Category: Travel


Thursday, December 30:  In my inbox this afternoon is an email saying I have a message on Badoo.  Badoo is some kind of social/dating website, but honestly, I don’t even know how I got on there.  Possibly someone invited me at one time; I don’t know.  When I open the email, I find it’s from a French wine professor in Seoul.  His message is: It looks like you and I have the same color of hair.  It’s not black!  I laugh.  True, there is his picture and yes, he has white hair as I do.  I write him back and a chat ensues where he asks me what I’m doing this weekend.  I say I’m either doing a temple stay or going to explore the Baekje dynasty in Buyeo and Gongju, near Daejeon. He says, “I hope you won’t be shocked, but I’d love to get out of Seoul this weekend.  Would you like to meet somewhere?”  I say, “Well, if I meet you we’ll have to get separate rooms since I don’t even know you.”  He says, “That’s fine.”  I say, “Let me think about it and let you know tomorrow.”

pierre at gungnamji pond

pierre at gungnamji pond

Pierre is a 59-year-old wine professor in a university in Seoul.  An OENOLOGIST, he says. I can’t even believe they have such a thing here in Korea, as Koreans don’t have a climate or topography conducive to cultivating grapes for wine.  It’s difficult to find wine in Korea at all.  Most common beverages here are makeoli, a milky-colored Korean rice wine, beer, and soju.  But, he assures me he is a professor, that his English is not good, and that he is adventurous enough to come on an outing with me.  Complete strangers we are. Yet.  I’ve been traveling alone in Korea for so long the thought of having some company is appealing.  On Friday morning, I text him, tell him I’m going to Buyeo and if he’d like to come along, he’s welcome to come.

gungnamji pond

gungnamji pond

details of the pavilion at Gungnamji

details of the pavilion at Gungnamji

Saturday, January 1:

We meet at the bus terminal in Daejeon.  I suggest we stay the night in Daejeon; it’s Korea’s 5th largest city so there will be something to do in the evening.  We can venture to either Buyeo or Gongju on Saturday, return to Daejeon in the evening, then go to the alternate city on Sunday.  He’s agreeable to all my ideas, so we meet, drop our bags at the Star Motel (in separate rooms, which the motel proprietors find highly amusing), and then head back to the bus terminal to catch a bus to Buyeo.  It turns out there are two bus terminals in Daejeon and we happen to be at the Dongbu Intercity Bus Terminal, which only has buses to Gongju.  For some reason I can’t remember, we decide to go to the unkempt Seobu terminal to take the bus to Buyeo.  It takes an hour and a half to get there, despite the fact Tourist Information told me it would be a 40-50 minute ride.  Apparently the bus makes numerous stops and sidetrips so it takes much longer.

the pavilion at Gungnamji

the pavilion at Gungnamji

When we arrive in Buyeo, we take a taxi right away to Gungnamji, a circular pond ringed by bare-branched weeping willow trees.  It was built in 634 as a pleasure garden for the Baekje royal family.  It has an arched bridge to a little island topped with a pavilion.  There is snow everywhere and the trees are bare, so it has a stark and clean beauty to it.  It conjures up images in my mind of what Japan might be like.

me at

me at Gungnamji

We call back the taxi driver who dropped us off, and he takes us next to Busosanseong, a hill where once stood the central Baekje fortification and royal palace.  We see the shrine Samchungsa, which showcases portraits of three loyalists to the last Baekje king.  We stroll up snow-covered paths to the top of the hill to point overlooking a bend in the river.  A hexagonal pavilion is perched at the top of this rock, Nakhwa-am, or “Falling Flowers Rock.”  Legend has it that 3,000 Baekje court ladies flung themselves off of this rock rather than chance being “deflowered” by invading armies.

nakhwa-am or "falling flowers rock"

nakhwa-am or “falling flowers rock”

This hike takes us quite a while and when we get back to the bottom, it’s getting dark.  We decide to take the bus back to Daejeon and have some dinner.  I find a highly recommended Italian fusion place called the Flying Pan in my Moon Handbook, but when we get there, the management is at the door denying entrance to anyone.  When we ask why, they say they are “all sold out!”  All sold out of EVERYTHING?  We ask if we can just come in and drink some wine, but they refuse to allow us to even do that.  We find a lesser quality Italian restaurant, Sorrento, down a pedestrian street, where the only kind of wine on the wine list is a Chianti.  It’s mediocre at best.  Oh well, so much for sharing a good wine in the company of a wine professor. 😦

sorrento: the only wine on the "wine list" is a chianti

sorrento: the only wine on the “wine list” is a chianti

Pierre tells me he has two daughters, age 14 and 18, has been divorced 5 years, and has been in Korea over 3 years now. He still has a house in Bordeaux.  He thinks he will be ready to leave Korea in another year.  We agree on many things about Korea: the cities are all alike and ugly, filled with grey block buildings; the country’s efforts to learn English are failing; it’s a very inward-looking and nationalistic culture; Koreans think everything in their country is unique.  We both agree it’s claustrophobic here.

It’s great for me to have company on this trip; Pierre is easy-going and adventurous.  He goes along enthusiastically  with my every suggestion.  He’s fun to talk to, smart and knowledgeable.  The thing lacking is chemistry, of which there is none on either part.  It’s fine, because he is leaving for France on January 9 and won’t return until a day after I leave Korea for good.  There would have been no future in it, even if there had been any chemistry!  However, he is fun and enjoyable, and I think we can be friends.

We go our separate ways after dinner.  Luckily there are computers in the rooms, so I’m able to check emails (and Facebook, of course!).

Sunday, January 2: In the morning, we go to the Dongbu bus terminal and head to Gongju, where we visit the Gongju National Museum; its collection includes Baekje artifacts, including gilt-bronze shoes (which look humongous ~ too large for any human feet!), gold earrings and ornaments, comma-shaped jades, a gilt-bronze standing Avalokitesvara, bronze and stone daggers and a stone seated Buddha.  There are also artifacts excavated from King Muryeong’s tomb in 1971, including a cool stone animal guardian.

a mystical buddha at the gongju national museum

a mystical buddha at the gongju national museum

A 5 minute taxi ride from the museum is Gongju’s “principal point of interest,” Songsan-ni Gobungun, a group of Baekje-period royal tombs.  These just look like a cluster of grassy knolls.  I’m never excited about seeing Korean tombs, but these are right in our trajectory so we might as well see them.  Apparently four of these tombs were discovered in 1927 and robbed of their treasures.  The fifth and sixth were looted 5 years later.  Only in 1971 was the 7th tomb accidentally discovered, the tomb of King Muryeong and his queen.  As it had been sealed in A.D. 529, it lay undisturbed for nearly 1,500 years.  The treasures in this tomb were preserved and serve as historical evidence of the Baekje dynasty.

a walk at

a walk at Songsan-ni Gobungun

baekje-era royal tombs... excitement galore!

baekje-era royal tombs… excitement galore!

yummy snowballs :-)

yummy snowballs 🙂

We are told that Gongsanseong Fortress is a 10 minute walk from the tombs, but it seems longer as it’s freezing cold and the path along the highway is crunchy with ice.  We finally arrive at the fortress which sits on a grand hill punctuated with yellow flags.  The fortress is built on a ridge-line overlooking the Geumgang River, so it’s an imposing sight.

walking along

walking along Gongsanseong Fortress

gongsan fortress

gongsan fortress

We take pictures on our short walk up, but instead of exploring the entire fortress as we did in Buyeo, we opt to head for lunch in Gongju.  We search for something suitable, but end up eating bibimbap with what I think are a bunch of roasted peppers, but turns out to be raw beef strips.  Surprisingly, as the beef is lean, I eat it and find it not so unpleasant.

After lunch, we make a trek to Nonsan to see “an ordinary temple with an extraordinary statue.”  Gwanchok-sa temple has Korea’s largest free-standing stone Buddha image, Unjin Mireuk Buddha. The Buddha dominates the temple compound and looks out serenely at us.  The statue is from the early Goryeo Dynasty and supposedly took 38 years to complete.

on the way up to Gwanchok-sa temple

on the way up to Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

the unjin mireuk buddha at gwanchok-sa temple

the unjin mireuk buddha at gwanchok-sa temple

Nonsan is quite off the beaten path so it takes us quite some time to get back to Daejeon, where we end up back at the Seobu bus terminal!  We take a taxi back to the Dongbu station, retrieve my bag from the hotel, and then go to Daejeon Station, where I take a quick KTX ride home.

a door at the temple

a door at the temple

I’ve explored a lot of Korea now, and my time here is about to end.  This place is one of the last on my list.  A year here is much too long.  I’m ready to go home.

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Friday, December 17:  On Friday night, we take the KTX to Seoul.  The KTX is the high-speed train; it takes 1 hour and 40 minutes from Daegu to Seoul.  Apparently, according to the Korail website, it can go up to 300 km/hour.  It doesn’t seem to me it goes that fast.  I think it’s fast only because it makes only 2 or 3 stops.  I love the description of the KTX design on the Korail website:  “In order to reduce air resistance, the head part of front and back of the high-speed railroad is designed after streamlined shape of a shark, plus the characteristic of Korean culture which is the soft curve.”

So, Alex gets his first Asian train experience.  We arrive at Seoul Station, get on metro for one stop to Namyoung Station, and voila, right around the corner is our hotel, the Rainbow Hotel.  We check in and immediately go out in search of a place to have snacks and drinks; we find one that’s comfortable and sit and talk for a long time.  He tells me about his recurring dream of his true love Sarah, about another girl he met who conveniently forgot to tell him she had a boyfriend, about his closest friends.  I love this evening because we are so relaxed with each other and I feel so close to him after his time here with me.   I am sad that now his time here is drawing to a close.

the guard and alex at the palace in seoul

the guard and alex at the palace in seoul

Saturday, December 18:  In the morning, we venture out into Seoul to see Gyeongbokgung Palace.

the palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace

the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace

inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

part of Gyeongbokgung Palace

part of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung means Palace of Shining Happiness and was built by Chosun dynasty-era King Taejo in 1395, the fourth year of his reign.  The palace was destroyed several times by the Japanese, and now is only, at least in my mind, a bunch of poorly maintained empty buildings.  The only interesting thing is seeing a bunch of palace guards marching about with flags, and getting to take some pictures with them.  They seem quite disgruntled at having to pose with all the ridiculous tourists.

We go to the National Folk Museum which sits at the northern end of the Palace.  We don’t go inside but just wander around the grounds where cool statues and folk carvings abound.  We discover our Chinese astrological signs; surprisingly, Alex and I have the same sign: the sheep.  I don’t much care for this because I don’t consider myself a sheep!!

alex and i share the sheep astrological sign ~ baaaaa!

alex and i share the sheep astrological sign ~ baaaaa!

National Folk Museum grounds

National Folk Museum grounds

Alex and friend

Alex and friend

a party at the National Folk Museum

a party at the National Folk Museum

me at the National Folk Museum

me at the National Folk Museum

Alex

Alex

In Seoul

In Seoul

A Korean friend of mine who used to be into heavy metal in his younger days (his name is Young Dae, oddly),  suggests that we go to a huge guitar market at Jongro-3 station: Nak won sanga.  So. After the folk museum we venture into this market, where Alex buys two Korean ceramic type of musical instruments: one for himself and one for his friend for Christmas.  Then we go to Itaewon where we eat chicken schwarma at a Turkish restaurant in the Arab area, see the mosque, and browse in the English bookstore What the Book?  Since we are loaded down with a few book purchases, we return to the hotel to drop them off and taxi to City Hall to check out the Christmas decorations, which frankly were pretty darn disappointing.  We wandered around the stream and saw the minimalist lights, then went into JS Texas Bar for a light dinner of shrimp salad and beers.  We have to kill time for a while before taking the Seoul City Bus Tour, so we wander around the streets and step into a PC bang to check our emails.

alex at the mosque in the arab section of itaewon

alex at the mosque in the arab section of itaewon

The City Bus Tour is about an hour and a half of traversing back and forth by bus across the various Han River bridges.  Apparently each one of these bridges has some great importance, some grand design.  That is the tendency of Koreans, to think everything in their country is such a unique treasure, unlike anything found elsewhere in the world.  I actually find this nationalistic pride quite annoying.  (I could go on and on about this subject and I will in a final blog about Korea when I leave here!)  Anyway.  This bus tour would be fine except we’re supposed to see the city all lit up but it’s all a blur because the windows are all fogged up.  At one point  the bus takes us up to Nam-san Mountain to see Seoul Tower, but they only give us 20 minutes to wander around, not enough time to go up in the tower.

downtown Seoul

downtown Seoul

Seoul at Christmas

Seoul at Christmas

Seoul

Seoul

Korean what-nots

Korean what-nots

Alex in wonderland

Alex in wonderland

JS Texas Bar where we have beers to kill time before the city tour

JS Texas Bar where we have beers to kill time before the city tour

We’re both tired after the day, so we go back to the hotel and relax.   All night long, Alex can’t sleep.  He’s worried about his flight the next day.  On top of that, for the entire time he’s been here, he’s been complaining about my snoring!  All night he keeps saying, Mom!  You’re snoring!  Stop it!!  He actually gets quite vicious about it.  I don’t know what to do other than to stay awake myself, which I don’t care to do!

