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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Somewhere between Leavenworth and here I lost both of my USB drives, which had all my old school files.  I love the convenience of computer stuff, but Natalie Dee gets it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary!

I can't quite believe that I've been married for 10 years.  Or, to be more accurate:

I can't quite believe that Horyon has put up with me for 10 years.

We celebrated by going to Hello Sushi.  We both agreed that it sounds too much like "Hello Kitty."  However, the place was very tastefully decorated, without a trace of pink, smiling kitty faces with empty eyes that promise oblivion to those who follow her dainty tracks.

Since it's been a while since I reviewed a meal (I think the last time was also while we were living in Korea!), I will do so now:

Oh wait, I almost forgot:  it has been a wonderful trip, these ten years.  Ten years and eleven months ago I was walking home from a date with Horyon.  I was on a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, it was dark and quiet (for the city), and I was overjoyed by the presence of this person in my life.  A few days later, on March 14th (White Day), we were at a nice restaurant (Charlie's, in the top floor of Lotte Department Store) and I had just given Horyon chocolates, flowers and perfume.  (She never wears perfume, the flowers have returned to dust, and she didn't share the chocolates with me.)  I suddenly experienced a moment of clarity, in which it became obvious to me that I needed to be married to her.  I had, of course, thought about being married to her, but hadn't considered asking.  After all, I had only known her for about 45 days.  But in that moment I knew it more surely than any fact I had ever learned: I belonged with Horyon, and she belonged with me.  So I asked her to marry me.

Her response was the classic:  "I beg your pardon?"

After repeating myself, she said yes.  I think we both surprised ourselves that day, but in the almost eleven years since we have never looked back.

Somewhere I read that deja-vu is just your brain remembering things that haven't happened yet, that the impulses that create memories get sort of mixed up at the quantum level and go the wrong way in time.  I sort of like this idea, because maybe that's what happened to me eleven years ago:

Through the course of our marriage, what has gone by, and what is yet to come, I have thought back on that quiet night above the railroad tracks and the day I proposed many, many times, and never with regret.  Even though a very small fraction of memory impulses travel backwards in time, I relive these moments often enough that they add up.  On the bridge and in the restaurant I was feeling a backwash of future emotions, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

And who knows: if I hadn't asked her to marry me that night, maybe I would never have gotten around to it.  Maybe she would have had enough time to figure out how forgetful I am, and how messy I can be, and all the other annoying things about me.  Maybe we only got married because we will be married for so long, and quantum entanglement has dictated that it be so.

Or maybe it's just a miracle.

Or maybe both.

Anyway, back to our tenth anniversary at "Hello Sushi!" (the exclamation point is mine, feels like it needs it.)

As I mentioned, the decor was subdued, classic, with American antiques here and there and lighting that revealed without glaring.  They started by bringing us each a glass of wine, included with the meal.  I don't know much about wines, but I liked this red.  Very drinkable, and had me feeling a bit light-headed, as I have not had much alcohol in the past few years.  I started with the table of non-sushi items, including shrimp in cream sauce, spaghetti carbonara, and some salads.  For my second plate I hit the sushi line.

I didn't count, but there must have been a dozen chefs preparing sushi up and down the line.  Little slices of raw fish on top of clumps of rice that would fit on a spoon, prepared with a variety of sauces and garnishes.  Some brought me back for seconds, a very few didn't work for me at all.  I also had some crab soup, but passed on the udong soup.

I finished with fresh pineapple chunks, grapefruit slices, and lychees!  Then coffee, with cookies and cream ice cream that wasn't really that tasty.

Cost:  30,000 won each, about $27, according to Google.  (Did you know that if you type in "30000 Korean won" the first result is the US Dollar equivalent?  How cool is that?)  And we felt that it was worth it.

Of course, we will not eat there again for some time.  It is just too expensive to do more than once a year.  In spite of the price it is still quite popular.  Even though it was lunch time on Wednesday, they first told us it would be an hour wait.  A few minutes later they told us we could have a table, but had to clear out within the next hour and 20 minutes.  (We made it with 10 minutes to spare.)

It was a great meal, the perfect bookmark for our first ten years.

Monday, February 07, 2011


The comedy of luggage movement continued in Pusan.  We dragged our four carry-ons plus laptop bag plus kids out of the plane, picked up our stroller at the gate, and went to baggage claims where the serious baggage was waiting.  Once we got it all on a couple of carts, we found out that you could not take the carts out of the secure area.  So Horyon went out with the kids while I stayed with the bags.  She left the kids with her parents, then came back, and we ferried our bags out to the main lobby.  Fortunately many of our bags are equipped with wheels.

