I'm writing this in the Seoul airport waiting to board for Kangnung. After I got off the plane in Seoul, I went through customs and immigration there -- even though my bags were checked through. I had to go outside and catch the shuttle bus to the Domestic Terminal (surprisingly painless to do), then got my boarding pass there. They charge a 3,000 Won tax for entry (about US$3 at the current exchange rate). Actually, I think it's for any domestic flight, because if I was staying in Seoul, they wouldn't have collected it. I hadn't changed any of my money yet, so they let me pay US$3.
Most everyone in the airport speaks English, and there are signs in English too.
The flight was long, and it was nighttime the whole way. I had a window seat, but didn't get any use out of it. I was hoping to see Korea as we flew in, but it was dark enough all I saw were city lights, which looked just like city lights anywhere. Now it's daylight, so I could see Korea as we fly over it -- but I'm in seat C.
It seems funny to have gone from Wednesday night to Friday morning with no daylight in between. This must be how it feels to live in Alaska.
There are police in the airport looking very scary with nasty-looking rifles slung across their backs. They also check you over individually with a wand, even after you walk through the buzzer box. They made me open my fanny pack. And we thought it was bad in the States!
Tea [Margaret is an enthusiastic tea drinker] so far has been rather tasteless, slightly colored water. I suspect it's barley tea. I'm going to have to get some real tea soon, or face a serious caffeine withdrawal headache!
It's Saturday. I had a bit of a mixup at the airport. Apparently I was supposed to pick up my bags in Seoul, even though they'd been checked through to Kangnung. It caused a lot of confusion at the Kangnung airport (tiny place) when I was supposed to have my bags and didn't. I was met by Mrs. Kim [the director of Best Language Institute, and one of the teachers (Christina).
Mrs. Kim handled things with the airport staff, and Christina told me what was going on. I was pretty impressed with the way they handled it. In the US they would have taken my name and phone number, and that would have been it. In Kangnung, they apologized profusely, took us right into the office, and immediately started searching for my luggage on their computer and calling Seoul about it. They found it, and told me it would come about 2:00 and that they would bring it to us. Sure enough, the same men brought the luggage here to Mrs. Kim's apartment about 2:15, with more apologies.
Mrs. Kim is a widow, with a son of perhaps 7 or 8. She said she's glad to have me staying here because she gets lonely, and now she won't be. So I have a feeling I might not get a place of my own, even though my contract says I will. [As it turned out, Margaret did get her own space. She requested a private apartment in late March. It took a few weeks, but Best Language Institute found one for her, and she moved in on the 17th of May. -ed]
I taught my first classes last night -- took over on Mrs. Lee's classes. I was a total flop, and the books they use really seem useless. Primarily vocabulary, no sentences at all, and the kids are obviously used to having everything explained in Korean, which just isn't happening. [There are] 3 teachers, Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Kim. I'm the only foreigner.
I guess I was picturing Kangnung as sort of a Perugia [Italy, which Margaret visited two summers ago -ed] with Oriental flair, but it's more like a midwestern US city with Korean writing. Really too big to walk all over. So far I ride to and from work with Mrs. Kim.
I'm really confused about the names. The director of the institute, the one I'm staying with, introduced herself as Mrs. Lee and said Mrs. Kim immediately after. The teacher I was introduced to as Mrs. Kim, she now refers to as Mrs. Lee. In Korea when a woman gets married she doesn't take her husband's name, so Mrs. Kim is probably Mr. Lee's sister who married Mr. Kim, and Korean terms would be Mrs. Lee (or actually in Korean Mr. Kim's wife) and probably called herself Mrs. Kim to Americanize it for me. So if Mrs. Lee is Mr. Lee's sister in law, she's probably Mr. Kim's sister, so she could be either Mrs. Kim or Mrs. Lee if her husband's name was Lee. Confused yet?
Tonight was the first full moon of the lunar new year, and there was a festival on the river to celebrate. Mrs. Kim and I went. Mrs. Kim says you make wishes on the moon as it rises. She said she was going to wish for a boyfriend, and success and health. I decided I'd wish to be able to teach well. They had drummers, and tables set up with offerings -- fruit, nuts, and a bowl of rice wine, with incense sticks burning, and a pig's head. People would put money in the pig's mouth, pour liquid into a cup on the altar, and bow several times. The priestess would set a piece of paper on fire, let it burn to ash in her hand, and let go. If it floated high, it meant a favorable response to their wishes; if it went low, the response was unfavorable.
We went to the beach of the East Sea to watch the moon rise. It was very cold, but most people didn't seem to notice. They were wearing just light jackets with no hats or gloves, and I felt like a real wuss all bundled up and shivering.
I haven't explored on my own at all yet. The weather is cold, and though it's not bad during the day, it's freezing at night. We went to the bank this afternoon so I could change some money, and I went to an embroidery store. The first one we visited had only western embroidery, but the second had traditional Korean designs.
Mrs. Kim has a couch, and chairs at the kitchen table [western furniture is not universal in Korea - ed]. I was thinking I might have my spinning wheel sent from home, but I haven't much space for things. The bedroom I'm using is really tiny. I think my sister Liz's clothes closet is bigger. I wish I were getting a place of my own! I added that to my list of wishes on the moon tonight.
Last night I had my first "Gee, I'm not home" dream, and it was strong enough that I didn't realize that I wasn't home until I opened my eyes.
Being on the other side of the world has made a day person out of me. I wake up automatically at 7 am, and fall apart at 10 pm.
I went to the institute on my own today. I only got a little bit lost, and I found it by myself.
Some notes about my observations so far. Koreans often wear little bitty glasses, like in Italy, and they think my big glasses are funny. They also think my nose is big! But they are very nice, and have a cute way of covering their mouths when they are embarrassed. There are SUVs on the streets, like in the US, but not nearly as many. I haven't seen any pickup trucks at all. Gasoline runs about 1200 won per liter, so I guess about $4 a gallon, and the South Korean government is concerned about rising oil prices too.
