Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pictures from Pumpkin Carving

Here are some pictures from pumpkin carving. Enjoy!


video

The Most Exciting Pumpkin Carving Ever

I promised my English Conversation Club class yesterday (Tuesday) that we would carve pumpkins today (Wednesday). Well, I hadn't really been planning it, but they were so excited! How could I refuse!? "Teacher, I've only seen pictures! I've never done!" Well, damn. I think I have an obligation as a Fulbright to change that.

So, I ran around like a mad woman today (Wednesday) digging up cooking gloves (they were horrified at the idea of actually touching the pumpkin innards), knives, spoons and, of course, pumpkins. Well, balancing four pumpkins on my scooter was going to be practically impossible, so I had my co-teacher drive me to the market where we found a vendor selling pumpkins. I bought four of the tallest ones I could find.

Korean pumpkins are lighter than American pumpkins. And shorter/more flat. Which makes it really hard to carve a cool face. So I searched high and low around the market, from crazy ahjumma vendor to crazy ahjumma vendor to find the tallest pumpkins.

My class was so excited. Their friends were peering jealously from the door before their teacher yelled at them for being late to class. My students were anxiously opening their pumpkins and scooping out the seeds.

I heard, "Ah! Teacher! Teacher! Bugs!"

I turned around, as if in slow motion, to see tiny yellow maggots leaping from the pumpkin seed pile across the cluster of desks while their female liberators shrieked and jumped back. One girl was slashing away at them with the knife. Oh boy, this was going to be fun.

By some grace of God, I got the pumpkin, the seed pile and the maggots all into a garbage bag with a bunch of high school sophomores shrieking around me. All in a days work, I suppose.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween - More fun for me

Did I mention that I was doing Halloween this week?

Well, here is the result of Day 1 of costume making. The students have 15 minutes to create a costume from newspaper, tape, 1 piece of computer paper and crayons. Some also used their jack-o-lanterns we made earlier in class.

video

The first class I did this in, I was a little nervous. I got this lesson plan from an elementary school teacher. And my kids can be bad. So giving them tape, scissors and free time is not what I usually do.

Anyways, one of my more...shall we say... colorful students was dressing his group model (the second "witch" in the video). The hat wasn't staying on and they were down to 30-seconds. So, thinking fast, he taped a cone to the kids head (so the cone would keep the hat from falling off), wrapping the tape several times from the kid's head to his jaw to his head. When it came time to undress, the poor model had a good chunk of his hair stuck to tape. He was yelling at his dresser, carefully trying to separate his hair from the tape when the dresser, with the exact exasperated of a designer listening to a whiny model, turned around, grabbed the cone and ripped the tape from the model's head in one quick, fluid motion.

I expected the model to show some sign of pain, but instead he had a look of happy surprise at being freed from his bondage. The dresser turned slowly toward me (holding the hairy ball of tape), gave me a he's-such-a-drama-queen look and tossed the tape ball into the garbage bag I was holding. The model was behind the dresser holding the top of his head and talking excitedly. Korean brotherhood at it's finest.

It was all I could do to keep myself from peeing in my pants.

So, yeah. This week holds fun times ahead. :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meet me in Mokpo

As it would turn out, the Gurye music festival was actually very well done. It was performed by a music group from Seoul. You could tell. It seemed that, suddenly, people in Gurye dressed in high-fashion and actually spoke English. My friends and I knew that something had rolled in from out of town.

Despite being well done, it was still Gurye...and I needed to get out. So I left my quaint little city on Saturday for Mokpo, a large seaport city directly west of me. In the past, it has been known for it's high crimes due to high levels of sailors. BUT. Don't worry. It was very delightful.

Five ETAs live in Mokpo, but one was out of town. Two more ETAs came down from Naju (30 minutes north of Mokpo) as well, so it was great to see everyone. I had pizza for dinner. It was quite possibly the most delicious pizza I've had in Korea.

