Saturday, July 29, 2006

Heuksando and Hongdo islands

Heuksan-do fisherman

Last Friday I met Hilly at the train station after his adventurous week in Japan and Busan and then we hopped on the earliest KTX to Mokpo. It wasn't a planned trip (as usual); neither of us knew where we were going until we actually bought the ticket. Because of this lack of planning, Hilly went from Busan to Seoul to Mokpo all in one day. (Look at a map and you'll see how ridiculous this travel route is.) Before our train left, we stocked up on picnic supplies for the 3 hour journey. We got in around 11 pm and stayed at a sauna. As we were leaving in the morning a Korean guy started speaking in Spanish to us, which was very weird. My Spanish has gone downhill since I started learning Korean and now whenever I try to speak it, Korean always ends up replacing the Spanish words I can't remember. Finally, I found someone who understands and appreciates my Spanean!

We missed to ferry to our intended destination of Hongdo by 10 minutes so instead we jumped on a ferry to Heuksando, which is about 20 km East of Hongdo (and a 2 hour ferry ride from Mokpo). From Heuksando we were planning on catching a ferry to Hongdo. Once on Heuksando, we had about four hours before the ferry left for Hongdo so our first mission was to find a beach. I asked a fisherman if we were walking towards the beach. We thought he told us that he would take us to the beach on his fishing boat. He stopped and picked up his wife, daughter, a few of their friends around the same age as us, and a couple blocks of small frozen fish (imported from China) and we were off. About 15 minutes later we landed at a (beach-free) floating fishing/oyster farm with a small shack aboard a floating dock. The surrounding view was vibrant green hilly islands to one side and dark, partially fog-covered ones one the other. One of the friends spoke English quite fluently so luckily we didn't have a communication barrier.

The floating fishing farm

After a brief tour around the swaying maze of the fish farm with our new friends everyone began to fish for lunch. It seems a bit like cheating to me-- seriously, they're trapped in cages already. Instead of fishing, I sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the water in hopes of spotting some of the huge sunset-pink jellyfish I saw when I went to Ulleungdo. I was in luck, but unfortunately that meant no swimming after lunch. I'm absolutely fascinated by the jellyfish, I could watch them for hours...

After awhile we all gathered on the dock and lunch was thrown together in a matter of minutes. In one moment, an unfortunate fish flapping in a bucket jumps out the open dock scaring the girls, in the next, he is on the table, chopped up into bite size pieces. Out translater said that a fish like that usually costs around 60,000 won/kilo. Hilly said it tasted pretty average. Along with the fish, there was also rice, kimchi, more kimchi, kim (dried seaweed), soju and raspberry wine, followed with watermelon.

Our new friends

After lunch Hilly and I were craving a swim but the fisherman's daughter so eloquently said, "You swim, you die. Maybe." That settles that, no swimming with the giant jellyfish. During lunch we were convinced to stay on Heuksando island for the night instead of going to Hongdo (there's nothing to do there at night, they said). We agreed and accepted their invitation to stay at their house. We took the boat back to the main island around 4 pm and while they all went to visit Grandfather, Hilly and were dropped off at a sad looking beach for some exploring on our own. We walked on a trail off the road that led to a clearing in the woods that had a couple of the grass mound graves and lots of interesting little things--catterpillars, butterflies, flowers, berries and bugs-- to look at. We walked out the other side of the clearing and past a woman in her garden who gave us very strange looks and said something we didn't understand. The path then led us through the small village where we were announced to the rest of the gardeners by another woman who spotted us and yelled, "Waygook, waygook! (foreigner, foreigner!)".

We met up with our friends later and after a driving tour of the island, we went back to the house for a lovely dinner followed by a birthday party and a midnight ramyeon fest before crashing for the evening. The next morning we all ate breakfast together, promised to meet up sometime in the future (besides the parents, everyone lived in Kwangju), and then walked to the ferry terminal together, where Hilly and I boarded for Hongdo.

Hongdo means "red rock island" and it is supposed to be fairly similar to Ulluengdo island off the West coast. Shortly after arriving, we walked past a young girl and her parents. Her parents then said something to the girl to the effect of, "Go show the strange foreigners around the island. Off you go, hurry up, they're waiting!" We then got a tour of the exciting sights from an eight year old perspective. She was a talker, barely stopping for breath and seemingly unaware that we understood only a fraction of what she was saying. She showed us mostly bugs and plants and spiders but also the local hangout for the stray cats. We bought her ice cream as payment for the impromptu tour.

The only way to fully experience and see the island is to take a boat around to view the rock formations. Koreans, I have noticed, love to find and name rock formations that look like something else. Because the boat tour we took was in Korean, we couldn't tell what formations we were looking at, but they were pointing out countless rocks that looked just like rocks to us. It was fun though.

Hongdo island

Afterwards, we took the 2 hour ferry back to Mokpo and then the 3 hour KTX back up to Seoul.

