Baby in Bali:

The Ups and Downs of Our First International Family Vacation

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Photo credit to Conrad resort in Bali on Nusa Dua Beach – In the lobby gardens

In the midst of our tropical paradise vacation last week, Michal and I found ourselves more stressed and exhausted than we were before leaving. Ironically, we were not overwhelmed because of our three-and-half-month-old child, but because of ourselves.

Sophia inexplicably slept the most soundly we’ve ever seen her sleep when we were on holiday in Bali, Indonesia. She fell asleep quickly – not needing any of the usual help rocking or swaying, and she slept straight through the night every night. We’re not sure if we can attribute the calm to the serene surroundings, the clean air quality, or the time in her development.

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Balcony view at the Conrad resort overlooked pool and ocean.

Her sleepiness could have been due to the over-stimulation of her senses: the persistent sounds of nature with the crashing waves and the croaking of frogs and crickets, the vivid sapphire blue of the Indian Ocean and verdant green rice terraces, the variety in textures from the grainy sand to lush grass.

Looking back on it now, Michal and I should have followed her cues from the beginning with how to handle this first big international trip as a family by simply taking in the beauty of Bali and relaxing in God’s glory. Michal and I were instead busy with taking this time of respite for granted.

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Balcony view at our resort in Ubud overlooked rice terraces.

In the time of B.B., we would tackle extensive jaunts abroad with a To-Do list that rivaled agendas we had at the office as we would research reviews and gather tips on TripAdvisor and Yelp as well as read guides like Frommer’s and Lonely Planet.  We wanted to make the long flight worth our time and money by visiting every historic landmark, trendy bar and hip restaurant. We would stay out all night and still try to get up early, as we were running on adrenaline fueled by our wanderlust.

For example, I remember one night back in 2013 when traveling Cambodia when we befriended a British bloke who had recently broken up with his girlfriend back home and was set on drinking everything in sight with me and Michal as his entourage. We ended up bar hopping all night despite having a packed schedule during the day with a reserved tour guide who would to take us around the temples. It was all about seizing the moment and not wanting to miss out on anything.

In general, logistics get complicated when keeping in mind what to do with a baby vs. without when baby stays with sitter/nanny or at daycare. During our trip, we invested a lot of time categorizing activities in either column, and then prioritizing what was most important in case we ran out of time, and then lastly making the appropriate arrangements/reservations.

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Drinks at the Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak

We had planned on one day with a baby sitter while at the beach so we would do all the activities we couldn’t do with baby: Rent a scooter and venture around Seminyak area (more known for its nightlife and party atmosphere), eat dinner at a romantic restaurant, get drinks at a posh beach club.

Truth be told: After all this work, I was mentally drained and generally tired from being a new mom, so I wanted to throw it all out and just stay at our first location for the night, ordering another round of appetizers and chilling until the sun set on the beach. Michal had other expectations and a lot more energy for the day and night. Needless to say, I wasn’t very articulate in expressing my perspective and he wasn’t ready to slow down, so we both ended up disgruntled and slightly disappointed with how the day unfolded.

The best days we had on the trip were when we didn’t plan much of anything except a starting point and we just went with whatever presented itself. Sophia was miraculously pleased by our side the whole time.

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Nusa Dua Beach in front of St. Regis

Nusa Dua Beach: We had brunch at another resort for variety’s sake – the St. Regis, savoring our Luwak coffee alongside a smoked salmon sandwich and poached egg and pancetta salad. Walking around the resort, we discovered a turtle conservation area and were in awe of the many tiny baby turtles. Then, we took a dip in the most beautiful stretch of the beach with its crystal clear blue water and soft white sand. With its calm coast and shallow depth, it was very comfortable for us to hold Sophia while the gentle waves rolled over us.

 

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Trekking rice terraces in Ubud near the Puri Sebali Resort

Ubud: We trekked through nearby rice terraces surrounding our resort and then wandered through the monkey forest. We had lunch at a vegan cafe that had large sofa-like benches for Sophia to stretch out on. And then we did a hike along the Campuhan Ridge at sunset. With its moderate inclines and mostly paved path, it was manageable with Sophia.

Sophia slept through most of the walking while we wore her in the carrier. When she wasn’t sleeping, she was looking around with curiosity at all the sights. We were surprised at not only how calm she was but how alert.

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Pampered at the Conrad

Bali itself turned out to be very baby friendly. Balinese people were extra interested with her and enjoyed meeting her and even offered to carry her while we dined at certain places. Resorts are generally accommodating to families, but on another level in Bali.

