1 Feb Cards, Bags, and Crabs
2 Feb Buddhist Holiday
4 Feb Seoul: Tea Ceremony and a Fortune
5 Feb A Reunion
7 Feb Borum
10 Feb Valentines and Teachers
11 Feb Sogumgang Again
12 Feb No Barking
16 Feb The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Feb:

I took the bus to Donghae today to get my new immigration card. It went surprisingly well. A half hour bus ride, a short taxi ride, found the office with no trouble, a guy who spoke English asked what I needed, and then another guy gave me a form to fill out (in English and Korean), and popped out my new card in no time. I got home in plenty of time to go downtown and buy some pojagi and a suitcase before my 5:00 class.

The suitcase is huge, on wheels of course, and has zippered areas that look like they unzip to expand. I got lucky, and got a deal even without an interpreter. It was priced at 95,000 won (US$74), and I pulled out my money and counted it. I had just 80,000 won with me. So the lady came over (she must have sharp eyes) and told me I could have it for 80,000 won.

I figure if I put all my light bulky stuff in there, and just a little bit of the heavy stuff, and put mostly the heavier stuff in my small suitcase, neither one will be over the airline's 75 lb. weight limit. My theory is that no matter how heavy the suitcase seems to me, if I can lift it with one hand it's less than 75 lbs.

There was a guy selling steamed crabs near Helen's apartment tonight, and they looked awfully good, so I stopped by to ask how much they were. They turned out to be tremendously expensive, 10,000 won (US$7.80) for 3, but after he came out of his nice warm truck to tell me, and then told me again, slower, when I asked him to, and then broke off a couple of legs for me to taste, I went ahead and bought some. They were good, although not as good as the Maryland blue crab I grew up with. Nabi was pretty interested in them too, and sucked on a few shells, but I managed to be amazingly undisturbed while I ate them.

These crabs are built differently from blue crabs. The body is thicker, and the legs are larger, although the claws are about the same size. Unlike blue crabs, the legs are the easiest and most rewarding parts to eat. The meat comes out easily in decent sized chunks. The claws are harder to get into, and the body was something of a disappointment. In spite of being thicker, there's less meat inside. The devil is bigger, and there's a lot more mustard, which I've decided is a little too rich in large quantities.

2 Feb:

I went out to dinner with Carol after work tonight. It was good to see her. It's been ages.

We went to a restaurant she likes that serves Korean traditional food. Of course I don't know the names of most of the stuff we ate, but I'll tell you what I can about it. There was a fish soup, and oysters, chapji, fish, fried squid and veggies, a dish of mushrooms, seaweed with radish, pulgogi, cow urinary tract (yes, really), and one or two other things that I forget. It was 10,000 won (US$7.80) per person, which seemed a little expensive, but not too bad. The food was very good.

Then when we were slowing down, the waitress took away those dishes and brought out a whole new set, even more food than the first time. Apparently the first round was just the appetizer. There was another soup, spicy this time, and rice this time, cabbage leaves and seaweed sheets with sauce to wrap the rice up in, another fish, tofu, radish greens, spinach, kimchi, squid, anchovies, gftr (no, wait, that's what Nabi had for dinner -- he felt it necessary to put that in), some kind of root, beef in sauce, and 3 or 4 other things that I forget. 10,000 won per person suddenly looked like a bargain.

We couldn't eat half of it, and I could probably have eaten for a week on the leftovers if it had been possible to take them home. Too bad it wasn't. Korea in general doesn't do doggie bags.

We ate and talked for a long time, and then went to a cafe near Kyongpo and drank jujube tea and talked for another long time. One thing we talked about was a time she spent at a temple on the south coast for a Zen program, during her winter vacation. It sounded really neat, and it's something I'd like to try the next time I come to Korea, although I suspect that I'd be glad it's just for a few days.

On this program, Carol spent 3 or 4 days and nights living like the Buddhist monks. They got up at 3:30 am, which for me would be the hardest part. After getting up, they went to the temple and bowed either 108 or 180 times, I didn't quite catch which. Then was 3 hours of meditation, followed by breakfast. Meals were served in 4 bowls of graduated sizes. The biggest bowl holds rice, the second one soup, the third one side dishes, and the last one water. They don't waste food, so they were supposed to eat everything except one piece of kimchi. Then water was poured into the big bowl, and they took the piece of kimchi and scoured the sides of the bowl with it, and poured it into each bowl in turn and scoured the sides with it, and poured all the water into the big bowl together and drank it. Carol said it was very disgusting to her at first, but they had to do it. Then hot water was poured into the big bowl, and they went through the same routine only with their first 2 fingers instead of a piece of kimchi. And they drank the water. Then they took a cloth and wiped out the bowls, stacked them and wrapped them in a pojagi and put them away. Interesting dishwashing technique, but I don't think it's likely to catch on in everyday society.

