Two Foreigners Found After Being Lost In Mountains!! Click Here For The Miraculous Story Of How They Survived!!
The morning started innocently enough. A shower, breakfast, Facebook; but then I received a message.
Little did we know that this simple query would cause a significant amount of distress and no small amount of discomfort for us.
For those of you who don't know hiking is the national past time for Korea's retired population. This is important to keep in mind because this played a key role in some of our more questionable decisions on this trip.
Now when we first set off on this adventure I had not planned on extremes. I was wearing sneakers, a jacket, and my purse. If this was an RPG I didn't even have a stick. My traveling buddy Oyuki was a little better off than I was with her hiking boots, pb&j and bottle of water. I believe we were both just planning to go so far and then stop for lunch as a reward for a job well done. Yea that didn't happen.
To begin with we had to actually walk to the starting point of our hike. this resulted in a roughly half hour stroll through the town to the base of the mountain. A pretty idyllic scene. Cherry blossoms blooming, children playing, couples strolling arm in arm.......................................... And a small army of Sunday hikers. This group of middle aged to elderly people put us to shame with preparation. They had matching weatherproofed pants and blazers in a rainbow of colors, duel walking sticks, back packs, walkie talkies, extra sunscreen and wide brimmed hats. In the RPG these guys are the guild that walks past with weapons and armor +999. they were in it to win it and headed in the same direction we were.
This was when we made our first poor decision. Whoever said take the road less traveled should be held accountable for all the morons who follow their advice literally. We had arrived at a crossroad. On the left was a wide paved well established road that the army was cheerfully ascending. On the left was a shady dirt path that wound around to the far side of the mountain. No prize for guessing which path we took.
At first we thought this wasn't so bad. It was a little narrow but the beginning of the path was marked with this lovely scene.
In hindsight this may have been a part of someones garden that we walked past. Moving right along we continued down this little dirt path that leads us into the mountains. At this point we're congratulating ourselves on being so clever because we found a secluded trail. hahahaha look at us go we're practically natives. (We were wrong btw. people showed up behind us later.) Along the trail we were following was a pile of stacked stones. This isn't unusual; in fact this area is known for its pillars of stones. (long story short a long time ago a hermit moved into a cave on the mountain and built a giant pillar out of rocks and it's still standing today. Tetris king) There was a smaller trail leading up and away from the main path that we were on. So we did what any sensible adventurer does. We followed it to see where it leads. Now my theory was that the end of the trail would lead to where the monks live or maybe some kind of altar. (again not unusual for this area.) There was an altar.....and there were people......They were not monks. We had stumbled straight into a shanty town; and immediately tumbled straight back out. Please don't judge us too harshly. As outsiders and foreigners to boot, waltzing into a homeless community is a bad idea. We had nothing to offer and it was an invasion of privacy. It was a sobering glimpse into that side of society though.
Returning to the original trail we began our hike in earnest. On the scale of difficulty I give it a solid 6. Not the worst I've ever experienced (i.e 3rd falls at the Wilds for those who know) but it wasn't a walk through the park either. We were either going up, or mostly up. Pretty much looked like this the whole way.
A hand rail was graciously provided where trees were not available to be your life support. We continue on like this until we reached what is a designated stopping point.(It was about 11:30 at this point.) How did we know it was a stopping point? I'm so glad you asked dear reader. We obtained this knowledge because their was a sign. Not that we could see said sign because through the army of hikers. ( a different army mind you. Not the same group we tried to avoid earlier) These people decided that this was a good place to unpack their picnics. You remember those backpacks I mentioned earlier? An invaluable tool that holds important hiking tools such as water, first aid kits and flares? That's not what these guys had. Nope. Our esteem-able hiking compatriots had lugged soju up this mountain. and beer. Coffee for those who drove. A full course Korean lunch. (I didn't see a single bloody bag of trail mix) Oyuki and I were sitting to the side with half a PB&J and carton of soy milk watching these people toast to their halfway point. I think Korea's approach to hiking is that if you become progressively buzzed as you go you won't feel the sore muscles. They might be onto something.
Now at this point neither of us really knew where we were. We weren't too worried though because we were surrounded by so many people. We couldn't possibly be lost. (lies) Our options were left or right. We went left because that was on a downward track and the sign said a fortress was that way. Sounds cool right? We wouldn't know. We never found it. Somehow; I'm still not sure how, we ended up parallel to a temple that sits on the very top of a mountain. It was around then that this picture was taken.
This was not the same picnic that we had left behind nearly hour ago. This was a different group. Same deal though. Soju, beer, a ton of snacks. The difference with this group was how excited they were to see us. They wasted no time in inviting us over to share their snacks. This was extremely kind of them but I also now know what it feels like to be an exotic animal at a petting zoo. (everyone wants to feed the Llamas.) The price for their hospitality was simple; They wanted pictures. Someone somewhere now has at least a dozen pictures of the blond waygook. You know those pictures celebrities take with their fans? I posed for a few of those with some men. It was weird. (but they fed me sooo...) They also gave us some parting gifts. We walked away from that encounter one snickers bar, two granola bars, a loaf of bread and a bottle of water richer. (+5 charisma!)