I spent the night with Rachael at her home stay. I walked into the apartment and the first thing my eyes hit was a piano. My heart skipped a beat, my fingers itched and I almost forgot to insa to my host host mom. My excitement betrayed me (and perhaps Rachael's mom's noonchi was in full swing) because she followed my locked eyes to the dusty piano and eagerly invited me to play. Rachael's family is very musical (to Rachael's dismay...because she is not. But they really want her to be), so her mom was thrilled that I wanted to play. She even dug up some music for me. Despite being horrendously out of tune, it felt so good to make music again. It was also fun to see this little Korean woman (who must be way better at piano than me) so excited. She just bounced all over the place.

Rachael and I spent Sunday touring Mokpo together. We went to the most famous rock formation (the name escapes me... perhaps Gong Sah...?) in Mokpo.

Famous rock formation in Mokpo

It's the first thing you see as you enter the city by boat. There are two legends surrounding the rock formation, but the most famous one is that two monks climbed the cliff to pray. They were so taken with Mokpo that they died and were buried there. The rock formation is the two of them watching and guarding Mokpo. The other story is pretty sad. It's about a son who loses his father to illness and then drops the coffin (and body) into the ocean on his way to bury it. Mortified for dishonoring his father, the son climbed to this ledge where he spends eternity thinking about his father and the great disgrace he made to him.

After that, we walked along the boardwalk and stumbled upon - wouldn't you know it - a kickboxing tournament. Of course there would be a kickboxing tournament on the boardwalk of Mokpo. What else would there be?

It was pretty fun to watch. We watched for about an hour as stick-thin and iron-strong Korean boys pummeled each other. (I say boys, but I really mean early 20-somethings) It was actually really representative of Korean culture. The two opponents would fight like it was their lives on the line. But as soon as the match was over, they would hug - tears in their eyes - like brothers, wiping the blood and tears off of each others' faces and inspecting areas where the other took a particularly hard hit. Brotherhood in Korea is as pure, simple and natural as water.

The Match


How could I not take this picture? So cute. Just riding around the boxing ring with nothing on his mind other than what's for lunch.

So, I was sad to leave Mokpo. But I had to get home. This week I am teaching Halloween! Yay! I'm teaching the game Clue for 1st and 2nd graders and Jack-o-Lanterns, Costumes and Michael Jackson's Thriller to my 1st graders (I see them twice a week but only see 2nd graders once a week). Not sure if I explained it, but instead of saying "Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior" Korean's just say 1st, 2nd, 3rd graders (there's 3 grades in Middle school and 3 grades in High school). I also picked up supplies to make caramel apples with my host family. I will keep you posted on that!

Planning on meeting a lot of ETAs in Gwangju for Halloween weekend. The only requirement for going is that you have to travel to Gwangju (no matter where you're from) wearing your costume. Not sure what I'm going to be yet...it'll come to me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gurye Traditional Music Festival

While most major cities have canceled their festivals this year do to swine flu concerns, Gurye's Traditional Music Festival - Pansori - will go on! I suppose they figure there just aren't enough people to warrant concern.

Anyways, the math teacher at my school (soon to be vice principal at either my school - replacing the current one - or at another school. It is unclear to me), I was told, is a very good singer who will be participating in the event.

So, after my last class, I was finishing up some notes, alone in the teacher's lounge, when he suddenly began practicing. It frightened me at first, but then I kind of grew fond of it.

The dancing teacher in the video is the gym teacher.


video

My other Gurye friends and I might go to the festival tonight (Friday), but word on the street is that it's not as fun as it could possibly sound. So, we'll see where we end up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Phone Issues

My phone is back in working order! Sorry I didn't fix it sooner!

