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    Mango Kids Pool Villa — Gapyeong

    During this past Christmas break, Seoul instituted a ban on private gatherings of five or more people. Korea has been dealing with another wave of outbreaks this winter. While we have appreciated Korea’s overall response to the pandemic, for better or worse these restrictions have proven to be a bit isolating to this family of four.

    During a recent trip to see the Christmas lights at Garden of the Morning Calm, I saw a huge sign on the side of a building that said “Mango Kids Pool Villa.” Out of curiosity and with a possible trip in mind, I checked out their website and Leah and I decided to give them a try. 

    Mango Kids Pool Villa is about a 5–10 minute drive from the Garden of the Morning Calm in Gapyeong-gun. Over the last couple of years, we have grown to love the Gapyeong area as there is much to do and it is only about a 1.5–2 hour trip outside of Seoul.

    We stayed in Villa C, which is one of the more basic villas. 

    The main living area had all sorts of toy sets, costumes, and things to jump and climb on. 

    Pool Villa Play Area 2Pool Villa Trampoline

    There was a tiny room the girls called the “clubhouse” at the top of the padded stairs. The orange door below led to a 노래방 (no-rae-bang) or “karaoke room” complete with a disco ball and thousands of songs to choose from in Korean and English. This doubled as a bedroom for the girls in the evenings. We brought a Pack-n-Play for our almost 2-year-old, and the almost 4-year-old slept on a yo (Korean floor mattress). 

    Pool Villa Play Area 1

    The pool section was great for our young girls. It was heated and was a decent depth to wade around in.

    Pool Room Villa

    Though not thoroughly ventilated and a bit humid, the girls loved playing in the water, going down the slide, and the “rainbow’ and “donut” floaties. They also included life jackets. Only one was the right size for our girls, but the floaties worked great since we were in the pool with them.

    Pool Villa

    The bathroom was no-frills and a standard “shower on a floor” seen in many apartments in Korea. The bathroom did have a kid-sized toilet, high quality kids’ soap, and full sized towels! 

    Bathroom Pool Villa

    The master bedroom included a queen size bed, an adjoining twin size bed, and a monstrous tv. 

    Bedroom Pool Villa

    We were most impressed by how this hotel thought of everything for families with children. The kitchen came with all of the kids dishes and utensils guests could need, two Trip-Trapp style high chairs, and a Nespresso machine for the tired and weary parent. They also had bottle-cleaning supplies, pots & pans, and a basket of breakfast delivered to your door the night before. 

    If you choose, you can also pay an additional small fee to use the BBQ feature on the kitchen table and cook your own meat. 

    Kitchen Pool Villa

    So we could maximize time with the play equipment, I picked up pizzas and ice cream in a nearby town and we ate dinner in. (There is not much in the direct area outside of Korean bbq… it’s best to bring your own food and snacks unless you want to drive 20 minutes to a restaurant.)

    Pizza Pool Villa

    This hotel does not skimp on quality of supplies and preparation. Most of the toys are HAPE brand and had no missing pieces, stains, or damage. We did not feel worried about cleanliness as everything from the toys, appliances, and play equipment appeared to be regularly cleaned and sanitized.

    playplace pool villa dollhouse pool villa

    Overall Review and Cost: 
    It is obvious the owners of Mango Kids have put much time and intentionality into preparing a comfortable and exciting space for families. In addition to all of the supplies in the room, the villas also have a store in the office where you can borrow board games and buy supplies (including swim diapers). The facilities and toys are well maintained and cleaned regularly. While the price is rather steep (>500,000 KRW a night), the rooms are well supplied for a stress free visit, allowing parents and kids alike to enjoy the amenities. It also seems there are many more options available during the summer, including outdoor train rides, electric car rentals, and porches/decks with a bbq on some of the villas. I highly recommend this hotel for the occasional fun family trip. 


    To book a pool villa, you may go to the Mango Kids website or you can call them directly (010‑8899-9059) after browsing through the different room options. There are staff members who speak English if needed. One booking tip that I’ve found on Korean hotel websites is to go to the 실시간예약 or “real-time reservation” page and you can see which rooms are available on your desired dates. 



    Weekend Trip to Osaka, Japan

    With the recent busyness of my graduate schoolwork, position change, and adjusting to life as a family of three, it’s been some time since we traveled outside of Korea. During our recent Thanksgiving break, we had a long weekend and decided to check out nearby Osaka, Japan.