John turned the TV on the other day, and was flipping through channels, and there was a show with 3 boys standing at urinals, looking down, pointing and talking. This led into a cartoon depiction of how reproduction works, the sperm fertilizing the egg, pictures of male and female reproductive organs, and the development of the fetus. This is geared towards pre-school or elementary school kids and shown on a major network. No wonder South Korea has the lowest birthrate in Asia.
Well, after making up beautiful lesson plans for my second day of classes, it turns out that we rotate and get different classes every day. I started my two adult classes last night ... they spoke some English already.
The food's good, and the portions are huge. Mrs. Kim warns me if anything's spicy. [Margaret is relatively unused to hot foods. -ed] I'm learning to deal with a little pepper here and there. How Mrs. Kim has room for snacks with all the food at meals, I don't know.
Mrs. Kim took me and the other two teachers (Christina and Charles) out for dinner to celebrate my arrival. We sat at a low table, on mats on the floor. There was a grill in the middle of the table for meat and garlic. There was a sweet pepper sauce (not hot), and a very good sauce of sesame oil and salt. We ate the meat wrapped in lettuce leaves. We had a bottle of Soju (rice liquor), but only Charles really drank any. I tasted some -- it was a little bit sweet, but I didn't care for it.
The apples here grow much larger than our apples and taste much better. Winter fruits are apples, oranges and tangerines. Winter vegetables seem to be kimchi and seaweed, plus the greens she grows on the sun porch.
It seems like I've been here for a couple of months now, and it's only been one week. This year might not go by as fast as I thought.
I finally have the name thing straight (I think). Christina and I went out yesterday, and she explained it to me. The institute's director, whom I thought was Mrs. Lee, is actually Mrs. Kim, because her father's name is Kim. The one I was calling Mrs. Kim is actually Mrs. Lee, because her father's name is Lee. Christina says we just call Mrs. Kim "Boss." "Like a gangster," she said.
We had strawberries the other day, the first of the season. Big, red, and sweeter and with more flavor than most we get at home. Bananas are better at home, but that's about all I've found so far that's better. I think I'm going to be totally spoiled by the fruit here.
We had lunch at a cute little restaurant. You order your tea or whatever you're drinking to come at the end -- that's dessert. I ordered black tea and was tremendously disappointed to get Lipton. It was really funny, though. A Lipton tea bag, in a cup and saucer exactly like a set of dishes I have at home!
Boss of course doesn't go for chocolate, any more than she does for black tea. "No health," she says, and she only likes healthy things. She goes to the health club. She does speed skating. She complains that she's too fat -- muscular is more the term I would use. With the huge meals she feeds me, I think she's trying to fatten me up.
I start a new class next Friday, at the city Prosecutor's office. Boss is very pleased about this -- I think it's probably prestigious for the school. I'm a little nervous of course. But I'm getting better at this stuff and I'm sure it'll be fine. And if they like me, they'll help me stay out of trouble. If they don't like me, I'd better watch my step!
Boss listens to the radio when she's in the kitchen. The news announcers sound just like American news announcers. Except for the fact that I have no idea what they're talking about, I could be listening to NPR. They occasionally play a bit of American soft rock, too. The only Korean music I hear is when Boss sings. She has a very nice voice.
Last night I went with Mrs. Kim and a friend of hers to a public bathhouse (mokyotang). It's certainly a long and leisurely process.
Each of us got a robe and a small towel as we went in. We put our shoes in a locker near the door, and our clothes in lockers further in. There were women all over the place in various stages of undress. Many of them wore their robes only half-on, and some didn't wear them at all. Korean women apparently don't have the paranoia about their bodies the way American women do. And they're not afraid of touching each other, as Americans are. I don't know if it's different for men.
The first thing we did was to scrub ourselves down, squatting or sitting on a low stool with a basin of water and a shower head on a flexible hose. After we were clean, we went into the "hot room" -- a sauna. There were straw mats on the floor, and pine branches hanging on one wall. Many women were sitting in there -- again in various stages of undress. Some were talking, some were drinking iced drinks (a good idea in this room, which lives up to its name and is very hot). Some were sleeping, using contoured wooden blocks for pillows. Some were stretching, or pounding on various body parts.
We sat in there quite a while, working up a good sweat. Boss joked about how long and skinny my legs are, and how short and stumpy hers are. Every so often her friend would run a hand along her own leg, then Boss's, and mine, to see if we were sweaty enough yet. Just about the time I decided I couldn't stand to stay in there any longer without getting sick, Boss said it was time to get out.
We found a side room without too many people in it, and sat out there on the floor, which was heated in the Korean ondol style. The room had neat walls -- a wooden latticework covered with heavy paper. Women were talking, eating, drinking, and sleeping. We drank some juice that I thought was really unpleasant. Mrs. Kim tried to explain what it was, but I couldn't understand, and of course we had no dictionary with us. (After we got home, she looked it up, and it was pumpkin juice with honey.)
Then we went back into the hot room and took our robes off, because Mrs. Kim said that would be "more healthy." I sweated a lot more that time, and it reminded me of the heat wave we'd had last summer when a couple of our animals died of heatstroke.
This time after leaving the hot room, we went back into the shower room and scrubbed ourselves down with abrasive cloths and no soap. I think the idea was to scrub off all the dead skin. Boss scrubbed my back for me. I scrubbed so hard and long that I though I'd have no skin left at all. Finally I gave up and went into the main room, sat on the floor, watched TV that I couldn't understand, and looked around at the other women. A lot of them had very red circles on their backs. They looked painful. (I asked Boss about that later, and she said it has something to do with Chinese medicine, a machine, wormwood, and steam. "Very healthy.")
Finally Boss and her friend finished scrubbing dead skin (they must have thicker skin than I do) and came out of the shower room. We went back into the hot room, but didn't stay very long this time. We went back into one of the side rooms and again had juice, this time strawberry (much better), and hard boiled eggs. Apparently the eggs are boiled in the hot room! The shells were brown (I haven't seen any white eggs here at all), and something funny must happen with the way they're cooked because they were brown inside, too. They didn't taste any different, though. There was a cup of salt to dip them in, salt in flakes rather than crystals. The salt tasted better than what I'm used to -- it's probably sea salt.