Sunday, December 19:  As Alex barely gets a bit of sleep, I let him sleep in late in the morning.  Finally, we go out, making our way back to Itaewon to have lunch at a Thai restaurant, which is delicious.

christmas tree near city hall in seoul

christmas tree near city hall in seoul

We go back to What the Book? to kill time and finally head to Seoul Station to catch the Express bus to Incheon airport.  We have coffee in the airport, kill more time, and then, alas, sadly, Alex departs back to the USA, where he will have Christmas with his dad and his brother, leaving me behind to while away my first Christmas ever all by myself in a foreign country 😦

As an afterward, he missed his connecting flight in San Francisco, was told he’d be on standby for the next flight, and ended up making it on that flight!  I was so worried about him coming here and getting home safely; it was a relief when Mike called to tell me he made it home.

at the airport after 17 days with mom ~ priceless

at the airport after 17 days with mom ~ priceless

Monday, December 13:  Alex sleeps in while I schlep into work today.  Again, he visits the DVD bang during the day.  In the evening we go to Lotte Cinema to see The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp; it’s quite cute.  We have an exciting dinner at Mr. Pizza afterward, where we are the last customers of the night.

Tuesday, December 14:  Alex goes to Chojeon with me, where one of Coffee J’s 4th grade boys plays the flute for him.  Alex thinks Little Miss Jailbird is quite a character and he likes her edgy personality; she’s the girl who constantly insults me and wears the gray and black striped knit pants (see my previous blog: insults korean style).

In the evening, I expose Alex to the samgyeopsal and noraebang experience with Anna, Seth, Maurice, Myrna, Lilly and Ben.  Samgyeopsal consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is often dipped into a spicy pepper paste and wrapped in lettuce leaves along with other vegetables.  Noraebang, literally a “song room,” is similar to what we Westerners know as karaoke; it’s different in that a group of friends rents a room for an hour or two by themselves, and the public is not involved (as in Western-style karaoke).

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsol

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Myrna, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

Anna :-)

Anna 🙂

Alex tries samgyeopsal

Alex tries samgyeopsal

At noraebang, Alex wears dreadlocks and belts out songs along with the rest of us, losing all his inhibitions.

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Myrna belts out a song

Myrna belts out a song

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Wednesday, December 15:   Tonight, we go to my neighborhood Italian place for dinner, visit an outdoor Asian market near my house, and then try a different DVD bang where we watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, which happens to be the first book I read when I got to Korea in March.

Thursday, December 16:  Tonight, we go to downtown Daegu and eat fat juicy hamburgers at Gorilla Burger.  Later that night, Alex, prone as he is to making exaggerated sweeping statements, says, “This is the best December I’ve ever had in my lifetime!”  This is so much in character for him; I remember when he was a little boy  and he’d meet some random kid at a soccer game and he’d say, I just made a new best friend today, Mom!

Friday, December 10: We leave at 7 pm Friday night to go to Suncheon.  I’ve given Alex many options, showing him pictures of places I’ve been, and as he loves the outdoors, he decides he wants to see the tea plantations and Suncheon Ecological Bay, a wetlands area.  I’ve already been to both of these places, but, alas, we go again so Alex can see them.  We arrive in Suncheon late and go immediately to the BMW Motel, where I stayed when I was here before.  I say, “Dul chimdae isseumnika,” which my Moon Handbook says is “I want two beds please.”  They tell me they have no rooms in the entire hotel with two beds.  Thus we must find another motel.  I ask for a recommendation, and they suggest one that costs over 100,ooo won (!).  The BMW is 30,000!  I say, No, making the big “NO” gesture where you cross both forearms in front of your face.  I write: 30,000 or 40,000 won!!  Finally, they understand and write down a motel name, which we give to a taxi driver.  We end up at quite a nice motel in a far-flung part of town, the Ibama, for 60,000 won ~ still too much. Our room is decorated brightly with one wall of huge pink flowers.

First we get this room, but then we request another...

First we get this room, but then we request another…

Our pink and purple flowered room

Our pink and purple flowered room

the Ibama Hotel

the Ibama Hotel

Later we find a cute cafe with wine-colored Jacquard sofas surrounded by leafy trees, flowers, greenery of every sort, all abloom.  We drink beers and talk and talk.  It’s fun getting to know Alex ~ the adult he is becoming.  As a mom, it’s always hard to see your children as grown-ups, but I’m pleased to say he’s becoming quite a mature young man.  During this time, we have a few tense moments when he tells me about a job he had briefly at UPS.  He lost it because he didn’t show up for work after the first day.  When he explained the situation to me, he said the manager never let him know his schedule by email or phone.  I said, You didn’t ask her when you left at the end of the day when you were next supposed to show up?  He said no.  For some reason, this infuriated me so much; my blood was boiling!  This is the kind of thing I cannot understand.  It is for reasons such as these that Alex and I used to butt heads constantly when I lived at home in the States.  Sometimes our arguments escalated to huge screaming matches where we said regrettable things to each other.  Though we have some moments of tension on this night, we are able to get past them; I don’t want to get into huge disagreements with him while he is visiting me here in Korea.

having dinner at the leafy cafe

having dinner at the leafy cafe

the leafy cafe

the leafy cafe

Saturday, December 11:  In the morning, we take a bus to Boseong to see the tea plantations.  They’re not as bright green as they were when I was here in October, but there is still a richness to them.

Boseong Tea Plantations

Boseong Tea Plantations

Alex at the tea farm

Alex at the tea farm

topiary at the tea farm

topiary at the tea farm

me at the tea farm

me at the tea farm

tea farms

tea farms

Alex at tea farms

Alex at tea farms

tea farms in every direction

tea farms in every direction

lunch at the tea plantation

lunch at the tea plantation

Alex waits at the bus stop

Alex waits at the bus stop

Later we go to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park and walk through the wetlands and up to the observatory on the point of the mountain hugging the bay.  We try to wait till sunset to get some beautiful pictures but it’s cold and we’re tired, so we leave and take some sunset pictures down in the wetlands.  Later we eat dinner at a very lame sandwich shop.  Later we find a Japanese restaurant that would have been great for dinner if we had discovered it earlier.

me at Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

me at Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

Boats at Suncheon Bay

Boats at Suncheon Bay

Alex at Suncheon Bay

Alex at Suncheon Bay

the hard path or the easy path??

the hard path or the easy path??

Suncheon Bay wetlands

Suncheon Bay wetlands

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

sunset over the wetlands

sunset over the wetlands

boats in the wetlands

boats in the wetlands

on the bus back to the hotel

on the bus back to the hotel

Sunday, December 12:  Today is cold and gray, but we decide to try to see a temple called Songgwang-sa.  It takes us 1 1/2 hours by city bus to get there.  We’re thinking that after we see the temple we’ll visit a folk village another hour away, but the bus drops us off at noon and no bus returns to the temple, which is quite remote, until 3:00.  We’re stuck there, it seems, to kill 3 hours! We wander along the path to the temple, finding colorful shops & restaurants along the way.

fruits for sale

fruits for sale

colorful shops & restaurants along the path

colorful shops & restaurants along the path

at the entrance to the temple

at the entrance to songgwang-sa

The temple complex is quite nice with one of its main halls jutting out over a small river, but it’s bitter cold outside.  After we explore the grounds extensively, there is nothing to do but have a traditional Korean meal, sitting on the floor at a low table, to kill time (& stay warm) until the next bus comes.

Alex at the temple

Alex at the temple

inside one of the temples

inside one of the temples

Alex at the temple complex

Alex at the temple complex

Songgong-swa

songgwang-sa

Alex along the path between temples

Alex along the path between temples

peeking out from the door to nowhere

peeking out from the door to nowhere

temples galore

temples galore

Songgwangswa Temple near Suncheon

Songgwangswa Temple near Suncheon

Lunchtime at Songgong-swa

Lunchtime at songgwang-sa

a typical Korean lunch

a typical Korean lunch

By the time it comes, we’re tired and know we have a long way still back to Daegu.  We pass on the folk village and head back to Suncheon, where we then take the bus back to Daegu.  When we get back home, I scramble us some eggs and we head to the DVD bang to watch the movie Chloe.  It’s actually a little risqué to watch with my son, but oh well, here we are.  I’m sure he’s seen movies as risque as this without me, so why fight it?

 

December 6-10, 2010: During the week, I try to expose Alex to Korea as I know it.  He can’t believe the genius of the DVD bang, a place where you rent a movie with a room, sit on a comfortable reclining leather couch under a fuzzy blanket with a heat lamp warming you up, and watch a movie on a big screen.  A place where you can have a drink, munch on popcorn or ramen noodles.  He loves this place and its proprietor so much, he goes to the DVD bang every day while I’m at work.  I also introduce him to the PC bang, but he becomes really irritated that he can’t play computer games on it because he’s not a Korean citizen.  Apparently you need a Korean ID to be able to log into these communal computer games.

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Monday morning, Alex comes along to Chojeon Elementary School, where the students point at him, touch him, grab him.  Both the teachers and students continually call him “handsome boy.”  Coffee J’s 4th grade class puts on a vaudeville-type show for him, one they had done the previous week for the entire school.  This version is minus the costumes.  Afterwards, we hand out snacks and the students line up to get Alex’s autograph.  For the first time in his life, Alex is unquestionably a star!

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

the girls inspect and preen Alex

the girls inspect and preen Alex

"handsome boy" signs autographs

“handsome boy” signs autographs

my crazy 4th graders

my crazy 4th graders

Alex and one of my students hams it up

Alex and one of my students hams it up

That evening, after making a grocery run at Home Plus, we celebrate Alex’s first day of school at the local Aussie pub, Sydney Street, the only Western bar in the neighborhood.  We share impressions about Korea over beers and he meets a few of my Korean lady friends, 19-year-0ld university student Holly and flight-attendant wanna-be Becky.  Holly adds him the next day on Facebook as a friend.  In my apartment later, we relax and watch episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the computer he brought from home.

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex and me

Alex and me

Tuesday Alex stays homes and relaxes while I go to work.  In the evening, we go to Anna and Seth’s with Myrna and play a fun game of Ticket to Ride and share pizza & chicken.  Wednesday he also stays home, but after work we have pizza at Dasarang and then play billiards and watch the movie Sliding Door in the apartment.

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Myrna and Anna

Myrna and Anna

Alex and me

Alex and me

Alex comes to Byeokjin Elementary with me on Thursday, but he is bored out of his mind because the principal has forbidden him to be in the classroom “because he has no teaching credentials.”  This is crazy as it’s not a requirement to be a certified teacher in one’s home country to be a teacher in Korea (unlike in places like Dubai where this is required).   Hell, I’m not even a certified teacher!  Despite this prohibition by the principal, Kim Dong Hee’s animal-named first graders bring Alex welcome cards they made for him.  My fifth grade class gets to ask him questions for 10 minutes before class begins.  They exclaim that he’s a “handsome boy” and want to know if he has a girlfriend.

