Category: American Embassy

Seoul and DMZ weekend

The capital city of Seoul is a bustling metropolis of super-sized proportions.  The city, which over 10 million people call home, seems to extend forever.  It is exciting and overwhelming, diverse and homogenous, fancy and cheap, all at the same time.  My time in Seoul this past weekend did not disappoint in any of those categories.  But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself…

We left Goesan for Seoul bright and early Friday morning, around 5:00 am in the morning.  On our way to Seoul, however, we made a detour – to the DMZ.  I’ve always thought that the DMZ  – which stands for Demilitarized Zone – is an ironic name for possibly the most militarized place in the entire modern world.  As a part of our orientation, we were allowed to go as far into the DMZ as the actual border between North and South Korea.  And let me tell you what, it was sooo tense.  There were so many rules about how we should behave, gesture, or dress, or even where we should look.  We were checked by South Korean soldiers for identification on more than one occasion.  We had a security escort for the entire duration of the tour.

The thought that these two countries at war, these two mortal enemies, the thought that they were brothers and families at one point, and in many cases still are… broke my heart.  War is always bad, but when it’s between families, it’s even worse.  I realize that visiting the DMZ is a privilege that very few people have been afforded, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave it at the end of the tour.

After the DMZ, we went to eat dinner with the American ambassador to South Korea, in her personal home.  At first it was supposed to be an outside pool party, but it got rained out, so it was moved inside.  Because it was moved into her home, that also meant that it was shortened, which meant that by the time we got there we only had about an hour to mingle and eat dinner.  It was a bit rushed, but I still got to eat a yummy legitimate American barbecue and talk with some really interesting embassy officials, including the ambassador.  Plus apparently her home is really famous, and it’s a very big honor to be allowed inside it, so that was cool.

After dinner, despite our super early morning, some of my friends wanted to go out that evening.  You’ve got to make the most of your time, right? 🙂  So we went out for ice cream, and then went to a 노레방 (norebang; basically a Korean karaoke) – it was my first time!!  It was so much fun.  At one point I looked around and thought to myself, “look how much fun you can have if you’re not drinking!”  It made me happy to think that we were having a ball, and not a drop of alcohol was involved.

Saturday, bright and early, I went out with a group of friends for breakfast in the morning.  After that, they went shopping at Costco (ahh, the pull of American stores in foreign countries, lol), and I made my way to the War Museum.  Technically it’s a museum on all of the wars in Korea’s history; but in reality, it’s about the Korean War.  Two floors of the three-floor museum are devoted to that war alone.  It was pretty incredible.  Considering the subject of the museum, I cannot really in good conscious say that I actually liked my visit; it was, however, very moving.  To see the sacrifice, the heroism that those men displayed – both Korean and foreign – made me realize just how detached I was from the Korean War, and how little of it I really about.  It was very eye-opening and sobering.  I think my favorite part of the museum, however,, was when I was standing in the room with busts of famous and gallant Korean soldiers.  I had stopped at a particular statue, and was reading in awe about an officer who had post-humulously been awarded the highest honor in Korea after he had thrown his body over a live grenade in order to protect his men.  An elderly Korean man came up behind me and tapped my shoulder.  In broken English, he managed to tell me that the very man whom I had just been so admiring – that man had been his captain before his death.  It was very  moving, to say the least.  And then he let me take his picture with the statue, which just made it even cooler.  
Entrance to the War Museum
Flowers decorating the bases of the plaques containing the names of the Koreans who died in the Korean War – hundreds and thousands of names.  It was very moving.

