Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy 70th, Ex-Host-Grandfather!

After my classes on Friday, I made my way to Goheung, a really small town famous for being the "Kennedy Space Center" of Korea. Saturday was my first homestay's grandfather's (host-dad's dad) 70th birthday. In Korea, birthdays 61 and 70 are the important years. On your 61st birthday, you've lived through an entire zodiac cycle. 70 is special because, honestly, people didn't use to live that long.

It was good to see everyone again. I was meeting most of them for the second time. Friday we had dinner, watched the ball game (Kia Tigers are having a rough spring training) and went to bed. There. was. food. everywhere.

22 people slept in a four-room (5 if you include the bathroom) house. It was the worst sleep of my life. I started next to ex-Mom but somehow got wedged between two linebacker-like ahjummah's (60+ year old women). The one on the left (who wore a zebra-print outfit) snored like a bear and had probably the worst breath I've ever smelled. The one on the right could probably be a kicker on a professional football team. So, I woke up to Zebra's terrible breath and moved closer to Kicker. Right as I was falling asleep, Kicker gave me a good whack back to consciousness, leaving her leg draped over my body. Somewhere, one of the ankle-biters was whimpering about something. I laid there, huddled next to Zebra, just out of reach of Kicker thinking, "It's good to be back." Fun night. I seriously woke up a couple times (usually because of a good, hard kick) and would find myself giggling at the situation. Am I going crazy??

The party was great! It was a little awkward for me during the setup, because I didn't know (a) how to ask to help out and (b) how to actually help out. Grandpa and Grandma were dressed in hanboks (traditional Korean dress). Grandpa's four sons were in suits and their wives were in hanboks as well. The front of the house was decorated with colorful flower arrangements and food. Everyone looked great.

To kick things off, there was a traditional insa ceremony (basically, a lot of bowing and pouring of tea), followed by family pictures (yes, I was in it), followed by lunch! There was a DJ and camera man. It was just like a wedding. Over 400 people came to the party between 11am and 7pm (but for the record, I saw the first opened bottle of alcohol at 9:47). After lunch was noraebang (karaoke) and dancing.

I don't know how it happened, but I soon found myself in the very center of the ahjummah dancing group. Even more of a mystery, I found myself being told to karaoke to "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. How they found that particular song and thought it appropriate for me to sing is beyond me. After every song, Friz (another Ahjummah I named for after her hair) would drag me away, make me drink a glass of beer and eat a cherry tomato before sending me back with a butt love tap.


Frank (nickname for an unknown old man) insisted I slow dance with him (never mind the fast song). Thank goodness ex-Mom was watching. She called me over and stalled a little (before Friz found me and dragged me away for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap).

One thing I realized during the day was that, no matter what, family is pervasive. Mannerisms, attitudes, demeanors and even looks reminded me of my own family. One quiet, intelligent older man was exactly like Grandpa Benes. Another level-headed diva with her quiet and funny husband were a dead match of Aunt Sue and Uncle George. I could go on and on. If you're reading this, I probably found a Korean match for you. In many ways it made me miss home. But, at the same time, it was comforting. Family is pervasive.

Grandma, Me, Grandpa, Oh-Nee
(What you can't see is Friz behind the camerawoman - Kicker - beckoning me over for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap combo)

Fighting a cold and fatigue (*ahem* Zebra and Kicker) I ducked out a little early for home. Where I sit, writing this for you to read. Lesson learned: everything was different (different food, traditions, idea of 'cake,' [rice cake cake? eugh.] idea of 'dessert,' [cherry tomatos are not dessert], country, etc.) but everything was the same.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's been a while...

So, here's the skinny with what's new in my life:

April 2-5: Fulbright ETA conference in Seogwipo (sounds like soggy-po) on Jeju island.
Jeju is kind of the "Hawaii" of Korea. It's famous for Mt. Halla, the tallest mountain in South Korea. It's a big, inactive volcano. Jeju is also famous for oranges. They produce enough to feed the entire country full of oranges and tangerines for the entire year. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries, so I had very few shots.

We climbed "Sunset Peak," meaning the rim of an inactive volcano that looks out over the western ocean. Here I am at the top!

April 8: Teacher's Half-Day
Basically, classes were shortened so that class ended at 3pm (which is usually ends at 10pm) and all but a few teachers got to go look at cherry blossoms. Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain.

Gurye is covered in two types of plants: cherry blossom trees and sansu-you bushes. Both produce this sour berry used for both kid and adult juice. And, what a coincidence! They both bloom at the same time. So, for a window of about 10 days, I looked out my window at home to see a sea of pink and yellow set against endless mountains and blue skies.

That said, April 8th was about day 5 of blooming; the height of the blooming season. So, all the teachers (except for the unlucky few...) piled into cars to seek out the most scenic views.

My homegirls: They make working in Gurye bearable. They are Gee-Hae (ethics), Eun-Jang (Chinese language), me (English!) and Mi-Young (English language). They made me bend over so I wouldn't be taller than them. ^^

Cherry blossoms take #2 (again, I had to bend my knees)

Ever wonder what an ahjummah looks like? I mean, I mention them in my posts a lot...

Making acorn jello (it's as gross as it sounds) in her spring outfit. See? How can you look at her an NOT smile??

April 14: 2nd Grade Field Trip to Gwangju

Gwangju is that big city near me (about 90 minutes west). "Gwang" is Chinese for "Light" and "Ju" means city. Therefore, Gwangju is the "City of Lights." Which is very symbolic, given that Gwangju is the birthplace of democracy in South Korea. In the spring of 1980, students and civilians protested the current government of Korea. (There was a great government cover-up of civilian murders [also in Gwangju] to suppress political resistance). The result of the coup was a massive massacre of unarmed civilian protesters by a fully-armed military. From this tragedy emerged democracy and modern government in Korea.

Anyways, I'm getting passionate. Our first stop was the massacre memorial museum, where over 600 civilians are buried.

We watched a video of the massacre. When the movie ended and the lights came on, I was surprised to see everyone crying. Even the "bad boys" were less-rowdy than usual. I was quickly reminded of the exact young age of this country. This happened 30 years ago. Some of my teachers were living in Gwangju! Some parents of my students attended the university where the massacre occurred. Korea as I know it is still a baby.

Don't worry, the trip wasn't a total downer. After the museum, we went to the Gwangju light festival! It was really cold, but fun. They had a bunch of tents that had sciency and techy stuff about lights. Cooler than it sounds, I promise.

Me, Gee-Hae, In-ho and "Jae" in front of the entrance to the light festival.

Gee-Hae and Mi-Young playing some Wii baseball

April ???: Bowling!

My Gurye friends, Matt and Rob, and I often go bowling. Well. Matt usually bowls about 150, Rob about 130. I average 100 on good days. Anyways, this one time Matt and I both bowled terrible games and, for the first (and probably last) time ever, I beat him without a handicap. So, I had to take a picture. (note my first frame....yikes!)

So, that's my life. Exciting as always! Next weekend is my first homestay's grandfather's 70th birthday party (70 is a big 50 is for us).

Also, I accepted a job as activity director for Camp Fulbright - a two-week English camp in July. Which means, I will be coming home August 1 or 2. Mark you calendars! ;)