Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Being Touristy: Palgongsan


True confession time: I once stood in line for almost an hour just to get a seven-layer burrito from Taco Bell.

This is (obviously) not a sponsored post.  I've just had quite the longstanding relationship with Taco Bell ever since my college days when I was mostly sustained daily by two bean burritos and a Mountain Dew.  So when the first Taco Bell in Spain opened while we were living there, it was only natural that I would be one of the first customers, and that I would wait an inordinately long time for my burrito.  

And, well, some things never change.  Now that I live in Korea, it's not weird at all, in my opinion, that one or two Saturdays a month, when we make the two-hour drive to the Daegu commissary, it is naturally assumed that we will stop at Taco Bell too.  It's something the whole family looks forward to.  But for most of the school year, the older two girls were so busy with their schoolwork, even the promise of a cheesy bean burrito was not enough to get them to come with us.

As the school year wound down, though, we started to see a little more of the older girls.  The Saturday before school ended, we made our drive to the commissary, and Jayna and Skyler actually wanted to go with us!  We all piled into the car, got to Daegu, purchased the groceries and had our burritos.  It's all about the little things, so I was already quite pleased with how the day had gone.  

But when I got back into the car to go home and Matt said, "Want to go exploring?", my answer was a resounding, "Yes!  Of course!  Always!"  I feel like I've hardly seen this country because so much "real life" has to happen, so I jump at the chance to go somewhere.  And it got better.  He had found something that sounded truly intriguing: an interactive museum where you can practice what you would do in a variety of emergency situations.  Since Matt is an actual owner of the book The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook, we felt like this was an obvious win. As fast as we could, we drove several kilometers out of town into the surrounding hills to a little town called Palgongsan, and sure enough, there was the museum.

Unfortunately, we soon learned that while the museum was indeed free and open, we would need a reservation to experience it with an English-speaking guide.  We asked if we could just guide ourselves through but were told that would not be possible.  They did, however, provide us with a guide who could give a partial tour.

Well... why not?

The young man apologized for his English skills (which we thought were actually excellent) as he led us to the first display.  In February 2003, an arsonist set a terrible, devastating fire in a Daegu subway, which left 192 dead and 151 more injured.  Our guide took us to a room made to look like a subway, where the actual charred cars from the incident were.  There was an eerie soundtrack of a roaring fire and screams, and on the walls we could see handprints in the soot. The terror the victims must have felt was almost palpable, and we were all relieved to move on to the rest of the museum.  We didn't take any pictures because it was so haunting.

Fortunately, the rest of the museum was focused on safety with a good dose of fun.  We didn't get to do most of it due to our lack of a reservation, but I'm sure we could have spent several hours there.  One room had several practice dummies for CPR. In another, you could try out the emergency harness used to escape tall buildings in case of fires.  There was even an earthquake simulator where we practiced covering our heads while unplugging appliances and lamps and turning off the stove.  It would have been great if we'd known about this place before our dramatic move-in to our apartment a year ago!  Another room had simulated fires to practice spraying with a real fire hose.  (Sorry the quality is not better -- technical difficulties -- this is a screen shot from a little movie I made for my Instagram story as for some reason I could not upload the actual film clip.)
The kids loved what we got to do!

Our abbreviated tour did not take very long, and on our way into Palgongsan, we'd seen signs for a "natural park" and gondola.  We headed back to explore a little more.  Calling Palgongsan a town might be a bit generous.  Really, it mostly consists of a few small hotels and restaurants, with at least three convenience stores (Koreans loooooove their convenience stores) (and actually, so do I now), but it was picturesque and nestled against hills that were covered by dense forest and winding streams with outcroppings of granite.

We followed the signs to the gondola and found that acquiring tickets was very easy to navigate even with our lack of the Korean language.  There was also the option to hike one way or both, but since it was getting late in the day, we decided to take the gondola up and down the mountain.  

All seven of us were squeezed into one gondola.  
There were wonderful expansive views of the city of Daegu and far beyond.   
We found a couple walking trails and chose one but decided to turn around because of time constraints.  In the distance, against the base of a further, more remote mountain, there was a monastery which, according to a sign, held significance to Buddhists, Confucianists, and Christians.  

There was also a "love garden" with a bench (see the top picture) for cheesy photo-ops, and a place for love locks.  
The restaurant had food that looked and smelled delicious, and it was packed with people (which is why we didn't stop at that point). But we lingered a while, taking pictures and being a little silly.
It was the golden hour as we descended the mountain, so the view was almost even prettier.  The whole family had fun, and we didn't even get to explore the "natural park" yet -- which, given the way I've seen Koreans do parks, I'm sure it's great.  Now that the weather is cooling off and the fall colors are starting to show, we're all hoping to make a repeat trip!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Summer To-Done List

Several years ago, I was awaiting a cross-country move and knew I had a giant to-do list but couldn't start checking things off until we got our orders from the Navy.  I did the next best thing  -- complain about it on Facebook -- and a wise friend suggested that I write a list of what I'd done each day, even the small, seemingly insignificant things.  This proved to be brilliant.  It made me feel like I was still accomplishing something even while my hands were tied and probably saved my sanity.

