Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Day We Left for Australia and Landed in Korea, Part III

We left Colene's very early in the day to be at Hickam terminal for roll call.  That usually meant that the plane would take off 2-5 hours later.  A fellow traveler (didn't verify it) told us if it is a Virtual Roll Call (Hawaii and a couple other bases do this), that the plane usually doesn't leave for 5 hours after the message is sent out.  I am not sure if this is true or untrue. The difference in regular roll call and virtual is that for virtual, an email is sent and the recipient has 40 minutes to respond in order to be placed on the roster.  For regular roll call, all persons who are flying have to be present in the terminal and ready to go.

There was a delay in our roll call, and it was moved from 8:00A.M. to 8:00P.M.  A short time before 8P.M., it was then moved to 3:00A.M.  There is at least one problem with all of this--you can't really leave the airport at 8 in the evening to get a room when the plane will potentially be leaving at 3A.M.   Thankfully, after the first slip, we kept our rental car  allowing us to go to Pearl Harbor and see it again, and we went to Nico's on Pier 38 to eat.  I highly recommend Nico's.
The view from inside the restaurant.  That is not a window, per se, but is just open to the pier.

Roy chatting to some of his Navy buddies--many military and locals frequent this place.
 We ate octopus, different types of marinated raw fish (poke, which Jason and Colene had told us about)--all just as a taste test in the fish market, and then we ordered Hawaiian pulled pork and Ahi as our entrees from the restaurant itself.  Awesome food!  When we returned to the terminal, however, and found that people had released their rooms and rental cars with the expectation of leaving at 8:00P.M., and that, due to the slip we all would be camping out on chairs that were not made to be restful, people were cranky!  I am glad to say that that evening was our one and only horrible experience!  We did fly out early that morning, however, and landed in Japan 9 hours later!  Roy would agree that this was the most tired that we were ever on the trip, but when we arrived in Yokota, Japan, we really wanted to go to the Inn and sleep, but, instead, we walked to the little town adjacent to the base and train station, purchased yen (frustrating experience) from a 7-Eleven (lol) and got on the train for Tokyo!  My overall impression as I drank in my surroundings was one of huge apartment buildings, tall and within spitting distance of each other, with rows of bikes belonging to the inhabitants of the apartments, lined up and chained ready for the transport of their owners from varying socio-economic levels.  Where, in America, we have structures in the city created solely for the parking of our cars, Japan has them created and equipped with racks solely for the parking of bikes.
Typical train scene (notice the not uncommon white mask)
--except when it is rush hour, multiply number of people by thousands!


Business Center Outside of Tokyo Train Stop

When we arrived in Tokyo, we got off in the business section, but after a short time, we found ourselves at Shibuyu Crossing.  Everyone needs to experience this area in Tokyo for two reasons, as per our experience: 1) there is a terrific sushi bar there and 2) for the pleasure of being one in thousands of people at that crossing coming from five directions and converging into utter chaos!


Shibuyu Crossing from the Street Facing the Crowd From Only One Direction

As we made our way back to the base, we grabbed a couple of doughnuts from Mister Donut, took a taxi to the gate to use up our surplus of yen, and climbed into bed and slept like babies.  The one thing we should have done, but did not do, was to cash in our extra yen.  If you wait until you get back into the States, the bank will charge you a $10 fee for returning the yen to the originating country, so the two possibilities in solving this dilemna are to find someone going to the country or go to an international airport to cash it in.

The next day we were off to Osan, Korea.  I need to say that both my dad and Roy's dad were Korean War Vets.  Although, this was not our destination of choice when we began this adventure, it quickly turned into our favorite leg of the journey.  We arrived in Korea, grabbed a shuttle to the Air Force Inn,  walked a short distance to the exchange, ate a meal from Captain D's, and went back and fell asleep almost immediately.  I said all of that to say that Osan AFB had everything together; it is very family oriented demonstrated through the sights of mothers and fathers walking along the sidewalks pushing strollers to the football team of the base high school being front and center as they ate before the big game hours later.   Events and activities were plentiful and highly advertised.  Another fact that made us believe this was the next morning, quite early, we decided we wanted a full breakfast and happened to stop in at Checkertails--the type of little place that might be featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on Food Network--which was just next to the ITT (Information, Tickets and Travel).  As we sat there, three travel buses pulled to the curb, one behind the other.  I (it doesn't take as long to eat pancakes as it does eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, toast) went outside to ask the people who were congregating where they were headed.  Three different day long tours were heading out.  One or two of the people thought that if you weren't signed up then you possibly could not board, but I was encouraged to ask the driver. Yay!  When Roy came out, the driver and tour guide said "yes" but cautioned us that we might not get to go into the DMZ as our names were not on the roster.  It would depend on the military personnel in charge that day.  We took our chances as anyone who knows Roy at all knows that he "can talk anyone out of anything" and if not, it is not for lack of trying on his part!  One of our goals, if we did nothing else in Korea, was to go to the DMZ.  God had walked before us, put us at the right place at the right time, and had scheduled Kol (sp?) to be our tour guide!  The 73 year old who now lived in Seoul with his wife and adult children around him,  who had arranged travel and logistics for South Korean Commanders allowing him to travel to the states, and who had stories to tell became our dear friend.  We told him about our dads, and he sat across from us and talked and shared his cold sweet potato (which we could not recognize as such until we tasted it) with us!