After we ate, Boss decided she was tired, so we lay down on the floor with our heads on the contoured wooden pillows and took a nap. It was surprisingly comfortable for the first 10 minutes, but after that, it got harder and harder, so I didn't sleep very well.
After the nap, we showered and washed our hair. They had 3 high showers. I used one of those, but Boss squatted in front of a basin on the floor, using that and a hand shower. I was pretty impressed as I watched her leaning forward to dunk her hair in the basin -- I'd have fallen in.
Then we dried off, got dressed, and left. Remember I said it was a long and leisurely process? We left the apartment for the bathhouse about 10pm, and when we got back, it was about 5am.
Today we went to the immigration office to get my alien registration card. It makes me feel like I'm from Mars. Afterward, we went to lunch with John, Mrs. Kim's son, and three of his cousins. We went to a Chinese restaurant. Even there they served kimchi.
It was relatively warm today, so I wandered around downtown today to see if anything was going on for Independence Movement Day. This holiday commemorates the start of the movement for independence from Japan. Apparently there's a big shindig in Seoul, and here people just put out flags, but that's about it. I asked the kids what they do to celebrate. Play, play computer games, rest, nothing. It's worse than Labor Day at home -- at least most people get together for it there.
Anyway, I wandered around downtown, and amazingly enough managed not to get lost. There are lots of little alleys, which are more interesting than the main roads, but they always seem to dump me out onto a main road again. I ended up at the same place I started from. I got a pair of straw slippers (jip shin) and a really cute book for Nef [Brandon, her nephew]. I even managed to translate most of it myself, with help from the dictionary. They have Harry Potter books in Korean, too.
We all have colds here, which we all came down with on the same day. I've never seen such simultaneity of sickness.
Saturday, Christina and I went to Ojukon, home to one of the great scholars, and now set up pretty much as a shrine to him and his family, and also the place of the Kangnung Municipal Museum. It's a very peaceful place. The old buildings are fairly plain, and the newer ones are painted wonderfully. The scholar, Yi Yul-Guk, was born there in 1536. His mother, Shin Saimdang, was also born there. It was her family home, so the buildings are obviously from well before 1500.
Shin Saimdang was obviously a well educated woman. Some of her calligraphy and copies of her embroidery are on display, and also calligraphy and embroidery examples from other family members -- they were all talented. Legend has it that she once did an embroidery of fruit, and it was so realistic that when she put it down, a cat tried to eat it.
We also went to Songyojong, or the House of 100 Rooms. It actually has 99 -- the most any non-royal residence could have. There's not that much to look at right now, but it looks like they might really do up the gardens come summer. It's not very fancy, and you don't get to see it all; the family still lives in part. The part you do get to see is actually a bit shabby. The rooms we saw were mostly quite small.
We had tea in a tearoom overlooking the lotus pond. We also visited some craft shops along there -- a woodcarver, a metalsmith, and a potter. I got a couple of necklaces at the woodcarver -- a sheep and a rooster -- and Christina got a whistle made of black bamboo (ojuk). The woodcarver had a lot of different things -- crosses, Buddhas, etc. -- and for some reason she had carved penises in all sizes. I asked Christina if they were for any particular reason, but she got embarrassed because she had thought they were mushrooms, and never did answer.
My lesson yesterday with John was on numbers, because I was very frustrated that, in spite of studying the numbers, I could never understand prices people were telling me. Well, it turns out that they use different words for numbers when it's money than when it's things.
We have 10 new students signed up at the school, so Boss is pleased. She got a call from a teacher at the high school, and asked me if I could teach a class every other Saturday for an extra 75,000 Won (about US$70) per month. I said yes.
Good news -- Boss has a boyfriend. He lives in Seoul, though, so she doesn't get to see him too often. She says he's kind-hearted. She gets a huge grin on her face when she talks about him. She's hoping she gets something for White Day from him [White Day is the holiday on which Korean men traditionally give gifts to their sweethearts - ed], and she said he might come down to Kangnung this weekend.
Whether it's because she has a boyfriend or just because it's spring, Boss decided to take early morning walks for exercise, and I went with her today. She says it's not fun alone ("Walk alone - terrible"). Except for the fact that it was 7 in the morning, it was really pretty nice. But when she says 7, she's not kidding. Knocked on my door at 6:50, and had her coat on and was waiting for me by the open door at 6:58.
We walked along the river, facing the mountains for the first half, and they looked very nice with the early morning sun shining on them. They always look sort of blue, and there was less mist than usual over them, so the ridges stood out clearly and you could see the snow at the peaks.
The river is very low -- that may be normal for this time of year. Along with the usual ducks and seagulls, I saw what I think is an egret -- very white and pretty. I also saw a magpie, which Christina says is good luck. I'll have a lot of good luck in Korea; I see magpies everywhere.
Boss does power walking, fast strides and swinging the arms, the whole bit. I like to saunter. Fortunately, my legs are about twice as long as hers (all right, maybe just half again as long), so I didn't need to walk so fast, but I was glad for that drink of water when we got to the spring.
Coming back, we passed a couple of burial mounds by some pine trees [click the picture for more information - Ed], and a small farm. They have lots of greenhouses, with plants growing beneath row covers inside them. Kangnung must be warmer than home, because they have camellias growing outdoors, and they're starting to bloom. I saw some blossoms on trees yesterday and today, too. Spring is here.
I had my first major adventure today -- a trip to the Unification Observation Post by myself. At least it started out by myself.
Step one was to take the bus to Sokcho, which I managed OK. Step 2 was to take the bus from Sokcho to Taejon (or Daejon). I got on the right bus, but the bus driver had me get out on the highway outside of town. Not knowing what else to do, I started walking. It was a wonderful day for a walk, and I figured even if I never made it to where I was aiming for, at least I'd done something different, and gone out of my comfort zone. It's awfully nice having someone along who speaks English, but then I tend to let them do everything and don't try anything for myself.
Anyway, after walking for a while, and figuring at that rate I'd never get there before it closed, it finally occurred to me to take one of the buses that kept passing me by. I showed the bus driver in the book where I was heading (it's written in English and Korean), and he told me when to get off -- again in the middle of nowhere. So I headed up the road. Eventually I saw signs for "Unification Observation Tower Check in Area," and headed there. Showed my book to the guard and he pointed to a building. The check in windows on the outside of the building were closed, so I went inside, and there was a table to sign in and buy your ticket.
