Born in Korea, But Seeing It For The First Time #Travel
Hello, Night Owl Romance patrons, and to my Precious Readers who field-tripped with me today from my own blog!
I’m Katherine Bacher, an author living in a world of dichotomy.
Born in South Korea, adopted to an American family of German Heritage. Both of my parents were people who started out as farm kids and worked their way up in the world. So, I’m a Korean-German-American with country farmer roots, but grew up in the suburbs of Washington in the Greater Seattle Area with an urban workaholic mentality.
Why is this important to know? In August 2016, I was given the opportunity to visit the country of my birth. (Thanks, Mom!) This ended up not only being a poignant and emotional trip for me both personally and professionally.
My husband and I learned of the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA), a non-profit and support group for, you guessed it, Korean adoptees. Apparently, they host a convention every three years in Seoul, South Korea where I was placed in foster care for the first six months of my life. A city close to where I was born. Even better, their headquarters were based in Seattle.
Traveling there was an adventure in itself. Ignoring my adoption flight, this was my husband’s, and my first big international trip. I’d also like to point out that my husband is a certified pilot. (Single engine, fixed wing, instrument rated. I’ve got your backs, curious aviation enthusiasts.) I don’t think it helped that even standing at five-foot-eleven, he was a giant among Koreans waiting to board, making him slightly uneasy. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’m an above-average-heighted Korean woman. Something I’ve never experienced before in my American life, living in the Pacific Northwest amongst the tall-natured Germans, Norwegians, Swedish, etc. Everyone in my family is taller than me, and strangers always comment about the “exchange student” in family photos. Yeah, that’s me. For once, he received a taste of what it was like to be the abnormal looking minority amongst the crowd, but he’s always been sensitive to that with me.
Can you see the anxiety on my poor husband’s face?
He stood almost a foot-and-a-half taller than everyone else
leaving for Seoul, including the Korean men.
After a 12.5-hour flight, we landed in Incheon International Airport, one of the highest rated airports in the world. It has its own movie theater and ice skating rink. There was a special moment that happened upon arrival to Incheon, but a brief nugget of information, first. South Korea is one of the most wired cities in the world. Not in “Seattle is hopped up on coffee, wired.” It’s the home of Samsung. There is FREE Wi-Fi everywhere. The moment we stepped off of the plane, our phones synched to the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
In that moment, my life changed.
Can you see the excitement?
This is 5 steps into the airport after stepping off of the plane.
A few weeks before our trip was the first time I had submitted my first book to a publisher, hoping to officially launch my writing career beyond my blog. The photo above is within a minute of stepping off of the plane. I was greeted by a message from Trifecta Publishing House asking to publish my book. My first try. My first book. It would see the light of day.
The moment I stepped into the country of my birth to learn about my past, I was greeted by a message from my future. I am not a crier. In two completely different circumstances, I’ve almost completely sawed off fingers from my left hand, and didn’t cry then. I cried in this moment captured above. My husband decided to capture my blubbering face thinking it was a memorable moment. (My apologies to the staff and security teams of Incheon for being the crazy lady jumping up and down and yelling in victory at the top of her lungs.)
The conference was only for five days, but since this was our first big trip, we stayed in Seoul a full two weeks. Instead of staying in the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, we rented a studio apartment complete with washer/dryer combo unit, (get on that, United States), and small kitchen. Completely worth it. Having a washer/dryer combo unit for our clothes not only saved us from having to pack much, but it also helped us deal with weather that… wasn’t quite anything we’d ever experienced before. More on Korea in summer, later.
Old Meets New. Like this milestone moment of my life, Korea itself is a country of the past meets ever-exponentially-growing future. South Korea is a country of rapid innovation while keeping a respectful and humbling eye to the rich, ancient past. Their palaces outdate anyone in your family by at least three generations. Think about that for a moment.
Here are some pictures showing the balance between ancient and new:
A palace entrance with a Microsoft building
featuring a giant South Korean flag across the street.
Being from Washington, it was like a wink from home.
Beneath that streetlight, about 5 blocks away is a palace
surrounded by office buildings.
Me at the War Museum. Be prepared to spend 2 days here.
Artifacts from thousands of years ago to current wars.
Those stairs are further up than they look, but I’ll get to stairs a little later.
I was standing along the far left of this photo, off screen.
That’s how far up those stairs go. Again, more on stairs later.