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Me at Byeokjin

Me at Byeokjin

That night, Kim Dong Hee and Young, two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, come out to a dinner of shrimp pilaf with us at the Warehouse.  After, we make a trip to Home Plus to see if my Vietnam visa is in.  It is.  I get it and we go to the hat department and try on goofy hats like a bunch of clowns.   Young, a brand new and very young teacher, is really cute and often blends in with her 5th grade students at Byeokjin.  Alex thinks she’s the cutest thing ever.  After they leave, Alex and I head to the DVD bang, where we watch Funny People with Adam Sandler.

Alex and me at the Warehouse

Alex and me at the Warehouse

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

A night at E-Mart.  Alex tries on a hat

A night at Home Plus. Alex tries on a hat

E-Mart: I try on a hat

Home Plus: I try on a hat

Kim and her hat

Kim and her hat

Saturday: December 4:  The first weekend he’s here, I expose Alex to public transportation in Korea.  We take a bus to Jinan, which takes about 3 hours.  I don’t think he’s fully gotten over the trip to get here and he gets a little irritable about having to be on the bus for so long.  We end up in the Jinan bus station waiting for a bus to Maisan Provincial Park, but we can’t get any information about when this bus arrives.  People tell us such a variety of things, our heads are spinning.  The Jinan bus terminal is one of Korea’s more grungy terminals.  Old people inundate this corner of the world.

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea's finest .... LOL

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea’s finest …. LOL

When we arrive, a girl in a school uniform immediately accosts us and starts speaking a little English with us.  Once we fall under her “care,” we can’t shake her and as our wait stretches from minutes into hours, she attaches herself to us with a vengeance.  She keeps repeating some kind of English-Korean mixture of words, none of which we can understand, and then she starts jumping at us and poking us in our heads to startle us.  It becomes quickly apparent that she’s a little uh— crazed.

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

Finally a bus driver speaks some English and informs us that the bus we are waiting for to take us to Maisan doesn’t arrive until 7:00 at night!!  We would have been waiting a long time….Someone tells us we should take a taxi; I have no idea how far it is, but at this point we have no choice.  We take a taxi.  It turns out to be a 2o-minute ride and costs only about 7,000 won.  No big deal.  When we arrive at Mt. Maisan, I see there are no taxis just sitting around waiting to take people back to Jinan, so I ask the driver for his card so I can call him when it’s time for us to leave.  He is a jovial fellow and agrees that all we need to say is “Maisan” and he will come for us.  Later, I am glad to have thought of his ahead of time, or Alex and I would have spent the night in the wilderness!

At Maisan, we stop for bibimbap at one of the many restaurants lining the path to Tap-sa, the temple we have come to see.  Alex has his first taste of true Korean food!  He likes the bibimbap; admittedly this is some of the best bibimbap I’ve even had in Korea.

alex eats his first bibimbap

alex eats his first bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

After, we walk the long path to Tap-sa and have a fun time exploring this unique and quirky temple.  In 1885, lone Buddhist hermit, 25-year-old Yi Gap Yong, came to Maisan to meditate and “cultivate” himself.  Over the next 30 years, he single-handedly constructed over 120 conical-shaped natural stone pagodas, without using mortar.   Today, 80 of his pagodas still remain standing.  This is a very unusual temple in Korea, an almost lunar-like landscape, thus it draws many tourists.  I came to Maisan before for an EPIK field trip, but didn’t see this temple because of a miscommunication about the time we had to see the sights.  Determined to see this bizarre place, I drag poor Alex along for his first Korean “temple” experience.

alex and his friend

alex and his friend

alex one with Buddha

alex one with Buddha

little buddhas

little buddha-like beings

tap-sa

tap-sa

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

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inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

We meander back and probe around in the Golden Hall Temple, which I saw last time I was here.  With darkness falling quickly, we call the taxi driver and head back to Jinan.

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

I have thought of many options because I want to see a particular temple in Jiri-san park, but after talking at great length to Tourist Information, I find any which way we travel to this temple, we will spend 7 hours on multiple buses on Sunday.  As Alex is of no mind to spend so much time on a bus, we decide to go to Jeonju to spend the night.  Though I’ve been to Jeonju twice already, Alex is interested in seeing Hanok Village (which I’ve also been to twice), so we plan to do that on Sunday.

Sunday, December 5:  Sunday morning we head to Hanok Village.

Hanok Village

Hanok Village

At Hanok Village, we walk all around the quaint little town and do a bit of Christmas shopping.  We buy gifts for Alex’s grandmother and aunt, his sister, his brother, and himself.

alex at hanok village in jeonju

alex at hanok village in jeonju

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

We see the Catholic Church, a historic building of some sort, and wander about enjoying the village.

Catholic church in Hanok Village

Catholic church in Hanok Village

We stop to warm up and eat waffles with ice cream at a cute little shop, where we find some interesting signs on the toilets.

Alex in the waffle cafe

Alex in the waffle cafe

waffles with ice cream :-)

waffles with ice cream 🙂

around Hanok Village

around Hanok Village

Alex loves mimicking statues :-)

Alex loves mimicking statues 🙂

We stop at Gyeonggijeon, built to preserve the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty.  Gyeonggijeon used to be a gigantic building with numerous other buildings attached, but it lost half its land during the Japanese occupation.  On the grounds of Gyeonggijeon today, there is an art show with some very strange art.

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

Art show

Art show

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Finally, we continue our walk around Hanok Village, enjoying the colorful foliage.

at a little cafe

at a little cafe

Later in the afternoon, we catch the bus back to Daegu and take a walk around Keimyung University, where we can see a great view of west Daegu and my neighborhood near the university.

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

alex on the campus of keimyung university

alex on the campus of keimyung university

me & the angels of Keimyung University

me & the angels of Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

We have dinner at Olive del Cucina, watch The Hangover at the DVD bang.  I prepare for a week of work.

Alex at Olive de Cucina

Alex at Olive del Cucina

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

 Who is this kid and why is he calling me “Mom?”
alex arrives at incheon airport on the outskirts of seoul

alex arrives at incheon airport on the outskirts of seoul

Thursday, December 2: My 19-year-old son, Alex, flies into Incheon Airport on Thursday, December 2, for the first solo intercontinental trip of his lifetime.   Though he traveled abroad in his “youth” to France, Germany and the Bahamas, he did so under the protective watch of his father and me and was probably too young to remember much of those trips.  I got it in my head that a trip to Korea would be an eye-opening experience, a voyage of emotional and intellectual growth, a way to jolt him out of his comfort zone.  After much haggling and discussion with his father, we agreed he could come to visit for much of the month of December.

Alex is my middle child, but my first son in my second marriage to Mike.  Alex and my youngest son, Adam, who is 18,  live with their dad in northern Virginia.  My daughter Sarah from my first marriage is 26 and lives on her own. Though Alex graduated from high school in June of 2009, he has spent the last year and a half struggling to decide what to do with his life.  He attended Northern Virginia Community College for one semester, picking his classes not because of his own interests but because a close friend signed up for them, Japanese for one.  He hasn’t been able to find a job, which both his dad and I are pressuring him to do. I’m not sure if his inability to land a job is because of a bad job market or not really trying hard enough.  Alex’s greatest dream is to be a musician.  He loves heavy metal.

after a 20 hour flight with no sleep, he has to take a 4 hour bus to daegu.... :-(

after a 20 hour flight with no sleep, he has to take a 4 hour bus to daegu…. 😦

As a mother, my dream for him is that he be a success, that he find happiness.  It’s also more complicated.  I don’t want him to be like me.  I have always been good at many things but never great at any one thing.   This is a good thing in many ways, but a problem in others.  If you have a strong talent or ability in one area, it’s easy to find your direction. For example, my sister has always been very artistic, and so her career path led her in a straightforward way to be a freelance artist and eventually art director at Shape and then Fit Pregnancy Magazine.  She’s very successful.  My youngest son Adam not only has great abilities in math and science, but he also loves those subjects; he will probably be an engineer or a scientist of some kind.  Most of my life, with my multitude of half-ass talents,  I’ve floundered about, trying this and that and never really finding my niche.  I’ve been an English teacher, a newspaper reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, a banker again.  I’ve gotten a Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy and did two internships at the State Department and one at MSI.  In the midst of all this I was a mother and a housewife for 15 years. Now, I’m teaching English in Korea.  It’s not really a career path, it’s a career meander, boomeranging eventually back to where it started from.    Who wants to take a gamble on someone with this kind of resume?

alex on the streets of daegu

alex on the streets of daegu

I don’t want Alex to squander his life.  I don’t want him to repeat my mistakes, my indecisiveness.  So.  It floors me when one of the first nights we share beers together in Daegu, he tells me he thinks he and I are very much alike.  Though it’s nice he thinks that way, I cringe inside.  Because I don’t want him to be like me.  I want him to be clear in his direction; I want him to find a passion and stick to it.  I want him to be a success, to make decent money, to find a girl he loves.  But mostly I want him to be happy and self-sufficient, self-confident and assertive.  I want more than anything for him to be the opposite of me.

Alex ventures to Korealand

This trip to Korea germinates,  blooms and becomes reality.  There are some moments of extreme anxiety on my part when, the day after he buys his ticket to come here, North Korea attacks an island in South Korea. The hullaballoo thankfully dies down and Alex arrives at Incheon in his brown plaid shirt, scraggly half-bearded face, and curly unkempt hair stuffed under a knit cap.  It’s been nearly 10 months since I’ve seen him and at 6 feet tall, he dwarfs me when I hug him.  We take the four-hour bus directly from Incheon to Dongdaegu; he’s not one bit happy to have to take a four-hour bus trip after 20 hours of flying, during which he didn’t sleep one wink.  I get him settled into my little Korean “room” (not quite an apartment).  The next morning I go to work and leave him to sleep the day away.

socks for sale in Daegu

socks for sale in Daegu

His first Friday night I take him to my neighborhood Dasarang for chicken and beer.  He’s not old enough to drink legally in the U.S., but here it doesn’t seem to matter.  I don’t even know what the drinking age is, but no one asks him his age or questions him in any way.  I’m fine with drinking a few beers with him.

chicken korean style

chicken korean style

We have a lot of great conversations, opening up freely under the effects of the alcohol… 🙂  He tells me he is still in love with his old girlfriend Sarah.  He can only think about her, wants to marry her, even dreams about her.  He is a sweet boyfriend; I’ve seen him before with both of his long-time girlfriends, Lindsey and Sarah.  Even if he is lost career- or direction-wise, I know I have raised him to treat his girlfriends well.  He is a boy with a sweet and sensitive heart.

chicken, chicken and more chicken

chicken, chicken and more chicken

being a mom again :-)

being a mom again 🙂

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Friday, October 22: On the bus to Tongyeong, I listen to Glen Hansard’s Falling Slowly on my iPod Nano (which has suddenly come to life after 6 months of silence): I don’t know you but I want you All the more for that….Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time.  Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ve made it known…

tongyeong and geoje on the south coast of korea

tongyeong and geoje on the south coast of korea

Little do I know that on this trip, I will be pointing my own “sinking” (or at least on-the-verge of sinking) boat home through the rough seas off Geoje. 🙂

My little collection of music transports me to the world slipping by outside the window, the world filled with fringe-headed grasses & cosmos & trees turning the colors of squash and rhubarb.  The songs add flavor & scent to my journey.  They inundate everything with meaning, carrying my thoughts along tangled mazes of memory.  I simply listen to my songs and gaze absently out the window.

ornamental grasses add life, sound & motion to landscapes!

ornamental grasses add life, sound & motion to landscapes!

Ornamental grasses wave to me from the side of the highway, beckoning in whispers. They bring the landscape to life with motion. Korea does roadsides right. I find cities in Korea unattractive; they’re not aesthetically pleasing at all, at least not to me.  It’s as if the powers-that-be decided long ago not to bother making man-made things beautiful but to devote all their energy to making nature sparkle.  Along the roads, out in the middle of nowhere, someone plants pretty little somethings.  The swaying grasses make me think of caresses. Gentle soft caresses, which I am seriously lacking in my life.  They speak to me in a sensual voice.  I imagine someone, someone I might love, holding these fringes of grass and running them over me, gently beckoning.  I remember past caresses.  I wish.

provisions in my "love motel" room in gohyeon

provisions in my “love motel” room in gohyeon

Recently, someone I know told me she is an asexual person.  Another person told me she has been dead to sexual urges for so many years she’s forgotten what it even feels like. She stopped having any desires of that nature.  It’s funny.  I think I could go without for years and years but I would never forget what it feels like; I would never stop desiring it.  I can say without a doubt that I’m a very sexual person.  But.  I cannot be casual about it; I want the heart stuff to go along with it.  I want the passion, the emotion, the commitment, the love.  My heart is too sensitive to settle for less.

