IKEA Trip (For My Friends in GGCA's 7th Grade)

Recently, I received a package of letters from the 7th grade students in Greater Grace Christian Academy in Baltimore. Their letters asked questions like, "Are you having fun?" "Have you eaten anything really weird?" "What is your greatest challenge living there?" "What are you doing for the holidays?" "How were your trips to other countries?" I sat down yesterday and wrote an email that included a response to each student's question or statement, and I promised that I would send them some pictures of the trip I had planned to the new IKEA store that opened in Gwangmyeong. Instead of an email to the class, I think it is easier to blog my trip, so here it goes...

This is a picture I took in my room before I left the apartment on Friday afternoon. My orange inhaler and my gummy vitamins are on the bureau along with some other things I couldn't be bothered to clear away. I had my L.L Bean winter coat on with a pair of gloves and a hat in its pockets and I had my wallet with my subway card and money in it in my pants pocket, so, iPhone in hand, I was ready to go.

Before I could leave the house, however, I had to step out into the entryway to put on my shoes. Everyone in the house takes off their shoes in the entryway. Mine are the two pair at the top of the picture next to the LG screens that Jin, the man of the house, uses in his business. My shoes are the largest in the house and most everywhere else I go. I haven't been able to find a pair of shoes here in Korea that are my size, but I managed to find a bowling shoes in a size large enough for me to wear comfortably once here in Seoul.

 This is the door to the apartment where I am living. I don't know what this means, but it helps me remember which door is ours. One night when I came home from somewhere, I wasn't paying attention to the number of flights of stairs I had climbed and I ended up on the first floor instead of the second. The apartment doors here have codes that you punch in, not keys, to unlock the doors, and I was standing at the apartment door one floor below ours trying again and again, punching in the code for our apartment into the wrong door. After the third failure, I looked up and saw that the colorful word was not on the door and realized I was on floor number one, not floor number two. I scampered away up the stairs as fast as I could when I heard the occupant of the first floor apartment coming to investigate who was trying to get in his door. That was embarrassing.

This is the front door of the apartment building where I live. No, I have never gone to the wrong apartment building door, but I did mix up the numbers of the code to open this door once when I first moved in. Most people in Seoul live in apartment buildings. They are usually pretty tall and they do have elevators. I usually climb the stairs since it's only two flights and the elevator is always on some high floor, so it's faster (and less lazy for me) to climb up than to wait for the elevator to come down and then take it up just two floors.

Here is the little street I walk down every day. It's actually a road that enters off the main road into our apartment complex. It slopes downhill toward the big HomePlus store which is like a Walmart superstore, since it has one floor which is just groceries, and three other floors that have restaurants, a pharmacy, a florist, and a two-floor department store. There is a bus stop at the bottom of this little hill.

Here are the shops along the little street. There's a hair salon, a couple of real estate offices, a convenience store, a tae kwon do studio, a coffee shop, and probably some sort of tutoring school too, since those are everywhere. After school, most students head off for academic tutoring and other kinds of lessons. Education is very important in Korea and getting into good school is competitive, so students work a lot after school to improve their grades and to develop skills that may help them get into better schools. I often see groups of students with guitars on their backs heading off to lessons as I walk home from the subway, and you see students wearing uniforms even late at night, because they haven't been home to change yet.

Here is the corner at the bottom of the hill where the bus stops. You can see a guy there selling some sort of fresh produce from the back of a truck. This is not unusual. People set up temporary places to sell all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and even rotisserie chickens and sweets along the sidewalks near bus stops, subway entrances, and near apartment complexes where passersby can purchase them on their way home or to school or work. The buses are color coded. Green buses travel from subway station to subway station. I don't remember what the blue buses do. There are also yellow and (I think) red buses. Each has it's own particular routes and may make only a small loop around a specific area or go long distances between areas. The colors indicate that. 

