September 24, 2010

Chuseok has been described as the Korean Thanksgiving, and it is a pretty accurate analogy.  It is in the fall, everyone goes home to eat lots and lots of food, and every housewife goes, “Holiday? What holiday? I’ve been cooking and cleaning since 6 am”

Our school has a very long holiday, but I didn’t have many plans, only two big ones. Tuesday I was going to take a long bike ride with my co-teacher, and spend the night, and then on Wednesday go with her to see her family for an official Chuseok. She had even planned for a cool night-time outdoor concert.  Well.  Monday night it was raining and I thought, cool.. it will be nice for our bike ride. Ha. Tuesday it rained in torrents and deluges. I came down in sheets. Cats and dogs were drowned.  So I went to my co-teacher’s house and we ate in, and watched some movies on TV.

Wednesday was quite nice, but cloudy.  We woke up and went to her brother’s apartment. He lives quite close to her, and I thought that is so nice. Her family is very nice, and her father is very kind. He was very concerned that I would be able to eat all the food (it was no problem)

Early we first attended a ceremony to honor her family’s ancestors. First they set a special table, with offerings of all kinds of food. Rice, tea, and vegetables, soup, meat and fruit. The lit incense and my co-teacher’s brothers and father bowed to each of their ancestors. Then they “fed” the ancestors by giving them rice in a bowl of water.

After, her nephews decided I was the designated story reader. I had offered at first to do my part to help by keeping the boys busy instead of tearing around making lots of noise.  Instead I created a story devouring monster. I don’t feel too terrible about that.

After the ceremony everyone gathered to eat, and it was awesome. Her family is not only extraordinarily kind, but awesome cooks as well. It was perhaps the best kimchi I’ve had.

When you go to your family’s house on Chuseok you should bring a gift. My co-teacher brought gift fish, but the one thing that I think is a bit weird, is the gift Spam. Yes, that Spam, the canned meat that only Hawaiians love more.

Afterwards I went home, and had planned on going to my friend’s house to pick up my sewing machine that is languishing in her living-room. But she was feeling a bit sick and I felt tired, plus I had a big day on Thursday.

Thursday I did something that I think I’ve obviously lost my mind to sign up for.  I joined a rock  climbing school for one of their beginner’s group trips.  There were five of us, a German couple, who had some experience and an American who had done the indoor climbing and another American who had experience in the States. And me. Who was woefully out of shape for the ordeal.  I felt kind of bad because just getting up to the climb site made me out of breath. I think I seriously worried one of the young climbers.  But the leaders were very patient, and kept telling me to take it easy and go at my own pace.

Eventually we got to the climb site, and the leaders went up and got the ropes to the rivets and anchors in the rock.  Then they gave us a fairly intense safety lecture and showed us how to get our belay set up and the harnesses and how to tie the ropes. They were very concerned with safety and checking and double checking everything.  That made me feel pretty good about the whole thing.

Then we all got a chance to climb up.  Most of the others got to the rivets and anchors, I only got half-way up, and I did learn how to be a good belay partner.

It was so awesome! (although quite exhausting)


A Critical Mass that never was, and a hop on an island

August 23, 2010

It has not been a relaxing quiet weekend. However, it has been a lot of fun, and a pretty nice adventure.

Friday night was bitter-sweet, in that two very cool ladies are leaving Korea.  They want to get “real” teaching certificates, and to be honest, I think they both will make awesome teachers. I am sad they are leaving, proud of them for their ambitions, and I am optimistic that I will see them again as we travel through life. You never really know how the road will twist and turn.

Saturday was supposed to be a Critical Mass. Critical Mass started as a protest in some cities, to gently let cars and buses and trucks and motorcycles that there are bicycles as well that would like to share the road.

I was excited, and hoped to meet some other cyclist that were like me.  I know I do take some long bike trips, so a lot of people think I am fit and athletic. This is not really true. I am old and fat, and I prefer a more leisurely pace. I’m really not that fit.  A friend from a smaller town also wanted to go. So I borrowed a bike from my co-teacher, and off we went to find critical mass.  Now, we could have cycled there, but she arrived a bit late for that, plus we wanted to save our energy for the event. So we took the subway.  Last year it was illegal to take a bicycle on the subway, but now it is OK on Sundays and Holidays. Fortunately this means it is also OK on Saturday.  I know this, because the subway agent/ helper/ officer type people watched us and said nothing. Plus the first and last cars all have the international bicycle sign.

Taking a bike on the subway is usually pretty easy, but my friend wanted to take the elevators the whole time, so sometimes it got to be rather maze like in the station looking for an elevator to the correct subway platform. Fortunately we are intrepid. So finally we get to Gwanghwamun, where the mass was supposed to start. We wandered around, only 5 minutes late (and really for an event like that, it shouldn’t be a big problem) we couldn’t find it. We met two other cyclist, and they were looking for the event as well. So we wandered around some more but couldn’t find anything remotely like a mass group of cyclists getting ready to share the road with a bunch of cars.  So we had to make a decision.

We decided to cycle along the Cheonggyecheon, until it goes into the Han. It was beautiful, and for the most part very easy with little traffic.  Only one area, near Dongdaemun, had a lot of traffic. One of the things I love about cycling in Seoul is that cars here give cyclists a lot of room, and tend to slow down when they pass you. They don’t seem particularly upset that you are there sharing the road with them.  In the U.S. some drivers seem downright offended that a bicycle is on the same road as they are.  So it was a really nice ride, and we made it home in time to shower and get dinner before we were off to Incheon.  We met some friends at the Seoul train station and then took the bus into Incheon.

The next morning we were up early and off to go to Sin, Si and Mo islands.  We took the subway to the end of the line, near the airport. Then hopped into a taxi, that actually cost less per person than the bus would have ( there were six of us total).   We then got to the ferry right on time and made it within a minute of it leaving.  Once we got on the island we rented some bikes and went to the set of two Korean TV shows, a beautiful beach, and a beach with one of the more interesting sculpture parks around.

When we got hungry we went in search of a meal, but the one restaurant we thought would be good was closed, so we asked around and found another. It was well worth the wait. We had a kind of noodle soup that included clams and they had one of the best potato salads I’ve ever had. ( it included corn and raisins, a combination I wouldn’t have thought could taste so good)– after our repast we cycled some more, then turned in our bikes. We caught the next to last ferry, and headed home.

I arrived back at my house quite late and very tired, but in a good way.  I was even able to wake up in time for our first day of the semester.

To celebrate my most excellent weekend, I decided to skip Korean class, and eat chocolate cookies for dinner. (don’t worry, I’ll eat something healthy tomorrow– maybe)