Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Buddha

For those that missed it, Friday was Buddha's birthday! Yay! That means, no school. Three-day weekend! Double yay!

A lot of my friends were planning on going to Seoul for a fun, laid-back weekend. I was about to go... but...
Me: Buddha's birthday is next weekend...
Host mom: Yes. You we will go to chicken farm?
Me: [pause, choosing my words carefully] Okay.... Um. Why?
Host mom: Ah! We will look at chickens and take the eggs.

So, not knowing much more than that, I climbed into the car around noon on Friday with my mom, bros and Jae-gyeong (younger bro)'s friend - Ji-hwan.

Well, we drive 10 miles into the sticks of the sticks, the last 2km being up a mountain road. Very windy and steep. (It also smelled like farm animal ... uh ... waste, which Jae-jin labeled as "nature smell.")

Finally, we get to the "chicken farm" ("산하산장" ... I don't know what it means, but I know 산 means mountain...which is repeated, and 장 means "place" or "point")

Well, initially, there weren't any chickens. Just a completely stunning view. We were up pretty high, and kind of in the elbow crook of a mountain. The sky was big and blue, and off in the not-so-distant-distance, I heard the babble of a small waterfall. Don't worry, the "nature smell" was gone now.

To the right of the picture, is a patio-like dining area, where I had kimbab while my family had Korean BBQ. There were three women about my mom's age also eating with us. I think one of them owned the place, which turned out to be a restaurant and hotel.

After lunch, I found the chickens! They were down the mountain a little way. Host mom said that "chickens too not-tall to eat." Thank god. We also didn't take any of their eggs.

Isn't he adorable? He made faces at me and my big, scary blue eyes all throughout lunch.

Now, in real life (AKA: my life in America) I've never had a brother, even though Kristin comes pretty close. ;) In Korea, I've had four. Boys are weird. It's like, if there's a rule, they have to break it. It's an unsaid challenge. After lunch, mom gave us permission to walk up to our knees in the river. Me and the bros (Ji-hwan spends so much time at our house that he's like my third brother) went down to the river. Like I thought, there was a small water fall. The water was the cleanest water I've ever seen. And ice cold! "Mountain spring water" has new, definite meaning for me now. How many places in the world can you still drink straight from the stream? Sitting there on that rock in the middle of the beautiful mountain river, overlooking a stunning valley, and skipping the occasional stone, I realized that this is perfect.

Then boys become boys. One dare led to another. Before you know it, all of their pants were off (they held onto their underwear, thank god) and they were dunking each other. I made it very clear that their lives would become a living hell if they dunked me.

Mom was "nor so happy" about my wet bros. So, we kicked around the soccer ball and I taught them the game "500" until they dried off. I also reached deep and brought out my inner brother and kicked the ball down the hill, where all three boys ran after it. While they were down the hill, I grabbed one of Jae-gyeong's shoes and hid it behind a bush.

Everyone thought it was funny except for Jae-gyeong. He, too, was "nor so happy."

So, that's how I spent my afternoon on Buddha's birthday. Meditating and thinking about life in a slice of paradise.
Jae-jin, Mom, Jae-gyeong, me

Ji-hwan, me, Jae-gyeong

On the way home, we stopped at an eco-museum. It just had fish and stuff. I'm not sure what the point of these bikes were, but my brothers took joy in getting each other wet....again.

That night, host mom brought me to Hwaeom Temple to pay our respects to The Buddha. The temple is beautiful during the day, but even more beautiful at night on Buddha's birthday. There were hundreds and hundreds of lanterns lit throughout the temple.

Level 1

Level 2


Host mom and I did our bows to Buddha. Afterwards:
HM: What did you ask for?
Me: [oops, I just bowed and meditated, I didn't really "ask for" anything...] Oh. Um. World peace.
HM: Oh! [laughing] You are so good! I asked for Amy to find good husband and have good job and many money.

Damn. If I knew it was wish day, I would have been more prepared!

I asked mom if I could buy one of the lanterns (they were so pretty!) to which she replied, "Oh. No. But, tomorrow, I will call king monk and take one for you." Sometimes the language barrier provides the greatest small joys in the world. So, we'll see if my mom has as much pull with the "king monk" as she says.

That was a busy day, huh? But really, an awesome day. Anyways, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cebu City, Philippines

It's been one week since my return from beautiful Cebu City. Oh, how I wish I was still there. I loved it. It was probably my second favorite trip of this year (behind kayaking in Thailand).

My co-worker, Mi-young, and I arrived in Cebu City late Saturday night. Mi-young actually studied English in Cebu City for two months, so her friends - Gail and Elsie - met us at the airport and helped us find a hotel for the night.

Sunday, Gail, Elsie and another friend - Kathy - showed Mi-young and me around the big attractions of Cebu City.

1) Bascilia del Santo Nino: Oldest cathedral in Philippines. It's over 400 years old and was burned down twice.

We actually came right as mass was ending.

Mass exit.

2) Magellan's Cross. Cebu City is famous of being the landing spot of Magellan, who brought with him European influence and Christianity. True to Westerner's nature, he claimed the land to be his, introduce "the right" way to do things and planted a huge cross. Culturally sensitive, huh?

