It's a beautiful day today. I woke up to blue skies and sunshine, with fleecy white clouds moving briskly across the sky. Very briskly -- the wind today is incredible. I keep expecting my windows to get blown out of their frames. And if I leave the windows open, everything flies across the apartment. Not just paper, but solid objects, too. Not the bed though. If it was moving I'd really be worried.
There was a big rainbow this morning. It lasted a good long time, too. And when I went outside, it was raining! We've had rain when the sun was shining in Ohio before, but it's basically been the sun peeking through the rain clouds. Here it was rain (a really pleasant light one) out of a perfectly blue sky.
I went to Sogumgang with Carol today. It was very nice -- good weather, sunshine, a cool breeze. The river was much higher than it had been, what with all that rain we had, and the rapids are definitely rapid. There are "No Swimming" signs up all over the place even when the river isn't high, but as an added precaution there were life preservers parked near the most tempting spots.
Unfortunately, my homemade stuffed bears liked it so much at the mountain today that I guess they ran off. Carol said she didn't recall seeing them when we got there, so I may have lost them here. But they didn't turn up in her car, along the road to the apartment, or in the apartment. So they may be gone for good. What a bummer.
I went to Mrs. Kim's for dinner today. Since she had planned for me and John to stay at her apartment while I was babysitting him last week, she had cooked lots of food for us. But he stayed here, so of course nobody was there to eat it, and she had all this food that needed to be eaten up.
She really pulled out all the stops, and I hate to admit it, but she's really a much better cook than I am. We had rice with curry sauce and about 8 side dishes. John was surprised at the quantity of food, too. After dinner we had squid and 3 kinds of fruit. I got so full I couldn't eat another bite.
John and I played Chinese chess. I seem to be a little better at it than I was before -- we ended in stalemate. And Mrs. Kim and I talked some, which we really don't manage to do at the hagwon. It's easy to talk to Lydia or Mrs. Lee there, but with Mrs. Kim it's better to have more time and quiet.
I was hoping to get a look at the ginseng field across from Mrs. Kim's apartment, and maybe walk around the farm by the river. I haven't checked either one of them out since May. The rice harvest is starting, and all along the highways, there are bundles of rice drying over the guardrails. (That's something you'd never see in the US.) I did get some pictures of the ginseng just as twilight was settling in (it comes early these days), but didn't make it to the farm.
6 Sept (early):|
Carol has some kind of teacher's meeting on Wednesdays at 8:00, so she sits in on the 7:00 class. This just leaves Randy for the 8:00 class tonight.
Randy likes to explore alternative avenues of learning (meaning he wants to get out of studying <grin>). So he suggested that he get together a few of his co-workers and they all come to my apartment tonight. I guess inviting yourself over is an acceptable thing here. (Granted, I did suggest one time that they could come over, and it just didn't happen then.) By co-workers, I expect he means people from the electric company class. Anyway, I said OK, and so have to clean up a little bit today.
I made Jello for the occasion. I'm sure they're very curious about how a Westerner lives, and there really isn't too much to see. It seems relatively Korean to me here. But I do have all those great pictures from Labor Day, which give a lot of good shots of Mom's house. So I'll probably show them those. Also some shots of our place, even though there's no shots of the inside of our house. Compared to the emptiness of the Korean homes that I've seen, one look at the inside of our house should cause a major case of claustrophobia in any Korean.
6 Sept (late):|
Randy, my student from the Electric Company, came down sick today, so he didn't come over after all. It's OK though, because now the apartment is nice and clean.
You know, people don't all believe that the Korean medical system needs reforming, but I think the doctors do prescribe too many drugs. The reason Randy wasn't feeling well, he told me, was that it was his turn for security last night at the electric company. So after working all day, he had to stay there all night too, until 9:30 in the morning. Apparently he only got a couple of hours of sleep this morning. I'm not sure if he had to go back to work today or not. So he got sick from not enough sleep, and all he needs to do is get some sleep to make up for it. But the doctor gave him a bunch of medicine.
Granted, the doctor did tell Randy to get some rest too, but you don't need medicine for that.
End of gripe.
Anyhow, I got off work an hour early. Mrs. Lee was taking her daughter Janet downtown to buy some slippers for school, and I tagged along with them. Once we got there, Janet talked her mom into buying a pizza for us, and then decided she didn't need new slippers after all. So I guess it was just a trick to go downtown and have some pizza.
I enjoyed the pizza, and while we were there, we met the woman that I talk to in the mornings while I'm waiting for my ride to the Electric Company. She was there with her two sons. Small world.
