Zachís trip ... by Zachary Brailer
An addition to "Grandpa Charlieís Journey"
My name is Zachary A. Brailer. I decided to write this recollection of my thoughts and ideas while I was in Korea so you might better understand what I experienced. I will start by telling you a little bit about myself. I am 13 years old. I am involved in Boy Scouts. I am a slight perfectionist, and I am a freshman in high school. I have some hobbies which include playing video games, reading, and collecting Boy Scout patches. This is a little bit about me so you may better understand me. Now I shall tell you about my trip to Korea.
It all began near the end of the school year when my mom asked if I wanted to go to Korea for a month. I agreed --- a little surprised that they had decided for me to go half-way across the world to visit my dad. When May 30th arrived, we set out for the airport in Atlanta, Georgia. When we arrived, I was calm and didnít worry about anything. I had, after all, ridden on an airplane several times before. The hardest part about boarding the plane was screening and waiting. However once I was on the plane my 14 hour flight to Korea began.
The flight to Korea is not a pleasant one. It is very long and
uncomfortable. But the food on the plane was not as bad as I expected,
and the movies were good too. It was very cramped and I was extremely
relieved when I stepped off the plane. When I got off the plane I had to
turn in an immigration card before I could enter into Korea. Once I got
past the registration, however, all I had to do was find my luggage and
meet up with my dad. Once I had completed these objectives I found
myself on a bus headed for Song-tan. During the two hours I was on the
bus my dad pointed out some of the countryside and explained the
history of it. I was amazed at all the hills in Korea, and how the Koreans
adapted to the sloping landscape by terracing and adding onto already
existing buildings. When the bus ride was over we caught a taxi and
headed for my dadís apartment. When we walked inside of my dadís
apartment he explained that we had to climb "the stairs of death" to
reach his room. The stairs of death are gray stone stairs that are
extremely steep, have little hand rails, and can kill you if you slip down
them. I successfully climbed them the first time and dropped off my
luggage. My Dad then introduced me to the Korean currency called
Won. One American dollar is worth on average about 1145 won. After
I had a better understanding of the money we headed for a bulgogi
house called the Samil. At first I was skeptical about bulgogi and all
Korean food, for that matter, but after I tried bulgogi my worries were
put to rest. Bulgogi is shreds of beef that have been marinated with a
sauce that can be sweet or spicy, is eaten by hand on cabbage or
lettuce, and is cooked on the table in front of you! It is served with
many side dishes which include chicken broth, Kim-chi which is pickled
cabbage, pen-de-tolk which is a pancake with onions, carrots, and
chives in it. There are many more but those three are by far my favorite.
After we finished eating we walked around town a bit and then headed
home to go to sleep.
The next thing that was on our agenda was to get me acquainted
with the shops and buildings in our area. We first headed to the Strip
which was basically an outdoor mall. There were many small businesses
combined into a huge outdoor shopping area. I was amazed because I
had never seen anything of its like before. There were so many stores
and people busy selling wares to other people. That is where my dad
pointed out one thing. Koreans tend to think more about the personís
wallet than the person themselves. They also think you want to buy
something if you pick it up, so my dad suggested I only look instead of
touch. Now with new knowledge of Korean vendors I cautiously con-
tinued on. After we had looked around we started to do some shopping.
Our first priority was to buy a sleeping mat for me. We bought a large
mat and then headed home to drop it off. We then set out for the open
air market, which sold things like fish, vegetables, herbs, and live
octopus! All these things were sold outside and came straight from
farms and the ocean. During the time spent in the open air market I
noticed that Son-tan had an interesting smell that would change
unexpectedly from time to time. I told my dad what was on my mind
and he informed me that all of Korea was the same way. After we were
done strolling around Song-tan we headed home and settled down for
The next morning we got up and walked to a house that belonged
to one of dadís friends. His name was Mr. Schelly or simply Jason. I
wondered why we were headed to his house, but I didnít ask my dad. I
soon found out that Jason had offered over 10,000 won in 100 won
coins. He said it was spare change that he didnít need and wanted to
get rid of. I accepted it graciously and started counting it out and
placing it into my pockets. I would later use this to play at an arcade
near our house, buy things from a nearby convenience store, and use it
for later trips we would take. After we stayed and talked for awhile we
headed out to go look at a different part of town. This part was farther
down the strip and had shops that more Koreans went to than
Americans. These shops were open to anyone, however, so we took
advantage and started to look around. There wasnít much difference
between the shops we saw and the shops we had already seen. This
being the case we headed home and rested for the rest of the day.
