Monday, September 15, 2008


My Honeymoon with Mom and Dad

I'm not in the habit of making statements that elicit nothing but stunned silence. Should I desire to do so, however, I can think of a few that would do the trick: "I believe George Lazenby was the best James Bond"; "I really wish John Kerry had run again"; and "I was very impressed with Canada's performance at the Beijing Olympics."

For much of this summer, I wasn't trying to leave friends and coworkers without a ready reply, and yet I was having great success in doing so with a simple statement of fact: "My parents will come with me on my honeymoon." I could tell that these nine words, in this sequence, generated so many questions in the minds of my listeners that it was difficult for their synapses to calculate which query to use first.

Before they could answer, I sought a follow-up statement that would put most of their concerns to rest. There were several good choices available:

A) I don't want to abandon them right after they've bothered to fly here from America.

B) I want them to see the best parts of Korea before they go home.

C) It was my wife's idea.

The best response is, of course, none of those above, but D) They will sleep on a different floor of the hotel. That is not to say that that A-C were incorrect.

My parents, both of whom are at or near the age of becoming Social Security recipients, did make a cumulative 16-hour journey from Tennessee all the way to Incheon International Airport near Seoul so that they could witness my wedding. A few days after they arrived, my new wife and I would be traveling to Jeju Island, whose climate and natural beauty make it a popular tourist locale for many people in Asia. And, finally, the incredulous reactions evinced by said friends/coworkers were predated in my own disposition when my bride-to-be suggested bringing them along.

"I think it would be a very good experience for them," is what I think I remember her saying.

"Of course, that week should be a memorable experience," I said to myself, "for them."

We arrived at Jeju International Airport on a Monday, the day after I left my single life behind to venture permanently into a new life of family and responsibility. As if Jeju's tourism authorities had been clued into the change that lay ahead for me, they greeted us in the airport with: museums.

An entire booth featuring row upon row filled with brochures for Jeju's various institutions of knowledge was set up for us. Given that Jeju has been the chosen destination for many of the honeymooners I've known since coming to Korea, all that was missing was a sign reading: "Museums: Now that you're married, they're as fun as life gets!"

A wide variety of such attractions dot the island, including: The Teddy Bear Museum, which is specially tailored to the history and background of that particular toy; the Museum of Sound, which illustrates the technological developments of the recording industry; and the Museum of Jeju Museums, which is an institution of knowledge specially designed to display all of Jeju institutions of knowledge.

Just kidding about the last one, or at least I think I am; there were a lot more brochures than I had time to look at.

Before we could begin celebrating my domestication, however, we would have to drive to the hotel and unload our belongings, which would first require renting a car. It's been six months since I got a driver's license in Korea, and between then and the honeymoon I had driven approximately three times, on the grounds that A) Korea is a really crowded place to drive and B) I didn't want to.

However, on Jeju, I did all the driving, this time as stipulated by the fact that A) My new wife requested that I do so, and B) Wives tend to get what they want, especially new ones. In this case, it was probably fortunate that my parents were there: That way, I knew from the beginning that I would need a spacious car.

Therefore, I didn't bother selecting a sportier, flashier and more diminutive model, only to drive for 30 minutes before giving in to the reality that such a vehicle is not meant for drivers 190 centimeters tall (which is what happened as soon as my parents left).

What was also fortunate is that much of Jeju is rural, so it's nothing like driving in Seoul: namely, one can cover a football field's distance in less than three hours. Our hotel was located about an hour away from the airport, on the shoreline and conveniently located next to many male-taming institutions of knowledge. Those, however, could wait until day two of our vacation.

On the second day of our honeymoon, I could feel the tropical atmosphere of the island gradually eroding the worldly cynicism I have acquired through my years in the newspaper business. It was a step-by-step process, however. At our first stop, the Teddy Bear Museum, we heard the story of how former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt would not let his lifelong passion for hunting big game lead him to shoot a defenseless bear cub leashed to a tree. Because my country's former head of state declined to slaughter a defenseless animal, a popular children's toy was named after him and the bar was forever lowered for future presidents.

Profiles in courage are not this institution's only feature, however: They also have a history exhibit in which stuffed bears are used to recreate famous historical scenes like the NASA moon landing and the Ali-Frazier bout. All of this was very creative and well-designed, but I couldn't help but wonder: "Do Korean students spend at least 12 hours a day in class in preparation for this kind of work? Or, is it that once they don't have to study anymore that they can't think of anything else to do?"

My outlook had improved demonstrably by the time we reached our next destination: a dolphin/sea lion show. Here, a group of local trainers instructed aquatic mammals, who have apparently had more success in understanding Korean than I ever will, to do various tricks like doing somersaults and shaking fins with audience members. I was allowed one final dose of sarcasm for the day.

"Wow, a pair mammals performing orchestrated maneuvers they must practice repeatedly, all in the hopes of earning a small reward," I thought. "I'm really not going to miss dating at all."

Next came Hallasan, the tallest mountain in South Korea, which stands 1,950 meters high, about nine meters of which isn't a long, curvy car ride to the top. Because it was raining there, and because of my parents' aforementioned Social Security status, we declined to climb to the top of it. However, our drive was rewarded with gamjajeon, the Korean potato pancake that pleased all of us, including my parents, even though one of them, I'm not saying which, had previously said that most Korean food tastes like used socks.

After taking a yacht tour and visiting the beach, my parents departed on Wednesday. Due to the time difference with America, I could tell that they were starting to nod off at about 6 p.m. every night, but they told us that they'd enjoyed nearly every minute of their trip to Korea. We were sad to see them go, but content that they'd seen a part of Korea they'd always look back upon with fond memories.

Also, their departure freed us up to go to Jeju Loveland; whose brochure advertises it as a "humorous sexual theme park - where the imagination can run wild!" I'd love to tell you all about what I saw at Loveland; it's just hard to think of anything that suitable for a family-friendly publication such as this. I can say that this sculpture park, which has been a popular honeymoon destination since the Korean War, features a sign with a man and a woman - never mind. Inside, visitors are greeted by the friendly mascots who looked like - uh, forget it. Within the park were several statues of people from different cultures and eras in the act of - let's just move on.

The downside to any magical vacation experience is that it eventually ends. On Thursday night, my wife and I returned to the Korean mainland, to a home that doesn't resemble a honeymoon suite, is located nowhere near the beach and where not a single sea creature will do tricks for us.

On the bright side, here I do almost none of the driving. However, our trip to Jeju left newlywed and parent like with a lifetime's worth of memories, and many of them were experienced outside of our respective boarding rooms.

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