It started as a casual remark from a Korean customer. “It would be really nice if we could meet you face-to-face,” they said. This statement escalated into a mad rush of arranging a business trip to Seoul. I am sure many parents will empathize with me when I say that business travel is no longer the same, once you have children. What was previously a working-life perk, now becomes a dreaded, top-down edict from the bosses to you. In this particular incident, what made matters worse for me, was that my usual choice of back-up babysitters (namely, grandparents) was going to be out of town while I was travelling on business. As such, I had no choice but to make the unconventional decision to bring the children along to South Korea. Travelling alone with the kids would of course, not be possible since dragging the children along to customer meetings would appear extremely unprofessional. Thus, I convinced the husband to come along, for purposes of manning the children while I am engaged with “official” matters. For the rest of the time, we would treat this trip no different from a family vacation.
Ever since PSY’s “Gangnam Style” went viral in August 2012, many people have associated the Gangnam district of Seoul as the place to be seen, where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain degree of “class”. After doing some research, I instead, concluded that staying in Gangbuk, probably worked better for us since most of the landmarks and attractions are located on the North side of the Han River. We finally decided on a two bedroom apartment at Fraser Place Seoul Central and it proved to be a fantastic choice. Location-wise, it was a 5-minute walk from the City Hall Station. From City Hall, you could find your way easily to Myeong-dong, Seoul Station, etc. The apartment was huge and afforded space for all of us. With a full kitchen, 2 toilets, washer and dryer in the room, it really felt like a home away from home.
Since this was essentially a business trip, a Free & Easy arrangement would allow me the flexibility of interspersing meetings and excursions on a single day. Based on information collected, I found that most escorted tours that originated from Seoul, required a commitment of a full-day or at least half-day, in order to get a decent itinerary running. With that in mind, I started looking for car rental as well as suggested driving routes to various places of interest. For most of our self-drive vacations thus far, Google Map has proven itself to be a trusted GPS partner. As such, it was no surprise that I turned to Google Map again for this trip. It was at this point that I discovered that Google Map cannot be used in South Korea! I am not sure if it had anything to do with the tense political situation between North Korea and South Korea (maybe, the South Koreans deactivated it so that, should any unrest break out between the two states, important infrastructure information available in Google Map would not be available to the North? I am really making a wild guess here) during this period. Anyway, with no familiar GPS system to use, the husband and I finally decided to engage a private tour operator to show us around. To facilitate this, careful arrangements were made to pack all my business commitments to predefined “non-touring” days, keeping all “touring” activities on days with no business-related activities. After taking into consideration the reviews on Tripadvisor, pricing and service quality, we picked the operator “Colors of Korea” to provide airport transfers as well as take charge of driving us to places such as Mount Seorak, Nami Island and Suwon over 3 days.
Korean food is fantastic and this trip proved to be a mouth-watering experience. Almost all the meals that we had were delicious. As such, I will focus my reviews on those that left the deepest impressions.
Since the kids love the bingsu (A popular Korean snack composed of ice shavings and various ingredients such as sweetened condensed milk, fruit syrups, various fruits such as strawberries, kiwifruit, and bananas, small pieces of rice cake, chewy jelly bits, and cereal flake.) served at the Korean food joint near our home in Singapore, we specifically asked our guide to recommend a bingsu shop, popular with the locals. Seolbing @ Myeong-dong came highly recommended and after visiting it, we cannot agree more. The melon bingsu, served with a generous amount of sweetened azuki beans, was by far the best bingsu we ever had!
While visiting Sokcho City, our guide brought us to a place that served a BBQ selection of different kinds of fish and seafood. This turned out to be the best meal we had on this trip because not only was the fish extremely fresh and the squid “Q”, cooking was perfect. It is a pity that we have no recollections of how we got there.
Prior to visiting South Korea, I have already heard a lot about the NANTA performance, the longest running show in Korean history. As such, it did not take long for me to decide on using this opportunity to bring the children to watch the musical. Due to the lack of a language barrier (since it was a non-verbal show), everybody, including the 2 children, enjoyed the show tremendously.
As part of a family bonding and cultural immersion exercise, I arranged for the whole family to attend a kimchi making class at the Kimchi Academy House. Located a short distance from Myeong-dong Station, the Kimchi Academy House was not difficult to locate. Before the start of the kimchi making session, the instructor brought us a collection of traditional Korean attire for the children to try on for an impromptu photo shoot. The elaborate clothing was accompanied by hair accessories, hats and shoes.
At the end, only the daughter and I participated in the kimchi making. At 3 years old, the son was declared too young to handle the kitchen knife needed for chopping the marinated cabbage. As such, the husband was relegated to babysitting activities while I set to work, making kimchi with the daughter. The Academy helped in the preparation of all ingredients needed for the kimchi and our roles, comprised mainly of massaging the seasonings into the cabbage. At the end of the session, the instructor helped us vacuum pack our kimchi for easy shipment/transportation back to Singapore.
Although this South Korean business-cum-travel trip lasted only 5 days, it was truly an enjoyable and relaxing experience. The next time we are back, I want to venture to somewhere further from Seoul. Jeju, maybe.