Monday, October 20, 2008

it's finally here! - the not-so-fresh, not-so-hot-off-the-press photos from my first month in korea!

the pictures you've been waiting for have arrived.
i now begin the laborious project of attempting to catalogue them all and write sufficient explanations for the events and moments they capture. this is going to take a long time. i know it. i should just stop complaining and do it. but im hungry and the water is boiling for my ramen... can't i do it later, after i eat? NO. now. get to it.


it took about four days for me to meet someone i knew after arriving in korea. those first few days felt long and kind of strange. i was in a place i knew and yet it seemed unfamiliar. i felt like i was coming home to korea, but it was as if i came home to an empty house. i didnt have much chance to inform my friends of my arrival due to how quickly i had to begin working once i arrived. i had no phone, so i used a payphone to call my friend 선영 (sunyoung), my korean sister. as soon as i saw her and heard her voice it was the atmosphere of korea completely changed, as i expected it would. i was back home. we met at 안양시장 ('anyang shijang' - anyang market), above.
me and sunyoung. she helped me by some 상추 ('sangchu' - lettuce), 김 ('kim' - dried, salted seaweed), and 김치 (kimchee - which ended up causing my fridge and thus apartment smell like kimchee for more than a month, until i finally threw away it away, a decision i later regretted after i learned from my students that kimchee lasts practically forever and that old kimchee is great for making 김치찌개 - 'kimchee jjigae' kimchee stew - one of my favorite home dishes)

that weekend i stayed with my good buddy and oldest korean friend (in terms of length of acquaintance, not age) 원츨 (wonchul - aka 'chris'). unfortunately i did not bring my camera to his home in anyang (foolish). nevertheless the weekend was a very welcome change of pace and escape from my less than desireable living conditions. wonchul's father works for the government as an executive in waste management. their family lives in a very beautiful part of anyang, next to a nice looking park with a gentle mountain overlooking the neighborhood in the near background. i promised myself that i would one day come back to visit one of the many nearby 찜질방 ('jjimjilbang' - public sauna/bath house). we grabbed some beers and fried chicken at a local joint, played go stop, and talked late. i remember noticing that wonchul's home seemed nearly exactly the same as other korean homes i had stayed in (i.e. same layout, arrangement, even furnishings, furniture, and appliances). so even though i had never had the chance to visit wonchul's home during my last stay in korea, it felt very familiar to me, not so much like an eerie deja vu, but just a comforting familiarity, much the same as wonchul and other koreans might feel about the reed roofs, lanais, and palm trees of hilo. after about a week and a half i was finally feeling more caught up in sleep and so i took some time to paint a little. i chose a familiar subject :) unfortunately, something was a little off in my sketching (possibly due to the wrinkled nature of the paper, post-unpacking) and my subjects nose turned out a centimeter or two longer than is commonly characteristic of humans. i cropped the picture to save you from nightmares. the following friday i was finally able to meet up with miri! we met at 한국외대 (hankuk university of foreign studies - a place from which many of my friends have come, but i never had a chance to visit last time i was in kroea). we were supposed to meet at the university entrance, and as i was waiting there looking for 미리 (miri), someone came up to me. i was even more startled when i realized it was miri! she had changed her hair and was wearing a different style of clothing than she normally did in hilo. i felt silly for not recognizing her right away and just a little disappointed that her style had changed a little, but then i should have expected as much. im sure i looked a little strange to her too with my military-length hair. anyway, as soon as we opened our mouths it was easy to recognize each other's old personalities. not much change there! it was just like old times. we grabbed some 회덮밥 ('hoedeopbap' - bibimbap with raw fish and lettuce) and took a look around the university. miri is living on campus now and she'll finish up school this winter. that means job-hunting-time and many stresses and sleepless nights for most koreans. i have learned that the process can be more than just challenging and stressful - for many it is isolating, exhausting, and even despairing. i have a lot of opinions and feelings about this aspect of korean culture (which i wont get into here, but, rest assured, will soon). for now, i'll just say that this is one area to which i feel especially called to share my perspective with koreans. i have really learned to trust things to work out in my life, despite failures, set backs, and the superficial judgement of people in decision-making positions. indeed, it is because of more than one supposed 'setback' that brought me to a place where i could learn about korea and later put me in a position to visit here two years ago. in short, i try to give as much support to my friends as i can - i know how much they need it. in that way, it is a real great thing to be here and give that personally again.