Korean soldier and his fallen captain
I had to rush out of the museum early because I had made plans to meet with some friends to go to the big shopping district in Seoul later that might.  None of us, however, are very big shoppers, so we didn’t stay very long.  We got some food, got lost a few times, I bought a pair of dress shoes because my friend informed me that the ones I was going to wear were simply not acceptable, and then we made our way back to the hotel on the subway.  I spent a lot of time on the subway this weekend 🙂

Sunday, our last day of freedom, dawned humid and rainy.  But we decided to go on an adventure anyway, and we made our way to Seoul tower, a huge tourist attraction that overlooks the entire city.  I had heard that you could get to the tower by cable car, so I looked up directions online on how to get to the cable car pick-up point.  However, because I didn’t have access to a printer, I had to simply take a picture of my computer screen with the instructions on it.  I’m sure we must have looked a sight – 5 foreigners, huddled around a little camera, trying to find their way through the backstreets of Seoul :).  But find it we did, and the ride to the top of the mountain was exciting, albeit gray and foggy.  Once we got to the top of the mountain, we decided not to pay for the ticket to the top of the tower because of the weather.  The view wouldn’t have been good, anyway.

At the base of Seoul tower
Sarah and Leora got their portraits done 🙂

But we certainly didn’t do nothing!  Instead of going to the top of the tower, we decided to go to the…..Teddy Bear Museum!!  It’s a museum about the history of South Korea, but all of the people are illustrated with teddy bears!  It was really cute, I enjoyed it alot :).

One of my favorite pictures at the Teddy bear museum.  It reminds me of what Hope was doing on our walls while we were remodeling our kitchen 🙂

After the Teddy Bear Museum, I went out with a few others to eat at, and I quote, “the best noodle restaurant…ever.”  I must say, I think that was a pretty accurate quote.  I was in absolute heaven.  I have no idea what I ate, but whatever it was, it was incredible.

One plate of heavenly goodness, coming right up!!

After noodles, I went to the English service at Onnuri church.  One of our orientation coordinators goes to that church, and so he took us with him.  It was amazing.  I have immensely enjoyed the Bible studies I have been a part of during orientation, but being in a large worship service is something that I had still been sorely missing.  The message was challenging and very timely applicable to the new life that I am about to start.  I was so glad I went.  Worshiping the Lord with a body of other believers refreshes my soul like nothing else can.

The inside of Onnuri church

I was pretty tired after all of that, but in the evening some of my friends wanted to go to Insadong, the arts district, to get some rice cakes and other desserts.  After much hesitation, I decided to go with them.  I was super tired, but hey, you only live once, right? 🙂  It was alot of fun, I’m really glad I went.  It was really nice to be able to spend one last night out with the people who have become so dear to me before we all leave for our placements.

Green tea patbingsu….yummmm 🙂

I love my friends 🙂

Monday had quite a different flavor to it.  Monday was my official graduation from Korea University – that was the school with which my orientation Korean class were affiliated.  It was a huge event.  All of our teachers were there, as well as all of the Fulbright office staff and, of course, all of the ETAs.  There were speeches, awards, and honors given.  Each class performed some kind of final presentation – some did skits, some did movies, some did K-pop dances, some did speeches, all were very good.  And after that….that was it!  We said goodbye to our teachers and left.  It was a very sad parting – certainly more than just a few tears were shed.

My whole class with our teachers after graduation

Well, that’s all of my adventures in Seoul this past weekend!  Adventures in Gyeongju will be following shortly!!

Donghae weekend

Well, another few days in Korea have been successfully survived!  And no, “survival” is not an exaggeration.  Every day I look at the calendar and am utterly astonished that only one day – or less – has passed.  It seems like I have been in South Korea months and months and months….but it’s only been 2 weeks.  I never thought it possible to pack so much into so little time as they have been doing here during orientation.  All of the returning ETAs assure us that we will have much more free time on our hands once we get to our schools….I sure hope so, because at this pace I will be dead by November.

The entourage from the American Embassy came on Wednesday, like I mentioned last week.  It was really cool.  They talked about all sorts of random stuff that you never think about needing help with until the situation is upon you.  Well, now I know what to do!  And mom and dad, don’t worry, if I get incarcerated while here, the Embassy will visit me every 6 months, or anytime I request a visit ;).

The next day, Thursday, was panel day.  A bunch of returning ETAs came and talked to us about all sorts of things – schools, traveling, homestays, locations….you name it, they mentioned it.  It was informative; however, at the same time, I’m starting to feel like I’m on information overload.  They’ve thrown so much information at us in such a short time, that it’s all starting to sound the same.  Really, I think there are some things that we’re just going to have to figure out for ourselves.