More meditation after breakfast, for another 3 hours, from 7 to 10. Meditation, oddly enough, was the only time they're allowed to talk. A monk gave them questions to ponder, and let them ask questions. Carol mentioned that lunch was the biggest meal of the day, but didn't say what time they had it. So I don't know if something came between morning meditation and lunch or not. But she said after lunch they hiked to the top of the mountain. It took hours, and they weren't supposed to talk. So it was difficult for her. They were supposed to ponder deep philosophical questions during the walk, but Carol said she was very hungry, so instead of thinking about philosophical questions she was thinking about things she'd like to eat. For example, if she saw a cracker wrapper, it made her think about how she really would like some of those crackers right now, and if she saw an apple peel, it made her think how good an apple would taste right now.

During the summer they don't serve dinner, but in the winter, since the nights are so long, they serve a dinner of broth. She said only the program participants got to eat this. The monks just watched them eat. And then 3 more hours of meditation until 10:30, and then bed. I think after the first day, I'd start falling asleep during meditation -- I need more than 5 hours of sleep a night. But I think it would be interesting to experience for a few days. Very few.

On the way home, Carol and her friend got stranded in Posong (where the tea grows), because there was a snowstorm, and Posong is like Kentucky or someplace and can't deal with snow. So all public transportation came to a standstill. She doesn't like to stay in cheap yagwon, because she thinks they're dirty and unsafe, so someone suggested she stay in a 24 hour public bath. She did, and thought it was wonderful. Very clean, with many different rooms to go into and many amenities to avail herself of. And only 5,000 won per person. It's like that public bath in Seoul that I was looking for and never found. So she says whenever she travels, that's the sort of place she's going to stay. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Well, speaking of traveling, I'm planning to get up at 5am to go to Seoul tomorrow, to meet with an American weaver, Nancy. Right now, I don't know if I'll be coming back tomorrow or Sunday. I'm meeting TJ in the afternoon, after Nancy goes off to her shindig, and TJ's invited me to stay the night at her place. But I'm riding out with Lisa, so I'll have to see how she feels about going home alone.

4 Feb:

I had a nice day in Seoul today, and a very long one. I got up at 5:00, and left the house at about 6:10, a little later than I was planning.

I met Lisa, my friend from the Hagwan Education Day, at the bus terminal and caught the 6:30 bus. Lisa was very excited, since this was her first trip to Seoul. She planned to see an Impressionist exhibit at the museum in Toksu palace. My plan was to finally meet Nancy Peck in person (she's an American weaver living in Seoul). We would go to Dongdaemun Market, see a tea ceremony, and go to the Museum for Intangible Cultural Properties. After that, I'd meet TJ and spend the evening with her.

It was nice having someone on the bus to talk to -- it made the trip seem a lot shorter and more pleasant. When we got to Seoul we went straight across to the subway, got subway maps, and figured out where we were going. I always mark my subway maps for future reference and keep them in my wallet, but lately of course that means I keep losing them and so I had to start from scratch. It was both easier and harder than usual, though. They've reprinted the maps so they're a little bigger, and it's much easier to read the hangul. But they've also changed the way they're drawn slightly, so the stops I've used in the past are in different parts of the map. I circled Lisa's stop for her and my stop for me and we got on to the subway. We went the same direction, which was nice, and I got off about 4 stops before Lisa.

This stop was a little confusing for getting out. All the stops have several exits, and usually once you're out the turnstile you can go to any exit you want. This one was different, and one set of turnstiles led to some exits, and another set of turnstiles to other exits. Of course I went out the wrong set of turnstiles. The only way I could figure to correct my mistake was to buy a new ticket and go back through. Good thing they're cheap. Once I found the right exit, I found Nancy Peck easily.

Nancy is a weaver from the United States. Right now she's (I believe) president of the Handweaver's Guild of America. Her husband works in Seoul, so they're living there for a few years. My friend Lorrie introduced us by e-mail, and we'd been corresponding a little bit this past year. She's been in Korea a little longer than I have, having arrived in September of 1999. And of course, living in Seoul all that time, she knows the city pretty well.