Also, you can leave voice messages now. Yay!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Running in Gurye

I've talked a lot about my little mountain town, but a little review couldn't hurt:
  • I've confirmed that Gurye is the second smallest city in South Korea
  • Gurye county is the smallest county in Korea in terms of population, but not in terms of square kilometers
  • Gurye county is the poorest county in South Korea
  • Gurye now has three stop lights (they've added two since I've arrived), but the lights only function between 6 am and 11 pm
Learning that Gurye is the second smallest city in Korea has really allowed me to embrace it's smallness. Instead of thinking of Gurye as a failed city, I think of it as a charming snapshot of 50-years ago. You know, the times when kids played outside after school. The time before people were afraid to walk alone at night. The time before a pat on the back for a job well done was considered sexual harassment. Sure, there's not much to do. And the people are frustratingly slow and old. But now I can blame it all on the small-town charm. I'm okay with that.

Well, this whole small-town business has had an interesting effect on my running. For those that don't know, I am training to run a half marathon on November 15th in Suncheon.

I'm amazed at the reaction I get to running. I mean, besides the gaping stares from ahjummahs and the blank gazes of old men. Those are a given. People are actually interested - dare I say fascinated - by my running. I went for a 12-mile run on Sunday. I started the run with 2 miles around an outdoor park path and finished with the same 2 miles. Well, there was this little man walking the path when I started and was still there when I came back (10 miles later). To my surprise, he started jogging next to me.

Man (in Korean): How long have you been running? More than an hour at least!
Me: Yes, 1 hour 15 minutes
Man: Ahh, shee. (pretty common phrase for "jeeze")

We ran together for a little while. He told me to follow him and, to my surprise, he took me to a new smaller path (but still very pretty). We talked as best as my limited Korean would allow. I was really thankful that he spoke slow. Most older men speak loud, slurred and fast when someone says, "What?" He was a nice running partner, I was sad to say goodbye.

I also run in the mornings before school. On multiple occasions, people have cheered me on. People I've never even met will say, "Go, Amyyyyy. Marathon, yippee!" This is at 6 in the morning! Once I made the mistake of running right as school got out. Yeah. My students were everywhere. One student even tried giving me his juice.

And my host dad is a huge supporter. Everyday he asks where I ran and then sits in awe thinking about how far it is. He reminds me constantly that the abandoned roads of early-morning Gurye are, in fact, very dangerous. I know, man. You have to watch out for those parked cars; they're killers. And on days where I'm lazy and decide to run in the afternoon as opposed to the morning, he spends a good chunk of breakfast asking me why I didn't go jogging this morning. And because of the language barrier, I can't even make up excuses. He's the best keeping-me-honest buddy I could ask for. He's also convinced that I'm going to win the half marathon. Oy.

Did I mention the grand prize for finishing first in the half? A plate of Kimchee. Mmmm. That's the very last thing I want to see and/or smell after finishing a half.

So, I've been chased by men, children, dogs (yes, the woof-woof kinds) and eyes. I know every little street, alley, road and rice field in my little town. I've been there when someone turned the stoplight on. I've raced and passed tractors, "cyclists" (traveling at a wobbly 2 or 3 miles per hour), time and sunlight. Running is my rock. Running is my constant. And here, running is my fame. Holla.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wacky Wednesdays & Slacker Thursdays

Written Wednesday

School is usually pretty crazy. I mean, I never quite know what to expect. Well, today was more special than most days.

First, I decided to make cookies for the teachers in my office. America mom sent me one of those just-add-water-and-oil packets for peanut butter cookies and the school has a beautiful home ec room. So the cookies were quite successful. I feel like I will be baking a lot in the future. Yes!

The students just finished their national exams and I've never seen them so exhausted. One of my favorite students came into the home ec room while I was baking to say hello. He looked like he was going to fall asleep talking to me. I fed him some cookie dough (I wish I could have fed him some shut eye) and he seemed a little happier.

Dear Korea Educational Board: just because you keep students in school for 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week doesn't mean they learn more.

Anyways. The exams meant that I had my morning free. Which is why I baked cookies.

Well, after the cookies, I got an inter-office instant message. The messages are usually in Korean, and for fun I use Google Translator to figure out what they're talking about. They're usually pretty boring and not very useful. But today the first one was a gold mine:

"Yes, my finger is broken. Yesterday pay seokjyeon condolences today at 2 pm exactly. We will go to the morgue together. Volleyball will be at 4 pm."