the next series of pictures are from my chuseok weekend; to hear a more detailed account of that, see previous posts. that very evening i was able to get out of my evening classes so that i could meet wonchul and his family who would be driving to 보성 ('boseong') to meet wonchul's grandparents and celebrate 추석 ('chuseok' - the korean mid-autumn festival). they happily agreed to allow me to come along and be a part of the family for the weekend. score! after 4 hours of driving, we stopped in 광주 ('kwangju') to spend the night. the following day we met wonchul's cousins, aunt, and ucle and went to the local market to pick up some fruit for the family gathering. as you can see, the market was like a warehouse full of people buying and selling local crops.onions
rural korea - soon i'd get my first up-close encounter
asleep in the car saturday morning. we have arrived in boseong. only a half hour left of driving to get to grandpa's village. 밤 ('bam') - chestnuts - we'd be picking a lot of these soon
wonchul's grandparents' home and where his father and uncles grew up. it lies on the slopes of what i called the 'park family mountain' where several previous generations had lived and many relations still lived. i later learned from wonchul that until recently there had been no toilet other than a hole in a shed and quite a few domesticated animals. red peppers (grown only a few meters away) drying in the sun. they will be used to make 고추장 ('gochujang' - korean red pepper paste, a staple ingredient to many dishes) among countless other culinary uses.
kimchee pots preserving homemade kimchee and other essential korean foods. traditionally these pots are buried underground and left sometimes for decades to achieve a truly remarkable (and a little sour) kimchee flavor.
wonchul's father (left) and uncle peeling for the imminent feast. wonchul's cousins (everyone is playing on their cellphones or one of the other mobile electronic devices that are so popular in korea) - they slept most of the weekend.
getting ready to eat my favorite korean food - 삼겹살 (''samgyeopsar' - pork belly meat). the meat is not cooked with any spices, simply grilled and wrapped in a leaf of lettuce or a sesame leaf with gochujang, marinated onions, garlic, and/or kimchee. alternatively, the meat is dipped in a dish of salt, pepper, and sesame oil (as in the picture). it is essential for this meal to be consumed with alcohol, preferably soju. and it's cheap. lovely.
the kitchen
on the way up the mountain in haraboji's tractor
i thought chris looked so silly in this hat haraboji - grandpa - at the chestnut orchard

it was a really beautiful afternoon - i cant imagine a lazier atmosphere
the waterfall where we washed our faces and took a nice long drink of fresh mountain water
the countryside around wonchul's grandparents' home
wonchul's distant cousins playing badminton (an extremely popular sport for all ages in korea)
after an afternoon siesta - it was hard work picking those chestnuts and digesting all that food.
haraboji found some old, forgotten bottles of soju which also preserved the remains of a snake haraboji had found, killed, stuffed in a bottle of soju, and burried over 10 years ago.
behind the house
persimmon tree
the side of the house - where apparently some relatives used to live and the site of the household toilet before a porceline one was installed me and 할머니 ('harmoni' - gramma)
me and 삼촌두명 ('samchon du-myeong' - two uncles)
me and 할아버지 ('haraboji' - grampa) and wonchul's parents
at the 녹차 ('nokcha' - greentea) farm

the smell was otherworldly, just as is your first taste of green tea
posing like haraboji
cute apples
much of the countryside right around here looked just like this. you could see green tea growing in rolls all over the slopes of hills and mountains, looking like fuzzy, green courodoy

we then drove to the southern coast and visited this beach house where wonchul's parents had once taken a vacation
with that ocean in the background, it almost looks just like old times in hilo...
no one was more surprised than i to discover this very life-like replica of my birth. also a pretty good resemblance of my brother on the left.
wonchul's father turns out to be a kindred spirit
a few days after returning to suwon, i took a train into seoul after finishing my morning classes and met my friend 민지 (minji). we walked around a cemetary park which housed the remains of countless soldiers who had died in the korean war (june 1950 - july 1953 - 1 million+ casualties). the park was unbelievably huge for being so near the center of seoul. it was a really beautiful day - one of my last summer days before the weather turned south.