It was a touching reunion, being back with Horyon's parents.  I was surprised at how I had missed them.

We then ferried the luggage out to the curb.  The temperature was an uncharacteristic five below zero Celsius, about 23 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was cold for a couple of days, then our highs came back up above freezing, and our highs for the last week have been around 50F. I've been wearing my jacket instead of my coat, and the serious winter gloves that Mary Lou gave me for Christmas when we moved to Kansas have been packed away the whole time we've been here.

So yeah, there are some things about Kansas I'm not particularly missing, like the blizzard that hit last week.

After we left Korea, Horyon's parents moved into a new apartment.  It is much bigger, and brand new.  They had the place decorated with pictures of us and the kids, framed pictures sitting all over the place.  On little shelves, only a foot or two high.  In the kids' room, as well as the living room.

It took a few days, but most of those got put away.  The apartment is still, at 12 days, not quite Quinten-proof, but it's much better.

Jet-lag has never been a huge issue for me.  Two or three days of grogginess and I was usually okay.  I am older now.  Travelling with two kids is not as relaxing as travelling by yourself or with an adult loved one.  The kids have no sense of why they want to sleep all afternoon and be awake at night, and they have no inclination to change that pattern on their own.  It takes brute force from Mommy and Daddy to shift it.  Fortunately, we arrived with more than a month in which to adjust.  Here at day 12, we are pretty much there, except for one thing:

The kids won't sleep alone.  One of us has to be in the room with them when one of them wakes up.  Usually Horyon.  They are sleeping on pads on the floor, which is warm, but a bit hard for my taste.  Make that a lot hard.  I slept with them for three hours the other night, then Horyon came in to say good night.  I was in pain, and soaked in sweat.  I'm sure I could get used to it, but I'm already getting used to more things than I really want to, and Horyon likes sleeping with the kids.  One or both have been waking up around one a.m., needing to be soothed back to sleep.  Sometimes Horyon stays up doing other work and I go back to soothe them to sleep.  But usually she is there.  We have a queen size bed, but we haven't both slept in it since we got here.  Soon, I'm hoping.

On the food front, I have been eating Korean food two, sometimes three times a day, and not suffering much for it.  Granted, our first shot of sushi (and by that I mean sliced up raw fish, not those California rolls) the other night hit my mouth like a dream and my tummy like a freight train, but other than that it has been good.

I have been enjoying my mother-in-law's kimchi more than I ever have before.  I honestly don't remember it being so good when we lived here before, but now it is so good I don't mind eating it at breakfast.

I know.  Right now my Mom is making a nasty face.  Two weeks ago I would have, too.  I think the change has to do with this:

I left Korea with my family four years ago tired.  Tired of being the foreigner, tired of the food, tired of the customs, and wanting a fresh start in what I thought of as my home country.  Four years in Lawrence taught me that the USA is not really a kind place.  Don't get me wrong, the people are wonderful.  I just took a quick break to chat with Judy Chadwick, a friend from First Christian Church in Lawrence.  In our four years, she became family, and she is not unique in that sense.  And the only reason I could walk away from my parents at the airport without tears streaming down my face was that I didn't want Maxine to focus on what she was leaving behind, but what she was heading towards.

I have always said that people leaving their country are either running away from something or toward something.  Sometimes both.

I decided that I would be moving toward a country that I enjoyed, respected, and even loved.  I decided to embrace the role of stranger in a (not so) strange land, and bring back the openness that I originally brought when I arrived in 1997.  And so I have been eating whatever food my mother-in-law or wife serves up, with the intention of enjoying it.

Much to my surprise, it has worked.  Kimchi and rice and soup for breakfast.  It works!  I do have a piece of toast before, and sometimes follow up with orange juice, but hey, I'm the foreigner:  I can be eccentric.

I've gone to the bath-house about every other day as well.  This was not a difficult change to embrace.  The bath houses were the one thing I missed most about Korea, and was most looking forward to visiting upon our return.

We arrived at my in-laws home, now our temporary home, at around 10 a.m.  I think.  The drive from the airport seemed to take forever, even though it was only about 45 minutes.  It was like revisiting a dream: I kept thinking places were familiar.  Sometimes I was right, and sometimes I was wrong.  The traffic seemed insane, and I had to remind myself that I actually used to drive in it, once upon a time.  I wondered, in passing, if perhaps my mental state (circadian rhythm twisted 180 degrees, not enough sleep, too much stress) was projecting my own neurotic mood onto the streets around me.  If so, the projector is still running full tilt.  My father-in-law is a mild-mannered man, but when he drives I keep expecting him to open a panel of James Bond buttons on his dashboard and start laying waste to thugs.