At this point we had been hiking for a few hours with no end in sight. We were desperately trying to find a way off the mountain. Cue next questionable decision. At one point we had acquired a picture of a map but realizing that we had no way of knowing where we were in relation with the map that was useless. But we did find a trail that went down the mountain which was our end goal. If you thought trail was a generous description you would be right. The only thing that told us that this might be on a map somewhere were the posts placed every half mile or so that had 119 on it. Although neither of us really wanted to admit it we were both starting to panic just a tad. Some of the things that were said during this time period.
"You know, I always wondered how people got lost in the mountains but now I'm starting to see how. They followed sketchy looking goat trails convinced that people do actually come this way."
"We're at that stage where we're laughing because we're trying not to panic hahaha"
" HaHaHa, I'm laughing because it's true but it's making me feel worse!!"
"WHERE THE #$%#^ ARE WE?!?!"
That pretty much summed up the entire situation. Despite our fears though we were in fact on an actual path. We almost made the disastrous mistake of leaving the trail when we thought it ended but we stayed the course and were soon rewarded with this most welcome sight.
CIVILIZATION!! Even better once we drew up even with the buildings I realized that I knew exactly where we were. Bonus points: We were able to catch a taxi home. We left my place at 10:00ish. We came home around 3:00. After consulting Kakao maps (which is like google maps.....We had GPS navigation and never once consulted it. We're not the brightest...) I estimated that we hiked roughly 7 kilometers. (a little over 4 miles for us Americans) 7 kilometers in 5 hours. We won't be qualifying for the Boston Marathon anytime soon but I'm still a little proud of our accomplishments. (especially since it didn't end in shin splints for me.) Thus concludes my harrowing tale of misadventure and yet another case of spontaneity yielding bizarre encounters.
Hey readers, if you enjoyed this story or if I made you laugh at any point, do me a favor and share this. Spread the joy :) I would like to see if I can get a hundred visits. Thanks, you're a pal ;)
Last week I went on a school trip to the Olympics. Now the Olympics was pretty nifty; it was an experience I will look back on fondly for a long time. That being said this post is not about the Olympics. I went, I saw, I froze. It was a cool adventure all around. (did you see what I did there? haha....)
No, what really got my geek was the part of the trip meant for the students. Let me back up a bit and say this first. Field trips with Korean teenagers as opposed to American teenagers is like night and day. There were no spontaneous outbursts of half remembered Disney songs. I didn't have to confiscate tennis balls because they bounced off the head of the driver. No sunflower seeds. No signs being held in the back window saying "help us they have knifes." (and no that wasn't a spelling error on my part.) Honestly unless I looked behind me it was like they weren't even there. They required zero chaperoning. Zip. Nada. As in, we arrived in the city, told them what time to meet up for lunch and let them loose. (the exact opposite of me by the way, who basically became the kid on the backpack leash after I accidentally became separated from the group right out of the starting gate.) This gives you a glimpse into just how responsible these kids are.
Now to the main event. Job World. On our itinerary it simply said job training. I thought this was gonna be some half baked attempt to make cubicles and broken printers seem exciting. I had no expectations for this part of the trip. I should have known better. For starters even the building was shiny.
This was the view when you first enter. By then I realized that of course Korea would take job training to a whole new level. Silly me. Now I was getting excited but I still had no idea what was really going on. I thought this place was going to be like MOSI (museum of science and industry for those who don't know.) and it was in a way; with one major difference. Job World is exactly what it's name says. It showcases careers. ALL CAREERS. It had everything from being a bee keeper to mission control for space programs. the first two levels featured a walk through exhibit with different interactive displays for various jobs. (I shamelessly played with the touch screen design your own train game.) The level below that showcased the TECHNOLOGY used in these career fields. Not just current technology but also displays for things being designed for the future. They had models for future cities. I literally saw things there that was in the Black Panther movie. (You only thought Wakanda was in Africa.)
This was the beginning of the walk through.
An overhead view of the level dedicated to technology.
I was playing a virtual reality game.
So many cool things and the fun wasn't even finished. Before my co-teachers let me loose to explore on my own (The first time all weekend. I guess they thought they couldn't lose me in a building.) they told me to be back on level three if I wanted to observe the students. uh alright. I had no idea what they were talking about but I'm game for anything. So after playing with the virtual reality and getting lost on level four I made it back in time to "observe" the students. At this point I had noticed that I hadn't actually ran into any of my students on the other levels which begs the question, where did they go? Unbeknownst to me they had already started "job training".
Job training. America, we seriously need to take a leaf out of Korea's book on this one. This was so much cooler than having peoples parents volunteer to show students how to carve eggs or fold napkins. Myself and another teacher were ushered into a viewing area. It was another walk through area similar to what I had just been through except this time I was on the outside looking in at my students being coached. As I understood it each student could choose a couple different career paths that interested them and they spent an hour in each learning about what the qualifications are and getting some practical hands on experience. The pictures best describe what was goingon. Check it out.
