Belgium

A few weeks ago Jason and I visited the lovely city of Brussels, Belgium for their biennial Flower Carpet Festival. Here are a couple of pictures from the trip!

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The Hotel de Ville, also known as the Town Hall. It has been in Belgium since the early 1400’s, and it’s tall spire can be seen from all around the city.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the king and queen. It is still a young building having been opened in 1934. It is quite large – as you can see I couldn’t even get the entire palace in one photo!

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This is just a lamp post… sorry, no crazy story to tell you here!

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Snapping a selfie in front of the palace!

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This is a statue of Godfried of Bouillon before he headed off on a crusade. Supposedly he shouted, “God wills it!” as he lept into the sunset, which I think is quite ironic considering that I doubt God’s blessing was on any of the crusade ventures.

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In front of the Church of St. Jacques there is appropriately a statue of, well, St. Jacques. I really enjoyed the shadows on the folds of his clothes at this time of day.

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A view at night of the flower carpet! It was lovely. Also very hard to get a picture of because of all the people, so unfortunately this is all I have!

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I told you that you could see the Hotel de Ville from all over the city! Voilla!

And there you are! A quick snapshot of our trip to Brussels. More ventures will follow!

Saarburg

A few weeks ago Jason and I visited a small town called Saarburg, a little hideaway town with a river running through the city center. We found some ice cream, some beautiful views, and some peace.

As you can see from the pictures, the town made use of the river by creating a water mill system. In Saarburg there is a “mill museum” you can visit to learn more about it, but Jason and I skipped that for this trip.

If you are interested in visiting, there are plenty of little shops and restaurants. I splurged and bought a teeeeeeeeny tiny hedgehog souvenir for 3 euro. Gasp. I know. Broke the bank.

Enjoy!

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What I learned about Castles

Well, I will be totally honest. The inside of the castle of Landshut was underwhelming. But according to Jason, going to see castles is more about the landscape around the castles than the castle itself. Sure it is cool to look up from the street and see this: 

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Super cool! But the inside of the castle was more like a large balcony… made of stone. So been there, done that. However, the view outside the castle was what made the trip worth while! It was such a peaceful place. Jason and I loved sitting at a small cafe inside the castle and looking out over the scene for quite some time. 

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So it turns out castle trips are totally worth it! If you are willing to breathe in some gorgeous scenery and just take a break. The truth about castles is that you don’t always have to be moving and going somewhere to have a good time! Sometimes you can just enjoy what is right in front of you. 

Visit to Trier

Today Jason and I visited Trier, which was my first real sight seeing trip in Germany! It has some really beautiful, very old sections in the city. 

We visited The Porta Nigra, which is a large Roman city gate. It is the oldest defensive structure in Germany (1700 years old!). 

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Kind of hard to miss.

We also couldn’t help but pass through the town square which was filled with all sorts of goodies!

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And finally, we visited The Church of our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche). This is the oldest gothic church in Germany built in the 13th century. 

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It was such a beautiful day outside after so many days of clouds and rain! I can’t wait to see where we visit next. 

The Truth About Flying

I have packed my bags many times, and let me just say that moving with the military has been so nice. There is SO much less stress to worry about with them coming to pick up all your stuff! When I was little, we moved back and forth from Africa several times. Each time we had footlockers full of books, boxes to ship, furniture to get rid of because we couldn’t ship it, etc… the list goes on and on and adds up to a lot of money. I love that the military just comes in and packs up all your stuff for you. 

With that being said, I also have a love/hate relationship with flying. Ever since I was little it has stressed me out so much. Everything about it is stressful up until you are sitting on the plane with your seatbelt on, taking off. Then I breathe and think,”Now the worst thing that could happen is a plane crash.” Because somehow the stress of missing my flight, my bag being too heavy, not having my ticket, and missing that little step in-between the plane and the terminal and falling into space are all much worse than the plane crashing. 

So I am here to tell you all the things that I do to minimize the amount of stress I have in the airport! I need this post as much as you do. 

At Least Two Months in Advance…

1. DON’T wait until the last minute. I know you are thinking about skimming this step as soon as you read that. Don’t do it. Read it. It is the most important step!!! Let it sink in. Yes, it is possible to get it done in the last minute. Sure, you can stay up the night before packing boxes to ship and shoving clothes into a suitcase (been there, done that). But take it from someone who has tried it both ways: my favorite way to spend the night before a big trip is curled up in my bed reading a good book. Is it possible? YES. But it takes *gasp*… planning! I know, take a deep breath.  