Speaking of old, let’s go as far as to use that word again: Ancient. Korea has palaces and Buddhist temples everywhere. Even better? It’s easy on your wallet. Korea has a large respect for their own history that they want everyone to enjoy it. The admission was never above $3USD per person (once you factor in conversion), which is a bargain compared to museums in Washington.
Please enjoy the photos of these palaces and temples, and note the detailed hand painted designs on the structures.
This is a Hwatcha, an ancient Korean arrow-shooting weapon of war.
The television show, Mythbusters, rebuilt one to see how it would work,
and the results were terrifying.
This is the gate entrance leading to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul,
across the street from the Microsoft building.
The entire grounds of the palace were FREE to explore.
Love the lights on that place? So did we. This brings me to my next point.
There is unexpected entertainment everywhere. No matter where we were, being active or resting, there was some kind of show or placard to read.
At Gyeongbokgung Palace, as we were leaving, the staff began shutting off the lights. We figured, “Hey, it’s the end of the day. Makes sense.” Then the sound of bass drum echoed across the grounds. We turned around, and there was, I kid you not, a full-fledged ANIMATED SHOW projected onto the front of the place, the animations interacting with the windows and doors of the building. A full, multimedia experience, for FREE. The structure of the front of the building is longer than a football field. That is one large, projected show. It lasted an entire hour, and was riveting from the beginning to end. We went back the next night to catch it again.
On one day when we were checking out the Han River, the husband and I decided to take a break and watch the sunset. About 10 minutes after sunset, we heard music. Directly in front of us, we the park started shooting off a rainbow fountain show!
The height of those fountain showers exploded into the air.
That spool-looking object in the middle came up almost to my height,
and I stand five-foot-five-inches. Barely.
The Han River, the vibrant city lights, and a rainbow fountain show.
One of the most romantic moments of our lives.
Some things you should know. Not to kill the mood, but there are some hurdles jump over when traveling to Korea in August. My first suggestion? Don’t go in August. It’s the busiest travel month of the year, airline prices skyrocket, and it’s hot. Over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 97% humidity hot, and that was a good day. Being from the PNW, we weren’t used to that and suffered mightily. On the plus side, we only packed carry-on bags for our flight since we carried summer gear, and having that washer/dryer combo unit allowed us to do laundry. Every day. Due to sweating our own body weight every day. If the conference hadn’t been during August, we would’ve preferred to go in spring or fall. Airline prices are less than half of what they are in August. Don’t go in August if you can help it. Shade won’t help. The air itself is hot, so shade won’t protect you. Stay cool, stay hydrated, and listen to your body. Take breaks. A girl waiting at the subway had almost passed out from heat stroke. Her boyfriend was ever so grateful when we freely gave a frozen water bottle to them from our bags. Maybe they’ll appreciate Americans even more.
“I’ll find some shade. That will keep me cool.”
These trees, the scent is heavenly. Some kind of cross between eucalyptus and basil.
It won’t save you from the heat.
Speaking of clothing… American ladies, sucks to be you. Clothing is extremely modest in Korea, especially for women. Think you can get away with a tank top, or let ‘the girls’ air out on the beach? Think again. I give you Exhibits A (airport photo), and B (museum photo). Note the clothing choices? I’m wearing a scarf and pants. In August. If it wasn’t air conditioned, I was half dying.
Stairs. You waited patiently, and here it is. If you’re being a tourist, wear good shoes. Not good looking shoes, good shoes. If there is a seventh circle of hell, it’s made of Korean stairs. There are stairwells leading to more stairwells, leading to a room that will lead you to another set of stairs you’ll need to climb to get to your destination. There was a shopping center with signs directing those with disabilities towards a set of stairs that led to the ramp you were supposed to use if you couldn’t walk, I kid you not. Also, each stair is handcrafted, so they’re uneven, different depths, widths, heights, and lengths, and all made of stone. Don’t wear heels. I beg of you.
America, thank you for having standards for stairs. Thank you for making them of even height, width, length, and depth. Thank you.
Back to the positives – Nightlife and Food. Those stairs are worth it because you’ll get to experience some of the most amazing food and nightlife you’ve ever encountered. With the hunger that arrives after burning so many calories just to leave your rented apartment, and getting to the subway, comes robust, hearty, and fulfilling food.