I loved every minute of this trip but I was honestly blown away by the sheer amount of EVERYTHING that is invested into preparing the youth of Korea for their futures. Their education system isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination but they are miles ahead of what we have in America. I remember taking a compatibility test in middle school for what I was best at. It told me that I would be a fantastic tank driver. yep.
Seriously though I honestly think that we could benefit from integrating more hands on approaches into our curriculum. American students are graduating from high school completely clueless and unable to take care of themselves and elementary students here can keep buildings from burning down. Do you know how many American parents would be breathing fire and demanding our jobs if we (the teachers) left their middle and high school children to fend for themselves in the middle of the Olympic plaza? We didn't even have the awkward helicopter parents as chaperones. (to be fair though the probability of someone walking off with your kid is significantly less here) Students here are taught and encouraged to be self sufficient and therefore more responsible over all.
What do you think? Am I viewing the world through rose tinted glasses or do you agree with me and think that a practical more hands on approach towards education would be above and beyond better than what we are teaching our students today?
I'm actually beyond excited to share this story mainly in part because it was a case of spontaneity working out in the most unexpected and best way possible. Last Thursday Tiani and I were bumming around town waiting to watch the Black Panther.
Tiani and I at Nambu market.
As we were walking around we stumbled across a certain building. Neither of us knew what it was but the doors were unlocked so being the intrepid souls that we are, we waltzed right in. (I made Tiani go first to be honest because I have an unfortunate history of accidentally setting off alarms.) It's a big airy building but it looked abandoned. Leaves on the ground, old pamphlets left out, that kind of thing. We thought we were alone. WE WERE WRONG. As we (me mostly) were going around shamelessly opening doors we ran into a man with his dog. We were slightly derailed by this but were fully prepared with the standard fallback should we needed it. (I'm deaf and she doesn't speak Korean.) As luck would have it we didn't need to lie through our teeth. He just smiled and waved and left us to our own devices. Alright, cool beans; Exploration continues. By this time we had ascertained that this place was a music hall of some kind. We found practice rooms with different instruments and places where groups having camps could sleep and shower along with a cafeteria like setting. A pretty nifty setup all in all and not something we expected to find in this small town of Jinan. The last place we found while snooping around was the stage hall. A large room. Solid wooden floors. Dance mirrors on one side. Sound proofed. A nice wide but low stage. Pretty swanky. This is where it gets interesting.
The man from before had followed us in. He was still smiling but he hadn't actually spoken to us so Tiani and I were taking bets as to whether or not he was a ghost. He was in fact a real person. We established this when he pulled a Jangu off the rack and beckoned us closer.
This is a mini Jangu that I made previously at a teacher conference. A full sized Jangu is about two feet wide.
Just like that this stranger started teaching us how to play! He taught us how to hold the sticks properly, where to strike on the drum, and basic patterns. Tianis Korean is a million years better than mine so they were able to communicate while I was banging away on a drum. (It still blows my mind that even though he and I couldn't directly speak to each other he was still capable of teaching me. Proof that music is universal) He invited us to come back that Tuesday night for a real Jangu lesson. Naturally we said of course. At this point we were both on a cultural high for two reasons: A) We got to experience something authentic. It was a random encounter that wasn't staged for the foreigners. B) This was the first time for the both of us (well at least for me) that we were engaged by someone who did more than ask where we were from. He didn't treat us like foreigners which is a novelty.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. I had been looking forward to this all weekend so I was borderline Chihuahua excited. Neither of us had any idea of to expect. We arrived a few minutes early but no one else was there. Our teacher showed up and went straight to business, selecting drums for us to use. Tiani and I are now thinking that we're the only two for this lesson but I had brought my game face and refused to be deterred by potential awkwardness.
The first major difference between Thursday and Tuesday was the Jangu themselves. On Thursday we had simply sat on the floor with them sitting in front of us. Tuesday saw these bad boys slung over our shoulders and strapped to our waist. (I now have a slight bruise on my hip from where it rested). I'm still not entirely certain how he fastened the drum to me but it was definitely effective; that instrument wasn't going anywhere.
For the first twenty minutes or so it was just the three of us and he was going over correct positioning of hands and fingers and basic strike patterns. Then others started slowly trickling in. There was a major difference between these people and Tiani and I (besides being Korean, duh.) They brought their own instruments. This was when I began to realize that not everything was as it appeared. My suspicions were confirmed when these people began independent warm up exercises. This was not a class of newbies. This was an established group. We were not attending a lesson. We were invading a seasoned groups practice time; and they were perfectly chill with that. (It occurs to me now that their practice actually started at 7:30 but this man showed up a half hour early to give us a bit of one on one instruction.)
At this point I had been feeling pretty confident and smart. look at me I can tap out this two part beat without screwing up! Which is basically the equivalent of hot cross buns on a recorder. We were splashing around in the kiddie pool. Then they snatched off our floaties and chucked us in the deep end. One minute we were standing a circle introducing ourselves then the next the beat dropped and it was like we had been press ganged into a marching band. It was exhilarating. These people had an entire choreographed routine and they expected us to just go with it. We did our dead level best and it was gratifying that even though we didn't spin the right way or dance exactly in time with the beat and basically looked like dancing ducks they didn't belittle us. I don't speak Korean well but I know when people are trash talking us and that didn't happen. They shared snacks with us, chatted, practiced some more; a good time was had by all.
