Two weeks ago, my good friend and Pease Place neighbor decided on a last minute trip to Korea. As you can already read from the title, we experienced many different modes of transportation in order to get home from our excursion. The plan was to catch a hop early in the morning, shop all day in Korea (for some discounted purses/DVDs) and then catch a hop back home early the next day. A hop in general (like flying stand-by for free) is a marvelous perk to living overseas.
Getting on the hop was a simple and painless task to start our trip. We relaxed and watched a movie while Mallory slept in her car seat. When we arrived in Korea, we checked into our hotel...Strike #1=They did not have our reservation. However, there was no need to worry as they had another room available. Not even worth mentioning in a blog right? Well keep reading.
Once we got our stuff in the room, we took a $2 cab ride to the main gate and explored the shopping district outside of Osan Air Base. This reminded us both of Turkey as the appearance of it all was just not that appealing. Combine that with hustling for items at a lower price and paying in American dollars and you've got the idea. We did get some very nice stuff (some for you lucky readers I may add) and felt very accomplished with our shopping abilities. However, we experienced Strike #2 when we ran into some "friends" that were on the same hop over here with us. One of the ladies literally ran up balancing Coach purses on one shoulder and a diaper bag on another saying that "There are only 3 seats left! There's no way we are going to get on the flight! We'll be stuck here for another week!" Bridget and I both reassured her that surely we would be fine and that there were would be plenty of seats for us. When we walked away, we both laughed at their behavior but it did leave us a bit worried that we wouldn't get on.
Nevertheless, we continued our shopping and actually made a few friends with the owners of Royal Bag. Mr. Royal Bag had taken quite a liking to Miss Mally-Moo and she in turn demonstrated all of her party tricks. Fortunately we were able to snap a few pictures of Mr. Royal Bag and Mallory but I must not forget to mention Strike #3...I didn't charge the camera before we came to Korea and our battery was low. Imagine Bridget and I taking pictures where we would say "Quick, take a picture..snap...ok turn it off...is it off?" and then double checking to make sure it actually was off.
Mr. Royal Bag and Mallory
I also have to mention the shopping itself in this "district" of Korea. It is a little area with a main street and several side alleyways, known for all sorts of trendy handbags, wallets, clothes, DVDs and video games...just to name a few. Not all that exciting, until you really start shopping. Basically it works like this: you'd walk in a store (sometimes you'd have to knock on the door first and wait a minute, as it was locked and the owner would come running and open it for you) and see their bags out on display. They weren't anything special and didn't have any type of name brand labels on them. The shop owner would ask what you were shopping for, and then point you in the direction of the "better" items. This was the fun (read sketchy) part- they would push open a fake wall and point you into another room, or down a stairwell into another well hidden room where the "good" stuff was stashed. It is illegal to sell the knock-off items of course, so they have to keep their goods out of site. I'm not sure how well it is patrolled though, as everyone knows that every store there has secret rooms, so I don't quite get it, but it was fun and we bought things at significantly less than MSRP! I think you can tell it isn't quite real when they change out the label on your purse from a blank metal tag to one that reads "Jimmy Choo" right in front of you!
Our fantastic purchases ; )
After we shopped and made all of our purchases, we headed back to base where we had plans to check out the BX. I wanted to check out their carseats and Bridget was interested in what other loot they had for sale . As we walked into the BX, a crotchety old man stopped us and asked us for our IDs. We happily pulled them out and then he said, "Ok wait, where are you ration cards?..." and sat there waiting for us to get them out. I kind of laughed and was like, "Ha, oh yes, ration cards...sure right here!" and then stood there waiting for him to pass us through. He stared at us blankly and said, "No, seriously, read the sign. You need to have a ration card in order to enter the BX." Needless to say, that was Strike #5. Due to black marketing of American goods, it's a policy in Korea that you have to have a ration card in order to enter the BX, commissary and even the shoppette. So to end our somewhat challenging day, we decided to get pizza from their Pizza Hut because it was the only thing open, and the only place we could go to without a nifty little ration card. We did in fact score two bottles of crappy wine from the hotel shop so that made things a little less tense. Not having a ration card didn't bother us too much as we were leaving early the next day and wouldn't really need to buy anything...but keep reading...