I have never felt so safe at night, as I did in Korea. With the unbearable heat during the day, many families come out at 11 P.M. to relax and have family time. The more adult crowd goes out eating and drinking (so many drinking games), only to wake up early and go to work. They work hard, they play hard. I wonder if that’s hard wired into my DNA. Although I’m a firm believer that nurture has far more impact on a human than nature, nature can never be 100% ruled out of one’s own development. You see, I have a superpower that no one else in my family, my hubby, and his family, can do. I can eat food of lava-hot heat levels, and the food is incredible.
If you cannot handle even the mildest of spice levels, you will need to learn an incredibly important phrase. “Zero spice, it makes me sick.” Find out what that is in Korean. Trust me. Toddlers are born eating spicy food that while mild to me, would be a medium-hot/hot range for your average American. If it was red, I ate it first to see if it would make the hubby sick.
This is a small meal we had on our first day.
On the plus side, Koreans are overgenerous with their food. In America, we pay for appetizers. In Korea, it is customary to receive four to twelve side dishes, all of them referred to collectively as banchan. Banchan is free with unlimited refills that automatically come with whatever you order. This is normal. Plus, as you can see, the main bowls for your order are huge. Plus, there’s soup, and tea. It doesn’t get any better than this. Vegetarians, don’t despair. The veggie dishes are succulent, rich in flavor, and keep you fueled for the hundreds of thousands of stairs you’ll be climbing. Korea is also all about customer service. I have never met such kind, wonderful people willing to bend over backwards for you. We did our best to be polite, uncomplicated patrons, of course, but it was humbling to see such willingness to provide good service.
Speaking of amazing food…
My most recent book release, Crush On You (a Roxy Summers Mystery #2) combines my three favorite things: Sunshine, food, and travel!
CRUSH ON YOU (a Roxy Summers Mystery #2) is in both print and e-book. Get it today! My character, Roxy Summers, is a blogger/photographer for a local Seattle magazine. Her first assignment sends her to Los Angeles, California to cover a high-stakes televised food competition. Read below to find out what’s happening on Roxy Summers’ next adventure:
“Roxy Summers is the kind of woman anyone would want as a friend –
spunky, loyal, and with just the right amount of courage to
capture the bad guy in this fun cozy mystery.”
~ Jennifer Fischetto, National Best Selling Author
Someone is stirring up trouble in Roxy’s world.
Seattle sweetie, Roxy Summers, kicks off her new career as a magazine feature photojournalist and blogger with her first assignment, covering a Seattle favorite restaurant while they compete in a televised food competition! Next thing you know, with her besties in tow, Roxy hops a plane to Los Angeles.
Temperatures are rising.
With national fame and fortune on the line, the competition is deadly. With sabotage, a stalker, and a devastating secret that could destroy them all, Roxy soon finds her simple assignment has turned into a twisted labyrinth of betrayal, death threats, and murder.
Things are boiling over.
Even worse, Roxy’s personal life is... complicated. Her sort-of-kind-of-but-not-quite relationship with the sultry and brooding Seattle Detective, Charlie Bennett is on the rocks. To add salt to the wound, her former crush and now boss, joins her on the trip. The cherry on top is the reemergence of her cheating ex, crawling back and begging for another chance.
Roxy needs to sift through the chaos of her relationships and find the culprit destroying the competition before it gets too hot in the kitchen.
Katherine Bacher is an Amazon Bestselling Author of the Roxy Summers Mystery Series, books loaded with hilarity, sass, cozy romance, and, of course, mystery. Catch up with Roxy Summers in Capture Me so you can enjoy her newly released, Crush On You before her third book in the series, Missing You, releases in June 2018.
Connect with Katherine Bacher!
Katherine Bacher’s Website and Blog: www.katherinebacher.com
Katherine Bacher’s Facebook: www.facebook.com/katherinebacherauthorpage
Katherine Bacher’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/katnundrum
Katherine Bacher’s Instagram: www.instagram.com/katnundrum
Katherine Bacher’s Night Owl Romance Author Page
Trifecta Publishing House: http://www.trifectapublishinghouse.com/katherine-bacher.html
What album would be complete without ONE cheesy tourist photo?
Want to learn about other traveling adventures from your other new favorite authors? Check out this Night Owl Romance blog by Regan Walker who shares about her multiple trips to Scotland. Want to hear about someone’s adventurous trip? Why not try this Night Owl Romance blog by Kris Bock about archaeology in the Southwest?
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