Category: boat tour

Hwacheon peace forum

This weekend I headed up to Hwacheon, for what was undoubtedly my last trip up there – possibly ever, and certainly during the remainder of my Fulbright grant in Korea.  Knowing that made the whole weekend a little bittersweet, but it was still a great time overall.  School’s been really stressful and exhausting lately, so honestly I really didn’t want to go – I would have much preferred to just stay in Gyeongju and rest – but in the end I’m glad that I did.  I think I really just needed to get away from Gyeongju for a little bit, and I got plenty of rest during the 6-hour 1-way trip there and back :).

So anyway, the purpose of my trip was the 7th annual Hwacheon peace forum.  It was a really unique experience.  Around 20 American English teachers are each paired with a Korean high school student, and we spend the weekend getting to know each other and promoting inter-cultural peace and understanding.  
I got to the meeting point around noon on Saturday, and had lunch and caught up with the other Fulbrighters who were participating.  It was really nice to see them.  I hadn’t realized how much I missed talking in fluent English to people, and not being interrupted and ignored whenever someone came along saying something in Korean.  So it was a nice time to re-charge my batteries, which had been sorely worn down from frustration at school.  
Sarah’s host brother, Eunchan.  I love that kid.  He reminds me of my own little brothers <3
Anyway, since we were short on time, we jumped right into the weekend’s activities.  We drove to the Hwacheon cultural heritage museum first, and that was where we met our Korean “partners.”  They took us through the museum, telling us about some of the stuff behind the cases.  We even got an opportunity to dress up in tranditional Korean clothes, and I convinced my partner, Gwang-sik, to dress up with me and take a picture.  It was fun :).  

Me and my partner, Gwang-sik

I think that Eunchan was jealous of the swing 😉
After that, we headed to the DMZ.  I had been to the DMZ before, during orientation, but it was much different this time.  We went to a different zone, one of the closest South Korean bases to North Korea.  I could literally see the North Korean guard houses across the 3 layers of barbed wire fence and land mines.  We were cautioned that, while we were outside and within visibility range of the North Koreans, to please “don’t do anything that would make them suspicious and cause them to shoot on you.”  Comforting words, no?  Aside from that, though, it was much more poignant experiencing the DMZ with Koreans.  I talked with several of them who had family in North Korea; hearing their stories, seeing their earnest desire to be reunited with their families, touched me in a way that a simple tour of the DMZ could have never done.
After the DMZ we headed to our lodging for the night – a hanok, or a traditional Korean-style house.  We got a couple of demonstrations before dinner – how to make ddok (Korean rice cake) the traditional way (basically, by just pounding the living daylights out of super sticky rice and constantly rubbing water over it), and also how the hanoks were constructed.  We got to try to put together a model of one of the corners of the house – it was fun, like an enormous puzzle.  We also got to try our hand at pounding the rice, and I’m happy to report that the carpenter’s daughter did not disappoint, and that I pounded it quite satisfactorily (thanks, dad!).  

Sarah smashing the rice

My turn….

….and Leora.  From her face, it looks like she had some inner aggression to work out 🙂

Telling us about how hanoks are built

Tada!  We did it!
That evening, the Korean students’ parents treated us to a Korean barbecue dinner, with watermelon for dessert.  Yummyyyyy.  We played lots of games outside until it got dark, and then we all moved inside and played more games.  I love group games, but I don’t often get to play them, so this was a lot of fun – the added cultural element of doing it with Koreans and Americans made it all the more interesting :).  
Barbecue!  Yummy!

Me and Hanna.  She was awesome 🙂

Playing games…..we were silly 🙂

The next morning we went to see the World Peace Dam and Bell.  I found the bell, which weighs around 35 tons and was made from the recycled shells and casings of wars that have been fought all over the world, very symbolic and moving.  That was also where we had our official “peace talk.”  We sat down in a group, and just popcorn-commented, each person sharing their feelings on peace, North/South Korean relations, the roles of foreigners in the Korean conflict, and whatever else they wanted to say.  It was a very moving, touching time.  I felt so honored to be a part of such a special time of cultural exchange and awareness.  

There are 4 doves, facing North, South, East, and West.  If you can see in the picture, the dove facing the North has a broken wing.  It will be repaired when North and South Korea are re-united.

Ringing the peace bell!

