Category: World Expo

The people in my life….

I love my life.  I love it.  And no, I’m not saying that everything is always wonderful and perfect.  But I am saying that God is faithful, and I am starting to actually feel at home here.  This week I’ve been able to hang out with a lot of previously un-hung-out with people, and it was wonderful.  I still barely speak to my host family, but I’m finally starting to find my niches and be accepted in other circles, and it’s a great feeling.

Anyway, last Saturday I went to the Gyeongju National Museum with some friends.  It was myself, another foreign teacher in Gyeongju, Harry, the other Fulbright teacher in Gyeongju (Elizabeth), and Art, a Fulbrighter living in Pohang, about 20 minutes away.  Art was the 1st Fulbrighter I’d seen other than Elizabeth since departure day, and it was lovely to see him.  So we went to the museum (Gyeongju has enough culture in it to last a lifetime of sightseeing!!), and then went for lunch.  We went to a little out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, and I got….lasagna!!!  I had been craving it for weeks, but had been told that there was nowhere in Gyeongju to get it.  I was in heaven :D.

Oh ya…we’re Fulbright scholars…
Harry, Art, and Elizabeth
I don’t know….we were really giggly that day

I had a dejá vu moment coming back from lunch.  I had my bike with me, so Elizabeth and I decided to bike together.  It was just like my ride with Anthony, except this time I was pedaling and she was on the back.  We had a couple of spills, but caught on surprisingly quickly, especially considering the fact that Elizabeth has never ridden a bike before, lol.  Now all I need is a picture to document it… 🙂

Sunday I went to church again (it was so good to be back after having missed it the week before because of Chuseok!), and then when out to lunch after with some guys from church.  I actually ended up singing on the worship team during the service.  I don’t even like my voice on a normal day, and I was still sick anyway (I’ve had a nasty cough for several weeks now), but I wanted to serve in the church, and that was what they needed, and so I found myself up on the stage.  Regardless of my nerves, though, it wasn’t too bad, and I’m looking forward to being back up there next weekend.

On Wednesday I went on an excursion with my friend, 효지 (Hyo-ji).  She’s another English teacher in my school, and was the first person to befriend me when I got there.  We went for a walk around a bunch of historic sites (our school sits smack dab in the middle of the historic district, so it’s very convenient).  She bought me a hot green tea latte, and then we meandered through the forests and walking paths and old tombs.  One of the tombs has been opened by the Korean government, and we were actually able to go inside!  Then, for dinner, she had heard about a great little traditional Korean restaurant (it’s located inside an actual traditional Korean house complex….pretty neat), but didn’t quite know where it was.  So we started looking for it, and finally stumbled upon it, hidden in the winding alleys of the backstreets of Gyeongju.  The meal was wonderful, and the company lovely, even if she is always chiding me for not taking care of myself – she has self-appointed herself as my 언니 (older sister), which to her means nagging me to drink water, and stay warm, and eat my vegetables, and all of that.  But I don’t mind, it makes me feel loved :).  And I’m sure that my mom’s grateful to hear that someone’s looking out for me over here!! 😉

The oldest astronomical observatory in Eastern Asia

Beautiful Gyeongju…those big humps are ancient royal tombs

The entrance to the tomb….also the only picture of Hyo-ji that I was able to sneak 🙂
The restaurant we went to

After dinner, the sun had set, and so we went to Anapji pond.  Anapji is (another!) famous landmark in Gyeongju.  It used to be part of the palace complex during the Shilla dynasty, when Gyeongju was the capital of Korea.  It’s absolutely breathtaking at night.  Check out the pictures below….

Thursday was dance night again.  I decided to hang out with Jennifer again, but this time we didn’t skip the dance.  We went out to dinner first – and met some new friends while there.  That seems to happen a lot in this town – you’re just more outgoing and friendly, and make friends with anyone who look like they’ll talk to you.  In this case, it was 2 guys – Jennifer had already met one of them, so we sat down with them and had dinner together.

The dance was lovely, as usual.  It’s fun, but every time I dance salsa it reminds me how much I miss West Coast Swing :(.  Oh well, WCS will still be waiting for me when I come home… In the meantime, I’m trying to make the best of things and just improve my latin dancing while I have the chance.  Oh, I also got 2 more requests from Koreans to be my boyfriend at the dance….my grand total is racking up, lol.

On Friday, I went to the Expo…again.  This time it was a school field trip.  I didn’t really do anything particularly new this time – saw a couple of different shows, bought a dress made in India (I’m an XL in Korean sizes…can you believe it??), had lunch there – but the best part about this trip (aside from the exquisite weather) was the people I was with.  I hung out with a bunch of co-teachers and students the whole day….and it was  I adore my school and everyone in it :).