2. If you are questioning it… you don’t need it. It all starts several months before your trip… not a week before. You need to sort. You need to purge. Please do it for the sake of my eyes that burn when I stare at your Hawaiian shirt that Noah wore when he stepped off of the ark. I am all for waste not want not. But it is not wasting to take a bag to Goodwill. Right now I have so many boxes sitting in my room waiting to be shipped… SORT, SORT, SORT. I can not emphasize this enough. If I had not gone to Goodwill with all the stuff that I have not worn or kept because I didn’t know what else to do with it, I would have twice as much stuff in my boxes to ship with nothing  to do with it when it reached my destination. Hint: This is the absolutely BEST time to get rid of that gift that you really hated but felt obligated to keep… *oops… must have lost it in the move… darn.* 

3. If you are in the military and have the privilege of a TMO shipment… put as much stuff as you can in it!!! There are a lot of things that I kept out because I thought that I would need them, and now I am just having to ship them. And it is a giant pain in the pazootie. Just ship it. Take it from me. You can live without the lamp/tiny vase/high heels… etc. All things that I am getting rid of now *sniff, sniff* because it is not worth it to ship them. I will truly miss that lamp… alas. 

4. Use your “occasions” wisely! Birthday coming up? Ask for your bestie to pay for shipping for a box or two! Ask for a suitcase. Whatever. No shame. I know how you think, it is hard to ask for stuff you need when you want to ask for stuff that you want. I am here to gently tell you to put on your big boy/girl pants and start living in the real world. Money is money. And if someone is going to spend it one you willingly, at least put it good use, and not on ANOTHER thing you will have to ship. 

5. STOP buying stuff. Those heels? You’re gonna have to ship them. Those ten dresses that you just bought on sale? You just added five pounds to your suitcase. Oh a cute little do-hicky-ma-bobber that would look so cute in my new house overseas… Everytime you want to buy something extra after your TMO shippment has gone out, just think to yourself, “I am paying for the cost of this item plus a 17$ box to ship it overseas.” Just stop. You’ll save the money and you need the space in your bag. When you get to your location, shopping will still exist. 

One Month in Advance…

6. Check, double check, triple check, quadruple check that you have all your papers for flying… Keep them in ONE place all together. I suggest a bright folder labeled TRAVEL on the front. And yes, label it, because in the event that you leave it somewhere you can describe it easily to someone else. Print them out, on paper. I don’t care if you have an iPhone, iPad, whatever – I have that too. But something terrible will happen and you need a backup, I’m just saying. Your battery could die, you could drop your phone in the toilet, or just on the ground, or it could get stollen. You think I’m kidding, but you won’t be laughing when you are standing at the ticket counter with no ticket because your phone is dead. Who knows. Plan for disaster to happen and have a backup of everything

7. Address Change… Blech. If you know your new address, buy some little cards and get them ready to send out. Go ahead and address them and put stamps on them so that all you have to do is stick them in the mail. SO many people have asked for my contact information and rather than telling everyone individually, it’s easier for me just to send stuff out. If you have doctors that you go to, contact them and get a copy of all your records to keep. If you get any of those annoying magazines from companies you’ve ordered from, write “refuse” on the magazine next to where your address is and put it back into your mailbox so that the company will stop sending them. 

One Week in Advance…

8. Pack all your bags at least two days in advance. Why, you might ask? Well I shall tell you. DISASTER will strike. There is nothing like the horrible feeling of going to the airport and all you can think about is what will I do if my bag is too heavy. If you pack two days in advance, you have plenty of time to weight your suitcases. If they are too heavy, you still have time to take things out and ship them. Plus, what if you can’t fit all your stuff into your suitcase like you thought you could! I call it practice packing. You can unpack if you need to to get to your toiletries or whatever clothes you need. 

9. Final note about carry-ons: Pack a small blanket in your carryon, especially if you have a long trip. I don’t actually use it as a blanket. In addition to my neck pillow(which is cheesy and goofy looking and also amazing), I wad up the blanket and stick it on the seat on whatever part is inevitably poking me, making it impossible for me to sleep. Also pack at least one change of clothes. There is a huge possibility that your bag will get lost. It is a part of life. One or two clean pairs of unmentionables will save your sanity if it does happen. Don’t, on the other hand, pack your toothbrush and toothpaste. Just pack one of those little Colgate wisps (no this is not a promotion, they are not paying me in any way. I have used the product and I like it, that is all.). This way you don’t have to have that little ziplock bag in security and your teeth can still be clean on the plane 🙂 

The Night Before the big flight…

Charge all your devices. Then sit back and read a book, because all your bags are packed, everything is ready, and you are not stressed! Wooo!!! 

