameda

Mary was able to work from home, so after finishing up and dropping off Lily, she drove Nate and me to the epic Muir Woods with its great redwoods. It was an incredible drive laden with postcard-perfect views. The National Park was crowded with tourists, but once we got climbing, the people faded away and the quiet of the forest took over.

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These trees are just huge. Don’t think Trump, “Huuuuggge.” Think jaw-dropping, enormous, awe-inspiring pillars of nature. We walked up and up and in and in, deeper and deeper into the forest. I could’ve set up camp, but we had to get back to Lily. After a quick bite at the Pelican Inn, we chilled out in Alameda for the afternoon.

Mary, Tim, & Lily were headed to the Benton family reunion (we were very sad to miss it) just outside of Saint Louis early the next morning. (Actually this is where we re-started our bike trip from in 2009, when we stayed with other cousins of mine in the area). So after consuming a lot of pizza, we said our goodbyes and all headed to bed early.

Day 11 in San Francisco

As we waited outside of Wilmot’s Books for our Uber, we reflected on how cool this little bungalow area of Alameda is. Mary and Tim live in the middle cottage; we stayed in the one right on the water. Wilmot’s Books is the front building. A very compact, rich life. Beach and mountains. Not too hot or cold. You can walk or ride a bike or public transportation. We could totally live here. Of course we said that in Mount Horeb and in Rockford. But I could see us flourishing in the Bay area. (Don’t worry, Orlando, we’re not going anywhere.)

The ferry from Alameda to San Francisco was incredible. A sunny day, but not too warm or cold. We were going to meet up with one of my friends from college, Kristin. She is a world traveler, a dreamer and a doer, a doctor to people in the county jail lock-up, and one of the most interesting people I know.

She asked what our itinerary was earlier in the week and of course, we had none. She said she would plan (or I asked) and we were totally cool with that.

We met at the Farmer’s Market in the Ferry building and it was another huge market. Similar in size to Madison, but a totally different vibe and set up. Fruit vendors everywhere. We wandered a bit until Kristin could meet up. Once we did, we went to so many of the fruit stalls and tasted sample upon sample.

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I wanted to do some interviews for the Searching for We the People podcast, but was too chicken. Back in college, I would go around interviewing people for random reasons as well and Kristin would be my accomplice. It was the same here too. Kristin gave me a mission to go interview 5 people and then she would buy me coffee. Somehow that worked and the interviewing began. Some people from middle America, a Brit and his Polish girlfriend (who did not want to talk about Brexit), and a few people on a smoke break. Once you get going with interviewing, it gets easier. It’s the starting that I’ve found most difficult.

I’m glad we had on our walking shoes, because boy did we walk. Kristin was telling stories about walking like 10 miles in a day when she treks. I wasn’t sure I could even do half of that. But I did. We walked down Fisherman’s Wharf and saw three seals and a million tourists like us all clamoring at each other (yes, both groups). We walked to Chinatown, we walked up and down small hills. Snacked on lychee, went in a few shops and then headed to the top floor of a hotel that has an awesome view. Grabbed a beverage and another snack and enjoyed the din of the room. It was about here that I started to feel a little wonky. But we were going to Land’s End to do an incredible hike, so I grabbed some water and soldiered on. It was so worth it. If you’ve never been to Land’s End, or anywhere on the Pacific Coast that looks like it, you need to go. I was just blown away. It was similar to the craggy beaches I love in Oregon, but there was something very California about it too. Perhaps it was the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m not sure, but it was great. Climbing around the ruins of the Sutro Baths, the roar of the waves crashing against the rocks, sunset creeping in with the tide. Glorious.

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Kristin asked if we liked Burmese. Sure. Not sure, but probably. We’d never had Burmese. She wanted to try out a new restaurant and so we headed up and down the swanky streets of San Francisco. I’m not sure if it was being out in the sun all day, or lots of walking, or dehydration, or hunger, or maybe all of the above, but I wasn’t feeling great. Once we got sat down at the restaurant, I started feeling even worse. Not sure if you can tell where this is going, but if you’re squeamish you may want to skip to the next two paragraphs.

It was tapas style and so the first few dishes came out and I tried them, but they didn’t taste right. Though to Nathan and Kristin, they tasted delicious. My sparkling water just wasn’t cutting in. I thought that rice might help even things out. Sadly, to no avail. You know that moment right before you hurl. You can feel it coming, but it still doesn’t really seem real. Yeah. That was me. I was that girl. I got up and ran to the bathroom. Budged in line and closed the door, only to vom all over the floor. Twelve inches from the bowl. Lots of wonderful Burmese food all over. And with that I wiped my hands, rinsed my mouth, exited and told the manager what I had done. He was really sweet and asked if I was okay. I said I was but your bathroom is not. This wasn’t like a men’s bathroom and women’s. It’s all in the side area, so now the packed restaurant was down to one toilet. My bad.

Nathan and Kristin felt bad for me, but they were still packing it in. I still want to try Burmese food when I’m not sick. We’re not sure what happened, but for the next 6 hours I couldn’t keep anything down. Yup, even in the car, I had to open the window and well, you know. Great day, rough end.