Some of the shows that we watched at the Expo

Oh, Je-hun…. 🙂
Me and my students… <3

An old teacher at school.  She always calls me 예쁘다 (beautiful).  That’s the extent of our conversations.  She just grabbed me here and insisted on a picture….

Me, Dae-seon, and Je-hun….three cool cats 🙂

Friday evening, the fun continued!  Through a bizarre and I would say God-sent series of coincidences, I heard about a Korean woman who’s wanting to learn Spanish.  She’s married to a westerner, so she speaks fluent English, and she’s really motivated to learn Spanish, but hasn’t been able to find any opportunities to learn here in Gyeongju.  So we met up for coffee, and worked out a time when we can get together and do a language exchange – I teach her Spanish, she teaches me Korean.  She was sooo motivated, I think it’s going to be a really good fire under me to get me learning.  Plus, I’ll get to practice my Spanish.  I’m super excited :).

After that, I went to an open mic / poetry night.  It’s the first one I’ve ever been to, and I really enjoyed it.  I loved seeing into other people’s hearts…it was really intriguing.  Besides which, the poems / songs / speeches / etc were all really well done.  I think I’m going to try to prepare something for the next one….

Looking over this, I’ve realized something.  In all of these stories, the focus has been on the people I was with.  I’m so grateful for who God has sent into my life.  It’s not where I thought I wanted to be, but I’m starting to see that it’s where I needed to be.  They are the reason that I’m so excited about what God’s going to do during the rest of this year…

Chuseok weekend

Chuseok, commonly described as the Korean Thanksgiving, is a major holiday in Korea.  It’s so big, in fact, that it actually warrants 3 whole days off of work, plus Saturday.  But of course, they wouldn’t want to go overboard with the days off, so most people still have to work or go to school on Saturday.  Lucky me, I don’t work on Saturdays, so I had the whole day to myself.

I decided to go back to the International Expo with my friend Harry.  I was going to go explore Busan, Korea’s second-largest city (about 1 1/2 hours from Gyeongju), but Saturday dawned rainy and windy, so I nixed that idea.  The Expo was a decidedly different experience this time.  For one thing, I could actually talk to the company with which I was with, always a plus.  Also, because it was raining, we avoided a lot of the outside exhibits and tried to see more of the inside performances.  But it was still a lot of fun. 

There was a tent set up with stuff from all over the world – I got to wear a hand-made head scarf from Turkey, which was cool.  Then we went to see an exhibition on Dok island.  Dok island is a disputed land between Japan and Korea.  From the way that Koreans go on and on about Dok island, you’d think it was this huge land mass with massive amounts of natural resources….or something.  It’s a tiny piece of rock.  Seriously.  That’s it.  There’s nothing on it, no one lives there….you can’t even see it on a map.  But apparently it’s very important that everyone who comes to Korea knows that Dok island is Korean – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I know about Dok island.  It’s rather amusing, but at the same time kind of sad and ridiculous…

Turkish shawl, rain jacket, and backpack.  With a Russian woman.  Oh yeah, that’s awesome 🙂

The sign says “Dok island, our land.”  Over….the….top….

After Dok island, we made our way to the Spanish puppet show.  The vast majority of the audience was a third of our age, and the only thing “Spanish” about the show was that the puppeteer happened to be Spanish (gosh I love Spanish accents!!! <3), but it was still enjoyable.  I think I'll always be a kid at heart, anyway... 🙂  After the puppet show we went to a highly acclaimed performance called "Flying" - it was advertised as an acrobatic, break-dancing, rhythmic gymnastics extravaganza.  And it was - for the last 10 minutes.  The other 60 minutes was this bizarre combination of....I don't even know what.  I'm sure there was a plot, and I was just too dense to find it.  But all I could gather was that there was some little demon dude who liked to run around bopping people on the head, and when he did they turned into zombies.  And the only way to un-zombie them was to poke them three times and then whack them in the chest.  Complete with sound effects.  Oh and there was a time-traveling star.  And a cross-dressing cheerleader.  And a crazy guy who just growled at everyone.  And a fat girl who was always exercising.  I'm still pretty confused about the whole thing.... The most disappointing part was that they were really talented acrobats.  The last 10 minutes, when they really started to show their stuff, was incredible.  I really felt that they had sold themselves short by inserting all of this silly cartoony stuff.  But oh well, that’s Korea….  

Spanish puppets playing the violin… 🙂

The only picture I was able to take of Flying before the attendants scolded me

So we finished our romp listening to a performance by the Gyeongju youth choir.  Harry used to sing, so he can attest to the quality of their performance.  I never sang, so I cannot, but I do know that they sounded lovely.  Lunch was 감자탕 (gamjatang) – literally, hangover soup.  Apparently pig spine soup has the magical quality of curing hangovers… I ended the day going out to dinner with some friends from church and then playing games with my host sister.  The Christian fellowship was wonderful, and it was nice to spend some time with Songi – she’s always so busy studying, I never really get to hang out with her.

