Thursday, November 19, 2009

Last Saturday! I can't believe I forgot!

I was so exhausted from the Suncheon half marathon update that I completely forgot to tell you about my Saturday! A week before Saturday, Oh-nee said that her and "her family" were going to take a tour around Gurye and that I was to invite my Gurye English teacher friends. Not really knowing more than that, I invited my buddies. The brave souls, Scott and Jason, agreed to do this tour. Honestly, we were all a little confused as to how someone could spend an entire day touring Gurye. And Scott's been here three years, so he was especially interested.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting my mom's family I met at Chuseok to come in, all of us to pile into a bus and go to temples and stuff. Maybe some light hiking.

Well, I climbed onto the bus Saturday morning and found it stuffed to the brim with elementary school kids, seven miserable-looking parents and my two fellow Americans looking unsure. Oh goodness.

Even after everything's said and done, I'm not exactly sure what the event was. It reminded me of my days in girl scouts when we went on some tour to earn a badge. But, obviously, there were boys there.

The day was actually really good for me. We went to Hwaeomsa, the largest/oldest Buddhist establishment in Korea (at the base of Jiri mountain), to a bear conservation center and a sea otter learning center. Since Scott's been to all those places, he explained things to me that my family never could. And Jason's a history teacher in the states, so he filled us in on the history sections. We were a dynamic team, we were.

Scott at Hwaeomsa Welcome Center
(Children? What children?)

Jason putting on a brave face at the welcome center
(Most of the kids were his students)

There's something I should probably tell you about Korea. Most wildlife - from the very little that was there to begin with - has been killed off between wars, population growth and industrialization. Now, Koreans are fascinated with anything that moves in the wild. Anything. You should have seen my co-teachers when we walked around Jiri mountain; they spent five minutes (honestly, 5 minutes) watching a chipmunk. (I gave up after 2 minutes)

So, as part of their wilderness conservation, they have been trying to reintroduce Korean black bears to Jiri mountain. Hence the bear conservation center. The center houses one bear that failed to be released in the mountains (she figured out that people feed her, so, of course, she just hung around people). It was cute to see the kids so excited over a bear in a small enclosure. It also made me wish I could pick them up and plant them in Brookfield Zoo. I'm pretty sure they'd never leave.

The otter education center is the same idea. There's an education center and an observation center. So, we didn't see any actual otters at the education center. We just listened to some guy talk about otters. By this point in the day, Jason was done. I mean, it was like another day at work for him; all the same students doing all the same things. So he was re-grouping outside while Scott and I pretended to (a) be interested in and (b) understand the man speaking in Korean about otters.

Well, next thing you know, the guide is passing out this dirt-like stuff and having the kids say "Dong." I haven't lived with two elementary school brothers for three months to not know what dong is. It's poop. So, when the guy handed a dirt clump to me, I buried my hands deep in my pocket and shook my head. But Scott wasn't so quick-moving with his hands. Next thing you know, he's holding petrified otter poop. With a forced smile plastered across his face.

Scott holding petrified poop

Needless to say, Scott was very thankful for my hand sanitizer. And Jason was the happiest person in the world to have missed that part of the educational seminar.

We ended the day by dying handkerchiefs in a special dye found in the mud around Jiri mountain. Yeah. 30 elementary school kids playing with orange dye around their English teachers. We were all a little nervous but came out unblemished.

By the end of the day, we were happy to see the end of the tour. But, while Scott and Jason went back to their quiet apartments, I returned to mine with two hyper brothers, an exhausted mom and a dad who didn't participate in the day's activities.

Honestly, I would not have it any other way.


  1. You have a great attitude Amy. Did you know that petrified dong/dung is no more than stone? It is no longer germy excrement.... But I probably would have passed on it, too. :)

  2. Quite an adventure. Do they like racoons and Skunks. I'd like to export some to them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. If we saw a patch of grass anywhere, we would absolutely feel obligated to have picnic on it. Unless we went out of the way on bumpy roads in packed cards and did difficult walking on hills and moutains (witout any trails), we didn't have access to "nature". The abundant parks, trails, and forest preserves together with pesky rabbits that eat up the flowers, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, and occasional sightings of deer and other animals around here was like a fairy land for me (and I am not a particularly nature-oriended person), although I now take it almost for granted. Majid and I still marvel at how truly "blessed" this land is, after living almost 30 years in this country.

  4. I know! I find myself thinking about America often and just thinking, "Wow, it's like everything is just over abundance, healthy and rich." From wildlife, to people, to grocery store aisles. I think I'm going to spend the first week back in the states with my jaw on the floor from the new perspective. 8 months more...