Friday, June 26, 2009

Home at Last

Through the miracles of modern air travel, laptops and wireless technology I am writing this post sitting by the pool in Charlottesville, Virginia, 28 hours after leaving our apartment in Geoje. Those 28 hours have included about 4 hours of fitful and disconnected sleep, so I am a little loopy, but otherwise fine and happy to be back in the USA!

The trip home with Glenda and John's cats, Petey and Bonnie, was an adventure, but really very smooth. We left our apartment at 2 a.m. on Friday morning and picked up the cats in their super-deluxe air travel carriers at Joy's apartment. We made it off of Geoje Island in record time due to the complete lack of traffic lights (they were all blinking) and other cars on the road. If only it were always so simple. The traffic remained light until just past Daejeon, about halfway through the trip. After that, truck traffic really picked up. Still, it was a pretty quick and easy drive to Seoul. Bonnie, who has a bad reputation for crying (or "singing" as Joy put it) in the car, was not half as bad as she could have been. I think she was mostly confused about where her beloved brother Petey was and just wanted reassurance that he was nearby. Of course, Petey didn't get that at all and didn't make any response to her cries. He rested majestically on his tiger-stripe cushion like a sultan for the whole ride. We got to Incheon Airport around 7:20, right on time. Keegan parked the car while I got everyone situated on luggage carts, and we headed in to see what we could do about getting everyone checked in and on the plane.

Inside the airport, we wandered around for a while with our heavily laden carts looking for animal quarantine, where we needed another necessary document for Petey and Bonnie. This was where we hit our first snafu - despite the recommendation that everyone begin the check-in process three hours before their flight, the quarantine office didn't open until 9 a.m.! Unfortunately, our flight was at 10:40, so we knew we would be pressed for time. We decided to check everything else through and then go back for a second round with the cats. After a lot of waiting in line and a nail-biting wait for our quarantine document, we were finally able to get the cats checked in. The quarantine official didn't even open the cats' cages; he just shuffled a lot of papers and gave us one more. We raced to the ticketing counter to pay our excess baggage charge and sped through security to the gate. We arrived just as everyone was beginning to board, so realistically, we had about 20 minutes to spare, but it was still a little tense for a while. It was a good thing that a sympathetic check-in agent had noticed our plight with the cats and let us through our second check-in ahead of a few other people or we might not have made it. Overall, the experience at the airport was good, except for the late opening of the quarantine office.

The flight was long but reasonably comfortable. The stewardesses were efficient, competent, and considerate. We each had our own monitor on the seat in front of us, so we were able to play some computer games and watch tons of movies. I had a Jennifer Aniston fest and watched "He's Just Not That Into You...." (not amazing, but very enjoyable), "Marley and Me" (a must for anyone who has ever owned a dog) and an episode of "Friends." I also played a lot of Minesweeper and Tetris. Keegan played computer blackjack until his eyes glazed over. Our seatmate was a really friendly Korean woman returning to her family in Maryland after her first trip to Korea in five years. She said she was astounded at how much things have changed since the last time she was there. She thought that everything was very clean and nice, had a wonderful time visiting the northeastern part of the country with friends and family, and was impressed with how many women were wearing nice golfing clothes. We hit turbulence several times on the flight, but it wasn't too jarring.

In Washington we had a very easy time of it. When we finally emerged from passport control, all of our bags and cats were waiting for us, and we went straight to customs. Getting the cats through was so easy! We showed our customs form to the agent, and she asked us a few questions about the food we had brought for the cats. She told us that we needed a labelled bag of food next time showing that the food was vegetable (who makes vegetable cat food?) or fish, but that she would let us take the small amount of food we had with us through because the cats were going to have another flight to endure. No one opened the cats' carriers or looked at the cats at all, which I'm sure was just as well for the poor traumatized beasties. Poor Petey was hiding underneath his tiger-striped cushion, causing one bystander to exclaim "It's a wildcat in there!" Everyone was very curious about the cats since we were the only ones on the flight who had checked animals. After we cleared customs, we handed the cats, their food, and some paperwork off to a very competent-looking woman in blue scrubs, who Glenda had hired to get the cats on their flight to Wisconsin. We hope that the last leg of their journey was ok and that they are now resting and enjoying their reunion with their mom and dad. Poor guys - I can't imagine what that flight must have been like in the cargo hold.