For the next two days Dad had to work so I just stayed around the
house and read, played computer, and studied. I didnít want to go out
by myself because I didnít know the area well enough and I couldn't
speak Korean like my dad.
I went on the base for the first time and was amazed at how
similar it was to Fort Gordon in Georgia. I waited for my dad to get
money from the ATM, grab a newspaper, and then we waited for a taxi
to show up. We took the taxi to the O.H.O.P (Osan house of pancakes),
and looked around there for a bit. It isnít just a restaurant; it has an
antique store, a book store, a barber, and an arcade! After we finished
exploring this intriguing restaurant we headed for the B-xtra, the
shopping center of the base. It had several fast food joints that were
usually only found in the states like Taco Bell, Baskin-Robbins, An-
thonyís Pizza, and KFC. We soon got restless and headed out even
farther into the base. However it soon got late so we caught a taxi to
the front gate, walked home, and went to bed.
For the next three days I would be at home by myself while my
dad took part in an "exercise". An "exercise" is a scenario where North
Korea attacks and uses several different tactics. The exercise helped
prepare men and women for what might happen if North Korea
attacked. I went out to some places which werenít far from the
apartment like the Pizza Club, the arcade, and the convenience store.
Other than that I read, studied, and played computer.
Today I was excited because we were leaving Song-tan for the
first time and traveling to a different city. I boarded the bus bound for
Suwon, and thought about where we were going. My dad explained that
we were headed for a movie theater in Suwon. After we arrived we
walked into the first floor of the move theater. This movie theater was
different from all movie theaters I had experienced before because it
wasnít just a movie theater. On the first floor there were restaurants,
news stands, concession stands, and other stores that you wouldnít
normally find in a movie theater. On the second floor there were more
stores, and even a cyber cafť. On the third floor there was a wedding
hall and an elegant restaurant. Finally on the fourth floor there was the
Movie Theater. We bought two tickets for "Troy", got some
concessions, and headed into the theater. The movies in Korea are all in
the original American and have Korean subtitles on the side. After the
movie was finished we bought tickets for the bus and headed home for
the rest of the day.
My dad and I were going to travel to Seoul, the city I was born in.
I was happy and excited that we were going to this huge city that had all
the major landmarks in Korea. We were going to ride the subway to
Seoul, something I had never done before. First we rode the bus to the
subway station, and then we bought tickets for the subway and boarded
it. I watched people go by as the train sped to our destination. When
the train halted at our stop we got off and started walking to the most
important Buddhist temple, Cho-kye-Sa. The main part of the temple
was under construction so we didnít see any of the paintings on the
outside which disappointed me. However I got to see a beautiful bell
tower which was elaborately painted, and had a huge bell hanging in it.
I didnít get to ring the bell, but I was shown how it is rung and what it
represents. It is basically used to tell everyone when it is time to pray
and to ward off "evil spirits". After we were done with the temple we
went to an equally famous palace called Piwon. We ended up not going
because we missed the English tour which disappointed me even more.