For example: At the Conrad in Nusa Dua, our room was equipped with a baby bed, baby toiletries, diapers, a bottle sterilizer and a bottle warmer.

The least stressful parts of the trip were when we stopped worrying about our lists, reviews, maps and plans. It was yet another reminder of the overall theme of this blog – Proverbs 16:9. On our next journey, we will keep in mind that the point of a vacation is to relax, and that true joy is in being content with what we have rather than stress about what we could be doing or what we are missing out on.

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Photo credit to Conrad resort in Bali – View from lobby overlooking pool and ocean
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100 days update:

On honoring (and breaking) Korean tradition

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We did our “100 Days” photo shoot in Namsan Park with Maitri Photography.

In stark contrast to the Korean tradition of keeping children indoors until 100 days old, Michal and I went for a walk along the Han River with Sophia napping in her stroller six days after giving birth.

With its flat terrain, paved path and scenic green areas, it was the perfect baby-friendly, relaxing outing we needed after being cooped up in the birthing center for five days.

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On our first walk along the Han River at six days old. We took her out of the stroller just for the photo.

The meaning behind the 100 days tradition dates back to when the infant mortality rate for the country was high. Those babies who lived to 100 days survived and thrived afterward. In a way, celebrating 100 days in Korea was more momentous than celebrating the first birthday.

So it’s understandable that my husband and I received quite a few surprised reactions and inquisitive responses while out and about with Sophia pre-100 days: How old is she? How are you feeling? Should you be walking? Shouldn’t you both be at home? Isn’t she cold?

The most memorable comments we have gotten in Korea with our little one were from an elderly couple at the Grand Hyatt. The couple had never seen a baby that small in person, let alone out in public, and exclaimed how she looked as tiny as a doll so they just had to take a photo. In fact, they asked to take several photos with Sophia and her father.

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Sophia fell asleep just before our bingsu dessert came to our table at the Grand Hyatt.

Furthermore, new mothers in Korea typically recover at home for the first few weeks after giving birth or stay in post-partum care centers, where they are able to receive a variety of support that could include lactation consultants, yoga instructors and massage therapists.

Michal and I decided to forego this option as my mother was coming into town shortly after Sophia’s arrival. Private nanny and cleaning services are also very affordable in Korea, at a going rate of 10,000 won (about $10) per hour, so we decided to invest in this option as additional support during those first crucial months.

In relation, I remember reading a blog post by a mother in the U.S. about what those first 100 days are like. She called them the “Dark Days” because of how difficult they were for the mother and father to have to adjust to a “new normal.” Those fragile, frantic first weeks of absolute sleeplessness and uncertainty paired with post-partum recovery are now past us.

Looking back at the past 100 days, I’ve seen Sophia grow stronger and more independent. She’s becoming her own little personality with preferences and dislikes. And with each day, Michal and I have grown more and more adventurous with our baby outings – pushing ourselves beyond expectations I originally had for our new family life.

In the era of B.B. (before baby), as a newly married couple five years ago, Michal and I thought to delay starting our family in favor of more travel, independence and leisure. After years of repeated interrogation, friends and family were excited to hear we decided to start trying. And the grandparents couldn’t have been happier for Sophia’s arrival (yet saddened as she is so far from them in the States).

Our wanderlust didn’t end since getting pregnant and having a baby. This shared desire to explore and experience new cultures is an integral part of the foundation of our relationship. So in the time that I was pregnant, we traveled around Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

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My favorite part of our travels through Kyoto and Osaka was “Philosopher’s Walk” when we visited numerous serene temples and gardens.

In recent and coming months, Sophia will have been on a plane three times – jet setting to Jeju-do, Bali and Detroit, Mich. In Seoul, we started with those easy strolls along the Han and moved up to strapping her into a carrier or wrap while hiking around Namsan.

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Our first activity together during Michal’s parents’ visit in Seoul: Hiking around Namsan (mountain). Sophia fell asleep quickly in the carrier.

Ironically for us, as a recent Washington Post column states “The adventure doesn’t have to stop” with a baby.

Being at home with just us in the nursery is where Sophia sleeps the least soundly. She needs movement, white noise, body warmth (as recommended by Dr. Harvey Karp in his book Happiest Baby on the Block). Therefore, why not give her all of this in a natural environment? Sophia falls asleep quickly and sleeps the longest on walks and hikes. She even sleeps fairly well in a her car seat at a crowded restaurant.