Gyeongju youth choir….incredible!!!

They said they needed pictures with “special people.”  So I asked for their picture, too.  Fair’s fair! 🙂

I don’t remember what the game is called.  But the end result is pieces flying all over the room…

Love my church friends <3....Martene, me, and Eric

Anthony, Lauren, and Priscilla

Sunday morning was the official start of Chuseok weekend.  We bundled off bright and early to go visit relatives.  First stop was a nursing home to see aging and sick grandma.  I have to say, nursing homes are not any better in Korea than they are in America, and I was glad when we left.  Next stop was Pohang.  Then, once we got there, only the cousin was there, so we just hung around doing nothing for several hours.  It was kind of frustrating, because I could have gone to church and come after and not missed anything…but oh well, c’est la vie.  The aunt and uncle finally showed up right after lunch, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking for Chuseok the next day.  We made tofu, and kebabs, and fish cakes, and basically alot of fun in which the general theme was to dip them in eggs and fry them in oil.  Eggs and oil make everything better…

My host sister, Songi

The result of our labors…lots of egg-and-oil fried food!!

Making 똑 (ddok), a traditional Korean rice pastry

Monday morning, Chuseok, dawned bright and early.  It’s true that, just like at Thanksgiving, Koreans eat a lot of food and gather with family at Chuseok.  But that’s where the similarities end.  We were up and out of the house by 6:00 in the morning, on our way back to Pohang.  When we got there, people were running around cutting up food and setting out platters and dishes in a very specific, elaborate arrangement.  I wisely planted myself in an out-of-the-way corner and waited for the ceremony to start.

And what a ceremony it was.  Although Chuseok does mean lots of food and family, the real purpose of the holiday is to give homage to your ancestors.  So they had a whole table loaded with food – all placed in multiples of 1,3, or 5, although no one could tell me why – and all of it was symbolically given to the ancestors – although we were the ones who actually ended up eating it.  While the women stood outside the room and watched silently, the men of the house did a very intricate series of bows, followed by pouring glasses of wine, which was then held over a stick of incense and then dumped out into a bowl.  Yes, the women were not allowed in the room….not sure what I think about that one =/.  The wine and incense was then followed by spooning some rice and other food into bowls and letting it sit for a few minutes – presumably to let the dead members of the family eat their fill before the live ones did.  Then they burned some little pieces of paper covered with Chinese characters, and that was it.  The ladies were then allowed into the room to clear the table, and then we set it with normal tableware (after all of this it was still only 8:30 in the morning!), and ate breakfast (로렌, 많이 먹어다! – Lauren, eat alot!…story of my life these days).  We hung out for a little bit afterwards, went back to the nursing home (definitely not any better the second time around), and then came home and all took naps for a while. 

The Chuseok spread

Cleaning up after the ceremony

Later in the afternoon, we were off again!  More family!!  This time it was the mother’s side of the family, and I don’t know where we went – I just know it was about a 30 minute drive.  This was far less formal, and much more fun.  I still didn’t know what was going on, but there was a lot more laughing – including impromptu K-pop lessons and walks in the rain – and far less awkward silences happening.  Maybe it helped that they were all drunk, I don’t know….  When we finally came back, around 9:30, I went out on my own for a trivia night with some foreigners.  But I was wiped out, and didn’t last very long before I headed home and to bed.

우리 할머니 – my grandmother 🙂

 So that was my first Chuseok.  Takeaways from the weekend: 1) wear waterproof shoes if you plan on walking in the rain.  2) Don’t expect Korean performances to have a logical or mature plot.  3) My church is awesome.  4) Nursing home creepiness crosses cultural borders.  5) Eggs and oil make the world go ’round.  6) You better tell people you’re full wayyyy before you actually are, because you’re still going to be stuffed with food, whether it will fit or not.  7) Koreans like to talk about you to your face, but act as if you’re not in the room.  Note to Koreans: just because I can’t understand everything you’re saying does not mean I’m deaf and dumb, and getting pointed at and and poked and prodded and paraded around as the pet American is really starting to get old.  Oh, and 8) apparently Korean ancestors like their wine, just as much as their living relatives do.  A very strange weekend, but overall a success.  A Korean Chuseok is not something that most foreigners ever get a chance to experience, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do so.

Gyeongju weekend #3

Well, I found the Korean classes.  And the salsa club.  And the frisbee game.  But let’s start at the beginning….

