Saturday, June 18, 2022

Quick Trip to Jeju Island (and First Time Flying with Baby)

Our time in South Korea is getting shorter and shorter, and one thing that was high on my bucket list was visiting Jeju Island. We didn't have a chance to go until now, but while I'm on maternity leave we thought it would be the perfect trial run of traveling on a plane with baby S for the first time. Because the domestic airport is closer and we had fewer bags and the flight is much, much shorter, we could give flying with S a go in a much less stressful environment than we'll have before we PCS (Permanent Change of Station, or move from one tour of assignment to another).

Honestly, the whole travel experience was much easier than I expected. Because we had S with us, we got to skip the security line and all the airport staff and taxi drivers were extra nice to us. The biggest challenge was explaining to people that S must be in our infant car seat. In Korea, mothers generally just hold their babies in their laps for drives and flights. We got plenty of practice holding our ground on the car seat at the hospital where S was born, though, and although many people were confused why we had booked S his own seat and didn't want to check the car seat they did let us fly the way we planned. Other parents who had traveled with babies recommended we feed S or make sure he's sucking on something during takeoff and landing to help with his ears popping, so we brought a pacifier for him. It seemed to work well.

It was rainy and gloomy the whole time we were in Jeju. A lot of people recommend renting a car if you want to explore the island, but honestly traveling with an infant is so challenging (and I would say made a lot of the sites we would otherwise have visited impossible) that we decided just to take a taxi to our hotel. We also booked at the Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort because we figured there would be enough to do that we wouldn't feel bad if we never ventured far beyond the hotel at all and because we got a lot of loyalty membership points from when we were in a government-provided apartment during Korean language training that gives us special rewards whenever we stay at a Marriott. From the moment we reached the hotel, that decision paid off: we got a free upgrade to a gorgeous suite.

Most Korean moms and babies basically don't leave the house for the child's first 100 days, so I think many strangers were surprised to see a baby as young as S out and traveling at his age. There were a lot of families with children at the resort, but all the kids we saw were older than S. We had also requested a bassinet/crib for our room for S to sleep in, and although they brought one there were clearly more cultural differences at play. Although the crib was in line with U.S. safety standards, the hotel had filled the crib with multiple blankets and a pillow - which is strictly against safe sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Thankfully, we were able to remove the pillow and the blankets and form a safe sleep space, or otherwise M and I would've had to hold S all night in shifts. If you're planning on doing some international traveling with your infant, I highly recommend a travel crib just to have that peace of mind and not be dependent on your accommodations for having a sleep space that is up to your personal standards and comfort level.

After we got the crib situation sorted out and I fed S, we all went to the hotel restaurant for a delicious dinner buffet. The food was so amazing that I forgot to take any pictures of it. Because we were in Jeju, I knew I had to try plenty of seafood so I enjoyed Korean hairtail (갈치), squid (오징어), pollock (북어구이), and sliced raw fish (회). I even tried whole abalone (전복) in the shell for the first time! (I would describe the flavor as somewhere between a clam and a mushroom with a nice, dense texture.) The next day, we explored the resort. It included shops, swimming pools, and a bunch of restaurants. I even tried some of Jeju's famous black pork (제주까망돼지). The meat isn't black, but the pig it comes from is. Although it didn't taste any different from regular pork to me, my pork tomahawk dinner was fantastic.

Our suite was so wonderful that we ended up spending a lot of downtime in our room. It worked out especially well because our mini vacation coincided with #1000wordsofsummer, an online writing challenge I decided to participate in where people commit to write at least 1,000 words a day for 14 days in a row. The writing challenge was started by Jami Attenberg and is hosted through her weekly newsletter, CRAFT TALK, with lots of engagement in the #WritingCommunity on social media. (I know my 2022 New Year's Resolution is to do less, but this one was only 14 days! And I hadn't written fiction in a long time, so it felt nice to do it for just two weeks.) In that two weeks, I was able to write two science fiction short stories, one fairy tale short story, two personal blog posts, a grant application, and two blog posts for The Exponent (a Mormon feminist blog where I am a permablogger and write at least once a month). It was a nice outlet for my creative energy, but I definitely couldn't sustain a thousand words a day for much longer than that so I'm glad it was as short as it was.

I also enjoyed plenty of reading and gaming. Lately my game of choice is Paper Mario: The Origami King. I chose the game as the perfect low-stakes, low-stress option for fun without pressure to collect every item or complete every side quest. The main story is very linear, so it's also easy to pick up where you left off if you take a break. (I also played Paper Mario as a kid so the nostalgia is pretty powerful.) On the trip, I also finished two books: Gay Latter-day Saint Crossroads, a book Evan Smith wrote about LGBTQ acceptance as a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as a father of a gay son, and Skulduggery Pleasant, a dark fantasy novel by Derek Landy that my Relief Society selected as our book club read for the month. It was perfect timing because a book I've been eagerly awaiting to be released (The Blood Traitor, third in the Prison Healer fantasy trilogy by Lynette Noni) came out during our trip and I was able to start it, too.

S was such a great first-time traveler. He was so curious and calm throughout his time in taxis, airports, and planes. We did have to mess up his usual nap routine and he was pretty tired the first night in Jeju, but he bounced back fast. Many friends told us traveling with super young babies (i.e., before they can crawl or walk) is ideal because they sleep so much and aren't usually as antsy being confined to one seat. That was definitely true of our experience traveling with S.

My biggest complaint about our vacation was that it felt far too short! The real purpose of our trip was to practice flying with S, and we accomplished our goal. But between the weather and the resort and the logistics of traveling with a baby, there's so much to do and see in Jeju that we didn't get a chance to do this time. At least it gives us the perfect excuse to come back someday.

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