Friday, July 28, 2006

On my way to Jeju

Catterpillar on Hongdo island

I have 23 minutes before my plane boards for Jeju island for a 10 day vacation! (I love the free internet at the airports in Korea!) If everything goes as planned I won't be online much until I'm back home... Buh bye!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mud photos hit the Korea Times

A couple of my photos from the Boryeong mud fest came out in the Korea Times today via Annie (the author of the article) whom I met at Hwagyesa. Click here to see the online version. The ladies I'm getting muddy with below are Heather and Lauren.

Aly Young, left, and friends show off their mud wardrobes.

A child plays in a mud pool at the Poryong Mud Fest. The festival ran for three days beginning July 15. /Courtesy of Aly Young

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Heuksando and Hongdo islands

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Lesson Learned or What Not to do When Your Student Breaks an Arm

This is Ben. Last week I was giving oral tests to this class individually in the hallway while the rest of the class was doing work in their books in the classroom. (In fact though, they were running around and breaking things.) I went in the room and called for Ben to come out in the hall for his test. He was crying and he's usually not a crier but I didn't think much of it.

Me- What's wrong?
Ben- My arm.
Me- Are you okay?
Ben- I'm okay. Small ouch. (said with a pained look on his face)
Me- Okay then, number one: Is this a pencil?
Ben- (tear) Sniffle, sniffle.
Me-Do you want to go see the desk teacher?
Ben- NOOOO!!! Please no desk teacher. I'm okay. Small ouch.
Me- Alright, you're okay. Give me your hands let's shake it out. (I take both his hands and shake his arms)

The desk teacher then came over and asked Ben to bend his arm for her. It did not look right. Ben was then promptly sent to the hospital. Tough kid though. Yesterday he was back in class and I acted out the story (playing Ben and myself) to the class about how Ben broke his arm and said it was a "small ouch" and then his wicked teacher violently shook his arms. They were in hysterics. I bought Ben (and the rest of the class) dokboki and apologized for the shaking episode. I also threatened to break his other arm if he kept talking throughout class. The other kids thought that was really funny. This class is warped. It's the same one that collectively told me a that student had been run over by a truck and died after he missed two classes.

So, what did I learn from this? First, don't trust 8 year olds unattended in a room even for a mere five minutes. Second, check for broken bones BEFORE shaking limbs!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Boryeong Mudfest 2006

The cutest kids ever. I wanted to kidnap them.

So adorable!

The Mudfest is the biggest Festival of the year in Korea and this year it happened to fall on a three day weekend. Three days of sun, mud, sand, waves and rain. Oh yeah, and a bit of beer. Ahhh, the weekend, you really can't beat it.

This weekend was very different from my typical weekend away from the city. One of the main reasons (besides the mud) was because of all the foreigners here. Boryeong is a relatively small city with only about 10 foreigners, but for this festival, foreigners swarm to the city. It was probably an equal match of Koreans to foreigners, with hundreds of people gathered on the beach. It's amazing how many people you come to know after a year of living in one place. The foreign community in Korea seems to endlessly be connected in strange and unexpected ways that sometimes will only become known once you throw everyone together on a beach.

The sun was out on Saturday and by 2 pm I had a bright red splotchy sunburn all over. I put on sunscreen damn it! Maybe the mud interacting with it made it ineffective. By the next morning I also had several mosquito bites to go along with my burn. I think the jimjilbang I stayed at was breeding mosquitoes in an unused sauna room. Back to the beach though. There was lots of frolicking in mud, going down the mudslide, and then wrestling in the mud pit. Then also there was swimming in the ocean. Playing in the waves almost brought back childhood memories I would have had had I grown up by the ocean. It felt nostalgic anyways. I realized this weekend that I suck at swimming in the ocean no matter how much fun I have. I just didn't grow up with it, I don't understand the waves. Oh, I will someday (soon) but for now I'm still that awkward Midwesterner not knowing quite what to do in the ocean. This naivety of the waves led to my being pulled under for awhile, disoriented, and swallowing a nose full of salty water and losing my favorite blue bandana (impermanence, I tell myself). Either way it was fun and I didn't drown.

A great weekend overall, if not a bit exhausting.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dewy leaf in North Korea

Without just one nest

A bird can call the world home

Life is your career

-Chuck Palahniuk

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

North Korea

We left late Friday night on 2 buses with a total of 89 people with Adventure Korea. I think we got to the South Korean immigration office around 7:30 am and then the North Korean immigration around 9:00 am but it's all real fuzzy because I apparently took too many of these little orange pills from Kaleigh in an attempt to get some sleep on the bus. I passed out hard. When I woke up I could barely walk or comprehend what people were saying to me. I heard what they were saying but then I forgot about 2 seconds later. Luckily it wore off not too long after we arrived.

As we were driving through immigration and then on to Geumgangsan mountains, photographs were not allowed and soldiers were standing along the road holding red flags ready to alert for backup if need be. Everyone had to wear an identification card around your neck at all times or be subject to a fine. North Koreans are easily identified because of their lack of these cards and also the addition of a small red pin worn above their heart bearing a portrait of the senior Kim. (Another sign that you are probably from the South was the presence of a shirt with Konglish or inappropriate English. Somehow I doubt the guy I saw with a "FUCK ME" shirt on was a North Korean...)

