I’m awaken at 7:30 AM by a knock on the bedroom door. It’s Sunny and she crashed with her sisters and mom once again – laughing, talking, and playing cards well in the wee hours of the morning. As you’ll recall they sleep on the floor together – like a sleepover, but for 30 to 80-something-year-olds.

There are many things that have drawn me to this wife of mine over the past 25 years and seeing this 40-something act like a giddy 12-yr-old around her family is one of them.

Despite thousands of miles of physical separation from them, they’re joined at the hip and despite being a full-fledged United States Citizen and living in the states for more than 22 years, when Sunny goes back to visit her family it’s as though time was frozen from the time she left. Sure everyone is a year older; and some have died and been born since her previous visit, but she doesn’t skip a beat.

It’s sort of like living with a double agent, I imagine. Every day you think you know everything about this person…and then one day you overhear her talking in a completely different language about things you have no idea to people you barely know. It’s surreal in a sense but you get used to it. It’s sort of…fascinating.

We walk to Sunny’s brother’s friend’s business – an office of some sort that resides above the town post office. It’s a bit chilly, but tolerable – “jacket weather”as we call it back home. We sit outside the post office catching a free wireless ride from his business upstairs. The friend had said we are more than welcome to use his wireless connection any time we’d like, and fortunately we can sit outside on the post office steps – day or night – and get on the internet to check mail and I can update https://trippingwithsunny.wordpress.com.

I log into www.logmein.com, an online service that allows me to log in to my home (or work, or any computer I’ve set up beforehand), and it’s though I’m there using the machine I’ve just logged onto. Great news has arrived!

The day before we left for our trip we signed all of the closing documents on a condo outside of Orlando for our son to live in while he attends The Golf Academy of America. Word has just been confirmed that the condo closed without incident and our son moved in already! Had any of the paperwork not been approved for whatever reason we would have missed the closing and it would’ve caused big problems, but fortunately it’s all behind us now and we can truly enjoy our trip.

“Yessssss!” I mumble in my best Napoleon Dynamite voice.


Eating Nemo

With the trip to Bakeje and the hydroelectric plant complete, we cross the bridge (about 3 miles long) to the Fish Market.

It is flipping huge and spans about 3 full city blocks if the buildings were all stuffed together. Here are a few of the buildings.

Fish (and seafood in general) is a Korean staple and usually served at least once a day as a meal. While staying with Sunny’s brother and family, because Kunsan is a coastal city, we eat seafood every meal. Most of it is delicious but there are a few dishes I prefer to stay away from.

The outside was impressive, but I’m blown away by the sheer number of edible fish, crustaceans, anemone, and sea bugs inside.

The vendors are seasoned hawksters, baiting (I’ll take a sympathy chuckle whenever I can) prospects into their kiosks and shops with such outrageous claims as “freshest fish in the market!”

How one could claim they have the freshest fish I am uncertain as all of the sea life is alive, breathing, ready to be pointed at, paid for, and filleted on the spot. Regardless, they’re each doing their best to attract buyers of scale. (you smirked didn’t you?)

Now, dear reader, if you are allowing your pre-teen children to read up until this point, I caution you to please cover their eyes – or better yet – leave the room. For what you are about to read and see may offend; it may scar them for life; and it may make them (and possibly even you) throw up a little – or even a lot – in your mouth.

You have been warned.

First, the description.

Within the fish market resides a very odd creature. I want you to imagine what it would look like for an ocean-Johnson to reside at the bottom of the sea. Believe it or not there exists uncircumsized sea penis.

And people eat them.

Sorry it’s a little shaky. I was so stricken by these dongs-of-the-sea that I couldn’t hold my hand steady for fear of puking.

Whomever caught one of these …things… for the first time and said to themselves, “this looks delicious! I must boil one up immediately!” was either off his rocker or hungry to the nth degree because these sea penii just do not look as though they were meant to be eaten.

As you can clearly see, they’re brown and about the size of the human adult you-know-what, both in length and circumference.

Oh and of course they are of all different sizes from about 3″ (I wonder if he gets teased in the sea locker room) to about 10″ (the John Holmes of the sea slug world).

Fortunately our group was not in the mood for sea penis tonight so we’re buying 2 flounders for sushi instead.