Steve and Sue met us at the airport and drove us down to Charlottesville, with a brief stop for lunch in Gainesville at a little Afghani restaurant in a strip mall. I had an interesting dish of leek-stuffed ravioli in a yogurt-herb sauce. So our first meal back in the States was Afghani! I don't know how much longer Keegan can hold out for a Philly cheesesteak, though. Once we got home, I immediately took a nap, but I didn't really sleep for very long. The shower was much more refreshing than the nap. I guess our bodies will be screwed up for the next few days, but what do we care? We're on vacation!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mom & Dad's Visit, Part III

At last, the final installment.  

The second weekend that Mom and Dad were here, we decided to go to Seoul.  We took the express bus from Geoje Island on Friday morning.  I had bought the bus tickets the day before and was really nervous about whether they were for the right bus, whether we would get on the right bus, etc.  But of course, everything worked out fine, and we were soon comfortably ensconced on the bus reading and sleeping.  My parents' visit coincided with a lot of exciting news in South Korea:  first, the former president's suicide and then the nuclear test and missile tests by North Korea.  On the bus ride, we watched the funeral for the president, which was taking place in Seoul as we headed there.  The funeral was televised for all of the five-hour bus trip, and we watched hordes and hordes of people with yellow visors and balloons wait along the route of the president's funeral.  We saw speeches and a special traditional dance.  The bus stopped once at a large rest area where we had a chance to relieve ourselves and get some snacks, but we weren't sure how long the stop was for, so we got back on the bus right away and didn't linger very long.

Once in Seoul we were able to quickly find the subway station and make our way into the downtown area to find our hotel.  Little did we know that our hotel was essentially right next to the funeral route and only a few blocks from a small square where a lot of the funeral ceremony had taken place.  When we emerged from the subway, we saw all of the yellow balloons and banners that we had seen on TV, although fortunately we timed things well enough that most of the crowds had dispersed.  We headed down the street toward the hotel.  Just a block or so outside of the subway station, we got a huge surprise:  the sidewalk was halfway covered with hordes of fully uniformed, helmeted, weapon- and shield-bearing riot cops.  Apparently they were expecting protests by supporters of the ex-president, who were angry about a corruption probe by the current government.  They believed the probe was what drove the ex-president to his suicide.  We were completely overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of police, as well as by the big riot wagons nearby, covered in wire mesh and with water cannons mounted on top.  The police presence in Seoul for the whole weekend was truly impressive, but we barely saw anything of the protesters:  just a few banners and some chanting and shouting in the distance as we walked back to the hotel one afternoon.  I'm sure that the police were pleased to keep interested spectators at a distance.

Finally at the hotel, we took a break and made a plan to get some food and do some shopping in the evening.  We looked for a little deli listed in my Lonely Planet, but we had no luck finding it, so we picked up some sandwiches at a nearby coffeeshop and then enjoyed ice cream served up by the super-friendly employees of the Coldstone Creamery.  After filling our engines, we headed back to Insadong, the artsy and touristy area Keegan and I had visited on our last trip to Seoul.  Mom and Dad enjoyed buying a few more souvenirs and gifts for their friends, and I found a beautiful bead and string necklace at an embroidery shop.  

Trying on silly glasses in Insadong

We had dinner at a very quaint Korean restaurant, where we all sweated and steamed our way through spicy Korean dishes.  Dad was a real champ.  We turned in rather early because we had an early start scheduled for the following morning, when we had booked a trip to the DMZ (the DeMilitarized Zone between North and South Korea).