I noticed that people were collecting money (which Fulbright told us was customary for deaths). Well, with my noonchi roaring, I asked my co-teacher if I could contribute to the death money pot. She seemed really surprised but handed me an envelop. The lady who sits across from me in the office lost her father-in-law.

Cool. Here's $20.

Nope. Not that easy. Next thing I know, my co-teacher is leading me to a car. We squeeze four tiny teachers in the back of a tiny Kia and drive to the ::gulp:: morgue. Oh God. Really? Are we really going to the morgue?

But, my fair readers, I did it for you.

We drove to the back of the hospital, parked illegally in a handicap spot (pretty common practice around these parts) and headed down a side alley toward a dark back entrance. I walked into the morgue expecting to come face to face with sheet-covered bodies and pungent odors. But instead I met a dozen somber-looking women in black hanboks (I'd never seen them before) and half a dozen men in black suits. The women were cooking.

There was an alter, exactly the same as the ones from my death day celebration and Chuseok with a picture (thankfully NOT an open casket) of the deceased. The teachers and I stood in front of the alter and performed the formal bow twice facing the alter and once for the three men in suits next to the alter.

I'm pretty sure that the man just passed. The men all had red, puffy eyes. And the woman I work with was trying very hard to keep her composure.

It really surprised me, the whole culture of paying respects. I feel that, in the states, you generally give people you know professionally room to grieve on their own. You know? And since Koreans try so hard to remain even-faced, I would have thought that entertaining guests so near to a death would not really be the norm.

But, on the other hand, Korea is all about community. After all, this country survived some of the most difficult history in the world. The only way they survived, recovered, moved-on and prospered was through the complete cooperation and support of each other. So, driving back to school I thought about just how communal this culture is: sharing of food, sharing of drinks, sharing of space, sharing of clothes, sharing of stuff. Of course they would share grief. That's just the way you move on here. So I decided. Yep. The death procedure here is pretty cool.

Well, back at school the last sentence of the e-mail made itself clear. There would, in fact, be teacher volleyball at 4pm. And I was, in fact, encouraged to join in. So, at 4pm I joined the faculty volleyball team in the gym. Yep. I was the only female. Awesome. Did I mention that I don't really do ball sports?

But, thankfully, I had an easy crowd. Every time I touched the ball, everyone let out a whirl of "ooo's" and "woooowwww's." Yep, girls play ball sports, too.

After the game (my team won thanks to the ridiculous effort of the chain-smoking P.E. teacher with a very mean spike) I was heading back to my building (the gym is separate from where I teach) when my co-teacher said, "Amy, will you share with us?" I looked over and realized that they had pulled out 12 cans of beer and a small bottle of un-opened Gatorade. Ho boy. So I enjoyed a nice glass of beer with my fellow cohorts.

I felt that the beer was pretty much the perfect ending of my wacky Wednesday. From cookies to funerals to volleyball, this is just how it is. Well, at least I'm never bored. :)

Thursday

I felt really rebellious. I could not believe I was doing this. I could not believe that I was actually doing this. I was walking into work 20 minutes before my first class (10:30 a.m.). Thursday's and Friday's I don't have class until 10:50, but I still usually show up around 9:15 or so when school starts. I don't know why I do that, especially because I just sit blogging or on Facebook wishing I was home talking on Skype. Typical Gen-Y, I know. So today I decided to blame it on the contract (which says that I only need to be at school when I teach).

I did my three classes and walked out the door (thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm actually doing it.") a little before 4pm. Ah, yes. What a nice day.

Well, karma catches up to you. I decided to change the oil of my scooter before I went up to the apartment. So, I drove home, parked my scooter and changed my oil. Well, the oil-access is inside the seat chamber, where I also store my helmet. I finished with the oil and was putting my helmet in the chamber when a series of terrible things happened in slow motion in ways that I continue to replay in my mind.