There's been a gap in the journal because my Ohio boyfriend came out for a visit. We timed it for a long Korean holiday called Chusok, which is described to me as Korea's equivalent of Thanksgiving.
Chusok itself is just one day, based on the lunar calendar, and this year it fell on Tuesday, September 12. The government also makes sure the day before and the day after are holidays. The timing of it this year meant that I had 5 days off in a row. That's the longest vacation I'll have all year.
Chusok is a day for Korean families to get together and give thanks to their ancestors for a good harvest. They eat new rice and pine flavored rice cakes as part of the Chusok feast, and perform memorial services, often at an ancestor's grave.
"Ancestor" doesn't necessarily mean way back in time. Koreans move around enough now that in many cases different ancestors are buried in different parts of the country, so often they pay regards to the most recent one dead.
Apparently Chusok came pretty early this year, and the rice harvest had just barely begun, so I heard that new rice was very expensive this year. I suspect that whatever was harvested before Chusok was harvested specifically for Chusok, rather than because it was ready.
So my timing was great for this, but his was a little more difficult. He had a work commitment just before he left that he couldn't get out of, and couldn't get here until Sunday (at 6:30am). There's no way to go from Kangnung to Seoul by bus and get there at 6:30am, so I went on Saturday to bum around and then spend the night.
I wanted to see an exhibition of Korean and Japanese Quilts, but lost my clipping and didn't know where it was. So I went to the National Museum to see an exhibit on History of Rice Cultivation. It sounded interesting, but I was a little disappointed in it. I thought there would be details on methods of cultivation, but there weren't. There were some tools to look at, and a lot of carbonized grains. And I'm sorry, but there's only so many carbonized grains I want to see. But it wasn't a bad way to while away the afternoon, and as I was trying to find my way back to the subway I accidentally ran into Kyobo Bookstore.
Kyobo Bookstore is sort of in the subway. It's a huge store -- the largest in Korea I believe (although no bigger than Borders if you ignore the parts that look more like a department store), and has a Western section and a Japanese section. So I wandered around there and bought some books, and then caught the subway.
The plan was to take the subway about one stop shy of the airport and spend the night, then head out the next morning. Well, I miscalculated a little bit and ended up at the airport, so I figured I might as well go find the place where I'd be meeting him the next morning.
Kimpo Airport has two international terminals and one domestic one, and Mrs. Lee said I should go to International Terminal Two, so that's where I went. By then it was about 10:00, and it occurred to me that I could probably just hang out there overnight since the flight was getting in so early, and settled down in a seat with one of my books. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to nap somewhere along the way, but the security guards kept walking by and staring at me, and I thought if I slept they might say something, so I just kept reading.
Finally one of them did stop to say something. It turns out that the airport closes at 11:00, so they had to kick me out. I'd never heard of an airport, especially a major one, closing! He was really nice about it though. I asked if there were any yagwon nearby, and he took me to someone else, who took me to a cab, who not only took me to a yagwon, but even went inside to make sure they had a room for me before he left me there. They were very apologetic about not having any rooms with beds left, but I said ondol (futon mattress on the floor) was fine. It was pretty cheap, too. I thought a room near the airport would cost a fortune, but it was only about 25,000 won (about US$23).
I caught a cab again early the next morning. It was a little later than I had planned; I didn't manage to leave the yagwon until almost 6:30, and his flight came in at 6:35. But I got to the airport OK, and took the cab straight to terminal two and looked at the arrivals for the flight number. It wasn't listed. I looked again. It still wasn't listed.
So I went and asked, and it turned out that I should have been in terminal one. Sigh. I was getting pretty antsy now, because the flight should have already landed, and I didn't want him having to wait for me.
I had to take a shuttle bus to the other terminal. I got to the gates and checked for his flight. It had actually landed early, and here I was late. I looked all around, and he wasn't there. I waited to see if he came out of the men's room or something, but he didn't appear. I kept trying to peek through the doors that people came through out of immigration, but couldn't see much. Waited around some more, looked around a couple more times, even tried to peek at the tags on people's luggage to see if any of them were from the same flight, but couldn't tell. I was just coming back from another check around when he came through the doors. Boy was I glad to see him! I wouldn't have worried so much if I had been there on time, but with me being late, who knows what would have happened, and we don't have a very good track record when it comes to meeting in airports. As a matter of fact, this was our first successful attempt.
But everything turned out fine, and even going to the wrong terminal first was OK, because that way I knew how to take the shuttle bus to get to the domestic terminal, which is where we had to go to take our flight to Cheju Island.