When I tried to buy a ticket, the lady just waved me over to an area full of Koreans filling out forms. I hung around for a minute feeling stupid and getting no inspiration as to what to do, so I went back to the ticket table and asked if I wasn't supposed to fill out a form. The woman was very nice and very surprised that I was there alone. I guess she had assumed that someone was filling out my form for me. Then she explained that there were no shuttle busses running, and I should ask someone for a ride.
I bought my ticket, but got no form to fill out, and then went back to waiting around the form-filling-out area, wondering who looked approachable. Then the lady came and got me, and showed me a man who had kindly agreed to take me along. We went outside to where he had two friends waiting. I said hello to them, and one started talking to me. I told him I didn't speak Korean well, and he started talking in English! About the level of Mrs. Kim, but we could communicate. And I had my dictionary with me ... so we all went together.
Apparently there's only one copy of the paperwork per car. The guards stop you before you get to Unification Tower, take your paperwork, look in your trunk (I guess for North Korean spies), and give you a laminated paper thing to put on your dashboard. Then you go to the tower.
It's very pretty there, and they have mounted binoculars where you put in 500 won [about 50 cents] and look across the DMZ (demilitarized zone) into North Korea. There's also some military stuff on display, and a huge Buddha and what looks like a Madonna but probably isn't (might be the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy), and some other sculptures. I would've loved to have taken some pictures, but there was a nasty sign, so I was afraid to try. It was in English and said something like "No pictures from military purposes in front of area." Since I wasn't sure what it meant, I figured I'd better play it safe.
Anyway, after spending half the day getting there, we really didn't stay very long. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but when you're riding with someone else you go with the flow. Anyway, the English speaking guy, whose name is Lee, said it's prettiest from May to October, so I'll have to go back.
Lee asked if I was staying there, and I said I would take the bus back to Kangnung. He insisted on driving back to Seoul by way of Kangnung, which is about as sensible as going from Cleveland to Toledo by way of Columbus. Maybe not that bad, because the distance is less, but you get the idea.
We stopped off in I think it was Taejon and had a cup of tea and dropped off one of the people. On the ride to Kangnung, Lee was pretty talkative. His friend Pak, who was driving, was pretty quiet, but would tease Lee about something every now and then, at which Lee would hit him in the head with my dictionary (I told you it got a lot of use). About midway I got carsick and had to ask them to pull over ... it was very embarrassing, but they were awfully nice about it. I got to ride in the front seat after that.
We made it to Kangnung in one piece and I said I would like to take them both out to dinner, but Lee said Pak wanted to get back to his wife. Lee said he didn't feel the same way -- he and his wife had recently had a fight. I don't know how serious he was about that. He did joke around a lot. So I told him when I came to Inchon, where they live, I would take them out. So I got home safe and sound, much earlier than I expected.
Because Kangnung is on the ocean, in times past most of the men were fishermen, and spent most of their time at sea. So the idea sprang up that by keeping one of these carvings around it would bring your husband safely home to you. But if he died at sea, you could use it for "something else." That's the story as it was told to me. We all had a good laugh about it.
Mrs. Kim wants me to pay for my food, and this seemed like an opportune time to mention about my own apartment. Of course Mrs. Kim was afraid that she had done something to offend me, and was also disappointed because she had hoped for John to be exposed to English more. I was glad I had Mrs. Lee translating through it all. I think she understood better. They said they would start looking and it might take a month or two, which is fine.
Mrs. Lee, whose husband lives in Seoul, had a dream that he was sleeping with another woman, and was mad at him for two days. So we've been having a good time teasing her about it. She actually called him up at work when she woke up and yelled at him!
It's been cold and rainy, so I've mostly stayed home. After Mrs. Kim went to her ice skating, I heard a cat crying in the hallway of the apartment, so I went to investigate. It was a little black and white girl kitten. As soon as I picked her up, she started nursing on my shirt, so I brought her in and gave her some milk and soup. Then I held her for a while, while she suckled more on my sweater. It broke my heart to have to put her back out when I left for work, and she was pretty unhappy about it too. No sign of her today. I hope she got adopted.
On Friday Mrs. Kim, Mrs. Lee, Christina, and I went to lunch to celebrate Christina's birthday, which was Sunday. We had beef in lettuce leaves (take a leaf, put some green onions, rice, sauce and maybe some garlic on it, then wrap it all up and stuff it in your mouth), followed by noodles in a very spicy sauce, then what Mrs. Kim called Korean Pizza. It's sort of a Yorkshire pudding with squid, oysters, and green onions cooked in.
Saturday, John and I went to Kyongpo Beach for a picnic. We rented bikes and rode partway around Kyongpo Lake.
Sunday was also Mrs. Kim's mother's birthday, so the whole family and I went to Kyongpo Beach to a raw fish restaurant. It was very expensive -- the prices ranged from 45,000 to 120,000 won, and I'm sure that was per person. The fish they serve are kept alive in tanks of sea water, brought up in pipes from the ocean.
First came many appetizers, then a large plate of sliced raw fish and some sushi and fried fish. Then the main course, fish and tofu stew with rice. I was already stuffed before the main course arrived, which was just as well, since it was pretty spicy.
We all went out to dinner the other night after work. It started out that Christina and I were going to go. Then Mrs. Lee joined in, and then Boss, and Mrs. Lee's older daughter was there (she's about 11), and John was there, so it made quite a party.
We went to a chicken place in the Kangnung University area, where we had walked last Sunday. It's very different on a weeknight. Sunday morning was practically deserted, and Tuesday night was so crowded you could hardly drive through the streets. Students were milling around everywhere.
We had chicken bul-gi, which is chunks of chicken, chopped cabbage, green onions, and thin slices (looking like bamboo shoots) of sweet potato. There's a big griddle in the middle of the table, and the server dumps a whole plate of stuff onto it. There's also a spicy sauce on it, and Mrs. Lee had her scrape some of it off for me.