What started as a simple walk through town morphed into an adventure that blew the top off of any expectations I might have had. I've been in Korea for seven months so far and this is the first time I've felt a solid connection with the community. I'll definitely be back next week.
One of the greatest pleasures in life are open air markets. Whether its a flea market or a farmers market experience has told me that some of the best things and be found in markets. I'll swear that one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had came from this older hippy lady's stall at a farmers market in St. Augustine. I simply adore open air markets. Which is why it is strange for me to have delayed visiting these kind of markets here in Korea. I had all the usual excuses; I was busy, it's too far away, I'm broke, blah, blah, blah it's a familiar routine. Last week though I finally had an opportunity/no excuses. It started with this invitation.
One of the first things people do when you first land is hook you up with the Facebook page for foreigners in your area. On these pages people post anything from furniture for sale to reliable English speaking doctors. This was an event that was posted for our viewing pleasure. Can anyone guess what the key operating word in this advertisement was? That's right FREE!!! I love freebies especially when they're nice ones. Everything on the list of activities was something that I felt I would enjoy so... why not? At this point I had been hold up in my apartment for an unhealthy amount of time so any excuse to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on my face was a good one. With this in mind I signed up and prepared to wholly enjoy myself.
An important thing to know about Korea. If it can be made cute, it will be; and everything has a mascot (including the police). When I arrived at our meeting place this is what greeted me.
One of the mascots of Nambu Market place. I'll admit this surprised me. I wasn't expecting this method of advertising. I'm not entirely certain but I think it's supposed to be some sort of lizard. Either way it was cute So I did my duty and took a picture. When everyone arrived we went to our first stop. The Hanbok shop.
This is a hanbok for women. It came with four pieces. There is a hoop underneath and another long sleeved jacket under the first one. The blue skirt wraps around my chest and is tied in the back with ribbons. The jacket ties in the front. Honestly this is probably one of the most straight forward traditional articles of clothing I've ever tried. I was actually quite comfortable. As a bonus the lady dressing me gave me a fur scarf. (I guess I looked cold)
As far as I could tell the men's Hanbok was a long robe fastened over matching pants. They also accessorized with hats befitting their station. (Two kings and a guard.)
Properly attired we set off on our exploration of Jeonju's Nambu market. We had the privilege of getting a behind the scenes tour before the nightlife took over. Korea is facing a problem that most modern countries have: a lack of interest in traditional values. Time is a heartless witch and many things simply get left behind and forgotten. The people of Nambu market refuse to get left in the dust though and instead have revived interest in the area and made it popular with the younger generations. The secret? Young people are running the show.
During our tour through the underground of Nambu market (which gave me the feeling of being behind the scenes at Disney World) we met several people of the artistic persuasion. If you have spent any time in Korea I'm sure you have noticed the abundance of murals adorning walls everywhere. We met one young lady who creates these.
A work in progress.
We also met a woman who makes Hanbok; and across the way from her was the studio of some young designers who uses vegetables as inspiration for their clothing.
After the behind the scenes tour we were treated to tteokguk which is rice cake soup. I'm a fan of the stuff. It has a very mild flavor so people who don't fish or spicy things would probably enjoy it. The rice cakes are very chewy but easy to swallow though some people might be put off by the texture. It's usually garnished with dried seaweed like shown in the picture. The yellow stuff is pickled radish. As far as I can tell pickled radish is the equivalent to celery sticks in the United States. If you order pizza, pickled radish comes with it. Chicken wings? Pickled radish. It's right up there with Kimchi.
This past month I have been on vacation. During this time I had the opportunity to go back to Florida to visit my family. I won't deny that I was excited for this because I was. Everyone who had anything to do with me knew that I was going back. I had plans; I was excited. Naturally because I was going back to Florida people kept asking this one question. "Are you looking forward to going home?"
Home. For such a simple four letter word it sure carries a lot of weight. Home comings are such a big deal. Families wait at airports for their loved ones to come through the gate. They make the returnees favorite meals. People laugh, they cry; it's this huge emotional gauntlet for everyone. The world is overflowing with stories about "home". Entire legends revolve around heroes trying to come home. Tragedies where people lose their homes. Tear jerkers about finding a home. Adoptees looking for forever homes. All of humanity places a special emphasis on home but what is "Home"?
For myself; Home is where my heart is. I know...Such a cliche. I believe there to be a ring of truth to it though. "Are you excited to go home? Are you glad to be home? Are you sad to be leaving home again?" So many questions. The thing is I never went home because I never left home. Florida has my family. Texas has my friends. Korea has my livelihood. I've left pieces of my heart scattered in all of these places and more. No matter where I go it's always a homecoming for me. Was I excited to see my family? Naturally. Was I equally excited to come back to my own bed? Without a doubt. Am I planning on expanding my home in the future? You'd better believe it. I think that's the beauty of the idea of home; It can be whatever I choose it to be.
I want to know: Is this viewpoint unique to me or do others share my opinion about what a home is? Please feel free to comment your answers, I'd dearly love to know.