I’m telling you, SO much stress can be avoided if you just plan ahead. YOU can do it!!! It will revolutionize your life, this whole planning thing. 

Our God is a God who Provides

For those of you who may not know, I am back in the States! I wanted to share with all of you some of God’s provision for me on my trip back. 

Because of the high cost of return tickets, Jason and I made the decision for me to attempt to fly back home on the military version of stand by which is called Space Available. The way that Space Available works is unfortunately not in my favor. Once you sign up, your name is called based on category and the time that you sign up. Jason and I signed up as soon as possible, but of course we could do nothing about my category. I am a category 5 (out of 6 categories), meaning that I am a dependent who is not stationed permanently at OSAN Air Base. We had spoken to the employees at the terminal a few days prior to the flight, and they told us that in the past 3 months they had not gotten past a category 3. My chances of getting on a Space Available flight were slim, and even if I tried for several weeks there would be no guarantee that I would get a seat.

None-the-less, I packed up my bags and we drove to the terminal the morning of the first flight. Neither one of us had high hopes that I would get out that day, but we both continued to pray that God’s will would be done. We were really hoping that his will did not include us having to pay full price to buy my ticket home. 

I sat in the terminal and watched as one by one names were called and people got up to go get their ticket for Space Available. I was almost the last one in the lobby when lo and behold I heard my name called. It was a total miracle from God. This flight had the most seats available that they had had in months, over 40 seats. The price for my ticket? $29.00. 

This ticket got me all the way to Seattle, and once I landed I now faced the challenge of getting back home to Charlotte. Even as I stood in line at customs and wondered how much the ticket would cost to get me home, God was already at work to provide for me.

As it turns out, a close family relative who works for a popular airline was able to get me a stand by ticket into Charlotte for a mere fraction of the cost! Everywhere I turned, God was providing for me and my husband. I have nothing but praise on my lips for him and the ways that he continues to prove his faithfulness. 

Across the Border – Visiting the DMZ

The DMZ, for those who might not know, is short for the Demilitarized Zone. It is the no-man’s-land that marks the border between North and South Korea and is approximately 2 1/2 miles wide. It is the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

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Our trip to the DMZ began several miles away from the border at a small tourist attraction called Imjingak. Here a bridge appropriately called The Bridge of Freedom was built to bring 12,773 prisoners back into South Korea at the end of the war. Families who had loved ones in North Korea hung ribbons on the fence around the bridge in prayers for their safety, and many still hang ribbons there today.

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Next along our trip we visited the 3rd Tunnel, which can be seen on the first map above. Photos are forbidden in the tunnel, but in the image bellow you can see the loooong distance we walked from the upper platform to get down to see the tunnel. Needless to say, we did not work out when we got back in the afternoon. The picture is an accurate description of how steep it is! The tunnel was dug by the North Koreans in an attempt to make a surprise attack on Seoul. The tunnel is over a mile long and is 6 feet by 6 feet. We bumped our heads many times!

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After visiting the 3rd Tunnel, we visited Dorsan Station. Dorsan Station is a railroad that was opened in 2001 and visited in 2002 by President George W. Bush. It was meant to be a railway that would bring reunite families. Saddly though, it has never been used. You can still purchase tickets for the a “ride” to the capitol city of North Korea, Pyeongyang, for about 50 cents (hint: you will not be leaving the station…). Signs of hope inside the station read, “Not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North.”

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Finally, we visited the Joint Security Area (JSA). This was definitely my favorite part of the tour, but it was also the scariest.

NOTE: Upon request I have added a few rules for visiting the DMZ.
1. Dress modestly! If possible, wear a collared shirt with pants/skirt bellow your knees. Close toed shoes are best due to the walking.
2. Do not make any gestures. No pointing, nothing. No contact of any kind with the North. Do not react if agitated or spoken to by anyone from the North.
3. Feel free to bring your cameras but obey 100% of the rules the guards give you about taking pictures. They are very specific about what you can and cannot take pictures of.

