Tag Archive: Travel


Saturday, November 6: In the morning, we head out toward the coast to see the Saemangeum Tidal Embankment, a seawall dubbed “The Great Wall on the Sea.”  This is the world’s largest sea dike measuring 33.9 km in length, beating the former largest dike in the Netherlands, the Suiderzee Afsluit.  It was completed in April, 2010 after 18 years and 5 months.

Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

The purpose of the dike was to secure enough arable land to ensure food security for the future.  The reclaimed area is about 2/3 the size of Seoul, about a square meter of new land for every Korean.  The original intent was to allocate 70% of the land for farming and the remaining 30% for industrial use.  Now, with an oversupply of rice, the plan has been changed to give 70% to industrial use, tourism or logistics, and the remaining 30% for agriculture.  A large part will go to tourism, such as casinos and other facilities, which is hoped to bring 8 million tourists by 2012.

the biggest dike in the world

the biggest dike in the world

We walk down to stand over the water as it roars out of the dam.  When one level is higher, they open the gates for 45 minutes and let the water flow out.  It is a quite impressive and powerful flow of water we see bursting from the floodgates.  I walk up to a hill where there is a park and observation area.

a tunnel under Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

a tunnel under Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Memorial at Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

Memorial at Saemangeum Tidal Embankment

From the embankment, we head south to Buan-gun, a peninsula that juts out into the Yellow Sea.  Within the Byeonsan Peninsula National Park, we walk through a gorgeous scarlet-hued tunnel of fir trees, and then rows of cherry blossom trees, to see Naesosa Temple.  Originally called Soraesa Temple, it means “a place to visit to be reborn.” The weather is cool and crisp and the autumn colors are stunning.  Naesosa was built by a Buddhist monk in 633 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty and rebuilt in 1633 during the Joseon Dynasty.  Daeungbojeon, the main building, is built with interlocking wood blocks without nails.  Each door is decorated with lotus blossoms and chrysanthemums. The temple also boasts the Goryeo Bronze Bell, with three Buddhas on its body, from 1222.  It is thought to be the leading creation of the late Goryereo Dynasty.

me at naeonsa temple

me at naeonsa temple

Korean pancakes

Korean pancakes

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typical Korean restaurant on the way to Naesosa

Naesosa Temple

Naesosa Temple

thankful messages at Noesosa Temple

thankful messages at Noesosa Temple

inside Naesosa Temple

inside Naesosa Temple

The best thing about visiting Naesosa Temple is the setting, with its bright tunnel of trees.  My interest is also piqued because they offer temple stays.

the stunning tunnel of trees at naesosa temple

the stunning tunnel of trees at naesosa temple

Finally, we start our journey west to Daegu, with a stop in Mt. Maisan Provincial Park. Mt. Maisan’s claim to fame is its donkey-ears shape.  A myth tells of  two gods that came down from the sky, had a child and lived on earth for a while. As they were going back up to the sky, a village woman saw them ascending, and were trapped on earth and were transformed in to a rock mountain. Even today, you can see the father peak and the child peak, and the mother peak on the other side.

When the bus drops us at the entrance, we are told we have until 3:40 to go explore.  We jauntily walk off, not even knowing what we’re supposed to be looking for.  We linger along the path, checking out the interesting food stalls and restaurants along the way, snapping pictures.

succulents in pots for sale along the path

succulents in pots for sale along the path

a snack of silkworms, anyone?

a snack of silkworms, anyone?

big hunks of meat for sale

big hunks of meat for sale

Finally, we come to a temple with a bright gold roof, Geumdangsa Temple, or “Gold Hall Temple,” built in 814 during the Silla Dynasty.  I think this is the temple we have come to see, so I take a bunch of pictures and spend too much time exploring the grounds.

Geumdangsa Temple Buddha

Geumdangsa Temple Buddha

bright leaves and lanterns at the "Gold Hall Temple"

bright leaves and lanterns at the “Gold Hall Temple”

drum at "Gold Hall Temple"

drum at “Gold Hall Temple”

I see other EPIK teachers walking further down the path, and I meet my friends Anna and Seth, who are heading to the really cool and unusual temple we are meant to see, Tapsa.  By this time it is 3:20 and though Anna and Seth are determined to walk to it, none of knows how far away it is.  I keep walking with them for a while, but as we round each corner and don’t see it, I become worried it about making it back in time, with my troublesome knee.  Finally at about 3:30, I say I better turn around.  I make it to the bus at 3:40, but no one is in any hurry to leave as they apparently changed the departure time to 4:00!  I would have had time to see the amazing Tapsa after all!  I am so disappointed, especially when Anna finally returns with her pictures of the very unusual temple.  I can’t believe I was right there and didn’t see it.  I have determined to return to this park sometime in the next couple of weeks to see it.

me with Mt. Maisan's donkey-eared peaks

me with Mt. Maisan’s donkey-eared peaks

Tapsa is a temple where a retired scholar built numerous pagodas one stone at a time over a period of decades. There are some marvelous towers which are so tall and massive it’s hard to believe they were erected by just one man. It is said that he built 108 towers over 30 years from 1885, but only 80 of them remain today.

the golden hall temple, but not the one i was supposed to see :-(

the golden hall temple, but not the one i was supposed to see 😦

We are on the bus a long 4 hours after this, heading back to Daegu.  By this time, I am bus-burned, especially as these seats are tight and narrow with little leg room, unlike most public transport buses in Korea which have plenty of room to stretch out.  We arrive at the Gyeongsangbuk-Do Provincial Office of Education around 8 p.m.  Wiped out, but happily so. 🙂

the beautiful grounds of Geumdangsa Temple

the beautiful grounds of Geumdangsa Temple

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November 5:  It’s Friday morning and it seems there is to be no Hite Brewery for us.  This despite the fact that we are the chosen ones, the “best EPIKers,” at least according to the name tags we are given.  I have no idea what the criteria were that decided which Guest English Teachers (GETs) from Gyeongsangbuk-Do would get to attend this two-day field trip to Jeollabuk-do province, but somehow, we are special.  Due to our specialness, our first planned stop at 11:30 a.m. is to be the Hite Brewery, where all of us are dreaming of sampling brews before heading off on the rest of our field trip.  However, as we pull up to the brewery, we are told that on Fridays, Hite does not allow tourists to enter.  Hmmm…. Strange thing, this, as wouldn’t you think our fearless planners would have checked this out in advance and confirmed our arrival with the brewery?  Oh well, no beer to boost us off on our first day.  It seems it will be a dry day.

no Hite beer for us ~ at least not from the Hite brewery:-(

no Hite beer for us ~ at least not from the Hite brewery:-(

Instead we bus onward to the exciting Jeonju National Museum.  On our way, we make a stop at a rest area where we see this group of schoolchildren.