I cruise along, mesmerized by these elemental earth things, these grasses.  I long for the caresses they promise.  But.  They will not deliver, not on this trip.  I journey on, untouched. Before I know it, I’m in Tongyeong, where I am immediately herded into a bus to Geoje.  People are crammed in, dangling from rubber handles on the ceiling.  What I was told was an hour ride is happily only a half hour.  At the Gohyeon Bus Terminal, we pour out, and I find a taxi that takes me a whole two blocks to my motel, the Migeumjang Yeogwan, for 30,000 won a night.

my "love motel" room: Migeumjang Yeogwan

my “love motel” room: Migeumjang Yeogwan

There are these motels in Korea known as “love motels.”  Often a love motel has these rubber fringed curtains similar to those found at a car wash; they hang halfway down over the entrance to the motel parking lot.  This is so that people driving by cannot see whose cars are in the parking lots ~ to keep sexual liaisons private.  Often young Koreans come here to be alone, since they often live in their family homes until they marry.  Rooms are also used for extramarital affairs and can even be rented by the hour, or so I’m told.  But they are also cheap places to stay for travelers like me.  They’re comfortable & clean and they provide shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers, even toothbrushes and toothpaste (used by countless previous customers).  In these love motels, several of the T.V. channels feature Korean pornography.  When I stay in these motels, which are not always for “love” (as witnessed by my lonely stays in them), and I’m flipping through the channels, sometimes I come upon one of these shows.  Maybe I am prudish, in some ways I certainly am, but I have never watched porn. Embarrassed, I switch the channel as quickly as possible.  Tonight though, I am curious.  I pause for a few minutes to watch and I can’t help but think these people look like robots.  Where is the passion, the love?  Where is true sensuality?  I don’t see the appeal in this and I wonder why so many people in the world watch it. It’s too bizarre.  I go back to watching consecutive episodes of CSI until late at night.

Saturday, October 23: In the morning, I get up early because I have to make my way to Jangseungpo-dong to catch the 9:40 boat to Odeo-Botania and Geoje Haegeumgang, two islands off the coast in the Hanryeo National Marine Park.  When I arrive, I buy the ticket for 19,000 won.  On the ticket they ask me to complete a bunch of information: name, birthdate, address, telephone number, passport number.  When I board the boat, they rip off the part of the ticket with all my information and keep it on land.  It doesn’t take much of a look at our boat for me to see why they keep all this information.  It’s a rickety thing, old and sitting low in the water.  Our little vessel doesn’t look very seaworthy for the over 100 passengers who cram onboard.

on the not-so-seaworthy boat

on the not-so-seaworthy boat

I think about this for a minute, but then I toss my worry overboard.  The boat starts up eventually and we pull out of the little harbor.  I am excited because I love being on boats.  I grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, near the York River, and our neighborhood, Marlbank, sat on a hand of land reaching into the waters of Wormley Creek.  We spent countless summer days crabbing off docks, sailing on my friend Louise’s sailboat, water-skiing, or just swimming.  Sometimes we went out on boats with friends and motored around the York River, drinking beer and listening to 1970s rock. Other times, we rode bikes to the end of Wormley Creek Drive, walked through a field and some woods and then swam across the creek, holding our towels over our heads, to the other side where there was a sandy beach.  M*****, my best friend in middle school, had a little aluminum boat with a motor on the back, and she would often bring it to the creek, where we took turns driving and riding in the boat.

our little boat

our little boat

While we are boating out on the ocean toward these islands off Geoje, I think about water and how comfortable I am with it.  I have to admit I’m feeling a little smug as the captain of the boat starts selling some kind of liquid in bottles for seasickness and handing out little plastic vomit bags.  The water is a little choppy on this overcast day and people are getting seasick right and left.  It seems everyone but me is gripping a plastic bag, poised for the moment when they’ll lose it.

heading out to the deep gray sea

heading out to the deep gray sea

Meanwhile, I’m having a grand time and think of this as an adventure. I think about my swim team days and how I’m a fairly strong swimmer and how I could conceivably float on my back indefinitely.  I don’t feel at all afraid.  Even though the boat is bouncing along and waves are coming over the bow and we have to close our windows, I’m having fun.   I’m not at all worried.  If the boat goes down, I can swim.  I can float.  I’ll be fine.

one of many seasick Koreans

one of many seasick Koreans

The boat continues on until we reach Geoje Haegeumgang, two steep craggy islands only a half-kilometer offshore from a more southern point of Geoje than where we departed from Jangseungpo-dong.  We cruise around the islands and pull up for a close-up view of the sheer cliffs.  It’s quite beautiful with the white stone rocky faces of the islands rising before us.

Haegeumgang ~ "like mountaintops protruding above a sea of clouds"

Haegeumgang ~ “like mountaintops protruding above a sea of clouds”

A memory comes to me as we bounce over the sea.  One day we were at Wormley Creek and M***** was pulling 3 or 4 of us on a rope behind her little boat.  I was closest to the boat and several friends were behind me on the rope.  Suddenly, M***** lost control of the boat.  I don’t know what happened, but the boat turned around and was bearing down on us.  Everyone behind me swam off to the sides, but I had no time to do anything; the boat was going to be on top of me in a second.  So, I held my breath and dove underwater.  In front of me, with the boat over my head, I could see and hear the motor roaring and churning.  I thought, this is it!  I’m going to die!  I’m going to be chopped up by this motor!  But M***** had her wits about her and, in a sweep, she shut off the motor.  Sacred silence. I emerged from under the boat, shaken, but fine.

I think about this water incident, and I think about M*****.  My mind wanders to the 2nd time she could have killed me.  We were teenagers and had been drinking heavily at a party near the Amoco oil refinery.  Driving home from the party in her father’s new car, we were talking and laughing and not really paying attention to the road.  We didn’t wear seat belts in those days.  Suddenly, in front of us, I saw a line of cars at a standstill.  I looked at her and it hit me much too late that she didn’t see these cars; her foot never even hit the brake.  We crashed into the cars, totaling the car in front of us, which got hit from behind and in turn hit the car in front.  I stuck out my hands and stopped myself by bracing against the dashboard.  Luckily, neither of us were hurt, but her father’s new car was seriously damaged.

haegeumgang ~ another view

haegeumgang ~ another view

I’ve known M***** a long time.  She’s one of my oldest friends.  I think about what makes a friend, what are the criteria for friendship?  Can someone be a friend who almost kills you twice?  She and I have a long history; we’ve been through so many things I can’t even remember them all.  I know her family; she knows mine.  To this day, she is one of my strongest supporters. We share a love of travel and different cultures.  She reads all my blogs religiously.  She even subscribes to them!  It’s hard for me to believe that anyone can care that much about what I have to say.  But she must.  She reads them.  It shows me she cares.

another island we pass in the boat

another island we pass in the boat

Friendship is beyond definition.  Friends bring such a variety of blessings into your life; you can’t possibly list the things that make a friend a friend.  Some people make you laugh, bring a lightheartedness into your life.  Some people are great listeners; others great sharers.  Some you can talk to about anything.  There is no single definition of friendship but I know it when I see it.  M***** is one of those rare people, a blessing in my life.  This I know with certainty.  This despite her almost killing me twice.  🙂

**********************

topiary near the entrance to oedo-botania

topiary near the entrance to oedo-botania

We motor off toward Oedo Botania.  This is an island that’s been cultivated since 1963 by Korean couple Lee Changho and Choi Hosook; it’s the first island in Korea ever to be owned and developed by an individual.  Every inch of this island is abloom with gardens and punctuated by statues.  I walk along the pathways with hundreds of other Koreans who have taken boats from other locations in Geoje.  I check out the cactus garden, the Venus garden, the flower garden, the bamboo road, the Hope of the World garden, the Dreaming Heights, the Stairway to Heaven, and the Eden Garden.  It’s like a fairy-tale land bursting with beauty.  The island itself is gorgeous with gardens, but the view of the surrounding ocean doesn’t hurt it one bit.  Most definitely, Korea does nature right!

crazy octopi cacti....

crazy octopi cacti….

I love the cactus garden full of its spiky succulents, its pale jade tear-drop-shaped cacti.  Everything is prickly and untouchable, covered in porcupine-like needles or spiked bark.  Some of the cacti look like hundred-armed octopi.  Even the normal trees have spiked vine-like appendages.

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Ornamental grasses at Oedo Botania

Gardens at Oedo Botania

gardens at Oedo Botania

gardens at Oedo Botania

textures and colors

textures and colors

topiary at Oedo Botania

topiary at Oedo Botania

the gardens of Oedo Botania

the gardens of Oedo Botania

Statues of naked women, naked men & Venuses abound.  A whole “Venus Garden” full of well-trimmed hedges, white iron gates and fuchsia flowers sits on a hilltop with a semi-circle of marble columns and Venus statues at one end.  I enjoy the view from the garden out through the columns and statues to the sea.  So many Koreans are here it’s hard to get photos; since they love to take pictures, they are hogging all the good photo ops.  At the Venus garden I have to wait a good long time before I can snap a shot not inundated with the entire Korean populace.

flower gardens at geoje

flower gardens at geoje

The flower garden is a profusion of colorful flowers and topiary and smooth-barked trees.  It seems odd that all these flowers are still blooming at the end of October.  I walk up the hill and also discover the Eden Garden with a lovely statue sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.

me at Oedo Botania

me at Oedo Botania

After exploring this awesome island for an hour and a half, we board the boat again and head back to Geoje.  The ride was fairly choppy on the way out, but on the way back it is more than choppy. The waves are quite big, creating deep troughs between; the boat is banging up and down on this angry & frothy sea; it tosses foam and waves overboard onto the windows of the boat.  It seems every Korean on board has a vomit bag and both children and adults are using them in large numbers.  For the first time I am worried.  The boat is rickety so I can hear it straining and creaking as it bounces and twists roughly over the waves.  I remember my thoughts on the way out:  how I’m not afraid of water and how I’m a strong swimmer and how I could float indefinitely.  Now, I am thinking that this is how people drown, in rough seas where it would impossible to keep your head above water no matter how strong a swimmer you are.  And now that it’s getting colder, I am thinking about hypothermia and how easy it would be to succumb to such in this weather.

So.  Coming back, I’m not so brave as I was going out.  I’m not really afraid, but I am wary and vaguely nervous.  The sick people on board aren’t making me feel any better.  After an hour of this bouncing along, we finally arrive back at Jangseungpo-dong.  Whew!  Safely on land.  I catch the next bus to try to go to Windy Hill and Sinseondae, but I’m told I have to switch buses at Hakdong Pebble Beach.  The black Pebble Beach is honestly not much to look at, so I don’t want to stay long. I try to ask a lady selling street food about how to catch the bus to Windy Hill.  She doesn’t understand, but a Korean man around my age comes to the rescue and asks where I’m going.  His English is good; he works at the Korean Central Bank.  He says he and his wife are going to Windy Hill and they’d be happy to give me a ride.  They are so kind and save me much headache trying to make my way down the coast.

a street food stall where I meet the lovely Korean couple

a street food stall at Hakdong Pebble Beach where I meet the lovely Korean couple

Hakdong Pebble Beach

Hakdong Pebble Beach

When we get to Windy Hill, I thank them profusely after taking a picture of them, and we part ways. I walk down to Windy Hill which is a quite lovely promontory topped with a windmill and ornamental grasses blowing in the strong wind.  The view of the water and the other islands and fishing boats is beautiful.  I walk down the hill and explore the cove where numerous fishing boats are anchored and then walk back uphill by another route to cross the street and go to Sinseondae.

the lovely Korean couple who gives me rides to and from Windy Hill

the lovely Korean couple who gives me rides to and from Windy Hill

the windmill at Windy Hill

the windmill at Windy Hill

me at Windy Hill

me at Windy Hill

Korean ladies at a little market at Windy Hill

Korean ladies at a little market at Windy Hill

boats in the bay at Windy Hill

boats in the bay at Windy Hill

Boats in the water at Windy Hill

Boats in the water at Windy Hill

I love the description in the Geoje Tour Map of these places.  Obviously written by a Korean in flowery language and translated into English by an English-speaking Korean, I find it quite quaint:

“When we come down to the north at a corner going to Haegeumgang after passing Hammok, we can see a fishing village Dojangpo like a picture and can see ‘Windy Hill’ as a watercolor when we raise our head.  When we stand by an observatory in the south of a road after going up the hill, there is where we become a wizard who looks out over the sea.  Its name is ‘Sinseondae.’ ‘Windy Hill’… is where sea wind always meets visitors since there is a long extended clean sea around there.  It comes to the spotlight as a drama photographing place since sea is well-harmonized with the hill.  In ‘Sinseondae,’ we can look out over [see].  It has a shape playing a wizard game with harmonious landscapes around it since a large rock secures its position on the seashore.  There is a small Mongdol Swimming Beach at the lower edge, which makes its landscape more tasteful.”

