Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seoul, Halloween, Soccer, and Chrysanthemums

Another blog that details many different experiences.

Katie, Becky, Simon, Haejung and I took our first visit to Seoul this past weekend. We didn't have Korean language class on Friday, so early Friday morning we took the bullet train the hour north to Seoul. We met with many people from the PC(USA) mission and the PC (Korea) church, as well as the Woman Ministers' Association. We found out about some really awesome work that is going on, and are optimistic about being able to help. We also met the other 4 PC(USA) missionaries in Korea for a delicious meal. Then, it was time for some sightseeing.

A. Namdaemun (South Gate)
Ancient Seoul was surrounded by walls and accessed through 4 major gates. The primary gate was the South Gate, and all visiting dignitaries and the king used this gate. It was a hub of Seoul for many years, and, even after the walls were torn down at the turn of the 1900s, the Namdemun remained National Treasure #1. That is, until it was burned down in 2008. Now, there is a huge restoration project to restore the gate to its original form (it was built in the 1300s and underwent many changes since then, including damage sustained under Japanese occupation and the Korean war). We took a tour of the restoration work, and it was fascinating!
What the gate used to look like.
The foundation of the gate, which is all that remains now. 90% of the foundation survived the fire (though almost all the rest of the gate was destroyed since it was wooden).
The 2008 fire and aftermath.
Blocks waiting to be put together to form a wall as part of the restoration work.

With Haejung waiting to go on the tour.
B. Namdemun Shijang
Around the gate there is a huge, intriguing market. However, all I purchased was a bag of dried apricots.
C. Seoul was MUCH more Westernized than Daejeon. I was so amazed at some of the restaurants there. On one corner we saw a Starbucks flanked by a three-story Dunkin Doughnuts!
D. Gyeongbuk Palace
I had already visited this place two years ago, but it is still neat. It is not the original original, since the Japanese did so much damage to historical Korea (meaning destroy it), but still neat. It is surrounded by four mountains, named after the blue dragon, red peacock, white tiger, and black turtle (please notice that these are the colors of the Korean flag). Also, there are many many stone and carved animals around the palace designed to protect it. Too bad they weren't effective at staving off a slew of conquerers, but it does make for an impressive palace. We got an English-speaking tour guide and got to see the changing of the guards (which I think was different than the last time I was here).
Front gate.
Throne room.
Changing of the guard.
And this was the hotel where we stayed. On those mats. On the (heated!) floor.

With last week being Halloween, I tried to introduce the concept to Seomna Center. My friend Kristin donated some old Halloween costumes, and it was a blast to see the kids (and teachers) dress up as pirates, knights, firemen, and mishmashes of them all. I also made them trick or treat for candy. I am pretty sure that most of the concepts were lost in translation, but I had fun and got some great pictures anyway. Happy Halloween!
The middle school class and teachers.

Some Halloween coloring with the first graders.


Daejeon has a professional soccer team, the Daejeon Citizen. So, last week my friend Mike and I ventured out to a Citizen's game. The team is in the lower third of the Korean league standings, and this is very late in the season. So, the crowd was sparse to say the least. And the funniest thing was that this was a huge stadium! It is a World Cup stadium, constructed for the 2002 Cup cohosted by Korea and Japan. And it was basically empty. The crowd consisted of mainly inebriated men and children. And the concession stand sold only Ramen noodles and dried fish. It was awesome. The Daejeon team lost, but I will be ready to cheer them on at the beginning of next season when there is hopefully some more energy and warmer weather.

Check out the Ramen noodles!
Monday our Korean language class went with two of our teachers to a chrysanthemum festival close to Daejeon. It was beautiful (if a bit funny because a town basically converts itself into a fair grounds) and a nice bonding experience with our class. Definitely better than sitting inside and studying for four hours.

Not sure why the cow was there.
Teaching continues. I am not a very good teacher, but I try. I am so grateful to all my students and the teachers and everyone at the Seomna Center for being so patient with me. And they provide yummy snacks every day at 3. Have eaten some new delicious foods which I am eager to show off to Brandon. Still not entirely sure precisely why I have been called to be here, but still feel as if I am in the right place. Thanks for everyone's continued support!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Many Things

Reader Be Warned: This post covers many events and topics of discussion. So much has happened that I simply have not had time to blog. So, stick with me.

First, a few weekends ago I attended a funeral for a foreign migrant worker from Vietnam who was killed in a traffic accident here in Daejeon. He was crossing the street and was struck in the crosswalk by a vehicle. Please, remember to treasure your loved ones and appreciate them every moment. This man left behind a wife of a year and a seven month old daughter. Funerals here seem to be different than in the States, but a funeral is sad no matter where you are.

Second, also a few weekends ago, Daejeon hosted an international balloon festival for foreigners. It was an interesting event, which featured cuisine from various countries around the world, performances, and of course, balloons. Here are some photos.

Third, a while ago I attended a performance of a dance troup from Seomna House. The elementary girls had been practicing a choreographed dance which they then presented at the Reunification Festival (yes, of North and South Korea) in downtown Daejeon. They did a great job, and I am proud to report that they came home with the Audience Choice Award and the Gold Prize! Aren't they beautiful?
(I didn't take these photos, but I am not sure who did, so I can't give proper credit where due.)