Korean schoolchildren at a rest area on the way to Jeonju

Korean schoolchildren at a rest area on the way to Jeonju

At the Jeonju National Museum, we see treasures we could never have imagined glimpsing in our lifetimes.    Opened in 1990, this museum houses Jeollabuk-do’s cultural heritages; its collection encompasses 24,000 works including archeological and artistic relics from the prehistoric and Mahan and Baekje periods, as well as folklore materials.  Nearly 1,400 works are displayed in 5 exhibition rooms and an outdoor exhibition area.  The museum also houses Buddhist arts, ceramics, and metal crafts.

Danny, Seth and Anna

Danny, Seth and Anna

fall colors on the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

fall colors on the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

the jeonju national museum

the jeonju national museum

the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

the grounds of the Jeonju National Museum

I am bowled over by three huge ceramic beautiful woven vases, swirling with jade, lapis blue, and deep Indian red & gold strands.  I don’t know what these are, but they are stunning.

some amazing ceramic "woven" vases

some amazing ceramic “woven” vases

I see scrolls and paintings of interesting characters from the Joseon royal family, vases and pottery, bronze crowns and caps, dioramas of jumak taverns where tired travelers stopped for liquor, food and sleeping.  A Jangdokdae jar stand depicts how Koreans keep their spices on a low stone embankment on a sunny side of the house.  Basic seasonings are kept for all cooking done in the household, including soy sauce, soy bean and red pepper paste, red pepper powder, sesame, salt and kimchi.

a diorama in the Jeonju National Museum

a diorama in the Jeonju National Museum

pots for keeping kimchi

pots for keeping kimchi

After the museum, we head to a lunch of bibimbap.  We eat bibimbap continually in Korea, but apparently Jeonju is especially known for two dishes: bibimbap and gongnamul gukbap (which I won’t discuss because we didn’t eat it!).   Bibimbap is a mixture of a half-dozen seasoned vegetables, strips of marinated beef, sesame seed, seaweed, a fried egg, and a dollop of red pepper paste over a bowl of steamed rice.  Often served in a brass container, the ingredients are to be mixed before eaten.  As bibimbap is one of my favorite dishes in Korea, I enjoy it, and do even take note that it is better in Jeonju than in other places where I’ve eaten it.

lunchtime: bibimbap

lunchtime: bibimbap

After lunch we head to Hanok Maeul, a village of traditional-style Korean houses with tile roofs, high walls, and narrow alleyways.  Most of us EPIK teachers saw this village during our orientation in February, 2010, so we’re a little baffled as to why we’ve come here again.  We don’t complain too much as it is quite quaint and lovely.  Possibly our planners may have thought, because we were a little disoriented during our orientation, that we might not remember we had come here before!

jeonju hanok village ~ haven't we been here before? Me with Anna

jeonju hanok village ~ haven’t we been here before? Me with Anna

To start we go to a hilltop pavilion where we hear a woman perform traditional Korean music called pansori.  It is vocal and percussion music performed by one singer and one drummer playing a barrel drum.  From the hilltop, we have a great view of the tiled roofs of the village below.

the pavilion above hanok village where we hear pansori

the pavilion above hanok village where we hear pansori

shoes all lined up on the steps of the pavilion

shoes all lined up on the steps of the pavilion

This village is said to be the largest concentration of such traditional housing in the entire country.  In recent years, many homes have been spiffed up and turned into accommodations, restaurants, gift shops, coffee shops or tea houses.  The town is quite cheery at this time of year with its bright yellow ginkgo trees and other red-and-orange speckled trees.

a street in Jeonju

a street in Jeonju

Anna, Seth and Suzanne under a ginkgo tree

Anna, Seth and Suzanne under a ginkgo tree

sweet little goodies for sale in Jeonju

sweet little goodies for sale in Jeonju

colorful fans for sale in Jeonju

colorful fans for sale in Jeonju

Several guys in our group dress up in traditional costumes and pound rice with wooden mallets in a stone bowl to make rice cakes.  It’s pretty funny as they really get into their roles and eat up the attention.  We all get to sample the rice cakes after.

making rice cakes

making rice cakes

one of the guys making rice cakes

one of the guys making rice cakes

me with Seth, sampling the rice cakes

me with Seth, sampling the rice cakes

At the far end of the town, we explore the plush interior of the Jeondong Cathedral, a European-looking Catholic Church.  On the grounds is a grotto guarded by a gleaming statue of the Virgin Mary; inside are candles that can be lit for prayers.

Jeondong Cathedral

Jeondong Cathedral

inside Jeondong Cathedral

inside Jeondong Cathedral

a grotto with the Virgin Mary

a grotto with the Virgin Mary

part of the Jeondong Cathedral

part of the Jeondong Cathedral

For dinner, we are supposed to have samgyeopsal, grilled three-layered (meat-fat-meat) thinly sliced pork loin, but instead, we have some kind of soup with unknown meat (possibly beef?) in it.  We sit on floor mats at long low tables and drink Cokes and soju and eat the soup and other roots and vegetables and pancakes that usually accompany Korean meals.

the rooftops of hanok village

the rooftops of hanok village

As part of the purpose of this field trip is to meet and mingle with other EPIK teachers and forge new friendships, I sit somewhere randomly hoping to meet some new folks.  I happen to sit next to a nice Korean-American young man named David.  He surprises me by asking a fairly intense and thoughtful question, not the usually superficial banter that goes on at these gatherings.  He asks, what is your biggest challenge here in Korea?  I answer straightaway: loneliness.  Being older than most of the EPIK teachers, I find I have little common ground with other teachers.   And I don’t speak Korean to be able to make Korean friends. I ask him in return, What about you?  He says he came here to discover his heritage, as both of his parents are Korean.  Though brought up in California, he feels as Korean as a person can be.  But, he describes that Koreans have a circle of who’s accepted.  On the outside are the foreigners, who will never be inside of the circle.  But on the fringes of the inside are people like David, Koreans but not Koreans.  Both his parents are Korean; he was brought up Korean, but he’s American.  He will never be a part of the inner circle.  He is looked down upon because his first language is not Korean and thus not perfect; he seems uneducated to native Koreans.  This despite the fact that he speaks several languages.

me at an outdoor cafe in Jeonju

me at an outdoor cafe in Jeonju

a little fish pond

a little fish pond

After we check in to our hotel, a number of people congregate in our room to play a rousing dice game called Farkle.  We have a lot of fun; it’s great to meet some new people I’ve never met before.  I also happen to win the game, which is always a happy event!

