Category: Hwacheon

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!

Hwacheon Ice Festival

The day after my English camp ended, I found myself on a bus, headed back up to Hwacheon.  This time, however, the occasion was not Sarah’s birthday, but rather the Sancheoneo Ice Festival….and to see my dear friends Leora and Frank, of course (Sarah and Adam weren’t there).  Leora and Frank met me in Chuncehon, and we had some of their famous ddalk-galbi for dinner (meat and rice cakes and cabbage all grilled together into a spicy, delectable mess), and then took the 45-minute bus up to Hwacheon together.

The next day, Sunday, was festival day!  We went sledding on traditional Korean sleds, and posed with the ice sculptures, and went through a lighted ice tunnel (that was COOL!), and went inner tubing down a big snowy hill (5 times!), and basically did all things icy and snowy as possible.  As an added bonus, Leora and Frank even went zip-lining, but by then my toes were frozen and my fear of heights was kicking in, so I elected to stay on the ground and cheer them on.

We went back to the house in the late afternoon to thaw out, but evening found us back at the festival to enjoy the night life!  They had ice sculptures and wooden carving displays and lights and we saw it all….as an added bonus, for free, because Sarah’s host father runs the display and let us in.  He even gave us a personal tour! 🙂  He even invited us back to his house that evening, so we spent the night with them.  Even without Sarah, it was really nice to get to catch up with her wonderful host family.  Next stop…India!!

Homestay changes

Whew!  Where do I start??  This past week has been an absolute whirlwind.  I did have some fun cultural activities.  Art, a Fulbrighter from Pohang, came for dinner tonight.  So we found a cute little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant, and then walked around downtown some – even ran into one of my fellow Gyeongju-ites.  I went to listen to a youth orchestra on Friday night – that was cool.  They were very good, and the music was incredibly soothing to my tired soul.  After that, a bunch of foreigners got together and shot of some fireworks – I really enjoyed that.  They certainly didn’t compare to Busan, but it was still fun.  I taught my students the electric slide during dance class.  As I sat there, watching 40+ little Korean students and teachers doing the electric slide, all I could think was, “cultural ambassadorship for the win.” 😀  It was epic, lol.

Gyeongju youth orchestra choir.  I snapped a picture before they came and yelled at me 🙂
Can you say “cultural ambassadorship?” 🙂

But the biggest issue in my life this past week, by far, has been the subject of the homestay.  If you read my blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve had lots of difficulties with the host family these past few months.  Well, it all came to a head this week.  Amid a flurry of phone calls and tears from the host sister, co-teacher, and even the host mother, I was told on Wednesday that I would be moving – on Thursday.  So I rushed home that night to pack, and by Thursday evening I was in my Korean friend’s home.  However, to make an epically long story somewhat shorter, because it was not a full Korean home (her husband is Canadian) that could not be my permanent home.  So on Saturday, I moved again – into my third home of the week, and hopefully my last one of the year.  Needless to say, all I did after church on Sunday was sleep – I was so emotionally drained from everything that had happened that I didn’t have the energy to do anything.

Shi-yeon, Steve, myself, and Dryden, during the day and a half that I lived with them.

I was hesitant to get too excited about my host family.  They seem pretty cool, but then my last host family seemed pretty cool at first, too.  But gradually I think I’m being convinced that this situation will be different.  My new host sister,  Insuk, is really outgoing and talks to me a lot (when she’s not in school, lol).  Even my host parents, although they don’t speak any English, are trying really hard.

I got home today and my host parents fed me (a definite improvement from the last home) and complimented me on my Korean handwriting and told me to take lots of showers because my face is breaking out from stress (I know that means that they care, but I could do without the dermatological scrutiny, lol) and looked at pictures of my family in the states and informed me that the little ones simply must come and visit them – regardless of the price of airfare.  I feel more welcome here after just 2 days than I ever did in my old home.  I brought some famous Gyeongju bread home for them tonight, and we sat down and ate it together with banana milk and orange juice.  It was nice to spend some time with them :).  
So my mom (my real mom) said that if I’m exhausted for the next week or so, that’s a good thing, because it means my defenses have been let down and I feel like I can finally relax at home.  If she’s right, then I’m very relaxed, indeed – I’m completely, utterly exhausted.  But I’m happier and feel less stressed than I’ve been in a long time.  So that’s a good thing, I guess :).  But for now, I need to get some sleep.  I’ll have some pictures from school up soon!
My new room
This house actually has a living room, where the family can spend time together!  Super excited about that…
My favorite part of the house…a little balcony that overlooks the living room and has a window looking out over the city.  Best reading nook I’ve seen in Korea yet 🙂
 

Rice cake festival, Seoul, and Hwacheon

Whew!  What a whirlwind weekend I’ve had!!  I’m grateful for the opportunities to see so many things, but MAN I’m looking forward to not traveling every weekend!  I’m sooo tired….but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?Last week was fairly uneventful.  Classes and study went by as usual, with nothing particularly exciting to report.  The one exception to that would be Wednesday.  A bee got into the classroom in the middle of my lesson, and I quickly realized that ignoring it, my preferred choice, was not an option.  The girls were screaming and running away from it, and there was absolutely no way I was going to get them to pay attention to the lesson.  So I intended to just shoo it out of the classroom, but he wasn’t cooperating and time was a-wasting.  So I must admit, I was forced to sacrifice the poor bee in the name of education.  The response I got from my girls, however, was quite amusing.  I got a standing ovation, a chorus of “We love you, teacher!” and even “Teacher, you’re my hero!” a few times.  Almost makes me want to let bees run loose in the classroom just so I can kill them, lol…

The other excitement on Wednesday happened after school.  Songi, my host sister, had a test, so she got out of school early.  She actually asked me to walk home with her – at which I jumped at the opportunity – and then I suggested that we go to the Rice Cake and Wine Festival, which was happening in Gyeongju at the time.  She agreed, and we spent the whole afternoon hanging out together at the festival, even making rice cakes and eating dinner together.  With all of the stress and tension that’s been happening in my homestay lately, it was so wonderful to just be able to enjoy her company for a while.