Mun means door or gate in Korean, and the old city walls had a gate facing each direction. And apparently a market grew up around each gate. Remember I went to Namdemun market that time? I'm not sure which direction Nam is, but Dong is east. Jung Dong Jin has the "Dong" in it because it's due east of Seoul. The Dong Seoul bus goes to East Seoul, and Dongdemun Market is by the east gate.

Dongdemun Market has everything, of course, the way these traditional markets do, but we were interested in the textile market. We started off with a quick run- through of the textile building. It was seven floors of fabrics, notions and buttons. Most of the fabrics we saw were your basic everyday things, but some of the floors specialize in very fine, expensive fabrics. Nancy bought some buttons for a project she's working on. I saw some nice variegated yarns, but didn't buy any.

Then we went into the more open part of the market, which turned out to be Kwangjang market that I'd been to one time before. Nancy bought some more buttons, and I bought a maedup tassel to wear with my hanbok, and 2 silk quilted vests. We checked out the silk blanket stuffings, which do look spinnable, and priced some Chinese mosi, but I didn't buy any then, partly because I didn't want to lug it around all day. Since I have an extra week here, maybe I'll make it back one more time and buy the silk.

We didn't have a lot of time to spend at the market, because we had to meet a friend of Nancy's at COEX Mall at 1:00. This is the place I went to see Preview in Seoul just a couple of weeks ago. This friend is Jung-Sook Lee, a Korean fiber artist. Nancy had asked her if she knew where we could see a traditional Korean tea ceremony, and she talked to a professor she knew, who talked to a professor he knew, who set it up for us. Neither Nancy nor Ms. Lee had ever seen a tea ceremony either, so it was an educational experience for all of us.

The place we went to was an apartment, but not an apartment where anybody lived. It's used as a classroom for graduate students who are preparing their theses in traditional Korean tea culture. That makes it sound like growing tea, but in this case it's drinking it. I had brought some pojagi from Kangnung to give as gifts to the ladies, but Ms. Lee said that the director of the Tea Culture Association is an expert in making pojagis, and her students have to make them as part of the class, so they wouldn't appreciate these. So we ran back into the mall to buy them some flowers instead.

Traffic was lighter than usual for a Saturday afternoon in Seoul, and we arrived early. Ms. Lee had figured it would take us an hour to get there. (I really believe that subways are the way to go for most things.) But Ms. Lee checked with the parking lot attendant, and he said the ladies were already upstairs and waiting for us, so we went on up.

There were 6 women there, all in traditional hanbok. The director wore maroon and white, and the students wore blue and white, with purple ties. The director told us that the colors were symbolic of cranes. The purple tie was for the crest on the crane's head, the white was for the white body, and the blue was for the black tail.

This was formal yangban women's wear, and also explains why the women at Ojukhon were wearing the same thing, the day I was there on Yi Yul-Gok's memorial day.

They greeted us with formal bows, in two different styles. Apparently this represents two different political factions. The women expressed the split by wearing their wraparound skirts wrapped in different directions. And each faction bowed differently. I don't know the politics involved, but one faction bowed by kneeling, folding their hands in front of their chests and lowering their bodies. The other faction did the same thing, only with their legs crossed.

We sat down at a low table, and they served us Korean green tea (the only kind of Korean tea), a sweet rice drink called sikkye (I'm not sure about that spelling), and Korean cookies and candied chestnuts and jujubes, which the students had made as part of their studies.

The chopsticks were very short. This was because in olden times, when people went to visit, they took their own chopsticks with them, and the short ones were easier to carry I guess. So these were traveling chopsticks. It was rather challenging to pick up the slippery chestnuts with them.

After we had tried the tea and cookies, the students performed the tea ceremony for us. This was the ceremony as performed in the women's quarters; apparently it's different for men or for monks.

The 3 women who were the guests sat around the table, left foot tucked underneath them, right knee up, hands folded in their laps. The whole ceremony took place in silence (except for the clicking of our cameras, and the director's explanations). It was very serious, too. No one even cracked a smile. Very different from my usual experience with Koreans, where everyone is laughing and talking.

The lady of the house (loh) started away from the guests' table. There was a smaller table set up, and she carefully removed the pojagi from it and folded it. There was a bowl and a small teapot on the table, and 3 cups. Next to the table was a small brazier with an earthenware pot on it. It was shaped like an urn, and had a lid.