Windy Hill

Windy Hill

I find this description amusing and cute.  Yet, it captures the essence of these two places which are right across the street from each other.

Beautiful cosmos cover the hillside looking out to Sinseondae.  It is another rocky promontory that also juts out into the sea and has quite a distinctive rounded chimney shape.  I spend quite some time wandering here and taking photos with my new camera.  As I walk down to Sinseondae, who do I run into but the nice Korean couple again.  They have finished at Sinseondae, but I haven’t gone yet.

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

walking back up the hill from Sinseondae

walking back up the hill from Sinseondae

The husband says he & his wife want to drive me back to my hotel in Gohyeon, so they will wait for me.  I am surprised, but I’m happy to take them up on their offer.  So when we are done, we drive back all together and they drop me at the Gohyeon Intercity bus terminal.

I go to an internet cafe for a while to check my emails, then eat a good chicken, noodle and vegetable soup (Dak KarGukSu) for dinner at a lovely little Korean restaurant that is decorated with a bunch of jars filled with roots.  Later I relax and read and watch TV for the evening.

jars of roots in the restaurant

jars of roots in the restaurant

Dak KarGukSa ~ chicken noodle soup

Dak KarGukSa ~ chicken noodle soup

Sunday, October 24: In the morning, I have a plan to go to Camellia Island, but when I wake up it is raining quite steadily.  Instead, I go to the Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp.  This prisoner of war camp was built in November, 1950, and was used to keep the increasing numbers of P.O.W.s isolated from the rest of the country.  About 170,000 P.O.W.s, whether communists or anti-communists, were accommodated in this camp during the war.  The prisoners consisted of 150,000 North Koreans and 20,000 Chinese.  The camp is an impressive array of historical war facts, dioramas, war vehicles and weapons, actual tents and a kitchen and latrine area.

Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp

Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp

The P.O.W. camp diorama

The P.O.W. camp diorama

another diorama at the POW camp

another diorama at the POW camp

mist over the mountains

mist over the mountains

the POW camp

the POW camp

the POW camp

the POW camp

Leaflets for psychological warfare

Leaflets for psychological warfare

After the P.O.W. camp, I take my 2 buses to Tongyeong and then home to Daegu while listening more to my iPod.  I hear a funny song about memory called “Eid Ma Clackshaw” by Bill Callahan.  The lyrics go something like this:

Last night I swear I felt your touch / Gentle and warm / the hair stood on my arms / How, how, how?  Show me the way, show me the way, show me the way / To shake a memory…..  I fell back asleep sometime later on / And I dreamed the perfect song / It held all the answers, like hands laid on / I woke halfway and scribbled it down / And in the morning what I wrote I read / It was hard to read at first but here’s what it said:  Eid ma clackshaw / Zupoven del ba / Mertepy ven seinur / Cofally ragdah.

I find this song so amusing.  The way I understand it, he is thinking about someone who left him, either due to death or just leaving.  At one point in the song, he uses imagery of a horse flipping his forelock and twitching his withers to shake these memories.  Finally, he dreams about a song that gives the answer, but it’s nonsensical.  I feel that he’s saying there’s no way to shake a memory; it’s with you and no amount of magic can rid your mind of it.

I think about my memories of love, of caresses, of intimacy ~ those memories that crept into my consciousness as I traveled to Geoje.  Memories.  Sometimes they can bring pain & misery, sometimes joy and serenity. Sometimes they make me yearn to have the experience again, to feel what I felt.   Sometimes I can bask in a memory, if it’s a long ago one and any pain associated with it has faded away.  Other times a memory can still be painful.  But memory is part of who I am; all the memories I hold in my heart shape the person I am today.  When a memory comes to me, I must honor it, give it due space and time, but not dwell too deeply in it.  After all, I am a composite of all past experiences that dwell in the recesses of my mind.  Eid ma clackshaw.

flower garden on oedo

flower garden on oedo

If you want to go to Geoje from west Daegu, here’s what you do:

1) Take the 805 bus to the Seobu Bus Terminal and get on the bus to Tongyeong for 12,800 won.  I was told the trip would take 2 hours and 2 minutes.  It actually took just a little over 1 hour.

2) In Tongyeong, take the bus to Geoje-Do for 3,300 won.  I was told it would take 1 hour, but it actually took 1/2 hour.

3) The boat cruise to Oedo Botania and Geoje Haegeumgang left at 9:40 a.m. and cost 19,000 won.  It took about 3- 3 1/2 hours.  This boat left from Jangseungpo-dong but I think there are boats from other parts of Geoje as well.

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Thursday, October 14: It all starts Thursday night, with my 11th visit to a urologist for a persistent infection that I’ve had since late August.  This infection has attached itself to me with a vengeance and won’t let go.  I’ve seen this doctor variously for nightly injections, 3-day medicine rounds, check-ups and then more visits.  I’ve never in my life had an infection this persistent.

the entrance to seorak-san national park

the entrance to seorak-san national park

For the first time, my Korean friend Kim accompanies me to see Dr. Ahn, who is finally able to speak to me in more than one-word sentences, since Kim can translate. He tells me this: The infection is not going away because of stress.  You need to drink plenty of cranberry juice (which by the way is next-to-impossible to find in Korea), eat a tomato a day, drink a cup of water every two hours, take a break from drinking coffee and alcohol, and above all: “take a rest.”  I tell him I am planning a trip to Seorak-san this weekend.  He advises me against it.  I get very agitated and tell him the only thing that keeps me sane and gives me any happiness in Korea is traveling.  I tell him, I will rest in Seorak-san, take a hike, breathe fresh air, be outdoors in the crisp fall air.  He says, okay, but please, take it easy.

Friday, October 15: I take his advice to mean I should call in sick on Friday. I sleep in, relax, and most of all, take a break from my 5 classes at Chojeon and my two-hour nightly commute home from that school (Chojeon is frankly the cause of most of my stress).  Friday evening I get on the bus from Daegu to Sokcho, a town right outside of the national park.  Sokcho and Seorak-san are in the far northeast of Korea, almost up to North Korea.  I actually find the bus rides relaxing here; I put the seat back, read, sleep.  As long as there are no fights on board, I’m generally pretty stress-free on these express or inter-city buses.  The bus ride is 5 hours long.  When I get there, I find a hotel, the Miamore in Sokcho, drop my bag, and walk to the E-Mart-ah, several blocks away, for a late dinner.

another lovely korean hotel room at the miamore in sokcho

another lovely korean hotel room at the miamore in sokcho

I am gorging myself on fried chicken at a Popeye’s when this crazy looking white dude with a goatee and one of those knit caps with a bill on the front walks by with his wife and gives me a huge grin and a friendly hello.  His wife goes off to buy the groceries while he eats bibimbap at a nearby table.  When he sits down, he immediately starts chatting, about anything and everything.  He asks me all about myself, what brings me to Korea, where do I live here, where do I teach.  He is so easy-going I didn’t mind telling him anything he asks.  He introduces himself as Justin, his wife is Bonnie.  He’s a screenwriter and she teaches teachers how to teach English.  It’s a good job and she gets lots of vacation time and good money.

He says, I see you don’t color your hair.  I think it’s great!  It’s stunning; it really is. Most Koreans dye their hair till they die, and it looks horrible!

Wow!  I’m bowled over since all I get in Korea is people giving me dirty looks and advising me to dye my hair. We discuss how especially on the men, it’s so ugly and makes them look so unattractive, especially as they age.  We are in total agreement on this subject.

following the crowds into seorak-san

following the crowds into seorak-san

I tell him about being separated for 3 1/2 years, about my children.  He tells me his mother has been married three times and she picks the same kinds of losers every time.  He says she believes marriage is THE ticket to happiness.  I tell him I’m on a different kind of journey.  At first I was hoping to find love, but now I have accepted that I will be alone here.  I tell him I try to travel somewhere every weekend and traveling is my passion.  And I mostly do it alone.  Right now I don’t want to be tied down in a relationship, unless that person shares my enthusiasm, as well as the financial wherewithal, for travel.  I tell him I’m an anomaly here, coming to Korea at my age.  He is so supportive and enthusiastic that I am doing this, that I start to feel quite good about it myself!  He says he wishes his mother would spend time getting to know herself instead of diving into one relationship after another.

We talk about writing, since he’s a screenwriter, and I tell him I’ve written the first draft of a 480-page novel.  I say no one has ever seen it; it’s just sitting on my computer waiting for me to revise and cut.  He encouraged me to send it out because then I can get other people to help me work on the revision.  I know he’s right, but I feel like it needs some major work before anyone else sees it.

a temple in Saroksan

a temple in Seorak-san

We talk a lot, and after a while Bonnie joins us.  She tells me with my Master’s degree, I should be working at a university.  She says I could get a job easily.  She is very talkative as well.  Justin loves her so much, I can tell.  He says she is the greatest because she has her dreams and her goals, and she is a strong individual.  He is the same.  That’s the only way to have a relationship.

I agree with him on this.  I have spent 25 years of my adult life being married and when I’m married, I tend to give up too much of myself.  I felt the need to be separated to find myself.  I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason, because there’s truth to it.  I have never learned how to truly be alone.  I have always had someone there to catch me when I fall, someone to love me, but I don’t know how to be alone, truly alone, to feel secure in it and to revel in it.  I want to learn to do this.  And, in my time here in Korea, I am learning this lesson above all.  How to be alone.  How to be confident in being alone, how to enjoy my own company, how to take one day at a time.  It’s extremely difficult at times because it’s something I’ve never had to deal with, not in gargantuan doses such as this.

In the book I just finished reading, The Surrendered, by Korean author Chang-rae Lee, the characters go through unimaginable traumas before, during and after the Korean War.  One of the characters, Sylvie, witnessed the slaughter of her parents in Manchuria in 1934.  At one point while working as a missionary in a Korean orphanage after the war, she describes the loneliness she feels when her husband leaves her to go on a trip:  “He had not gone a kilometer and she felt the loneliness already.  Her body wasn’t frantic anymore but now felt instead like a forlorn hive, every chamber of her desiccated and empty.  As if she were made of a thousand tiny tombs.  Of course it was having been left now to her own devices that was most disturbing….”

the crowds eating at the park

the crowds eating at the park

I love this description; it brings back memories of how I often felt being married, when my husband would leave for work and all I had ahead of me were long hours of loneliness and drudgery with my infant and toddler boys, 21 months apart in age.  I would often have panic attacks and feel so estranged and lost on these mornings, with the whole days stretching like ominous caverns before me.   The feeling I have here in Korea is similar, but it’s not when my husband leaves me in the morning.  It’s a constant.  Yet.  I finally came to a kind of acceptance of this just last week.  I even wrote in my calendar: I AM ALONE HERE.  GET USED TO IT.  There is something good about accepting this fact and just letting go.  It takes away some of the panic I often feel about this.  I WILL learn to be alone.  I WILL.