The DMZ trip left from the Lotte hotel at 8:30 in the morning.  We had a quick breakfast at Starbucks and then headed to the hotel, where we paid for our tickets and loaded onto a very lavishly decorated tour bus.  The other people on the tour were mostly young students from all over the world who were spending a semester in Korea.  There was also a professional photographer from Australia, a Korean man and his Korean-American son, and a few other tourists.  Our tour guide spoke very good English and did a great job.  As we headed north from Seoul, we drove along the Han River, and the guide pointed out barbed wire and watchtowers meant to prevent any incursion from the north on the river.  Eventually, we could see North Korea on the opposite side of the river.  The mountains of the north were distinguishable because they are all denuded of trees.  The poor people living in southern North Korea still use the trees for fuel, so the mountains are bare and red instead of green with trees.

Our first stop was a bewilderingly brief break at a flower festival in Paju, one of the northernmost cities in South Korea.  We saw a Korean brass band dressed in colorful plaid uniforms and then saw beautiful fields full of poppies and other wildflowers.  

Mom and Ellen at the flower festival in Paju

Back on the bus, we headed into the militarized zone around the DMZ.  At the checkpoint, a Korean soldier with just a few days left of his compulsory military service checked all of our passports and gave us the go-ahead.  Inside the militarized zone, we had a quick succession of stops.  First, we went to an observation point where we could look out over the DMZ and into North Korea.  They had those pay-to-look binoculars set up so that we could really see pretty far.  The guide pointed out when we stopped that we were not allowed to take pictures from the observation point.  We could only take pictures in the parking lot (of what?) and then from behind a yellow line about 5 meters behind the edge of the observation deck.  At this point, the Australian photographer pitched a fit about how he wanted to take pictures, while the rest of us looked on in horror and exasperation.  There's one on every tour.  Anyway, we were impressed with the view into the forbidden north.  Through the binoculars, I could see some rice farmers, carrying on with their daily tasks perhaps unaware that their lives were being scrutinized by curious foreigners.

Our next stop was at the Third Tunnel, where we donned silly helmets and rode a monorail into a tunnel dug by the North Koreans into South Korea.  

Dad strikes a pose in his silly helmet.

The guide carefully presented several points of evidence that prove that the tunnel was constructed from the North into the South.  Apparently, the North Koreans claim that the tunnel is an abandoned coal mine, and they smeared charcoal on the walls of the tunnel to back up their story.  Unfortunately for them, it was easy to see through that ruse because there aren't any natural coal deposits in the area of the tunnel.  Also, the tunnel slants towards the north, as it should if it were built from the north and its builders wanted water to drain out of the tunnel as they dug.  Finally, the blast marks from the dynamite inside indicate which direction the people who blasted the tunnel were coming from.  You guessed it:  the north.  Inside the cold, damp tunnel, we soon saw the reason for the helmets.  The ceiling of the tunnel was very low and rough, with lots of rocky outcroppings.  So our tour of the tunnel was conducted all hunched over and uncomfortable.  But it was eerie and impressive to be down there and to see all of the fortifications that keep anyone from entering South Korea through the tunnel now.

After the tunnel we watched on odd film giving some of the history of the DMZ and the tunnel.  I say that the film was odd because it ended with a presentation of the beautiful peace park at the old DMZ, now that North and South Korea are reunited.  Of course everyone hopes for such a resolution, but it was jarring to see it presented as fact in this movie, complete with a joyous little Korean girl romping after butterflies in the ex-DMZ.  After the movie, it was back on the bus to visit another site where high hopes for reunification are evident:  Dorasan Station, the last train station on the line in South Korea.  The station is huge, modern, and totally empty.  There are a few trains arriving there from Seoul each day, although it's hard to see why anyone would want to go to Dorasan Station except for the novelty of a train station with no purpose.  There were big posters in the station showing how a trans-Korean rail line could connect with other transcontinental railroads to allow passengers to travel all the way from Korea to Europe by train.  I would love to be able to take a trip like that someday.  Imagine all the cool places you'd see!

