Saturday, July 31, 2010

Concerning the End of the World

My but it's been a busy week. Last Saturday, a couple of coworkers and I went on a pretty epic road trip down to the Joalla province on the southern most tip of Korea. Saturday started at the obscene hour of 5 to get going on the road. We got a few hours under our belt before making our first stop at Meta sequoia Road which is basically an avenue with trees and then hitting up an amazing bamboo forest. It was just like the movie "House of Flying Daggers" because literally everywhere you looked was green- the stalks, the leaves, the air. It was lush and really lovely. We did a little bamboo reflexology trail and had some fun strolling around.

After a few more hours in the car, we made it to Boseong which is famous for it's green tea farms. This became a definite theme. We broke for lunch and had delicious green tea inflused nang-myeon which is a cold noodle soup with egg and vegetables. Mmmmmm. Then, on to the fields. These were stunning, neat hedgerows of tea lining dramatic slopes, green stripes in the very fertile and very green landscape. We trekked up the hill and wandered through the bushes for a while and took it in. FYI- if you haven't had it, green tea is nutty and bitter and not meant to be sweet but it still does make for delicious ice cream, which we used to cool off after our little jaunt. The weather certainly decided to cooperate for us, as we had no rain but my God, it's monsoon season and you never forget it. We only walked for maybe 20-30 minutes but my shirt was soaked through with the sticky heat. The only suitable follow up to that was the beach so off we went.

As it turns out, this beach left some things to be desired. It turned out to be more of a mud flat with some sand attached but we had a bit of fun squelching through it. That is, until we decided on a whim to try out a banana boat. Given the fact that our driver was certifiably insane, it could have been worse. As it is, he viciously and purposely whipped us off the raft on a sharp turn and my shin collided with something and came away with a spectacular rainbow of a bruise that is still making a brave show a week on. However, the real show stopper was that my lower left jaw collided with m
y friend's leg hard enough to reverberate through my face and bruise the bones at the top of my right jaw, under my ear. Within 20 mins I swelled up enough that chewing wasn't really an option. When he saw I was a bit hurt, he decided to give us a free boat ride. Now I'm comfortable in water and reeeeally love going fast in speed boats but he was keeling over so much all of us were clutching the sides and he flooded the engine three times. THEN, as we were getting into the dock, we saw an unconscious guy lying in the company loading area so our driver jumps off of the boat (which is still on) to go check on him, leaving us still in it. After getting CPR for a bit and then having a grand mal seizure, the guy was OK and they laughed it off as him having drunk too much the night before as we found out AFTER we managed to turn the boat off and somehow get it back to the dock. Not the most restful 10 minutes I've ever had and I remain distinctly unimpressed by some of Korea's safety measures. So, after hanging out a bit, we got back into the car and drove to the very southern point of the mainland country (the town is literally called World's End) after getting me really strong ibuprofin for my dysfunctional jaw. We were all starving so after getting a minbok room (basically you get a shower, a mat, and a floor but at least it's cheap) we had a traditional dinner of rice and fish and sides. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to having seafood again back home because though I love fish, I most distinctly do NOT love fish that has been cooked whole, complete with skin, bones, head and tail. Nope.

Regardless, we slept a bit and woke up early the next day. After a quick breakfast, we took a monorail up to see an observatory and got some great views of the ocean, it was really pretty to see the islands and the trees. We also took a lot of stairs down to the physical southern most point. Then, we got in the car and managed to find a really cute and sandy little beach perfect for swimming. So, we stayed abo
ut an hour before heading back. Despite a faulty GPS, getting lost, freaking INSANE Korean driving that made me afraid for my life, and 8 hours worth of time, we did get home in fine form and I had a legitimately fun weekend. It was really satisfying just being in the car, listening to music and having a good time with everyone.

Due to extraordinarily bad timing, I fell ill the second I got home, just in time to wake up the next morning, go to work, and then STRAIGHT on to Jeju Island....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Concerning a great overnight to Seoul

Winding backwards, last weekend was a lovely and quiet rest. I enjoyed some relaxing moments with friends, finished a 1200 page book that I'd been chipping away at for some time and entirely devoured another in the space of 3 hours. It was a fluffy Nora Roberts romance novel but it was the perfect mental snack food to munch on for a time, complete with a Christmas proposal from the modest carpenter turned secret billionaire at the end. Perfect. I must say, I love it when a book forces me to do mental yoga and stretch my muscles by seeing something new but sometimes I equally love a mindless screen saver escape. Delightful. I don't know why but I've been more ravenous for books than usual lately; after I finished that one, I'm already half way through "Thorn Birds" in not even a week's time. It's a tangible comfort to me that even if I don't land my perfect job that somehow miraculously uses my connection to lit or language, it is such an easy thing to keep in my life. I have a perpetual "to read" list and the day that I complete it is the day I die, haha. So that was nice and a big mental refreshment.

