So, Christian and I are now in Korea.
How did that happen you might ask? It was some combination of family reunion and an offer to pay for my travel expenses and suddenly we are here in the heart of Seoul.
I am nothing if not a travel opportunist. Okay, an opportunist, slum and simple.
In any case, my sister and her family arrive a week from Friday, just in time for the Cho family reunion dinner (my mother is one of ten children, and even not counting the two uncles lost in war, and three siblings who immigrated abroad, that leaves a lot of relatives to dine with here in the city). My brother arrives in one week.
I look forward to sharing my parents with them, because it only took an hour before my parents had collectively decided that I needed to see a dermatologist to “take care of my face.”
Strangely the burden of my parents’ vanity seems to have passed to my shoulders only. They never seem to pay much attention to the skin quality or weight of my siblings. On the upside, I always go home determined to be that much kinder to my own kid. My parents, of course, both look terrific, despite their lamenting of weight gain.
Honestly, they mourn the passing of my youth more than I do. They don’t believe that I wear sunblock everyday – I mean, COME ON! I’ve lived in southern California for almost 20 years now. There is really no getting away from the sun, especially if you love the outdoors like I do.
It’s okay. My parents were happy to see me and I don’t mind the growing number of sunspots on my face like they do.
Christian is asleep and my parents just left for a round of golf. It’s been drizzling off and on all day, but I suppose they know best whether they’ll be able to play.
Korea is…
well, very comfortable so far.
The hospital (where my dad’s been teaching for the last year) put them up in an apartment complex within walking distance of the hospital, south of the Han River. It’s an upscale new city neighborhood, but not flashy so much.
This apartment complex, Xi, houses some insane number of families in 40+ high rises. (3,400 families) Stone’s throw from the entrance to my parent’s building, you can eat pho, do hot yoga, grocery shop and pay all your bills. It’s more like a town – the apartment buildings are built around the school buildings: one elementary, one middle, and one high school.
When Christian wakes up, we’ll venture out on our own for the first time – to the spa. It’s the sports complex and living here entitles you to two visits a day. Besides the gym with fitness machine galore (including those vibrating waist bands and inversion machines), there is a bath house with huge bathtubs (hottubs really) of various temps and fluids. One is green tea and 38 degrees Celsius. There are wet saunas and hot saunas, and even shallow whirlpools where you can lay down and have the jets pummel your body.
I can’t wait. I think the soaking will do me good. It’s only our second day here and we’re at the stage of jet-lag when it’s still painful to wake up, no matter how much we’ve slept.


Sometime during the trip...

I’m going to have to pause before I even begin and make myself a cup of tea. I can hardly keep my eyes open. Christian went down for a nap an hour ago at 4 pm – I hope he’s not thinking he’s going to sleep for the night.

Because last night, after a moment of fatal hubris when I thought we were already past the jetlag, Christian woke up at 1 am and then stayed up until 7 am. I made flax muffins and let him play in the kitchen for two of those six hours, but the rest of the time (besides taking him to pee/poo EIGHT TIMES) was me sincerely trying to get him to sleep.
To be continued…

Can you see how much Christian loves his cousin?

Backtrack and update on jetlag status:
1st night – slept 16 hours straight through and woke up at 4 pm.
2nd night – awake 1 am – 7 am. sleep until 9 am.
3rd night – baby stirs fitfully from 1:30 am – 2:30 am. needs to be taken to pee, but never fully wakes.
4th night – baby wakes to pee around 3 am. continues sleeping.

Dare I say, that I think the worst is past? Whew – just thinking about that second night is making my hands shake and boobs ache (baby nurses a lot when he’s jetlagged!)

Christian on a tuk-tuk ride.

The moral of the story is
that there is always a price to pay for a 14-hour time difference, but that jetlag is over before you know it.
Totally worth it (although I might not have said that after night two).

Last day in Bkk - no matter how I dressed Christian, he somehow always matched his cousin.

My baby is a traveling champ! Even the guy sitting next to me from LA to Taipei (14 hours) said so.

We boarded the plane at LAX around 3 pm Saturday after gorging ourselves on Mexican food at the airport (nothing tastes even remotely like Mexican food in SE Asia…)

I was loaded down: all the bits and bobs that couldn’t fit in my 100 pounds of check-in luggage were in my rolling carry-on, Christian was on my back, my backpack was on my front, and I carried Christian’s doll, Sterling (I need Sterling, Mama! says he) and our tickets in my hands. Mental note: shear at least half of that for the return flight.

But, we had ample time to mosey about before boarding, and Christian was thrilled to pieces that we were getting on a REAL LIVE AIRPLANE. He was beside himself actually, and that made him pretty easy to load up. The whole first hour was relatively easy.