Justin talks my ear off quite some time and then asks me what I will do when I leave here.  My plan is to leave Korea after my contract ends on February 28 and meet my friend Jayne in India for 2-3 weeks.  Justin tells me he and Bonnie lived in India for a year before coming to Korea, and it was the most transforming experience of his life.

After India, I will go back to Virginia and hang out with my boys for at least 6 months.  In the meantime I hope to have a job set up either in Turkey or the Middle East.  That is my dream.  I have never wavered in wanting to work in a Muslim culture and I don’t see this dream vanishing until I’ve actually done it.

I leave this super-friendly couple and head back to my motel, where I finish reading the only book I brought on this trip, A Cup of Light by Nicole Mones.  I go to sleep a little worried that without my book I will get incredibly lonely and bored, especially on Saturday night after hiking.  But, what can I do? I only brought the one book, and it is done.  I will learn to deal with it.

me & buddha

me & buddha

Saturday, October 16: Saturday morning, I eat some yogurt I bought at the E-Mart-ah and head out to catch Bus 7-1 on the main road.  I hate Korean breakfasts, so it’s always a problem eating on my travels. Actually, I don’t even know where one would find a Korean breakfast.  The 7-1 bus goes south all along the beach highway in Sokcho.  Sokcho is a harbor town of 90,000 and is Korea’s northernmost city.  It actually is quite a notch above most other Korean cities; I could say it is actually a little NON-ugly.  It still has the normal Korean city qualities: garish rectangular signs in primary colors with the squarish Hangul letters, grimy soot- or dust-covered storefront windows, the rare English sign, mobile phone stores on every corner, concrete high-rise apartment complexes in beige or taupe, schools with their playgrounds of fine gravel or dirt, Family Marts, soju & hof places, 7-11s, hair salons for all the perming and dyeing that goes on, shops with not a single enticing product or just plain ugly clothing, coffee shops and jijimbangs.  But Sokcho is a little cleaner than most, a little more spread out, designed a little more tastefully.  I don’t mind it at all; it isn’t so bad.

prayer tiles offered to the buddha

prayer tiles offered to the buddha

When I get on the bus, there is not a single seat available.  I must stand and hold on to the rubber handle hanging from the ceiling.  It’s packed with Koreans and all their hiking paraphernalia: colorful hiking outfits, walking sticks, expensive hiking boots, backpacks, cameras.  It isn’t that far distance-wise, but when we turn inland onto the two-lane road heading to Seorak-san, we come to a dead standstill in a huge traffic jam heading into the park.  We sit for probably a half-hour or more in this can of silkworms.  Finally, we get to the entrance of the park, where the parking lot is overflowing.  The place is buzzing with people.  Commercial establishments line the entrance: restaurants and gift shops of all types.  Outdoor cafes.  People making corn on a stick and selling it.

corn on a stick for sale!

corn on a stick for sale!

I must take my medicine with food, so I grab the only palatable looking thing there, a piece of corn, and sit down to eat and take my meds.  The corn is cold and rubbery, as always.  I don’t know how they manage to do this to a piece of corn.  Granted it’s not just Korea; I found this same rubbery corn on a stick in Turkey as well.   Despite its chewiness, I eat it, as I must.  Then I head into the park with the hordes.

eating rubbery corn on a stick for lunch

eating rubbery corn on a stick for lunch

I come to a huge new seated bronze Buddha statue to Shinheung-sa (“Divine Undertaking Temple”), the main temple of Seorak-san and a district temple for the Jogye Buddhist sect.  The Buddha sits on a huge stone lotus bud; a bronze mandala sits behind its head.  In front stand two large bronze lanterns and an incense burner.  The Buddha was built as a prayer for the unification of the country.  It’s pretty darn cool.

the new bronze buddha with the mandala

the new bronze buddha with the mandala

I am in search of some waterfalls I read about, so I sit and study the map.  I decide to go up the cable car to the mountaintop first.  They tell me at first the next ticket they have is for 4:20.  It is 12:40.  I almost walk away, but the ticket girl says, are you alone?  I say yes.  OK, then, you can have a 1:15 ticket.  I guess there is some benefit to being alone!

the view from the cable car

the view from the cable car

The view going up in the cable car is amazing.  When I get to the top, I hike further up the mountain to the bare rock peak.

a bit of fall color at the top of the mountain

a bit of fall color at the top of the mountain

This peak is literally swarming with people.  The wind is blowing like there’s no yesterday, today or tomorrow.  The view is stunning.  I can see the main ridge-line of the mountain, Ulsan-bawi across the valley to the north, and the Buddha statue in the valley below.  Looking south, I can see the silhouette of  face looking at the sky, formed by the edges of a distant ridge.  A Korean flag is mounted on the very top of the rocky peak.

the view hiking up from the cable car to the peak

the view hiking up from the cable car to the peak

at the bare rock peak at the top of the mountain ~ with the hordes of people

at the bare rock peak at the top of the mountain ~ with the hordes of people

one view from the top

one view from the top

 

another view from the mountain top

another view from the mountain top

I take some pictures and of course, since I’m traveling alone, I can’t easily get a picture of myself.  I look around for some Korean who might be open, but usually Koreans try never to meet a foreigner’s eye; they are so afraid we will speak to them and they’ll have to speak in English.  So, instead I put my little Canon on a big rock, set the 10-second timer and take a picture.  The wind is blowing so hard that I feel like it might knock me over.

the picture right before the one that broke my camera :-(

the picture right before the one that broke my camera 😦

I should have stopped at that one picture, but no, I try for another.  That’s when my little camera meets its demise.  I set the timer, and start to sit down, but think (ah flash of brilliance!) I’ll put the strap of the camera under my heavy bag, so the wind won’t blow it off the rock.  Bad plan, for as I sit on the rock for the photo, a huge gust knocks my bag off the rock, the bag that was supposed to be the anchor; the camera goes right along with it.  The lens is smashed totally, the glass broken.  I look through the viewfinder and all I see is the black silhouette of the shutter.  Ruined:-(

the picture that killed my camera

the picture that killed my camera

I am so bummed.  This camera has been all over the world with me.  I bought it before I went to Mexico in 2007.  Then it traveled with me to Egypt for a month, then to Singapore & Thailand, all over Korea, to Turkey and to China.  It’s dead now, and I feel like I’ve lost my main fellow traveler and companion.  I truly am ALONE.

By now my knees are really sore just from the little hiking I have done, and I really am tired.  I think I really am quite sick, truly.  I guess that’s why the doctor didn’t want me to travel.  But I am so hard-headed; I have come all this way, by golly, and I am going to find at least one of the waterfalls even if it kills me.  I’m disheartened though; even when I find it, I won’t be able to take a picture.  Suddenly, a flash of inspiration!  I can use my phone to take pictures.  I have no idea how to transfer a photo from my phone to my computer, but there must be a way.  I’ll figure it out!

The guidebook says the hike to Biryong (“Flying Dragon”) Waterfall is 4o minutes one way.  At first it’s pretty easy, because much of it is along the river and thus flat.  But as the path turns away from the river, it starts to climb, over rocks and numerous staircases and little wooden bridges crossing back and forth over the river.  It’s shady and cool and the water is rushing over the rocks, the sound soothing and peaceful.  I love to hike along rivers that flow off a mountain.  Water gushes over the rocks into little emerald pools, too many of them to count along the way.  It’s so pretty and peaceful, and not as crowded as the other parts of the park.  I love it truly.

along the walk to biryong waterfall

along the walk to biryong waterfall

Biryong Waterfall is a 130-foot-long ribbon of water that slides down a rock face into an emerald pool.  It’s very idyllic here; the large number of people sitting on the rocks around the pool are blissfully quiet and just enjoying the serene spot.  I sit here for quite a long time just enjoying being in the presence of nature at its finest.  One Korean couple has set up a tripod with a camera and they have been taking photos of themselves together all along this hike.  Now, they are in the center, capturing themselves and this moment on their fancy camera.  I snap a picture with my cell phone.

Biryong Waterfall and its emerald pool

Biryong Waterfall and its emerald pool

I dread getting up because my legs are killing me and now my LEFT knee feels like somehow it’s been twisted.  I don’t even remember anything happening to it.  So I now have to walk down all these steps and rocks with TWO bad knees!  I don’t know what is wrong with me.  I feel like I’m falling apart!  What is happening?  I am also incredibly tired.  I walk the long walk back and am about to keel over at any time.  I finally make it back, get on the 7-1 bus where this time I’m able to secure a seat, thank goodness!

While I am riding, I call my trusty Daegu Tourist Information people and ask them about the bus timetable for my trip back to Daegu tomorrow, Sunday. After some checking, she informs me that the only buses back are 7-hour-long rides; she warns me not to take the 7:50 bus because it’s 9 hours long!  I am bewildered by this information.  I ask how can this be?  The ride up here was 5 hours from Bukbu, how can the ride back be 7-9 hours?  She says there is no bus to Bukbu going back, only to Dongdaegu.  I find this hard to believe and I tell her I don’t feel this information is correct.  She assures me it is.  Now this idea stresses me out.  This again is why the doctor didn’t want me to travel.  The unexpected nuisances and problems you encounter along a journey can sometimes be highly stress-inducing!

Overall, the ride back into town is much faster, and I’m back at the Miamore in no time.  At the hotel, I lie down for a little bit and wonder how my legs can be hurting me so much.  I must really be out of shape.   I am NOT going to accept the fact of getting older and slower, I’m just NOT!  I refuse to succumb to age or to sickness or fatigue.  I make myself get up and find a restaurant that serves seafood.  There I have a beer (despite doctor’s orders!) and a huge kind of crab, maybe like an Alaskan king crab?  The regular roots and kimchi and other strange veggies and squid (ick!) accompany the meal, all of which I leave untouched.  There IS a really good soup though.  One thing I almost always like in Korea are the soups.

Back at the hotel, I grab a free movie from the lobby, 13 Going on 30, with Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo.  Such a girlie chick flick.  But I have no book and there isn’t much of a selection, so I watch.  That is, after I take a long hot soak in the bathtub; ah such a rarity in Korea, a bathtub in a bathroom!

Sunday, October 17: I am so exhausted, I sleep well and sleep in.  I take a leisurely trip to the inter-city bus terminal where I find, sure enough, that there IS in fact another 5-hour bus back to the Bukbu bus terminal in Daegu at 11:05.  It turns out in fact the bus is only 4 1/2 hours. I can’t help but call the Daegu Tourist information to inform them they had given me wrong information.  On the bus, I sleep a bit and read my Korea guidebook, thinking of next weekend’s trip to Geoje-Do.  I get home at a reasonable hour.

It’s amazing how people come into your life when you most need them.  A lot of my friends from high school know Chetan Payne.  She and I have been talking a lot on Facebook over the last year, but especially in the last couple of months.  She is always positive and encouraging and such a good listener and supporter.  I would love to be like her, really.  She goes out and buys an Asia calling card and she arranges to call me on Sunday night.  It is such a treat when I get her call.  It actually is the first time we’ve spoken in well over 30 years.  She is an ex-pat American living in Italy; she met her Italian husband when she was in the wine business in Florida and has lived in Italy many years now.  She and I have connected lately because she feels a kinship with me in my own journey and life here in Korea.  Although she wasn’t in my class in high school, she knew my two little sisters and was in the same sorority I was in, Sigma Phi Lambda (SPL).  I love her outlook on life, her non-judgmental and supportive attitude.  She’s such a great person; she’s loving, spiritual, easy-going, and open-minded.  I feel so blessed that she feels a connection with me, of all people, as screwed up as I am!  Anyway, she calls and we have an amazing talk.  We commiserate about living in a foreign country and how foreigners just don’t “get” Americans.  She has many of the same challenges in Italy that I have here.  But, by gosh, I keep thinking, SHE’S IN ITALY!  It’s so different.  Italy is beautiful, has great food, a beautiful language, everything should be wonderful.  But there, she deals with the same cultural clashes that I deal with here; and she has spent a great part of her life doing this.  I’ve only been here 8 months; she’s done it for decades!

