Sunday, September 20, 2009

It All Started In Gwangju

**Edit: Link to class blog is now correct. Sorry for the mix up!

Gwangju, like many of my weekend trips, was a wonderful breath of fresh air. Just a bunch of 20-somethings forgetting for a moment that they have actual responsibilities and just getting completely absorbed in a new city. That was us. Friday we spent the night in a love motel called The Windmill. Honestly, you couldn't miss the windmill.

Saturday our group split up: the girls went shopping and the boys went...well, wherever boys go. I was kind of done with shopping after having been to Suncheon for just that purpose three times in the past seven days, so I went with the boys. It was actually surprisingly feminine. The guys decided to go to Art Street and then to see My Sister's Keeper. So much for male bonding.

Dan (guitar), Dave (Middle) and Ben walking down Art Street

Art Street was actually pretty cool. Aside from Korean art, they had a bunch of old Korean men selling absolute junk: non-prescription glasses from the 80's, lighters, broken watches, etc. Our favorite find was the hand gun. Yep. For $50 you could get yourself a nice, antique hand gun with a holster. Forget about the 5-day waiting period. :) My Sister's Keeper was a mistake. Too sad. So we just kind of poked fun at it along the way to try to lighten the mood. Try is the key-word there. But, by 5:00 I was on the bus back to Gurye. Boy, that was a challenge. In 90 minutes I go from a city of just under 1 million to my mountain town of 10,000.

I kind of thought that my wild story of the weekend would happen in Gwangju. But I am starting to learn to never underestimate the wildness of the mountain town. Let's start with Saturday night...the Biker Festival.

At about 7pm on Saturday, Oh-nee asked if I wanted to go to a festival. Looking at my other option - lesson planning - I immediately accepted. Well, some of Oh-nee's Lion's Club friends (clue 1 that this night was going to be special) were selling some sort of tea at this little festival in a nearby city. The festival was called "Morning Come" and, for some reason, seemed to attract the attention of every motorcycle owner in Korea. Now, you thought white trash in do-rags, leather jackets and jean vests was funny. Hah. Imagine prim and proper Koreans, with their small stature and mid-life crises, trying to play the part of a "Hogster." Well, apparently Oh-nee and her friends found it funny, too, because we ditched the festival and drank ourselves full of mahkahlee (Korean rice wine...delish!) at a restaurant across the street. Oh those Lion's Club women.

A vendor at the festival selling "Yellow Corn" motorcycle gear. Oh, and a few fake designer bags thrown in the mix.

Sunday I think topped them all. On Friday, a student invited me to church with her. I agreed for two reasons: (1) I felt bad turning her down and (2) church was uncharted cultural territory. That's right, folks. I did it for you; for the blog.

Let's start by painting a picture of the church service. There were about 30 people there. As always, I blended. After struggling through opening songs (definitely practiced my speed reading) and trying to say The Lord's Prayer in another language, the sermon started. Happy that I could just sit back and zone out (like I usually do in the States), I began to relax. My student would occasionally try to translate something for me, but other than that, my mind was free to wander. Well, I was nice and relaxed when the pastor - who was getting pretty fired up - looked straight at me and yelled, "Repent!" Snap. Welcome back, Amy. He was waiting for me...this happens a lot. People say the only thing they know in English and wait for me to either tell them "good job" or to correct them. I gave him a smile, a thumbs up and said, "Very good." He gave a grin and announced to the congregation - as if there was any doubt - that an American was in their presence today.

A little while later, a woman gave me a visitors card to fill out. Fast forward a bit, and I was again jolted back from daydreaming (about Kung fu and it's real-world practicality) when the pastor roared, "Amy Benes," and the congregation all turned to give me a good luck and smile. I gave a nice, diplomatic wave, to which the pastor replied with, "Very pretty!" Well, good thing I'm not ugly, or that would have just been awkward.

So, yeah, church was pretty fun. It was just like church at home, except I only understood the words for "Love" "Christ" and "Jesus." Oh well, that's the important stuff, right?

Sunday afternoon, I was told we were going to buy soy beans. Knowing deep down that this could only mean that something got lost in the translation, I grabbed hiking shoes, an extra shirt and my purse. Since my day-trip-turned-camping-trip experience, the hiking shoes and extra shirt are pretty much a must-grab whenever the family piles into the car. We were also joined by Oh-chahn's friend.

Before starting out, we got gas. And then decided to get a car wash. The car wash was not only the highlight of the weekend, but probably one of the most funny situations in Korea. Watch for yourself.

Well, we did buy soy beans, in case you were wondering. We also had tea at a tea shop with the shop owner at a really cute market. Then we went to a temple (와염사). The temple was really pretty. But pretty is a prerequisite for temples. Still, I'm in awe every time I go to one. No hiking this time, but I refuse to let my guard down.

Looking down at the entrance of the temple

All in all, it was a pretty fun weekend. Definitely one to remember. I won't make this any longer than it already is, so....yeah. Thanks for reading! Oh yeah, one more thing! Take a look at our class blog: You don't have to read it, but the kids love seeing the number of views the blog gets.


  1. Hey Amy, just to let you know, the url for the high school blog site didn't work for me for some reason. Maybe it's a temporary situation. Thanks for sharing the fun weekend experience.

  2. Hi Amy. It is so amazing how revered you are there. I don't quite understand it. But I'm glad for you.
    Re: car wash. You know what they say: Simple pleasures are the best. I was laughing hysterically when I read the part about the church service.. Love and miss you. Mom

  3. Hi Amy, just getting caught up on your last few day's and continue to laugh until I cry at your stories. I am just picturing your face when the pastor yell's out your name, and what your face must have looked like coming out of your kung fu fog. We give you so much credit for all the experiences you try, with no hesitation. Heck, some of us cannot figure out the CTA let alone the bus system in South Korea. Sounds like the Lions club ladies are quite a wild bunch. Are you going to have your ETA friends come visit your mountain town one weekend? That could be a shock to them and your town. Hope you have resolved the bug issue, and if we can send you anything to help, just say the word.

    Take care, and we will try and call you soon. So hard to get the timing right, and would hate to wake up the family.

    Love you,

    AS & UJ

  4. Amy

    Looks like you had a good weekend! Thanks for sharing your weekend story. It is very funny to see the "car wash" thing. I saw three boys in the car, right? I don't know why kids got excited to go through the car wash machine like them without any reasons..

    I used to go temples with my grandmother (father side) frequently when I was little before third grade.. She used to be a Buddhist, well not exactly believing in something. She just got some helps for family matters from monks and people there. So I hung out with monks and had a chance to glimpse their lives. Their daily life is all planned and ritual somewhat. As you may know, monks cannot eat meat and don't use any oil in their foods. But their foods are very delicious and exquisite. I miss the serene atmosphere in temples there - bell sounds, water etc... very comforting.

    Hope you will have a good week in your school!