Then I checked the flight info and realized I still had thirteen hours to go.
Two more hours later, I’d gone through most of my snacks (goldfish, gum, and animal crackers) and most of my surprise treats (matchbox excavator, autoblox car, and mushy bounce ball with tentacles to pull) and Christian was showing no signs of slowing down. He was up, he was down, he was in the seat next to me, we went to the bathroom at least 6 times (he peed each time), and I was running out of stuff to do with him. I’d even resorted to letting him watch the screen of the kid in front of us who never seemed to tire of SpongeBob SquarePants.

ELEVEN MORE HOURS. My back already hurt! I was wondering if it had been a bad idea to plan a trip to Asia with a 2-year old by myself. Last year, I’d been with Bella and my brother, so I’d at least had somebody to mind the baby when I needed to pee myself.

Then I got smart and stopped watching the clock. Counting the hours had really driven me to the brink of panic. Christian fell asleep briefly and I watched most of Leap Year (a rom com that never really lifts off) and had dinner (five-spice pork with rice). That respite gave me hope. By the time he’d woken up, I was feeling like – heck yeah, if I can do THIS, I can do anything!

We were in the two center seats in the center aisle (I had only purchased one ticket, but the steward had blocked the seat next to me to give me more space.) The two guys at either end of me were exceptionally nice. The older man to my left was Asian and slept most of the flight. I’m pretty sure he just turned off his hearing aid on the ear facing me, but he was very decent about getting up every other pee run (I alternated between disturbing my two neighbors) and climbed on top of the seats in order to pull my suitcase down from the overhead storage compartment at the end of the flight. He even insisted on wheeling it off the airplane for me.

The other guy was an IT guy from Boston going to Taipei for a three-day (24-hour flight for a three-day trip!!!) business trip. He loaned us his new iPad to read a beautifully illustrated Winnie-the-Pooh and fed Christian yogurt-covered almonds. Enough said.

So we just kept plugging away at entertaining ourselves. We sang songs, told stories, and doodled a bit on bits of cardboard and magazine pages. Then Christian feel well and truly asleep. Woo-hoo!

Instead of sleeping myself, I took the opportunity to knit a bit and to watch Invictus (great movie about Nelson Mandela) and a complicated Italian romance that involved no less than six couples, called My Ex (also good). The next time I checked, we only had four plus hours to Taipei, less than flying to the east coast, and a time frame that didn’t flip my mind.

Christian woke up, but was pretty relaxed. I broke open some more snacks (slim jims and pretzels) and toys (matchbox helicopter).

We landed in Taipei and went through the whole rigomarole of disembarking, catching shuttle trains to different terminals, passing through security again, and then waiting for nearly three hours before reboarding. Luckily, the gate was in a spacious downstairs room by itself – meaning, Christian could pretty much roam safely with his mini-skateboards and matchbox cars. I struck up a conversation with a woman who not only had a teenage son taking AP tests this week, but also had several rental houses in Yucca Valley and Twenty-nine Palms. We had plenty to talk about and the time passed quickly.

Christian fell asleep nursing as the plane took off. All I can say is Hallelujah. It felt miraculous. The stewardesses had found me three empty seats in a row at the back of the plane, so Christian was sleeping fully outstretched and I ate my sweet and sour fish in peace and read the first half of the new Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead in the Family. It was an enjoyable three hours.

I was very appreciative of the fact that Christian was still nursing. It totally saved my butt. Besides sleeping through all three meals (with three different sleeps) and needing more than carb snacks to be nourished, Christian was just plain comforted through the whole noisy and intense experience by nursing off and on, especially during take-offs.

I arrived in Bangkok somewhere around 1 am Monday morning and my brother-in-law met us and brought us home via taxi.

The flight ended up being very manageable and now we’re quietly jetlagged and spacey here in the comfort of my sister’s lovely home. I’ll post pics when I find a cord to hook my camera up to the computer.

Whew – very glad to be here and not to have to do that flight again for another six weeks. Impressed too, that Christian only had one miss during that entire trip from our house to Sue’s house. He peed a total of ten times in public restrooms! One poop too!

P.S. Never even ended up giving Christian the emergency lollipop I’d packed – nor did I use the grow-your-own-animals sponge pills.

Somehow I always seem to have more of an appetite for travel than the rest of my family, which seems (to me) easily solved by hopping off for a travel adventure on my own with baby in tow. But it always takes some time for Bella and Chad to come around to the idea. It’s not exactly the Kubler-Ross grief cycle, but close!

Resistance stage:
Chad: We can’t afford it.
Bella: You CAN’T go Mommmmm.

Bargaining stage:
Chad: You can go if I don’t miss Christian’s birthday.
Bella: You can go if you stay for less than two weeks. MOMMMMM, you CAN’T GO!