Pluck, pay and fillet – and we’re out the door in 10 minutes…and down $100. The seafood vendor threw in about 20 mussels so all-in-all it was a pretty sweet deal.

Back at Sunny’s brother’s home we scarf down said sushi with wasabe and soy sauce. It was delicious. After a couple of drinks with 2 brothers-in-law it’s off to bed around midnight.

Trip to Baekje

Splash-shower now complete, Sunny, the Twins (Ok Sun from Japan and Kum Sun from Seoul), sister from Kunsan (Hyun Suk), sister from Iri (Ok Cha) and I head to Baekje, which is named after one of the 3 Korean kingdoms.

Bakeje entrance

Lots of ancient Korean history here including artifacts and recreated buildings. Within the city resides a rebuilt town of full-size ancient buildings on about 100 acres of land. There is the town bronze shop and the bronzer’s home, the thatch roof specialist’s home, the township leader’s home, etc.

Although the pics didn’t turn out, I observe several similarities between ancient Korean (and Asian for that matter) structures and Native American structures, including totem poles and homes built into the earth.

There are also displays and workers of the traditional town dressed up in traditional Korean Hanbok attire who perform various traditional tasks like playing drums and dancing…

…as well as an area where craftsmen create flower “sculptures”.

Baekje flower sculpture

Sunny flower sculpture

flower sculpture Christmas tree

Bakeje flowers

We spend a couple of hours there and then head to the new hydro-electric plant. Yeah the plant is cool and all, but the highlight of this side trip lies about 3 miles across the bridge from the hydro-plant – a ginormous Fish Market that stretches several city blocks in all.

It’s like going to an aquarium with lots of sea creatures on display – but these scaly and slimy animals are for dinner. I’ll cover the Fish Market in my next entry as this one is getting a bit long and it’s deserving a post all its own.

Showering Korean style

Yesterday I chronicled Korean space-age toilets and how we Americans need to get on board with crapping in comfort. Today, however, I’m going to propose a suggestion to showering Koreans.

I’m begging you – please get rid of pans and flip flops in the bathroom!

The average Korean shower is comprised of a simple shower head on a hose which is hung on the wall anywhere from just above belly-button to neck high. There is a drain in the floor of the bathroom. Some Korean showers have tubs, but they don’t use shower curtains.

Korean shower

Get where I’m going here? Yeah, when taking a shower the water sprays everywhere.

When using the bathroom for anything but showering, Koreans wear flip flops to keep their feet dry because the floor of a Korean bathroom is perpetually wet.

Oftentimes the shower diverter is connected directly to the sink so to get the shower to function you pull or twist the knob attached to the sink, not the shower itself.

I’ve been here only one day so far this trip but taking a Korean shower is like riding a bicycle – once you do it you don’t forget how.

But that doesn’t mean I’m good at it, even with 2 years of daily experience when I was stationed here. Here’s how Koreans shower.

They have a big plastic pan on the floor – two pans actually – one is just a regular pan and one with a handle. I’ll call the one with a handle a splash pan and the other a fill pan.

Since my pics of said pans didn’t come out, and since everyone knows what a regular plastic pan looks like, this is a staged pic of a Splash Pan…

Plastic Korean shower splash pan

I think the neighbor girls down the road used these with their Fischer Price Kitchenette when they were growing up. Who knew these things were multi-purpose?

The showeree fills said fill pan with warm water, squats low to the floor, then takes said splash pan and splashes water over their body. While they’re refilling the fill pan, they soap and shampoo up and down.

Once they’re done lathering they repeat the splashing process until all visible remnants of soap and shampoo are removed. At this time they may also shave, still squatting.

If there was an Olympic sport for The Speediest Shower, the Gold, Silver, and Bronze would undoubtedly go to Korea every 4 yrs. The avg. Korean is done with a complete squatting splash shower/shave in 6 minutes flat.1. I swear they have timers.

If one were to use the shower that hangs on the wall like we Americans are used to using, that is turning it on, standing under it, and …well…showering… everything in the bathroom would get wet – toilet paper, towel, scale, Playboy Good Housekeeping Magazines and all.

Since I’m a horrible squatter I’ve had to adopt a surgeon-like showering routine, which is actually a hybrid diversionary splash showering system designed to sound real and still get myself clean pretty quickly.