I wholeheartedly agree with the WaPost column: At this early age, now is the time to venture out while baby and bags are lighter. She doesn’t need toys as she is entertained with the ambient noise and color of nature, nor does she need snacks as she is solely breastfeeding.

In addition, the majority of airlines either do not charge her fare or require a fraction of the original amount for a seat. Most resorts provide baby bassinets. In Korea specifically, we have found a number of nursing rooms in malls, on cruise ships and at nature centers.

The days when I would just stay indoors at home with her, I found myself going stir crazy as it was like I was living my own version of the film Groundhog’s Day. The routine of nurse-play-sleep on repeat every two hours became tiresome for both Sophia and me as she has gotten older and grown bored of what I could offer her as entertainment in our home.

Michal and I can’t help but notice how interested Sophia is in the world around her, with her alert and inquisitive eyes darting around the room and following any new face or brightly colored object. My mother-in-law, in particular, can have full length conversations with Sophia through cooing, mimicking pitch and tone. And our osteopath, along with friends and family who meet her, have witnessed her constant action – flipping from her tummy to her back, consistently kicking and wanting to stand (with assistance) instead of sit in our laps.

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Tummy time!

Sophia’s voracious curiosity, fluid activity and insatiable desire for noise and interaction have inspired Michal and I to keep going and moving with her by our side.

We have emerged from these past 100 days with a newfound motivation to keep up this expat lifestyle. Thank you Sophia for showing us another way to live our “new normal,” and congratulations on your 100 days!

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To celebrate her 100 days, we did a cruise on the Han River. The Banpo Bridge Water and Light Show is in the background.

Cheers to the years:

A recap of our craft beer bar crawl in honor of our five-year wedding anniversary

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Our first and favorite stop: Pong Dang

If you know Michal and I, you know we enjoy a good beer. In fact, we would rather toast to our five-year wedding anniversary with a craft brew than a fine glass of wine or champagne.

So for this milestone wedding anniversary, smack dab in the middle of a super sticky summer in Seoul and about three months after having given birth, we thought it was perfect timing for a craft beer bar crawl.

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We got a baby sitter for the whole day and traded in the usual bar crawl T-shirts for a snazzy matching couple outfit we found on Gmarket (Korea’s equivalent to Amazon), ala Korean style.

We ventured back to Sinsa-dong where we visited Mikkeller last year because there were a bunch of craft beer spots we recently discovered on a helpful map compiled by the Seoul Brew Club.

With each beer, we cheered to a significant memory of our marriage. Although we ran out time, we didn’t run out of beer choices – and we certainly didn’t run out of memories.

The following describes our bar crawl experience by sharing the special moment from our relationship we reminisced, along with our thoughts on the beer, food and ambiance of each microbrewery or pub we visited.

First stop: Pong Dang

The memory we toasted to: Our sweet Sophia

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She’s wearing our wedding colors!

How could we not start by toasting to our darling daughter? I recently was telling a group of my preggo pals in Seoul about how I thought I could have never loved my husband more than I already had – until the day our daughter was born.

I was determined to give birth without medical interventions, so I was impressed and in awe that through all the pain and messiness of labor and delivery, Michal not only stood by me but helped me through each position and exercise (even climbing 11 flights of stairs with me twice in order to help move the baby down).

The beer we tried: Bold brews
Wide selection of beer brewed in-house but unfortunately flights were not an option. Michal had the nitro breakfast stout and I had the sour ale. I loved mine as it was especially tart but not mouth-puckering. I had a generous taste of his nitro and enjoyed the overall rich flavor, velvety mouth-feel and chocolate undertones.

The food we wished we tried: Skewers and sausages
We had just eaten a multiple course lunch at Si Wha Dam, so we opted out of getting food but regretted it later as it seemed like Pongdang had the best options for what we like to eat when we drink yet the food was still unique to the culture of the country (e.g. a variety of meat skewers and sausage platters).

The atmosphere we had fun with: Hipster haven
More like what we’ve seen in the U.S. at microbreweries. We had some fun tinkering around on the retro video game machines operated by coin, but were disappointed when one ate our money and didn’t work.

Second stop: Vincent Van Golo

The memory we toasted to: The beginning of our globe trotting days

Alright, this one goes back in time before we were married – the summer we backpacked through Italy and France after we graduated from MSU. It was the moment we knew we loved each other and were invested for the long haul.

We both thought the trip was a test for us because during our couple years of dating prior in undergrad we had never done any sort of vacation together as a trial run, not even a short road trip. But thankfully, we ended up having the time of our lives!