My workweeks have been absol
utely flying by ever since I hit the 10 week mark. 10 flew to 9, raced to 8 and catapulted into 7 so here we are. Work's fine though I think it's starting to slightly sink in that I'm leaving...partially because I've been talking about it more lately. It's adorable, Hannah (very smart, in my 7 yr UCLA class) always preferred my partner teacher to me even though she was always happy and affectionate and cheerful regardless. But, the last two weeks she's been a barnacle at my side from the moment I set foot in the classroom. If I'm correcting the kid's workbooks, she's there quite literally clinging to my arm, not even saying anything, just hanging on to me and seeing what I'm doing. I think it's because I'm going because twice when she's been like that she's said "Becky Teacher don't go" which is slowly breaking my heart from the inside out. I don't want to upset the kids but I also know from watching all of my very capable and loved foreign predecessors leave that they bounce back with almost shocking speed. So, for the moment, it's nice to feel appreciated and loved.

Friday night, Tracy and I hopped a bus to
Seoul. We dropped our stuff at the hostel, got some milk shakes and burger king, and wandered around the Cheonggyecheonno Stream (yep spelled correctly) which was pretty at night. The relationship between the temperature and the humidity gets a bit challenging during the day but the nights are really pleasant to walk in, balmy and comfortable. We collapsed back to the hostel and had a solid night's rest that was abruptly ended when I realized we had overslept. So, we scrAAAAAmbled to the subway, through a transfer to Gyeongbokgong Station. The only directions we had was that it was "in the parking lot adjacent to the palace" but the problem is that not only is the palace enormous but under construction. So, we breathlessly pleaded directions from the palace info booth who confusingly waved us through the through the palace we went, sprinting and dodging tourists left and right before finally getting to our bus 15 minutes late and not a minute to spare.

We then had a cute, free tour of Cheong Wa Dae, or "The Blue House" so named for its Arabically tinted (and regal) blue shingles. Lee Myung Bak, the Korean President, lives and works there. We saw the press room (interesting because this guy's not exactly known for free speech given that he has both banned candlelight marches AND is seeking to nationalize all media companies), a sumptuous lawn and garden, the Blue House itself, and a guest house. Some of the buildings struck me as very weird, adhering to old Korean architectural motifs but with new construction materials, to confusing effect. Imagine the same swinging roof eaves and sloped roofs. Imagine the same legendary mythical figures perched on the gables, protecting the buildings (note- Cheong Wa Dae is the only building in Korea to have all 11 animals protecting it, a sign of it's vital importance. Even Gyeongbokgong has only 9.), imagine the rice paper wooden lattice patterns. Now imagine all that in concrete. As I said...weird. Bullet proof history. Anyway, it was well worth the free admission and we got a free ceramic mug to boot. Woohoo!

After that we were both starving from our lack of breakfast so we had Dunkin Doughnuts followed by an impromptu and thorough jaunt through the Sejongno Square fountains. Had I swam in a pool, I would have been drier and every bit of my clothes from head to toe were soaked. However, given the July weather it was really refreshing. We then went to Myeongdong, I bought a new shirt and shoes, and then we saw Nanta which is Stomp but with kitchen utensils. Cute and pretty funny.

After the show, we schlepped a few subway stops away to get the first good Mexican meal I've had here. There was guacamole. There was a strawberry margarita. There was a chicken burrito. There were rice and beans. Happy. Becky.

Today I've been lazy, worn out from our packed overnight. I watched TV, read, cleaned the tiniest of bits and then went to treat myself to Eclipse. I don't care what the reviews said, I loved it. I did find two things funny: 1.) That apparently Seattle has both hurricane rains and blizzard snows that I've somehow missed for 23 years and 2.) That all of the sudden the Cullens all have their own little accents that came from nowhere. Other than that, a toe-curlingly successful afternoon.

LOTS to come, I promise. Stay tuned and for those of you keeping count, 7 weeks to go. Mwah!