Bright and early the next morning, we got up, got dressed, packed our bags, checked out of our hotel and lugged all of our gear (stuff we brought and the stuff we bought) to the terminal on base. When we walked in, it was like chaos had broken loose. Everyone was sprawled everywhere in the tiny waiting room and people were lined up trying to make sure that they were marked present for the days flight. We joined the crowd, got in line and were given multiple evil glares by the woman who was supposed to be checking us in behind the counter. Waiting for our names to get called was very nerve racking and comical at the same time. Our "friends" and their three kids got on before us and literally high-fived each other before crossing over to the other side. Bridget, Mallory and I waited patiently for our names to be called. When Bridget's was called, she skipped over to the counter and checked herself in. Right after, my name was called. I lingered there much longer than normal which started to make Bridget quite nervous. Then I turned and said, "They only have one seat left!"...Strike #6. Apparently, hops do not allow lap seats for infants, so we could have in fact gotten on the flight, but not with their policy in place. We waited in the terminal with all the other sad folks just to make sure another seat didn't turn up, but it was pretty clear by the end that it was not happening.
So we headed back to our hotel, checked back in and moved ourselves into a room. Luckily, this room was much larger so Bridget and I were able to sleep in separate beds as opposed to the previous night where we spooned each other in a much smaller one. We made sure to request a crib just like we did the night prior and they told us they'd drop it off that afternoon. By this time it was after lunch and we started to realize that, since we were now staying longer than planned, we were going to run out of baby necessities like diapers and food and desperately needed a ration card to replenish the supply. We went over to the ID office so that we could be issued a temporary ration card and be sure to stock up on our dwindling items. Low and behold we quickly encountered Strike #7 when they told us there was NO WAY we'd be issued one. Their advice was to simply stand in front of the commissary and ask passersby to get things for us...essentially, be panhandlers. Fortunately, a Colonel overheard us in the office and kindly offered to take us to the commissary. Long story short, we got our items and felt more comfortable being stranded in a foreign country.
To make the most of our now extended trip, we went back to the shopping district, purchased more items and got manicures and pedicures. On a positive note, we both thought it was one of the best pedicures we've ever had ; ) We ate dinner at a cute little restaurant and went back to our room. Low and behold, there was no crib in sight so let's count that as Strike #8. We called the front desk to inquire as to its whereabouts, and they informed us that the maintenance staff was gone and they had no idea where the cribs were stored. They then preceded to tell us to have her sleep on the bed. Ok... that's really easy with a 10 month old that does acrobatics in her sleep! To improvise, we put two chairs together and made our own "Korean Crib" which seemed to work out quite well.
Some different shots of the "Korean Crib"
On day three of our trip, we decided to stray from the main shopping area and do something different. Hey, we were stuck in Korea, and figured we should make the most of it. So, we took a shuttle (an old but super decked out bus complete with purple floral curtains) from Osan Air Base to Yongsan Army Base and went shopping in the nearby town of Itaewon. The army base is right in the heart of Seoul, South Korea's capital. From there, we were brave enough to take the subway (side note- the Korean subways are super nice and clean. They even have glass doors in front, so that when a train passes by a station, you don't get blown over and can't accidently fall off the platform. We were both impressed) to Changdeok Palace and snap a couple photos to prove that we were in Korea, and get in a little culture. We timed it right to take an English tour around the grounds but all of us started to get grumpy and hungry towards the end, and snuck out about 3/4 of the way through. After navigating through the subway to get back to Itaewon, we hopped inside a taxi to get us to Yongsan Army Base. I'll count this as Strike#9 as the cab driver had no idea what we were talking about. It was quite comical as we both tried to explain where the base was..."You know...Army...uh, uh, Military...march march...ID card...Salute...uhhhh, yeah never mind." So we got out of the cab and walked back to the base, not really sure where we were going or how to get there. We made it on foot, and were amazed that a cab driver wouldn't know how to get to a place that was literally so close we could walk there.
