Tag Archive: South Korea


Thursday, October 4:  Ailsa’s Travel Theme (Where’s my backpack?) for this week is Foliage.  She writes: It’s getting all autumnal up here in the northern hemisphere, while down in the southern hemisphere everyone’s looking forward to spring. Whichever hemisphere you inhabit, now is a fantastic time to get out and have a look at what the trees are doing. Whether they’re about to burst into life with fresh green growth, or starting to adorn themselves in their autumn glory; even if they’re still wearing their evergreen needles, it’s a wonderful time to go leaf peeping.

Since there is no autumn in Oman, I thought I would celebrate my favorite season by posting some beautiful fall pictures from Korea.  I haven’t had a U.S. fall since 2009.  😦  Here are some pictures of foliage from Korea, taken in the fall of 2010:

In Jeongju, South Korea

I’m reliving fall colors through my memories of Korea.

a Buddha surrounded by foliage

bright foliage and a Buddhist temple

bright red foliage and lanterns

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Thursday, February 17:  My two closest Korean friends are two women I see regularly at Byeokjin Elementary School in Seongju.

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. :-)

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. 🙂

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim Dong Hee is a 40-something woman who has never been married.  She teaches first grade.  Her English is the best I have ever heard in Korea, with virtually no trace of the typical Korean pronunciation problems.  She has lived abroad and takes a great interest in the outside world; this is very unusual in Korea. She is also one of the kindest and most gentle souls I have ever met.  Outside of school, about once a month, or sometimes more, we go out near my home in Daegu, either to Sydney Street Pub or to an Italian restaurant for pasta.  Unlike most Koreans, she isn’t attached to her mobile phone; she doesn’t even have text messaging enabled.   She doesn’t use Facebook and she barely uses email.  She’s an old-fashioned lady, but one with a huge heart and great generosity.

Kim Dong Hee

Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon is married with two children and is the English teacher at both schools where I teach.  Like me, she travels between both Byeokjin Elementary and Chojeon Elementary, so I see her in both places.  When I first meet her, she invites me to attend church with her, but with over an hour commute by train and bus to her church each way, I find it simply will not work.  Besides, I’m not that much of a church-goer anyway.  I love it on the days she comes to Chojeon especially, since I hardly have anyone to speak with there; hardly anyone at Chojeon speaks English except for Coffee-J.   She’s a wonderful teacher, lively and fun and able to motivate her students with fun games and songs.

Julie Moon

Julie Moon

I have been so blessed in Korea to have these two amazing women as friends.  🙂

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Sunday, November 14:  This morning, I slept in a bit and then went to meet Mithad in Itaewon.  First we went to my favorite Western bookstore in Korea, What the Book.  We went to my favorite Turkish restaurant for schwarma.  Then Mithad’s friend Ayman met up with us and we visited the War Memorial of Korea.

Entrance to the War Memorial of Korea

Entrance to the War Memorial of Korea

The Korean Infantry at one time had their headquarters on the grounds of the War Memorial of Korea.  This is the largest memorial of its kind in the world, according to Official Site of Korea Tourism: The War Memorial of Korea.

huge sculpture in front of the museum

huge sculpture in front of the museum

Huge statues of soldiers from Korea's wars

Huge statues of soldiers from Korea’s wars

Statues of soldiers

Statues of soldiers

You can see the size of these by comparing them to me

You can see the size of these by comparing them to me

me under the hand of a soldier

me under the hand of a soldier

Before going inside the museum, we spend some time exploring the displays of different weapons and military equipment outside the building.  Around 110 pieces of large military equipment/symbols are on display. They include Korean War sculptures, the Statue of Brethren, the Statue of King Gwanggaeto, AH-2, T-34 of the North, US B-52 and others.