I can't quite imagine getting back behind the wheel here, and will avoid it as long as possible.  So much for embracing the culture, right?

Oh, the other important cultural adjustment: we got cell phones.  I've got a cute little android, though I can't afford to deck it out with apps right now.  Nor do I have many people to call.  But I have a phone!

In the next week or two we will be checking out the apartment provided by our school.  I think we will move in, as well.  We had originally talked about staying with Horyon's parents long-term, but it is hard on everyone.  So we will retreat to our own home at night.

When you make a move like this one, it is inevitable that you lose some items.  We can't find my socks.  This was a major annoyance, as Korean socks are not comfortable for me (tried again this time), and I was making do with two old pairs of my socks that I had planned to toss after wearing.  Fortunately, we found some suitable replacements at Costco, where we went for the first time today.

And so I am trying to be all the way here as long as I am here.  I'll let you know how it works out, and get some pictures of the whole thing up as soon as I can work the bugs out of our internet setup.  It's difficult to make time for blogging during the day, and it is now 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday here (11:30 a.m. on Monday for those of you in Kansas).  I will write more about how the kids are settling in next time.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Trip part 2

Third flight, Incheon to Pusan. I didn't manage to do any writing on the Chicago/Incheon leg. I did watch “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” starring Nicolas Cage. It was amusing, I think. Amusing enough to keep my attention after one a.m. They served me a pretty good steak. Probably my last big chunk of beef for a while. I heard an announcement that Koreans can't bring meat into the country, and I'm guessing that it's hard for anyone to import it.

The second flight itself went well, but we hit Chicago right around Quinten's usual bedtime, and hadn't had dinner yet. We do not have pleasant memories of Chicago, with all due respect to my friends from the windy city. Hopefully some day we can make up for this short, yet unpleasant stay.

We found a food court around 10:00, and the only place open served hot dogs, gyros, and some other greasy sandwiches. The food itself wasn't bad, but it didn't appeal to Horyon and it was so expensive that I just can't recommend it to anyone. And there was a McDonald's, but it was closed! The only thing worse than eating at McDonald's is wanting to eat at McDonald's but not being able to.

The kids were fussy, Horyon was fussy, I was fussy. It had been an emotional day, and we still had almost 20 hours of traveling ahead of us. So on to security to check in. One advantage of night flying is that the security lines are shorter and faster than during the day. The only bag that was consistently checked was Horyon's sewing machine carry-on. I guess all that machinery, combined with some kids toys containing magnets and odd plastic bits, looks a bit too much like a weapon of mass destruction, rather than the tool of individual construction which it actually is. It got opened at all three security check points on our trip. Good thing we didn't pack it with heroin.

Seoul was both the best and the worst layover. There were helpful airline employees at every airport, making sure we got on the plane early, talking slowly to us like the zombies we were, rearranging our seats so that we were less likely to explode. In KC the ticketing agent from United Airlines spent 20 minutes or more working with us, getting our luggage weighed (and ignoring at least one half-pound excess) and helping us to anticipate what would happen at our next couple of stops. I offered to buy him a snack or drink or something to say thanks, but he refused. In Chicago when we finally sat down to eat one of the cleaners asked us to change tables five minutes after we had sat down to eat. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but two hours past bedtime and coming off of an emotionally draining day the first response to come to mind was, “Really? Our first time to sit in actual chairs around a table and try to relax and you want us to move?” Of course, I actually just said, “Okay,” and we moved.

We had no trouble finding our gate. It was the one crowded with Asian people, as well as being the only open gate in sight. The flight was scheduled for one a.m., and mercifully left on time. By then we were hoping that Quinten would be asleep, but he wasn't. He couldn't settle down in the crowded, noisy, brightly lit departure lounge, though he was bedtime-fussy for quite a bit of the wait. Our Asiana flight left from Chicago, and they took good care of us. They boarded us early, along with people in wheel chairs and other baby families, which was nice. There were at least half a dozen other babies and small children on the plane. Big fun.