Anyway, she says something very wise to me.  She says, You are right now in just the place you’re supposed to be.  It’s difficult, but God (or did she say God?) has given you all the tools you need to make it through.  Either she says God, or I read God, but possibly she is referring to some more undefinable higher power.  She says maybe now is the time for you to read a lot, write your blogs, travel.  You have what you need to make it through.

I know in my heart that what she says is right.  I feel like I’m here for a reason.  I don’t know exactly what it is.  I think the reason has to do with learning something valuable about myself.  How to be alone, how to be independent, how to find my own lost soul.  How to find happiness within.

I’m here for more practical reasons as well : To write, to read, to meditate, to learn Arabic, to finish my TEFL, to get the credentials to move to the place my heart is calling me.

It seems that when you’re on a journey, everything along the road seems to be a sign for what you’re supposed to be learning.  This weekend, it started with the trip to the doctor followed by the conversation with Justin and Bonnie in E-Mart, enjoying nature, losing my camera, and then talking to Chetan.  Everything this week has offered a clue to the challenge of being alone.  Being alone without feeling that constant of heart-wrenching loneliness.

Thursday, October 21: The culmination clue comes on Thursday night, when my friend Kim and I go, on the final night of its showing at Lotte Cinema in Daegu, to see Eat Pray Love.  The movie isn’t great, but it reminds me of what I learned when I read the book, which I loved.  The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, writes about her quest to learn to love herself, to know herself, to find balance in her life.  To do this, she travels 4 months to Italy, where she learns about pleasure, enjoying life, doing the things she loves without worrying about pleasing a man, or anyone for that matter.  She spends 4 months in an ashram in India, where she learns to meditate, to go within and stare her pain and heartbreak in the eye, to come to grips with who she is.  And finally, to Indonesia, where she spends 4 months learning about love, family, friends, being in a community.  Most of all, I think she learns about how to love herself, so she can be whole enough to offer herself to others.  How to live without that urgent and desperate need for a man, or for anyone.  In the end, she finds love by happenstance, but she has become strong enough that she doesn’t have to give up herself and her own needs to be with him.

This is what I am seeking.  I am no longer feeling a desperate urge to find love.  Or even friends, for that matter.  I am seeking to learn to be alone.  Back in the U.S., I have 4 good friends that I’ve had since high school.  We will always be friends until the day we die.  We have known each other for a long time; we accept each other and care for each other.  I also have a group of more current friends who add incredible depth to my life.  They are easy-going, non-judgmental; they make me laugh.  They don’t judge me if my religious beliefs are not the same as theirs, or if I am sometimes crazy and maybe too adventurous.  If I struggle with things, they listen without offering unsolicited advice.  These are my friends;  unfortunately for me, they are all in the U.S.  Here, I have not been so fortunate.  This I am learning to accept.  I am alone here.  And I will revel in that…. 🙂

a monk chanting along the path.... an outward sign of my inner journey?

a monk chanting along the path…. an outward sign of my inner journey?

For anyone interested in going to Sokcho and Seorak-san National Park from Daegu, here’s what you do:

1) Take a taxi to Bukbu  Bus Terminal.  Daegu Tourist Information tells me I should take metro to Duryu and then take a taxi, but my friend Kim doesn’t feel that’s correct.  She advises me to take the same 250 bus that I take from Seongju; it goes directly to the Bukbu Terminal.  Anyway, I take a taxi, about 7,500 won.  I do actually see the 250 bus departing from Bukbu as I arrive, so I know Kim’s information is correct.  I don’t know the cost of the 250 bus from one point in Daegu to another.  All I know is the fare from Seongju is 3,300 won.  It’s probably cheaper within Daegu itself.

2) The bus times to Sokcho are: 8:00, 11:00, 14:30, 18:00 and 22:00.  The ride is 5 hours and costs 24,100 won.

3) From Sokcho, where there are plenty of motels, you can take the 7-1 bus to Seorak-san for 1,000 won.  If you don’t want to stay in Sokcho, there are plenty of motels nearer to Seorak-san as well.

4) Coming back home from Sokcho, go to the inter-city bus terminal and take the bus back to Bukdaegu (the Bukbu terminal where you originated).  The times are: 7:20, 11:05, 14:30 and 18:10.  The ride back is only 4 1/2 hours and costs 24, 100 won.

This number for Daegu Tourist Information has proved invaluable to me on my travels.   Even though their information is not always correct, they try hard and there is always someone there who speaks English.  The number is: 053-1330.

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Saturday, October 2: Early Saturday morning, I venture out on the first leg of a quest to discover the hidden Korea, that of the former war zone. Destination: the southwest of the country, Jeollanam-do province, to see the tea plantations of Boseong and the eco-park of Suncheon Bay.  I am lugging a hardback copy of the 2010 book, The Surrendered, by Korean author Chang-Rae Lee, who teaches creative writing at Princeton University.  The book was recommended by an editor at MORE magazine, a U.S. magazine for women over 40, who interviewed me a couple of times about reinventing my life by teaching English in South Korea.  Whether this editor will actually publish an article based on these interviews is a mystery, as yet to be unraveled.

inside the seobu bus terminal in daegu

inside the seobu bus terminal in daegu

on the bus to suncheon from daegu

on the bus to suncheon from daegu

Since I have a 3-month stretch ahead with virtually no holidays, I have decided I will explore as much of Korea as I can on the yellow- and scarlet-hued autumn weekends.  Granted, my destination this time is not a war zone.  Maybe this destination never even figured prominently in the Korean war.  Maybe.  But I think as I am reading this book that there was probably not a place in Korea that was left unscathed.  I am trying to dig in deep, to see Korea in a different light, a light probably shadowed still to this day by a war that ravaged this country less than 60 years ago.

I leave my apartment at 6 a.m. to catch the 7:05 bus to Suncheon from the Seobu bus terminal.  The bus ride, which I was told would be 3 to 3 1/2 hours, is uneventful, except for the delightful surprise that it is in actuality only 2 1/2 hours!  During the ride, I am caught up in the story of June, an 11-year-old Korean girl, who in 1950 has witnessed the death of her mother and sister & the arrest of her father and older brother; on her own, she is caring for her 7-year-old twin brother and sister.  June has taken on the responsibility for transporting her siblings safely toward Busan, along with thousands of other refugees fleeing the war.  What might have otherwise been a pretty journey through “hills just turning the colors of pumpkin and hay and pomegranate” is in fact a harrowing journey; this 11-year-old girl suffers horribly and ultimately loses both of her siblings in a gruesome train accident along the way.

jacob and peter at the boseong bus terminal

jacob and peter at the boseong bus terminal

Not happy reading, granted.  But I want to see what makes Koreans tick, what in their history makes them the way they are.  So I read along, totally engrossed, until I get to Suncheon.  Surprise, we’re here already?

At the Suncheon bus terminal, I see another Westerner with red hair and I hear him buy a ticket for Boseong.  This is my destination as well.  I get on the bus, and in the front seat is a Korean man dressed in black yelling into his cell phone.  This is not so abnormal in Korea; many Koreans yell into their cell phones as a matter of course.  But it becomes quickly evident that this man is furious.  I don’t know exactly what happens, but I think possibly the bus driver comes on board and tells him to quiet down.  By this time, I am seated about 1/3 of the way back from the front of the bus.  Suddenly the yelling man begins to punch the bus driver, forcing him toward the back; he pushes the driver into a seat maybe 4 rows behind me.  The yelling man is pummeling the poor bus driver who is cowering in the seat up against the window.  This violent man then pulls off his shirt, revealing tattoos on his arm and back, and grabs the bus driver around the throat and is knocking him upside the head, so that his head is bouncing like a rubber ball against the window.

me with the ajumas at the boseong bus terminal

me with the ajumas at the boseong bus terminal

Everyone is sitting in their seats watching, floored by this spectacle.  I stand up along with a Korean girl.  I think briefly about stepping in the middle but realize this would be really stupid. I think this man is so furious he wouldn’t hesitate to hit a woman.  I am seriously afraid this guy will kill the poor bus driver.  The Korean girl and I look at each other and we both get off the bus to find help.  She speaks to some guys standing in the bus terminal (they look like employees at the terminal possibly) and I am yelling and making fighting gestures and beckoning them to follow.  The men follow us on board.  The man is still beating on the bus driver.  Both of them are yelling angrily, but the bus driver is definitely the weaker one and is basically just taking the beating.  The bus terminal men enter the fray and pull the two apart and finally, they are able to get the crazy guy off the bus.  The bus driver, clearly shaken, goes to the front and then starts to collect tickets, front to back. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look bloodied or bruised, but he’s quite obviously an emotional wreck.  He says something to me, and a Korean guy sitting nearby tells me in English that the bus driver is thanking me.

on the bus from boseong to yulpo beach (we disembark at the tea farm)

on the bus from boseong to yulpo beach (we disembark at the tea farm)

As we take off, I catch the eye of the red-head guy in the back.  We start commiserating about the fight, trying to figure out what precipitated it.  He says, “Did you see that guy’s stomach?  It had scars all over it.  He’s been in a lot of fights.”  We can’t figure out exactly what started it.  I tell him I was thinking of stepping into the middle; I thought they wouldn’t dare hit a girl.  The red-head says he was told that, as a foreigner, if there is ever any trouble to NEVER get involved because foreigners are too often blamed as instigators.

a farmer going to the Boseong 5-day market (Jacob says, "I think he is interested in you."

a farmer going to the Boseong 5-day market (Jacob says, “I think he is interested in you.”

On our one hour ride to Boseong, we talk a lot: the red-head whose name is Peter, the English-speaking Korean guy who goes by the English name of Jacob, and me.  The fight has excited us such that we have become garrulous.  Jacob is full of questions about both of us, asking Peter and me what we are doing in Korea.  Jacob himself is a Korean who has been living and working in the Philippines for 10 years.  He is 50 years old, married, and has three children: a 20-year-old daughter, and 18-year-old twins.  He is in “trade” – mainly vitamins and health foods.  He asks my age, but I say it’s a mystery.  He says he is here in Korea working and also exploring on weekends parts of the country he hasn’t seen before.  He tells me he is headed to the tea plantations for the day and I say that’s where I’m going too.

the view from the bus window

the view from the bus window

Peter, who is 27,  is from New Brunswick, Canada, and has been teaching in Korea for one month now.  He teaches in a public middle school in Boseong but not with EPIK; he says a Canadian organization has the contract for Jeollanam-do province.  He tells me that in Boseong they have a 5-day market.  Every 5 days, everyone gathers their goods together to sell or to barter.  Today is the market day.  I ask about the hotel situation in Boseong and Peter graciously says I’m welcome to stay in his apartment as he has two bedrooms.  I tell him he is really sweet, but I’m not sure where I want to stay yet and I don’t want to intrude on him as he barely knows me.  Anyway, once we arrive in Boseong, Peter takes off for his home, and Jacob and I wait for the bus to Yulpo Beach, which will drop us at the tea plantations.

At the bus terminal, Jacob motions me to sit on a bench with some ajumas for a picture.  I am happy for this as I’ve been trying to surreptitiously take pictures of ajumas but have never actually gotten one full on with their awareness and participation.  They are quite happy to smile and pose; afterward I show them each the picture and the one wearing a pink shirt holds on to my camera, as if she wants to keep it.  She tells Jacob she wants a copy of the picture.  They ask Jacob if we are husband and wife.  This is only the first of such questions thrown our way throughout the day.  Each time we laugh and say, no, we just met on the bus!

live chickens boxed for the 5-day market in Boseong

live chickens boxed for the 5-day market in Boseong

On the derelict bus, hardscrabble  Korean passengers are all carrying bags or boxes of products to take to the 5-day market: dried chili peppers, live chickens (!), rice, roots and various leafy vegetables.  They all disembark well before the tea farms.  The bus driver even makes one stop just to drop off a huge plastic bag full of red chili peppers.  I wonder if the chili peppers had to pay the bus fare.