Saturday, October 31:   My friend Jarrod comes to visit, searching for a change of scenery, a new place to explore.  Though he’s been to Daegu probably too many times to count, he says he’s never been to my part of town near Keimyung University.  He’s a 32-year-old Australian I met at the EPIK orientation, a very laid back and cool drummer who has found his groove in Korea.  I liked him from the first moment I chatted with him at breakfast at Jeonju University on the cold & dark February when we arrived.  He comes to my Daegu neighborhood solely as a friend, which I need sorely in Korea.  I have no thoughts of anything romantic with him because of our huge age difference.  But, I’m very happy he is taking time out of his busy schedule to come and visit me.

angels on the campus of keimyung university where we walk

angels on the campus of keimyung university where we walk

He arrives around noon on Halloween.  I have been searching frantically in the dark recesses of my brain for something interesting to show him in west Daegu.  I have only come up with a few lame options.  The first is a walk around Keimyung University.  The leaves are colored like pomegranates and summer squash and the air feels like a sliver carved from a pumpkin, cool and sharp.  We walk around the university, up and down hills, panting a little at the effort.  He tells me how he was seeing a girl named Virginia, how they went to Japan and it was difficult because one of them couldn’t access money so they stayed together a too much; Virginia said things were starting to feel too “couple-y” and then said she needed a break from him.  He is a little sad about it, maybe even more than a little.  He felt comfortable with her and truly enjoyed her company.

After our walk we eat lunch at Vince Burger, which has the best chili-cheese fries ever!  We drink several 1,000 won beers… How can we resist at such a price?  Jarrod talks about how he hangs out with the EPIK teachers but he feels he doesn’t really relate to them as most are in their 20s.  I tell him my difficulties with being older than other teachers, how I don’t relate to them, and they seem to form their own little cliques and I’m on the outside.  This really seems to be the story of my life.  I’m always doing things in my life at the wrong times: having babies in my late 20s and late 30s, getting my Master’s degree much too late in life for it to benefit me in the job market, teaching English with a bunch of 20-somethings in Korea, interning at the State Department and MSI, when most people my age are in mid-level or senior positions in their jobs.  This is my life, and this is what I’ve made of it.  I don’t know how my time sequence has unfolded in such a confusing manner.

Jarrod and I talk and talk. He likes Korea and is working to save up for an extensive, maybe year-long, trip around Europe.  He’s saved $10,000 already.  I say I’m traveling as much as I can now; I never know how my health will hold up and it’s already late in life for me.  So, instead of saving, I spend now, immediate gratification through travel.

He has been studying Korean, something I’ve never made any effort at since I’ve been here.  He has a number of close Korean friends.  He thinks Korean girls are too whiny and prissy, little princesses, and says he can’t see realistically having one as a girlfriend.  He lives in a small Korean town and he actually likes it.  He plans to re-sign here for another year.

After lingering over lunch and our beers, we play billiards at a billiard bang; I tell him I’m terrible and that truth plays out.  The only time I win is when he accidentally hits in the eight ball too early.  We drink beer the whole time; I feel like we are a spectacle in the midst of these young Koreans, the young hearty bearded Australian and the white-haired woman almost old enough to be his mother.

We go back to my apartment and we show each other YouTube videos; I introduce him to Turkish bands I like and he shows me the kind of music he likes, none of which I now remember.  I show him the “I’m on a Boat” rap song, “Jizz in my Pants,” and the “What is Love?” video done by the Oakton Otters swim team coaches, just so he can see the neighborhood where I live.

We eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant near my apartment, very mediocre.  We have been drinking beer all day and I’m really tired; I could use a nap.  Jarrod talks about his parents, who are divorced, and the difficult relationships he has with his family.  His father asked him once if he is gay, because he doesn’t seem to have many girlfriends, and he told his father, What if I am gay?  What difference would it make?  He wishes his parents would just accept him as he is.  We talk a lot about dysfunctionalities in families.  Later we go to Sydney Street Cafe.  I think he might like it because the owner, Mark, is Australian.  When we go we happen to meet one of Mark’s friends, also Australian, who is just visiting Korea.   Jarrod and I talk to them, and to each other.  At one point, I ask Jarrod if he needs or wants to get going as he had signed up online to attend a Halloween party in Daegu and I figure he will want to get going to that.  He said he really doesn’t care about going.  Later he tells me that if he were in Australia, he would probably never talk to those two guys.  The one was too much into “footie” and Mark hails from an area that doesn’t really mix with Melbournites.

heart-shaped leaves at Daegu Confucian Academny

heart-shaped leaves at Daegu Confucian Academny

Ben and Lilly come in to Sydney Street all decked out in skimpy Halloween costumes; Lilly is a bikini-bottom clad Superwoman.  Ben is the Owen Wilson Hansel character from Zoolander.  I’ve never seen Zoolander before, so when Jarrod wants to leave Sydney Street, we decide to watch a movie at a DVD bang.  We happen to find Zoolander, which we watch but I don’t particularly like.

After the movie, we go back to my apartment where I invite Jarrod to sleep on my mat on the floor of my apartment.  I have to put on my pajamas because I cannot sleep in my clothes.  Jarrod has on layers and layers of clothes and says he will sleep in them.  He lies on the floor and me in my bed and we talk & talk until an ungodly hour, chattering away like two girls at a slumber party.

Never has Jarrod shown any attraction for me.  I feel like he’s a good friend, easy and fun to hang out with.  In the morning I offer to make him some scrambled eggs; he turns me down so I make some for myself and he drinks coffee and we chat at my small kitchen table.  He lingers quite a while, until about 12:30, at which time he says he should go.  As we stand to say goodbye, he looks me directly in the eyes and then we hug each other.  I wonder if it’s a sympathy hug.  Maybe he feels sorry for me that I’m here in Korea at such a late stage in my life, friendless and utterly alone.  He leaves and I know in my heart he will not be hanging out with me again.  I think it is awkward for him, hanging out with someone so much older.  If I were a man, it wouldn’t be a problem, I’m sure, because we have such a nice rapport.  But since I’m a woman, it must be uncomfortable.

love the clouds

love the clouds

After he leaves, I go alone to Kyobo Books in downtown Daegu.  This bookstore has a small English selection, but I decide the prices are just too high.  I then visit Daegu Hyanggyo, or Daegu Confucian Academy.  This was established as a local educational institution for Confucian scholars in the 7th year (1398) of King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty. I take some pictures and then head home on metro.  I go that evening to Bible study at Anna and Seth’s, where we also play a fun game of Bullshit!  and eat pizza.