Instead we went to the Korean War Museum. It was easily the most
amazing museum I have been to. I quickly forgot my disappointment
however once we stepped inside. The museum had three floors
dedicated to the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It had tons of
replicas, dioramas, airplanes, tanks, and just about everything else. It is
the absolute best war museum I have been to ever! Once we were done
at the museum we went onto the military base and visited the Dragon
Hill lodge my mom stayed in while she was pregnant with me. We went
to a kind of Mexican grill and ate there. I ordered a 1 pound burger
which took me three days to finish! After we got a box for my unfinished
burger we rode the bus and subway back to Song-ton so we could go to
We were headed out to a place called the Korean Folk village or
Min sok Chan today. The Korean folk village is a place where aspects of
ancient Korean life are replicated. There were replicas of houses from
all over ancient Korea in the village. There were farm tools that were
used to farm and build at one time. They had examples of how animals
were kept, and what people did for recreation. There were restaurants
that served food outside on platforms where you had to sit with no
shoes on. My favorite part of the village was the pottery, however. The
person who made the pottery started out with a lump of brown clay and
beat and pulled it to the point where it formed a majestic pot. In the
making of the pots they used modern tools to speed up the process, but
back in the day pots like that probably took several days to make and
fire. Pottery wasnít the only thing that interested me however. There
was a basket weaving place where they handmade bamboo baskets.
They had many places where crops and flowers were growing. They
even had a little stand where they made candy from rice, flour, and
nuts. There were many shops that sold everything from food to
souvenirs. I even bought a cool pipe that was made from bamboo and
bronze. The village taught me quite a bit about ancient Korean lifestyle
and showed me how things were done back before we had most of our
modern conveniences. After we explored the village we headed home
and settled down.
For the next six days my dad worked, but during this period I got
out more and walked around on base and in town. I didnít buy much but
I looked around for gifts and interesting things. Other than that I
studied, ate, slept and loafed around and acted lazy, which was a typical
day for me.
We decided not to do much today, other than go and see a
Buddhist temple in Song-tan. We walked down the strip until we came
to a set of stairs which we climbed. When we reached the top we found
ourselves in a small area that had only one "fancy" building. We took
one picture and left for home to rest.
We were going back to Suwon today to go see "The Day After
Tomorrow". We boarded the bus and headed for the movie theater.
When we arrived we walked up to the fourth floor and bought tickets
for our movie. Once we got tickets we bought concessions and sat down
for the movie. The movie was about a huge storm that forms because
we have been abusing the environment. Everyone dismisses the idea of
a storm and continues on with their lives. When the storm finally hits it
freezes the top half of the earth. We then forgive Mexico of all our
"quarrels" and move in down there. I thought it emphasized a little too
much on the whole "global warming issue" and didnít enjoy it that
much. My dad agreed so when the movie was done we walked out
discussing the movie and headed home.
When I woke up I looked forward to our destinations. We were
going to ride the subway to the Korean National Museum and a palace
called Kyung Buk Gung. We walked into the museum first and bought
tickets. We walked in and started in the exhibits titled "Stone Age".
These exhibits showed how tools, pottery, and people started out and
where they were located. It then moved up through the ages into what
Korea is today. It was almost like the exhibits were evolving right before
our eyes. This "evolving" theme continued through all the exhibits
which made them much more interesting to view. One other thing that
made this museum extremely unique was that all the exhibits were real,
not reproductions. We finished up looking at the exhibits which included
an art gallery, a jewelry gallery which had an abundance of real gold
and silver, and a pottery and porcelain gallery. Once we finished there
we headed out the front door and straight to the palace which was
located right beside the museum. The palace was huge and extremely
beautiful. I was amazed at the size of everything and the art that was
involved in many of the buildings. We didnít stay long however because
it was about dinner time for us and we had spent a lot of time in the
museum. So after we looked at the souvenir shop we boarded the
subway and headed home.
My dad had to work for the next five days so I walked around
town and did what I normally did when my dad worked. Slept, ate,
studied, acted lazy, read, and played computer.
We werenít going to go out of town today because we were going
to visit houses I lived in as a kid. We had already seen one place I had
lived on base, so we were now going to see where I had lived off base.
The first house we had lived in was one story with little to no space.
Also it was quite a walk away from the place where my dad worked
back then, and he explained that he had to walk everyday because we
had no car back then. The house was bigger because it had two stories,
but was at the base of a hill that had to be climbed every day. He also
explained that I got ear infections quite frequently and they had to walk
me to the hospital while I was cranky and crying every time this
happened. After my dad had explained this I had new respect for my
What happened today was the best event of my entire vacation. I
was going to tour several U-2s they had on the airbase and I was going
to ride on a chase car. A chase car is a very fast car that "chases" a
landing U-2 and helps it land. It has to do this because the pilot can
only see in front of him and not to the sides. After we finished touring
the U-2s and seeing the suit pilots wore and what they ate in flight we
got into a chase car and waited for the incoming U-2. When the U-2
arrived our driver took off after the U-2 and proceeded to help it land.
