Sunday, July 29, 2012

Losing Modesty

Myra's Birthday in the Norebang
Sorry it has been so long since my last post!  The past couple weeks have been full of adventure with the added stress of trying to get ready for the fall, so time has been pretty limited.  Anyway, I'll try to keep things short and let you in on all that's happened recently, starting with last Monday.  Last week was CLS Birthday Week with three birthdays.  Myra's birthday was on Monday, and we headed to a norebang after class let out.  Norebangs are always a good time, especially when they have "Call Me Maybe."  The few Koreans who were with us just didn't understand when we all jumped up to dance during the chorus.  I don't know why that song is so awesome...
Tea Ceremony Time
The rest of the week was pretty uneventful until our class excursion on Thursday.  After school, we went to the Hanok Village where we donned hanboks and learned how to perform a traditional tea ceremony.  As you probably know, I am a total spazz.  Trying to steep the tea and pour it in the set pattern with proper decorum while speaking Korean was just too much for me.  Besides my laughing at random times and awkward mistakes, my phone went off during the ceremony, and it took me forever to get it out from under the three or four layers of clothes I had on.  The tea ceremony instructor was less than pleased...
On that midnight train to Jeonju.

After school on Friday, Winston and I headed to the bus terminal and set off for his birthday weekend in Seoul.  We arrived at the hostel in Itaewon just before dinner, got cleaned up, and went in search for some non-Korean food which we eventually found at a Bulgarian restaurant.  It was really random.  After dinner, we went in search for some nightlife and met some really cool English teachers along the way who showed us around.  Our other friends from the CLS program, Justin and Chris, also finally made it.  It was an incredibly fun night with some great memories.  The next day, we took it easy and slept in before meeting up with some other CLS people for a dinner of fried chicken.  Afterward, we went to a honky tonk called Grande Olde Opry.  I'm not even joking - in the middle of Korea is a legit country bar with Kellie Pickler, Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, and line dancin'.  Speaking Korean in the honky tonk was one of the weirdest experiences of my life and has caused so many strange dreams since.  I had to leave at 10PM to make the midnight bus back to Jeonju (I sang "Midnight Train to Georgia" subbing in "Midnight Bus to Jeonju" about fifty times that day) and was sad to leave Seoul - a city full of many crazy memories.

I arrived back at the apartment in Jeonju at 2:30 that morning and was hating life when my 5:30 alarm went off Sunday morning.  The host family and I left the house at 6AM for the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu - about two hours away.  Somewhere along the way I got a second wind, because despite the miles of walking I did that weekend, I was ready to go for the Expo.  The theme of this year's World's Fair revolved around the ocean, conservation, and renewable energy which are all areas that I am really interested in studying.  My host sister and I had a great time exploring the International Exhibits, but I'm not sure that host brother was equally amused.  By hour five, he was having a bad time for real.  I think the picture explains it pretty well...  

Ringing in evening prayer.
"Where do you come from??"
The next week only had three days of classes, difficult as usual, and was full of homework and tutoring.  My tutor (Chae Wu) and I went on a bit of an adventure on Tuesday in search of my rain boots which I left at the tea ceremony the week before.  It took a while, but we eventually found them down a side street at a restaurant.  I don't know why I can always find a cheap $20 pair of rain boots but Raybans never show up after they go missing.  On Thursday morning, everyone from CLS met up at the school, and we set out on our third and final cultural trip around the country.  We drove to the east 

coast and ended up at a Buddhist temple nestled in a forest valley.  That afternoon, we participated in many rituals with the monks; my favorite was using the ram to sound the massive gong for evening meditation.  We set out with a monk on a hike of silence through miles of tree-lined paths, stopping for meditation along the way.  That night, we stayed at the temple in hanoks next to the stream.  I was set for a great night of sleep until that 3:50 AM alarm sounded.  Yes, 3:50 AM.  We were pulled from bed by the sound of the gong from across the compound, calling everyone for morning meditation.  After meditation, we walked into a room with mats for each of us and beads with string in front of each.  I thought, "oh, arts and crafts time - this should be fun!"  Wrong.  In fact, it was an exercise to learn about the Buddhist belief in 108 sufferings.  There was a bead for each suffering, and in order to understand the suffering, we did a stand, bow, stand sequence while thinking of human suffering.  It took 35 minutes.  In silence.  My legs were suffering, my butt was suffering, and I was hungry.  At least I now have a cool souvenir...