Daegu Confucian Academy

Daegu Confucian Academy

I feel particularly sad tonight because I truly enjoyed Jarrod’s company, but seriously doubt we will ever hang out together again.  Sad. 😦

possibly the founder of the Confucian Academy??

possibly the founder of the Confucian Academy??

another building in the Confucian Academy

another building in the Confucian Academy

Confucian scholarship

Confucian scholarship

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, September 4:   This is a story of a girl who, entranced by various articles and books about a “silver sand beach” on the south coast of Korea, determines to get there, come hell or high water or interminable bus rides.  This poor bedazzled (befuddled?) girl has been dreaming about this place since she first read a previously mentioned article put out by the Official Site of Korea Tourism: “Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting in the Summer.”  She even went so far as to find verification of this article in her trusty Moon Handbook which sang the praises of this beach: “Sangju Beach is one of the finest beaches along the southern coast of Korea.”  It goes on to say: “This two-kilometer-long crescent of silky sand nestles into a small cove protected by rocky promontories at each cusp and a diminutive island at its opening.”

sangju "silver" sand beach

sangju “silver” sand beach

Many of her friends thought this girl to be crazy, enamored as she was with the idea of this place.  But, female Don Quixote that she is, she would not let go her fantasy.  Weekend after weekend through the summer of 2010, as her plans were foiled by rain and forecasts of rain and imminent clouds and other untimely inconveniences, she kept that dream in her heart until happy skies were forecast.

The girl embarks on this odyssey one Saturday morning in early September.  A day forecast to be sunny and 90 degrees. She leaves her tiny dust-filled apartment at 6:20 am.  She walks 5 blocks to metro, takes the metro to Dongdaegu, where she then takes a bus to Masan, where she takes a bus to Namhae, where she takes a bus to Sangju Beach. All told, this journey takes her 7 hours for what should be a 3-hour drive in a car.

waiting for the daegu metro

waiting for the daegu metro

Her plan is to spend the last weekend of summer lounging on this mythical beach, sleeping and swimming and reading a book she’s brought along, The Black Book by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.  She’s already much of the way through this book, and though it’s a deep and dense book, not really your typical light beach read, she is into it enough now that it will keep her from being bored or lonely in her journey.

on the bus at namhae ~ a half hour from the mythical beach

on the bus at namhae ~ a half hour from the mythical beach

On the bus, she waits with the anticipation of a child to catch a glimpse of, and drive across (oh, unbelief),  the Namhae suspension bridge over the Noryangjin Strait between the mainland and the island of Namhae.  She is surprisingly unimpressed by this bridge that is supposed to be Korea’s version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.  But crosses over it she does until she’s on Namhae-do, land of mountain bulges, highly cultivated farmland and ocean waters.

the namhae suspension bridge ~ Korea's version of The Golden Gate Bridge

the namhae suspension bridge ~ Korea’s version of The Golden Gate Bridge

After being tossed off the bus at a spot where no beach of any sort is visible, she schleps along with her bag into the speck of a town, looking for a hotel, and finds a Korean-style room for 30,000 won.

Welcome to Sangju Beach

Welcome to Sangju Beach

Korean-style means no bed, no furniture, and in this case, no sink.  Only a red plastic washtub for a “sink”, a bunch of quilts for a bed, a nice TV with all Korean-language stations, and a small refrigerator that is not cold. The hotel proprietor also generously gives her two small hand towels, the norm in Korea.  Koreans apparently don’t believe in or have never been introduced to large bath towels.

my korean-style room in Sangju

my korean-style room in Sangju

After dropping her bag and changing into her bathing suit, she ventures out to her treasured destination.  On the road, she is accosted by two older Korean men, one of whom rolls down the window of his car and, spewing food out of his mouth that clings stubbornly to his cheek, asks where she is from.  She says America, and he asks where she is going and then motions for her to get into the back seat which is piled high with stuff as if he’s a homeless person who lives in his car.  She waves him off and says, I’m going to the beach!  And turns on her heel and walks away.

the pine grove that borders the beach

the pine grove that borders the beach

The season is over at this beach; it’s sparsely populated but quite lovely.  The girl is a little mystified as she is unable to find any “silver” sand.   She realizes, much too late, that she has been duped.  But, determined to enjoy this place she has fought so hard for, she settles in on a Korean aluminum foil-type mat, applies her sunscreen in a sad attempt to save her already sun-damaged skin, and lies down to nap.

Under shade on Sangju Beach

Under shade on Sangju Beach

After getting thoroughly bored with the napping, she gets up and goes for a swim after struggling through tangles of seaweed at the shoreline.  The water is refreshing and kids are squealing and people are walking around with hats and long sleeves and umbrellas over their heads.  She floats, she swims, she lingers.  She goes back to her mat and pulls out her book.

Sangju Beach after a nap

Sangju Beach after a nap

She is in the midst of The Black Book; a dense novel about a Turkish man whose detective novel-reading wife left him.  The book has layers and layers of stories about Istanbul, a blending of ancient history and contemporary (1980s) life. There is a famous newspaper columnist, Celal, whose columns make up every other chapter of the book.  Galip suspects his wife may have run off with this columnist, who is actually related to both him and his wife (!).  Galip slowly starts to take on Celal’s identity. It’s a difficult book, but this girl, our heroine, our wanna-be Don Quixote, has just been to Turkey and fell in love with it and the book takes her back.

Looking out on the little bay

Looking out on the little bay

Funny, she thinks, how various books have become intertwined with places or times in her life.  For instance, at one point in this girl’s life, she went on her honeymoon to Islamorada, one of the Florida Keys, with her first husband.  She spent the entire honeymoon reading The Thorn Birds; while reading this book,  it became evident to her that she would never find in her marriage the passionate love that was so palpable (yet doomed) between Ralph De Briccassart and Meggie Cleary.  Ah, the destructive power of books, as her first marriage fell apart seven years later in a fizzle of non-passion.

my view, looking eastward

my view, looking eastward

This book, The Black Book, fills her mind here at Sangju Beach with questions about her own identity, questions that can only be answered by stories in her own life. It gets her mind working, probing about in too many dark alleys & dusty corners.  She begins to think about her physical identity.  For one thing, how can she really see herself?  She can never see herself, not really.  She can look in a mirror, but the instant she finds herself in a mirror, she immediately puts on her best face; she corrects her slouch, she smiles to bring her hangdog face to life.  So is she really the person she sees in the mirror, this 2-dimensional person with the fake smile and upright posture?  Or is she the uncorrected slouchy version of herself who goes about her daily routines looking neither happy nor sad, neither here nor there?  She can see herself in a camera, but once she knows she’s in front of a camera, she immediately smiles, or puts on her best face, showcases her best angle.  In front of the camera, she becomes a star, someone who steps out of her own under-dazzling skin.  Heaven forbid the photo turns out badly, showing her at an unflattering angle or with an ugly expression.  She always deletes these pictures, which no human eye will ever see.  Of course she is fooling only herself, as everyone else in her world sees her all the time in these unflattering poses.

