On May 5th (Childrens Day in Korea) my parents finally made it out here. It was bloody nice to see them. I had been eagerly anticipating their arrival for months. We had an action packed trip in stall for them and hoped to show them the ‘best’ that Korea has to offer,
They didn’t seem particularly tired and were surprisingly alert given that they had been up for over 24 hours straight. Not bad for two people now approaching late middle age. I even had to tell them to ‘keep it quiet’ on the Korean bus. Rowdy bloody Brits.
We made it to Hwacheon, and took them to the local supermarket to stock up on snacks to live off for the next 11 days. They certainly had a pretty ‘open-minded’ approach to Korean cuisine…. They really seemed to embrace Paris Baguette in particular (especially my father).
Note – Paris Baguette is a bakery. It’s Korean but its menu consists of doughnuts, muffins, cakes and bread rolls. A bit like Greggs. And there was one in Hwacheon – my Dad was delighted upon discovering this. His expectations for the trip had already been surpassed.
We woke up nice and early on the Friday morning and Mr Youn and I took them into school. We had a ‘special’ day of classes in tribute to our esteemed ‘senior’ British guests. The kids were good as gold, although a little shy as they now had more white people in one room than they had most probably ever seen in their entire lives up until now. The kids really enjoyed it, as did mother and father. Everybody seemed to go out of their way to make them feel welcome and it was a lovely first day.
School lunch was ‘interesting’. Father had never used chopsticks before, and Mum wasn’t much better. They’d also never eaten Korean food before. Their first Korean meal was some weird fish soup, kimchi and rice. To make it even worse – Mr Bae said the lunch was “not delicious” today. And Mr Bae loves Korean food. Not good. Mum at least tried some kimchi, Dad pretended too and thought he’d get away with it. Fortunately my mother ‘grassed’ him up and he was duly punished in the evening for his deception. My Dad was even hating the rice – “Because it’s sticky“.
Amelia was by now, already beginning to understand why I am, the way I am.
In the afternoon we had a couple of hours to kill so I made them watch the hit Sky 1 series ‘Karl Pilkington: An Idiot Abroad’. It’s worth watching to anyone that hasn’t, and I felt it was more than relevant for my parents.
In the evening we went out for dinner with Mr Bae and Mr Yu (and his family). Both of them were on top form and provided some great entertainment and company for my parents.
Mum – “So what do you like to do with your wife then?”
Mr Bae – ” I only like sleeping with my wife.” *Proceeds to chuckle to himself like a naughty school boy*
And that was how the night went on. We also made a point of ensuring my father did in fact try kimchi. Suffice to say, it didn’t disappoint. It was to be the only time he ate kimchi.
Saturday we took them on the Hwacheon City Tour. It was just the four of us and our Korean guide – who didn’t speak English. Despite this relatively trivial barrier we had a fun day and our tour guide went far beyond the call of duty to try to communicate with us. She was brilliant. We even ended going for lunch with her and two of her children – much to the dismay of my poor father who was hoping for a western style lunch!
We then headed to the East Coast Saturday night. Seorakson was our destination. We took them up the cable car on the Sunday morning (instead of hiking to the summit – much easier for their ageing legs). The weather was glorious, and the views were equally as magnificent.
After a few hours here, it was back on the bus south to Daegu. Where we would transfer to the KTX (‘Bullet Train’) to Busan. The bus ride was arduous and took 6 hours courtesy of heavy traffic. We hopped onto the KTX – £5 for a 38 minute journey that would have taken over 2 hours by bus. Not bad at all.
Monday we woke up in Busan, and the weather was grim. Busan is Koreas 2nd city and is huge. It made Birmingham and Manchester seem very small indeed.
Our first stop was the Jagalchi fish market. Some of the fish / creatures here were downright bizarre / disgusting. How anybody could eat the majority of it was beyond us.
