Every other year or so I go back to South Korea to visit my in-laws. My wife tries to take at least four weeks. I could not afford to do that because I just don't have the vacation time saved up. The company allowed me to take leave without pay, so I'm fortunate to be able to go. Saving money as much as the wife and I do is the only way we can do something like that.
It was a camping trip. I had to sleep on the floor. Mosquitos were eating us alive. Well, they were eating my wife and daughter. Mosquitos don't seem to like me much. The bacon in my veins probably prevents them from drinking. But I digress. The showers were cold for me because it was an older style house and the water heater was really made for one person. There was no air conditioning. Fortunately, the air cooled off enough by night that it was tolerable. My wife had to spray all of us with sunscreen. I still got a burn on my bald head. So yes, it was camping.
We visited a few sites. Most of Korea is very mountainous, so the scenery is beautiful. Here are a few pictures.
My daughter is a beautiful girl. We get pics for time at a studio in Korea. The studio has only her face on its sign out in front of the store. They took a few more. These photos were hanging up inside of the office of the studio. Each year when my wife goes back, whether I'm with her or not, we get new photos, and the studio gets a few for itself as well. We could easily pursue a modeling career for Leia in Korea. It would be more difficult in the US. Americans don't have as much of an appetite for non-white kids in modeling. I don't think it is a racial thing; it is just about demographics. All said, I don't think the wife and I are going to move to Korea anytime soon. There are plenty of things we don't like about Korea despite all of the things we love about the place. A funny thing happened at a palace we visited in Seoul. My wife was very irritated. I just found it odd. A Chinese tourist stopped taking pictures of the palace when he saw my daughter. He started to take pictures of her. He was like three feet away and on his knees to get a close-up photo of her. He could have been a pervert, which is why my wife went crazy on him and swatted at the air in front of him to go away like a bug. I was just in little shock that he would even think it was ok to do. Have you ever seen someone's child you didn't know so cute that you stopped to take his or her picture?
Korean politics are a mess. The American conservatives and liberals are very different from Korean conservatives and liberals, according to my wife. I don't see that much of a difference. The conservatives are more hawkish with the DPRK, claim to be more pro-business, and favor what seems to be growing into a police state. The liberals think they can tax all of the people and businesses into serfdom to subsidize the same people and make them dependent, are environmentalists---we were actually approached by Korean Greenpeace---and favor heavy regulations on businesses to prevent pollution, and tend to be the more artsy folks. They even want heavy taxes on SUVs to pay for subsidies for itty bitty cars. That sounds liberal. My wife thinks they are very different, however, because of the level of corruption.
The current Park government is a disturbing one. It is both corrupt and inept, which is why so many scandals have surfaced. It has gone so far as to arrest journalists and bring in ginormous police forces to block journalists from getting pictures of people on a hunger strike because of the Sewol ferry disaster from April 15, 2014. The liberals want to pass a law to investigate who gave the order to stand down and not rescue over 300 kids who eventually drowned aboard the ferry. An American Navy ship was even told to go back. Apparently, though I need to confirm through additional sources, only the Korean Minister of Defense and the President have the power to order the equivalent of our Coast Guard to act and turn an American ship around. The conservatives in the Korean Assembly are blocking the law. From what I can read on the proposed law, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to not allow it to pass with overwhelming support except that it would expose the corruption and ineptitude of the Park government.
It might seem like conspiracy theories when you look at the lengths to which that government has gone to protect President Park, but you need a little background on the history of her and her father. Her father was the President and dictator from a few decades ago. He is the one who made guns illegal in Korea. He was the one who use the police to kill protestors in the street. Look up the Kwangju Massacre. A lot of older people in Korea credit former President Park with the economic expansion that made Korea into the 13th largest economy on Earth. Looking into Korean culture from the past through the present and understanding how Chinese and Japanese invasions over the centuries, severe income inequality over most of its history from being run by a monarch to Japan, its history of slavery until just over 100 years ago, you find that many Koreans seem to think you can and should sacrifice everything to accrue wealth for the safety of yourself and your family. It is why you see so many Korean American families work their asses off too. It can be a good thing, but I believe it blinds them to other things of value.
Korean people can be rude. They don't see it, but as an American it can be rather obvious. In a country as small and densely populated as Korea, you can imagine that places like subway stations can get crowded. If you get bumped, no one says sorry. If you get pushed down, no one says sorry. On buses, they will push and shove to make it feel more and more like a pickle jar. I had my daughter with me, and they'd rather see her stand or me carry her than give up a seat. Not all of them were this way, but it was so frequent that it seemed more like an epidemic than a couple isolated cases.