    We left for the airport right after school and flew on Peach Airlines, a knee jammed, but efficient discount carrier from Incheon (ICN) to Kansai International Airport (KIX). Peach offers great prices for airline tickets across Asia, but charges for the extras (meals, checked luggage, seat preference, etc.). If flying Peach, it’s worth noting you need to print your ticket QR code ahead of time or face the unexpected Ryan-Air –ish fees. 

    We arrived late on Thursday at KIX, so we took the Airport Express train to Namba station. Between the airport and Namba, the Airport Express takes about 1 hour and costs 920 JPY (approx. 8 USD). We arrived too late to take the Limited Express Rapi:t train, which takes around 30 minutes and costs 1,430 JPY (approx. 13 USD). We arrived at Namba station and after stops at a couple of convenience stores, located our AirBnB nearby. (You can find timetables for both express trains here.)


    On Friday, we stopped by Nippombashi and Namba stations to try and find the tourist friendly Kansai One Cards, but they were sold out. Instead, we purchased ICOCA transit cards and made our way to Osaka Castle. 

    Osaka Castle

    We enjoyed exploring the castle and its grounds. Aside from the crowded inside and top of the central castle building, the grounds were quiet. 


    The top story of the central castle building had a great view of the city and surrounding mountains. The outside of the building is beautiful, accented by gold and surrounded by maple trees.



    We took a couple of hours walking around the castle walls and giant moats. There’s an option to take one of these traditional looking boats through the moat, but we decided to take in the view from land. 



    Later on Friday, we headed towards the Dotonbori area. This part of Osaka is super crowded as it a hot spot for tourists, shopping, and food. There are several iconic and unique signs on the outside of stores and restaurants. 


    One of the most recognizable signs is the Glico Running Man by the Ezaki Glico confectionary. According to Rough Guides, the sign is over 70 years old and the area around the sign is a popular gathering spot following sporting victories. 

    We slurped Ramen for dinner. Surprisingly, few places in Osaka take credit cards, so we exchanged cash so we could place our order in the vending machine outside the restaurant. 


    I had Miso noodles with Pork. It was rather salty and so delicious!



    Later that night, Leah and Emi were tired, so we went back to settle them in for the night. After bedtime routines, I went on the hunt for a good sushi restaurant. I have seen several pictures and videos of conveyor belt sushi restaurants and wanted to give one a try. I headed back towards the Dotonbori area and came across Dotonbori Akaoni, a Michelin endorsed Takoyaki (たこ焼き) street food booth.


    Takoyaki is basically a fried dough ball with a small octopus inside. I stumbled upon this literal hole in the wall. I ordered the basic takoyaki with spicy sauce for 500 JPY (about 4.5 USD). It was slightly chewy and had a spicy burn that didn’t quite settle in until a few minutes after.



    My hunt for sushi continued by walking through Dotonbori, which proved to be more challenging than during the day. The evening crowds were thick and lively during the dinner rush. 


    I found Genrokuzushi (Dotonbori), a touristy, but cheap sushi joint. However, the line went about 15 meters beyond the restaurant’s doors, and after not moving in line for 20 minutes, I moved on.

    I eventually came to Chojiro in one of the side alleys. 


    It was fairly affordable and the best quality sushi I’ve had so far. I enjoyed sitting at the conveyor belt and seeing the sushi being made right on the other side of the counter. 


    My favorite was the avocado tuna. It was so fresh! Another favorite was the Wasabi Tuna. The wasabi was so spicy, it felt like my nostrils were turning inside out!

    Wasabi Tuna

    Wasabi Tuna


    I loved it so much I brought Leah and Emine back the next night. They gave us our own private room with a sliding door! Either we looked fancy, or it was because of our lively 9-month-old baby (likely the latter). All three of us were exhausted, but enjoyed the fresh sushi (just rice for Emi) followed by matcha ice cream. We ordered with the restaurant’s automated ordering system on an iPad.

    LeahSushi SalmonSushi

    Although we only got a small glimpse, we loved the time we spent in Osaka on Friday. We spent most of the day Saturday in Kyoto before our meal at Chojiro. More on our time in Kyoto soon!


    My Farewell Speech

    We attended our end of the year staff banquet last Saturday. It is typical for teachers who are leaving to share a word with the group. It has been a hard few weeks thinking about leaving our home in the Middle East. I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the things I’ve learned while living in Turkey the past three years. Here is the abridged version.