Once the food is dumped [on the griddle], it's up to us to turn on the griddle and stir the food until it's cooked. Then you either eat the food straight, or wrap it in lettuce leaves and eat it. There's extra hot sauce too, if you want it. John likes to just dip lettuce leaves into hot sauce and eat that.
The food was very good, and not impossibly hot, although it was pretty spicy. Mrs Lee had the waitress bring some water because she figured I'd need it, and she was right. Rice isn't served with the chicken bul-gi, but is fried on the griddle with bean sprouts and kimchi afterwards.
I'm doing laundry today. No dryer here -- everybody just hangs clothes out to dry, either outside if they have a yard, or on the sun porch if it's an apartment.
Mrs. Kim left the bathroom door open while she washed her face last night. There's a sink in the bathroom, a little lower than what I'm used to, but she filled a plastic pan with water on the floor and squatted in front of it to wash her face. I didn't see for sure, but I think she leaned forward and dunked her whole face into it.
When Koreans squat, they keep their feet flat on the floor. I tried, but I can't do it. My muscles and tendons don't stretch in that direction. Try it yourself and see how you do. [Just fine, thanks. - ed]
Last night my beginning adult class and half of my advanced adult class and I all went out to dinner after class. We had Annie, Richard, Tom, Mike, TJ and Mrs. Lee and Charles [they all take English names as part of their lessons -ed]. It was fun. Of course, they mostly talked in Korean, but they did try to include me in the conversation some. Tom and Mike are kind of quiet anyhow, so they didn't say much.
Richard, who's normally pretty uptight, really loosened up. His English improves significantly after a Soju. He said 20 years ago he could speak a lot of English, and his friends called him Walking Dictionary. But now he's forgotten it all. I told him 20 years ago I could speak a lot of Korean, but now I've forgotten it all, so I know how he feels.
I'm getting together with TJ at Kangnung University this Saturday. We'll have lunch, and she's going to teach me how to play a board game, on-juk.
Had a great day yesterday. The weather was sunny and warm, and I spent the day with my friend TJ. We had lunch at Kangnung University, and she taught me to play a game, on-juk, which is similar to nine man morris. Then her husband picked us up and we went to a Sculpture park (the train in this picture is actually part of the park), and to Jeong Dong Jin Beach right below the park. The train runs from Kangnung to Jeong Dong Jin.
The sculpture park is on the mountain overlooking the beach. It was very pleasant, with gardens of ornamental kale, places to sit and look at sculptures or look down at the beach, and sculptures that were modern but were still attractive. People were free to climb on, pose on, or just generally play on them, which was kind of nice -- art as something to live with, rather than something to rope off and discuss in hushed tones.
We had tea in a cafe in a sailboat perched on the mountain. Here in Korea you go to cafes to drink coffee or tea or fruit juice -- they don't serve food in cafes. They're a good place to sit and talk.
After tea, we went down to the beach. Jeong Dong Jin used to be a very quiet beach, but then a Korean drama was filmed there, so now it's very popular. The name means "exactly east," and it's called that because it's exactly east of the old city gate of Seoul. The water is incredibly clear, and ranges from crystal to celedon to turquoise to cobalt.
Jeong Dong Jin is also famous for the Millennium Hourglass, built in 1998 and 1999 and started on the first of January of this year (2000). It marks the time to the beginning of the new millenium on the first of January, 2001. It's huge and round, stainless steel, with the Chinese zodiac signs engraved around the circle front and back. We couldn't get close enough to see the sand falling, so I joked about time having stopped.
On the way home, we stopped to see a North Korean submarine captured a few years ago when the North tried to conduct a raid. There were walls along the road all around it, and barbed wire, but TJ's husband asked the guard if we could climb up and peek over. He let us look, but I wasn't allowed to take any pictures. The submarine looked very small to me. It was just sitting there on the beach being guarded. Maybe they're afraid the North Koreans will try to get it back.
Today is Arbor Day, a national holiday. Many people plant trees for the reforestation efforts, and most people tend their ancestors' graves. Graves here are burial mounds, and apparently they often heave over the winter and need to be repaired come spring.
Annie, from the 7:00 class, called. She and her friend Mr. Lee picked me up and we went to Odaesan Park to hike in the mountains. They're beautiful close-up -- craggy, with steep dropoffs, a beautiful clear river, occasional waterfalls. Wild azelias were blooming, but not much else.
We visited a Buddhist temple. It was painted with flowers and designs inside and out. Along the outside walls was a series of paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. There were carved dragons over the front door, but we went in the side door. I guess the front door is just for show.
There were three altars inside, and Annie and Mr. Lee each bowed 3 times in front of each altar. A bow is fairly elaborate. Kneel down, lean forward so your head touches the floor; lay your forearms on the floor, palms up. Stand. Repeat.
Afterwards, we drank some spring water and headed out. I saw a still pool of water full of tadpoles. There were also piles of rocks Annie said were Shamanism -- you put a rock on the pile to appease the mountain spirit.
This evening Mrs. Kim, John, and some of Mrs. Kim's friends and I went to a restaurant in the mountains for dinner. Later we went to Kyongpo to see the cherry blossoms. There are many types of trees blooming now, but they only get excited about the cherry trees. And they do get excited. We can look at blooming tree after blooming tree with no comment, and then "Oh look! Cherry blossoms!"
I must admit, the trees at Kyongpo were a spectacular sight -- all frothy in a pale pink, almost white. We walked up a hill to a pavilion and looked down while loudspeakers played what I think was Korean operatic music. It was neat.
What a night! There've been forest fires in the mountains lately, and we've had very high winds. So they've been hard to control, and they're constantly being blown into new areas. Mrs. Kim was out last night, and John and I had gone to bed. In the wee hours of the morning, the phone rang. It stopped about the time I'd decided that Mrs. Kim wasn't home to answer it yet, but then it rang again. I couldn't figure out who might be calling that late, so I let it go. But it started up again a third time. About the time I figured it might be someone from home calling about an emergency, it stopped. It didn't ring again.
But then the doorbell rang. It was Mrs. Lee with her three daughters. The fire had surrounded her house, which is also Mrs. Kim's parents' house, and she took the kids and ran. Mrs. Kim's parents wouldn't come with her, and she was very worried about them, especially since they weren't answering their phone. She finally reached them, but that didn't reassure her. Their house had caught fire and they were still there. They said Mrs. Kim was coming to get them.
