Yes, I AM ALIVE Mom!! It’s hard to believe we have been here for over a week now. Honestly it feels like we’ve been here a month already. I wish I could tell everyone how fabulous life is here + what an exotic place it is, with wonderful people + amazing food, that this is everything I thought it would be + then some. Unfortunately, no. It’s pretty much none of those things… At least not yet. I started this blog excited + eager for an adventure. I knew there would be MANY, if not every, unexpected bump in the road, but I assumed with the security of the military all would be happy go lucky. I want to give you guys every detail, the good, the bad, + the ugly, never glossing over the unpleasant + just focusing on the beautiful happy bits. I think far too many bloggers do this, + hey, who’s to say they’re wrong for doing it? But I wouldn’t feel right munipulating my life to just look glossy + glamorous 24/7 (or maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t have enough glamorous experiences or pictures to make it that kind of blog even if I wanted to HA!). So here was our first week in Korea (complete with the bumps and ugly bits)-
After an 11 hour flight from San Fran to Seoul, one last mexican meal on American soil, + terrible plane food, we landed at the Incheon airport. Upon arriving, the first things I saw in airport as far as food- 7 Eleven + Dunkin Donuts. So much for exotic. The bathrooms however, were simply adorable. I didn’t know quite what to expect as far as the cleanliness, size, or overall esthetic of the airport. The only other Asian country I have been to is India.. not totally 1st world, nor clean ha. The Seoul Incheon airport was surprisingly clean. Like cleaner than some US airports. I had been warned that the toilets could be stand up bidet style, but again, to my surprise they were clean, efficient, tiny toilets complete with very private, dark wood stalls. I felt like I was in a Nordstrom. The sinks… I bent down to reach them. I’m 5’2 y’all. That should tell you how low down + delicate they were. We checked in with the USO + 20 min later were off to Yongsan (army base in the middle of Seoul).
After an hour shuttle to Yongsan we checked in at the infamous Dragon Hill Lodge, an old school Army resort style hotel on post. The next few days were a blur really. Josiah got up at the normal 5am to participate in PT, then was gone most of the day for briefings + in-processing procedures. I explored the hotel while he was gone. We checked out the base together which was surprisingly big considering it is literally in the middle of Seoul (you can hardly tell where the base begins + ends). We didn’t have time to leave base nor did we want to break any rules that we were still pretty unaware of. And by rules I mean, lots of rules. For instance- curfew. If you get caught out past 1am and before 5am, you get in serious trouble. Like the kind of trouble that will destroy a soldier’s career in the military. Ration Cards. Yeah like WWII, 1940’s style ration cards. I am only allowed to buy $800 worth of groceries from the commissary (*a grocery store with American brands for soldiers, their families, + DoD employees) a month. And last but not least, I will be trained + supplied with a gas mask in case of an attack (insert wide eyes + then laugh at the image of little V marching around in a gas mask giving orders). Ok, so really curfew doesn’t apply to civilians (aka me.. + other family members) just military, + really Joe + I won’t even come close to spending $800 on food a month, + getting a gas mask is kind of bad-ass, plus i’ll be way more prepared for an apocalypse of some sort than any of you, but I don’t like rules. Anyone that knows me well, knows inherently I have a hard time with authority (I am my father’s daughter.. GASP!). I hate buckling my seatbelt just because someone told me to. Following the speed limit? Ya right. Follow the leader + don’t ask questions? um really. Do everything the conventional way? Nope. (hello purple hair! Your welcome mom.) And I know what you are all thinking, “But Vanessa, you married Josiah! He’s in the ARMY!!! Get with it!”. Ya, ya. I know. Opposites attract, what can I say? And yes, I plan to get with it. Slowly but surely. I respect the Army, I may not understand why they do everything the way they do, but I respect it. Anyways, we figured out quickly that we didn’t want to make any wrong moves. So we ended up eating American food (there were no other options, wah!) + staying on base for the two + a half days we were in Seoul (I half blame it on the military + half blame it on the fact that I woke up at 4am every day + fell asleep at 6:30pm).