They then put on the plane's wing supports and we headed over to go
meet the pilot. Once we had met the pilot we headed over to a good
restaurant to get a steak. After we were full, we found our way home
and fell asleep instantly.
My trip had come to an end, and today was the day to pack up. I
put away all my things, but I didnít feel sad or down. My dad was
coming home in about 6 more weeks, and I looked forward to his
arrival. After I was all packed we went to a friendís house and watched
a couple of movies there.
My last day was today and we had some interesting places to see
before I had to fly out. The first place on our list was Piwon or "the
secret garden". The garden itself was at the back of Chang Dok Gung
palace so we had a little walking to do before we could reach there.
Once we arrived I was not that interested because we had seen palaces
that looked like the "garden". It had a stone pond in the middle of it
that had goldfish in it and a large building where records and books
were kept. It also had several areas of trees and flowers. Once we were
done there we continued on to the rest of the palace. When we finished
we headed to the Seoul Grand Park to go see the zoo. Once we arrived
at the park we walked past the large amusement park and headed
straight for the cable cars. After we reached the end of the cars we
walked around for a short time to look at animals. Most of the animals
were not new to me so I asked my dad if we could leave early. We rode
the cable car to the entrance and headed home.
We woke up early today so we could get to the airport on time.
We boarded the bus and headed out to Seoul. We rode for about two
hours until we arrived at the airport. Once we got there we went
through baggage check in and I headed to the security screening area.
My dad couldnít continue on with me so we bade each other farewell
and I continued on alone. As I walked to the area where I needed to be,
I thought about how much fun I had with my dad and what I had
First, before I end, I would like to talk about my impression of
Korea. One thing I liked about Korea is that everyone seemed to be
working and not sitting around. One thing I frowned at was that they
seem to care more about money when it comes to buying things. Ever
since my trip I have had more respect for my parents, and I have tried
to act more mature. Most importantly, I would like to thank my Grandpa
Charlie for making my trip possible, and my dad for allowing me to stay
in his apartment. Thank you for taking the time to read my recollections
of my trip to Korea.
One Last Thought About Zach's Trip
As Zach's plane was carrying him home to Georgia, Chris sent us
an e-mail from Korea. It's a moving letter and one I want to share with
each of you:
June 30th, 2004
Well, I have just gotten back from dropping Zach off at the
airport. He should be back in Georgia at 1050 on the morning of the
30th. He says he isn't looking forward to the 14 hour plane ride. I don't
blame him; I have done it too many times myself.
I couldn't help but think as he went through the doors to the
International terminal and left my sight, that things have come full circle
(as they always do in life). I thought, "This is what Dad felt when he
dropped me off at the airport when I was a kid." I find that I feel a mix
of emotions. On the one hand, it is nice to have my house back to
myself. There is a special responsibility, therefore a special burden, to
make sure that a visitor has a good time.
But, on the other hand, I find that I miss him terribly. We had a
wonderful month together. It was a time when Zach and I started to
make that all important change in our relationship; where he stopped
being a kid and started becoming a man. Zach says that I am officially,
"Cool!" I guess that I am. He was able to see some of Chris Brailer and
less of Dad. I told him that both these people are me and he seems to
As the door to the terminal closed behind him and I lost sight of
my first-born son, I was able to look to the day when Zach is grown and
moves out to move on with his life. There will come a day when the
front door of our house will close behind him for the last time. It will no
longer be his home and when he comes through it again he will come as
a guest and visitor. As I write this and think of that day, tears are falling
from my eyes; tears of joy and fear; tears of regret and pride. And most
especially tears of love.
Well, like all fathers, I have to get on with the things of the day. I
have to go into work to take care of this or that, before close-of-
business. I do want to say to you, Dad, thanks for helping out with
Zach's trip. It was a time both of us will treasure for the rest of our
Your son, Chris