Using 2 white cloths as potholders she carefully lifted the lid away from her, and let the steam billow out. I suspect that the aesthetic look of the steam rising was part of the ceremony. She set down the lid and took a dipper made out of a gourd, and scooped 2 dippersful of hot water into the bowl. After putting down the dipper and waiting a few moments, she carefully poured the hot water from the bowl into the teapot. Another few minutes wait, then poured the water from the teapot into the cups. This is to preheat them. Then she took a wooden spoon, and measured tea leaves (I think it was 2 scoops, but I'm not sure) into the teapot. The spoon or scoop is never metal. Probably always wood or bamboo, I don't know about ceramic.

Then 2 scoops of hot water into the bowl, from the bowl into the teapot. While the tea steeped, she poured the water out of the cups, carefully wiping the drips with a white cloth. When that was finished she poured the tea into 4 cups. She did this in several passes, a little bit into each cup each time. This is because the tea is stronger towards the bottom of the pot, and doing it this way equalizes the strength.

She carefully and ceremoniously picked up the table and carried it over to the guests, put a teacup onto a coaster, and set it in front of the woman to her right first (she was the oldest and most important). Then she served the next woman, and the next. Finally she carried the table back over to the tea preparation area, sat down, still one foot under her and one knee up, lifted her cup, and took a sip. The guests lifted their cups and drank. The rule is to drink the tea in 3 sips, holding the cup with both hands.

Then the loh started preparing another pot of tea, using the same tea leaves. So it was just water into the bowl and then into the teapot. While she was doing this, the assistant, who traditionally would have been the daughter or daughter in law (dil), and had been sitting off to the side all this time, picked up a tray with a pojagi on it and went a rather roundabout way to the table and sat. She carefully removed and folded the pojagi and set it aside. Then she placed a set of normal-size chopsticks to the right of each teacup, then a small plate to the right of the chopsticks. Things are always put to the right of the thing before, and of course she started with the oldest guest first. Then she took the lid off the cookie jar and, using a pair of chopsticks, carefully put one cookie on each plate. She replaced the pojagi, picked up the tray, backed away from the table, and took the same roundabout way back to where she was sitting before.

The guests picked up their chopsticks, brought them down horizontally to level with the lower edge of the table, then lifted them up and picked up their cookies. In unison, they ate their cookies in one bite, although I got the impression that the younger ones were watching the oldest one for timing. (Some of the cookies were quite tart and would have been challenging to eat in one bite.) Then they lowered the chopsticks horizontally to the lower edge of the table again, and replaced them on the table.

The loh came back, this time carrying the teapot on the little table. Each guest held up her cup in two hands and the loh poured each another cup of tea, and also poured one for herself. I don't remember whether she filled the whole cup at a time this time, or made several passes as before. I did notice that her teapot dripped the way most of mine do, but she didn't do anything about it.

They drank their tea together, and bowed. There was actually quite a bit of bowing throughout this, but I don't remember exactly where it was each time. It's not a deep bow, just inclining the head and upper body a few inches. I suppose it's hard to do a deep bow with your knee in the way.

The loh carried the table back to the tea preparation area and carefully unfolded the pojagi over it to cover the teapot, and put the lid back on the hot water. While she was doing this, the dil came back over and began removing the dishes. I believe she started with the lady on her left this time, who handed her the little plate, and around the circle, then the chopsticks, and then the teacups. She bowed, and backed away from the table as before and went back to her place. Then everyone bowed and it was over. I couldn't help wondering if this was normally where they pulled out the Soju and everyone cut loose and had a nice visit.

After the ceremony proper, the director showed us around the apartment, and showed us various scrolls in Chinese calligraphy, examples of needlework, paper dishes, and other things, many if not most of which I believe her students had made. One curious item was an old fashioned iron with a silk cover. It was only about an inch long, and was used for ironing the small details on the clothing.

We had a little more tea, and they presented us with gifts, and we said our thanks and goodbyes. The gifts were wrapped in envelopes made of traditional paper, and were small pojagi made by the students. They're much more detailed patchwork than the ones I've been buying here in Kangnung. Very nice.

After we left there, Ms. Lee drove us to the Museum for Intangible Cultural Properties, which turned out to be closed. She also gave me a catalog from her last exhibition. Since the museum was closed, Nancy and I took a cab to her home, which is in Itaewon. We got there at about 4:30, the time I was supposed to meet TJ, so the first order of business was for me to call her and tell her I'd be late. She (being such a nice person) said no problem, that there was a library (I assumed she meant bookstore) right there, and she would just go look at books.