Fourth, on Thursday I have been attending an arts and crafts class with migrant women. I am definitely the dunce of the class, as both a lack of language and a lack of art skill can be tough to overcome. But, all the women, and especially the teacher have been so kind and helpful. I love going and being with them. One week we made these beautiful boxes, and the next we did hair bows.
Last week we made bags out of napkins! It was so cool! Well, no, the bag itself was already made but we decorated it with napkins. It was a neat process (can't tell it was a napkin, can you?). The photo below is the bag I made! Looks professional, right?
Fifth, last weekend I went with Seomna employees and volunteers to visit migrant men (which I do every week) at their site of employment and residence. This particular weekend was the Nepalese Thanksgiving weekend, so I was honored to share a meal with men from Bolivia, Nepal, Vietnam and maybe a few other places (and Koreans) as we celebrated the good things in life that we have to be thankful for. These men were so generous and welcoming. It made up for being away from my own family during the holidays.

Sixth, this past Sunday after church, Katie, Becky and I went with the youth group to one of our student's house (her English name is Winnie). There, in the countryside, we saw the house of Mrs. Yuk Yeong-Su, the second wife of ex-President Park Chung-Hui. The house was recently restored, and we got a guided tour of the place.
Here, Becky, Winnie, and Sharon "listen" on the tour
A view of the house compound
Members of our youth group
Then, Winnie's family lives on a mini farm, and we helped to harvest the peanuts and sweet potatoes that were growing! It was a neat experience, as I had never harvested either of those plants. I want to be a peanut farmer! Some of the sweet potatoes were absolutely massive. We brought several home, and I tried to make sweet potato fries, but I don't know how to operate our gas oven. I pan fried them, but it wasn't the same. Oh well.
The farm
Some harvested potatoes
The farmers
Hard at work
(Thanks to Winnie and Katie for the photos.)

Finally, last Saturday I went with Katie to see her children at a "flea market." While we weren't initially sure what to expect, it turns out that the children from her center and other centers were selling stuff. We bought some trinkets that we didn't need because the kids were too cute. And her center performed some musical numbers on the ocarina, a recorder-like instrument.
A few last tidbits:
  • Many Koreans seem to think that Americans eat primarily hamburgers, so I finally got talked into eating a hamburger here. It was not bad--tasty, just different than the American version.
  • I have been working to introduce Halloween to the Seomna children, though the concept is weird if you think about it! However, now the kids know they must say trick-or-treat before I will give them candy.
  • Katie and I enjoyed a nice night out with friends on the Korean military base. Sometimes, it is relaxing to be around English speakers
Thus, life continues to be eventful and busy. This weekend we head to Seoul for a day and a half. The weather is turning chilly, and we've almost reached the two-month mark!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baekje Festival

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the Korean peninsula was divided into three Kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Although the Silla kingdom eventually came to dominate, each of the Kingdoms had its heyday. Daejeon seems to have been close to the border between Goguryeo and Baekje, but Gonju, which is about an hour south of us, was the capital of the Baekje kingdom. To celebrate their rich cultural past, the city of Gonju holds the Great Baekje World Festival, or the "Baekje Revival, Rebirth of a 1400-year-old legacy."

After class last Monday Katie, myself and our friend Seunghui bussed to Gonju to check out the festivities. The festival is quite large--it's in at least two cities with various locations within the city, and it goes on for a month or so. We started by seeing an exhibit on the great cities of the world, and visited places like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Germany.
This is me in garb from old Azerbaijan.

Then we walked around the grounds and tried out all the interactive activities. The funniest part was that every time we would put on a costume or be posing, we had random Koreans taking pitctures of us. Not discretely, but up close in our faces. It got a tad bit awkward, but was more humorous than anything.

Here I am playing (quite impressively I might add) a Korean drum.
Here Katie and I have donned the costume of Baekje warriors or soldiers. I think we look rather intimidating.
And here I must bear a heavy load (with an appropriately pained expression) because I am, obviously, an ancient Baekje peasant. Please notice the royalty in the background taking remarkably little interest in my endeavor to bear this heavy burden.
Can you tell which are the Baekje warriors and which is the American Young Adult Volunteer? I think not.
Finally, we posed in some traditional Korean dress, hanbok. I think they fit us quite well. These are still worn on special occassions.

After thoroughly indulging in ancient Baekje culture we went to another site in Gongju where we saw the burial mounds for the Baekje kings and other royalty. Although we couldn't enter the actual tombs due to preservation efforts, we were able to explore some replicas and see the mounds from the outside.

Here I am propping up some of the burial mounds.
In one of the replica tombs we found a replica king. Allow me to introduce King Muryeon, whose tomb is the most famous at this site. I question the dignity of his pose, but who am I to second-guess royalty?

At another site we found all of these blow up figures floating on water. It was stunningly beautiful, actually!
And then there was this giant fortress.
Oh, and masks.

We rode a kiddy train, we ate fried ginseng, we saw a rather unimpressive rendition of The Nutcracker (yes, in October), we tried the ancient torture devices. Then we went to eat kalkuksu, knife noodles, which are homemade. This particular dish had a whole cuttlefish and a whole octopus.

Then we walked past many many chestnut vendors. They were being roasted right there so were piping hot and so delicious!

It was a very interesting and entertaining (and informative) excursion! The Baekje culture influenced many other cultures around the world, and it was fun to take this trip back in time!