the "dimunitive island"

the “dimunitive island”

Upon thinking these thoughts, she attempts to take some pictures of herself by setting the 10-second self-timer.  But, in this blazing sun, the 10-second-timer lets in too much light and the picture turns out to be a burst of whiteness with an albino person it in.  She tries a couple of times with the same result and finally gives up, resorting to taking a picture of her feet beside her sand-covered flip-flops.

a sad attempt at a self-portrait

a sad attempt at a self-portrait

She goes back to reading her book.  A shadow of a person falls over her mat and when she glances up, she sees a stick-thin white guy with a reddish-blond beard and mustache and a bandana around his head.  He is standing right beside her mat gazing out at the water.  He stands there for quite a long time without looking at her.  When he turns around for just an instant, she smiles at him, but he doesn’t smile.  With absolutely no expression, he turns around and walks away on the beach, disappearing like an erased pencil mark on the horizon.

and he disappears down the beach....

and he disappears down the beach….

Weird.  She’s taken aback and thinks more about her physical self, this self that she can never really see.  The only other way she can see herself, she thinks, is in other people’s eyes.  So, she wonders, what did he see?  Did he see just an older woman, which is what our “girl” heroine really is, despite the fact that she still thinks of herself as simply a “girl?”  Did he immediately discount her because she is older, as many people do?  Or did he find her horribly scary and unattractive?  She wonders if she terrified him, although he didn’t look frightened.  Or maybe he didn’t see her at all, just looked right through her as if she were invisible.  She is baffled.  Especially as there are so few Westerners in this part of the world she would think that when they find one another, they should at least smile, if nothing else.

the beach at an angle

the beach at an angle

shadows on the beach

shadows on the beach

While reading her book, which probes questions of identity quite extensively, she thinks about how difficult it is to truly be herself.  Who is she anyway?  Is she the person who, when she is in the company of her best friend Rosie or her crazy friend Lisa, becomes a suddenly hilarious person?  She and these friends play off each other and she is brought to life as a comedian.  To these people, her identity is crazy and fun.  Or is she the person who, in other people’s company, becomes quiet and boring?  Is she the person who in yet different people’s company, becomes defensive and irritable?  How can she really even be herself when herself varies with each person she encounters?  Sometimes she likes herself a lot, enjoys her own company, but other times, she hates who she is.  Which one is she?  The one she loves or the one she hates?

Another little beach shack

Another little beach shack

In the book, she reads about a Crown Prince who, in an effort to truly become himself, decides that too many books have filled his head with other people’s ideas.  He is dismayed to realize that the thoughts in his head are really these writers’ thoughts and not his own.  So he burns all of his books and goes for years without reading.  These writers’ thoughts continue to permeate his being.  It takes him a long time, a strong effort, to remove the thoughts from his mind.  He is never really able to get rid of them.  And when at times he feels he can clear his head of these thoughts, he realizes he has no thoughts of his own.

the beach shack

the beach shack

The Crown Prince even shuns women because when he finds one he likes, thoughts of her take over his mind.  So, he deserts his wife and children and goes to live alone in a hunting lodge for 22 years.  All in a quest to “be himself.”

So, this girl wonders, after reading and reading hundreds of pages all weekend long, on the bus, on the beach, in her bedless room, and on the bus again, after being totally engrossed in this book and Orhan Pamuk’s thoughts, if she is losing her own identity and becoming Orhan Pamuk himself.  Who is she, this girl who fancies herself a Passionate Nomad, a Don Quixote?  It is all terribly confusing.

a self portrait of a nomad ~ Who is she, anyway?

a self portrait of a nomad ~ Who is she, anyway?

After all this contemplating, the girl leaves the beach and showers in her little hotel room.  She is unable to wash her hair, because after hauling along her hair dryer on every single trip she’s ever taken — only to find a hair dryer provided by the hotel — she didn’t bring her hair dryer this time.  This hotel doesn’t have one.  Oh well, she’s on a beach vacation; what the heck if she’s dirty?  This can be her identity this weekend, a dirty, ruminating, well-read vagabond.

reading The Black Book

reading The Black Book

After showering, she takes a nap in the hotel, reads some more, and then goes in search of a restaurant because, snap, she forgot to eat anything all day.  She walks to the west part of the beach where she finds one restaurant with funny-shaped fish in tanks.  She’s told any meal with the fresh fish will cost her 30,000 won!! She leaves to wander to the east side of town, where she veers left into a narrow alley and finds a restaurant that has a picture of a delicious-looking dish on the window.  She asks how much and they tell her 6,500 won.   The restaurant is a cozy mom-and-pop place painted in aqua and a baseball game is on TV and it’s cool because the “air-con” is on and she is sitting right in front of it.

the chinese mom-&-pop restaurant

the chinese mom-&-pop restaurant

She settles in for the meal along with a giant-sized Hite beer.  The whole thing, egg drop soup, shrimp with noodles, rice & black bean sauce, and the beer are 9,000 won.

shrimp with black bean sauce & noodles

shrimp with black bean sauce & noodles

Dinner in Sangju

Dinner in Sangju

Before dinner and before her nap, an Egyptian friend she recently met from Seoul, an Egyptian with a 6-letter name, calls her to see how she is.  Later at night, after going to sleep at 9:00 (sad!), her phone rings again at 11:00.  Not having her glasses on, she picks it up.  When she hears his foreign accent, she thinks it is her Egyptian friend again because the caller ID looks like a short 6-letter word.  He asks if he woke her up. She says, yes, but it’s okay, she’s happy to hear from him, how is he doing?  It takes her a while before she realizes she is talking to someone else, an Indian guy with a 6-letter name who originally contacted her through couchsurfing.com.  The girl is so befuddled and amused by this confusion about identity, especially after reading The Black Book and reflecting endlessly all day about this issue.