I made a cup of tea in hopes of calming Mrs. Lee, and tried to keep the kids diverted. Finally about 4:30am, Mrs. Kim walked in with her parents. Mrs. Lee was so relieved she sat on the floor and cried. Mrs. Kim sent me to my room. I understood that they needed some family time, but I couldn't help being upset.
I wasn't sleepy, so I embroidered and listened to them talk. I didn't understand any of it, of course, but Mr. Kim sounded calm, and Mrs. Lee still sounded upset. Mrs. Kim sounded positive and matter-of-fact. About 5:30 Mrs. Lee's middle daughter, Jean, knocked on my door. We talked for a while. Jean's about 5 years old, and as cute as can be. Well, "talked" is very loosely defined. We agreed on a few words in English, and then she started an earnest monologue in Korean, which of course I couldn't follow at all. I just smiled and nodded, and that seemed to make her happy. Then Mrs. Lee came in. They'd gotten word that things had settled down, so Mrs. Kim had taken her parents home to check on the damage. Most of the house was intact -- they'd only lost a storage shed. About 7am Mrs. Lee took the kids home, and about 8am, Mrs. Kim came home, smelling strongly of smoke and dead tired.
I was supposed to go with TJ to Kynogpo for the cherry blossom festival today, but it was cancelled because of the fires. It's pouring rain anyway.
Mrs. Kim went to Seoul for the weekend, so I was looking after John, and we went shopping downtown. John's not much fun to shop with, though. I like to wander and look, but he gets nervous if we go into an area he's not familiar with. And he won't let me look at things. "Teacher buy?" he asks. "No buy, no touch."
We wandered around in the rain, getting thoroughly cold and wet, and I voted for tea in a cafe. John didn't want to, so I went to Be and Be Cafe without him. They have very good tea, and a nice snack of strawberries, toast, and whipped cream.
I'd been there a couple of times with Christina, but I was proud of myself for finding it. Usually I can't find things in the alleys downtown. I just wander at random and hope I stumble across what I'm looking for. So finding Be and Be was a confirmation of wandering and looking, and I think I'll be able to find it on purpose from now on.
John wandered off, and I was a little worried about him, even though he's perfectly capable of finding his own way home if he wants to. But it turned out that I needn't have worried. He found me shortly after I'd left the cafe.
I met TJ at Kyongpo today. We walked along the beach for a while, and then TJ wanted to "go biking." There was a definite confusion of pronunciation there. It turned out that she meant "go on the Viking." The Viking is an amusement park ride at Kyongpo. It looks like a Viking ship and it's mounted on a tall arm so it swings back and forth. It goes up so high that you're staring straight down into the bowels of the machine. The safety bar moved slightly every time we were at that point, and all I could think of was Mrs. Kim telling me that someone had gotten killed on one of the rides at Kyongpo earlier this year. I was sure I was going to die. I didn't, of course.
After the ride, we rented a tandem bike and rode around Kyongpo Lake (much more my speed). The cherry blossoms were about half shot, but there were tulips and daffodills and confederate violets, and the irises were in bud. There were also some sculptures along one stretch of the lakeshore. We had lunch at a restaurant that served special tofu from this region. This tofu is famous throughout Korea.
We also saw a fortune teller, who told my fortune with TJ translating. He got some things right about my personal life, saying that I had the spirit of a man in the body of a woman (probably true by Korean standards), but he also said I was conservative (I'm not), and that I didn't like President Clinton. Well, the only thing (all right, the main thing) I don't like about Clinton is that he's too conservative. Anyway, the fortune teller said that Bush would win the election. About me, he said that this month is a time of changes, but next month and next year will be peaceful. I'll succeed if I get a job in the government or in a man's field. If I want to get rich fast, I should buy stocks when the NASDAQ is at 2500, and sell when it is at 3500. It'll be interesting to see if any of that comes true.
Afterwards, TJ invited me to her house -- actually an apartment. She and her husband live there with his parents. I didn't get a grand tour, but what I saw was quite small, maybe half the size of Mrs. Kim's apartment.
TJ's husband had watched their baby for TJ so she could go out with me. That's rather unusual for Korean men. We had green tea and she showed me a book on English comprehension that she has the job of revising. She invited me to help with it. I don't think I'd be paid, but if we get it done, my name would be listed as one of the authors.
We've been having forest fires out here -- sort of makes me feel like I live in California. The winds were so high that at first they couldn't fight the fires, but things have settled down and we've had some rain, so it seems to be all over. Two people died and 800 or so are homeless.
We were lucky. The fire never came near this side of town, but Mrs. Kim's relatives came over about 4:00am when their house caught fire. They were lucky too, though; they lost one storage room, but the house was OK.
Now everyone's throwing fits because the government didn't prevent the fires. They have awfully high expectations of their government. Who could have known?
I don't know if I'll be coming home with more grey hairs or fewer. When I see myself in the mirror (the elevator here has a huge mirror in it), I seem to have more and more, but the kids in one of my classes are fascinated by them and keep sneaking up behind me and pulling them out. Maybe I'll just end up bald.
I had a nice weekend; shopping on Saturday. Cleveland's West Side Market is nothing compared to the outdoor market here. It's a shame I don't have a place of my own, so I could try buying food. Right now I just look.
TJ is moving to Seoul this Saturday, but said she'd be in Kangnung on the weekends. Christina is also leaving. She's already finished work at the school, and is spending most of her time getting ready for her wedding. She gets married in May, and will move to Inchon on the west coast after that.
I've finally found some evidence of textile work. There's a fiber artist who has a cafe outside of Seoul, and she's having a Magnolia Festival this Saturday. As part of the festival, there's a natural dyeing workshop. Apparently, this woman does dyeing and traditional knotting. My goal, of course, is to take the workshop, but we'll see if that happens or not.
I haven't found anyone to go with me, and while the article gives directions on how to get there by subway and bus from Seoul (I still have to get to Seoul first), it says you're much better off having someone with you who speaks Korean to try to get there.