Songi convinced me to dress up like the ancient Queen Seondeok (who my school is named after)
Making 똑 (rice cakes)!
Apparently she WAS smiling!  Lol…

I also have a newfound respect for her.  On our way back we decided to take a taxi, and long story short he basically totally ripped us off.  He went the ABSOLUTE longest way back home that he could, and our fare was about 3 times longer than it should have been.  Well, I knew what was going on but wasn’t really able to do anything about it.  But Songi?  She would have none of it.  First she called her mother (while still in the taxi) and starts complaining about how the taxi driver’s ripping us off, so that he could hear her.  Then she hung up and starting laying into him.  Then she called the taxi company and complained about him to them.  And THEN, when we finally got out of the cab, she warned the people getting in after us to find a different taxi!  This coming from the girl who’s normally so shy she won’t even let me put the camera on her face when we skype with friends back home!  I was so proud of her!!!!

So anyway, that was my week’s worth of excitement…now on to the weekend!  On Friday night, after my dance class, I went up to Seoul on the KTX (Korea’s super-fast bullet train) with my friend Harry.  THAT was an adventure before we even got to the train station!  My school took me out for dinner after dance class, but I had to leave early to make my train, so I took a taxi back home….and then I realized that I had forgotten my credit cards at school, so I had to take a taxi there to get them, and then another one back home; I got into my fourth taxi of the night to FINALLY head to the KTX, but then we had to turn around again because Harry thought he had forgotten something (which it turns out that he hadn’t).  So by the time my FIFTH taxi of the night brought me to the KTX station, we had to run to make our train – we did make it, but it was tight!  Not the way I would have wanted my weekend to start, but I guess it makes for a good story, right? 🙂

My first KTX ride ever!!

So Saturday we spent milling around Seoul.  There was an expat festival that we went to in the morning.  I met some cool people there, but the festival was all outside and they weren’t prepared to handle the rain that came, so we left a little bit after lunch.  We were contemplating going to Lotte World, which is like the Disney World of Korea, but the torrential rains kind of killed those plans.  So instead, we decided to go see…Cats!  Yes, the award-winning dancing and singing extravaganza has made it all the way to Korea!  And, while I’m sure some of the brilliance was lost on me, since it was all in Korean, I was still definitely able to appreciate the fabulous sets, talented singers, and incredible dancing.  Add to the mix smart phones, with which we could look up the synopsis of Cats during intermission, and we got along just fine :).

One of the performances at the expat festival
Left to right – Tony from Sweden, Yu from China, me, Harry, and Fabriccio from Italy.  I love traveling…….but man, I’m tiny!! 😀

Our evening was spent in the rain in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  We went to a Jordanian restaurant called Petra Palace and got hummus and falafel for dinner, and I was super happy :). Sunday morning we found an early English speaking church service, and went there together before we parted ways – he went back to Gyeongju, and I went up…to Hwacheon!!

The Petra Palace 🙂
Hummus…..yummm

My dear friend Sarah’s 21st birthday was this weekend.  And, it just so happened that I don’t have school this week, and I was already in Seoul, so all I had to do was go a little farther north and I was there!  She had a party on Sunday night with her host family, Leora’s host family, her co-teacher, and Adam, another Fulbrighter.  I stayed with her in her homestay both Sunday and Monday night, and went to school with them on Monday.  I got to observe some of both her and Leora’s classes, as well as be there for the party that Sarah’s co-teachers threw for her.  Her family took me on a walk around the town on Sunday night, and out for dinner on Monday night.  They were so amazingly loving and wonderful…her host brother, Eun-chan, who speaks near perfect English, took a liking to me.  We when on a walk after he finished school on Monday, while we were waiting for Sarah and Leora to finish.  Her host sister, Eun-song, is in high school.  So I didn’t get to see as much of her, but she’s super sweet (and also speaks English really well), so when she was around we had fun.  Her parents don’t speak much English, but they try, and you don’t have to speak the same language to see the love exuding from their pores.  They are all Christians, so I even got to read the Bible with them both mornings that I was there.  It’s a daily tradition that they have now – Sarah and the kids take turns reading, first in English, then in Korean.  It was so cool to be able to share our love of Jesus together :).

Beautiful Hwacheon

It was so hard to leave them, and the ride back to Gyeongju was very long, but I’m sooo glad that I went up there.  Meeting these wonderful people, getting to see Sarah and Leora and Adam, seeing what a real homestay family should be like…it was just so refreshing!  But now, I fear that I shall have to cut this short – this blog is getting long, and lessons for next week must me made!  I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon… 🙂  Check out pictures from Hwacheon below!

Leora’s host sister
Sarah and Eun-chan, her host brother
Leora and co-teacher
Fulbrighters reunited!!
Eun-song (Sarah’s host sister), me, Leora, and Eun-chan
Leora’s host brother
Eating cake with chopsticks, gotta love it <3
Happy birthday, Sarah!!
Cuddling in the park….man it’s cold up there!!
Sarah’s host parents and Eun-chan
Me and the whole family.  I love them….. 🙂