Sunday, September 5: The next morning, she lounges in bed a long while, reading and reading.  She thinks that being engrossed in a good book is one of the most enjoyable things in life.

glued to the final pages of The Black Book

glued to the final pages of The Black Book

Then she heads out for a walk; since she doesn’t like Korean breakfasts, she buys a pastry in plastic wrap, an orange juice and a can of cold coffee at a convenience mart.  She sits on a bench under the pine trees and eats her breakfast.  Then she decides to wander to the top of the hill at the east of the beach and take some photos.

views from the east hill

views from the east hill

view of the Sangju Beach surroundings

view of the Sangju Beach surroundings

She goes back to her room, puts back on her bathing suit,  checks out of the hotel, and goes back to the beach to lounge.  It is more overcast today. There she basks in the clouds and thinks that this beach sounds like beaches everywhere: the steady rhythm of soft waves, laughter, children’s voices and their squeals of delight, the whir of cicadas, the muffled roar of the cars on the road.  When she closes her eyes she thinks of all the beaches she’s been in her life from Hilton Head in South Carolina to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, to Virginia Beach, to the beach on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, to the beach in Phuket, Thailand and to the Paradise Island beach in the Bahamas.  She thinks she could be anywhere and for a moment she is a little convinced she is back at her long-lost home in America.

the little cove

the little cove

morning view of boats in the bay

morning view of boats in the bay

After a while, she is beached out, so she tries to use one of the public showers.  She can’t believe that the showers are padlocked, closed for the season.  Whereas in America this would be Labor Day weekend, the last-hurrah beach weekend of the year, it is already past beach season in Korea.  So she rinses off her sandy feet in the sink and heads back out to the town to catch the 1:50 bus back to Namhae.  She’s a block or so away from the main road at 1:20 and she sees the bus; realizing she’s been misinformed once again about the bus times, she waves frantically at the bus.  Normally bus drivers in Korea will totally ignore anyone trying to flag them down, but this time, the bus driver sees her and pulls over and waits patiently till she is aboard.  Ah, kindness.

sangju beach from the road above

sangju beach from the road above

Despite this excellent stroke of luck at catching this bus in the middle of nowhere, the trip home takes even longer than the trip there.  Because of a huge traffic jam between Namhae and Masan, this leg of the trip, which was 2 hours coming down, becomes 3 1/2 hours going back.  So, all told, the entire trip back to Daegu takes 8 hours.  She arrives home at 9:20, totally exhausted yet wound up because on the entire bus ride home she was so obsessed by finishing her book that she didn’t “take a rest.”

the view of Sangju Beach from the hill

the view of Sangju Beach from the hill

So, what is the upshot?  About identity, our heroine doesn’t know the answer.  She only believes that her own identity is still in flux, constantly evolving, ever-changing.  It is a composite of all the books she has ever read, all the interactions she has ever had, all the people she has ever loved and hated, all the places she has ever been, all the hobbies she has ever pursued, all the aches and pains and heartbreak she has ever felt, all the happiness and sadness and anger…. as well as that blob of gray matter that is in her rather large head.  Plus. Many more things known and unknown, things remembered and forgotten, things experienced and only dreamed about.  Who is she?  She wonders if she will ever really know.

For the intrepid traveler’s reading pleasure, here is the article about 12 beaches worth visiting.

Official Site of Korea Tourism: Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting This Summer

This girl does not recommend making this beach a destination as it’s too much of a trek for too little.  The town isn’t much and the beach is just a beach, like any other.  But, if one wants to get there from Daegu, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Dongdaegu to the bus station directly across from the subway stop, immediately to the left of the Senior Center.  Buy a ticket to Masan for 8,000 won.  The trip to Masan is about 1 hour 40 minutes.

2. In Masan, you must take a taxi to the Express Bus Terminal (about 2,700 won) and buy a ticket to Namhae for 8,400 won.  This took less than 2 hours on the way down and 3 1/2 hours on the way home Sunday.

3. In Namhae, take the bus to Sangju Beach for 2,400 won.  This takes 30 minutes.

Tuesday, August 31: August 31 marks the halfway point for my time in Korea. I have survived 6 months!  🙂 I have six more months to go until my contract ends on February 28, 2011. Here, I look backward and forward, to what the last 6 months have brought and to what the next 6 months might bring.

At this time last year, I was working as a poorly paid intern at Management Systems International (MSI), commuting a nightmarish 1 1/2 hours each way. Our offices were on 13 boats in a marina in downtown Washington, D.C. and as an intern, my work there was under-challenging, to say the least.  I had started working there in March, 2009, and this date (August 31) also marked 6 months there.  These first 6 months at MSI felt like an eternity. I worked there until the end of December; luckily my last 4 months there were more challenging as I worked on a big contract evaluating all of USAID’s trade projects around the world for their effectiveness in actually improving trade.  It was one of the few contracts at MSI that involved research, which I loved.  So the last 4 months went quickly.  But finally, I left MSI as it was evident that, for some reason, they were never going to offer me a full-time position.

the boat at msi where i worked from march-august 2009

the boat at MSI where i worked from March-August 2009

I really wanted to live and work abroad.  Though Korea wouldn’t have been my first choice, it was the only country that didn’t require any teaching experience or the TEFL or that you be certified in your home country.  This is why I came to Korea, to get the experience of living abroad, to get the one year of teaching experience and to complete my TEFL while I was here.  I always looked at this as a stepping stone to get to where I really want to go: to the Middle East (or now possibly Turkey).

Overall my life in Korea is a fascinating, challenging, and sometimes difficult and lonely, experience.   Teaching elementary children is not particularly exciting, but the kids are thrilled to have a foreigner in their midst and I’m happy to be the subject of their enthusiasm.  They’re full of energy and sweet and crazy.  But.  Trying to figure out a way to actually teach them to speak English, that is more of the challenge.  It’s frustrating because the children have no place to practice their English except with me, in one or two 40-minute sessions a week.  Outside of school, neither their parents nor their friends speak English.  There are so few foreigners in southern Korea that they still see us as alien creatures.  My friend Kathy thinks that one of the reasons the Korean government imports all of us native English teachers is so people in Korea will get used to seeing foreigners.  As Korea is not much of a tourist destination and it is cut off physically from the rest of the world, it is a good way to have foreigners in their midst.  I have no idea if this is true; this is just her theory.  But it makes sense.

chojeon elementary school ~ august 30 ~ crepe myrtles in bloom

chojeon elementary school ~ august 30 ~ crepe myrtles in bloom

In the six months I’ve been here, I’ve struggled to adapt to a culture that in many ways is vastly different from my own, and in other ways is eerily similar.  It’s different in the way the people are.  When I happen upon the few Koreans who speak some English, I find them very friendly.  They’ll do anything for you; they’ll invite you to their homes, to dinner, to church.  But for the vast majority who don’t speak English, they don’t make any attempt at eye contact or any kind of approach at all.  I live near Keimyung University, where college students roam the streets until all hours.  I know these kids have only recently graduated from a public school system that has taught them English for at least 15 years, yet they all claim to know no English.  If I stop on the street and ask someone for directions or if I have any question, they wave me off, say, No English!  They are afraid to speak it because they never get a chance to practice.  I understand this perfectly, since I have studied a number of foreign languages and am afraid to speak any of them.  But it makes a foreigner’s life here difficult…and lonely.

julie & coffee-j, my korean co-teachers

julie & coffee-j, my korean co-teachers

Granted, much of this is my own fault for not making more of an attempt to learn Korean.  I should do this, and I do intend to work harder at it in the next 6 months.

