Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some Catching Up

The past three days have been completely devoted to studying for my Korean Language final, so I'm sorry for the lack of posting. I actually have a lot to update, so now I've got to kind of summarize it all.

First things first, the final. The final was four parts long: reading, writing, role play (speaking with a partner) and interview (speaking with the professor). Like I do before all tests, I tried to eat a good breakfast. But the cafeteria decided to serve fish. With the eyes and everything. Call me crazy, but I'm not really okay with eating something that's looking at me, especially for breakfast. So, I meandered down to the convenience store and got me some ๋นต์™€ ์šฐ์œ ! (Bread and milk; but they were vocab words, so transaction was really exciting).

The reading and writing portions were easy. But by the time I got to the interview I was drained and I could barely tell what was going on. (I think I said, "My favorite season is spring" as an answer to, "What did you do this weekend.") I got better toward the end. But I was just brain dead. The interview was 3-hours into the final.

Anyways, it's over and done with. I need a 70% (easier said than done) to not be sent home.

Okay, now for the good stuff. On Saturday the ETAs went to the DMZ and got a good, long look at North Korea. We weren't allowed to take any pictures North Korea, but it looked a lot like in the picture below. Except more mountainous.
Me, Yoo Jin (orientation counselor) and my roommate Jen

The picture was actually taken at Peace Park, located in Hwacheon, which is about 6 miles from the DMZ. It wasn't really clear why this park was the Peace Park (I'm not sure if something peaceful actually happened there) but they have this really big Peace Bell. It was so big I couldn't really get a good picture of it. The bell is rung three times per "Peace Event." Once again, due to the language barrier, I'm not sure what constitutes a peace event. But we got to ring it because we're ambassadors or something like that. So that was pretty cool. It was really loud. The bell is made entirely from bullets and stuff from the war.

There was also a smaller bell, which (apparently) was not a peace bell, but looked really cool. This one I could in a picture. I would say this one is a third the size of the actual peace bell.

What I thought was really cool about this Peace Park business was the damn. I think the dam was an excuse to build a silly tourist sight. Okay, here's the breakdown. The river that runs through Seoul actually starts in North Korea/DMZ. North Korea has a dam at the start. They could choose to open the dam and, in effect, flood Seoul. But the dam in Hwacheon acts as the protector dam and would catch the water, thus preventing the flooding of Seoul. So, yeah. That was pretty cool.

The whole experience was very odd for me. It was really hard to know what to feel. I mean, there you are driving through these gorgeous mountains, passing quiet rice patties and "Peace Parks." Then suddenly, BAM! You're stuck at a military checkpoint for a half hour by a solider not much older than me fully armed with semi-automatics and completely ready fight communists. There was one point where I found myself staring at these delicate yellow flowers and thinking, "What on earth are these doing here? This is such a sad place, how could anything so happy and pure survive?"

Anyways, we had a little overview at the DMZ lookout point (which was just a shelter with glass windows facing North Korea). From the perspective of a foreigner, it was ridiculous. They actually showed a video of a solider on the North Korea side trying unsuccessfully to catch a fish. "This is North Korean," the soldier guide said, "He is fishing for long time but he caught no fish." Then they had a slide show of the South Korea side: happy music, nature pictures, fuzzy animals and happy soldiers with heaping plates of food. You got to hand it to them, they are so proud of their country.

Feel very much at ease my friends. The South-North Korea border is very much secured. Like I said, those kids up there are ready to fight a war at the drop of a hat.

That was my Saturday in a nutshell. I'm still kind of reacting to the entire situation. Now things should be shifting gears from "learn Korean" to "learn to be on your own." We have a teaching seminar this afternoon and (I think) pretty much every day this week. We also have splashes of cultural workshops every now and then. Basically, this means I have to sit in a classroom from 9-5 everyday. Can't complain, though. That is why I'm here; it's my job. I'm feeling much better, thank you for all of your helpful comments from the last post (it was a wonderful thing to wake up to). Still practicing my jump roping skit.... :) Thanks for reading!


  1. Interesting post.

    Your 'fish for breakfast' story brought back vivid memories of Christmas dinner in the movie "Christmas story". FaRaRaRaRa-RaRaRaRa.


  2. The deep fried fish that I'll b eating in Canada will b more enjoyable now.

  3. Hey Amy, thank you for not eating a fish looking at you. I would have eaten milk and bread also. The DMZ sounds very confusing, as I think the North and South are very different worlds, and while it had to be a wonderful experience, it would be a little depressing to see the two worlds. Keep plugging with the work you are doing, and we know you will do great on your test, even if you zoned out for one question. Uncle Jeff feels your pain with the test, but he succeeded so we know you will too. Looking forward to researching your final destination, as that sounds like a calmer place.

    Have a great week, and remember we all love you very much.

    Love, Aunt Sandy and Uncle Jeff, and Tigger too.

  4. Thanks for writing about your experience at DMZ. I will have to read it again tomorrow when I am not as tired.

    I visited DMZ with Majid and the kids a few years ago. It is one of those grotesque reminder of the war that also serves as a tourist attraction. A scar of history...

    More than 1 million families are forever separated as a result of the war and the decision to divide the country rather than continue the military campaign to reclaim the North. My father had lost his father as a child and grew up as the "head of the family" because he was the only son. He had two younger sisters (actually I am not sure he had two but that's my recollection) that he supported and "raised". When he fled the communism with his own family (wife and three little kids, my oldest two sisters and brother), he left his sisters back home - maybe they had also been married and their families decided to stay - and never saw them again. They were more like daughters to him, I believe. He didn't talk about it much, maybe because it was too painful for him. Or maybe because we kids didn't show much interest in listening to his life stories. I wish I had asked him all the questions and know more about them. We never saw our aunts and know nothing about them. The chances are that they have passed on as well. My mom also had a brother we know nothing about. This is only one of the million stories.

    Well, they were dealt a life situation through events that they could not control, but went on to live it as fully as they could. The ugly DMZ and the beautiful flowers are like the lives of those families forcibly separated after the war. I felt surreal, bizarre, and odd during my visit as well.

  5. Thanks for sharing these personal thoughts and family experiences. This is one of the fundamental goals of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program - to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and other countries. Maybe someday we'll see the end of DMZ.
    --Where there is passion and desire, there will always be new horizons.