After an uneventful, short flight, we arrived on Cheju. Cheju is described as Korea's Hawaii, and it used to be the most popular place for honeymooners. Now a lot of people go abroad for their honeymoons.
It's a tropical island, so it has lots of palm trees, which give it a somewhat exotic look, even though most of the buildings are similar to what you see on the mainland. What was different was that many more buildings have thatched roofs, instead of the tiles that are so prevalent around Kangnung. We also saw walls built of black lava rock. These walls are pretty amazing, because for the most part they're built without mortar, and they're just 1 layer thick. It's incredible that they can stand so well. I know if I built one, it would probably fall on me before I was even finished.
We caught a bus outside the airport, which took us to the bus terminal, and there was a motel just across the street from the terminal, rather grandiosely named The Olympia.We decided that that was pretty handy and checked in there, as much to drop off our bags as for any other reason.
The first thing we went to see was the Cheju-do Folklore and Natural History Museum. I didn't much care for the Natural History part -- I've never been really keen on staring at dead animals. Actually they had dead animals, birds, fish and bugs. The worst were the fish preserved in formaldehyde. Talk about creepy! A lot of the critters had signs saying how the museum got them, probably to reassure people that they had died by accident, or of natural causes, and weren't killed specifically for display. That made me feel a little better, but I still liked the Folklore part better. The Folklore section was set up with scenes of everyday life, costumes, tools, and such.
All in all, the museum was OK, but hardly worth a trip to Cheju just for itself. After we finished in there, we tried to go to the Cheju Folklore Museum, but none of the cabbies had heard of it, or knew where to find it. Going with plan B (there's always a plan B), we asked them to take us to Kwandokjong Pavilion.
Kwandok-jong, a pavilion, is said to be the island's oldest wooden building. It was built in the 15th century. The cabbies told us it was nearby, and tried to explain to us how to get there.
That's a difference between Korean cab drivers and American ones. In America, if you hail a cab to take you someplace that's 500 meters away, the driver will probably take you there by a circuitous route, and get a huge fare out of it. A Korean cabbie will tell you to walk.
So we went off searching for Kwandok-jong. No luck. But
we had a very nice walk in the
meantime. We eventually wandered into a small restaurant for lunch.
We had a great lunch of some sort of shellfish stew, and afterwards we
asked the restaurant owner how to get to Kwandok-jong. He
tried to explain it to us, but we just didn't get it. Finally, he gave up, told his wife he'd be
back soon, and told us to get into his car. He drove us there! It
turned out to be quite a long drive, too. (We never did figure out what the cabbies thought
we were looking for that was within walking distance.) Traffic through town was pretty thick,
so we went very slowly. But we got to Kwandok-jong just at dusk, and our new friend
dropped us off and left. (This sort of thing happens a lot. Koreans have to be some of the most
helpful people on the planet.)|
We weren't allowed to go up onto the pavilion, and it wasn't real exciting, but it was interesting enough, and it had a couple of old Tolharubang in front of it. These are statues carved out of the porous black lava rock, and are really THE symbol of Cheju. It was starting to get dark, and starting to rain a little, so we took our pictures, and then caught a cab for Dragon's Head Rock.
Dragon's Head Rock looks out into the ocean, and it does look a little like a dragon's head if you look at it just right. We spent a fair bit of time nearby, just crawling around on the rocks near the ocean. There wasn't a sandy beach at all, just huge rocks. It was very dramatic, with black rocks, white ocean spray from the waves breaking on them, and the grey sky. We saw crabs and things hanging out in the rocks, and some women packing up from where they had been fishing or crabbing or something. In spite of the bad weather there were quite a few men out fishing, too. It turns out that fishing is a major Korean pastime.
We wandered along the shore to our heart's content, or at least until we were ready for a break, and then found a nice little cafe. David ordered coffee, and I ordered green tea. I don't know if it's because I was a foreigner or what, but the cafe owner seemed really pleased that I had ordered the tea. She brought a very elaborate setup, including teapot, hot water, tea bowl and teacup, and proceeded to brew the tea herself there at the table and serve me. It was good tea, too. I let David have a sip of mine, and so the owner got him a cup too. We spent a fair bit of time in there enjoying our tea and coffee, and then caught a cab back to the motel.
On Day 2, we planned to head around the Island's coast. Our big stop was going to be Hallim, and on the way we wanted (or at least I wanted) to stop and see the hat weavers in Kwidok Village. But getting there involved a significant amount of walking and no guarantee that we'd actually meet a weaver, and since it was pretty rainy, we decided to skip it and go on to Hallim.