Day 12 & 13 in San Francisco

Rest and recovery for me. Church and chill for Nathan and Kristin. We went on a recovery walk later in the afternoon in a beautiful park in Mountain View just outside of the Google campus. California’s vegetation is so diverse that it almost seemed like a snapshot of Florida. There were people from all over the world speaking different languages and enjoying being outside. We’ve heard that often people from other countries who get jobs at places like Google end up bringing their parents and/or other relatives over to live with them in the Bay Area. Even in Kristin’s apartment complex we could always hear another language being spoken.

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On Monday, Kristin headed to work and we went to SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). I really do love a lot of modern art and Calder and Sol LeWitt were on full display. It also has an awesome section on graphic design and typography. I am always challenged by the color field artists. I still don’t understand how painting a canvas white is art. And the kicker for me is that multiple people have done this. You can be the first guy to do that… one time. But everything else after that is redundant at best.

We chilled out at home for the rest of the day, prepping to leave the country for the next month and a half. It was a good first two weeks to our trip. Time with friends and family. Time in middle and coastal America. Rural and urban and in between. Korea and world, here we come!

Rock – Man – Sted – Ford

Days 5-7: Rockford, Illinois
Monday, June 20, 2016 – Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Long travel day in progress. We bid farewell to Margo and Kyle this morning, took a bus from Rockford to Chicago Midway, and now are on a 4+ hour flight to San Francisco. Once we land we’ll take the BART to downtown Oakland and get picked up by Amy’s cousin Mary, and spend a few nights with her and her husband Tim and their daughter Lily in Alameda, California.

[ed: final travel tally for today]

1) 20 minutes trailblazing from Stedman’s to the bus station, it pulled out 2 minutes after we hopped on.
2) 2.5 hours bus from Rockford to Midway Chicago Airport
3) 1.5 hour wait until plane
4) 4.5 hour plane ride
5) 1 hour 15 minute train ride on the BART to downtown Oakland
6) 15 minutes to Mary’s house in Alameda

Just over 10 hours of travel and a 2 hour time difference.

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We had a really great time with the Stedmans. I can’t believe they’ve been in Rockford for 4 years already. It’s clearly a great fit for them. Small enough to get to know people. Big enough to be diverse. Good jobs for both of them. Direct flights to Sanford via Allegiant. Seasons!! It’s really wonderful to be outside in the summer and be happy that you’re outside. And be able to sleep with the windows open and use minimal A/C even if it gets hot during the day. The opposite of Florida, obviously. You definitely forget how much later it stays light outside during the summer at more northern latitudes. Kyle and Margo have really embraced their city, as evidenced by everything from their knowledge of their 100 year old house and its former occupants, to the tour of some of their favorite places that they gave us the past two days:

  • Japanese gardens: beautiful, peaceful refuge
  • Art Deli: screen printing, local love, art, community
  • Rockford Roasting: locally roasted coffee, nitro tap
  • Library
  • Toad Hall: overflowing with used books, records, newspapers, magazines, and ephemera
  • Vali Produce: international food galore
  • An expansive antiques mall with just the right lock plates and door handles
  • Dari Fair: over-the-top ice cream and treats on a hot day

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Finds from Toad Hall, including a Chicago Sun-Times from my actual birthday that I randomly picked up, and other periodicals with very familiar conversations and themes. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed.

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Rockford’s beautiful Anderson Japanese Gardens

The Rockford Art Deli, and a cool screen printed t-shirt designed by a local artist that I bought. Be nice to each other.
The Rockford Art Deli, and a cool screen printed t-shirt designed by a local artist that I bought. Be nice to each other.

We also had plenty of chill hangout time at the Stedmans’ big beautiful house; cooking food, including our first time trying sous vide steak; reading books – Amy read 4 books(!); taking naps; drinking coffee; and playing Super Mario Bros. I did some work as well for one of my freelance projects. Side note – one of my goals for this trip is to unsubscribe from as many emails as possible. So as they come in on a daily basis, instead of just deleting/archiving them, I’m taking the extra few seconds to unsubscribe. Hopefully it will help me hate email less 🙂

There are a ton of empty factories and buildings in Rockford, like many towns and cities across America after their various industries moved manufacturing overseas. In Rockford it was screws and other hardware (Rockford is also known as Screw City). The last time I passed through similar post-industrial places was on our cross-country bike trip in 2009, 7 years ago (woah). Despite all the emptiness Rockford seems to be doing well at redefining itself and slowly deciding what to do with the various buildings and properties.

Getting to hang out with the Stedmans makes us miss our Holden Heights community. We no longer live within a mile radius of each other and it is much harder to be a regular part of each other’s lives. But it was really great to reconnect over the last few days. Back home in Orlando, it makes us want to pick up with our friends who haven’t moved that far away, or have since returned and be more intentional about hanging out and doing life together.

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Thank you Charity, Jacob, Emily, Max, Claire, Kyle and Margo for a wonderful first week!