It’s hard to see, but the peace dam is behind us to the left

Peace talk
After the peace talk, we got to take a ferry back to Hwacheon – I was super happy about that.  I loveeee boats :).  And then, that was it!  Many Fulbrighters had traveled a really long way, including myself, so no one really wanted to hang out much after the weekend ended.  We all scattered and headed our respective ways, wanting to get home so that we could finish up our lesson plans for this week and get some sleep.  I finally made it home around 9:00 pm.  It was a long weekend, but I’m really glad that I went.  Now if I can only make it through this week, I’ll be golden!

Cambodia

My second layover in Kuala Lumpur was just about as long as the first one.  However, since this time it was in the middle of the night, I decided to just find a place to sleep and not do any sightseeing.  I looked online and found that there was actually a hotel in the KL airport, so I booked a night there and thought that that was that.  But when I arrived in the airport from India, I found out that this hotel is not accesible from the lost-cost carrier terminal….my terminal.  But, no sweat, there was a hotel just a few minutes away from the terminal, technically still on the airport grounds.  They even offered a shuttle service!  So I walked to the shuttle…and that’s where my problems started.  The shuttle was full, so the driver told me that I should walk.  Somehow, I doubted the wisdom of his scheme to tell a single girl to go walking by herself in the the middle of the night in an airport in Asia, but I was super tired, so I just silently walked the hotel.  All I wanted was a bed to sleep in.  But alas, the universe had other plans.  I arrived at the hotel to find that they were completely booked.  So I slogged back to the airport, by this time thoroughly prepared to spend the night sleeping on a chair in the airport.However, as I was getting settled on my little chair, I happened to glance over and noticed a sign for the airport’s “premium lounge.”  I initially balked at the price, but then I decided that a safe place to sleep and a shower were more important, so I bit the bullet and paid the price.  But it was so worth it in the end.  I had such a limited time in Cambodia, that I would not have been able to enjoy it if I had been sleep deprived and grumpy the whole time.  As it was, I got a shower, had reliable internet for a while (and even got to talk to my mother while I was there, woot!), took a shower, got some sleep, AND had breakfast.  Definitely worth the money.

My hostel in Cambodia was as wonderful as the first hostel in India was horrible.  They were there waiting for me at the airport (in a TUK-TUK, no less!!), and took me to the hostel free of charge.  The main lobby area of the hostel is also an outside restaurant / hangout area.  It is covered with hanging plants, and cool quite nooks to sequester yourself in, and flowers, and gentle water rippling in the background.  Upon checking in, I was greeted with an incredibly friendly staff who made the arrangements for any sort of excursion that I wanted.  They even greeted me with a fruity drink, to refresh me from my travels!  Walking into the room, I was greeted by a huge bed (which also happened to be the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in…ever), a modern bathroom….and flowers!  They had scented jasmine flowers strewn all over the room!  I had been in Cambodia less than an hour, and was already in love with it.

My hostel

I was determined to make the most of my extremely limited time there, so I dropped my stuff off and immediately headed out again.  I felt as safe in Cambodia as I felt unsafe in India, and decided to go exploring on my own for a while.  I hired a tuk-tuk to take me to the arts district, and then let him go so I could meander home on my own.  So I walked through a place called Artisans of Angkor, which takes young artisans from all over the country and gives them a year of training in their craft, so that they can make a living doing it.  Pretty cool place….

Walking home, I got asked by several drivers if I needed a ride.  But the beautiful thing about Cambodia is that they respected my answer when I said no.  In India, people would follow you for blocks and blocks, entreating you to to buy their products the entire time, no matter how strenuously you denied their offers.  But in Cambodia, they asked once, and if you said no, they backed off and let you be.  It was a wonderful thing.

In the afternoon, I went on a boat cruise down the Tongle Sap lake.  The ride lasted about 4 hours, with a few stops mid-way.  The main ride took us through a huge floating village in the middle of the lake.  It was fascinating to see these people living completely, constantly on the water.  I wonder if they ever yearned to be on land for a change of scenery, like I sometimes yearn to be on the water.  There were other people on the tour with me, mostly from France.  My one semester of college French allowed me to make some small talk with them, but I was really wishing that I knew a bit more.  But it was still a blast.  Being on the water, with the cool breezes ruffling through my hair, was so incredibly relaxing.  I could have stayed there all day.  The only thing that I didn’t like was the snake children.  Cambodian women have a habit of putting snakes (non-poisonous ones, I hope!) around their small children’s necks (we’re talking, like 3 and 4 year olds).  Then then paddle around in small boats when the tourists show up, and anytime someone wants to take a picture of their child, they extract a small sum from them.  I’m not sure exactly what it was, but something about that particular practice really really bothered me.