As you may notice in this picture, the yellow bus has the name of an English school on it. I believe that this is a bus had some kindergarten age children in it when it rolled past me. SLP is a hagwon, a private after school (usually) academy. This one specializes in teaching English. I was standing near the intersection I have to cross to get down to the subway station when I took this picture. The stores on the street behind the orange taxi cab are (from left to right) a place to buy glasses, a fried chicken shop, a little shop that makes traditional Korean snacks, a bakery called Paris Baguette, a pizza shop called Pizza School, and a bank on the corner.I've only ever been to the bakery to eat.

Just outside the glasses store, there was a flatbed truck selling dried jujube fruits. People use them here to make all sorts of things. Jujubes (sometimes called Korean dates) are rich in Vitamin C, minerals, and antioxidants. I just like seeing piles of fruit.

Around the corner from the bank, you can see the approach to the subway station and the bus stop right next to it. Public transportation is highly efficient in Korea, and my transit card can be used to ride buses, the subway, some taxis, and even ferries, I've heard. People swipe their card on a reader on the bus and the jump out and go down to the subway and swipe it again, and if you make this transfer in 30 minutes or less, there is a discount on the second form of transportation. The idea is that everything is connected for convenience and keeping fares low. Furthe down this street is the shop where I get my haircut every month or so for only 7,000 won (less than $7.00)

Bonghwasan Station, Exit 3 is my stop. I like having the escalator going up and down. Not all stations have escalators and you have to get used to climbing lots of stairs if you become a regular subway commuter. 

Every subway station has some sort of convenience store. Many stations also have clothing stores, book shops, restaurants, cosmetic stores, and sometimes when you get off a subway train, you can smell fresh waffles being made by a little waffle shop. So tempting!

Beep! Swipe your T card and head down some more stairs to the platform to catch the train.

Wondering which side of the platform you should be standing on? Check the hand map written in Korean and English to see which direction the train you need to take is headed.

The nice thing about living at the end of a subway line is that the cars are empty when the doors open, and you have a good chance of getting a seat. The cars are kept very clean and the seat are heated in winter.

As you may have noticed, this Korean man is absorbed in his smart phone. On subway trains, the majority of people are playing games on their phones, watching videos, surfing the Internet, or listening to music on their phones. Others still read newspapers and books. Others sleep. 

It's time to transfer from Line 6 to Line 1. There are helpful signs that point you where to go in each station, but you have to have some idea which direction you are headed to make sure you are on the correct platform. Again, a smart phone app can help you with that.

After a long ride along Line 1 where I was reading a novel on my phone, I got off to catch a shuttle train to the stop where IKEA is. I was going to need to be on Platform 9. You can see the sign for that platform and maybe read the KTX logo on it. KTX is the high speed train that runs between major cities in Korea. It is FAST. I saw a few whiz by while I waited for my train. This is a picture of a platform vending machine filled with cold and hot drinks.

I took pictures of the outside of the new IKEA store, but they disappeared when I downloaded them from my phone, so only these ones of the food court inside IKEA remain. Not all of the food in IKEA here is Swedish, as you can see. You can buy bean sprout soup for 500 won (less than 50 cents), and bulgogi with rice and rice with fried kimchi are also available.

I opted for traditional IKEA foods and enjoyed Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, and mashed potatoes with gravy. For dessert was Swedish apple pie, but it tasted wrong to me and I don't recommend it. I could have eaten another plate of the meatballs, potatoes, and lingonberries. The cold fountain drinks were 500 won with unlimited refills, a rarity in Korea. That's Pepsi Max, folks.

 After dinner, I used the bathroom, which was very clean and pleasant smelling as far as men's rooms go, and then I wandered into the children's section to look at the stuffed animals and other toys. I was tempted to buy some stuff for the church nursery/Sunday school classroom, but I didn't want to haul it all on the subway. I bought a set of prints that can be framed and snagged a catalog to bring to church for future reference. Oh! If you go to this IKEA, don't buy the hot dogs. I tried one on the way out (1,000 won for a dog and a drink) and I almost tossed it in the trash after one bite. I smothered it in ketchup and mustard and used the drink to wash it down. I couldn't understand how they were selling so many of the cold, tasteless things. I wrote a comment about it on my way out.