After a stop for lunch in a traditional Korean restaurant outside the militarized zone (bulgogi for the carnivores, bi-bim-bap for me) we headed to a park called Imjingak.  The park is the site of the Bridge of Freedom, which was used for an exchange of prisoners of war after the Korean War.  Our guide told us that many Korean families will visit the park on Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) to perform ceremonies to honor their ancestors and families who they can no longer see because Korea is divided.  There was an observation deck where you could look across the river into North Korea and, oddly enough, an amusement park.  We took a few pictures, but mostly we were eager to get to the main event of the tour:  the trip inside the DMZ to the Joint Security Area, manned by the UN and the North Koreans.

Before we could get to the JSA, there were a few more hoops to jump through.  We had to show our passports to a surly young American soldier with a southern accent.  Then we sat through a "briefing" on the history of the JSA that was painfully disorganized.  In the "briefing" room we had to sign a waiver stating that we were entering a hostile area, that the UN couldn't be held responsible for what would happen, etc.  We were also instructed to "not point, make gestures, or expressions which could be used by the North Korean side as propaganda material against the United Nations Command."  While we didn't feel unsafe at any point on the tour and knew that they would never allow tourists in if things were really bad, we were definitely aware that the North Korean side is totally unpredictable and not known for restraint or reasonableness.

Finally we were back on the bus into the JSA, where we were able to stand in a conference room used for meetings between the two sides and actually cross over the border into the North Korean side of the JSA.  Obviously we were still in the DMZ, but technically, we could say that we were in North Korea.  South Korean soldiers stood in the room with us as still as statues with their fists clenched, and we were allowed to get our pictures taken with them.  

I was very dubious about posing next to the South Korean guard.

It was bizarre and a little creepy.  Near the conference room was an elevated pavilion where we could stand and take pictures of the North Korean side of the JSA and of the North Korean "propaganda village" inside the DMZ.  I got chills down my spine when I looked at the largest building on the North Korean side and saw a North Korean soldier looking at us through binoculars.

North Korean soldier on the lookout for pointing and other gestures to use for propaganda

 We learned in the pavilion that it is very, very hard not to point when standing in an observation tower looking at an interesting view.  So there were lots of quick slaps at people's arms and hisses of "Don't point!"  I'm sure the North Koreans were heartily amused at how silly we all looked trying to avoid being fodder for their propaganda.  We stopped at one more observation point where we could look out over the beautiful unpopulated land of the DMZ, and we took a lot of pictures of the huge (300 kg) flag at the North Korean propaganda village.  The propaganda village is so called because it is built to represent North Korea's presence in the DMZ, but no one actually lives there.  The flag is so large because North Korea took great pains to be sure that it was larger than the one in the South Korean DMZ village.  Yes, they really are that petty.  On our way out of the DMZ, we saw a huge flock of beautiful white cranes nesting in some trees along the road.  

On our way back from the DMZ, we were all exhausted, so we didn't do much in the evening.  We decided that we would like to spend Sunday exploring one of the historic palaces near our hotel, so we turned in early and got thoroughly rested.

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we headed to the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace for some sightseeing and picture taking.  We spent several hours wandering around the palace grounds and took hundreds of pictures on our four cameras.  

Mom and Dad at Gyeongbokgung Palace

The palace was beautiful and colorful, and at the front gate there was a free English guidebook that gave lots of interesting information about the many palace buildings.  In the queen's quarters, one of the palace docents evidently took a liking to me and gave me a tutorial about how the floor heating and ventilation worked in the queen's quarters.  On the back side of the palace complex is the road that leads past the Blue House, the residence of the Korean president.  

The Michalik family at the Blue House

We were happy to have the chance to see that, too.  On the way out of the palace, we stopped for lunch in the palace museum and had some odd old-fashioned palace food.  All of our dishes came wrapped in giant steamed lotus leaves.  I had a glutinous rice mixed with nuts and other grains, Mom had rice pasta, and Keegan and Dad had some dumplings filled with meat.  Definitely something new for all of us!