Nancy's home is an apartment, but from the inside it looks like a house. There's an upstairs and downstairs and everything. It's very big, bright and spacious. She has a sort of balcony-loft overlooking the living room, where her looms are, and a separate room nearby for sewing. She said it was a mess, but it didn't even begin to qualify. Things were neater then my place ever is just after being straightened up. I didn't stay long, though, but headed out to the subway pretty quickly to go to the Center City bus terminal to meet TJ.

Now I know the current thinking in Korea is that bigger is better, but I disagree. I find the Center City bus terminal to be altogether too big and confusing for me to handle. There are department stores and grocery stores and movie theaters and 3 floors' worth of parking decks, and several more floors above that. It took me longer to find the fountain at which I was supposed to meet TJ than it took for me to get to the terminal in the first place. And it turned out that TJ was still in the bookstore, which was much too large to hope to find her in, so I had to find a phone and call her. (I don't like handphones personally, and I don't want one, but I'm glad the people I try to find have them.) TJ said she'd be right out and I went back to the fountain to wait for her.

It was really nice to see her. It's been several months. She always looks elegant, and looked even more so than usual last night, with a sweater set and pearl necklace. She said her husband got the necklace for her in France, when he had to go there for business. He works for the agriculture department of the government. I kind of wish I knew what sort of business he had in France, just out of curiosity. Trade relations maybe, or agricultural techniques, or maybe even something about BSE for all I know.

We went to an Italian place for dinner first thing, and then decided to go to a fortunetelling cafe. TJ said there were some in Apjummon (I'm not sure about that spelling), so we took the subway out there. TJ said that Apjummon is where the rich people live. And it did look a little more well-to-do than some places, although it was kind of hard to tell in the dark. TJ asked a food vendor for directions, and we headed off. On the way we passed a soft pretzel place. I hadn't had a soft pretzel in over a year, and TJ had never had one, so I bought us a couple and we took them to the cafe with us.

The cafe was very nice, the way Korean cafes usually are, and we drank green tea and ate our pretzels while we waited for the fortuneteller to make his way over to us. He started by telling us our past before he moved on to our futures. TJ translated for me:

After age 27, I didn't have any luck for a husband. If I had married, I would have divorced, or my husband would have died. (Good thing I never got married.)

From 27 to 37, I was lonely and felt solitude (my boyfriend was working out of state for part of that time). And I had the chance to change jobs (true, many times). Around age 37 I had the chance to travel abroad and to study abroad (I was 37 when I made my first trip abroad, to Finland, and 39 when I went to Italy to study weaving).

My character is idealistic, and I don't care about money. My ideal job is language teacher (an easy guess, since TJ told him that's what I'd been doing for the past year) because my style is that of a scholar or professor. My character of mind is that of a wise wife and nice mother.

Last year I had a big conflict, maybe with my boyfriend (about going to Korea?) and I changed my job (true enough, but another easy guess). I spent a lot of money (also true). I had the opportunity to get a new boyfriend (does the name Young ring a bell?).

This year, from February to April, I'll have conflicts with my boyfriend, and bad luck. I'll spend a lot of money (don't I always?). I'll have the chance to move my working place (another easy guess). In April my luck will improve. A nice guy, possibly my boyfriend, will help me get a job as a language teacher.

My ideal partner will be 1 year or 5 years older than I am (my boyfriend is 5 years older). My lucky colors are red and dark blue (an easy guess since that's what I was wearing). My lucky numbers are 2 and 7 (I've always been partial to 7). My lucky direction is south (I live in the southern part of the county, and on the south end of the road).

The colors might not just be a lucky guess. He told TJ her lucky color was black, even though she was wearing yellow. And she usually does wear black.

Anyway, that's what I've got for the year. Sounds like I'll have time to stay at home for a while before I start work, and I'll be doing some sort of teaching. This was all without my telling him what I wanted to do, although I suppose TJ could have told him.

Anyway, about 10:00 TJ escorted me back to the Central City bus terminal and helped me get my ticket and get to the place to catch my bus. I had a ticket for the 11:00 bus, and she was going to stay and see me off, but then she remembered that the subway shuts down at 11, and had to leave. I slept most of the ride home, which made it seem much shorter than usual. Got in to Kangnung at 2:00 AM, and home by 2:30.

5 Feb:

Tonight we had a sort of reunion of the KEPCO (Electric Company) class. I met Randy downtown at 7, and Seagull and Bona were there. We all went out to dinner at a very fancy place, and sat and talked for a long time. Eventually Devil Woman came and joined us. She was all embarrassed because she wasn't wearing any makeup, but I thought she looked fine.