My hands were kind of full; I was juggling the bulky helmet, sunglasses, keys and had a purse slung over my shoulder. Well, as I was rearranging the things in my hand the wind picked up behind me, which blew my purse off of my shoulder. I went to grab it (because heaven forbid if it fell) and dropped my keys into the chamber. As soon as the keys hit the chamber floor, my wildly flying bag hit the upright seat (the seat folds out and up so you can access the chamber), slamming it shut before I could react.

So there I was, outside of my apartment, staring at my scooter and trying really hard not to imagine how funny this entire situation might have looked had I been sitting on a lounge chair 30 feet away.

Of course the school does not have a spare key. So, here comes the locksmith. I was told repeatedly by my co-teacher (who arranged the locksmith) that I shouldn't put my keys in the chamber and I should be more careful next time. I really wanted to say, "Well, I really like keeping my keys in a safe place such as the seat chamber," but my co-teacher's limited English would not adequately transfer the sarcasm (and perhaps shred of irritation at being treated like a child).

Then, the locksmith made me, not one, but two spare keys. One for school and one for home. Yeah, yeah. I get it. You two loons think I walk around throwing my keys into terrible places. But, realizing that this was a huge annoyance for my co-teacher and cost my school some money, I expressed nothing but the most sincere gratitude for their outstanding efforts.

Pfsh. Two keys. Really.

Ahem. I've already lost one of the spares. ... *Gulp* I guess I have 200-some days to find it...

Also, Wednesday was my 100th day in Korea. Happy First Hundred!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Week of Fun

It's been over a week since my last post, so this is very diary-ish. Enjoy if you have the time or skip to the end for the movie!

On Wednesday I met up with another Fulbright friend, Dave, in Gwangju. Our plan was to meet there, stare at the bus board and have a destination pop out at us. Well, we stood there, gaping up at a list of cities we’ve never heard of, trying to draw some sort of meaning from the name. We finally decided to head to Jinju. There’s kind of a funny story about Jinju: Gurye, Jinju and Suncheon make up what we in my province call the Bermuda Triangle. The cities are far away from other ETAs and only house one ETA. Therefore, the ETAs in Jinju, Gurye and Suncheon make up the Bermuda Triangle.

So, Dave and I set off for Jinju to surprise Josh, the lonely Jinju ETA. On the bus there we decided to make our way to Busan, the second largest city in Korea, the following day to meet more ETAs and then finally make our way to Gyeongju for the Fulbright conference. Our travel plan actually made a lot of sense. Over the three days of traveling, we gradually worked our way to Gyeongju.

Jinju was pretty fun. Josh was happy to see us and show us around. Jinju is really famous for this one fort used to thwart Japanese invasion plans. More importantly, there was this lady in Jinju (maybe a queen or princess or nobody, it was not very clear). Anyway, she got herself alone with this important Japanese guy in front of this fort. Well, I imagine that they were hugging or holding hands or something, because she threw herself and dragged him off the edge of the cliff to their deaths in the river below. Her death, a heroic sacrifice for Korea, made the temple really famous and very symbolic of all that Koreans want people to remember them as: brave and patriotic.

So, yeah. Dave and I saw this fort (and the shrine dedicated to this woman) while we waited for Josh to finish class. This was just the beginning of my historic weekend in Korea. It was when I began to realize how sad the country’s history actually is. The fort that Dave and I visited was destroyed a long time ago, but rebuilt in the 1990’s. I will come to find out that this is very much the norm. The 90’s must have been when Korea was getting back on her feet, because that seems to be when everything was reconstructed.

Anyways, that night Josh showed us the sights of his fair city: dinner, a light fountain and discarded lanterns from a cancelled lantern festival (due to swine flu scares. Oh gosh). The lanterns were really pretty, so it was sad to see them rotting under a bridge. The next day Dave and I said goodbye to Josh, only to see him in a few days, and made our way to Busan.