    David and Leah dressed up


    Things I’ve Learned While in Turkey:

    1. Goodbyes are the worst.
    2. Assumptions can ruin a fresh perspective.
    3. Humility is best learned where you are totally uncomfortable.
    4. Vegetables in America are not as good.
    5. Plastic forks in Turkey don’t taste good.
    6. Wash your veggies.
    7. Eggs don’t have to stay refrigerated.
    8. The milk that’s sold at room temperature won’t kill you.
    9. Everything at the bakkal costs iki buçuk.
    10. When teaching Bible, it’s good to establish the proper pronunciation of condemnation: “There is no now constipation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
    11. The world is not such a small world after all. There are many lost who need to hear the word.
    12. The best way to get rid of a dog that is chasing you is to kick it in the face.
    13. Travel is my refresh button.
    14. Establishing a good work/home balance is important.
    15. Camel köfte is a little bit tough.
    16. European football isn’t all that bad. American football is still awesome.
    17. The librarian is a hotty.
    18. Some students who appear to have it all would rather spend all of their time at school because of the love shown there that they can’t access anywhere else.
    19. Be prepared for the shock that ensues when a student asks you if his cat is asexual.
    20. Tear gas really does make you cry.
    21. It is selfish to worry about my students as I leave. It is beneficial to pray for them.
    22. I spend a lot of time in the car in America.
    23. Speeding laws are enforced in Turkey.
    24. Intestine cooked on a rotisserie is actually not that bad.
    25. Just give in to the personifications of the school printers. Also, both Fred and Wilma have staple functions.
    26. Greg won’t go to the hamam.
    27. Short on the sides and long on the top means a mohawk.
    28. Usually, conflict starts with people hearing the same thing, but having different interpretations. Talking about these interpretations can solve a world of problems.
    29. The Turkish Airlines cheese sandwiches are awesome.
    30. Snow tubing with me is dangerous.
    31. Sometimes when you play soccer at recess, a bicycle kick results in torn pants from your knee to your belt.
    32. 20 seconds of awkwardness could make an eternity of difference. Take advantage of every opportunity.
    33. Family and home are relative.
    34. Goodbyes are really just see-you-laters.


    Friends at the banquet



    Adventures in Ankara

    On a recent Saturday, a couple of friends and I visited the Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi (Anatolian Civilizations Museum). The museum is located inside of the castle in Ulus.

    I took the opportunity to renew my Müzekart. By the way, if you are living in Turkey and have a residence permit or Turkish ID, the Müzekart is the way to go. I purchased one for 50 Turkish Lira (about $20 USD) and it grants me access to over 300 historical sites in Turkey. Given that the Anatolian Civilizations Museum costs 15 TL (General Admission) and the Hagia Sophia costs 30 TL, the Müzekart is quite the deal if you plan on traveling during your time in Turkey. If you don’t have a residence permit or Turkish ID, there is now a Museum Pass Müzekart available for Istanbul. There is a three day pass (72 TL) and a five day pass  (115 TL). Both of these passes are good for many different sites and attractions around Istanbul.

    All of the artifacts at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum were rather interesting. This painting of a deer was from the village of Çatalhöyük, not too far from Ankara. This is thought to be one of the first agricultural villages known, dating back to around 6,000 B.C. I really liked this piece because of the deer. I like to think that one of my fellow country boys painted it thousands of years ago.


    Painting of animal on rock


    One of the displays I found most interesting was the terracotta tablet exhibit. While the display itself was not very big, I was intrigued to see all of the detail that was put into these tablets. This specific tablet is a property donation deed. Sometimes when I think of early civilizations, I think of them as unsophisticated grunting human beings. However, all evidence points to the contrary. Although they didn’t have all the tech gadgets we do today, it seems like they had sophisticated and set ways of doing things. Based on the detail in the tablet below, it appears lawyers were just as meticulous about the wording of legal documents thousands of years ago as they are now.

    One tablet that stuck out to me was a letter on terracotta from Naptera (wife of Ramses II, Egypt 13th Century). She wrote to Puduhepa (wife of Hattusili III, King of the Hittites) about relations and politics between the two nations. Super cool!


    Donation deed


    Sun discs were used by the Hittites for celebratory and religious ceremonies. I have become accustomed to seeing these Hittite symbols around Ankara. This particular design with the deer, is one of my favorites.