It was nice to see them all. Devil Woman is going to Canada this June. Her sister lives in Toronto, so she'll be going there for a month. Maybe I could drive there to meet with her.

After talking some more, we went to a nolay-bang, (also spelled norae-bang) and had a good time singing. I only sang English songs, of course, but most of the songs I picked out, the others knew too, and could sing along some.

After a while Devil Woman's husband joined us. He was pretty interesting. He didn't say much, but when he did he barked it out like a drill sergeant giving orders.

We finished up with a rousing chorus of Top of the World.

7 Feb:

Right after I arrived last February, Mrs. Kim took me to Borum, the festival for the first full moon of the new lunar year. It took place on the river, and we went to Kyongpo later that night to see the moon rise. Funny, though, I'd forgotten about the festival on the river until I re-read my journal entry from that day. I only remembered the festivities I saw downtown.

So I went downtown today to try to find the celebration again this year, and couldn't. Maybe I should have looked down by the river after all.

Even though I didn't see what I remembered from last year, I did see a few people setting up a table with a pig's head. It wasn't big and elaborate at all, and the woman was still cutting up fruit to go on the table. But when I went past there a couple of hours later on my way home, there wasn't a sign of anything.

A lot of the little booths along my shortcut downtown were closed -- about 99% of them. And there were a lot fewer people set up on the sidewalks, too.

But all the stores were open. I got another suitcase (I have 2 huge suitcases now, and had better never need to buy another one in my life), and some cat food, and peanuts. I bought the peanuts because you're supposed to eat nuts on Borum -- one nut for every year old you are. And you're supposed to crack them with your teeth. It makes your teeth strong. I figured if I tried to crack anything harder than a peanut with my teeth I'd just crack my teeth instead. And you know, 42 peanuts is a lot of peanuts. I ate them before work, and I'm still full. Imagine if it was bigger nuts! I hate to think what it'll be like when I'm 90. I'l just sit and eat peanuts all day, I guess.

I wore a hanbok today, in honor of Borum. The calendar calls it Daeborum, but my students just called it Borum. They were impressed that I wore a hanbok at all, and even more so that I know about the holiday.

10 Feb:

I went out to dinner tonight with my western friends from Hagwan Education Day, Lisa and Zelda. We went to Kogi Buffet, by the hagwon, and stuffed ourselves. I'm nearly out of food here, so it was good to have something besides biscuits and ramyon.

Normally they don't wait on customers there, after the initial bringing of the side dishes and starting the fire in the table grill, but since we were all foreigners they kept a close eye on us and made sure we were OK. I felt a little funny about it. I mean it's not like I haven't been there often enough to know my way around or anything.

After dinner we came here, and Zelda wrestled with Nabi while I showed Lisa some of my bookmarks in the computer. She wrote down a bunch of them to check out. She and Zelda were both astonished at the Bushisms. We had a lot of good laughs over them.

I've figured out that the reason people in the city shop so much is that they have no garden or barn to take care of to cheer them up. I was in a bit of a funk today -- no reason that I could think of, but it stuck around all day, so this evening I went downtown and spent some money. Not too much, just enough to have some fun.

All the stores have their Valentine's candy displays. You mostly buy the candy by the piece, and buy a container separately to put it into. (Remember that in Korea, Valentine's Day is just for the girls to give candy to the boys; they give presents to the girls on White Day a month later.) The candy is mostly chocolate, and each peice is wrapped and decorated like an elaborate gift. Appalling if you think in terms of excess packaging, but very nice if you think in terms of fancy wrapping of gifts. I, of course, think both ways, and am torn between the two feelings. Sometimes it's frustrating to see both sides of an issue and never have one clear-cut emotion.

I was craving Baskin-Robbins all day, and had just decided it was too cold to eat ice cream when I came across the Baskin-Robbins store, so I went in and had some ice cream anyway. It was nice and warm in the store (I notice that places aren't nearly as cold as they kept them last winter). Business was quite slow. The ice cream was good, and did more to help my mood than anything else I've tried today. Speaking of ice cream, we're going to have to go to New Zealand and try their ice cream some day. Lisa and Zelda say it's incredibly rich.

I've noticed a lot of the claw machines have been converted to lobster tanks all over town. It seems appropriate somehow. They just take out the toys, put in a few inches of water and add lobsters. I haven't seen anyone buy a lobster, so I don't know if they use the claw to get them out or not. I wonder what would happen if I put in 500 won and tried it? I'd probably electrocute the poor lobsters. I don't remember seeing this last year, but by the time I was noticing the claw machines lobster season may well have been over.