The weather all weekend was overcast and very foggy, especially up in the mountains on the hikes both days. That meant no amazing views from the top but at least we weren't hiking in the heat. The fog hung in the air constantly and gave the mountains more of an eerie feel. The "town square" (if it could be called that) was strange also. It felt like you had just walked into a huge movie set. There were hardly any cars and the mountains surrounding it were like a giant 360 backdrop. There was a Family Mart (accepting US dollars and South Korean won) and a big souvenir building, a few restaurants, a couple hotels and a dome performance hall where we saw an acrobatics show on Saturday afternoon.

The Geumgangsan town square

We stayed at the Geumgangsan hotel. It was the nicest place I've stayed at since I've been in Korea. A definite step up from my usual random weekend accommodation usually consisting of a piece of hard floor or ground. We had an end room so we got lucky with a balcony looking into the mountains. We were looking over the balcony as the sky was darkening and mist droplets were sticking to our arms and I realized one reason it seemed so surreal was the silence. Or not silence, but lack of city sounds: traffic noises, loud speakers and all the other sounds I've grown accustomed to from living in the city. It was only cicadas, a dog barking and other outdoor sounds.

We had some beers and then some North Korean whiskey (disgusting) and had ourselves a once-in-a-lifetime North Korean party. We found out later that we drank the hotel completely out of beer. I still managed to go to bed before midnight but was found early in the morning sleepwalking around the halls. I always seem to do that whenever I'm sleeping in hotels. Or maybe I do it at my apartment also but there's just not anyone around to tell me about it in the morning. I went back to bed like a robot and don't remember it at all.

It was a good trip. A weird trip. Like it was all just a big show. Starting with the overly friendly North Korean greeters once we walked through customs and continuing on all weekend. It would be interesting to spend some time in North Korea and actually be able to make it past the surface of things. Probably not possible for me, but at least an intriguing thought.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

North Korea post coming soon...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Three Extremes

Last night after some kimchi jiggae for me and mandu ramyeon for Hilly we went to a DVD bang (private movie room) for a cheap night out. We had both seen Oldboy by director Park Chan Wook and wanted to see another movie by him, Sympathy for Mr. Vengenace. I was told that the translation of this in Korean was 'Monster' (or rather, 'Monsutuh') so I asked if they had it and we went right in without my usual long period of indecisiveness with movie selections.

What we actually had got was Three Extremes (the Korean on the front said 'Monster'), which is a trilogy of short horror films, one Japanese, one Chinese, and one Korean, the last being directed by Park Chan Wook. In the end I wasn't disappointed at all that we didn't get the movie we were expecting.

In 'Box' by Japanese director Takashi Miike a woman is haunted by her twin sister's ghost. Park Chan Wook's film 'Cut' is about a Korean director who is held hostage and terrorized along with his wife in his own home by a psychotic extra.

'Dumplings' (from Hong Kong director, Fruit Chan) was the most disturbing and disgusting. The main character, in a quest for beauty in hopes to gain affection from her cheating husband, goes to a woman who makes "the most expensive dumplings". The reason they're expensive: They're make from aborted fetuses. I am not exaggerating when I say this was disgusting. And the crunchy chewing sound that goes along with every fountain-of-youth-meal is equally grotesque. Eating mandu will never be the same for me.

Along the same lines, I had never heard of placentophagy (yes, there really is a word for "eating the placenta after childbirth") until I moved to Korea. I was reading a translated Korean fiction book not long ago where the main character ran an abortion clinic and sold the placentas to women in the neighborhood who ate it for health and beauty reasons. I was shocked. I hope this truly is fiction that is not based on fact but I have my doubts. Some of the Korean superstitions about certain foods (and other typically inedible things) and the benefits they provide are absolutely ridiculous.

For now I'm off to work and then later tonight I'll be on a bus bound for North Korea. Peace.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy July 4 from North Korea


Flower and bee on Sunday walking to Hwagyesa

Early this morning (the 4th in the U.S.) North Korea, in a symbolic gesture to the U.S., test fired six missiles including one long-range missile that failed in flight. This is the second time North Korea has tested long range missiles, the first one being back in 1998.

Wednesday night Hilly comes and then on Friday we're actually going to North Korea along with a few other friends. I didn't even know this was possible for Americans without spending thousands of dollars. But apparently a trip to Guemgangsan (Diamond Mountain) is possible for Americans and even South Koreans through travel companies at a fairly reasonable price considering the destination (350,000 won). I started The Two Koreas last weekend and am trying to finish it by Friday, having postponed reading it for months for no good reason other than it's intimidating thickness.

In other news, a psycho Korean woman at my school was fired today! Good news for everyone. The foreign teachers are going out tonight to celebrate. The school will soon be safe for young children and foreigners. I just realized today is the Fourth of July. Weird. No 'Blow up the Backyard Party' at Joe's for the first time in several years. Besides what I already mentioned, my day was quite normal. My 6 year old students sang the lyrics to that song I hear everywhere here, "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me? Don't you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?", and danced along with it. It was hilarious. I think the song was on a commercial or something. Douglas licked my ear. George pissed his pants. Yeah, a pretty normal day. No fireworks tonight, but I will drink a beer to celebrate the holiday!