    Hittite stand


    Hittite artifacts


    This is a statue of King Mutallu, a king that was reliant on Sargon II (King of Assyria). It’s hard to believe how well some of these relics are preserved, this one dating back several hundred years B.C. I particularly like the ceiling in this section of the museum. Cylindrical and made of brick, it reminds me of certain parts of the Grand Bazaar.


    Kral Mutallu statue


    Maybe it’s a little weird, but I found it super interesting that the Phyrgian King Midas’ (8th Century B.C.) skull is kept in the museum. His tomb has been found in Gordion, Turkey and this skull has been used to do a facial recreation of Midas.




    After we finished at the museum, we walked down to the Pazar to get some lunch. Turkish street food has become one of my favorite cuisines. I love to eat a fish sandwich fresh off of an open grill or a delicious döner dürüm straight off of the rotisserie.

    One of the street foods I’ve been wanting to try is kokoreç. Kokoreç is lamb intestines cooked on a rotisserie. After the intestines are cooked, they chop a delicious array of spices into the meat, before putting it on bread. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I think the fact that the delicacy is lamb intestines put some unfair presumptions of kokoreç in my mind. Mixed with all of the spices, it kind of tastes like a delicious sausage sandwich.

    Click the arrow below to play a video of the kokoreç  stand:



    Kokoreç stand




    After I payed for my kokoreç, the cashier gave me this small orange ticket. Since Ulus is busy during lunch time, I had to (as I tell Leah) “shoulder up” to get my order in with the chop masters. After kokoreç, we walked by a fish sandwich stand and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I had to get an alabalık ekmek (trout sandwich) as well.


    Kokoreç token


    Belly full of lamb intestines and trout sandwich, I headed to Anıtkabir (Leah visited Anıtkabir without me in 2013). Anıtkabir  is a memorial and mausoleum for Turkey’s founding father Ataturk. It definitely does not lack grandiose and honors Ataturk well.

    Anıtkabir  was built in a way that it can be seen from almost anywhere in Ankara. Consequently, it offers some awesome views of the surrounding city.




    The mausoleum reminded me of the Lincoln memorial.


    David at Anitkabir


    Anitkabir Mausoleum


    One of the things to do at the mausoleum is watch the changing of the guards ceremony. There are guards that stand watch over the mausoleum throughout the day and they periodically change. We got there just as the relieved guards were marching off the grounds, so we did not get to see the actual change.


    Anitkabir Soldier


    It was definitely a day of adventures in Ankara. I hope to explore more of this beautiful city in the months to come. And I have every intention of stopping by Ulus again for a delicious kokoreç sandwich.



    Ice Skating Field Trip

    I have really enjoyed teaching my sixth grade students this year. My class is hard working and full of energy. A few weeks ago, we went on a field trip to Lozanpark Buz Pisti (Lozanpark Ice Rink).

    Now, ice skating is something fairly common to a Michigander like myself. However, some of my kids are from countries with a warm climate and several had never even seen an ice skating rink before.


    Falling down


    Prior to the field trip, we took an in depth look at ice skating from a scientific perspective. I introduced Newton’s laws of motion and we discussed how these related to ice skating. We also watched a National Geographic I Didn’t Know That video that discussed the possible reasons why ice skating works. The kids were excited and talkative on the bus ride to the rink.


    Ice skating in the rink



    We had forty minutes of skate time. I was impressed. Everyone attempted to skate and the students were so good at helping each other. We had lots of fun falling down, getting back up, and sliding around the ice. At the end of the forty minutes, we were all worn out.


    Group shot


    Silly group shot


    After taking off our skates and an intense game of tabletop foosball, we headed to a local mall for lunch.


    Conquered skating!


    I was so impressed by the way the students conducted themselves. They followed directions, got along with one another, and were smiling and laughing throughout the entire trip.


    Ready to skate


    It was refreshing to spend time with my students outside of the formal classroom setting. I enjoy my time in the classroom, but events like these give me a chance to connect with my students in a more personal way. It’s often easy to get distracted by the regimented schedule. I forget how important it is to show my students I enjoy having fun just like them. While I still maintained the position of teacher, I had a blast goofing off on the ice and laughing with my students when we ran into each other or fell down.


    Massage chairs



    Camel Wrestling in Turkey

    We had our parking garage experience in Bodrum on Saturday. The next morning, we took a dolmuş from the city center to the Bodrum Yalı Deve Güreşi Arenası (Bodrum Waterside Camel Wrestling Arena). As soon as we stepped onto the street, we were surrounded by camels and people, all headed into the arena.