In addition, only 20 people can participate, and you need reservations, and I don't have a reservation yet.
I figure if I blow it this Saturday and don't get out there, maybe I can go another day, and she'll probably have more time to talk then anyhow (assuming I can talk to her). Neither Christina, Mrs. Lee, nor Mrs. Kim can go. I've asked Annie, who's hesitant, but checking with a friend. I might end up trying to go myself, but I worry then about getting there on time. People here seem very hesitant to go someplace they don't know.
Christina is hard at work on plans for her wedding, so I've been learning about Korean wedding and marriage customs from her. It's pretty interesting.
Marriages seem to be semi-arranged. Most people (but not all) live with their parents until they get married. It used to be that after a woman got married, she went to live with her husband's family. That's less common now, but it still happens.
Koreans do seem to marry later than Americans -- in their late 20s. Apparently when people decide it's time for you to be married, they arrange for you to meet someone. You go out a few times, and if the person seems OK, you get engaged. It doesn't take long -- Christina met her fiance last fall, and they'll be married in May.
Once the decision is made, the bride's family sends money to the groom's family. I think the bride actually takes it to them, and that's when she officially meets her in-laws-to-be. If they decide that she and the dowry are OK, they send part of the money back to her parents.
Then come the arrangements familiar to us -- family pictures, wedding pictures, dresses and tuxes, renting a hall, all the rest. In Christina's case, they'll have their own apartment instead of living with her fiance's parents, so they're getting that ready too. Even though it's in Inchon and her fiance already lives there, Christina had to travel there on weekends to clean the apartment.
The bride's family is responsible for buying everything for the apartment -- furniture, bedding, small and major appliances [a typical Korean washing machine is equivalent to a high-end American machine and costs about 900,000 won, or US$800. The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade says that the average couple buys, or is given, between 3 and 4 million won worth of appliances -- around US$3,000. -ed]. They also have to buy silver spoons and a set of dishware for the groom's family. The groom's father provides for the bride's clothing and "beauty supplies" (it's not clear to me exactly what these are -- cosmetics?). That seems to be the extent of the groom's family's financial obligations. No wonder Koreans prefer sons.
Weddings are purely secular affairs, and are often held at "wedding centers," not at churches. People don't concern themselves with interfaith marriages -- Christians marry Buddhists and no one thinks twice about it, but of course that would make a church wedding a problem.
Saturday and Sunday are the most popular wedding days (no surprise), and in fine weather it's an opportunity to see people in hanbok.
Not that the wedding dresses are hanbok -- they're entirely Western. Christina describes hers as "princess style," off the shoulder, with a full skirt and loops and bows of ribbon. They'll have their wedding pictures taken early at Ojukon and Kyongpo, which will be quite pretty.
Once they're married, most women quit work, although that's changing too. A recent survey showed that most younger men want their wives to work (but will the men help with the housework?). Christina and her fiance are still discussing this -- she wants to find a job in Inchon after they're married, but he wants to start a family right away.
Korea's divorce rate is quite low, but that doesn't necessarily mean the happiness rate is high. It just means that they don't approve of divorce. I hope marriage works out well for Christina.
I've finally had a fiber contact! There was an article in the Korea Herald about the restaurant Damwon and its Magnolia Festival. The owner of Damwon is a fiber artist and was offering a public dyeing session. So of course I had to go. I tried to find someone to go with me, for interpretation as much as anything else, but everyone said it would be much too difficult. "If you live in Seoul, maybe," they all said, "but from Kangnung it would be impossible." So I set off to do it by myself.
It made me think about the fortune teller I saw at Kyongpo Beach. He said I had the spirit of a man in the body of a woman, and I expect that's true by Korean standards -- although I'm sure it comes from being American more than anything else.
Anyhow, I caught the bus from Kangnung to Seoul at 7 am. It took about 4 hours to get there, on roads (these were expressways, mind you) that would give West Virginia back roads a run for their money in terms of twists and curves.
The buses are pretty comfortable, with a fair bit of legroom. There were even a few stretches that were straight enough that I could knit a little.
When I got to Seoul, the next step was to find the subway. The subway station was conveniently located right across the street from the express bus station, and even better, it turned out to be the very station I was supposed to take the subway to. So I was able to bypass the subway altogether.
Next step was to catch bus 133-1 to Toichon. So I walked around the building until I saw a bus stop, which had several busses lined up. None of them was the right number, so I asked one of the drivers where to catch #133-1. He was directing me around the corner when a passerby (they always seem to come along when I need them) asked where I was going. I showed him the article (it got a lot of use over the weekend) and he talked to the bus driver, and then said that bus went to Toichon. So I climbed on and off we went.
It was about 30 or 45 minutes to Toichon, and the driver said I would have to change busses there. When I got off and he had turned the bus around, he also got off and led me to a rice cake shop and talked to the people there. They invited me in to sit down. I was glad, because it was getting cold and rainy, and I had forgotten my umbrella (it wasn't raining when I left Kangnung). I figured they would send me out when the right bus came along. Well, they did send me out, but it was when a taxi came along. There was another lady also going to Damwon, and we shared the cab. She shared her umbrella with me from the cab into the restaurant, too.
I made better time than I'd expected. I had worried about getting there by 2, and we made it there around noon. So we had lunch together, and talked what little we could talk. She showed me a letter she had gotten from Damwon talking about the Magnolia Festival, and I showed her my article, and we compared the Korean and the English. She gave me her card (this is very common in Korea, but I have no cards to give in return). Her name is Kim Bo-Kan -- that much on the card is in English. She lives in Seoul -- that much is in Korean. The rest is in Chinese. Not only could I not read it, but nobody at the institute was able to read it all to me.
All they could get was that she's a singer. She was very elegant and very nice. She's 74, and graduated high school in 1947, just 2 years after the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. So all through school she was forced to study Japanese as a second language. She has 3 grandchildren.
She talked a lot more than that, and unfortunately I understood very little of it. It made me wonder if the people I talk to understand as little of what I say.