Here’s my secret that I’ll reveal to the world for the first time ever:

  1. I crouch down and turn on the shower to get wet.
  2. I turn off the shower and stand up, then lather and soap up, and
  3. here’s the key: I use the splash pan purely for sound effect.
  4. I don’t want Koreans who may be listening to me showering to think I’m weird ya know. Splashing is a major part of the Korean showering experience and by George I’m here to blend in, not call attention to myself as a mousy showering nincompoop.

  5. I then turn the shower back on, crouch down and rinse off, making more splashing noises.
  6. Next I dry off, walk over to the dry area of the bathroom that’s seemingly the size of a postage stamp and do the chicken dance in flip flops trying to keep my boxers dry as I put them on.
  7. Then I walk back over to the sink and shave, kicking the full fill and splash pans once in awhile for auditorial splash-showering/shaving effect. I might even grunt and groan a little to falsely indicate that I’m crouching down and standing up to look in the mirror.

My best time so far: 9 minutes. Yes, I would get killed in the Speedy Shower contest but at least the toilet paper is dry when I’m done.


1 Mileage may vary

Once upon a time an 18 yr old wet-behind-the-ears Midwestern kid from Michigan needed to take a leak. He was at a Korean bus terminal ready for his first day in Korea as a 2 stripe Airman First Class. For at least the next 12 months he would become one with the Kimchi, but at this moment in time he needed to pee, badly.

He proceeded to the toilet with the other airmen who also just departed the Cattle Car from San Francisco to Alaska which ultimately landed at Kimpo International Airport, Seoul, Republic of Korea. It was 3 O’clock AM and the 4 hour bus ride from Seoul to Kunsan was next on the docket and since there were no stops planned they had to get their business done now or never.

He opened the bathroom stall because the urinals were full. Fortunately he looked down before walking in, otherwise he would have received what is known as Stinky Foot. As God is my witness, here is what yours truly saw in that bus terminal Men’s Room in 1984…

Traditional Korean Toilet

This is known as a Squat Toilet and was the only type of public (and oftentimes, private too) toilet available.

Fast forward to 2005 and here is the toilet I saw at the city park…

Korean toilet 2005

Did you notice the vast improvement? A flush handle. They’ve come a long way!!

But, dear reader, this evolution I speak of has rocketed to space age proportions in just the past several years. I introduce to you – the Toilet of the Future, brought to us with sheer Korean ingenuity to make taking a dump an elegant form of comfort and beauty…

Korean elegant toilet 2010

Korean throne

It has not one, but 2 – count them…TWO remote controls – one to the right of the Grunting Groaner and one on the wall to his left.

Korean toilet remote

Yes, dear reader, this toilet of the Space Age is ambidextrous! Best of all, for the next 21 days (give or take) I will be using this Glorious Throne of Pooping Proportions and its twin cousin in Seoul, because both houses we’re staying at have one! (party)!!!!

You want a full warm rinse of the “undercarriage”? Simply push the Bidet button and SWOOSH – your Hung Bombs are gone. Cheeks a little chilly? Just press the seat warmer to the temperature of your liking. The goodies aren’t flushing correctly? With the Technological Toilet of Kings, dear reader, that is a problem of the past for with one press of the Jet button the toilet makes a sound like a C-130 revving its engines and POW – chunky monkeys scatter before being dragged down the drain.


Poopers from Pluto don’t come without some inherent bodily risk, especially for Little Johnny. The evolution of Korean toilets occurred so fast that the Engineers of Cavity Comfort couldn’t make them completely failsafe, so they added a warning label under the lid.

toilet dangers

They’re pretty basic warnings – don’t fall in, don’t turn up the Bidet water temperature to the “Boil your Eggs” setting, and for Pete’s sake don’t flush the family cat down the toilet.

I’ve always said each culture has a lot to offer one another and I propose we start with upgrading American toilets to the 21st century like Korea has done.

First full day in Korea

I awoke to Sunny tapping on the bedroom door. She slept with her mom and sisters – just like old times.

When I say “slept with” her mom and sisters I mean on the floor. Although beds are becoming more popular, the traditional Korean way to sleep is on the floor with blankets. Sunny’s mom’s bed is a series of smooth stones with a heating pad built in. It’s hard as hell, but she’s 85 and moves around like a 40 yr old so apparently it works. The picture I took of her mattress didn’t turn out but here’s exactly what it looks like:

Germanium stone mattress

Sunny has a couple also. One just like the one above, and one slightly larger. She uses it all winter long on her side of the bed. She claims it makes her feel 20 years younger.

