Category: DMZ

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!

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…..it 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!!