In Busan we met up with six other ETAs, three of which live there. Busan is known for their beautiful beaches and being a huge city. Our first stop was the largest department store in the world. It had an ice rink! I’m pretty sure Gurye could fit inside the thing with room to spare. Dave and I enjoyed the most delicious lunch in the world: Quiznos. It tasted like they made it in America and shipped it to our mouths. No characteristic Korean-isms like sweet corn, sugary bread, kimchee, Korean mayo or chili powder. Just straight-up American goodness.

Our next stop was Haeundae beach. Gorgeous. We just spent the afternoon people-watching, wave-chasing, sand-turtle-building and tossing the Frisbee with our new travel buddies. It just so happened that the Busan International Film Festival (PIFF for short) opening night was Thursday! And part of it takes place on Haeundae beach, so there was a huge bustle around us. We also drew quite a crowd. Koreans love watching Frisbee, but don’t really want to play. We were getting a little crazy with our tosses and dive-catches, fueled but the chorus of ohhh’s and ahhhh’s. What a perfect afternoon.

That night we went to the PIFF red carpet. It was crazy! People were screaming, there were celebrities everywhere and all for some fireworks! Yeah. It was kind of dream-like. We had dinner, did some sight-seeing (Busan has beautiful lights at night) and found ourselves back on a beach where we hung out, chased waves and enjoyed life for a good two hours. Yep. This was the life.

Meeting everyone at Gyeongju was like breathing after holding your breath for a really long time. Yeah. I think you get what I mean, so I’ll stop there. Boy, I missed my ETAs.

The Fulbright conference was actually only on Saturday. All of Saturday was workshops and discussions. I thought it was going to be long and boring, but it was actually really helpful and so much fun; the stories were incredible!.

Sunday was the day to write home about. We went on an 8.5-hour history tour of Gyeongju. Let me give you some background of what Gyeongju is. Gyeongju is the place where Korea started. The Silla dynasty, located in Gyeongju, brought together the three divided parts of the country. At one point in time, Gyeongju was the largest city in the world. Yeah. The world. It held over a million people before most major cities had 500,000. And, just like everything else in Korean history, nearly every single piece of historical evidence was destroyed by the time the Korean War ended. And, just like everything else in Korea, was rebuilt in the 1990’s to serve as historical reminders and cultural teachers.

We visited the palace where it all started, the temple that was connected to the palace, Korea’s National History museum, tombs of the kings, the park of the scholars, lotus ponds and the lost islands (not as cool as it sounds) and half a dozen little places along the way. Its tours like these that make me wish I spoke Korean. I feel like, even though I have a deep and humble respect for the places I went to, that I still do not fully understand their historical significance. By the end of the tour, we were all tired (for obvious reasons) and both angry and thankful. I’m not really a history buff. In fact, I kind of avoid that stuff. But seeing Korea’s history, knowing that none of it was actually the original, really made me “get” why our stuff is so cool. South Korea is only 50 years old, but Korean culture goes back much further than ours. But it’s all lost! They can only guess and assume! Everything that we saw was an ugly band aid, reminding us that these beautiful things are only here because someone destroyed the first average-looking ones. It really hit us when we found out that the tombs were replicas, not originals. The tombs! What’s sacred if even your tomb won’t survive!? So, yeah. Anyway. Next time you see an American historical monument, you don’t have to love it, but just stop and give credit to what it stands for; give credit to the fact that it tells a real story, not just an assumed one.

Now for a funny story to lighten the mood! I hung out a lot with Rachael on the tour. Rachael is a bright red red-head. Well, between the two of us, we grabbed attention. There was one point at the palace where this man with a camera cornered me on a balcony. Rachael, who was catching up to me, laughed and took a picture of this man filming me awkwardly gazing off a balcony. Well, the camera man’s jaw hit the floor when he saw two strange, exotic Americans and quickly pushed Rachael next to me. Together we pretended to be taken by the beauty of the palace. Pointing, gasping and laughing while the camera man (with the biggest smile on his face) anxiously recorded. It’s gonna be weird when I’m just normal again.