Thursday night I set out armed with a picture of a hand-drawn map to guide me to the Korean lessons.  It was almost good enough.  I made it to the intersection that the building was on, but the building itself was tucked away and rather hidden, so in the end.  I had to call the girl who had given me the directions to help me.  But I got there, that’s what matters, right?? 🙂  The classes are taught by a Korean, as kind of a language exchange thing – she teaches us Korean every week, we take turns teaching her English every week.  The classes are super basic – way beyond my ability, and that’s saying something, lol – but I think I’m going to keep going, anyway.  It’s always helpful to have someone I can ask questions of, and plus I want to make a Korean friend.  Plus it’s something to do to get out of the house…..

So right after class, I headed over to the dance.  I did not even have a hand-drawn map to help me find this one, and I never would have stumbled on it if one of the other girls in class, Martene, hadn’t gone before and offered to show me where it was.  Through a shady alley, up two flights of windy stairs, around a few corners, and behind a tiny doorway….we found it.  But boy, once I got there, I SOOO did not want to go in.  I didn’t realize how intimidating it would be until I was standing in the doorway.  But by then, it was too late.  They had spotted me and were waving me in.  For all of the crazy or adventurous things I’ve done in my life….I’d have to say that stepping into that roomful of Koreans had to be one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.  

But it was so worth it.  They were in the middle of a lesson when I got there, so I jumped right in.  Even though I couldn’t understand the instructions, I just followed what all of the other follows were doing and got along pretty well.  It was also a pretty basic lesson, so the fact that I was familiar with the basics helped alot.  After the lesson, the free dancing started.  Even though most of them couldn’t speak any English at all, everyone was really nice.  I don’t think a single song went by without someone asking me to dance.  It helped that there were more men than women – a welcome change from my college, which is dominated by 75% females, so you can imagine how lopsided the ratios are at the dances.  A few times as I was dancing, I was struck by the fact that I was an American dancing to latin music with a bunch of Asians in South Korea.  I don’t know why, but I found that quite amusing :).  But ya, I had alot of fun, and I’m definitely going to become a regular.  It’s not West Coast Swing but hey, I’ll take what I can get! 🙂

Friday night I was supposed to have dinner with Mr. Cho, from my church – he was going to pick me up at 5:30.  Well, at 3:30, one of my co-teachers informed me that all of the English teachers were going out to eat dinner tonight, and that I would be eating with them.  It was not an option.  So, I had to cancel on Mr. Cho.  I was very disappointed :(.  I suppose it’s something I’ll have to get used to, though…in Korea, plans are made as last-minute as possible, and they tend to change even later than that.  So I called Mr. Cho, and regretfully backed out, and went to dinner with my teachers.  But it turned out alright in the end – Mr. Cho rescheduled, and I had a great time with my teachers.  They’ve decided that I’m going to perform a dance for the upcoming school talent show, and also that I’m going to teach all of them how to dance.  I’m more than a little worried, lol.  For such notoriously polite people, Koreans sure are good at getting their way when they want it… 🙂

But anyway, the reason we all went out for dinner on Friday night was because that was the first night we could.  Apparently they had wanted to take me out the first week I got here, but they were all so busy getting the new English building ready that they didn’t have time.  Friday afternoon was the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and so Friday evening everyone could finally relax.  I actually got to hold one end of the ribbon – it was fun.  I was glad when it was over, though – even though I didn’t really understand most of what was going on, everyone else was very tightly would, which made me nervous, too.  Hopefully next week will gain some semblance of normalcy to it…

The English hall all decked out right before the ribbon-cutting ceremony

Me and all my wonderful English teachers <3

Saturday had some crazy weather going on in Gyeongju.  There was a big storm or something on the coast, and so we had gusting winds and pelting rain all day.  In the middle of it, I decided to go on a bike ride.  Riding against the wind and rain – and then playing 3 hours of Frisbee – left me exhausted by the end of the day.  By the time I made it home, it was dinnertime, and there was apparently a mini family-reunion of sorts planned at my house.  So I got to meet all of my Korean cousins and aunts and uncles, and then after they left my host sister insisted on a Spanish tutorial lesson…by the time I finally slipped into bed, I was falling asleep on my feet.  But it was a good tired, a day well-spent. 

Sunday I went to church again.  Brought a few new friends with me.  After I got home, my host family took me to the International Expo.  It’s a huge cultural fair / expo thingy that tours around Korea – it only makes it to Gyeongju once every three years.  There were lots of music performances, dances, plays, a food court, traditional artwork, kiddy crafts, the whole shebang…it was a blast :). 
Well, tomorrow’s another school day.  I’ve gotta go work on my lesson plans for this week.  The Lord is good.  I love you all!!!
The International Expo
Reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding

The “Gyeongju tower”
A hip-hop / breakdancing performance

My cousin making her mask….
…and the finished product 🙂

An Argentine Tango performance.  I was happy 🙂