There are a lot of differences that I find difficult to ignore.  Koreans don’t believe in standing in line.  They will shove their way into any place, metro, stairs, ticket offices, toilets, ignoring any semblance of a queue.  There are rarely trash cans evident, so people just toss their trash on the street.  People spit.  Young couples wear matching shirts, sometimes whole matching outfits.  Ajumas are always glaring at you or even yelling at you for reasons you can’t understand.  People, children and adults alike, touch the hair on your head or the hair on your arms;  they will comment on your appearance as if you asked for their opinion.  Recently one of Anna’s co-teachers asked her if she brushes her hair in the mornings.  Anna, who was taken aback, said yes she does.  The co-teacher went on to say, because it looks like in the afternoons, your hair is brushed, but in the mornings it doesn’t.  Korean people eat roots and condiments as if they are real dishes.  They believe every dish has some kind of health benefit.  They believe they are the only country in the world with 4 distinct seasons. They love beef and pork with all the fat still on it (some people love this but I don’t!).  They drive on sidewalks.  They wear sleeves that don’t attach to anything.  They get decked out in elaborate hiking gear to walk in the mountains.  They don’t wear bathing suits at the beach but instead wear a full regalia of clothing, including hats, long sleeves, unattached sleeves, and shoes.  The list could go on forever…..

a buddhist temple in seoul

a buddhist temple in seoul

Oddly, Korea is somehow not so different from America too.  People drive their modern cars (usually Hyundais) down their modern highways to their regular jobs.  They go to church on Sunday or to their Buddhist temples (although I haven’t met many Buddhists).  They love their families and take their kids to the beach, to the huge water parks, or to E-mart for groceries.  They care deeply about their children’s education.  It’s weird, sometimes I forget briefly that I’m even in a foreign country!

So, in a nutshell, here’s what I’ve done my first 6 months.  I’ve explored Daegu. I’ve traveled to Pohang, Busan, Gyeongju, Andong, & Seoul.  I traveled outside of Korea to Turkey.  I’ve connected with some really great foreigners here in Daegu who also teach English in Seongju.  I have two very close Korean girlfriends.  I’ve studied Arabic. I’ve worked on my TEFL.  I am learning, by trial and error, how to teach English as a second language to Korean children.  I have started writing, which is one of my favorite things.  I have been to DVD bangs, noraebangs, and eaten a LOT of Korean food.  I have learned how it feels to be a foreigner; I know now how disoriented and scared and overwhelmed immigrants in America must feel.  I know how it must feel to come to America speaking only Spanish, and not bother to learn English because you have a community of people from your own culture who can speak to you in Spanish; outside of that community, you can get by with what little English you know.  I know what it feels like to be in the minority.

standing near the top of the andong dam in may

standing near the top of the andong dam in may

I’ve learned how to be alone with myself.  That’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned here.  As one of the few older English teachers, in world populated by mostly 20- to 30-something teachers, I am the odd girl out.  I no longer feel like going out partying until all hours of the night.  I’m just no longer into that.  I love hanging out, drinking beer and playing games with my more mature younger friends.  I’ve learned I love being alone and even traveling alone.  I get caught up in writing stuff for myself that not many other people read.  But, it’s important to me all the same.

me at the folk museum in seoul

me at the folk museum in seoul

Finally, how will the next 6 months go?  I have no idea.  I will continue writing as much as possible.  I will finish my TEFL.  I will continue to explore Korea on weekends.  I will visit China in a couple of weeks and hopefully Vietnam & Cambodia over winter break.  I will try to meet my best friend Jayne in India for two weeks on my way home to the U.S. in March, and possibly stop in Turkey again as well.  I will continue to go to church and I will do a Buddhist temple stay or two. I will try to go hiking in Korea’s endless array of mountains, filled with temples and Buddha statues and many other unknown treasures.

I am losing hope of finding any romance here in Korea, but I will keep my heart open, just in case.  And I will continue to read my books, filling my head with crazy notions that will guide my life into places unexpected and surprising.

Saturday, August 21:  Today, Kathy & I went on a quest.  I came across an article online titled: “Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting in the Summer.”  I have only been to one of these, Haeundae Beach in Busan, and I’ve been dreaming of exploring the other 11.  However, most weekends this summer have either been raining or threatening rain, so I’ve been waylaid on my intended expeditions.

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Finally, Kathy and I drove in her little Matiz to Guryongpo beach in south Pohang. Wow!  This place made the top 12 beaches??  I don’t know where they got their criteria for this article, but this was a pretty pathetic excuse for a beach.  Earlier this summer, Kathy and I went to the MUCH nicer Chilpo Beach, just north of Pohang.  Why isn’t Chilpo listed in this article?

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Guryongpo is small, crowded, tacky & commercial, and has only waist deep water at its furthest-out point.  We were both disappointed in it but decided that we’d stick it out since it seemed very “Korean.”  Chilpo is more like a nature reserve, not much commercialism, and has a wide swath of beach.  Granted, it’s covered in trash, but all beaches in Korea are covered in trash.  As a matter of fact, most Koreans just throw their trash on the street everywhere.  Trashcans are few and far between; being the anti-litter American I am, if I have a piece of garbage to throw away, I will carry it for blocks rather than toss it on the street.  Sometimes I think, maybe I should just toss it; everyone else does.  But I cannot bring myself to do it.  All those anti-litter campaigns by the U.S. government in the 1970s really got ingrained in this person’s head.  🙂

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

As soon as we parked, an ajuma approached us and wanted 10,000 won for a “parasol,” which we gave her.  I wanted an inner tube so gave her another 5,000 won.  Kathy and I chilled, floated in the inner tube, read, waded in the knee-deep water, sunbathed, walked along the beach, talked. We got a hoot out of watching the Koreans at the beach.  No one wears a bathing suit.  They wear t-shirts and shorts/long pants, hats and sunglasses.  Many of them wear these detached sleeves (yes, they’re NOT attached to anything!) on their arms and some wear masks over their faces.  A lot of them wear life-vests in the knee-deep water.  Very strange.  I’m sure I was quite shocking to them with my white hair and my bikini.  Of course, in a bikini, I’m shocking anywhere!