The dining room appeared to be an enclosed front porch. It had great crooked trees for ceiling beams, lots of wood, works of art, classical music, and a glass case with skeins of yarn dyed by the owner. We admired the magnolia blossoms out the windows on one side of the room, and the raindrops coming off the thatch roof and falling into the lily pond outside the window by our table.
Lunch was very nice, but expensive. Damwon is a place where you pay for atmosphere and presentation and quality of food, but not for quantity -- just the opposite of the other Korean restaurants I've visited. Lunch was Egyptian -- the chef had come to prepare it the day before, and he was coming back that night to do dinner. He was the head chef of the Egyptian Embassy, and was coming there especially for the Magnolia Festival.
After lunch, we had magnolia tea. It was kind of funny -- two huge magnolia flowers carefully laid side by side in this tiny teapot. After they'd brewed a couple of minutes, our server (a writer) poured the tea into a small bowl with a bit of a pitcher-lip on one side and added more hot water to the flowers, and then poured from the bowl into our cups. The tea was interesting; more of an aftertaste than a taste, hard to describe. Not enough flavor to drink much or often, but fine for once a year at a festival. I had no idea you could drink magnolias.
The weather cleared up after the dyeing session -- good thing, because they were moving all of the furniture out of the dining room. When I'd arrived at Damwon, I'd noticed a couple of people out in the rain, welding metal pipe. That seemed odd at the time. It turned out that they were making spits. These were put to work, roasting lambs over open fires. To tell the truth, though, a whole skinned sheep with a rod through it, charred black on the outside and with its muscles slashed, is not a very appetizing sight. The head was still attached, and wasn't cooking too well, so it seemed to be staring balefully at us. Fortunately, it had no eyes. One girl I talked to said that the lamb had arrived with its eyes intact, but they removed them. This surprised me a bit; Koreans seem to eat fish heads and eyes with great glee. She also said that they'd wanted to remove the head, but the chef wanted it served.
I couldn't stay for the lamb dinner because I was concerned about missing the last bus home, and for lack of money to pay for the bus. But while I was talking to people around the fire quite a few of the younger ones spoke English), the chef came and cut off some meat and handed around samples. So I got a bit of lamb for Easter.
The chef seemed quite good-natured, and had his picture taken countless times with various groups. Most Koreans seem to love taking pictures and posing for pictures, especially in groups.
I was kind of watching the road, hoping someone would arrive by cab so I could take the cab back, but it started to look hopeless. So I asked the girl I was talking to if she could call a cab for me. She said that the chef, Hussein, was leaving soon, and she asked him if he could give me a ride into Inchon. He agreed, though he didn't seem very thrilled about the idea. His driver dropped me off by the bus stop, and I waited for the bus in the rice cake shop again. I got home about 12:30am.
Thanks to the folks back home, I was able to give Easter baskets to Mrs. Kim, John, Mrs. Lee and her kids, and Christina. Christina's parents were intrigued by the different candies. Malted milk eggs, marshmallow peeps, and jellybeans are unknown here. Chocolate is available, but they don't do things like chocolate eggs or chocolate bunnies. They said that America has many strange and wonderful things. I told her that we in America felt the same way about Korea.
Mrs. Lee kept her basket hidden until Easter Sunday (I gave it to her Friday) so she could surprise her three daughters with it. The oldest two, Janet and Jean, were born in America, although Jean was still a baby when they came to Korea. But Janet remembered the different candies, and had a wonderful time with the basket.
It looks like the apartment might happen after all. [Margaret's contract promises housing, either an apartment or a house shared with others. When she arrived in February, she was given a room in Mrs. Kim's apartment -- not such a bad arrangement, as it gave her a chance to get her bearings with plenty of help. But now she feels she needs her own space, in part so she'll be forced to learn more about getting on in Kangnung. -ed] Somebody Mrs. Kim knows has a tenant moving out in May, so she's going to look at the place. I'm trying not to develop any expectations. I keep trying to picture it as a dark, dreary, tiny, smelly place, and just hope that it has a sink, stove, and toilet. It's quite likely that the whole apartment won't be any bigger than Mrs. Kim's living room -- she did say it was an efficiency.
Buddha's birthday is coming up, on May 11, and they've strung paper lanterns along a couple of the streets in preparation for it. They look very festive. Oddly enough, though, they're at this end of town, away from downtown or city hall or anyplace likely for a celebration. I wonder if there's a major Buddhist temple nearby or something.
Not much else happening here. It's cold and rainy today. I was hoping that would get me out of our morning walk, but we just went back upstairs and got our umbrellas. However, I don't feel real inclined to wander around outside today, so I think I'll just study and knit until it's time to go to work.
I played Omuk and Chinese Chess with John today, and he taught me to play Paduk. I'm getting pretty good at Omuk, and I won at Chinese Chess, but lost both Paduk games. I finished a shawl I was knitting (it came out too small), started another project, and then John turned on the TV. So I decided to go out for a walk.
I walked to the bus terminal to see how long it would take (1/2 hour) and because I knew I could catch a bus for Kyongpo from there. And next to the terminal I saw a shiny new tourist information office. They were so pleased to have a tourist! One spoke English very well, and she gave me all sorts of wonderful material in English, about Kangnung, Kangwon Do, and the Tano Festival (which is in June). She also showed me how to use their computer to print up more information.
One thing I was interested in was finding English-speaking hotels at Kyongpo in case any of my family decided to visit here for a vacation. So I printed out a list of hotels and boarded a bus for Kyongpo.
I visited a few of the hotels, but they were hopeless in the English department. One said they spoke English, but they had to call a translation service in Seoul. Another hotel had no English speaking staff, but a customer there directed me to the Hyundai Hotel (there's a Hyundai Everything here). It was very grand, with huge grounds, but not much English.
After all that, I walked along the beach for a while. I saw some kind of hazing ritual or something, where a guy on a leash was bowing down in the surf while his friends laughed and cheered. People were wearing all kinds of clothing to the beach. I saw a black velvet dress and several suits. One guy asked me to take a picture of him and his girlfriend, but I couldn't make the camera work, so he took a picture of me and his girlfriend.
I walked home from Kyongpo, because it was such a nice day, and to see how long it would take (2 hours). So that made 5 hours total for the walk. My feet were tired, but it was a good day.