We then headed to the famous / infamous Hauendae beach. The locals proudly boast that you cannot see the sand during the summer, for there are so many people on it. Half a million people are estimated to visit it on bright sunny days. ‘Unfortunately’ for us, it was a Monday, and it was raining heavily. My Dad compared it to Skegness. Not quite I thought…
With appalling weather outside, we took them to the Busan Aquarium. Once you got over the hordes of Koreans it was actually pretty cool.
Next stop was the Shinsegae Department Store. Officially the largest in the world. Yes – it’s even bigger than Macys in New York according to Guinness World Records. The prices were as expected – outrageous. We explored Shinsegae, which had an ice rink, cinema, large garden on the roof, and driving range on the top floor before purchasing a Starbucks. That was about all we were prepared to pay for.
My mum had forgotten to pack sufficient underwear for our trip (gross) so she was on a mission to stock up. Sadly for her, my father wasn’t willing to pay £40 for a pair of knickers so my long-suffering mother was forced to make do with Tescos finest instead (There was a Tesco-Home Plus just down the road).
The evening consisted of Bennigans (The only place I can find decent Fajitas in Korea) ice-cream, and further exploration of the city.
Tuesday we headed back cross-country via KTX to Hwacheon via Seoul.
On Wednesday my parents were left to fend for themselves whilst Amelia and I went to work. It turned out they had a Lotteria for lunch (basically McDonald’s – but Korean) went to the gym, and explored a little. Upon arriving home from work, I gave them a brief tour of the local military sights, namely; bunkers, trenches, anti-tank walls and the various different military bases. We only had an hour – but they got the general idea.
Next it was dinner with Mr Youn and his family. Once again, we had a lovely evening and Mr Youn refused to let us pay – despite everything he has done to help me these past 9 months. What a guy.
Thursday, my parents headed into Seoul. They impressed me here, namely because they actually made it without getting lost. All by themselves. I was so proud. In all fairness we had explained to them and written down a step-by step route for them, but this is Korea – where nothing makes sense. Especially when you’ve only been here a week!
What did my mum do once she’d checked into the hotel? Drag my father around shopping for several hours of course. I don’t know how he puts up with it!
Friday they went to the DMZ. Dad really enjoyed it. Despite Mums insistence that she did – I don’t think she was quite so interested. But they agreed they have now seen something very unique of great historical (and present day) significance.
We met them on the Friday night after work. I could see my parents were eager to spend some quality time in a bar, but unfortunately Amelia and I were exhausted by 11:30. Sorry about that.
On the Saturday we showed them Seoul. We had a LONG walk around, taking in the main sights. In the evening we hiked up to the top of the Tower with our Russian/ French-Canadian ‘friend’ Sophia before rushing to Hongdae to meet two of our other friends, Ryan and Becca.
I’m making us sound quite popular here, casually dropping in our friends names. The reality is, this is pretty much as good as our social circle gets out here. We don’t have many friends. I like to think that is testament more to our circumstances than to our actual characters though!
Anyway, Sunday was upon us. The last day with Mum and Dad. We had a more relaxed day, went for a walk, ate some ice-cream and too much food. That was about it. Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I don’t think my Mum likes them either. It was all very sad and over very quickly. Probably for the best.
I’d had an absolutely awesome 11 days and was gutted to see them go. I had that sinking feeling again, like I used to get when I’d had a great holiday when I was a kid, and now it was all over. It wasn’t nice.
I also found myself racked with guilt at the fact that it’s most likely going to be another year and three months till I get to see them, or any other family members for that matter, and friends again. Life is good out here, but I can’t help but question whether it’s fair I inflict such a long self-imposed exile upon myself and family. Is it worth it?
I don’t want to go another 15 months without seeing them. 9 months was long enough!
On the bright side, I’ve heard people describe family members and friends visiting as ‘stressful’. That cannot be said of my parents visit. It was long-awaited, and lived up to / exceeded expectations. It was a pleasure to have them here, and a lot of fun (I never thought I’d be saying that 5 years ago!). It’s back to reality now, but the memories of their trip will stay with me for a long time!
Thank you Mum and Dad. I miss you.