Wednesday 14 October 2015

Our most important trip of the year - to South Korea

During the last few days of July, Trav and I traveled from Glasgow Scotland with our 26 year old eldest son Ben and our 22 year old youngest son Iain to South Korea, to visit our middle son James (24) and his lovely wife Sujeong - and our 6 month old baby grandson Aaron - whom none of us had yet met!

We were also meeting Sujeong’s parents and her family for the first time and I was worried how we would communicate, as they don’t speak any English and we don’t speak any Korean. But I needn’t have worried as the immediate love and warmth between us needed no interpretation at all.

All together in South Korea

Thanks to a generous baggage allowance of 30kg each we were able to take some gifts with us to South Korea. Gifts for our new in-laws that included a good bottle of single malt whisky. I had the most wonderful time shopping for baby clothes for Aaron and buying him lots of Scottish children’s story books. Stories about Nessie and haggis and wee hairy scottie dogs that would connect him to his Scottish heritage. We also bought him a wee Scottish Rugby Kit!

This was set to be the most important trip of the year for us and for our three boys who hadn’t been together for over two years – since James left Scotland to teach English in this far away land. I knew from the outset that seeing our sons together again was going to be an emotional time – and you can multiply that by a zillion when we met our first grandson!

Aaron sporting his Scotland Rugby Kit!

We flew with Emirate Airlines from Glasgow to Dubai – which was a seven and a half hour flight. Once there we explored the impressive Emirates terminal for a couple of hours before we boarded the A380 ‘double decker’ flight to Incheon Airport Seoul in South Korea. The boys had fun checking out the Dubai terminal and I remembered how impressed I was with this airport the first time I ever saw it. I believe it has the largest shopping mall in any airport in the world.

After a total of twenty-three hours of travelling, we arrived at Incheon Airport, just outside Seoul, and after we had cleared customs and collected our luggage, we made our way down to the subway station, where we would take the super-fast KTX bullet train south (a journey of two and a half hours) to the city of Daegu, where James and his wife Sujeong would be waiting at the station to meet us with our grandson Aaron.

You can, I’m sure, appreciate the moment we arrived and we saw them and how special it was for Trav and I to stand back for a moment and to see our three wonderful sons being united after all this time apart.

Wee Aaron was sleeping when we first saw him and attached to his mummy in a baby harness. I kissed his soft head and accepted that I would have to wait until the next morning to cuddle him. It was very late at night and we were feeling very tired and jetlagged. We headed to our hotel to drop off our bags and then with James and Sujeong we went to eat at a nearby restaurant before we crashed out for the night. Trav and I had experienced a Korean barbeque restaurant before, but our two sons had not, and it was great to see how much they enjoyed eating the traditional food with the spicy fermented cabbage ‘kimchi’ and drinking the ‘Soju’ wine!

The next morning, James and Sujeong and baby Aaron met us at our hotel and escorted us via the subway to part of the city where they lived in their new apartment. (James had been in a different apartment the previous year when we had visited) After which we would visit the home of Sujeong’s family which was close by.

This was where we cuddled our grandson for the first time, and although I had feared that he might be wary of us as relative strangers and cry, he didn’t look distressed in any way and instead gave us lots of cuddles and smiles.

Trav and I have loved this boy from afar from the moment he was born but on this day we both immediately forged a special bond with our wee grandson and are totally besotted with him.

Meeting Aaron for the first time

I’ve put together just some of my favourite photos from the highlights of this week: images that represent how much fun we had and also how much it meant to us to spent time with our new Korean family. They really did all pull out all the stops to show us their wonderful country while keeping us fed and entertained the whole time. I am in awe of their organisational skills!

Hortons On Tour..!

Our daughter-in-law Sujeong and her mother, Jeong-im, and her sister, Subin, together with her sister’s boyfriend, Jin – who spoke excellent English and who kindly acted as our interpreter the whole week - had planned a full itinerary of cultural activities. Sujeong’s father unfortunately had to work during the day time, so didn’t join us on our trips, but we were delighted to be introduced to him that first morning and we spent several wonderful evenings in his company. Sujeong’s brother also couldn’t join us on our days out and so he is also missing from the majority of our photos - as he was on crutches after being injured in Kendo practice – a martial art and national sport.