What a hard-core dog riding on a motorcycle right?
It seems easier to balance things on your head although I don't think I could pull that one off.
We were stopped everywhere by people that were fascinated with Mallory. She was quite the celebrity ; )
We took the bus back to Osan, and when we got to our hotel, we got ourselves packed and ready to go for the next day. I should add that after much consideration, we decided to purchase our tickets and fly out of Seoul International Airport instead of waiting a week for the next hop to come through. We'd also stopped by the post office and mailed back all our newly acquired items to ourselves instead of trying to drag them all through airport customs.
During our last night, we went back one more time to the shopping district and we actually ate Korean food, as opposed to the other days where we had Mexican and Italian. We ate at a place called the "meat house" (comical since Bridget is a vegetarian). It was an all you can eat meat and veggie buffet for $12. We got our fill, although about 2 bites of kim-chee and we were done with that Korean dish- too spicy for our liking. On our way back to the hotel, I spotted a cute bathing suit and wanted to try it on. Funny enough, they did not have a fitting room in their shop so I conveniently tried it on behind the register and preceded to ask Bridget and Mallory if they thought it looked nice. It was kind of hard to tell as I had the top on over my clothes and there were other Korean ladies standing nearby. Bridget laughed and took a couple pictures, but they won't get posted on here ;) Let's just say it was as quite amusing.
After all of our adventures, and mis-adventures, it was time for us to go home. Bright and early on day 4, we got up and took the shuttle from Osan AB to Incheon Airport in Seoul. Our only choice was a shuttle that got us to the airport about 4 hours before our flight, so we spent some time wandering the shops and hallways. 2 hours before our scheduled departure, we walked over to the counter to check in. You got it...strike #10. We spotted a sign stating that our plane was delayed by about 5 hours. This was going to put us into Tokyo much later than planned, and we were afraid we wouldn't be able to catch the last shuttle from Narita to Yokota. While fretting about this in line and mumbling to ourselves that we were "over Korea" an airline agent noticed we had a baby with us and asked if we were on that flight. Whipping Mallory around in her stroller and urging her to "act like a baby" we put on sad faces and said we were indeed on that flight. She told us that there was an earlier flight, but it was out of Gimpo (Seoul's other airport) and landed at Haneda (Tokyo's other airport). We said we'd take it, as we both thought we might go a tad insane if we had to wander the airport for 7 more hours. We had expressed our concern to the agent about not speaking or reading Korean and not being exactly sure what to do or where to go when we got there, so she told us to follow the man who was in line in front of us. So, we got on ANOTHER shuttle (this one was quite plush with leather seats and everything) and drove over to the other side of town to Gimpo Airport. We rushed thru the airport (all the while following the nice Korean guy) and managed to get on the other plane just in time. It landed at Haneda, where we had 2 choices: wait an hour for the shuttle to Tachikawa train station, then take the train from there to Fussa, and then walk to base; or just get on the train at Haneda and ride it all the way across Tokyo home. We picked the train, and 2 hours later, we were home.
Whew! What a ride it was, and what a vacation we had. 2 days turned into 4, and our "free" Korea trip cost a bit more than we expected, but nevertheless we had a blast and many laughs along the way. I think our husbands were glad to have us home again, and are a bit leary of us jumping on another space-a hop anytime in the very near future (although we will travel again boys, oh yes we will)!! The best part of it all- Bridget and I look like the fanciest girls at Yokota (or at least at Pease Place) with our new Coach, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vitton bags slung over our arms!