On the 2nd day, after being told were going to stay at the Dragon Hill Lodge for the next four days because of the NYE holiday, I got a call at noon from my excited hubby telling me to “hurry up, pack the bags, get everything ready because we are leaving for Camp Humphreys in 45 min!”. Such is the life of an army wife y’all. Up until this point we didn’t even know exactly where we were going to be stationed. Apparently there was some sort of mix up (is anyone really surprised?) but they fixed it + we were headed 55 miles south to the small town of Pyeongtaek (PEE-YONG-TACK) where the good old Camp Hump is located. Another hour long bus ride later, we arrived at a very, very LARGE army post. When I say large I mean it is one of the biggest bases i’ve been to land wise. However, it has the TINIEST commissary, PX, etc EVER. Camp Humphreys is under construction. It is supposed to be the biggest base in all of Asia once complete with a huge new hospital, commissary, PX, housing, etc. Most of the Yongsan base will move down to Camp Hump upon completion. It was supposed to be done a few years ago, but with the change of a president + a declining budget, Camp Humphreys will probably not be done until 2018 (at the soonest). So here we are, the beautiful boonies. Minus the beautiful. Pyeongtaek is.. meh. It’s a smaller farm town that seems pretty run down. Joe + I have been staying at the hotel here at Camp Hump (definitely not as nice as the “grand” Dragon Hill Lodge) + because of the new year everything has been shut down since we got here. So we literally could not do any in-processing or take care of housing or get my ration card (or my gas mask!!) or ANYTHING for four + a half days straight. We were going crazy. Cabin fever like i’ve never had it before. Everything on post was shut down (besides Taco Bell, Popeye’s, + Subway) + everything in town was closed. So this is where I wish I could tell you how glamours my life was + how fantastic + cool Korea is… But no. The highlight was walking around base bundled up (it was a crisp 12 degrees) + going to the “super gym”. After eating too much nasty American fast food (even Popeye’s has a limit) + being cooped up in a hotel room, we didn’t care if the town was dead, we wanted to get out + see Pyeongtaek. So we walked around the cruddy part of town right outside of the base (passed at least 5 strip clubs + a few bars) + stumbled upon a Korean restaurant. FINALLY! We were starving for something, anything, different than what we had seen, smelled, + tasted for the past 5 days. Joe + I had been to quite a few different Korean restaurants in Utah, Arizona, + Hawaii so we thought we knew what to expect. Language barrier? Psshhh, we got this! We walked in behind a Korean family + watched as they immediately took off their shoes… Um okay. Joe + I quickly looked at each other, smiled, + took our shoes off. We watched as the Korean family was seated. We both looked at each other + smiled again (that uncomfortable ‘WHAT’S HAPPENING’ smile) + waited to be seated. Finally after 5 min of standing there like two idiots, this korean dude started yelling + waving at us in Korean to come sit down somewhere.. Whoops, I guess it was rude to think we should expect someone to seat us HA! We sat down at a table with a pit in the middle. I was facing the wall so I told Joe to watch every move the Korean family was making + then tell me what to do… We looked at the menu, blindly chose two pork dishes + waited in silence, only speaking with our awkward smiles + glances back and forth. Suddenly the Korean dude brought in a hot metal box of coals from outside + placed it in the center pit of our table. He then brought a plate of raw meat + slung it on the hot coals. Joe + I nodded, “okay we got this!”. Then came the familiar, tiny side bowls of rice, kimchi, seaweed, raw onions + garlic, squid, + a whole lot of other sides that I honestly had no idea what they were. They didn’t, however give us plates or anything to place the meat on.. Hmm… the raw meat plate? No. On top of some lettuce? Yes. Joe continued to watch as the Korean family made lettuce wraps with the meat and sides (They placed 5 WHOLE GARLIC CLOVES into one wrap along with LOTS of raw onions). We tried our best to sit straight + act like we’d done this for years, the whole time trying not to laugh at the hilarious experience or notice that everyone in the restaurant was trying not to stare at us. It was a good time. I enjoyed 90% of what was placed in front of me, while Joe gave his 95% approval rating (neither of us could do 5 whole garlic cloves though..). After staring at our empty plates for about 10 min, Joe got up + found the korean dude to take care of the bill. Of course paying in Korean won proved to be a challenge in + of itself, but we managed!
As Sunday came we were both beyond excited for some praising + worshiping (I have never been so excited to go to church in my entire life). As most know, Josiah + I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.. aka Mormons. Like the Catholic Church, Aveda, or Starbucks, there is something so familiar + stable about walking into a mormon church. You know exactly what you’re going to get. They all look the same, smell the same, + are run the same. Familiarity was exciting. We had the address written down, looked at the map, searched the web, + were ready at 8:30 to head to our military branch. But of course, the cab driver could not read english + said she had no idea where or what the mormon church was. As Joe frantically tried talking to an english speaking worker at the cab headquarters over the phone, our cab driver continued to drive past all the popular church sites around Pyeongtaek as we shook our head no. Finally we went back to our hotel feeling pretty bummed over the mishap + over paying an unruly cab fare. So, as we munched on our Krispy Kreme donuts + accepted defeat, we searched again for a phone number or contact info for the church.. Nothing. The next day (yesterday) was Josiah’s birthday + we decided to head to the one “nice” restaurant on base, mostly out of convenience + laziness (walking everywhere takes its toll). But of course, the restaurant was closed for the night + since we were right by the main gate we decided local grub sounded pretty good after all. After a semi-decent, hole-the-wall Korean dinner, we trudged back to base + right before entering we noticed something. Joe turned turned to me saying, “hey, are those missionaries?”. Sure enough I turned + saw two squeaky clean boys in black suits standing on the sidewalk talking to someone in a car. Following an awkward yell across the sidewalk we ran up to them more excited than we had been since our first Korean dining experience. They then introduced us to the people in the car, our branch president and his wife, who low + behold were headed to a group family home evening on post. Of course we eagerly accepted the offer to jump inside the car with both missionaries + the branch president to catch the free ride to FHE. After an extremely warm welcome, a birthday cake was brought out + everyone began singing happy birthday… to an older fellow in the ward (for a minute I thought they were psychic). So moral of the story? Joe got everything he wanted for his birthday after all (except for a baby.. not happening yet folks!). Call it divine intervention, the universe, luck, karma, or whatever you want, but we were blessed with a slice of warm loving people to make us feel at home.
So what does this next week have in store for us? More briefings, getting phones with unlimited data, finding an apartment somewhere in Pyeongtaek, taking the test for a Korean driver’s license, buying a car, receiving my ration card (+ hopefully gas mask!! I want that thing!), + eating fresh food (insert cheering)!!
If you managed to read this entire lengthy post, have a great week friends and hopefully your New Year’s was more eventful then mine! 🙂
Peace and Love-