Once we were boarded (more than 40 minutes to board a 777), we took off with no delay. Once we got past the ear pain stage, both kids fell asleep. They stayed asleep for five or six hours, much to our relief, and that of the people around us, no doubt.  That's when I watched "Sorcerer's Apprentice."  I was too wired to just sleep, and have never slept well on airplanes anyway.  I think I got some sleep after that.

I was seated with Maxine while Horyon and Quinten were across the aisle from us.  They started with a passenger between them, but she was a nice lady and offered to change seats very quickly.  A very sane move, in my opinion.  For the most part, and for most people, this ability to choose your plane seat months in advance is a big advantage.  But for a family hoping to sit together, it can cause problems like this.  Our other problem was that the plane we were on had no more than 3 adjacent seats.  No way for all of us to sit together.

Horyon spent most of Quinten's sleeping time squeezed into a corner of one seat so that Quinten could lie down on one and a half seats.  I did the same for Maxine for a little while, then realized that she could sleep while being seriously contorted.  She spent part of her sleep time with her legs off the seat, feet on the floor, and her back arched back.  Not very long, but long enough to have caused me some serious pain.

Many people had recommended giving Quinten some sort of allergy medication to help him sleep on the flight.  We tried it out the week before, and found that if anything it made him more active.  Difficult to imagine, I know.  So we did this run straight.  Turns out that flying at night is probably the best way to deal with kids.  Their sleep cycles are not easily altered; if they are supposed to be asleep, and they are not allowed to move, they tend to sleep.

By the time Quinten and Maxine woke up, most of the rest of the passengers were awake, too.  Quinten did laps on the plane, more than I can count.  Some with me, most with Horyon.  Maxine colored lots, and didn't watch much of the in flight entertainment.  Maybe a couple of hours.  Less than the amount of tv she watched at home.  Neither of them ate much, but that makes sense considering how little they moved around.

About seven hours into this thirteen hour flight, Maxine started asking if we were almost there yet.  Nine hours in she got a serious case of want-to-be-with-Mommy.  She got to spend some time with Horyon while I walked Quinten around and fed him a meal, but he was more successful at playing want-to-be-with-Mommy. I keep urging him to be more rational, but it's hardly surprising that he is in no hurry to learn to speak or think: he gets his way when he pushes hard enough.  He also got to keep his binky for most of the flight.  I swear, he is like a little chain smoker with that thing.  When it is time to throw away the binky, it is going to be a rough couple of days, with lots of toys and stuff going into his mouth, I am betting.

We approached Incheon (Seoul's airport) from the Southwest, having taken a wide detour to avoid North Korea.  They can't feed themselves, but they can sure as heck shoot down any airplane that comes near.  Eventually we arrived in a snow-covered Incheon.  Clearing immigration was easy, as we (Horyon) had done all the work in the previous four months.  No surprises.

Picking up our luggage was no fun at all.  I'm sorry we didn't take any pictures, but we had eight checked bags, two of which were boxes.  They were all right up against the 50 pound limit for international checked bags, so we're talking about 400 pounds of luggage.  Plus two car seats and a stroller, all of which were checked with no penalty.  Plus four carry-on bags, one of which was a sewing machine.  We never weighed them, but I would be surprised if any of them weighed less than Maxine's 35 pounds.  We also had Maxine and Quinten, and to top it off, our two computers in a laptop bag.  Yep, you can actually bring all that stuff when you fly international.

We had some help at the luggage carousel from some kind airport employees.  We got all of our bags onto two luggage carts, and headed for customs.  No problems there.  Apparently families moving into the country are not worth searching for contraband.

Then we went out into the airport, Horyon pushing Quinten in the stroller, computers slung under the stroller, wearing her backpack/carry-on and holding Maxine's hand.  (If I don't keep her busy she gets into trouble.)  I had it easy: I was only pushing a couple of luggage carts that weighed about a quarter of a ton.  It was weird. And not just because we looked like refugees and had more luggage than the Clampetts.  I have spent most of my adult life in Korea, and so this was a sort of homecoming for me.  I was sort of expecting that, but not the gut-level feeling of being back home.  The airport was crowded.  I'm sure most of them were starting their day with a little travel, rather than heading for the last leg of a 27-hour journey (door-to-door time).  They tended to get in our way, completely oblivious to the 500 or so pounds of luggage rolling their way.  Maybe I should have converted to kilograms.  I was stared at.  I couldn't understand most of the conversations around me, but snagged bits and pieces.  There were signs in Korean, some of which I could understand.  And it was crowded.  I felt like I was back home again.

