Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chuseok Week In Review - Part One

This post is not for the TL;DR-hearted.  I decided to combine several posts that I could have/should have written into one long post.  You have been warned.  Feel free to skip ahead to Wednesday-Friday (which I had to move to the next post) if you're more interested in my trip out to Seoul!

I went into this week extremely excited because Chuseok - which is a Korean holiday celebrating the harvest and one's ancestors - was starting on Wednesday.  That meant one and a half days of school this week and lots of plans and celebrations to be had.  I went into Sunday already feeling relaxed...

Sunday - A Walk to Anmok

On Sunday I undertook my first walking trip to Anmok beach, famous for its numerous coffee shops.  In actuality, when I first stepped out of my apartment, I didn't really intend to head anywhere in particular, but I was determined to walk along the river in a direction that I had never headed before (which was East).

So I did.

Yep. Those are more red peppers being dried.  You literally pass by
these things everywhere.  Including in the middle of narrow sidewalks.
The walk along the river was beautiful.  Flowers and herons everywhere.  I ran into two praying mantis on the path and a butterfly fell into my hair.  Fell.  Into my hair.  Seriously, this place makes me laugh at the magical break-from-reality kind of moments I experience.

Can you see the bug?  He's got very nice camouflage.
The river is lined on both sides with a walking path, a bicycle path, various exercise equipment, baseball diamonds, putting greens, rollerblading rinks, soccer courts, need I go on...?  You can really see how the government invests in community-oriented and active lifestyle-oriented options.  It would be great to see something like it in the United States given our current health epidemics and the disintegration of friendly neighborhood interactions (we seem more and more embroiled in ourselves...).

Anyways!  As I was walking along, butterflies in my hair and all, I saw this gigantic yellow cube on the other side of the river that said "e-Mart".  Aha!  The e-Mart that I've heard so much about which apparently sells electric toaster ovens... so I decide to make a stop.  Luckily for me, there was a single walking bridge across the river within several hundred meters of the e-Mart.  I nodded to the man playing with his RC sports car as I walked on by.

Welcome to several stories of clothing, home goods, home appliances, office supplies, and electronics.  I wandered around, enjoying the air conditioning (but not really enjoying the pre-Chuseok crowds) and managed to find a set of measuring spoons, origami paper, and some note paper for letters.  Score.  I think I spent 3,200W?  Anyway, good selection of stuff!

After e-Mart I aimed East and continued walking.  The walk was basically me admiring all of the gardens and appreciating the lack of people.  Honestly, I had no idea where I was beyond knowing that I was going towards the sea.  This is also why Olleh Wi-Fi Eggs are so freaking convenient.  I turned it on, slipped it in my pocket, and hopped on to Google Maps where I checked my current road and found that I just had to keep going.

Seriously, where were all the people?
Pine City, Gangneung!
Look at those mountains in the back...  I get to see that every day.
Totally not living in reality.

The walls along sidewalks are painted everywhere around here.
By my place there are sunflowers, landscapes, and little traditionally-dressed
cartoon figures swinging around.

Long story short, about two hours after I left home (including the half hour stint in e-Mart), I arrived at Anmok.  I enjoyed the cool sea air, grabbed a mango smoothie from Queen Berry, and took a picture of the Anmok Starbucks.  Then I decided to head back because I knew there was at least another hour and a half walk ahead of me.

Look at that sky... can you see why I went for a walk?

And no coffee area is complete without a Starbucks?

Baseball diamonds!  There were teams playing in both of
the diamonds when I walked by.
Note to future Anmok-walkers: if you cross the bridge to the south side of the river, there is no sidewalk heading west along the river for about... 200-250 meters.  You'll have to walk on the side of the road, but it's relatively wide and despite the absolute insane way people drive here, they are really good at squeezing into tight spaces and avoiding random objects/people/children that appear near them/in front of them/beside them/etc.

This is the bridge I'm talking about.
No horns around the birds I guess?  This was on the road where
there was no sidewalk, right before the bird look-out point.
There is a bird look-out point on the way back from Anmok that I really want to check out.  It's a big wooden, partially-roofed structure with several pairs of the huge metal binoculars you always see at tourist areas pointing out at the river.  There are even informational plaques above the binoculars with  pictures and descriptions of the birds you might see.  It's like a nature center! I LOVE nature centers!

And then I made it back home.  Total distance walked was around 7.5 kilometers.  Sandals were a bad choice of footwear, but I did it and I saw some other cool stuff I want to check out later!