meeting with minji is always a real delight for me. she's a quiet person, but deceivingly so - she does not conform to general korean expectations. she has a strong desire to make her life her own, instead of acquiescing to the trends of other young-adult koreans, and it's something which i feel uniquely honored to be able to lend an ear to, which i do from time to time. perhaps these choices don't seem extraordinary to most americans of the same age, but in korea, it is very difficult to make an unexpected decision, such as to move to america (a choice that is sometimes necessary for koreans in order to seek the opportunities they want). being able to listen to and share my support with friends who struggle with these choices and their seemingly socially-dissonant desires is one of the most important reasons for my choice to come to korea again. i have found that my voice and support can really mean a lot to some people, and this has led me to believe i have something valuable to give people here. and minji is special too cuz of how different we are. sometimes in hilo we had some pretty heated disagreements about religion, and even our personalities are pretty different, for that matter. maybe im imagining it, but i seem to remember some moment when we had been in complete disagreement about something and feeling like we dont understand each other at all and then thinking 'who cares?' we are friends anyway. so in a lot of ways, my friendship with minji really represents to me this kind of caring that doesnt require even understanding to function. i need friends like that too. and these days, anyway, we find ourselves agreeing a lot more. minji and i also studied japanese together in hilo. but she was 'tensai' - genious. my ability was nothing compared to hers. so in translation class, she helped me understand the japanese, and i helped her write the english correctly! :) hahaha

we saw some traffic-controllers taking a group picture and they asked me to take one for them. then i asked minji to take one of them and me. kkkk
all those little dots are graves. part of seoul in the background
that's minji
some old guy was being interviewed outside this building. we couldnt figure out who he was. or i just forgot.

inside the aforementioned building. dunno what those rooms on the side were for, but we went into that section straight ahead.
here housed the ashes of many other creamated people. a lot of these 'cabinets' were empty, as if the building had been very recently constructed.
these must have been for the general public, since the pictures showed lots of old guys.
looking down at the floor in the center of this building from above. a tradtional korean symbol. what is it called again?...
another view of seoul from the outside.

nice day for a picnic

that weekend i was abliged to visit my boss's church. he had asked me one time when i had no handy excuse. it's not that i didnt want to go to church in korea - i do often - but always with my friends; i dont usually go to church when im abroad unless im going to share something that is a part of my friends' lives (i.e. - not my boss's - he's not exactly very pleasant, but i dont really want to go into that here). anyway, i went, and it was fine. as it turned out, another new korean teacher was also abliged to go. the service was pretty characteristic of korean church. this church was the sister church of the world's largest which is located in seoul (in 여의도 - i actually went there 2 years ago). after church we bailed, crabbed some kimchee jiggye for lunch and afterwards i got my first look at 화성 ('hwaseong'), the famous rock wall that surrounds the historical city-limits of suwon (which has now greatly spread beyond its original borders). at one time, the emperor apparently wanted to relocate the capital city from seoul to suwon and so he built the impressive rock walls. later the transfer never happened. so the korean teacher and i (her english name is bekka - i dont know her korean one) decided to look around this part of suwon since it was a beautiful day and neither of us had seen it before (she is from 인천 - 'incheon', a coastal city west of seoul, home of a major fish market and the largest airport in korea). as we were looking around we noticed a reenactment of some kind. turned out to be a pretty big deal. below are some archers from ancient korea.
shooting at a wild boar
the emperor (possibly) or some other noble/prince
a procession
yeah archers! you rock!
화성 - the wall
children playing 'get the foreigner' - i was a little nervous seeing them run at me from a distance without slowing down
i got off this shot right before the fastest one tackeled me
yup. the wall is right in the middle of the city. pretty cool actually.
the next week i took a train into seoul for the afternoon and met my old friend 영민 (youngmin - we've been friends since my first year in hilo during which we played in the hilo orchestra and volunteered at the UHH women's center together; later i stayed in her home for almost a month while living in korea for the summer) in 용산 ('yongsan' - a part of seoul that has lots of foreigners due to a military base). we ate some vietnamese beef noodle soup. yummy!