Night on the beach.
After lunch, we left the temple and set off again.  We had already deviated from the schedule, so I wasn't exactly sure where we were headed.  At one rest stop, we all got off the bus to find rolling hills and a goat farm complete with petting zoo.  When we were at the petting zoo, a Korean kid came up to me and said in English, "Hello, where do you come from?"  When I responded in Korean, he screamed and ran away.  His parents found me later, laughed, and insisted that we get a picture.  After the goat farm, we headed for that night's acommodations - a 99-room hanok house.  I christened it the "CLS Party House," and the name couldn't have been more accurate.  After dinner and a tour of the complex, our teachers loaded us up by class into taxis; none of us knew where they were sending us.  We ended up at the beach which happened to be just miles from our house.  Nobody was prepared for a trip to the beach, so after hours of hanging out on the beach, our taxi drivers were less than pleased to get soaking wet and sandy college students packed into the back of their cars.  The night was pretty crazy - our teachers definitely know how to have a good time!

Let's cross that bridge when we get there
In the morning, we headed out through the mountains for a hike.  We hiked for about a mile to a monorail station which took us to an incredible cavern.  The cavern was spectacular with amazing formations and slime.  It took a full hour to traverse it all, and I was very thankful that I packed my hiking boots for the venture.  After the monorail and hike back to the bus, we set out for the beach (part 2).  On the bus ride there, our bus driver found the news station on the built-in TV, and we watched the opening ceremonies and Parade of Nations for the Olympics.  Driving through the mountains of Korea and shouting for Team USA in Korean is one of my favorite memories from this summer.  

Swimming in the Pacific.
The weather was perfect at the beach, and we had a great time in the water.  After a few hours, we headed to our hotel for the night which we quickly discovered was complete with a traditional Korean sauna.  I'm not sure if you're familiar with Korean saunas, but they are not for the faint-hearted.  It is essentially a huge room with public baths of varying temperatures where you and your closest friends (and teachers...) get naked and relax in the giant hot tubs.  It was actually a lot of fun after the initial awkwardness and was definitely a bonding experience.  The novelty of the sauna wore off rather quickly, and we decided to explore the random village where we had landed for the night.  We stepped out of the hotel only to find a free concert just down the road.  As happens a lot with us, we weren't dressed for the occasion, and Myra can now say that she went to a concert in her pajamas.  I went into the convenience store for snacks, and when I came out, I ran into two teenage girls who saw me and literally started screaming and shouting "movie star."  When I spoke to them in Korean, trying to explain that I wasn't in fact a movie star, one seriously went weak at the knees, and her friend had to hold her up.  To all of you haters of my hair gel - please reference this video.  I am still in shock.  

My Amazing Class
We got back to Jeonju Sunday afternoon after hours of driving (and sleeping) on the way back.  It was another incredible journey with crazy stories that just couldn't happen anywhere else.  It occurred to me on the bus ride today that leaving Korea is going to be much harder than I thought - it has become a second home, and I have made friends here that I will have a horrible time saying goodbye to.  There are only two more weeks left here - it's time to make the most of them.  

Crazy Korean Discoveries: 
1. In some ways Koreans are very conservative, but in others, they have no modesty whatsoever.  For example, many Korean met won't go shirtless at the beach but they have no problem soaking naked in a bathhouse.  
2. During meals, you're unlikely to be served individually with separate plates.  Typically, all of the food is placed in the middle of the table, and everyone attacks it with chopsticks.  I can't count the number of times I've gotten in chopstick fights for the most American-looking food on the table.
3. Yep, this happened: (picture right)

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