P.S. When I was in Florida quite a few people told me that they enjoyed reading my blog. This simultaneously shocked and flattered me. I'll do my best to keep up with it this year. If there is something that you want to know don't hesitate to ask. Most of the time I have no idea what to write about so please inspire me with questions.
No one can deny that 2017 has been quite the year. I have a hard time believing that it's already over. I've seen and heard several people claim that 2017 was one giant nightmare that needed to end. Personally I think that all good things must come to an end. I will admit that normally I could have cared less about the changing of the year. It usually just means that I spend the first three weeks of the new year writing the wrong date on papers. However I believe that 2017 will always hold significance to me.
I vividly remember what I was doing this time last year. I was passed out in a hotel after assisting my dear friend get hitched. (This sounds like I had a wild time. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am and always will be a crotchety old lady who hates staying up late.) I was exhausted and I clearly remember thinking to myself "The new year will be here when I wake up." and I deliberately turned off my phone so that I could avoid well meaning messages for the new year. I did not toast the new year, sing a song or kiss the closest schmuck to me. Probably the most scrooge like way to start the new year. Despite the complete lack of enthusiasm displayed on my part; that new year marked a turning point for me.
I think everyone has these moments in their lives. An event or decision that significantly impacts their future. (for better or for worse)For some people it's milestones like graduating high school or getting married. Significant events in the game of Life. For myself I can think of only three turning point moments in my life. Things that only have significance to myself. The first was when I accepted Christ as my savior. That moment of bone deep terror and certainty that if I didn't choose salvation that night I was not going to wake up the next morning. (fear of God is powerful motivator) The second time I actually remember the date. June 6th, 2006. Oh the irony. I was at summer camp and everyone was convinced that something astounding was going to happen. Arrogant cocky brat that I was I deliberately said that this was going to be the most boring day in history simply because God has a twisted sense of humor. I was right about one thing. God does have a twisted sense of humor. That night he slapped me down with the hammer of shame and told me to get over myself. These turning points in my life are the only times I've experienced true fear and are also the only times I've clearly felt God's direction for my life. So last new years was the third time I've been given clear directions but that time was not accompanied with threats to my life but instead with peace and excitement; which was a novel change of pace for me.
So 2017 was the year I took by storm. I took the feeling that I could conquer the world and ran with it. I spent most of 2016 frustrated, angry, and bored. I was stuck and I knew I was waiting for something. You my reader will never know the relief I felt when God finally gave me a heading. The fear that I was wasting my life was replaced with anticipation for my next big adventure. God did not disappoint me either. 2017 was a whirlwind from start to finish. Meeting new people , cutting out old ones. Scrambling to discover the difference between stamps because government bureaucracy is ridiculous. 5 million passport photos and learning more about flowers than I thought was possible. Watching everything fall apart so it can fall back into place was a humbling experience.The bible says ask and it shall be given you. Seek and you will find, knock and it shall be ope unto you. Goals that I've been striving for since high school are being met. This year has seen dreams realized in ways that only God can make possible. I will definitely remember 2017 with bewilderment if nothing else.
Here's to 2018. I have no idea what's in store for me but I have every intention of attacking it with as much enthusiasm and pigheadedness (mitigated by God's grace of course) as possible. I encourage everyone to do the same thing.
Time is a funny thing. I think the Doctor said it best when he described time as wibbly wobbly. I've lived in Korea for a few months now but it doesn't feel like I've been gone for so long. One thing is for certain though; I have been here long enough to realize that I am most definitely NOT in Florida anymore. It was inevitable really. The misunderstandings, unaware faux pas. Disconnect between traditions or viewpoints. I have successfully managed to cover the entire spectrum of embarrassing encounters and lived to laugh about it. (or cringe in horror as the case may be.) I have done everything from accidentally high fiving coworkers to completely misreading a mans intent. It has been a very humbling experience to go from having an intellectual understanding that a culture is different to having a full body realization that I am the one that is strange here. On the other hand there is a small level of comfort in knowing that some things are universal. I think this story best illustrates my point.
Last Friday I arrived at my school and was told that we were going on a field trip. I love field trips. This particular field trip was a cooking expedition. Now I'm doubly excited. (free food is the best food.) About an hour into the experience students are dicing up mushrooms and pretending to hit each other with frying pans. Business as usual for middle school students. One of the other teachers approached me and invited me for a walk. Yea ok, it gets a little boring watching others have fun; let's walk around the facilities. I walk outside to see that it's not just a couple teachers taking a quick lap around the building. No it's every single teacher going for a hike up the mountain. This absolutely blew my blonde little brain. Nowhere in America would the staff get away with straight up leaving their middle school students behind with just the staff of wherever you were. That would never happen. Clearly our children were expected to behave because the other teachers had no problems with this. Alright, alright, I can roll with this. So we take a nice leisurely stroll up the mountain and come across an adorable little cottage. Can you imagine my panic when one of the teachers strolled up to the door and basically right into the house? The next thing I know I'm sitting cross legged in a little old ladies house munching on persimmons and drinking coffee. These are the moments in my life when I wonder "how on earth did I end up here?" While this was a surreal moment for me (sitting in a strangers house drinking coffee while my students are down the mountain eating shrooms.) There was one element that was extremely familiar to me. As I sat there listening to this grandmother chatter away I didn't understand 90% of her words but I knew exactly what she was talking about. We got her entire life's story in 45 minutes. An 84 year old woman who lived through the Japanese occupation and the Korean war sits alone in a cottage in a mountain village. While delivering flowers I have heard so many variations of this same story. That familiarity just added to the surrealness of the day. It's funny how so many things are different but at the end of the day we are all the same at our core.