Friday morning, bright and early, we left for a weekend in Donghae, courtesy of the Korea-America Educational Commission, the umbrella organization for Fulbright Korea.  It was about a three hour bus ride to Donghae from Jungwon, during which I slept for most of it, while trying unsuccessfully to study for my text on Monday.  After checking into the hotel, we made our way to a Buddhist temple (Samhwasa temple).  It was interesting to see, but at the same time I felt very out of place.  We even stayed for the evening worship service; again, cool to see, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave at the end of the day.

The temple was nestled in the mountains, amid streams and trees and all sorts of other lovely things.  We stopped and played in the water and on the rocks before heading back to the buses.  I think that I was slightly worrying my orientation coordinators when I all of a sudden stopped and insisted that I have a cigarette immediately.  But no, I had not discovered a sudden urge to smoke tobacco.  I got stung by a wasp on the way down, and years ago my dad had taught me this great remedy for drawing out the poison by putting a tobacco paste on the wound.  So I got my cigarette, fixed my leg, and got some funny smiles in the process :).

Some of the rocks on the way to the Buddhist temple

Entrance to the temple complex

Inside of one of the buildings

Evening worship service

Saturday was glorious.  We had the entire day to do whatever we wanted – no meetings, no classes, no nothing.  I went to the beach for a few hours in the morning – it was a beautiful day – and then went and explored a beach cave that I had read about in a tourist brochure.  It’s really random – it’s this huge natural cave located right in the center of downtown Donghae.  I love caves, and this one certainly did not disappoint.  

Yay for beaches!!  Saturday was Christiana’s birthday 🙂

Dinner the first night was simply a huge buffet, of which the most exciting thing that I ate was a tiny octopus – the entire animal was only about the size of a golf ball.  I’d had octopus before, but never a whole one; even though I don’t really like octopus, I ate it just to be able to say I did :).  Far more exciting, however, was Saturday night dinner.  Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) – pig stomach – is a very popular Korean dish.  It’s also a very unique cultural experience.  We are seated at tables with small grills built right into the table, and then the waiters bring out plates of raw slabs of meat.  The diners grilled the meat themselves at the table, which is then wrapped up into pieces of lettuce with slices of garlic, peppers, onions, chili pepper, kimchi (we grilled ours right along with the meat!), mushrooms, sesame oil, plus a host of other things which I have no idea what they are called.  So you wrap it all up in the lettuce, and eat it with your hands; definitely NOT a good first date meal! 🙂  Aside from the initial distaste at the thought of eating pig stomach, it was delicious, and tons of fun to make, too!  That’s why I don’t ever ask what I’m eating in a foreign country before I eat it, lol…

My first Samgyeopsal experience

And it’s definitely an experience 🙂

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel.  It was a wonderful weekend, but I must say I’ll be glad to have a bed again.  I spent the whole weekend sleeping on the marble floor – many parts of Korea don’t use beds; they simply put a sheet on the ground.  

Our bed!  Sort of….

The hotel we stayed at in Donghae

On our way back to Jungwon, we stopped at a museum for several hours.  This place was owned by the same man who owns both Jungwon University and the hotel we stayed at in Donghae, and it is meant to house his own private collection.  It was a very eclectic collection – it had geology, fossils, and art from all different nations – Maya, Inca, Europe, China, Korea, India, etc.  It was unlike any museum I’ve ever seen, and I really enjoyed wandering the halls and seeing and discovering new things.

Notice the artificial caves, fountain of Poseidon, and Korean buildings all in one shot.  Yeah, it was a very eclectic complex….

That’s about a 30 foot long wood carving of an artistic rendering of the Great Wall of China

Rocks!!  I love rocks! 😀

So the weekend was wonderful, but now it’s back to the daily grind.  I’ve got 2 meetings tonight, a test in Korean tomorrow, an assignment due on Tuesday, plus Camp Fulbright starts this week, so I’m also going to be observing and teaching classes.  Oh well, I guess all good things must come to an end….**sigh**.  Time to hit the books; I love y’all!