Acceptance stage:
Chad: I have some great bike rides planned for while you’re gone, and I’m going keep every surface in the house completely empty!
Bella: If you see some knock-off TIffany’s jewelry, I like necklaces – especially those silver rings that hang on a chain – wait, I have it pulled up on my computer right now…

My brother Songbae’s last missive from Cambodia:

“not necessarily in that order:

dinner – phnom penh has a lot of koreans and korean resturaunts. went to one last night called pyong yang. all the waitresses are from north korea. they sang some karaoke while we ate.

dreams – not about cambodia but a newspaper article i read while having breakfast in cambodia. when a school girl was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she said a government official. when asked what kind she said a corrupt one because they have lots of nice things.

decadence – there’s a fancy new hotel that i stopped by to check out today. at the spa i asked if there were separate steam rooms for men and woman. they said no, everyone gets their own individual jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.

massage therapist – how old are you?

me – 40 massage therapist – how come your face doesn’t look that old?

me – shrug

massage therapist – but your hair looks that old

massage therapist – are you married?

me – no massage therapist – oh, that’s so sad, sorry

massage therapist – what do you do?

me – i’m not working. i’m looking for a job?

massage therapist – they’re looking for a spa manager”

My brother is still whooping it up in SE Asia (as his 40th birthday looms near on the 21st of September…) and I got this email from him this morning:

“forgot to mention that i bribed a cop today when i got pulled over on
my scooter.

rented a scooter to get around.  was looking for a movie theater
(another story) and did a uturn on a one-way street when a cop
standing on the sidewalk waved for me to pull over:

cop: “one way”
me: “uh”
cop: “fine.  station.  more.”
me: “uh”
cop: silent
me: (watching about 20 other motorbikes go the wrong way down the
one-way street)
cop: silent
me:  “fine?  how much?”
cop: “up to you”
me: “how about 4,000 riel?” (4,200 riel = $1)
cop:  laughs
me:  “i don’t have a job and they just cancelled my unemployment
benefits because they think i’m whooping it up in bangkok” (didn’t
really say this, just thought it)
cop: “$5”
me: <gasp> “that’s how much it cost me to rent my scooter for one day”
(almost true.  it was $6)
cop: “cambodia very cheap”
me: <hmmmm> “$3?”
cop: “ok”

then the cop took me over to a nearby street stall so i could buy a
rain poncho (it was raining).  as i pulled away, he waved me over
again and before i could finish calculating in my head how much more i
was going to have to pay him he leaned over and turned off my turn
signal which i had left on.”

And in case you missed my account of how to bribe a Thai policeman from last year, you can read it here.

It’s taken three nights before Christian has stopped getting up for about 2 hours in the middle of the night perky and ready for the “day.” And another night of lots of waking, but not leaving the bed. But now with two regular nights of sleep under my belt, I feel ready to rejoin the living.

Whew. And to imagine that I was going to boast about how little jet lag I suffered when I arrived in Thailand. Normally, the jet lag is worst when I arrive in Asia, and not as bad when I fly home. But this time Christian and I painlessly adapted to our schedule in Bangkok, while my brother and Bella seemed dazed for several days; while it has taken me almost a week to get back to normal here at home.

My theories on how to avoid jet lag range widely, and ping pong back and forth between being completely sleep-saturated and rested before flying; and being sleep-deprived. I think now, that the first option is definitely the more effective one.

Typically before leaving on a big trip I am too amped up to sleep much the night before. Also, I frequently leave my packing to the last minute and often spend my last evening (and night) packing in a rush. This time though, armed with an advance (and long) list of things my sister needed from the States I started packing weeks before my departure. Meaning my suitcase was nearly completely packed almost a week in advance of my trip. Also meaning that the baby and I got many solid good nights of sleeping before leaving, so we were well-rested.

I was so well-rested, in fact, that I barely slept on the plane, though the baby did.

ALSO, my brother had been given a homeopathic remedy, an oral spray by Liddell Laboratories called JLg (Thank you Tara!), and I was the only one who ended up using it religiously every two hours during the flight over.

Despite the successful avoidance of bad jet lag on the way over, I tried almost the reverse on the way back. In an effort to break my sleeping pattern towards the end of my trip, I was staying up late at nights in Bangkok, sometimes until 3 – 4 am. The theory being that I was trying to break my body’s habit of sleeping during what is a California day before arriving in California. I don’t think that process was useful in the end, except for making me exhausted for my trip. Also I forgot an unreasonable number of possessions at my sister’s house. No regrets there though – had some great late night conversations alternately with my brother and sister – brother-in-law was always wise enough to hit the sack early. Furthermore, since I was traveling back by myself with the baby, it was harder for me to administer the Jlg spray, in fact although I had packed in my carry-on, I completely forgot about it.

I suppose it makes sense. If I wanted to prepare for an all-nighter, which is essentially what happens when I travel to a time zone 17 hours different than my own, I would get more sleep, not less.

So, in sum I need to remember to sleep well before my long trips to Asia and back. No more sleep experiments for me. I am getting past the age where a state of delirium is enjoyable, even when that state of daze is populated by dreams of Sookie Stackhouse and her various vampire lovers (did a whirlwind catch-up of True Blood while the baby was sleeping his days away).

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