Like I told my brother-in-law as he was driving me back to the airport to go home, traffic signals are only suggestions in Korea. I tend to think that most laws are only a scheme for the state to collect more money from you when it comes to speeding and seatbelts and such. In Korea, however, they don't bother. You'd think that as a species, humans would just be smart enough to not do some of the dumb shit they do, but they do it there so commonly that you are the stupid one not to do it as well. Motorcycles are by law supposed to use only the streets. They go up and down the sidewalks and honk to get people out of the way. They'll even curse at you if you don't move fast enough for them. Every single bus and taxi I took in the last two weeks---and there were many---ran through at least two red lights each. It wasn't at a rural street where you could see that no one was coming from the other directions. This was in heavy traffic most of the time. I feared for my life, and that is not a joke. Pedestrians there do not get the right of way in practice in a crosswalk. I had to flip off one nut who cursed me for walking across the street when I had the walking man sign at a busy intersection. They were just nuts. Merging lanes in the road were always fun. Whether they were for construction or just ramps, there was no yielding by anyone. It was basically a game of chicken. Traffic problems are so bad that all new cars come with dashcams---another thing I learned from my brother-in-law who showed me his---to settle the eventual law suits and police reports from all of the accidents. If it weren't so congested, they'd get to speeds bad enough to kill everyone in the accidents. Luckily, they just can't go very fast because of the traffic.
I found that restaurants were mostly cheap to visit compared to America's, but grocery stores were typically more expensive. Of course the sticker shock when looking at meat prices was always worse until you remembered that they measure in kilograms instead of pounds. The gas prices too were more than twice what we pay in the US. That isn't so shocking. Most of the world pays much higher gas prices than we do in the US, and it is all because of taxes. So much of the Korean economy is unregulated that it taxes wherever it can most easily keep track. It is why buying a Samsung Galaxy S5 is a few hundred dollars more than buying in in the US. Washers, dryers, rice cookers, you name the appliance, all of the electronics and anything you buy in a big store is going to be more expensive. Imported items are exceptionally more expensive. Deodorant is going to cost twice the American price. Fortunately for Korean people, most of them don't stink like Americans. They also don't sweat as much. Yes, they smell like garlic because of kimchi and cigarettes because almost half of the adults in Korea smoke. They just don't smell anything like me if I haven't had a shower in two days.
My wife's parents are pretty awesome. They treat me better than they treat my wife. My father-in-law is 82. My mother-in-law is 80. They've been through a lot of stuff in their lives because of the Korean War and all of the changes in Korea since. They are very nice though, probably for putting up with their daughter. (Love you, Dear.) My mother-in-law did a lot of cooking and cleaning while I was there. I tried to help and was pushed out of the way. She had to take a lot of naps because all of that work took a toll on her. I'd tell my wife that if I ate some particular side dish on the other side of the table that her mother would move stuff to put it in front of me, and then I showed her. It worked every time. They were always trying to get me to eat more, and then they would tell me that I needed to lose weight and to be more healthy. I'm like, "Stop giving me so much yummy duck." It was yummy, so very yummy.
Korean food is great, but don't ever eat anything in Korea that isn't a Korean dish. Any attempts by Koreans to make pizza, spaghetti, anything with a potato, even Thai food doesn't work well. They put corn on the pizza. They'd make a mashed potato side dish with mayonnaise and raisins. Don't touch it. My wife asked for the Thai basil that should be in Pho, and they guy didn't even know what it was. To say the least, it wasn't great. In Seoul, we did have some pretty good Thai, but that area, Itaewon, is a very international area and has a bunch of expats from Turkey, India, Thailand, and the Philippines living and working there. The guys cooking were Thai. The good food was the duck. They do a BBQ duck thing very similar to bulgogi for anyone who has tried that. I can't say enough about the duck. Of course, there were a lot of different ways to eat my favor food group, pig. Some of the best was supposed to be served at room temperature and consumed with large quantities of alcohol, which I don't have very often. I think it would have been better a little warmer, but it was still awesome. The only Korean dish I didn't like was some kind of raw shellfish thing. I swear it smelled like a public bathroom in Korea, and public bathrooms in Korea can be very horrifying.
Korean bathrooms… The public ones are usually kept clean, but they can stink to high heaven if not built in the last 10 years. Apparently the U-shaped traps plumbers use to keep the sewer gas in the sewer are relatively new to Korean construction, so all of the gases came back up. Mixed with seawater and dead seafood washed into the sewers from local fish markets, the public bathrooms smelled super foul. Some of the older bathrooms used small pipes too. If you ever visit and you see a small trash can in the stall, it is for your shit paper. You aren't to flush it. It will clog the pipes. It wasn't all bad. Like I said, they keep them very clean. It is just the smell. That and the Korean guy who looks down at your junk and gives you the nod of being impressed. It didn't happen this time, but it has happened more than once in the past. At first you are freaked out, but then you need to be a little flattered. Korean guys just seem to not think of it as a big deal to openly compare sizes.
Anyway, I enjoyed my trip, but the real vacation is about to start. My wife and daughter are still in Korea. Tomorrow, I will be able to sleep in, like really sleep in. Then I go back to work on Monday.