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(2008) In the gardens of Versailles – We ended up exploring the grounds long after all other tourists left.

From being in the Pope’s private audience in Rome and getting an umbrella blessed by him (unfortunate we didn’t have anything else on us to bring to the altar) to unintentionally strolling through the Versailles gardens for hours not realizing the gates closed for the night, our first international trip (one of many to come) forged our relationship ahead and cemented our shared wanderlust.

The beer we tried: Decent drinks

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There were only two beers on draft brewed in-house – a pale ale and a hefeweizen. The hefe was the perfect session ale on a hot, humid summer day – light and easy to drink. I avoided Michal’s pale ale as I am not into bitter hoppiness. The owner said he recently opened and was just starting to brew, so he was hoping to expand his repertoire.

We actually talked with the owner for a bit as he spoke good English. He funnily assumed we were college kids on a date, not a couple on their 5th year wedding anniversary, which – given our cute coordinated outfit and choice of venue for afternoon drinks – was fair.

The food we tried: Standard snacks
The food menu had the usual bar food options like fries and chicken wings. We arrived just when the place opened so we had to wait a bit longer for the food to be prepared, but appreciated getting complimentary shrimp chips in the meantime. I liked how the fries were seasoned and the wings were crispy on the outside yet juicy on the inside, however the flavor was nothing to write home about as it was a pretty predictable BBQ sauce.

The atmosphere we enjoyed: Artsy and airy

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Just a few of the art pieces adorning the walls

The highlight of this spot was theme and decor. It had a bit of a gallery feel as we enjoyed looking at all the kitchsy pop art by local artists (many pieces conveyed anti-establishment themes). The two floors of the building included balcony and terrace spaces, with a bar on the bottom and on top.

Third stop: Boozy Cat Pub & Taphouse

The memory we toasted to: Our wedding, just another reminder of Proverbs 16:9
Five days before our wedding day, I got a call from the dry cleaner that a new employee didn’t cover the jeweled buttons on the back when turning my wedding dress inside out. The result – The front of the dress looked like a cat took her claws and ran them from top to bottom.

When I saw the shredded mess, the dress I bought more than a year before and had imagined wearing at my wedding every day since, it felt like someone close to me had died. However, the dry cleaner owner was so apologetic that she took me and two of my best friends, Erin and Esther, to nearby dress shops and allowed me to pick out anything on her dime. What could have been a disaster, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I wasn’t restricted with my previous budget and the dry cleaner even had a seamstress as a friend who would take care of the alterations. Looking back on it all now, the fiasco seemed so trivial as it worked out for the better.

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(2011) Jumping for joy with our wedding party in front of the Spartan Statue at our alma mater, Michigan State University

Our wedding day was a series of so many similar surprise moments filled with generosity and love. From the skillfully and cleverly made video montage by my cousin April to the solo piano performance by our friend Joe, Michal and I were continually presented with an outpouring of appreciation and loyalty we didn’t expect. We not only felt loved by each other when getting married, we felt blessed by everyone around us.

The beer we tried: Variety is the spice of life
A good amount on the menu of well-known local and foreign craft beer on tap, especially compared to other typical Korean bars so we had to order two flights to get a full variety. The pours were a little larger than the usual in a flight, so needless to say, we ended up making this our last stop for the bar crawl.

The food we didn’t need to try but did any way: Pass the cheese, please
The food menu was an attempt to be more upscale and hearty, offering pasta-based entrees. We got the most appetizing sounding appetizer – the roasted Camembert (we’re usually a sucker for hot, melty cheese like baked brie) topped with slivers of almonds and a mysterious sweet syrup, served alongside saltine crackers.

For a more expensive cheese (especially here in Korea where high quality cheese is hard to come by), I would have preferred better accompaniments. It’s like serving Moet & Chandon champagne with a bag of Cheetos. And the syrup was not for me – it tasted a bit artificial and was unnecessarily drizzled on both the cheese and the crackers.

The atmosphere we noticed in passing: Average
I liked that it was on the second floor with wide-open windows, making it appear larger and bringing in tons of natural light, but there wasn’t much personality to the decor design.

Overall

Pong Dang wins our heart. It definitely scored high points for the best beer. The food menu was intriguing enough to entice us to try it next time. And the overall feel made it seem like what we’re used to seeing at home.

We definitely want to revisit the area as we could only fit in so much day drinking, and ironically, we had a wedding to catch in Gangnam later that night…

To Michal: Cheers to many more unexpected adventures to come with our marriage!