In Hallim I hoped to see the Hallim Handweavers, even though it's supposed to be primarily British style knitting and weaving. So when we got off the bus we started looking for the place. A cabbie gave us directions, and it turned out to be quite close to the bus station. In fact we had walked right by it without knowing it.
It didn't look very open, and we circled the building a few times seeing if there was a way in. We found an unlocked door that led to a hallway, but it was very empty and we didn't feel that we could just wander around at random. There were 2 buildings there, and just on the off chance that we were looking at the wrong one I headed for the other.
I found the door just as a nun came out carrying a bowl of fruit. Apparently the second building is a convent. She said that the weaving shop was closed because of the holiday, and would open again on Friday, much too late to do us any good. And she showed us the door, which looked not unlike a loading dock, and let us peek in the windows. I could see yarn, but that was about it.
Our next stop was Hallim Park. This was well worth the trip. It had a botanical garden, a bonsai garden, a natural rock sculpture garden, birds, and butterflies. And by some miracle it wasn't raining on us the whole time we were there.
The rocks were really neat. I love neat rocks anyhow, so I really enjoyed this. They're lava rocks that have weathered into wonderful sculptural shapes by wind and water action. Most of them were huge. Quite a few had holes in them, and were set up as photo-op places so you could have your picture taken with your face through the hole. (Any tourist attraction worth its name in Korea has photo-op places.)
One looked amazingly like a dinosaur. Others looked like people, or just interesting shapes. It was hard to believe that they hadn't been helped along by a sculptor.
The bonsai were neat, too -- another thing I really like. All kinds of trees, including apple trees with apples on them -- full size apples, which looked a little odd. A lot of the bonsai were really good gnarly ones, and some of them had their age listed. A few were over 200 years old, and one was over 400 years old.
I enjoyed the botanical garden, too. Lots of native Cheju plants, and I got to see a pomegranate and kiwi growing. There was a stand in there selling cactus fruit juice, and we tried it, but it didn't taste like much.
Some other things we got to see at Hallim Park were lava tubes and a folk village. There were 2 of the lava tubes -- caves, really. They were very interesting, with stalactites and stalagmites and nifty limestone formations in with the black lava rock.
The folk village had a few thatch roofed cottages, but wasn't very interesting for the most part. But the pigs were interesting. There was a pen with a few black Cheju pigs in it. I had read about the pigs, which traditionally were kept in pens beside the house, right under the latrine. And sure enough, this pen of pigs had the latrine there. I've found out since this trip, from my 7:00 class, that the pigs are really called dung pigs. These pigs are famous, and Cheju pork is supposed to be some of the best.
One thing I like about most Korean tourist attractions is that they always have arrows telling you which way to go. That way I don't get all turned around and see some things twice and some things not at all. In the case of Hallim Park, the path went straight through the cafe and souvenir shops. I didn't mind, although I thought it was pretty funny. I wanted to get some souvenirs anyway, and by the time we reached the cafe I was ready to sit down and have a nice cup of tea. We sat by the window and watched the ostriches, and by the time we had finished our drinks we were watching people chase the ostriches into their pen for the night. The park was about to close, and it was time to go.
It was too late to go see anything else, and too early to check into a motel and go to sleep, so we caught the bus for Sogwipo on the south coast of the island. We figured we would get a head start on sightseeing that way, without having to travel first thing in the morning.
After we got settled into a yagwon, we wanted some dinner and went out to look for an open restaurant. We found a tiny little place that looked like it was closing down for the night, but they invited us in and told us to sit down. We were trying to figure out the menu but they told us not to worry about that. It was closing time, and what they were cooking was what we'd get.
It was well worth eating, too. An absolute feast of rice, fish and side dishes, all of it delicious. We seem to have brought in some extra business, too, because other people came in while we were eating and got fed too. In America, we would have gotten the door locked in our faces, but in Korea the rule seems to be take the business as it comes, and relax during the slow times.
The next morning we made our plans for the day, our third on Cheju. There were a couple of waterfalls we kind of wanted to see, but they looked pretty far away on the map, and we thought we might do better just taking a bus up the coast and seeing the folk village up there. But the first priority was breakfast.
Problem was, it was Chusok. This holiday is like our Thanksgiving, and we figured most restaurants would be closed, but I thought the little markets (Koreans call them supermarkets, we would call them convenience stores) would be open and I figured I could get us something to eat there. There was a "super" by the yagwon, but it was still closed, so I went out to the main road, picked a direction at random, and started walking.