We stopped at a crocodile farm – they creeped me out!!
This is what they did with the crocodiles….

But anyway, Cambodia was a wonderful experience, so let’s move on to happier things! 🙂  My hostel is owned and operated by a lovely Australian couple.  Twice a week, they offer an all-you-can-eat Australian bar-b-que.  So that’s where I found myself Tuesday evening.  Boy I tell you what, when they said all-you-can-eat, they meant it.  There were chicken kabobs, and beef kabobs, and vegetarian kabobs, and all sorts of grilled meats, and sausages, and salads, and potatoes, and fruits, and breads….it was amazing.  I went to bed one very happy puppy that evening.

The next day I headed out to see Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the entire world.  I was planning on getting up early and watching the sunrise….but my bed was far too comfortable.  So I missed the sunrise, and I’m entirely ok with that….the bed was worth it :).  I was on a different tour with different people this time, some of who also spoke a foreign language.  Except this time, they spoke Spanish…and I was in heaven!  There was a Taiwanese couple who spoke fluent English, a lady from Colorado named Carolyne (more on her later!), and a couple from Madrid, Spain.  She spoke a little bit of English, but he spoke none at all, and so the three of us talked in Spanish almost the entire day.  It was amazing…I had forgotten just how much I love Spanish – speaking it, hearing it, everything.  Reminiscing about Spain was just an added bonus :).

Angkor Wat in all its splendour
The whole group having a Khmer picnic lunch!
There was a wedding at Angkor wat while we were there 🙂
The steps to the top – it was a 70/100 slope!!

So anyway, we spent the whole day on a walking tour through the temples of Angkor.  It was really cool at first, but I have to admit, by the end of the day, they were all starting to look the same.  The other American in the group, Carolyne, was in her 70’s, and she finally called it quits when we got to the last temple, and waited for us while in the van while we were walking.  Honestly, I wanted to do the exact same thing, but I refused to be outdone by middle-aged people, and so my stubbornness won out and I persevered :).  But regardless of our age difference, Carolyne and I really hit it off on the tour, and she invited me back to her hotel when it ended to go swimming.  As sore as I was from all of that walking, I gladly took her up on her offer.  So I went swimming in my jean shorts and t-shirt (I hadn’t brought a bathing suit), and we just talked for a couple of hours.  She’s a fascinating woman.  She’s a French and art teacher, and has lived for extended periods with her husband working as a teacher all over the world.  Now that he’s gone, she travels the world on her own seeing as many things and meeting as many people as she can before she dies.  I want to be like her when I grow up :).

I had to cut our visit short, however, because I had a dance to go to!  Cambodia is famous for their traditional style of dance, Aspera dancing, and my wonderful hostel had arranged for me to go to an Aspera show in the evening.  The performance was in a big buffet-style hall, and because I was a party of one I got seated alone at a small table right near the front.  The view was great, but the seating was rather lonely.  But that was quickly rectified.  A woman was walking by me as I was getting settled, and she happened to say, “Oh, you’re here alone?  Me too!”  So I invited her to join me, and she accepted, and we had a wonderful talk.  Liliana was just as fascinating as Carolyne was.  She was born in Columbia, but moved away when she was 18, and now lives in Switzerland.  So in the end, I got the best of both worlds – a great view, and also someone to share it with :).

My meal at the Aspera restaurant – it was soooo yummy
Aspera dancing!!!

And that was it.  That was the entirety of my stay in Cambodia.  I took a Tuk-tuk to the airport early the next morning, bought a coconut for breakfast (which, suffice it to say, undoubtedly put me on cloud nine), and headed back to Kuala Lumpur.  Even the airport was lovely this time, with a huge Lunar New Year’s celebration going through the terminals while I was there.  One of the flight attendants gave me 2 oranges…which became my dinner that night :).  Cambodia was the epitome of relaxation and rest, with the warmth of the sun rivaled only by the warmth of the people, and I can say with ease that I most certainly want to return there sometime in the near-ish future.

