March 29th, 2005

Priya and the kids

We got out!

I did it! I made the decision again today to get out of the apartment and explore the city. Got ready, got the kids ready, packed lunch and snacks, my maps and my English-Korean dictionary, and headed out the door at about 10:30am. Hailed a taxi, managed to mangle some Korean to get him to take us to Seoul Grand Park. At first, I wasn't sure he understood me and started to panic. I tried to call Chris on my cell phone to see if he could get someone from his work to talk to the taxi driver, but I couldn't get a hold of him. So, I hung up, tried to relax and just hoped that we'd get there.

Seoul Grand Park is a huge recreation center. It is built around a man-made reservoir and within the park is a zoo and botanical gardens, Seoul Land Amusement Park (Disney-like), National Museum of Contemporary Arts and miles of lawns, gardens, picnic and camping spots. It is HUGE. The guide book that my friend, Caroline, gave me said that it couldn't all be seen in one day. Well, we didn't even see half of just the zoo today, it is just expansive!

Well, we got there by about 11am and I looked around trying to figure out where to go first. We headed towards the zoo. I wasn't planning on the zoo today, I had no real plan of what to see once we got here, but with kids, where else but the zoo? We stopped for a quick snack of strawberries and then we headed off. It turns out that we had to talk the Sky Tram to the zoo. Maya was so excited! A day-long pass for the tram was the equivalent of $9 for adults and $5 for children. Nadia was free (under 4 years). Pretty reasonable. So we got on, that was pretty interesting with a stroller and a backpack and a child in my arms! Well, the stroller got its own sky tram, the guys who worked on the sky tram station helped Maya get on and I just had to jump on with Nadia. Wasn't so bad once we were on, but of course, I worried about it. Anyway, we got on and what a ride! The view was pretty cool. But it was windy way up there!

So, we rode to the first stop, which was the zoo entrance. There was a second leg of the tram ride, which we wanted to do, but I had to buy tickets to the zoo to do it since it dropped us off in the zoo. Again, I still wasn't sure that we were going to do the zoo, but we had to buy zoo tickets to ride the second leg, so I did. And what a deal that was! To get in the zoo, adults cost $1.50 (yes, $1.50!!) and kids ages 4 to 15 were $0.70! How could we not go to the zoo at those prices?? So, right after getting off the first leg of the sky tram, I had to get Nadia out of the stroller and collapse it to get right back on!

Riding the tram into the zoo, I realized that the zoo itself was really, really big. It went all the way to the back of the zoo. I still wasn't planning on staying a long time here, was considering going back home for Nadia's naptime (around 2pm), so we were just going to walk around the back part of the zoo and head back ont he sky tram in the early afternoon. Well, that changed after we started into the zoo. Decided to walk all the way back to the front of the zoo instead. And we had a blast. The kids really enjoyed the day. The animal exhibits were simply amazing. The atrium for the large water birds (cranes, swans, pelicans, storks, geese) was so impressive. Just that must have been as big as a football field. This has got to be one of the best zoos anywhere. I was very impressed.

And the playgrounds that were in the zoo were pretty cool. The kids had a blast at the playground, we spent about an hour and a half just at the playground. The slides were very tall. There was a small stream next to the playground; apparently in the warmer months, kids are allowed to play and splash around in it.

Another thing that hit me: we stopped for a snack and a "big grab" bag of chips was only $1. In the US, something like that at a zoo or an amusement park would have cost about $4 or $5!! They don't try to gouge you here.

Getting back home was an adventure in and of itself. I couldn't find a taxi there, so we hopped on the subway. It wasn't so easy, with a 5-year-old, a very-tired 18-month-old, a backpack and a folding stroller (it was an umbrella stroller that we have borrowed from some friends here). And it was about 4:30pm, hitting rush hour. The subway was full, standing room only. I managed to figure out our ticket prices, paid and got us on. I was standing, holding Nadia, with Maya by my side. Well, thank goodness for the kind elderly lady sitting who noticed me. She got up and practically pushed me into her seat. Maya wanted to sit, but I had Nadia and that's why I had to sit. Whew. Got off on the tranfer station. So far, so good. But then, I hit a rough patch. I asked someone for help and he pointed me the wrong way! I got on the green line headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. ARGH! Got off at the next station, headed up to the street and decided to hail a taxi! The streets were busy with rush hour traffic and the taxi I hailed decided to just stop in the middle of an intersection to wait for me to get in. NO KIDDING! Cars, buses and other taxis all honking away, this guy calmly waits for me to ask him if he would take me to Samhomulsan (a big landmark a block away from our apartment) and he takes his time to think about it and says yes. I run back tothe sidewalk to grab the kids, throw them into the waiting taxi, fold the stroller and throw it into the trunk (which I had to bang on to remind the driver to open!) and then jump in myself. Sheesh!!

An hour and a half after leaving Seoul Grand Park, I finally collapse on my living room floor. Got home, got some pizza delivered from the Papa John's across the street from our apartment and got the kids into bed at around 7pm. All in all, I feel like I accomplished something even if it was only going to the zoo! Check out some pictures from our day:

Maya and Nadia


Man, who knew that my children would be considered "stars"? Everywhere they go, they get tons of attention. People want to stroke Maya's "golden" hair and everyone just squeals in delight at Nadia's big round eyes. It almost always plays out like this: people see Maya and her hair and say what a pretty girl she is (in Korean of course). They see that Nadia has black hair and are just about to look away when Nadia looks at them with her big round dark-as-night eyes. Then squealing ensues, cameras and/or camera phones get whipped out and they start clicking away. Then they start digging in their bags or purses furiously in search of something, anything, to give to them. They have gotten tons of candy and chocolates. Someone even gave Maya a cool ruler, like the ones that kids have at school! I was making such progress with teaching Maya not to take candy and gifts from strangers in the US, but that has gone out the window here. And for the most part, it is all women and younger women at that, so I'm not worried because they all have good intentions. But I will have to revisit the issue of taking candy and gifts from strangers when I go back to the US.

Anyway, here are some pictures of our day at the zoo at Seoul Grand Park today. These are different from the ones in my previous journal entry. These are of Nadia getting mobbed by, oh I'd say about fifteen 15-year-olds at the zoo playground. The squeals were even a little too loud for me! I couldn't get any pictures of Maya with the girls because, after about 5 minutes of attention from all of them, Maya freaked out and buried her head in my coat for the remainder of the time the girls were around. And they were around for a long time. I had to explain to them that she was being shy and overwhelmed by all the attention. A couple of the girls could speak and understand English, so they translated. They all started to sorry to Maya, which just made matters worse. LOL Poor girl. I tried so hard to explain that they loved her and her golden hair (that's what they called it), but she didn't care. All she wanted was to be left alone and to be able to play on the playground without being asked to pose for a picture. Nadia handled it better, trying to grab all the camera phones being shoved into her face! Oh and when one of the girls asked us where we were from and I said "California", more squealing! They were so excited. It was very cute. I enjoyed the attention, even if Maya didn't!