we went to another korean war memorial park. this one had lots of war machinery and vehicles. i walked up to some kid and asked him 사진을찍어주세요 ('sajin-ul jjikeojuseyo' - please take a picture for me). i think he was extremely surprised. he suddenly stopped laughing with his buddy and very solemnly took the camera from me.
a group of kids seated under an immense bullet. this was apparently some secretly designated day for school field trips. many, many children everywhere.
the inside of a bomber plane
view of the park and some of the city beyond

that weekend was a meeting with chris (wonchul) and my friend daniel, who would soon be getting married. i was really excited about this meeting because there would be so many of my old friends there from my first year in hilo - many of my first korean friends. the evening was lots of fun. daniel was extravagent with his generosity and paid for everything (as is the custom in korea - oldest buys, usually, and especially on slightly formal occasions such as this one - daniel had us all get together to give us invitations to his wedding)
'mj', 'tall mikyoung', chris, and daniel (from left to right)
주현 (joo hyun - 'hong-joo'), 현숙 (hyunsook), 보경 (bokyoung - 'bobo'), 명주 (myoungjoo - 'mj'), 혜진 (hyejin - 'alison') (left to right)
left to right again - mj, tall mikyoung, chris, daniel, hong-joo, hyunsook, bobo, alison, me

i couldnt say enough. just kept talking the whole time. many different nostalgia floating in my head - many different times shared with everyone. and many times all together too. *sigh
better not get into now.. i wont be able to stop...

hyunsook invited me to her choir's concert the next weekend. she is working for samsung as a secratary to the president of everland, a samsung-run theme park in 용인 ('yongin' - a town outside of seoul and not far from suwon). i met her boyfriend at 경기도문화의전당 (gyeonggi-do arts center) and we saw the performance together. it was pretty interesting. all of the singing groups were different sections of the samsung company. most sang a mixture of ballads and famous musical songs, with a couple of classical pieces thrown in. although it wasnt the kind of music i would normally choose to sing in a choir, it was pretty fun, and it reminded me of singing in the hilo choir. it was pretty entertaining to see some of the 'dance moves' a couple choirs tried to tackle.
hyunsook with her choir, in the middle. after this photo, someone came up to me and told me cameras were not allowed. lame.

after the concert, the three of us went out to eat some 갈비 ('kalbi' - beef rib meat) - a famous food of suwon.

the following friday, i went out to visit a nearby mountain in suwon and eat lunch with my last morning class. we took a short hike (15 min) and then gave it up pretty quickly due to unanimous support for eating.
my class, minus DK (who was taking the picture): kelly, jane, alice, me, april
that weekend i went to visit hyunsook on sunday. i asked her if i could come to mass with her since i had been to their church before when i was in korea two years ago and had stayed at their house in 방배 (bangbae - part of seoul). during that time i had been hanging out with hyunsook's brother a lot (who happens to be born on the same DAY as me); he's now serving his required 2 years of military duty. this has been the only catholic church that i've visited in korea, but it was amazing how similar mass was to the mass im used to in america (mostly at valley, my HS). just a different language. i especially love singing the old-style humns in korean :)
after mass we hung out at home for a little while, then hopped in the car with hyunsook's mom and drove to 부천 (bucheon - a developed area outside and to the west of seoul) where hyunsook's mom manages a korean-food restaraunt. we got the royal treatment: a private room, loads of delicious korean favorites: 비빔밥 (bibimbab - rice mixed with beef, veggies, egg, pepper sauce), 도토리묵무침 (dotorimuk-muchim - seasoned acorn jelly), and many delightful korean side dishes (including 생선전 'saengseonjeon' - pan-fried fish fillet!). we sat talking for a long time - it was a very peaceful setting. hyunsook is contemplating her lifestyle, or more precisely, her job which is effecting her lifestyle. her job is a desireable one, no doubt about it - working for samseong in any fashion is an accomplishment coveted by many aspiring young people - but it is also taxing, mundane, and isolating. hyunsook feels a calling to more meaningful things for her life and an awareness that her present job isn't fulfilling those aspirations. i could sense she was seeking some encouragement and a friendly ear and i was more than happy to park myself down for a while and fill those gaps as best i could.
after lunch, we walked around the mall (in which hyunsook's mother's restaurant is located) and then went up to the roof with our coffees.
on the roof: looked more like a park; i couldnt even tell we were on the 8th floor or whatever. we watched the children play around and chatted on more light-hearted topics. experiencing times like this and remembering similar conversations in hilo makes me feel both old and new things. i experience that a lot living in korea and meeting my old friends. i remembering this afternoon as being a very welcome escape for me - i was still uncomfortable living in my apartment in suwon and feeling trapped there. even though this spot was just the roof of a mall, it still felt a lot farther away and an isolated haven.
bridge over the street. no cameos.
hyunsook kindly helped me ask around looking for a good cell phone deal. we wandered around a department store (homeplus, i think) and at some point i was under the misimpression that hyunsook was looking for lamb meat, though i cant remember why. she bought me a pancake with an egg fried in it (i cant remember what those were called, but they were GOOD, yo) and we spent a while trying to figure out which bus would take me to the train station. although hyunsook apologized for the inconvenience, i thought it was really nice just wandering around aimlessly for a few hours.
the following friday i met my friend 시은 (sieun) at 한국외대 (hankuk university, at which she is also a student). sieun studies french (actually she recently was living in france) and is practically trilingual due to living in america for a while as well. so it's really great being able to share some american anecdotes with her, not to mention the fact that we're both PKs - her dad is a pastor in korea.
before i met her, i remember i had been thinking all day about 김치찌개 (kimchee jjigae - kimchee stew) - this was because a student of mine had taught me how to make it the previous night when we were sharing recipes. i had been craving the stuff. i didnt help either that while i was riding the train into seoul that day, some old guy was standing next to me with a huge bag full of kimchee. you can imagine how that smell filled the whole train... so as soon i met sieun and we hugged and got the necessary exclamations out of the way, she asked me if id eaten, i said no, what do you want, and what words should i hear but the very same that had been in my mind: kimchee jjigae! in no time flat, we located a suitable place and tucked in. heavenly.
we grabbed some coffees afterwards at a quaint, little place, were met up with by miri, and the following pictures were the result - the trio reunited! (we were just missing casey...) another family photo
me, miri, sieun
miri stopped by only for a short time; she was on her way to daejeon or someplace for her friend's birthday. of course, she hadn't gotten a gift yet, as everything she had encountered or thought of didnt seem special enough. so we made some hasty parousals of locals shops walking away from all of them empty-handed. lol