Mrs. Lee is back in Kangnung, and called to say hi. I was glad to hear her voice. I've really missed her these past few weeks. She said she tried to call me a few times from Florida, but I was never home. And I got an e-mail from her daughter Janet this morning, telling me that Mrs. Lee couldn't e-mail me from Florida because the computer wouldn't work.

Apparently Mrs. Kim called her and was very upset and worried because I wasn't able to stay longer, and she wanted Mrs. Lee to find another teacher who could start right away. She already has someone to replace me, but that teacher can't start until later in the summer.

I suggested she look on Dave's ESL Cafe, but her internet connection isn't working right now, so she couldn't. I looked in there myself, just out of curiosity, and there were 400 listings. So Mrs. Lee is going to come over tomorrow and use my computer.

Some of these people are pretty darn arrogant -- for example, one guy who's making 3 million won (US$2,350) a month, but wants a position that pays more. And one who actually wants a live in maid. But an awful lot of them sound OK, and are much more qualified than I ever will be. Makes me feel lucky I ever got hired.

Mrs. Lee is going to call the airport for me Monday and confirm that I'll be able to take Nabi in the cabin with me the whole way home. She's also going to check and see if there isn't some way to avoid the overnight stay in Chicago that my itinerary calls for right now. She was faced with a similar situation in Detroit coming back to Korea, but she called the airline and they rearranged her whole flight to avoid it. She ended up waiting 10 hours in LA instead, but she thought that was better than 20 in Detroit. Her trip was a lot like mine is going to be, 30-some hours. Mine will be with a cat, hers was with 2 kids. Which do you suppose is worse?

The apartment is gradually emptying out, and the suitcases are rapidly filling up. I think just the 2 suitcases and a backpack will do it. I probably won't pack the computer in a suitcase, much as I'd like to, because I'll want to be able to check my e-mail until the last minute, so I won't be able to pack it in the middle of the suitcase. It would end up on top, which probably wouldn't be good for it.

I need to straighten up a little tonight. Apparently the landlady will be showing the apartment tomorrow or the next day. (I think Mrs. Kim ought to hang onto it if she's going to get a new teacher soon, although I can see why she wouldn't want to if it wasn't going to be until summer.) I asked Mrs. Lee if it would be a problem with Nabi here, and she said she didn't think so. Nabi still hides when people come over, so with luck the landlady will never even notice, but I worry about it a little. Maybe I'll put him in his cage and take him to work with me Monday, if she hasn't shown the apartment before then. That way I won't have to worry about him getting out or something, and he can have some practice being in his cage in a strange place.

11 Feb:

Carol never called about going to the North Korea observation point, which we'd discussed a while back, but it was such a nice day that I called her to see if she wanted to go with me to Sogumgang again. It feels like spring outside, and it'll be a real disappointment when I come home and have 2 more months of winter to get through.

Anyway, we had a very nice time there. The paths are narrow normally, but with all the snow are about half the usual width. And there is a lot of snow up there. When I stepped off the path to let someone go by, I sank in up to my knees.

It wasn't as cold as I expected, maybe about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The river was mostly frozen, but was open in the rapids.The snow and ice and water all together was very pretty.

I got to make one last visit to the temple, and then we hiked up to the waterfall. The surface of the waterfall was frozen, but when the sun hit it just right you could see the water moving underneath the ice. Most of the pool was frozen, too, but right under the waterfall itself it was still open and water was pouring into it.

There was some guy showing off for his girlfriend by sliding on the ice. I was surprised that it held him. Carol said that earlier this winter some children died there when they broke through the ice.

The trip up was a little bit slippery. I'm not sure if it was icy mud or muddy ice, but there was a good lot of both. By the time we headed down it was a little cooler and a lot more treacherous. I was wearing my sneakers and Carol had on her half inch tread hiking boots, and I think I actually fared a little better than she did. I slipped more often, but she's the one who slid three feet on her rear. The girl behind us (wearing fashion boots) was sliding a lot too, and fell down once.

There was never any serious danger, though. The snow was deep enough that you'd have to try really hard to fall down the mountain. But we did make a lot of jokes about breaking legs. Speaking of which, Carol mentioned the phrase "break a leg" as being a way to wish one good luck. I told her that it was just with acting, and that there was probably a story behind it.

After we successfully maneuvered down the mountain we went into Kangnung for dinner. We had ong-something-or-other. It's noodles with potato dumplings, and is only found in Kangnung. It was very good, and very filling. Carol said it's the sort of meal where you fall out the door, because there's no rice, so it's filling but gives you no energy.