Jacob and I get dropped at the entrance to Daehan Dawon, touted as Korea’s one and only “green tea farm” theme park.  We go into a little shop and the lady there serves us some green tea to taste.  I’m always surprised that green tea tastes more like a broth than the tea I’m accustomed to.  The lady asks Jacob’s age; he tells her 50 and she tells him he looks very young.  She asks him my age, and he explains to her that apparently it’s a very sensitive issue!  She then asks us if we are husband and wife, and we both laugh and say that we just met on the bus. We drink our tea and walk through a lovely canopy of trees toward the plantation.  This place is so lushly green, with its millions of tea plants and its cedar, cypress, yew, ginkgo, maple and camellia trees.

sampling tea at the tea shop

sampling tea at the tea shop

In 1939, a study concluded that Boseong is an ideal place to cultivate green tea.  Optimal conditions include annual rainfall of more than 60 inches (1500 mm), porous and permeable soil, cool weather with a great daily temperature range, and high humidity.  Soon after the study, tea planting started across the region.  But, during the Korean War, all the fields were ravaged.

It turns out I am right: no place in Korea was left unscathed by the war.   In 1957, the tea industry started again.  Now there are 5.8 million tea plants growing on this green tea farm.  In 2005, the plantation’s tea was certified as organic.

Jacob at the tea plantations

Jacob at the tea plantations

Jacob and I wander leisurely through the lush green carpets of tea bushes and then climb up a steep hill to a vantage point.  He says, It smells so good!  I sniff the air and I can’t smell anything. 😦 We meet a family along the way, and Jacob comments that the man is good-looking but the wife is not.  He thinks it is not a good match.  I say that maybe she is really a great person, beautiful inside.  I say that looks do not matter so much.  He hesitantly agrees.  I walk beside the wife for some of the climb and she in fact seems quite lovely and kind.  She even offers her hand to me on a particularly steep set of steps.

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

the tea plantations

After walking up and down and taking multitudes of photos, we return to the bottom.  Jacob tells me his wife works as a volunteer teacher for a Christian missionary organization.  She teaches elementary school.  Apparently when their children leave home, his wife would like to return to Korea where, because of her years of teaching, she could make a lot of money.  But Jacob tells her he can provide and that God would like it best if she continued her volunteer teaching.  Both he and his wife are really concerned that their children don’t know enough about Korean culture.  Jacob also tells me he went on a trip with a church group to Turkey to follow St. Paul’s travels.  He went to many of the same places I did, but he lost his USB with all his photos on it.  Jacob also tells me that this morning he prayed to God that he would meet someone today to explore Korea with.  He says his prayer was answered because he met me.

me at the tea plantations

me at the tea plantations

I love the curves and colors

I love the curves and colors

me & tea

me & tea

me and the plush green tea....

me and the plush green tea….

sweeping view of the tea plantations

sweeping view of the tea plantations

me with the tea again

me with the tea again

a little Korean boy at the tea plantations

a little Korean boy at the tea plantations

When we get to the bottom, we decide to eat some lunch.  I have bibimbap and Jacob eats black bean sauce on noodles.  I don’t know why, but this dish keeps popping up in my face of late.  Everywhere I go, people are offering me this dish.  I’m not that crazy about it, but the Koreans seems to love it.  My friend Kim tells me it’s a Chinese dish, but it’s not really served in China.  I guess the Chinese came to Korea and created it just for Koreans!

bibimbap

bibimbap

We return to the tea shop to retrieve our bags, with the intention of taking the Yulpo Beach bus further south, where there are supposed to be even more beautiful tea plantations.  The proprietor tells us the bus will come at 2:50.  We wait until 3:30 and then decide we can’t wait any longer.  Jacob has to go to Gwangju and then to Daejeon this evening to meet some friends and I want to go back to Suncheon and find a hotel before it starts raining.  So we cross under the bridge to catch the bus back to Boseong.  In Boseong, Jacob goes on his merry way toward his friends.  I am disappointed not to see the next tea farm, but, as it turns out, I finally arrive back in Suncheon just before a downpour.  I have to find a hotel and with the help of a patient and kind-hearted lady at the Suncheon terminal tourist information, I find the BMW Motel for 30,000 won.

the BMW Motel in Suncheon

the BMW Motel in Suncheon

When I walk up to the BMW Motel, smoke is pouring out of the parking lot into the entryway.  The proprietor is using a fire extinguisher on the source of the fire; it looks like a trashcan and some bedding from one of the rooms.  He sprays it with the fire extinguisher and comes into the hotel with me to check me in.  I tell him, using gestures, that I want to see the room before paying, but he simply cannot understand and keeps sticking out his hand for my money.  While this failure to communicate is transpiring, I see the fire has flared up again, and I gesture wildly to him that the fire has revived.  He doesn’t understand any of my gestures, so I get wilder and more demented-looking in my miming: Come! Come!  Fire!!  He is utterly clueless.  Finally, he gets up from behind his little glass enclosed cage and comes out, grabbing the fire extinguisher again.  Meanwhile, I call a friend to translate for me that I want to see the room before paying.  Finally.  I see the room, it’s okay, and I pay the 30,000 won.  I leave my bag and stupidly head out into the rain and the impending darkness to go to Suncheon Bay.  I am hoping that by the time I return to the BMW the fire will be totally extinguished.  I am hoping the whole motel doesn’t burn down in my absence.

reading The Surrendered at the BMW Motel

reading The Surrendered at the BMW Motel

Little do I know that by the time I finally get to the bay, it will be totally dark and pouring down rain!  (I’m obviously not yet ready to accept the shorter days of fall!)  I don’t want to be dropped here in the middle of nowhere, but the driver gestures vehemently that I must get off.  Luckily there is a covered bus stop and a few other people, so I wait with them for a good 20 minutes to go back to Suncheon. I catch the exact same bus with the same bus driver who forced me to get off in the first place.  In Suncheon, I find a Paris Baguette, eat a shrimp and vegetable bun, buy a beer, and go to my room, where I plan to relax, read, and watch TV.

Pathetically, I fall asleep at 9:00, only to be awakened at 9:30 by a series of texts from my friend Anna, who went today to the Andong Mask Dance Festival; she and Seth and their friends had been dropped off in the pouring rain in Andong and almost missed their bus back to Daegu.  As I settle in to sleep, I get another series of texts from a flight attendant I know from Egypt Air, then a call from my Egyptian friend Mithad in Seoul, then some drunken texts from a fellow EPIK teacher who I had drunkenly texted when I was at Gaya-san Summer Camp in August.  By this time I am so wound up that I can’t sleep, so I read some more of my book.  This book is too intense to read when trying to fall asleep!  I am up till well after midnight.

Sunday, October 3: In the morning, I sleep in a bit late and immediately start reading The Surrendered.   I love waking up on a weekend morning and reading a good book.  After about an hour, I think maybe I should check out the tourist map of Suncheon I got yesterday from the TI office.  On the map, I see all kinds of things I would like to do; I regret not having studied the map the night before and made a plan to get up early to explore.  I think I would also like to see the Naganeupseong Folk Village and the Songgwangsa Temple, after I see Suncheon Bay.  After all my travels in Korea using the rural bus system, I should know by now that this is wildly optimistic.

Entrance to Suncheon Bay

Entrance to Suncheon Bay

pretty flowers at Suncheon Bay

pretty flowers at Suncheon Bay

view through a lattice

view through a lattice

more pink flowers

more pink flowers

I arrive at Suncheon Bay at 10:30 a.m. and start to explore.  The bay is a coastal wetland with a large tidal flat, reed beds and salt marshes nestled between mountains and ribboned with rivers.  Further inland are glowing chartreuse rice fields.  I walk through the grasses along the wooden walkway and see fiddler crabs in the mud and some beautiful cranes.  It’s warm but a breeze is whipping the sea grasses around.  I love these grasses against the backdrop of the mountains and the rivers.  Koreans are out in force today and as always, dressed to the hilt in their hiking clothes.  Because the sun has come out after the rain, and it is warm, many women are carrying umbrellas.

koreans walking the walkways, decked out in full hiking gear and carrying umbrellas for shade

koreans walking the walkways, decked out in full hiking gear and carrying umbrellas for shade

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Koreans walking along the boardwalk

Koreans walking along the boardwalk

grasslands

grasslands

ornamental grasses

ornamental grasses

more grasses

more grasses

I figure I will wander along the walkways to the other side and then turn around, but when I get there, I realize there is a hike up the mountain to an observatory.  There are two paths, “the meditation road” and the “hard road.”  I choose the hard road. My Korean friend later tells me the actual translation of “the hard road” is the “road that is hard on the knees.”  I take the hard road, thinking it will certainly be steeper, and thus shorter.   However, when I come back down by the meditation path, I realize both paths are about the same distance.  One is just steeper ~ all steps!

the meditation road and the hard road

the meditation road and the hard road

It is such a lovely hike.  The leaves have not really started changing yet, just a few red exclamation points here and there.  From the observation point, the view is sweeping & fabulous and I can see some red tips to the sea grasses from above.

the view of the wetlands from above

the view of the wetlands from above

view of Suncheon Bay

view of Suncheon Bay

another view along the hike

another view along the hike

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

Suncheon Bay

more of the bay

more of the bay

and more

and more

walking back down the trail

walking back down the trail

I am so happy on this day.  I have had an adventure on my trip, I have heard from good friends, and I have been hiking and exploring outdoors in nature, breathing fresh air, and getting exercise.  I love to be outdoors in the fall!

back among the grasses

back among the grasses

coming back to the wetlands from the hike

coming back to the wetlands from the hike

Three hours later, I take the bus back to Suncheon and I realize it is just too late to try to see the other sights.  I may be able to take a bus to one of them, but then I could never depend on finding a timely bus back to Suncheon.  Ah, if only I had a car!  But, part of the adventure this time is riding the buses, witnessing a bus brawl, meeting farmers and ajumas going to the 5-day market, and making new friends.  This is the way I love to travel, being alone and open to any adventure that presents itself.  This is why a trip like this is so much better than the organized tour I took to China.

pretty, pretty grasses

pretty, pretty grasses

Here I can meet the locals as well as fellow travelers, ride in buses with fighting men, boxes of live chickens, bags of chili peppers and older gentlemen who take their hats off when they are photographed.  I can meet ajumas who want to steal my camera because they are so captivated by themselves in my pictures.  I can see the real everyday Korea and know that these older people I meet along the way have experienced hardships that I hope I will never see in my lifetime.

a grounded boat

a grounded boat

I’m still only about halfway through The Surrendered; the story has veered into many directions, and follows three main characters: June, Hector and Sylvie; its locale moves from Korea to New Jersey to Manchuria.  It’s a complicated but fascinating story about the effects of war on people’s psyches.  Several parts have given excellent descriptions of the Korea I have come to know.  At one point, Hector, who has fought in the mountains of Korea, ruminates about the cold: “He knew the cold in Korea, at least in the mountains in the far north, how it seeped into you and then resided with an unrelenting grip…”  My own father, who also served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War told me before I came here that all he could remember about Korea was that it was the coldest place he’s ever been.  I arrived here in February, and it was bitter, unrelentingly cold.  That memory makes me dread my last couple of months here, especially January and February.

more swaying grasses

more swaying grasses

Hector also muses about the mountains of Korea, which are certainly ubiquitous: “The grounds of the orphanage were set on a low and wide plateau amid steeper, higher hills and mountains that ranged across much of the country.  The land was a lesson in hills, one right after the next.

The book reminds me how tenuous life can be.  There is normalcy, and then, suddenly, there is not.  War does that.  The atrocities people are capable of inflicting on one another during extreme situations like war are beyond belief.   Now, when I see the old farmers and the ajumas in Korea, I know they have seen horrors in their lives that we could never imagine.  As time goes by, the children and grandchildren, those children I teach everyday in my classroom, will forget.  I just hope the 50+ year armistice between North and South Korea holds, or is someday resolved, so that this resilient country won’t have to suffer such hardships again.

To get to the tea plantations from Daegu, here’s what you do:

1) Take the 805 bus to Seobu bus terminal.  There, get on the bus to Suncheon.  It takes ~2 1/2 hours and costs 14,500 won.

2) In Suncheon, take the bus to Boseong.  It takes about an hour and costs 5,800 won.

3) From Boseong, take the bus to Yulpo Beach (tell the driver you need to get off at the tea farm) which takes about 15 minutes and costs 1,100 won.

i adore this place :-)

i adore this place 🙂

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