Monday - Dessert(s), Dinner, and Dessert

It was Niko's birthday!  Eun Shin, John, and I didn't know until Eun Shin happened to hop on Facebook.  So we planned a surprise mini-party after school.  Eun Shin headed out and grabbed a cake, hiding it in the fridge.  Of course, Niko got flowers and another cake too so we ate that over the course of the day.

It had tomatoes and grapes on top?
But once kids had finally left, we all hid in the English classroom, while Eun Shin functioned as the 'look-out' (we had a mini-vocab lesson with that one).  When Niko arrived back in the office, we lit the candles on the cake, headed in singing Happy Birthday, pulled the party crackers (came with the cake) to release the confetti, and then shared a piece together. 

If you get a big bite of this, the unsweet cocoa powder on top will
make you cough out clouds of brown... not that that happened to me.
I should also mention that all of this cake is being eaten with chopsticks.  The way you do it here is cut several slices of cake, leave them on the cake platter exactly where they were, and then everybody breaks off parts of the same piece of cake with their chopsticks and eats it.  Very communal.  I like it.  You also end up eating a lot less.  (Though the cakes are much, much, much less sweet here too so less tantalizing for my sweet tooth).

After school I hopped in a cab and headed to the Gangneung bus terminal to get my ticket to Seoul before my 5:30PM dinner engagement.  Basically I smiled at the ticket officer once I was there, said "Hello" in Korean, and then handed them a post-it note that Niko wrote out for me.  Yeah... I cheated.

Ticket acquired, I walked most of the way back to my apartment because I was an idiot and totally missed the huge line of taxis in front of the terminal.  They have their own pick-up location with guide rails and a little roof for lines of people.  Twenty-five minutes later though I finally managed to flag down a taxi (by some extreme stroke of non-luck, there weren't any for a ridiculous amount of time... no idea how that happened.  Probably all sitting at the bus terminal.  Hahaha... no).

I got home, one of the Korean teachers from my class proceeded to call me, I dropped my phone, changed, and headed outside about 30 seconds before they pulled up.  Close call!

We headed out to Cafe Paul & Mary on the beach, but it is closed on Mondays.  All Mondays.  So we headed back into town to Ponam-dong where we got Vietnamese food.

For the main course we wet rice paper in warm water and then built little lettuce wraps.  I had such a ridiculously hard time eating them!  My chopsticks got stuck to the paper over and over again.  I felt like such a fool, but all the teachers on either side of me did were help me out.  They'd use the little tongs to help wrap the things for me, or wet the paper and put it on my plate for me, or pick it up and tell me to try eating it off of the little spoon instead.  So that started the joke that one of the younger teachers is my mom.  That one's sticking.  And the other is my best friend.  Also sticking.  It was a great meal, good conversation (among the many eating failures I had, oh yes) and I got to try a new food!  I also have lots of new numbers and Kakao Talk IDs.

One of our teachers had clarinet lessons so dinner ended.  Since she was the one who brought me, I ended up heading home with the two youngest (and new at the school this year) teachers; also my mom (어머니) and best friend (베푸). We got coffee and dessert and somehow, with the help of a Korean-English dictionary,
lots of laughter, and the explanation of air quotes (which I apparently use frequently when explaining), I made two friends.  Actually, I became a member of the Ibam-dong family.

Tuesday - I Got Socks, but Otherwise Nothing Super Exciting 

Nothing super exciting really happened.  I came in to school to find even MORE cake on my desk (thank you Niko).  I managed to foist it off on the students though (minus the little bit that I couldn't resist...).

The principle gave every contract worker a pair of socks (though, seriously, thank you for the socks.  I love socks and even if there are a plethora of really cute socks in this country, just having a normal really comfy pair is wonderful).  Niko apparently asked where her socks were and he hit her and basically said, "None for you!"  Hahaha!

I taught only two classes because the kids were let out early (YES!), but not until after lunch and cleaning.  So since there weren't actually classes, the usual group of Korean teachers I eat with ordered food and we put some desks together.  I had Jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles), some yellow radishes, and sweet and sour pork from the communal plate.  The teachers apparently talked about puzzles during lunch.  I managed to catch the word "blue" and was informed they were talking about the blue sky in one of their puzzles.  Well... it's not much, but it's progress.

Then, because eating never stops here, we had cookies and coffee.  Niko had received a birthday box with muffins and cookies in it, while Eun Shin had some special Columbian coffee.  (Columbian coffee is so good.)  So, yeah, we ate more stuff.  Niko also supplied me with four baked goods to take home and told me exactly when to eat each of them when I was traveling on the bus.

Then we puttered around until the end of the day (though many teachers left early) before finally heading home.  Then I sat around and just did mostly nothing (reading, Netflix, Skype, etc.) - it was glorious.  After that, off to bed for an early morning ride to Seoul!

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