12 Feb:

Today I had lunch with Mrs. Lee and her husband. He said that he wanted to give me a lunch I would never forget, so he was going to feed me dog soup (boshintang). If it's good quality dog meat, he says, you bark for two hours after eating it. If it's cheap dog meat you only bark for one hour.

But he decided against that (I'm still not sure whether he was joking or not), and asked how I felt about Japanese. I said that would be fine. I haven't tried any Japanese resturants while I've been here because they tend to be expensive. He said that we would have raw fish, and warned that it might still squirm in my mouth. I don't mind raw, but I do prefer dead; as it turned out, though, that wasn't a problem. The resturant was nice, a little more spacious and brighter than most of the Korean resturants. The food was very good, and was indeed dead. We had a nice time.

After lunch Mrs. Lee dropped her husband off at the bus terminal and came over to look for a new teacher on the computer, since her internet connection isn't working. She had planned to do it the night before but never made it. She e-mailed one person, and took down phone numbers for a couple more. I hope somebody will work out.

An amazing lot of the teachers who post their job-wanted ads on Dave's ESL Cafe give no direct way to contact them. All you can do is leave a message for them on the web site and wait for them to contact you. Seems a little slow and unsure, and on top of that you need a password to do it, and she didn't know how to get or make a password. So that left a lot of people out in the cold.

There was one guy who put in his resume, but didn't include either his employer's names, or the names of the universities he went to. He claimed to have 5 degrees, but his name seemed fake too, so Mrs. Lee decided he was too weird for BLI.

Pretty soon it was time to head for the hagwon. Mrs. Lee was dreading going there, because when Mrs. Kim talked to her on the phone she (Mrs. Kim) was so unhappy about the lack of a teacher, and because she (Mrs. Lee) was jet lagged and didn't feel up to teaching. I told her not to worry, that Mrs. Kim would be happy she'd found some possibilities, and that she probably wouldn't have to teach until next week, when she would just take over my schedule. I was right on both counts.

I got a nice surprise on my way out the door, with a Valentine's card in my mailbox, and another surprise at the hagwon -- Valentine flowers. They included 15 roses -- most were peach, but some were red. There was one wonderful smelling lily that just filled the hagwon with fragrance, and some statice and fern. They were in a basket covered with orange tulle, with a purple ribbon.

People were a little surprised about my boyfriend sending them to me. Partly because it never occurred to them that you could do it from America, and partly because women don't get anything for Valentine's day, only on White Day a month later.

It was an ordinary day teaching, and then I had a meeting with Young. He had called and asked for it when he heard from some of the other KEPCO people that I was leaving.

It got off to a somewhat bad start. I was planning to wait for him downstairs, but he showed up about a half hour early at the door of my apartment. I told him I'd be right out, and sort of shut the door in his face, and then threw on my sweater and coat and left.

It got better from there, though, and I ended up having a nice time. We went to the Hyundai Hotel for dinner. I hadn't been in their dining room before, and it's very pretty. Young was disappointed that it was so well lit, but that didn't bother me at all. I could hear the waves outside, but because the room was bright, I couldn't see them out the window, just our reflections.

Young tried a couple of times to move the conversation towards the personal, but I managed to keep it pretty general, with a lot of talk about politics. So we ended up having a pretty good conversation.

After dinner we moved down to the cafe, which was much darker, and we could see the waves. I had ginseng tea, and he had a cocktail of some sort. I thought he said gin and tonic, but it was green, had salt around the edge of the glass, and a cherry in it, so I'm not sure what it was. I don't think he liked it very much. he made a face whenever he took a sip, and said it was too strong. Soju is usually about 20-25% alcohol, and if this was western liquor it was probaby 40-45%.

We sat and talked and watched the waves, and about 10:45 I mentioned that it was getting late, so he took me home. Nabi was very glad to see me.

16 Feb:

We had a farewell lunch for me today, a great lunch with Mrs. Kim and all the teachers from the hagwon, and tonight my 7:00 class went out to dinner together and to a nolay-bang.

I'll write more about the day later. Unfortunately I still have to do a lot of cleaning and organizing to do tonight, so I can't go into detail. Also I have some last minute packing -- I don't want to put the dried squid I'm bringing home into the suitcase until the last minute, for fear Nabi would rip the suitcase open trying to get to it.

Tomorrow it's the airport and the end of the adventure, and by Sunday I'll be home in Ohio.

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