Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shopping in Korea

Nick made HAC (Helicopter Aircraft Commander) on January 17th (a very important day). The very next day he was rewarded with a weekend trip to Korea with his wardroom (leaving in 24 hours).
A "Space Available" (military flight) would take Nick and the others to Korea for a "Professional Military Education" tour of the DMZ in South/North Korea. Good news was, if there was room on the flight, I would get to go too!

After a quick call to the kennel and a cover for my classes and work, I was packed and waiting at the military terminal, crossing my fingers that I would get on this FREE flight to Korea!

Fortunately there was, and I along with 2 other spouses, got to tag along to Korea for the weekend! On the way there we flew in a C-130.

Sitting in nylon-netted seats with old-fashioned buckles, we took off for Korea.

No flight attendants or peanuts on this plane ride.... but we were issued earplugs to cut out the loud sounds of the uninsulated aircraft AND we could bring our own liquids on the flight!
We flew over Mt. Fuji on the way out of Japan. It was an amazing sight in the clear and crisp winter sky.

Do you get to do this on a commercial flight??? I think not! (Definitely another first for me....sitting in the cockpit during flight! The pilot even let me fly for a while! Good thing no one else knew it!)

Less than 2 hours later, we landed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea.

It was snowy/rainy most of the time we were in Korea, so our pictures aren't that great, but we attempted to document our time nonetheless....

Nick along with some of his other co-workers had been to Osan before and knew of a great spot for lunch. We stopped by the ATM and took out half a million Wan which is only about 400 US Dollars and made our way out to town.

Bulgogi is a traditional Korean meat; marinated then barbecued at your table and accompanied by many small dishes of other Korean favorites. (Nick ate it, but after food poisoning just a couple weeks prior in China, I wasn't quite bold enough to consume new foreign foods just yet!)

I stuck with chicken and rice!
Hite, the top-selling beer in Korea

After lunch....well, a bit of shopping of course!
Royal Bag, a store where one can get bags of all kinds, monogrammed for very inexpensive. We purchased a few monogrammed luggage tags as well. (They not only monogram initials, but also military insignia as well as school/University and professional sports logos.)
South Korea is a place known for it's shopping. Little shops of every trade, many with "one of a kinds" that you find in another store just down the street. (And definitely a place where bargaining is not only acceptable but advised!)
Custom Tailors....South Korea has those too. Nick got a pair of custom cowboy boots made! (With a size 14 boot, it's hard to find him shoes in Japan, much less America. Why not have Korean tailors hand-make them? Ok!)

That night Nick, Jef, and Rocky hit up the Osan Air Base's "O-club" for a game of pool and a round of beer. They left their mark with an impressive Godzilla drawing.
See what these guys do in their spare time....
The next day Nick and I parted ways for the afternoon. He went on the DMZ tour with his co-workers, while the other wives and I went to SEOUL.

The guards at the DMZ all look like this little figure....standing stiff and decked out in black sunglasses.

The old locomotive that used to connect North Korea and South Korea...before the war that separated them!

Where else in the world can you go to a train station and lay in the tracks?

At the oddly connected amusement park by the memorial, tasty butterfly larva and snails were available for snacks! Yum! Nick tried one of each, and lets just say one was enough.

This modern and clean station was built in hopes that one day the two countries will reunite. It was a common theme throughout the tour.

The 3rd tunnel of Aggression that was built by the North Koreans to sneak troops into South Korea. (Cameras weren't allowed inside the tunnel, but the statue outside depicts the hopes and dreams of unification.) The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and is about 240 ft below the surface.

An outlook over the DMZ. Here they spoke with the South Korean guards who pointed out the North Korean fake city known as Propaganda Village. The city is basically a Hollywood set complete with the world's third tallest flagpole at 525'. The 595 lb flag is so heavy that they must take it down if it rains, due to the flag tearing under it's own weight.
What everyone had to sign before entering the DMZ...the North Koreans from time to time shoot across the border...therefore one has to be warned before entering.
The meeting buildings that are placed on the line known as Conference Row of the Joint Security Area. This is where the North and South meet. The doors lock from the inside and outside. For tours it is a first come, first served, but not many tours happen on the North's side.
Standing next to a South Korean guard. The guards are chosen based on physical appearance and military bearing. They must meet a 6 ft height requirement and be a black belt in at least one martial art. This is due to the multiple incidents that have taken place over the years of skirmishes between the two sides. The North Korean guards have tried to grab people and so they are there to protect the tourists. (The black sunglasses, their most intimidating factor...Nick says he wants a pair!)

Behind Nick is North Korea. At night it is almost completely black due to the fact that they do not have electricity to power their cities. The country is in terrible economic shape.

This is the "Bridge of No Return" where prisoner exchanges took place. The name comes from the Koreans stating that prisoners were allowed to leave if they chose, but would never be allowed to return in hopes that some would defect. The last time the bridge was used was in 1968 when the USS Pueblo crew was returned after being hijacked and kidnapped.

Meanwhile, in Seoul...
Seoul is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. It was only an hour and a half away from Osan, and since we couldn't go on the DMZ tour, the other wives and I decided the trek was worth it.

Since our time was limited we went to the top tourist place to get the best view of the city...the N Seoul Tower.

Not as big as our two towers in Japan, but definitely a good view of Korea.

After consuming a couple of Korean meals, we didn't feel guilty about eating Mexican food for dinner. (Mexican food in Korea is still different than what we get in Japan....or America for that matter!)
One of our friend's brother is stationed at Osan Air Base and suggested La Casa! It was tasty, the burrito was excellent and the salsa very spicy!

We had one last round of shopping before we headed back to Japan...

(I've still never been to Okinawa, the island off of Japan, but we flew into their air base to drop off a few crew members on our fight back to Atsugi....I took a picture just in case I don't make it there again, but I'm crossing my fingers that I do!)
It was a very quick trip and most unexpected, but who could say no to a free flight to Korea? Not us!