After the palace, we stopped back at the hotel for a rest before heading out again to an Italian restaurant for a celebratory dinner for my birthday.  The Italian restaurant had a really nice atmosphere, and everyone was happy to take a break from Korean food after our weird lunch.  We enjoyed our dinner thoroughly, and Keegan presented me with an absolutely beautiful watch, which I had asked for as a special 30th birthday gift.  Overall, it was a wonderful birthday.

By this time, my parents' visit was definitely winding down.  Monday we spent most of the day traveling back to Geoje Island and looking at pictures from our trip.  On Tuesday I had promised my parents a rest day, but we ended up doing a little souvenir shopping and sightseeing on the island.  I showed them our bike route around Chilcheondo Island, and they picked up some souvenirs at the little shop in Okpo.  We also marveled at the Okpo outdoor market and picked up a few things for our ratatouille dinner.

Wednesday morning, Keegan took my parents to work to show them around a bit, and I went to my Korean class and desperately tried to remember the vocabulary I had forgotten during our little vacation.  In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Busan and showed my parents safely to their hotel.  The ferry ride home from Busan could have been a time of sad reflection on how quickly the visit had passed, or satisfaction over what fun we'd all had together.  But instead it was mostly an exercise in restraint, as we tried not to vomit on the tumultuous ride.  Suffice it to say that late May/early June is not a good time for ferry travel here on Geoje Island.  Our regret and satisfaction at the end of the visit waited until we were at home, passed out on the couch after a very interesting, adventurous two weeks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mom & Dad's Visit, Part II

Once we returned from Busan, Keegan had to go back to work, so I had my parents to myself.  On Monday, I had the chance to show them my usual running route, to the Buddha park and back.  I think they both enjoyed the chance to see the small rice farms and the pretty countryside in the valley leading to the park.  In the afternoon, we went to Home Plus to do some grocery shopping.  It was a funny trip because I spent most of it worrying that it was not really very interesting.  I guess I have gotten used to seeing counters full of kimchee and the extensive aisles of sesame oil and red pepper paste.  But my parents insisted that it was an interesting trip.  After returning from the store, we spent some time in the garden, and Keegan came home from work early.  We took a quick visit to the exercise park near our house, which has a very good view of the DSME shipyard.  Keegan and I did our best to walk all the way around the stone foot massage path around the park.  

Keegan and I are smoked by a Korean woman on the foot massage path.

I gave up about three-quarters of the way around because my feet were getting tired.  Keegan made it the whole way, but he was lapped by a speedy Korean lady who looked like she was out for a comfortable stroll.  We made burritos for dinner and retired after a relaxing day.

On Tuesday morning, I took Mom with me to the pool in Jangseungpo.  Fortunately, we were able to get a lane to ourselves, so it was a pleasant experience.  In the afternoon, we decided not to go to Oedo because the day was a little overcast.  So we went on a hike instead, taking the wooded path from Deokpo to Okpo.  The hike ends along a beautiful boardwalk that winds along the coast and into Okpo.   Unfortunately, the view there is full of heavy machinery and huge ships under construction at DSME.  

The boardwalk in Okpo

Along the last part of the trail was a huge pile of rocks.  We watched in horror as a huge excavator pulled itself up by the bucket onto the top of the pile.  We were horrified because it seemed to us that it would be very easy for the excavator to start a mini-landslide that would immediately bury the path we were walking on under a pile of huge rocks.  Fortunately, we survived to make lots of comments about how unsafe the situation was!  We were all tired after the hike, so we got drinks and sandwiches at my favorite little coffee shop, Pompeii.  We walked back into town on the main road, and had a few minutes to rest before a delicious dinner of stir fry with fresh peas from the garden, our first harvest!