It was a nice walk. The weather was pleasant, although a strong wind was blowing. Actually I think that strong wind blows all the time in Sogwipo. It certainly didn't stop the whole time we were there.
I made friends with a dog along the way. And as I walked, I could see the ocean come into view. Well, I hadn't found my "super" yet, so I decided to walk on down to the ocean, and as I walked I started seeing signs for the waterfalls we had talked about seeing. They sounded pretty close, so I started following the signs for the closer one. It was a fair walk, but not bad, to get to the park where the waterfall was.
I didn't find the waterfall itself for two reasons, One was that I'd been out a fair bit of time already, and didn't want David (Rabbit) to worry, and the other was that I didn't want to see it without him. So I headed back, found a "super" along the way where I bought dried squid and crackers, and a can of cold coffee (they sell these little cans of coffee with cream and sugar in all the stores and in machines), and then stopped at a coffee machine closer to the yagwon where I bought a cup of hot coffee.
It was good timing. I got back just as he was starting to wonder where I was, but hadn't started to worry yet. He was just finished getting dressed.
I have a kitten! I was at the Central Market doing some shopping and a vendor had this poor, sodden kitten in a mesh bag. So I bought her. I don't want to think about what would have happened to her if I hadn't. Her name is Nabi. It means butterfly, and Christine said that's what cats are usually called.
She's settling in nicely. She's already litter trained (to newspapers so far), and I'm feeding her rice, dried fish and milk. I went to Kyongpo today to get some sand to use as litter, and it's sitting on the sun porch drying out before I introduce her to it.
I had a good time at Kyongpo. Along with the sand I gathered some seashells and seaweed. The summer crowds and summer activities are gone, but there were quite a few people there, several of whom were also gathering seaweed. I'm going to try to get downtown and see if I can't find a pet store to see if there's any cat food. If not, I might have to go with puppy chow.
I went to 2 pet stores yesterday. One had cat food, although not out in plain sight. It was Purina Cat Chow, in about the 18 oz. box size, for 5000 won (about US$4.50). Mighty expensive, but it's imported I'm sure, and there isn't a lot of demand for it. It's probably just as expensive to have some shipped from the States, so we won't try that route. Nabi likes it, and has given up eating rice altogether. I think she even prefers it to the dried fish, and I expect it's much better for her, too.
I need to find a vet and get her her shots, and she probably needs to be wormed, also. I know she needs rabies and distemper shots. I don't know if they have feline leukemia here or not, but I don't think that a leukemia vaccination is required for her to come back to the US with me.
Usually I just go into the vets' and ask for shots, and don't have to worry about what they might be. But I don't know which Korean vets, if any, will be set up to give cats what they need. I think there are other things combined with the distemper shot. I'll probably have to find out from a US vet.
Nabi's not afraid of me anymore, but she is afraid of other people. She hides when I have company, or when I'm not home. She hid so well yesterday that I couldn't find her, and I thought for a while that I'd lost her. But she finally came out from under the washer.
Nabi is sleeping on my lap right now. Boy is it nice. I'm sure she needs lots of rest, because she was up all night bouncing on the bed attacking my covers. Needless to say, I didn't get a ton of sleep either.
I have only 2 more days for the Electric Company class. Good thing, since I'm down to 2 students in it. Soon I'll be able to sleep in in the mornings, which means I'll be able to stay up later in the evenings. Might get a little more socializing in that way.
This weekend I'm going to Daegu with Mrs. Lee and possibly Lydia. There's a conference about teaching English. I hope to get to see some of Daegu, too. It's the textile industry center in Korea. I expect it'll all be factories, but maybe not, and even if so it might still be interesting.
Sand doesn't work nearly as well as clay for kitty litter. I expect I'll have to go to the beach nearly once a week to get fresh.
Today was the last class for the electric company. We had a pretty good turnout, 5 students. It was a little sad, though.
I guess Seagull was a little worried about me. He called this evening, with a really bad connection, from some jazz bar or something, to see if I wanted to join him and Devil Woman there. It sounded like fun, but since I expect I'll have to get up at 5am to leave for Daegu tomorrow I didn't think it would be a very good idea. We might be able to get together next week instead.
Nabi was sleeping on my lap during most of this letter, with her chin resting on my right hand. That sure does inhibit the typing. She just woke up though, and went off to eat something. She does whip through that cat food. I'll leave her plenty of food and water for the weekend, but I sure hope she doesn't get too lonely.