Today I'm doing the same thing.  I want to be a better, more regular blogger, really I do. But there's what I want so badly, and what I have time and energy and focus for.  I didn't update my blog over the summer like I planned, and I've been home in Korea for a full month now and still haven't written.  On the one hand, I feel like a terrible slacker, a poser-writer, a girl with big dreams and no follow-through.  But then again... I did a lot this summer. So here, if I may, is my grand summer "to-done" list:

1) I had an amazing time stateside.  I hope and plan to write more about this, but to keep it short and to the point for now, it felt like summer the way summer should be. I spent time with family. I was actually there for things, starting with my newest nephew's adoption hearing -- the hands-down best reason ever to be in a courtroom.  When you spend almost all your time an ocean away, you feel deeply honored to be present for such an incredible occasion. 

My kids got to spend precious time with their grandparents, doing the things kids should do in the summer, like swimming almost every day, 
riding and driving their grandfather's tractor lawnmower around his farm, 
drinking out of a hose,
 and chasing goats around.  We spent a week with one of my dearest friends who lives out in the country, 
held sparklers on the Fourth and ate the best food, 

drove over to the coast -- two moms with ten kids, outnumbered and exhausted but so very happy. 
We even took the kids to the California State Fair!
 Here's a funny side-story.  We were driving through the California countryside just after our arrival, and Wyatt -- who is super into animals these days, but especially African wild animals -- said, "Oh!  Mom! I just saw some animals!  I think they were rhinoceroses!"  Having just past a herd of cows, I said, "Uh, I don't think so, buddy, I think they were cows."

"No, they were rhinoceroses!" he insisted.  

"Pretty sure they were cows."

Finally, we passed some more, and he said, "Oh wait, you're right.  They're cows."  Yeah!!  Mommy does now a thing or two!

Then Annalee piped up, "Cows!  Neigh-neigh!"

So if nothing else, I'd say I got them out of the city just in the nick of time!

2) I got to take another amazing roadtrip with my family when Matt arrived.  
We drove from San Francisco, through Sacramento, then to Salt Lake City, Moab, and St. George.  And we didn't go to one single national park!  
  We didn't deliberately avoid them, but when we saw what we could do outside in local and state parks and other public places, and we found that there were almost no people there at all!  It was such an amazing time and so perfect for our family.  We spent so much time outdoors, hiking, swimming, running around.  We all came home to Korea feeling refreshed.  


3) I survived August here in Korea.  No, seriously, I'm counting this.  It was muggy and hot, and even though we used our air conditioning as little as possible because of how much electricity costs, I'm pretty sure I will have to sell some organs to pay the bill later this month.  My million dollar view?  It didn't exist in August because we had our black-out curtains and shades pulled down all month trying to escape the infernal heat that radiated from our wall of windows.  I felt like I was in a hot, stuffy box.  We had all our kids sleeping in one bedroom at night, which we called the refugee room because we went there to escape the heat.  It was the smallest bedroom and out of direct sunlight, so it didn't take much to bring it to a near-polar temperature.  

I like to think that it helped bond them.  If nothing else, they grew some character in August.  We all did. 

Just like last year, though, the end of August brought welcome breezes and at least a 30% drop in humidity.  Suddenly I'm happy again, kind to my kids and husband again, cooking again.  And my curtains are open again!  *praise hands*

4) We hit some big milestones this summer.  Matt and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary
 and Jayna turned 18.  

On Monday, she left us to head to university in California.  

It's... so weird.  I don't feel like I know all the answers about marriage or parenting.  I can tell you for 100% sure that we did a whole lot of things wrong.  We were two flawed people that came together in marriage (really young!), and then we had kids starting much earlier than everyone said we should.  I mean, talk about a recipe for disaster.  

But, grace.  

This summer, while we were in Moab we hiked out to Morning Glory Bridge.  
It was a long hike -- about 4.5 miles roundtrip, and it was extremely hot that day, right around100 degrees Fahrenheit. In many ways, it was exactly the kind of trail I love, the kind that truly feels like an adventure and keeps your mind engaged the whole way and your eyes and heart richly rewarded.  
We crossed a stream seven or eight times each direction, and there were places where we had to kind of scrabble over rocks.  We all loved those parts.  But there was so much poison ivy!  We were alternately holding our breath and yelling at the kids, "DO NOT TOUCH THAT!!!"  Disaster, in the form of an insufferably itchy rash, seemed inevitable.  

We got to the bridge, coated in red dust that stuck to us thanks to the copious sweat, and the view was spectacular. 
There was a spring coming from the rocks where we filled our water bottles, and that was maybe the best tasting water I've ever had.  But then we had to go back on the same path, and face all the same problems.  Somehow we managed to avoid all the poison ivy, and once we'd had lunch and some frozen treats and naps, we were as good as new.

From this viewpoint on "the hike", I see the amazing view.  But I remember what it took to get here too.  Sometimes we feel exhausted and messy; sometimes it feels like we can't take another step.  I wonder how we got here, and all I can think is, "There but for the grace go I."  For me, getting to this point doesn't have me thinking I did it all so very right as much as being utterly humbled by the grace -- grace upon grace upon grace -- that was poured out on me and my mistakes, my failures, time and again. 

So that was my summer, in the smallest nutshell!  It was memorable, and sweet, and I wouldn't trade it even for status as the Best Blogger Ever.  But I will try to post more very soon -- no, really, I promise. ;-). 

What's on your "Summer To-Done" list?