Those are the most important things! They will go over everything else in a short briefing.

Before we even entered the area, we had to sign a doccument stating that we were aware that we could be injured or attatcked by the enemy while on the tour. We also had to go over a briefing of the Korean war and we were told we could not make gesures (pointing, hand waving, obscene) of any kind. Pictures were also extremely restricted on the tour.

The Joint Security Area was constructed to be a place where both North and South Korea could come together peacefully. It was only meant to be a temporary establishment with the hope that a treaty would eventually be signed and the war would be over. The red line in the diagram below is the dividing line between the North and South. The blue buildings you will see in pictures to follow are the white buildings bisected by the red line in between the Home of Freedom and Panmon Hall. The pictures were taken in front of the Home of Freedom where you are only allowed to take pictures facing towards Panmon Hall, turning neither to the right or the left or behind you.

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The guards here are there to protect us, the tourists. As soon as we left the area they went inside. In contrast, one North Korean guard stands outside of Panmon Hall (the large grey building) all day, looking at tourists through his binoculars. Our tour guide (the soldier in the foreground of the picture) told us that the guard has no idea what he is looking for, he is merely there to intimidate. While we stood there, a camera inside of Panmon Hall took pictures of us. It’s nice to know that the North Korean’s care about us enough to put us in their scrapbooks!

We were allowed inside of the blue building on the left and we could step over into North Korea but only while inside the building. We learned that the guards you see with white stripes on their helmets stand in a modified Tae Kwan Do stance with stone faced expressions in a show of indifference and strength towards North Korea. The two guards on the outside positions stand with half of their bodies obstructed by the buildings in order to be better protected in case of an attack.

While in the JSA, we were also taken to an outpost where we could look out over what the South Koreans and the US Military call Propaganda City. The city of Kijong-dong obtained this fond nickname because of the loudspeakers that blasted propaganda towards the south until 2004 to try and get South Koreans to defect to the North. They praised their wonderful leaders, and condemned both South Korea and the United States. An interesting little fact about Propaganda City is that its population is 0. That’s right, the city is completely fake! In fact, the buildings are hollow with painted on windows. Our tour guide said that despite the fact that they are lit at night, the light fades going from the top of the building to the bottom. There are lights at the top of the buildings, but they are merely hollow shells! During the day, the city brings in some people to work and ride around but it’s all a show. No one actually lives there.

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Despite the fact that the JSA is meant to be a place of peace between North and South Korea, the North Koreans have definitely spilt their share of blood in the so-called “safe zone.” In 1976 a United States army officer was murdered with an axe by a North Korean while trying to trim a tree that blocked the view of an observation tower.

Our tour guide told us that they are still continually harassed by North Korean soldiers. The worst harassment he had seen was when he was on a tour in the same buildings we visited and the North Koreans began to bang on the glass so hard that they feared it would break.

It was definitely a sobering trip to visit a place that is so close to me, and yet is a completely different world from the one I live in every day. Outside of the DMZ it seems like most of South Korea forgets about the North in their day to day lives. No one talks much about what the North is threatening to do, or the horrors that they have inflicted on their people.

I could tell you stories all day long about the horrors that the people of North Korea are still facing today, but I will let you read them for yourselves. I have posted links below to both articles and books that you can read on the subject if you are interested in learning more.

So after all this, what are we to do? Sure my husband is serving in the Air Force, but what can I do on a daily basis for the people of North Korea? We can make use of one of the most powerful tools available to us – prayer. Pray that the eyes of the people of North Korea will be opened to their abuse, and that the hearts of surrounding countries like China will soften towards their plight. Pray for courage and strength for the innocent people of North Korea as they struggle daily to provide food for their families and to survive horrible torture. And most of all, pray that God will perform a miracle and soften the heart of the leaders of North Korea. Sometimes we think that things like that are impossible, but the Bible tells us that God softened the heart of Pharaoh and let the Israelites leave Egypt. God is still in control, and he can still work miracles today.

A North Korean Defector’s Story – An article by Justin McCurry

Nothing to Envy – A book by Barbara Demick

Escape from Camp 14 – An article by Blaine Harden (also a book by the same title)

Interview with Shin Dong Hyuk – YouTube video interviewing the person from Escape from Camp 14

Chopsticks and Other Such Things

I am so terrible with chopsticks. I am slowly getting better though for one simple reason – most restaurants only provide you with chopsticks and a spoon. Have you tried eating noodles with a spoon? Good luck. 