It was a fabulous whirlwind of a week, in which we experienced the most amazing hospitality and were introduced to the most amazing food and Korean way of life.

Yummy Korean food!

The weather in South Korea during the first week of August was blisteringly hot. We all suffered in the heat, especially in the city where there is little breeze and the concrete of the roads and pavements and buildings seem to hold onto the oppressive heat. So on the day we all took the Aspan cablecar into the mountains surrounding the city to see the most stunning and panoramic views of Daegu, it was great fun and also an incredible relief from the heat.

Taking the Aspan Cablecar to see views of the City of Daegu
The view from the top..!

We took a trip to the Korean War Museum too and it was interesting and educational and rather horrifying to learn how the war had affected the people of Korea and it made me appreciate their need for security especially as the war with North Korea ended in an amnesty and not a peace treaty.

At the Korea War Museum

On another day, we took a KTX high speed bullet train to the second largest city in South Korea after Seoul, the city of Busan. It is a coastal town known for its beaches and traditional feel. The city is built on a steep hillside overlooking the sea and the busy port. We explored Gamcheon Cultural Village – a popular tourist ‘must see’ attraction that feels like you just stepped back in Korean time. The scenery and the colourful houses and small shops were wonderful and again we took lots of photos!

On the KTX super-fast train to Busan. Photo by Sujeong Horton
Favourite moments from Busan...
The thumbs up from Sujeong..!

More favourite moments...

One evening in Daegu city centre we saw the new Mission Impossible movie in 4D at the CGV Cinema – which was great fun – it really was like being in the movie with water, wind and moving seats. It's like a theme park ride in a movie cinema!

4D cinema - like a theme park ride!

On other days we navigated the subways and spent some time shopping in the ultra-modern malls and then in complete contrast we wandered round the traditional Korean markets, where the freshest fruits and vegetables and spices and fish were being sold. We ate some very strange but delicious street foods and then later in the evenings we tried different styles of restaurants; except for one very special evening when we were invited to Sujeong’s parent’s home and her mum cooked a traditional meal for us all.

Amazing food and sights and smells of the traditional Korean market

The night before we left, we asked all the family to meet us at a restaurant in town, which was to be our treat. The restaurant had a private side room with a long low table and with cushions on the floor as seating. They came with presents for us that they had thoughtfully made themselves and it was an enjoyable and fun but emotional time. We had all bonded so well in that short week that I could hardly imagine what it would feel like to be leaving the next morning.

A family get together the night before we left...

On leaving, our new family accompanied us to the train station to wave us off on our long journey back to Scotland. Trav and I make a firm promise to our son to return as soon as possible but there were still lots of tears shed on that subway platform in Daegu on our way back to Incheon Airport.

Our ride back to Scotland...

Just one week wasn’t enough to spend with our Korean family and we now miss them all dreadfully so our ‘soon as possible’ return will be for our grandson’s first birthday party in February 2016. Our flights are already booked. And as for our two Scotland based sons, we can only hope that they will want to return to South Korea as often as they can and that James and his family can one day visit Scotland, so that our three sons can be together again very soon.

In the meantime, we are all grateful for Facebook and for Skype and that we are blessed by living in an age when global travel is not only possible but achievable - thanks to commercial airlines and their now affordable air fares. Long may it continue!

Twenty four hours later, after Trav and I had transited through Dubai International Airport for the fourth time in less than a month (crazy but true - see my previous post on our island hopping adventures in the Seychelles) we arrived back in Glasgow - only to check into the adjacent airport hotel - as we were flying out again only in the opposite direction the very next morning.

So in my next post I’ll be blogging about our return to Utila. ‘Our’ Caribbean island home that is the smaller of the Bay Islands just off the coast of Honduras. We had spent March April and May of this year on the island and we were excited to be going back for August September and October to the laid back life there and to catch up with our lovely island friends again.

Do pop back soon and do leave me a message if you’d like to in the comments box below. I’d love to hear from you and I promise to reply as soon as I get an internet connection.

Love, Janice xx