Visiting the Great Wall

We finally checked another thing off our bucket list…almost 4 months ago haha. Here’s some pictures from the Great Wall of China! We visited in the beginning of June. We paid a lot of money to hike on an unrestored part and got the luxury of having no tourists for most of the journey. 5 hours hiking the wall had our legs feeling like Jell-O.

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Overall, Beijing itself wasn’t great and we wouldn’t go back. But the Great Wall was an unforgettable experience.

The best part about Beijing (besides the Great Wall) was eating Beijing duck!

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We also took some time to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

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Hong Kong

In the beginning of April, we had 3 days off of work so we took the opportunity to visit Hong Kong. Even though we’re close enough to Hong Kong to just make a day trip, we decided to treat ourselves and stay the weekend. It was such a unique place full of art, great food, and people from all over the world. Everyone speaks English, so life was easy for a few days.

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We took a train from Guangzhou to Shenzhen which took a little more than an hour. From Shenzhen, you can walk across the China/Hong Kong border and go straight into the Hong Kong metro station. After arriving in Shenzhen, we bought some Hong Kong currency and were across the border within 30 minutes. The customs inspection is pretty relaxed.  This was China’s side of the checkpoint before crossing into Hong Kong.

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Our hotel was on Hong Kong island away from a lot of the shopping areas. We did a lot of eating, drinking, and exploring!

 

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Check this guy out!

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We visited Victoria Peak where you can see most of Hong Kong on a clear day. The weather wasn’t on our side but we still had great views.

 

 

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During the day, we took the ferry to Kowloon instead of using the metro.

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We spent our nights in Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). This place is always busy at night and has tons of bars and restaurants. It was a lot of fun! We got to catch the end of the Sevens Carnival in LKF. A lot of the rugby players were out and about in their uniforms.

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We definitely didn’t get to spend enough time in Hong Kong, so no doubt we’ll be going back for more soon!

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China China China

 

We finally have enough down time to update you on our recent move to China! Moving across the world again and starting a new job has been a huge adjustment. It wasn’t quite as shocking as the first time we stepped foot in Korea, but it’s still a big change.

We’re now official residents of Guangzhou!

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We’re loving the big city. Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, after Beijing and Shanghai. We don’t have to drive motorbikes to get around anymore. There are actually functional public transportation systems here! The food is beyond great. It’s also super cheap to eat out if you eat Chinese food, so we only have to cook about half of our meals. Sometimes we honestly don’t even know what we’re eating, but it’s almost always delicious! Go China.

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We’e renting a 2 bedroom apartment in the city. Can you believe we actually sleep, shower, eat and watch TV all in different rooms now?! It’s a HUGE upgrade from our little box in Korea.  We’ll give you a GoPro tour once we’ve cleaned!

When we arrived in the beginning of March, our awesome company put us up in a hotel for 2 weeks until we secured an apartment. We really haven’t been in the apartment that long, but things are finally falling into place. We went through a couple weeks of training before we started work in our centres. Our company has schools scattered throughout Guangzhou, so we’re working at separate schools not far from our apartment. It’s been  a great experience so far and EF has made the transition to China quite easy.

We recently had a long weekend so we took a trip to Hong Kong. We’re still in the process of uploading the pictures to WordPress (yay terrible China internet) so you’ll see the Hong Kong post soon.

zàijiàn!

 

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Osaka Adventures

Recently, we took a holiday trip to Osaka, Japan. It was no Tokyo, but we still enjoyed our stay. Since we’ve discovered the greatness that is Airbnb, we rarely use hotels on our trips. We had a nice loft-style apartment for half the price and twice the size of a hotel!

The first 4 days were filled with exploring and LOTS of walking. By the time we saw everything we wanted to see, we decided to spend the next 4 days setting NO alarms and doing whatever we wanted to do on the spot. This meant sleeping 12 hours a night and filling our stomachs at Kura Sushi when we woke. At this particular chain, the sushi comes around on a conveyor belt and you just grab what you want. Each plate is 100¥ (about 90 cents), so about $10.00 would have us pretty full!

Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

The Osaka Aquarium


Namba
Namba was the area where all the action was. In other words, it was way too crowded this time of year. There were plenty of intoxicated people to laugh at.


Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is basically a Japanese pancake. The batter is pretty thick and contains flour, cabbage, and other ingredients that you get to choose. We usually got beef and potatoes in ours. We repeatedly went for Okonomiyaki while in Osaka. It was second only to the sushi!

Takoyaki
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped snack filled with flour, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, green onions, and OCTOPUS. Yes, Lyndsey actually voluntarily ate something with octopus in it… Of course, Matt loved it!

Kuromon Ichiba Market
This fish market was insane. We were packed in there like sardines! Take a look at the interesting variety of sea creatures you can devour.

As always, it’s nice to have a vacation and it was good to get out of Korea for a bit. Unfortunately, Osaka was PACKED with people everywhere so it wasn’t enjoyable at times. Here are a few more random pictures from our trip.


 
Here’s a video recap of our trip. We only brought the GoPro out for a couple of days so we didn’t capture everything.

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Changes

Sorry we haven’t posted in ages! We have big changes ahead. We’re no longer in Korea! You’ll hear about our next adventure very soon. Life has definitely gotten in the way. We didn’t forget about you.

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Fall Fun

It’s finally fall and the weather is perfect! Korean thanksgiving, aka Chuseok, was in September. We got to dress up in hanbok and have a little party with our kindergarten classes.


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We’ve had some birthday parties and field trips to the park and the beach, too!


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The nice fall weather has allowed us to have a lot of fun with the kids outside.


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Our most recent field trip was to a nice park where we had a picnic.


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We spent a weekend in Busan for Lyndsey’s birthday, so we’ll tell you about that in the next post!

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JSA/DMZ and North Korea

In the beginning of August, we took a tour of the JSA (Joint Security Area) at the North/South Korean border. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Seoul to get to the DMZ. As a regular citizen, you can’t just visit unless you’re with a tour. We were only allowed to take pictures in certain areas, so that’s why this post will have more writing than normal to describe the experience. We took this tour just 5 days after the land mine incident where 2 South Korean soldiers were injured while on their normal guard duties. At the time, our tour guide told us that rain carried the land mines to a different spot where they were stepped on by the soldiers. Currently, tensions are high as the South is blaming the North for deliberately planting the land mines.

We left from Lotte Hotel in Seoul around 8:00am on a Saturday morning. For the most part, we stayed on one highway that kept taking us farther north. Things felt a little eerie the closer we got. About 20 minutes into the drive, we could see the river that separated North from South, and got a steady view of the “other” Korea. We started to see guard posts consistently spaced out for the military to keep watch over the North. Barbed wire covered the fence along the highway. This was to keep enemies from the North from crossing the frozen river in the winter and climbing the fence. This had happened in the past before the barbed wire was up.

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As we approached the entrance to the JSA, we saw Daeseong-dong (“Freedom Village”), which is 1 mile south of the Bridge of No Return. This is the only civilian habitation within the southern portion of the DMZ.


Here’s the Bridge of No Return. It crosses the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) between North and South Korea. They used this bridge for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War in 1953.

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Sitting opposite Daeseong-dong on the North Korean side of the DMZ, is Kijong-dong. When viewed from the South Korean side, it looks like any normal town with apartments, a hospital, schools, etc. In reality, it’s a fake “town” built to compete with the South’s Daeseong-dong. The buildings and apartments are not real and are not in use. No one lives here and it’s purely for show.

This is Daeseong-dong.

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Only a small number (around 200) of South Korean residents live here and they are some very well-paid farmers. The residents here are exempt from paying taxes and having to serve in the military. Serving about 2 years in the military is required for all other South Korean males. Newcomers cannot just move in. Women who marry men that are already residents of Freedom Village are allowed to move in. Men who marry women of Freedom Village are not allowed to move in. Residents have a curfew and must be inside with their windows and doors bolted by a certain time each night. For their safety, the village is kept under watch by the military.

Here’s the North Korean fake town of  Kijong-dong opposite Freedom Village. They even had to build a flagpole bigger and better than the one in Freedom Village.