I know that I'm sitting on the other side of the world from my family and country but most days it doesn't feel like that. I stalk my loved ones on Facebook all the time so it doesn't feel like I'm missing out on much. Anyone I want to talk to is readily available. On other days though I'm shocked by how distance affects my life. This week was Thanksgiving. I didn't even realize it was approaching until last Sunday when someone asked if I had any plans. In the back of my head I knew it was at the end of November and I had thought that it was funny that Christmas music and trees started popping up at the end of Halloween. I wasn't aware that I had unwittingly adopted the Korean holiday timeline. The full realization that I was missing a family holiday had not occurred to me. (To be fair this isn't the first time I've spent Thanksgiving away from home and it probably won't be the last.) I didn't weep buckets of tears over this though. I guess the best way to describe my emotions over quasi forgetting Thanksgiving is bemusement. I wasn't at home stuffing my face full of turkey but my family made it a point to connect with me and let me know that they love me. This Saturday I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with a new group of friends. So even though I'm on the other side I'm on the other side of the world I haven't lost anything but rather I've gained appreciation, perspective, and new experiences. That's not a bad thing at all. People often ask me if I miss home (family). No. I don't. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me strange. probably. I don't miss home because I bring home with me. Time and distance is irrelevant. I won't stress about the past and I look forward to the future while enjoying my present.
When I started this post I thought it was going to be an amusing show and tell of all my blunders since landing here. Instead it morphed into the not so earth shattering realization that life is what you make of it. That's what I enjoy about blogging; being able to reflect on my experiences. By trying to convey my life to my readers I gain insight into my own thoughts.
P.S. It's been snowing all freaking day. I kid you not my first class of the day walked in and asked........................DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOWMAN?!!?!?!?!
P.P.S. I now know how to build a snowman. I can also officially claim that I had to walk a mile in the snow uphill both directions to get to school.
Ladies and gentlemen many of you were afraid that I would not be getting enough to eat. That I would be surrounded by strange and disgusting delicacies. Well have no fear; little did you know Korea is actually Hobbiton. ( You only thought it was in New Zealand) Not only am I getting three square meals a day, I enjoy tea time, elevenses, brunch, AND a midnight snack. Food is a serious business here; no joke. Korea has gone far beyond perfecting the science of food and has transcended as an art form. There is actually a philosophy revolving around the perfect blend of flavor in order to bring out the true depth of dish. (I'm not even exaggerating. A farmer gave me this whole spiel when I asked what was in the soup.) Diets are fictitious as near as I can tell. Substituting a meal with a protein shake would be blasphemy. Their undying need to try EVERYTHING has create some truly bizarre food combinations that I find myself unable to live without now. So with my darling readers in mind I have faithfully chronicled every delightful palette surprise that I have encountered. WARNING: DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE HUNGRY. JEALOUSY WILL EAT A HOLE IN YOUR GUT.
For starters every meal looks something like this. You have your main entree, soup, rice, and an assortment of sides. Every meal; no matter what time of day has three staples: Soup, rice, and kimchi. Learn to love soup, rice, and kimchi because according to Korea this is the fountain of youth. (or at least longevity. the elderly here are remarkably well preserved. I blame the kimchi.) Kimchi in particular is the standard by which you judge a meal. It's so important that in the picture above we had not one but TWO types of kimchi!! You can choose between spicy or vinegary. If you don't have all three out of three on your plate you are WRONG. (or dying. in which case eat more kimchi.) It genuinely shocked me when I learned that there is not a designated breakfast item. Breakfast soup is the same as dinner soup. (They don't even call it cereal.)
Furthermore if you're starving at school you're doing it to yourself. Not only does school lunch come with the holy trinity. (kimchi not pictured above. I was young and ignorant. I have since learned the error of my ways.) It always comes with a meat and at least two other sides. Here's the kicker. You can go back for more. Students are not limited to one paltry tray. They can eat as much as they can shovel down their throats. (Michelle Obama has nothing on Korean Ajumma's)
I have unwittingly entertained many ajushi's with my lunch escapades. When I first arrived I would pack my lunch because I couldn't afford to buy the school lunches yet. so I would sit there with my sandwich and stare in envy at the fabulous food being consumed around me. I did not realize at first that I was viewed as a snob or picky. As such the food that I brought in was viewed with disdain (I couldn't blame them) and everyone was out to prove it. Case in point a farmer at one of my schools literally laughed at my discount store apples, went out and picked a few off of his trees and gave me one to prove which one was the superior apple. (guess which one was better?)