    Stadium entrace


    As we got closer, the live music grew louder and the smell of food stronger. Sausages were draped over stands as köfte (Turkish meatballs) sizzled on open grills. I later bought a sandwich and found out it was not what I expected. The vendor informed me I was the proud new owner of a camel sausage and köfte sandwich. Weird as it may sound, it was actually rather delicious. The camel meat had the texture of venison. It was a little bit gamey with sausage seasoning.


    Food at camel wrestling


    This camel was so excited he couldn’t tame his spit. We later saw the (bruised face) owner grooming it with his head covered in the sticky froth. I got an action shot as I tried to avoid the spit soaring towards me:


    Camel Spit


    The camels in queue were kept to the side of the arena. This one stood tall and proud as his team prepped him for competition. He was covered in rugs, which winning camels are apparently awarded before exiting the stadium.


    Camel wrestler


    We sat on a rocky hillside and watched the camel wrestling for some time. During the matches, female camels in heat were circled near the arena. The males wrestled to exhibit their dominance as the alpha-camel. According to Fodor’s, there were judges, separaters (urgancı), commentators (cazgirs), and 21 officials (not including the camel owners) moderating the event. Camels can bring their owners anywhere between $2,500-$25,000, depending on the competition. The camels did not seem to hurt each other. Leah described it as a giant thumb wrestling match, only with camel heads. The officials always intervened before the animals got too aggresive.


    Camel Wrestling in Bodrum


    The musicians at the event were impressive and loud! We noticed the groups of musicians stopped by people who had brought food. When people liked the music, the musicians left with food in hand.


    (Hover over the video and click the sound icon to hear:)


    It was the perfect setting to hear traditional Turkish music being played on the zurna. One group gathered around people behind us and gave as much volume as their lungs could muster. They didn’t settle for us, so I guess our food was unimpressive.


    Turkish musicians


    Hundreds of people gathered on the mountain-made bleachers. Some burned off brush and made fires to cook, while others pulled rocks over the briers for seating. The atmosphere was laid back, with the occasional shout of excitement for the on-going wrestling matches. There were families enjoying meals and friends talking excitedly. We took it all in, a definite Turkish cultural experience.


    Camel wrestling


    Here are two of the camels locked mid-match. Notice the umbrellas in the background. The rain kept teasing us all afternoon.


    Camel wrestling


    What better food to eat while watching camels wrestle than cotton candy?


    Leah with cotton candy


    I picked up an official camel wrestling scarf. After an afternoon of camel wrestling culture, we decided to leave when…


    David with a camel scarf


    It started pouring. We immediately headed towards the entrance of the stadium to see if we could find a dolmuş or a taxi. However, to get to the road we had to run through the camel holding area. We played Frogger with the camels and got completely soaked by the rain. Kendall and Bo were thrilled:


    Rain at camel wrestling


    (Hover over the video and click the sound icon to hear:)


    We followed this camel and his team down the road. The camel decided he had had enough. His owners tried to persuade him, but he wasn’t interested. He was content to camp out in the street and block traffic:


    Dragging camels up a road


    We couldn’t find a taxi, so we decided to walk. During our wet hike towards the city, we saw this view of Bodrum and the Gulf of Gökova, a merging point of the Mediterranean and Aegean. It was a beautiful sight after a day full of surprises. 


    Rain in Bodrum, Turkey



    A Parking Garage Full of Camels

    You never know what to expect in Turkey. During our recent trip in Bodrum, we were at the bus station about to head back to the house. Some of us went to find a restroom, and we followed the signs until we got to a parking garage. Right before we rounded the corner to the bathrooms, we came upon a sight we never could have imagined. Sitting in the parking garage were… camels. A whole lot of camels.


    (Hover over the video and click the sound icon to hear:)


    We knew there was a camel wrestling festival in town, but we never thought we’d stumble upon the camel motel. The camels were dressed in rugs with their names draped over their sides. The owners were grooming, chatting, and comparing camels as we walked through the parking garage of humps.


    Camel in a parking garage


    This big guy put his head down for Kendall and me to pet. He seemed to love the attention and leaned to the side as we scratched behind his head. However, someone promptly warned us camels can lunge forward and that we were in the striking zone!


    Petting a camel in a parking garage


    Bo counted 58 camels within sight:


    Camel in a parking garage


    If I owned a camel, I don’t know where I’d put it. But I guess a parking garage works.


    Camel next to a truck


    Seeing all of the camels only got us more excited for the camel wrestling event the next day!