Photos by Edward Johnson IMCOM- Korea Region, Public Affairs Officer U.S. Army Official Photograph

Photos by Edward Johnson
IMCOM- Korea Region, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Official Photograph


Our tour guide said that the mountains on the South Korean side were always greener than the mountains on the North side because the North must cut down many trees each year. They use the wood for heating in the winter since the people outside of Pyongyang have no electric heating system.


Our first stop was Camp Bonifas where we got a briefing before heading to the conference room. We also had to sign a waiver acknowledging the dangers in touring the JSA. Even though we knew the chances of anything happening to us were slim to none, it was still a little unnerving signing something that had the words “possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action” in it.

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Camp Bonifas is named in honor of US Army Captain Arthur G. Bonifas who was killed by North Korean soldiers in the “Axe Murder Incident” while cutting down a tree.


After having a soldier come on our bus, look at our passports and inspect our outfits, we were given the “OK” to proceed.

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We weren’t allowed to take any pictures until we got to the area outside the conference room facing North Korea. We got off the bus and all congregated inside a building to hear the rules before stepping outside to go to the conference room. We were not to point, wave, or show any gesture while facing the North. We were to only take pictures and videos when they said we could and we had to stand still until they told us we could walk forward. We could not take any pictures or videos facing South Korea, only North. Everyone stayed silent as we walked outside. It was creepily silent at the border, except for buzzing crickets. The South Korean soldiers stood guard with their fists clenched facing the North at all times.

Here’s our own video of the border. The grey building is North Korea’s. The ground with the tan dirt is also North Korea’s.


Jared was the only kid in the whole tour. Not many 14 year old American kids can say they’ve been to the JSA and stepped foot in North Korea! Dad took a video of the North, but went too far on either side and got a minuscule view of the South in his video. Our designated South Korean soldier quickly walked over and asked to see his video. After watching it, he deleted it and told him he couldn’t have even the slightest bit of the South’s side in his video. He wasn’t angry or mean about it, he was just following the rules. He was very nice and let Dad take another video.

This is what we got to see. These pictures are outside the blue conference room in the middle facing North Korea. The conference room is where the dividing line is and where everyone on the tour gets to step over the line into North Korea. We would go there a few minutes after we took these pictures.

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Here, you can see a North Korean soldier staring back at us outside their grey building.

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Next, we were told to line up in single-file so we could go into the conference room. This is where North and South Korea hold important meetings together. One side of the room is the North’s side and the other is the South’s side. Being first in the single-file line meant we had to enter and go to the back of the conference room, North Korea’s side. So we were pretty much as far into the North as anyone could go! The door behind us in the pictures you’re about to see leads right outside to the North. Although we had a guard standing by us for protection, Lyndsey still had to keep looking over her shoulder to make sure no one was going to come through that door behind us…Haha.

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Here’s a picture of our position in the conference room. The side with the dirt is North Korea’s side. Supposedly, the North didn’t want to put rocks on the ground like the South’s side because it’s the sacred ground of their Supreme Leader.

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After a few minutes of snapping pictures and taking it all in, we were ushered out of the conference room and that was it. It may have only been a very short time, but it was the experience of a lifetime getting to visit and step foot in what has been called ‘the scariest place on earth’.

We bought some DPRK money and a shot glass at the visitor’s center. Kim Il Sung is on the face of the 100 won note.

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These sunglasses the soldiers wear can make you look tough!

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After leaving the JSA, we went to Imjingak. It’s a 3-story building with restaurants and an observatory about 7 km away from the DMZ. It was built in 1972 with the hopes that unification would someday be possible. Imjingak is surrounded by some monuments, Unification Park, and North Korea Center.

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From the observatory, you can see the railroad tracks that used to be in operation to bring supplies to the North.

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On our way back to Seoul, we were taken to a traditional Korean restaurant as part of the tour and they served us a nice lunch. Dad and Jared got to have some real Korean food!

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Because of recent events, South and North Korean officials are currently holding important meetings at Panmunjom inside the DMZ right where we visited.

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