On Monday the 2009 Fulbright ETAs had to, once again, say goodbye to each other and begin making our treks home. I took the bus back to Gwangju with a solid gang of people, but went my own way back to Gurye. It was weird, sitting on the bus alone after being surrounded by people constantly for the past week. It got even weirder when I noticed that, while I was gone, Gurye added two more traffic lights! That brings the city total up to three! Holy cow, times are changing. Maybe next week we gonna get ourselves one of ‘em new high rises. Either way, I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the short movie!


video

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

5k for Epilepsy

Shopping Adventure Win: Strange English Shirts
I usually pass up the strange English t-shirts, but this one I just couldn't.

Who would pass up running 5k's + Epilepsy?
Or maybe it has nothing to do with 5k's, which would make it even stranger

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chuseok

Note: Lot's to say, sorry for the length!

What is Chuseok? Everyone explains Chuseok to me as the Korean version of Thanksgiving. And maybe it is. But instead of focusing on the birth of a country, happy pilgrims and oppressed Natives, Chuseok focuses on your family and ancestors. And, from what I can tell, that's pretty accurate.

And like Thanksgiving in the U.S., different families celebrate Thanksgiving differently. I've heard of a few experiences, but mine was nothing in comparison to those. First of all, my family is not that religious. Second, not too many people are dead. I think both of those played a huge factor into why my Chuseok was so unique.

My family left for Chuseok Thursday afternoon, but I had school and couldn't imagine living out of a small backpack for five days. You see, Korean culture is as such: you have two pairs of paints and maybe (**maybe**) five pairs underwear (more likely fewer than five pairs. My brothers rotate through three each). So traveling means bringing one pair of pants, a few shirts and a few pairs of underwear. The four people in my family stuffed all of their gear into one bag about the size of the reusable ones you buy at the grocery store. Soap, toothpaste and all of those bulky cosmetics are not included. They just use what the host family has.

Well, when I travel with my family, I'm never sure what I should wear. It seems that whenever I bring hiking clothes, we always have a formal event and vice versa. So, consequently, my bag is always pretty big. My host dad has told me on several occasions that I am "high maintenance" and have "a lot of clothes" because I change into different clothes before bed. Good gravy.

Anyways, I spent Thursday night playing catch up and went to Suncheon with other Gurye English teachers on Friday. Saturday morning I started on my bus trek to Go heung (고흥) to meet up with the family. Go heung is a pretty decently-sized city, but it's about as far south as you can go before hitting the ocean. It's considered the country of the country (or rural of the rural). So, while waiting to be picked up at the bus stop, a woman and some taxi drivers trapped me on a bench and started firing questions away in rapid Korean. As I tried to answer and understand the best I could (for some reason, they thought that, when I didn't understand the first time, they should say it louder, faster and more slurred) the woman kept inspecting my hands, holding my hands and stroking my arms. Yes, my hands are bigger than yours. Yep, I have arm hair. Yes. I know you don't. Yes, it is quite soft.

Another taxi driver kept saying stuff about my blue eyes. Yep. They're blue. No, they're not brown. Yes, I can still see just fine.

My novelty wore off once they realized that I knew very little Korean and they eventually left me alone. I leaned back against the wall when the last woman walked away, took a deep breath and closed my eyes for just a little longer than a standard blink. This was going to be fun.

Dad picked me up. He noticed that I still had a nasty cough. He then spent the next five minutes explaining to me that I should not shower after jogging anymore because the cold water on my hot body is bad. He said that I should just change clothes, eat breakfast and go to school. I'm kind of worried about Monday. I can just picture me, hot and sweaty from a run, begging and pleading with him to let me shower before school.

Instead of going to the same country home as last weekend, we went to Grandma and Grandpa's home from the other side of the family. Their house was bustling with family. I think all of the traditional Korean stuff happens in the morning (or so I was told), so I missed the traditional Chuseok breakfast (sad!). But the rest of the day was suppose to be spent playing traditional card games or something like that. Well, my dad's side of the family just watched baseball (which was fine with me. I mean, c'mon. It's playoff season!). About 30-minutes since arriving, a string of more people crammed in. I was so busy trying to find the oldest male to bow to that I barely noticed Byeong Cheol (the kid from the first wedding) sneak up next to me. Thank god! Someone (a) my own age (b) who speaks English.