Anyways, here's Magellan's Cross. The actual cross is supposedly encased within this one to prevent further damage. Many think that there's actually nothing left of the original cross. Whatever, it gives people hope and comfort. That's all that any physical icon can do.

3) Fort San Pedro. The fort is shaped like a triangle, with two sides facing the ocean and one facing land. (The ocean use to be right up against the fort, but, for some reason or another, this is no longer true.) It was used first as a Spanish fort to defend against "the Muslims" but later became a stronghold for native Philippines during their revolution and emancipation. haha.


4) "Tops." Basically, a sunset lookout point.

Monday was the Philippines national Presidential Elections, so everything was closed. Mi-young and I hung out at a pool all day. At night, we went to the Casino!

The best part? We won! About $150!

What to do with the money? ... ^^

5) We decided to think about it at the major Taoist Temple in Cebu City.

Tuesday night, we knew. We were going to go snorkeling off the coast of a remote island followed by para-sailing followed by a spa followed by our plane home.


We went to an island called Nalusuan for snorkeling. It was awesome! Mi-young had a water-proof camera, so there are some good snorkeling pictures on Facebook. Check it out!

So, that was my trip! Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Children's Day!

Wednesday was one of very few national holidays in Korea: Children's Day!

Elementary and middle schools were out Wednesday-Friday. High school only gets off on Wednesday. Don't feel too sorry for me; they have midterms next week, so I get that off. yippee.

Anyways, for Children's day, I met my friend, Emily, in Yeosu. Yeosu is just a coastal city with lots of little islands scattered around it. It's famous for cliffs. There's also a running joke about the "2012 Yeosu Expo." In 2002, it was announced that Yeosu would hold the World Expo. Almost immediately after the announcement, they started promoting it. Hang in there, guys! Two more years!

Yeosu was holding a "Turtle Ship" festival.

This is a turtle ship. It's the "traditional Korean war boat." It kind of looks like a turtle. Hence the name.

Like all festivals in Korea, it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. There were only two turtle boats (apparently the Turtle Ship day was Friday and Saturday...not Wednesday). One pictured above and another made out of aluminum cans. Womp womp.

But we got the idea.

Since the boats weren't ready, the festival had a lot of "traditional Korean culture" stuff. Kids could dress up in "traditional wedding clothes," make "traditional rice cakes," "traditional pottery" and a whole heap of other "traditional" stuff. (btw: the phrase "Traditional Korean..." is probably in the top-5 first English phrases learned)

Some girls in "traditional Korean wedding gowns" sitting inside a "traditional Korean wedding cart for women."

Yeosu is really rocky and cliff-like. So we walked around a tiny cliff-island. I'm standing in front of "Cave of Dragon" according to all of the signs. Dragon must have been one cool guy. ^^
It was a nice day, but I caught myself thinking a lot, "Jeeze, this would be 100 times better if these kids weren't here." :) Then I remembered that this is their day.

Thursday and Friday are parent's day, but I don't think my bros did anything special for my mom other than sleep more. Oh kids.

I leave for the Philippines tomorrow. Yay! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jiri Mountain

Just a little reminder, Gurye is located at the base of Jiri Mountain, the tallest mountain on the mainland. I've been living here for going on 9 months now and have yet to hike the sucker.

So, my friend Rob and I set out to hike it this past Saturday. There's a 45km / 3 day trail. Yeah. We're not ready for that. So we choose to hike from Hwaeomsa Temple (the very beginning of the trail...about 5 miles from my house) to Nogodan Shelter. A 5.7km/2.5 hour route. Much better, right? Anyways, there are a lot of different trails from Nogodan, so there's actually a bus up there. Our plan was to hike up and bus down.

The start of the trail (nice sidewalk!)

What about 4km of the trail looked like. Boulders. Lots and lots of boulders. Oh yeah, and very poor trail markings. Good thing I was there, or else Rob would have gotten lost at least 5 times.

The river that runs along the trail is straight from the top of the mountain. And since snow is melting, the river was moving pretty fast. A really cool thing: you could drink straight from the river. That's how fresh it is.

It would be a complete lie if I said the course was easy. It was anything but. It was quite steep and the path was very boulder-y. I felt like we were scampering up the mountain rather than hiking it. There was a point where Rob and I sat down after a particularly strenuous stretch of boulder. Neither of us said it, but we both were beginning to doubt our ability to finish the climb. But, we dragged ourselves up and started walking. It was a very bleak time.


We saw the top! It was 10 meters away (around a bend) from our "doubt" rock! Thank goodness...

From the top
yeah, we're not going back down the way we came. We would die.

There was often a small stream running down the path, making the boulders real slippery. Going up is okay, but going down is very dangerous.

There was snow up there, despite being 75-degrees in Gurye

The view! (Not Gurye... Gurye is on the other side)

Another View

Yay! We made it!

Facts for the curious: Gurye is at 115m elevation. Nogodan is 1,507m. The highest peak is just over 1,900 meters. So, yeah. Our portion of the hike was quite steep.

So, that was my Saturday (and became my Sunday, as my legs were pooped). It was fun!

Next Saturday, May 8-May 13 I will be traveling to Cebu, Philippines with another English teacher at my school, Mee-young. The trip was kind of last minute, so it still hasn't really sunk in yet. :) Yet another country stamped into the pages of my already weathered passport.