Thursday, May 15, 2008
head like a kite
i got to see a whole different side of korea last weekend. we had a holiday (buddha's birthday), so aaron and i decided to get out of the city and go breathe some fresh air up in the mountains. after a smelly 4-hour bus ride (koreans like to snack on dry fish on long trips, lucky for moi), we arrived in a small town called sokcho, which is located right on korea's east coast. it's also as close as you can get to north korea's border, which is quite fascinating. i got my first glimpse of the sea of japan (or east sea, as the koreans call it). the beach is aligned with barbwire, which is used to keep the north korean spies away. as aaron puts it, "...where the barb wire is to ward off the north koreans and the spotlights to ward in the squid!". yes, seriously. there is a huge fish market, first experience for me! we walked along a narrow street filled with live fish swimming in buckets and fighting for their lives. as you walk along, you can pick your fish and eat it right away, sitting by the sea. not a bad view, but that lunch made me quite uneasy. i'm not the biggest fan of sea food, especially not when it's alive and staring at you from their bucket. i almost had a mini-breakdown, but we finally settled on clam, which seemed beginner-friendly. they were quite delectable, and the friendly owner even threw in some free shrimp. all that with a bottle of soju, to give me some much-needed liquid courage.
we also had the funniest encounters while walking around the port and on the beach. a korean family invited us to share their grilled bulgogi (beef) and homemade lemonade. right after, a group of drunk korean ladies invited us to share some soju, whisky, and beer. they couldn't speak a word of english and were so smashed that they thought we understood korean! it was rather funny, they kept giving us drinks, feeding us asparagus and one lady gave me a bottle of banana milk. so odd, what a weird combination... no wonder i felt sick for the rest of the day. we also ran into a group of korean soldiers, guarding the beach.... once again from north korean spies. they were waving at us and smiling, they seemed excited to meet foreigners. i took a pictures with them, they were so shy. regardless, i liked being in small-town korea, where people seem to be friendlier (or maybe just drunker!).
we then headed to the amazing seoraksan national park, the most beautiful place in korea. and perhaps one of the most beautiful places i've ever seen: mountains, rocky peaks, lush greenery, buddhist temples, waterfalls... we went on a few hikes, including a scary one where we had to climb some steep stairs to get into a cave, where a monk was drumming and chanting. i had to get over my fear of heights, but it was worth it. i'm not the most outdoors-y girl, but it was fantastic! the view from up there was amazing, the sun was shining, and it felt like a real vacation.
actually this whole year is a vacation for me, i almost feel bad sometimes! i work hard but it's quite easy when you think of it. i stay at school long hours, but once i'm done preparing my classes i can just use my free time however i want. i spend my whole weekends being a tourist, wandering around seoul and discovering new neighbourhoods (i'm not even done yet, still so much to see). we can go away for very cheap on long weekends, which is a great thing i've never really done before. i'm having a blast.
homesickness comes and goes, but small things make it easier: a few days ago i went to costco and stock up on imported foods, such as macaroni and cheese (shame on me!), cheerios, oatmeal, nesquik, bagels, and CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE!! yes, i went crazy when i saw all the cheese, which is nearly impossible to find anywhere else in korea! and whoever knows me well enough knows that cheese is my staple food. that made me really happy, and it made me feel more at home to have my favourite foods. also buying a few english magazines always cheers me up- they're a bit more expensive than back home, but it's worth it. i appreciate them so much more here.... at home i used to buy loads of magazines and not read them all. i wish i could read more korean, their magazines look pretty cool.
oh, and last thing. today was teacher's day at school.... a celebration of teachers i guess?! it was kind of fun, we got the afternoon off and the kids gave us presents and flowers. i got the craziest flower arrangements you could ever imagine.... picture a single red rose, but packaged in a bright pink bow with glitter and pink fishnet ruffles and ribbon.... i'm not kidding. i even took some pictures. among my loot was: flowers, various snacks (bread, oranges, rice cakes, yogurt), a dishcloth (weird... i know), and.... dior lipstick (!!!) and a big Estée Lauder bag, full of makeup and skincare. crazy!! that stuff is so expensive over here, way more than back in canada. i was so excited, i guess word got around that vivian teacher has expensive taste. just kidding. but parents are so generous, i felt bad. they pay so much money for that private school and for my international classes... maybe i should start preparing more when i teach about the growth of soy beans and how to get rid of head lice ;)