Flags lining the pathway

Flags lining the pathway

Military equipment

Military equipment

Battleship

Battleship

Bomber

Bomber

Tanks

Tanks

Plane

Plane

Me with a plane

Me with a plane

Mithad and me on the battleship

Mithad and me on the battleship

more military equipment

more military equipment

Exhibits inside the building display equipment used during the Korean War in such a way as to invite comparison between the items. Large weaponry and equipment used by different countries during World War II and the Vietnam War are also on display. In the Large Equipment Exhibit on the second floor, many kinds of defense industry equipment and both real and model weapons are displayed. In the Bangsan Equipment Exhibit, you can look at weapons and war equipment produced in Korea. In the War Memorial’s Storage Room, 17,800 files and artifacts of war are preserved. Modern damage control and prevention devices have been installed to keep these materials safe from harm (Official Site of Korea Tourism: The War Memorial of Korea).

on the grounds of the museum

on the grounds of the museum

the museum

the museum

another statue on the grouns

another statue on the grounds

* Memorial Hall
This an exhibition hall dedicated to the memory of patriots involved in past war efforts. The place presents sculptures, reliefs, and wall paintings under the theme of overcoming hardship, and working towards the unity, prosperity and eternity of the nation.

large drum inside the museum

large drum inside the museum

inside the museum: don't know what this is, but it looks cool

inside the museum: don’t know what this is, but it looks cool

war paintings

war paintings

me in front of a war painting

me in front of a war painting

* War History
The place features a war history from prehistoric era to the Japanese colonial period. Military remains, relics, and documents are on display as well. Among them are war & victory records, ammunition, the Turtle Ship (and other military vessels from the Joseon Dynasty), fortress models, and more.

old ships

old ships

Mithad and an old ship

Mithad and an old ship

* Korean War
Here, visitors can learn about the background of the Korean War, the progression of the war and how a truce was eventually established. Exhibits also display ammunition used by hostile and friendly forces, information and artifacts from people displaced by the war, and information on major battles.

Korean War diorama

Korean War diorama

Korean War Diorama

Korean War Diorama

After the War Memorial, I parted ways with Mithad and Ayman and headed back to the Rainbow Hotel, where I picked up my bag and took the metro to the train station.  I took the slow train back at 4:43 and arrived in Daegu at 8:30.  I was home in my cozy flat by 9:30.  This is the last time I ever see Mithad.

Saturday, November 13:  This weekend I go to Seoul to see some sights and to visit my Egyptian friend Mithad.  I leave Daegu on the 9:28 slow train and after I arrive in Seoul 4 hours later, I check in at the Rainbow Hotel in Namyoung for 63,000 won.

at the Daegu train station, waiting for the train to Seoul

at the Daegu train station, waiting for the train to Seoul

After I check in, I go out to meet Mithad and we head to Cheonggye-cheon Stream.   According to the Official Site of Korea Tourism, until it was restored in 2005, Cheonggye-cheon Stream existed only as a neglected watercourse hidden by an overpass.

Narae Bridge, expressing a butterfly in flight, and Gwanggyo Bridge, symbolizing the harmony of the past and future, are just two of the more than twenty beautiful bridges that cross the stream. The ‘Rhythmic Wall Stream’, lined with fine marble, sculptures, and Korea’s 8th stone building, Palseokdam, adorn the Cheonggye-cheon Stream.

Today, in addition to the nice walkway along the stream, we are surprised to find there is a lantern festival in progress.  We spend quite a long time walking along and admiring the brightly colored lanterns at the Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival.

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Mithad at the lantern festival

Mithad at the lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

me at the lantern festival

me at the lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival

It’s quite cold out, so we find a restaurant where we stop in to have a few beers, warm up and talk.  Mithad goes into a diatribe blaming America for Egypt’s predicament.  I understand America’s culpability for Egypt’s mess,  as I did an extensive research project about just this subject in a paper for my Master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy.  However, I do take issue with America taking all the blame; after all,  corruption within the Egyptian government is also to blame.   He also tells me he believes that the Holocaust never happened and that 9/11 was a manufactured conspiracy.  This infuriates me.  I think our friendship will be coming to an end.

After our drinks, we go out into the cold again until we find an Italian restaurant where we have dinner.  I have one more day in Seoul tomorrow, and I think I will never come to visit Mithad again after this.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Seoul

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Seoul

Today is the 22 year anniversary for Mike and I, but we’ve been separated now for 3 years and 8 months. It makes me sad to think of it.

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