You cannot imagine my excitement when I got my first paycheck and signed up for school lunch. (never in my life would I have thought that I would be excited about school lunch.) I have finally thrown off the picky persona and now I get to amaze my coworkers with my chopstick finesse (or lack thereof.)
Food culture in schools doesn't start and end with the cafeteria though. It extends into the teacher break room. My experience with break rooms in America is a dingy area equipped with a mini fridge and a dying coffee maker. A few of the swankier ones had a Kurieg. Not so here. In one of my schools they grind fresh coffee beans every morning. they have a latte machine. they have the cool little doohickey that turns milk into froth. A wide selection of tea for those of us that eschew coffee; and snacks. With snacks who needs lunch? (just kidding hobbits don't miss lunch for snacks.) I love walking in at any given day and having a selection of apples, pancakes, cookies, and rice cakes at my disposal. Duk is the greatest thing ever. I could eat my weight in duk.
Duk is a chewy rice cake that comes in a variety of colors and fillings.
I'm a fan of these little cakes as well. It's basically a walnut bread with sweet red bean paste filling. I've always been a little skeptical of sweet red bean paste but it turns out my concerns were groundless. The stuff is divine.
Everyone has their own go to comfort food when they're sick. Most Americans will agree with me when I say that chicken noodle is pretty standard. I have been fortunate enough to discover my replacement if I get sick here. Ox tail soup. Nobody panic. As far as I could tell there was not any bits of hair or questionably ropey pieces of meat floating around inside. This soup warms the soul.
Not everything I've eaten has been strictly Korean though. Some days I'm just sick of rice and really want a taste of home. Funny thing about living in a foreign country though is that tastes of home are few and far in between. This is not the tragedy that you're thinking it is though. 9/10 the koreafied version of your favorites dishes are better than the original.
This is a pizza; complete with a stuffed cheese crust and sweet potato topping. You read that right. The yellow that is not cheese is sweet potato and it fits right in with the pineapple topping.
Why have a Mcdouble with fries when you can have a shrimp beef burger with cream and chocolate waffle fries?!?!?!
I never knew that egg salad could taste so good with mustard seeds and strawberry jam.
Another fun facet of Korean food is just how much of a sharing culture they are. (note: if sizes are not listed next to the food item you should assume it's mean't to feed five not one.) Meals are not meant to be eaten alone. Anytime I walk into a restaurant alone they always assume that I am getting to go. Naturally I'm meeting up with other people to eat with right??? I was with a group of coworkers one night. We had just finished dinner and was looking for dessert. We stopped at this cute little cafe and I ordered a mango shaved ice. This was what I got.
It was monstrous. One more thing; when it comes to food there is no such thing as stranger danger. I was lost in Jeonju and the bus driver took pity on me and gave me a juice pouch. the guy at the store gave me roasted sweet potatoes for free. Sharing is caring apparently.
Yes the food is remarkable here. I'm slightly glad that the scale that came with my apartment has a dead battery because I am currently in the process of demolishing an entire cake by myself. (strawberries are now in season so naturally I had to buy the closest thing to short cake I could find. Which was a honeyed pound cake.)
This is the moment we've all been waiting for! I have just received my first paycheck. Which means I have officially been earning my keep for a month. It honestly does not feel like I've been here this long. I have been experiencing a lot of emotions over this paycheck. Primarily joy. The long dark of no income is finally over!! (For those of you who don't know this is my first paycheck since August.) Shock and awe are strong contenders as well. Mostly though I was feeling extremely blessed.
Maybe it's been a combination of having money in the bank and a major holiday coming up but this past week I have spent a lot of time thinking about everything I have to be thankful for. (The first week of October is Chuseok. This is the equivalent of Korea's Thanksgiving) Specifically it all hit me as I was walking to school from the bus stop. I enjoy all my walks to my schools because the scenery is beautiful. One this particular journey the side walk is lined with flowers in a myriad of colors. I was admiring the flowers and reflecting on my life up to this point when I was suddenly mentally bombarded with all of the wonderful things to be thankful for. My apartment is clean and well maintained. All of the appliances work. The A/C blows cold. The windows seal well and are thick enough to keep cold air out. I come home and my apartment doesn't smell like pot or cigarettes. I walk down the street everyday and have not heard a single catcall or whistle. (I'll accept that people stare.) I have a job that is challenging and I enjoy it. The quality of my life had vastly improved and I hadn't even looked at my paycheck yet. Then I went shopping.
I was walking through the grocery store armed with my phone's calculator and my list when I nearly stopped cold from a startling realization. For the first time in my adult life I had enough money to buy everything on my list and then some while still staying in budget. You cannot imagine my glee when I looked at the spice jars and realized that I didn't have to choose I could buy them ALL. (I'm fairly certain the reason why some of the store clerks were following me was because I was grinning like a maniac and happily humming away as I threw basil AND oregano in my cart) Do you know what walking a mile and half with $80.00 worth of groceries feels like? Sore fingers and success.