IKEA was next to the LOTTE premium outlets which had a nice light display happening when I walked back toward the subway station.

Here I am again, heading down an escalator to board my train.

There are often interesting ads in the subway along with overhead screens showing how far away the next train to arrive is.

Cartoon characters like the Larvae teach  proper subway etiquette.

This poster shows the bad things that can happen if you get too absorbed with your mobile phone in the subway.

This is a map of the entire Seoul subway system. It may look small here, but the subway covers a huge distance north, south, east, and west of Seoul's center. I rode 90 minutes each way from my house to get to IKEA, but I could have gone much further. Maybe someday I will go as far as I can in each direction and see where I end up.

I hope this blog entry wasn't too boring for you, my 7th grade friends. I don't have a car here in Korea, and I really don't need one. I like having more time to read instead of having to drive from place to place. I did my Bible reading assignment the other day on the subway - about five chapters in Judges - and the time flew by. You also see some interesting people on the subway. The salesmen who sell shoe polish, indestructible flashlights, and other cheap things can be very entertaining. I like seeing the different styles of school and military uniforms and the crazy outfits that some of the older ladies wear. If you're a people watcher, you notice things, and you begin to see how unique each person God has made is. 

I remember hearing someone saying that "all Koreans look alike," but that is so not true. Perhaps there are some Koreans who try to look like other famous Koreans, but that's true in America too. We all want to look like the cool and beautiful people in the media, and on the surface, some do. But when you look beyond the hair, the makeup, and the fashions, everyone is different no matter how hard he or she tries to look the same. I find that in Korea I am more interested in the people around me than I am in America. I wonder what they do, what they are thinking, what they are saying and laughing about, and who they are. I don't know why this is. 

I love it when a bold little child hollers hello and waves at me and then shyly beams when I say hello back. I'm fascinated by the tiny old ladies with their tightly permed jet black hair that bustle around in hiking shoes and backpacks or muscle their way through crowds with mops to clean the subway stations and trains. I feel great respect for the young men with their short hair and military uniforms who seem so sober as they ride the subway to their bases. I want to help every student, young and old, whose nose is in an English study book, memorizing vocabulary words for a test. And every baby is so adorable that I want to hold him or her and try to draw out a smile.

All of you in 7th grade, I want you to know that you are each valuable and wonderful in your own way. Maybe you are quiet and shy and nobody notices you that much. That's okay. There is a place in this world and in God's family for people like you. Maybe you aren't good at something - sports, art, music, spelling, math, public speaking, writing...whatever. That's okay. Nobody is good at everything. You need to find what you are good at and not get down on yourself for the things you aren't good at. God has given different talents and abilities to each of us as human beings, and when we become believers and His Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, we all receive spiritual gifts that God uses to reach the lost and edify the saved. You will discover what those gifts are that make you precious in God's eyes and so needed by other people whose lives are affected by yours. 

Don't judge yourself by what you see or don't see in the mirror. The outward is just the surface of who you truly are and that can change drastically and will change as you grow older. Who you are inside right now, who you are becoming in these teenage years, is much of who you will be as an adult, so be careful how you lay the foundation of your character now and allow God to work in your life. No two people are the same, but we all have been made in God's image and have the same spiritual needs that only God can meet. You are in an amazing Christian school. It is the kind of school that parents here in Asia dreams their children could go to. Maybe there will be a GGCA in Korea or China or Thailand or the Philippines someday, and maybe God will call you to be a teacher there. You never know. Take time to study hard, play hard, and get to know the God who made and loves you while you are young. Your future is in front of you right now, but you can't see it, and soon you will be 18 years old and living in an adult world of choices and opportunities. Be ready.

I love you guys. This turned out to be more than a trip to IKEA, huh? Oh! I found it!

May he grant your heart's desires and make all your plans succeed. --Psalm 20:4, NLT


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