I don’t know for sure but this might be too much info for you… but hey I’m here 1) to gross out my kids at every opportunity, and 2) to report and let you decide. Let’s just say it KILLS the knees, palms, elbows, and whatever other miscellaneous appendage happens to smash into it during regular and extracurricular usage. My recommendation – before the Viagra kicks in, remove rock mattress from bed.

Before breakfast we take our first of many walks into the mountains that surround the home. We take the family puppy along with us for the hike. His name is “Tho-tee” (meaning ‘smart’ in Korean) and he’s a gorgeous Korean Jindo Dog. I nickname him “White Plince” because I like to tease my buddy Charlie whose nickname is “Plince” and it’s easier to remember (at least for me) than “Tho-tee”.

Tho-tee - aka White Plince

White Plince near his doghouse

Koreans owning pet dogs, especially in the country, is quite a change from 20 or so years ago. Dogs generally weren’t treated like kids the way we Americans typically treat dogs. Most dogs in Korea until 20 yrs ago were strictly utilitarian.

White Plince is super excited that we’re taking him for a walk and he leads the way up the incline of the mountain pass. It’s a fairly steep climb, but most of it’s paved or at least 2-track. Cars can go up and down the trail, and do quite frequently.

About 40 minutes later we’re getting pretty hungry so head back down the side of the mountain and back home for breakfast. We pass several Chestnut trees with chestnut shells all around. We arrived in Korea a few days after Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and collecting/roasting chestnuts is a favorite Korean tradition during that time.

We eat a huge delicious traditional Korean breakfast including flounder, Kimchi, pickled / spicy greens, rice & beans, and seaweed/beef soup.

traditional Korean meal

We relax at the oak slab table over coffee for a few before washing up and heading out. I will cover a very interesting subject in my next post – Korean toilet evolution…

The eldest son is the keeper of the Korean family unit. Parents and grandparents often live with the eldest adult son with his family. When the women get married they leave the family and start a new one with their husband and his family.

Sunny’s mom lives with her brother (Choong Sun) and his wife (Jae Kyung) and two adult children: Euna (daughter – 26) and Singmon (son – 23).  Euna works at a cell phone store and Singmon is presently unemployed because he has to attend Army training for 2 weeks and his employer wouldn’t let him miss that much work. Choong Sun is also unemployed, having been laid off some months ago from his job as a commercial driver; however, he still makes a little money helping friends and associates with projects. He is looking for a new job but the labor market is very tight. Jae Kyung works at a restaurant as a cook and server at a local steam bath. (more on the steam bath adventure in a later post – you don’t want to miss that one!)

We arrive to the family home about 9:30 PM so it’s dark but I can tell on the way up to the home that it’s vastly improved over their previous home in the country. The government created a road through their backyard and pretty much forced them to move out. It was no love loss however as their previous home was fairly dilapidated.

Sunny and her family grew up on a farm just outside of town. The farmhouse was built in the 1930’s with no indoor plumbing or running water inside. Up until the 70s the farmhouse had a rice thatch roof. The rooms were heated with firewood that heated up a water system in the concrete floor. It wasn’t efficient but when it worked it was super hot!

The new home is now about 4 yrs old and much nicer and larger than their previous.  It’s very comfortable and not at all drafty like their previous home. This home is modern with concrete walls and roof, which is the typical Korean choice of building material. The porch and entry is granite.

Impi House 1

The walls are adorned with wallpaper as Koreans don’t use drywall or paint their homes. The roof is flat concrete with the entire surface wide open and a concrete rail around it. The roof deck is for storage or just hanging out if one prefers.

view from the roof deck

view from roof 2

A couple of views from the roof towards the mountains (the one I hike virtually every day) and rice fields.

Mountains and fields around Impi

More mountains and fields around Impi

The kitchen table is made of a huge slab of oak. I LOVE this table!

oak slab table

It’s now 10:30 PM and Sunny and I are bushed so we head to bed right after late dinner…

Korean dinner

…but not before a Soju (Korean rice whiskey) toast with her family. “To family and friends – may we share the good and overcome the difficult times together”

a toast - with soju