The full reality of my new life finally came crashing down on me when I sat down to calculate the months budget. I'm no longer just scraping by. I have the potential to thrive. This has never happened to me before. I've always believed that God will provide everything I need and he hasn't disappointed me yet. I have to admit though that it's a nice change of pace to be able to sing his praises not during a storm. I pondered this latest development in my life and I realized something. I'm being set up.
In the bible there is one particular person I have always admired and identified with. Elijah; my personal hero. (Is anybody surprised?) At one point in his life he felt overwhelmed and ran away literally crashing under a tree in the middle of nowhere. (1 Kings 19:1-18. Read the full story for details) God didn't berate him. Instead he let him take a nap and gave him snacks. When Elijah was feeling up to the task, God took the time to show him again what was needed to be done. The job hadn't gotten any easier or prettier but now Elijah was feeling man enough for the task. This is where I am. The past two years have been extremely difficult for me. God knew that I was tired and close to walking. I've never thought of myself as a quitter but I was struggling with keeping focus on what was important and I was angry with myself because I knew I could be doing better. It was a vicious cycle and I needed a break. God has graciously allowed me a sabbatical.
This "napping" period has been critical because it has allowed me to better understand myself. For the first time in years I am in regular contact with people my own age and the disconnect has thrown me off. One question that several people have asked me is what do l like to do in the evenings/weekends. I don't know; I don't do anything because I've never had so much time to myself. The things that others enjoy doing are not even remotely appealing to me. I look at these other twenty somethings and realize that somehow I missed the "we're young!" stage. This doesn't really break my heart though. I don't regret how I've lived my life so far it just surprised me because I was confronted with how mentally old I am. (I'd like to say that life circumstances caused me to grow up faster but the reality is I've always been somewhat curmudgeonly.)
I've had enough time to myself now to feel confident in my service again. I've had my nap and God has given me enough snacks. (seriously I've had so many people shoving food into my hands these past couple weeks) I'm curious about what's next and I'm getting twitchy. I've enrolled in an online Korean language course so I can learn faster and more efficiently. (In theory) I love a good challenge and I know that God will deliver. Life is so exciting when you're playing for keeps!
Today marks the day that I have successfully (more or less) visited all of my schools thus concluding a week of education. It's been a crazy week and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. I'm sure the burning question is this: What are your schools like??? Never fear, I shall oblige you with an answer.
For starters I have three schools. My main school is Ancheon multilevel school. I teach elementary, middle and high school there three days a week. On Wednesdays I go to Paegun Elementary school. At Paegun I have an after school tutoring group. and on Friday's I am at Buwgi Middle school. At Buwgi I also teach the teachers. So I literally have all learning levels.
you must be thinking to yourself "Wow that sounds stressful. How have you not managed to crack?" Well it helps that the largest class I have is twelve students. I have three schools but they are the poster child for rural mountain communities. Honestly the most stressful part of my week was navigating the bus system. My schools are in three different cities none of which is my home town. Jinan is small the the cities my schools are in are microscopic. Everyday I leg it to the main bus terminal in Jinan which is about a ten minute walk. My morning's this week started out like this. I would hike to the terminal, stare at the bus schedule in determination (then desperation) realize that I still have no clue what it says; cave and go to the ticket window where I repeat the name of the city I need to get to in various accents until the lady figures out what I'm trying to say and hands me the ticket. Then I walk out to the bus lot and try to compare the symbols on the ticket to the signs on the bus until a granny gets fed up with my mystified expression and herds me to the correct bus where I then gratefully hand over my ticket and whip out the sticky note that has my final destination written on it in Korean. The bus driver then waves me into a seat and I sit there until he waves me off the bus while pointing in the general direction of the school. I then wander through the village waving my sticky note to anyone and everyone and the people band together to make sure the clueless ghost lady makes it to her final destination. This system worked fairly well for me in Paegun. A nice man actually followed me in his truck and pointed out where I needed to turn until I made it to the school grounds. I wasn't as successful in Bugwi because I didn't realize my note said elementary instead of middle school so I ended up on the wrong campus but it worked out in the end because one of the teachers there was kind enough to drive me the extra half mile to the middle school and explain to the teachers at the middle school that I was a lost child. So it was all good. getting back was basically a reverse of the process.
So after all of that I have to teach. No pressure right? Honestly meeting the children was the most enjoyable part of my week. Why? I hear you thinking? Because children are universal and they have never scared me. the boys and girls at Paegun elementary act exactly the same as the students at Hillcrest. Loud, kinda crazy, and can't stop touching. I had little girls take me by the hands and lead me on a tour of the school petting my hair the whole time and giggling while the boys ran ahead jumped off stairs and made crazy sound effects. The middle school students and I had a good time looking at my Facebook pictures as they tried to act cool and ask a million questions all at the same time. We all love Avengers and BTS. I don't know what overwatch is but Undertale is the best. High school students think they're adults in Korea as well. They tried to be sneaky with their staring instead of blatantly hanging out the window like the elementary students.
One of the veteran teachers here made the comment last night that I seemed to be adjusting rather well. I should hope so. None of this was new to me. The language might be different but people aren't. Also I made up my mind long before I came here to be content with whatever came my way. In this matter I think the Apostle Paul said it best. "11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:11-13.