My coconut!!!  It’s been years since I’ve had one…I was sooo happy 🙂
Lunar new year celebration in the KL airport

One month

Today marks the one-month anniversary of my arrival in Seville. I thought now would be a good time to tell you all of the stories that I have wanted to talk about, but haven’t had the time or forgotten or lo que sea…enjoy!

Story number 1: I went on a boat tour of the city one day last week. There’s a river that runs through the middle of the city, and we went on an hour-ish long boat ride that showed me the aquatic view of the landmarks that have become so familiar to me these past 4 weeks. I went with several other students…it was great fun. I love boats so much :D. On that note, one of the girls here, Virginia, lives about 30 minutes away from Berry College, and she lives on a lake and has a boat and jet skies and everything. You know where I’ll be spending my weekends this spring… 🙂

Story 2: Last Thursday I went to Itálica, the oldest Roman colonized city in the world. It was here (so they say) that the great Roman empire began. I got to see the great Colosseum, that used to hold 25,000 people at a time during the gladiator fights; the underground tunnels where the Gladiators lived; the subterranean cages where they kept the animals; the gardens surrounding the city; and the ruins of old Roman houses of the nobility. It was way cool :).

Story 3: Also last week (I told you last week was busy!) I went to see a “corrida de toros” (a bullfight). I’m glad I went – it was definitely an experience. But I will never go again. I don’t think I realized that they killed every bull that competes, nor did I realize the extent of the cruelty that they inflict on it before they kill it :(. Everyone assured me that it was ok, because the bulls lead great lives before they are killed, but I still think it’s wrong. And I don’t even like animals! I can’t imagine what the vegetarians thought, lol. Seville (and I suppose Spain, in general) is a very interesting city. On the one hand, it’s super liberal and progressive – homosexual marriage is legal and normal, most women work outside if the home, and topless or nudist beaches are the norm, not the exception. But it also is full of ancient traditions and antiquated customs, such as the bullfight. It creates a dynamic that’s very interesting to observe…

Story 4: I have also started a job tutoring 3 kids in English. They are 11, 9, and 7, and I go twice a week and help them with their homework for an hour. The problem is that the don’t need 2 hours of help a week, they have a lot of energy, and they’re learning anatomy. I barely know what those things mean in English….forget about Spanish!! So I’ve been spending a lot of time preparing for that. I found a game to play with them that they really liked, but I can already tell they’re going to get bored with that really quickly. Another problem is that they’re all at different levels and studying different things, I haven’t figured out yet how to clone myself. Teaching them all at once is proving to be quite challenging :(. But I figure hey, if I can do this, I can do anything! Plus, it’ll look really good on my application for the Fulbright teaching assistantship. If any of you guys have any suggestions for me, however, I am more than open to ideas :).

Oh, here’s another exciting story. Mom probably won’t like it, but I’m still alive, so it’s all good, right? Anyway, I went out with Justo again last night, just to walk around and have a drink; as we were leaving the bar, I got hit by a car! Don’t worry, it barely nicked me – I hardly felt it. But it sounds exciting to say that I got hit by a car, lol ;). I’ve almost gotten hit several times – the streets here are sooo narrow, and the people drive with reckless abandon. But I’ve learned the safer paths to take, and don’t walk with headphone on so I can be more aware of my surroundings. But this time we were in a super narrow alley and a car was coming. I flattened myself against the wall, but his rear-view mirror hit me. It didn’t hurt, just moved his mirror a little bit. Justo laughed at me :(. He does that a lot – I ordered hot tea at the bar (actually I just ordered tea, expecting cold tea, but since I didn’t specify, they gave me hot), and he said that I was weird – in both of our mutual languages. He also speaks French and Italian, and occasionally shows off, much to my chagrin :D. I told my professor today that I went out with my intercambio last night, and the FIRST thing he asked me was if he was cute – which now makes…5 people who have asked me that. I never know how to answer that! If I say no, then it’s an insult, but if I say yes, then it’s assumed that I like him! I can’t win… 🙁

Anyway, I gotta go for now – gotta figure out what the heck I’m going to do with my kids next time I see them! I’ve posted pictures of all of my stories from this update here.