One of Kol's comments about this building (the Congressional building in Seoul)
as we passed it was "This is a building where people go to work but do no work!"  
 I thought this to be quote worthy as it might apply to our country as well.
We stopped at several places on the way to the DMZ, one notable and worthy of mentioning was going into one of the tunnels (#3 of the 5-7 the South Koreans have actually found) made by the North Koreans wishing to enter South Korea for the purpose of killing leadership among other horrible things.  There was very little caution given as to whether a person should go into the tunnel, but when we were given helmets and sent into the tunnel which was so steep that I had to resist running. Those occurrences should have been our clues! After the run down into the middle of the earth, the helmets quickly made sense as you could hear and feel the helmets hit the protruding rocks very close to our heads.  At a predetermined point of the tunnel where North Korea supposedly began, we simply made a U turn and began the journey out walking what almost seemed straight up and utilizing the little benches placed strategically on the "down" side of the tunnel periodically.  I could never figure out why they were on that side!  Of course, our young buddies took no such breaks!  I had no shame in doing so, though, at my advanced age, and I was glad to provide Roy with an excuse to rest!  LOL

Other places at which we stopped all had to do with the DMZ, the train that will hopefully reconnect the two parts of Korea one day, the Liberty Bell and recognition of the US soldiers who fought in the Korean War, and the Bridge of No Return.  It is too exhausting for me and for you as a reader for all of the details to be cataloged here.

The Liberty Bell in Injingak
Park
Part of our tour was to stop at a local restaurant out in the country where a buffet of authentic Korean food had been prepared for our group.  What a wonderful experience!  It was a highlight of our trip, but not as interesting and exhilarating as when we arrived at the Demilitarized Zone.  Roy and I sat quietly as all ID's were checked, and we knew that God answered our silent prayers when we were allowed to advance.  It would take pages to include all of what we saw, the myriad of emotions, and even the humor we experienced via the military tour officers who accompanied us through making us aware of what was allowed and not allowed.  A couple of things that I will share is first that this is one of the few or maybe only place where our military meets their enemy face to face daily.  One of the North Korean guards who is stationed at the door of the North Korean facility has been nicknamed "Bob."  Bob stands watching the activity in the DMZ, takes up position behind a column for a change of venue, and occasionally calls many North Korean soldiers to come and bait and heckle visitors from the "Monkey House" if the visitors are important enough. We were not important enough, but he provided entertainment just standing there and at one time appearing to be locked out while we stood and watched him, never pointing at nor gesturing towards him!  The entire atmosphere is a bit chilling, a feeling intensified by the sheer professionalism and tenacity of the highly trained ROK soldiers as well as some of the best of the best of our own, of standing by the conference table where important peace documents have been signed by historical leaders, of seeing the site of the axe or hatchet incident and the resulting base of the tree (the "Paul BunyanMission" http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/paul_bunyan.htm), and the Bridge of No Return.  The more I travel to such places, the more I realize how little I know of the hardships experienced and the bravery displayed by our military!
Bob is standing in the building behind.  He can be seen just over Roy's right shoulder

Messages left by South Koreans
for separated North Korean family members

In the conference room with the ROK--stance
of strength!  
The train station where hopefully Koreans
will be able to go both North and South in
some distant future.
To conclude our travels, the next day was Sunday, so we attended the Chapel service on base, just happened to check the facebook page for the Osan Terminal and saw that within a couple of hours we could be back in Japan and headed home ahead of the Typhoon that had kept us from seeing Okinawa and a Chaplain friend and family there.  We made that Roll Call, manifested through to Travis with the understanding that we could fly straight into McChord, if we chose to do so.  Of course, future travelers of Space A, you must realize that this translates to a overnight stay at each base.  The crew of this C-130 was out of McChord, so they were awesome just as every other crew had been!  I should also say that this plane had seats along the walls of the plane and can be as warm or cool as the pilot and crew decide.  Just know to dress in layers to meet either situation!  We did find ourselves arriving in Hawaii about 1:00A.M. of the day before we had actually left Japan--that can really mess with your mind so don't give it too much thought--and given our past experience, we knew that we would be stuck in the terminal trying to rest sitting up on uncomfortable seats.  God sent a precious retired Marine Colonel who loves people and "pays it forward" to travel with us from Hawaii all the way to Osan and back.  As we were standing in the terminal in Japan and trying to decide how to make arrangements and reservations before we actually arrived at Hickam Field, the Colonel invited Roy and myself and another young couple, both of whom are in the Air Force, to spend the night in the "Bates Motel."  We did, and what a joy and blessing he and his precious wife were to us that evening and next morning!  They will be forever emblazoned in our memories of great people!  That morning, though, we decided that home looked good then rather than two days later, so we purchased tickets from Honolulu to Seattle and left for home, specifically our own bed and our furry babies, Huck and Finn, who had missed snuggling!

Australia is still out there, and we are already looking at making that trip in the future during leave time or retirement (although retired people are a lower category, if you are retired you can sign up 60 days out, so check it out)!  I must share that, before we began this, I read everything that I could get my eyes on of people who had traveled this way in the past!  So, my purpose in writing this was for those friends who have said, "I want to get with you and hear about how you did this and what you learned" or for those of you whom I have never met but are seeking firsthand experiences and, truthfully, I have written it for the joy of reliving it and documenting a personal "bucket list" experience.