after miri left, we had a couple of hours left before i had to go. i made the timid suggestion of 노래방 (noraebang - singing room, just like karaoke) and sieun quickly jumped on the idea with whole-hearted approval. another craving fulfilled that day. i hadnt been to karaoke since japan. i sang my guts out and my voice was subsequently at 50% power for my evening classes. 100% worth it. just thinking about how much fun it was to impulsively go there on a late afternoon makes me want to get up and go right now... alas, only 2 hours until class... i gotta finish this up.
it was fun singing korean pop songs or ballads when there were slow enough for me.
singing 80s songs gets the most enthusiasm out of me.
okay. now it's really rockin. and we didnt even have anything to drink. i think we were singing 'way back into love' - a song from the popular-in-korea film 'music and lyrics'
that night was a going-away part for one of my students and friends: josee (i think she said she chose this name, wanting it to be pronounced joe-jae like in french). this was the night i wrote about earlier in my blog a while ago. see that entry for the details.
left to right, 9pm interchange 3 class: lucy, alicia, richard, josee's arm
my hagwon's secretary youngmin (left) and japanese language teacher (who i was able to communicate with in japanese surprisingly well, thanks largely to the soju, no doubt)
jason - the other native English teacher at Gukje (my school), and a good friend to me - pretending to be caesar, maybe? or dionysus?
me and alicia (just pretending to be sloshed)
at the hookah bar following dinner (most everyone is sloshed by now)
the next day i went into 여의도 (yeouido) to meet my friend mikyoung before going to daniel's wedding. the rest of this day i also included in my previous post, so forgive me for not going into much detail here. again, refer to the old post for more context and details on these pics.
it was a beautiful day for a festival in yeouido. many children.
mikyoung (aka: 'kate' or 'small mikyoung' - there were two mikyoungs in hilo the year she was there) a cool little garden path and a cute little family
alison paying respects to daniel and his parents at the wedding hall (actually a hotel)
alison in the wedding hall right before we sat down
daniel and his fiance bowing to each other at the beginning of the ceremony
the 'newly-hitched'
daniel surprises us all with a song for his wife
the gang: bobo, hyunsook, chris, alison, jiwoo, sophia, sookjeong, brian (who came to stay in suwon with me that night), long J
and me
the after reception gathering and drinking... good 'ol long J - as dapper as ever
can you believe it??
i made it!
through this batch at least. unfortunately it took me several weeks to get these photos up, and as a result, dozens more pictures and happenings have acrued in the meantime. i'll do my best to get those caught up by the end of the week. no promises. they'd be futile anyway. and i'd just make an ass out of myself again for not following through. ha.