Stir fry with fresh peas from the garden

On Wednesday, we decided to take our trip to Oedo, the island with the beautiful botanical garden, where Keegan and I have gone several times.  The weather was sunny as we headed to the boat launch in Jangseungpo.  As soon as we left the harbor, however, we got a nasty surprise:  the water was very, very rough.  So rough, in fact, that other passengers were shouting and throwing their hands in the air, roller coaster style, with every toss and turn.  The ride was very unenjoyable, and unfortunately, the pilots wisely decided not to try to steer the boat in between the large cliffs of Haegeumgang, a craggy island that is usually the first highlight of the tour.  Mom and Dad were afraid to get out of the boat to get a closer look at the cliffs (so was I, to be honest).  So that part of the trip was very disappointing.

Finally, we were back on solid land and ready to start our tour of the island.  We had planned to have lunch on the boat, but that was clearly out of the question, so we ate a quick lunch on the island instead.  Then we proceeded to rush through the beautiful springtime gardens, enjoying the colorful flowers and the beautiful views of the ocean and other islands.  

Mom among the azaleas on Oedo Botania

There were a lot of schoolchildren on a trip to the gardens, so Mom and Dad got to experience firsthand the habit of Korean kids to practice their English on unsuspecting foreigners.  At last it was time to get back on the boat.  Unbelievably, the ride back to Jangseungpo was even worse than the ride to the island!  I gripped the handle on the back of the seat in front of me so hard that my knuckles were white, all the while reminding myself that holding on to another seat would be useless when the boat capsized, which it was sure to do.  Fortunately, I was wrong, and we all made it back to Geoje Island safe and sound.  I apologized profusely for the horrible trip, but my parents looked at it as another unique adventure.  I was thankful for their good attitudes.

Back at home, I cooked up a soup for dinner, and we ate quickly before heading out to Gohyeon to watch Keegan and his ABS team play soccer.  Since Dad played soccer in high school, he kept up a running commentary on what everyone was doing, how their skills were, and what sort of strategy they should adopt.  It's too bad he didn't stay longer, as the team could use some practice and coaching.  But we all had a good time, which is the most important thing.

On Thursday, we decided to venture off of the island to visit the Dinosaur Expo in Geoseong.  The Matiz performed admirably on its first trip off of Geoje Island, and we made it to the huge, empty parking lot of the expo and tried to get oriented.  I had thought that there might be some interesting fossils and some cool dinosaur footprints for Dad to enjoy, but the whole expo was a study in campiness and was geared mostly toward kids.  

Those raptors were scary!

Still, it was a chance to show my parents the type of activities we do on the weekends when we're exploring and looking for something new to do.  And we did see some interesting fossils and real dinosaur footprints (much less impressive than you'd think).  Plus, we got to see the absolute weirdest exhibit ever, which featured numerous plastic, animatronic, cartoonish dinosaurs and cavemen.  AND, Mom and I tried out Korea's longest slide, which was made out of those metal rollers that pinch your butt.  We got stuck behind Korea's slowest slider, so the ride was less thrilling than it could have been.  So we made the best of our adventure.  In the evening, we had homemade pizza and used the first of our homegrown basil.  Delicious!  

Having seen most of what Geoje and the area had to offer, we prepared for the next leg of the journey:  Seoul.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mom and Dad's Visit, Part I

We had a wonderful two weeks with my mother and father, but it's hard to believe how quickly they went by.  It was so easy to fall into the vacation routine, and now we really can't wait until our trip back to the States in less than three weeks!

My parents arrived on Friday, May 22 in the Busan airport.  Keegan and I took the car ferry there again and enjoyed a very Korean dinner in the airport restaurant while we waited for my parents' flight.  We sat down and ordered, and shortly afterward, a group of four elderly Korean women sat down next to us.  Those four ordered, got their steaming hot food, scarfed it down, and were out of the restaurant before we even finished our meal.  I was impressed.