The newly weds were also there. The girl changed into a traditional hanbok and they both did a traditional bow ceremony. Then the family all gathered around the table and had snacks, wine and stuff.

Turns out that Byeong Cheol's dad is an oriental medicine doctor. He was giving Grandpa some acupuncture in the wrist when he turned to me, needle poised and face smiling. "Try everything once," I thought and stuck out my arm. He made some comment to which Byeong Cheol laughed (something about my skin being better than Grandpa's) and BAM. In went the needle. My first acupuncture. It was weird to see a needle just sticking out of your arm, but I didn't feel anything, so it was all Kosher in my book.

With my needle still in my arm, Oh-nee picked me up off the floor, saying something about going to her brother's house. I walked to the car, put my shoes on and dislodged the needle all at the same time. Talent? I think so. I said goodbye to Byeong Cheol (promising to give him a call when I go to Seoul) and piled into the car.

The other side of the family was more traditional. But we were rather late getting there, so the games were all over. Now people were either sleeping or making a traditional sweet rice cake. I squatted down to join in - anxious for my first dose of traditional Chuseok - when Oh-nee's brother (the man of the house who NEVER lets anyone forget it) pulled me outside and stuck me and his two sons in the gazebo where I played English tutor. All three of us wanted to be somewhere else.

But, we made good conversation and I got to know some of the Uncle's a little better. Uncle Say Hwahn and I really hit it off (he loves music and marketing...go figure!) so it ended up being a good time.


Me and Kenny - the younger of the brothers

We had dinner at a restaurant. As the food was coming in Kenny said, "This is a Buddhist restaurant, so everything is vegetarian." As soon as "vegetarian" left his mouth, the waitress put down a plate of squirming octopus tentacles. Fighting the urges to scream, recoil and puke I said (without missing a beat) "Except that, right?" And watched as Oh-chahn fought with a tentacle stuck to his chopstick.

That night we returned to Dad's side of the family, but everyone was gone except for us and Uncle & son from Seoul. The son - Min Seok: age 4 - is my new best friend. The next morning I knew that I had come unprepared as I watched my Grandparents, dad and uncle dress in hiking boots, sweatpants and workshirts. I had flip flops and corduroy jeans. Awesome.

Grandma and Grandpa are farmers, so Sunday morning we all partook in some form of farming. Oh-nee, my brothers, Min Seok and I dug up sweet potatoes (flip flops, cords...) while the others did field work. Eventually, Min Seok and I broke away and collected acorns. I never would have guessed that acorns would bring a 4-year old so much joy. The whole time he gabbed away in Korean while I nodded and pretended to understand. It was perfect.

Back at the house, Oh-nee sent me on a bike to deliver a mid-morning snack of beer and fish jerky to the field workers. The bike was once a 10-speed, but is now broken and stuck on speed-2. That made traveling over the flat terrain slow and wobbly, but pretty funny. I delivered the goods and agreed to a cup of beer (to which my Dad said, "One shot"). There I was, chugging foamy beer in a field with farmers at 10:30 in the morning somewhere in the deep southern mountains of South Korea. I love Chuseok.

Below are some pictures I took on the way back to the house
We left for home with the Uncle and Min Seok, who curled up on my lap and began snoring softly within the first few minutes of the ride. 7 people in a 5-seat car. Fun fun! We dropped them off at the bus station in Suncheon before heading back to our little Gurye.

So, very much like the rest of my family weekends in Korea, Chuseok was fun, relaxing, confusing and chaotic. I'm happy to have done it, but I'm glad it's over. I only have to teach on Monday next week because of Midterms and a Fulbright committment. This will probably be my last post for a week. (That's why it's so long, haha)