So much tackiness on the beach

So much tackiness on the beach

an ajuma at the beach

an ajuma at the beach

inner tubes for rent

inner tubes for rent

When it was time for lunch, Kathy and I walked along the road, looking for a place to eat.  We couldn’t find a place that served lunch; most people sat on these platforms under tents and ate meals they cooked and prepared themselves right there.  Or meals they prepared at home and brought along.  They sat Korean style and ate these feasts on the wooden platforms.

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

We stopped at a little roadside shop to check out the goods and take some pictures.  The ajuma put her hats on our heads and handed us a snorkel for the photo.  I guess she figured she may as well get some free advertising.

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

Later, we found a restaurant with live fish in a tank.  To order one of the fresh fish would have cost about 30,000 won, so we ate a simple lunch of rice and some Korean vegetables of seaweed, roots and kimchi.  Washed down with a slightly cooled beer….Simply delish.

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Still,  fun times.  I don’t know how this beach got in the Top 12 list….I guess it’s all in how someone defines a “top beach.”  Do Koreans see this type of beach as better than a more natural, deserted and quiet beach such as Chilpo?  I guess they do.  I better check my sources next time.

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

After we got back from Guryongpo, we showered and changed and went downtown to meet Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio, a restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel Ariana.  Ben and Carly joined us as well.  We ordered delicious formaggio and margherita pizzas & tall cold beers (this place is a brew pub) and listened to some live “easy listening” American music.

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

the "easy listening" singers

the “easy listening” singers

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

After, we went to noraebang for Anna, Seth, and Carly’s first experience.  Crazy times all around!  Since I’d been teaching California Dreamin’ at all my summer camps, I had to sing that, as well as Gwen Stefani’s Ain’t No Hollaback Girl, Ain’t No Hollaback Girl…..I never knew this song had so many nasty words in it. 🙂  (ooh, ooh, this my sh*%, this my sh*%…..)

seth singing at noraebang

seth singing at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

Wednesday, July 21: I want to become the quintessential nomad.  This from a person who never ventured out of North America until the age of 43, when I went to the not-very-exotic England.  Before that, I was mainly a tourist in America.  I took a 3 month trip around the country with my husband Bill right after we graduated from the College of William & Mary, traveling in a Chevy van with his two pugs, Ulysses and Max.  We drove a big loop, crossing the border into Canada several times, and ended up right back where we started from, in our hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.  In 1980, we moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and from there explored Glacier National Park; Banff, Canada; Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and southern Idaho.  Still.  My travels stayed within the boundaries of North America.

Me at the Columbia Ice Field in Banff, Canada ~ age 23

Me at the Columbia Ice Field in Banff, Canada ~ age 23

Going to the Bahamas was my first time out of the country, in 1990, with my husband Mike.  That was the most exotic place I had ever been.  Once I went to England in 1998, there was no turning back.  Though not exotic, per se, it was romantic and extraordinary.  I discovered the famous ordnance maps, which showed the English countryside in such great detail that we could fashion hikes through people’s yards and farms.  I love it in England that walkers have the right-of-way and that if property owners have fences around their properties, they must provide a passage through the fence where the trail crosses over.  We hiked through the countryside in the Cotswolds & the Lake District.  We explored history in Bath and London.  I was amazed at how different life could feel in a country that I thought would be similar to America.

Other travels have been to France (twice), Germany, Mexico, Egypt, Singapore and Thailand.  The more I traveled, the more I learned about myself, good and bad things, things that had been in the dark before the journeys.  I began to read travelogues; Bill Bryson was one of my favorite travel writers.

I happened upon a wonderful book by one of my favorite writers of all time: Swiss writer Alain de Botton.  He writes about various subjects in a philosophical manner, focusing on the subject’s relevance to everyday life.  The book was The Art of Travel.  In this book, de Botton explores why we should travel and how we can be less miserable and unfulfilled as we do so.  Traveling can be uncomfortable; it takes us out of our zone of familiarity and thrusts us into a strange world that can be disorienting.  But it can also teach us about ourselves, prod us to push the outer edges of the envelope of our lives.  Travel can be a discovery of who we are, the good, the bad and the ugly.  In all our questionable glory…..

He talks about travel from the first inkling that comes to a person.  The idea of a place takes hold of a person, then germinates.  There are dreams about the culture, based on something that has struck a chord, possibly a book, a movie, a documentary, music, a painting, a photograph, a person met at random.  Imaginings take hold.  He talks about how travel can be a disappointment, troublesome, irritating, highly uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Yet.  It can also be exotic, delightful, poetic, seductive.  Longings are awakened.  Curiosity blooms.  Boredom happens, but in the midst of boredom, awe and nostalgia and a new way of seeing are brought to life.

I read yet another book that inspired me: The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self Discovery, by Joseph Dispenza.  This is a series of essays that discusses how travel can raise consciousness & promote spiritual growth.  Travel can be a journey to self-discovery.

With these two books as inspiration, along with the biography of Freya Stark, Passionate Nomad,  I seek to become a better traveler.  They say the worst thing in travel is that you can never escape yourself.  I hope to learn to discover myself, learn to like myself for my good qualities, and learn to live with my bad ones.  I hope to become more self-confident, more adventurous, more aware, more open-minded.  I want resilience. I want to be more sociable and less shy and reticent.  More independent.  I want to learn to care for myself and for others, to learn to love.

I found that living in the U.S. most of my life, I had blinders on too much of the time.  I often found life tedious and I got to the point where I didn’t even notice my surroundings.  As I’ve traveled, I’ve learned to become aware, awake, awe-inspired.  I want to take back home with me that ability to notice, to be present to the moment. I have always had a good life in America.  I hope when I return from my travels, that I will be able to appreciate it more.  I hope for a lot.  I hope to grow up.  I hope to become the highest version of myself.

In a Paris cafe 2006 : me, Adam, Alex and Mike

In a Paris cafe 2006 : me, Adam, Alex and Mike

I plan to write travel blogs from now on, for my own records, for self-discipline, and to force me to think about and notice things.  I spent a month in Egypt in 2007 and I didn’t write anything; now I deeply regret it as it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  I will try to recreate that experience in another blog at some point, but it will be a faded version that I’ll have to drag out of my memory and dust off.

For my blog about my upcoming trip to Turkey, you can check out: catbird in turkey.

To see my travel map: Passionate Nomad’s Travel Map.

Some of my favorite travel quotes:

“You are that mystery which you are seeking to know.” ~ Joseph Campbell

“If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.” ~ Anonymous

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~Helen Keller

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

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