Despite the fact that I will never win in any kind of Chopstick Olympics, I am pleasantly surprised that many Koreans don’t use their chopsticks. WHAAAAAAT you say? Nope. Here we are in a restaurant, little Americans trying to blend in and be all, “Look at me I can use chopsticks to eat my sticky rice,” and we look over and half of the Koreans in the restaurant are using their spoon. Granted they do use them for for a lot of things. But if forks are available, you’d be surprised how people many ditch the sticks.

So here’s my take on chopsticks: I use them for grabbing big things that won’t make me look silly. If it’s tiny, I use my spoon. 

On to another wonderful topic, my new favorite Korean dish! Pot Bulgogi! Here is a picture of what it looks like, more or less. 

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Basically, it is made up of marinated beef, glass noodles, mushrooms, onions, and well a bunch of other things. As you can see at this table, this dish and many other asian dishes come with a plethora of other sides which you can eat strait or pile in your bulgogi. It might comes with kimchee, bean sprouts, rice, spicy cucumbers, sometimes little dried fish, egg noodle thingies, or other things. We have eaten a meal before where our entire table was filled with little tiny bowls of side dishes. 

Another question you might ask is,”Why are there scissors on the table?” To cut up your meat! Many Korean dishes involve raw meat which you literally cook at your table. There will be a sort of grill at each table like this: 

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Your waiter or waitress will usually place the strips of meat on the grill for you and then you are provided with scissors and tongs. You then cook the meat and cut it into strips! This doesn’t actually come with pot bulgogi unless you get it raw, which I’ve never done. Usually, once you cut the meat you place it inside of a pice of lettuce along with rice and whatever else you want. Then according to the Koreans you are supposed to shove the whole thing into your mouth. Yeeeeeah I don’t do that… but basically it’s a lettuce wrap. Super tasty.

Okay so that’s my food blog for now! Hope you are all ready for some Korean cooking when I get back! Minus kimchee… no thanks. 

 

Nami Island and The Garden of Morning Calm

My first Saturday here, and already we are tromping about the country! Yesterday we took a bus to Nami Island and afterwards to The Garden of Morning Calm. Nami Island is named after General Nami and is supposed to be a place of love and harmony. They have tons of arts and crafts on the island as well as music, book festivals, and incredibly tall trees! The Garden of Morning Calm is a garden that was created because there were not really very many botanical gardens in Korea and they wanted something to commemorate all the beauty in the country. I wish we had more time in the garden because it was seriously the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen!! Here are a few highlight pictures.

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Looking out at the Island as we came in on a ferry. 

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Look out over a pond on the island at the pavilion.

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White lantern walkway on Nami Island

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A small stream runs through the Garden of Morning Calm, and everywhere people were picnicking on the rocks and playing in the water. 

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The Garden is surrounded by beautiful rolling hills! It is simply gorgeous. 

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After walking through at least ten separate gardens of various types, you get to a small pond with a waterfall and this bridge with a gazebo thingie. 

Thoughts on Traveling

SO I finally made it to S. Korea!!! Praise God! The flight was incredibly long, but I made it in one piece! I won’t bore you with every single detail of my trip, but I wanted to share a few humorous thoughts I had while going through the airport and flying and such. Enjoy!

Listening for my boarding group: Yeah you should know that no one can understand what you’re saying… I know this is my plane, so I’m getting on.

When passing all the people in first class: Back with all the peasants I go!

When flying over Lake Michigan: It would reeeeally stink if the plane crashed right now… At least I would get to pee.

When navigating through the O’Hare airport: I will conquer you, flying jungle!!! *imagines jumping over a pond of piranhas*

When flying Asiana air: What is this hot cloth for… *sneakily looking at the people around me* Oh snap… that’s brilliant. (They pass out these little heated wash cloths to wipe your hands off before you eat!)

When looking out my window while flying over the arctic: That’s a lot of clouds… wait… Oh shoot that’s snow! *please let me see a polar bear!!!*

When using the restroom on the plane: There is a toothbrush in here. And a teeny tiny tube of toothpaste. That’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

When navigating through Incheon airport: Look for English… and other white people. *Please oh please let my bag be here…*

When looking for Jason at the airport: Look for the white guy running towards you… Yup. There he is!!!