My parents were surprisingly chipper when they arrived and had nothing but good things to say about their flight on Korean Air.  We chattered non-stop on our drive to the hotel, as we checked in, and then in my parents room for another 30 minutes or so.  Mom immediately began plying me with cookies and candies, in true Mom fashion.  

The next morning, we decided over breakfast that we wanted to visit a beautiful temple by the ocean.  Our friend Sung took us there over Chuseok last year, and we both think it's a pretty spectacular temple.  The breakfast conversation was frequently interrupted by exclamations of amazement, as we were eating in a restaurant with a built-in tiger habitat.  Cesar, the tiger, was awake and lively.  I felt sorry for him that he has such a small enclosure, but he looked so cozy and cat-like when he finally settled down for a nap that I decided he could have it worse.  

Our visit to the temple was an interesting one.  It was not quite as crowded as the last time we were there over the Chuseok holiday, but it is still obviously a tourist attraction, so the atmosphere is not as peaceful as at some other temples we've been to.   I think Mom and Dad enjoyed their first visit to a Korean Buddhist temple, and they were very curious about the Buddhist religion.

Mom and Dad at Haedong Yonggungsa

We could hear monks chanting and tapping out soothing rhythms on wood blocks, and we could smell incense in the air.  Mom and Dad also enjoyed the variety of odd items for sale on the walk to the temple, including gigantic roots, pickled fish, and all kinds of dried squid.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the infamous Jalgachi Fish Market, where we all marveled (as is required) over the sheer amount of seafood for sale and wondered what they do with it all at the end of the day.  We decided to get lunch on the fourth floor of the market in a clean, efficient Korean restaurant overlooking the water.  We ordered bulgogi, stone bowl bi-bim-bap, and a seafood pancake.  My parents were very brave and tried everything with some success.  Dad was mystified by the spiciness and lingering effects of the whole, partially-cooked garlic clove he mistakenly ate.  Mom was horrified by the octopus tentacles in the seafood pancake.  And everyone was uncomfortable on the floor.  But overall, the meal was a good introduction to Korean food and a big success.  

Dad enjoys his first taste of bulgogi, while Keegan gives helpful instructions.

At this point, we headed over to the Busan Tower for a view of the city.  As we approached the tower, we stumbled upon the beginning of some sort of traditional performance.  I told my parents that finding an interesting performance like this completely by luck was an integral part of our Korean experience.  We saw a team of four acrobats perform traditional Korean see-saw jumping (called nol-ttigi) and then a whole slew of traditional dances and drumming, performed by women in beautiful, brightly colored folk costumes. We were thrilled.

Nol-ttigi, Korean see-saw jumping

After a quick trip up to the top of the tower, we returned to the hotel before regrouping for a late dinner.  I had my heart set on visiting the new Shin-se-ge Shopping Center, so we set off on a long subway ride.  We had dinner in a fashionable Italian restaurant with absolutely wonderful food.  I was excited to find such good Western food in Busan since it's not too far from our place on Geoje.  I foresee this restaurant being a good place for celebrations in the future!  By the time we finished dinner, it was almost 10:00, so we didn't get to see much more of the shopping center.  We did look around the Kyobo bookstore, which has a decent selection of English books, as well as a fun crafts section that I'd like to visit again.  

On Sunday, we decided to try something new.  We looked at the Busan map and decided to drive down to the southern part of the city to a park called Taejongdae Park.  It was a beautiful place, with a long, pleasantly-landscaped walking path, an entertaining outdoor exercise area, and fantastic views of the rocky coastline and the ocean.  We spent a while just walking leisurely along the path and taking lots of pictures.

Michaliks on the loose in Busan!

 I also visited the most scenic public toilet ever, where you can do your business facing a huge back window that looks out over the ocean.  
In the afternoon, we returned to Geoje Island on the car ferry and made it safely back to our apartment in time for a simple pasta dinner, with Keegan's homemade marinara.  Everyone seemed to be adjusting well to the new country and time zone, so we were ready for the next stage of our adventures.