After some wrangling and waiting, we were booked on a flight to Pusan.  Believe it or not, up until that point our tickets from Incheon to Pusan were abstract, if not downright indeterminable.  The flight we had originally booked had been dropped from the schedule, but we had been assured that one way or another we would make it to Pusan.  Even if we had a six hour layover.

Thankfully, that was not the case.  I'm not sure how long we spent in Incheon.  We had to drag our bags, selves and kids about a quarter mile through the airport, then up an elevator in two shifts, then a bit further to the domestic ticket counter for Korean Air Lines.  They had to have a person from Asiana physically come to the counter to verify that we deserved to be sent to Pusan, along with all of our stuff.  We had some spare time to retape a box that had started to fall apart, then we had less than 20 minutes until our flight boarded.  Once again the sewing machine set off warning bells.  Once again the car seats and stroller were checked at the gate.  Once again we were boarded first.

No.  Wait.  We weren't.  We had to go down an escalator, outdoors (time to put the coats back on!) and rode a bus to our plane.  Another small plan, this one six seats across. I sat by Maxine, who immediately asked if we were in Korea yet.  I gave the short version of the world geography lesson.  She was disappointed to find that we were, in fact, in Korea, but had not yet arrived at our final destination.  They got us all boarded pretty quickly, and took off with no problem.  The flight was only about 40 minutes, just long enough for me to have some Coca-Cola, the beverage I choose when Pepsi and Dr. Pepper and Cherry Coke aren't available.  No ice.  Time to start getting used to it.

If you go to Google Maps and search for Busan, Korea, you will see the airport.  We came in from the South, and had a clear view as we approached, our first daylight landing.  Click that Busan link and go to satellite view.  It was fun to pick out the beach, roads, apartments.  A few days later we purchased a high chair for Quinten from someone who lives in one of the apartments we flew over.  My father-in-law, Youngsoo, drove us there, and I was excited to recognize the neighborhood that I had seen from the air.

It is now after midnight, and my impressions upon arriving in Pusan are too weighty to tackle when I am this tired.  We have been here for 10 days, and the impressions are fading, but I will try to get them down before they are gone.  Let me know if you find any glaring mistakes so far.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Trip part 1

I'm writing on the first plane of our trip. It's an ERJ, three seats wide. I had to ask to find out, and the stewardess pointed out to me that it is a small plane. I suppose that in her line of work you do a lot of pointing out of obvious things. Horyon and Quinten are across the aisle to my right, and Maxine is in front of me. Probably my last opportunity to write during this journey. I suspect that if the kids sleep on the next flight, I will, too.

Quinten is doing fine with the pressure changes. A little babbling and munching on some grapes seemed to equalize his pressure. Hopefully it will be as easy coming down. He is currently bouncing around between Horyon and the bulkhead, standing on the seat, exploring the seat tray, doing his little scientist thing. But boy oh boy does he want to move around. We are really hoping that he sleeps through the first part of the next flight. We are scheduled to leave Chicago at 1 a.m. They will very likely be asleep at that time, so the only question is will they stay that way?

Maxine is doing great. She has a new princess sticker book and a journal with seven little colored pens attached. She is drawing pictures and supplementing them with stickers while enjoying some bubble gum purchased just today.

Speaking of today, it has already been a long day. After Quinten woke up, Horyon and I drove back to the house in Lawrence for what may be the last time. (We are putting it up for sale, and hope that it will be sold long before we return.) We loaded up our shipping bags (four bags at 80 lbs each, for a total of 320 lbs) and took them to the UPS store, then drove back to the house. We picked up a few key items which we had forgotten Saturday, like my carry-on backpack. This was a big deal because it contained both Maxine's pillow pet and her polar bear. These items would be sorely missed, as would my ancient (six-year-old) 60 Gigabyte MP3 player, my super big bottle of store-brand pain reliever that is cheaper than Tylenol, my comb, and my software CDs, without which my next computer would be missing lots of important stuff.

So we loaded up the van, dropped some stuff off with a couple of friends, dropped by Hancock Fabrics to say goodbye and make sure Horyon's W-2 gets sent to the right place, spent our last gift card (at TJ Max), and had lunch at a Chinese buffet that has a really good selection of California rolls and a make-your-own noodle soup buffet, as well as crab rangoon, General Tsao's Chicken, and a few other Chinese buffet yummies. We are seriously going to miss our Chinese buffets in Korea.

Then back to Leavenworth for showers, last-minute packing, and other stuff.

We are beginning our descent, so I have to stop for a bit.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.