Monday, August 13, 2012

Becoming Korean

Holy water, unholy bacteria.
Over the past two weeks, I have learned two very important lessons.  One - there is no such thing as Buddhist holy water.  And two - even though the water may look holy, when it comes from a mountain stream and hasn't been filtered, it still contains bacteria.  I probably should have used better judgement before drinking from this fountain anyway (see picture right).  My digestive tract will never be the same.

After we got back from the amazing excursion two weekends ago, it was time to hit the books.  We had two weeks left until finals and a week and a half until the dreaded Oral Proficiency Interview - a half hour phone call that determines how much we have learned.  Everyday that week was pretty much the same - class, cafe, study, home, dinner, study, sleep.  When class ended on Friday, we were all absolutely exhausted not to mention sick from the unholy water.  I ended up going to a cafe and eating dinner with friends before heading home.  Even though it was a rather dull Friday, it was great to be able to speak some English.  I had only spoken broken English for the past two weeks, and it was time for a break from the Korean.

I'm adding this to my list of "Korean Practices
That Would Lead to Major US Lawsuits" 
I knew that I needed to keep practicing Korean over the weekend so I would be ready for the OPI and the final exam the next week, so I was really glad when my host family suggested we take a trip to an island just off the west coast.  The eight of us set out for Wido on Satuday morning in the good ol' family van.  After driving for an hour, we arrived at a ferry terminal where we grabbed all of our stuff, parked the car, and got on board.  It was a beautiful 45 minute ride, with mountains jutting out of the water all around and birds diving for crackers that we threw from the sides.  I wasn't exactly sure where we were staying or how we were getting around since we had left the car on the mainland, but I have learned by now to just go with the flow.  So, it wasn't at all weird for me when I got in the back of a dune buggy/truck/ATV-ish vehicle with my host siblings and set out along the miles of winding mountain roads next to the sea.

The beautiful sunset outside our cabin.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a cabin right on the ocean.  It isn't like any beach that I've been to before with loads of tourists crowding under umbrellas waiting for daquiris.  It felt a lot more like being at the lake with barbecuing on the deck and walking down to the water.  We went to the beach for a couple hours where my host brothers got a hold of water guns.  Actually I think "water rockets" is a better way to describe these things.  Whoever thought it a good idea to give them weapons probably needs to reevaluate their decision making process.  We spent that night shooting fireworks on the beach and taking a mystery "ghost" walk down the road.  Besides that, it was simply the most incredible sunset I have ever seen in my life.  The cabin was one room plus a bathroom and loft and in traditional Korean style had no beds.  Uncle Joe and I were exiled to the loft due to our obnoxiously loud snoring.

A bit worse for wear but quite the haul of clams!
The next morning, Aunt Kim, her sister, my host sister, our younger brother, and I decided to take a walking tour around part of the coast.  On our way out of the cabin, the owner stopped us and insisted that we allow her to take us in her truck around the island.  For the next hour, we circled the island, driving through a half dozen tiny fishing villages that dotted the coast, stopping for pictures at a hidden temple and at washed up boats along the way.  We took a short break before setting off on a clam digging adventure.  My host sister, a random Korean guy, and I hopped in the back of that same ATV and headed to the coast.  The tide had just gone out, exposing acres of mush crawling with tiny crabs.  We dug for two hours, searching for clams in the hot sun with crabs crawling through the mud which oozed through our feet.  Covered in mud, we finished the excursion with quite the haul and had some great clam soup that week.

So much solar!
On our drive back home, we passed the Renewable Energy Theme Park.  Yes, I had been about an hour's drive away from a Renewable Energy Theme Park all summer and hadn't heard about it.  Despite the hours of Google searching, it never occurred to me to search in Korean for renewable energy and economics institutes in the area.  I had to go.  Fortunately, Chae Wu was also really interested in the idea, and he, Nick, and I took off after school on Tuesday for some exploring.  After plenty of confusion about bus routes, we eventually found the theme park.  It was about this time that I realized "theme park" is a very literal translation, as in, it is a park with a renewable energy theme and a museum.  I was a little disappointed at the lack of roller coasters and churros, but I learned a lot from the museum and found some good sources for the future.  It ended up being a good thing that I hadn't found the place earlier - everything was in Korean, so I had just enough language to piece together the meanings of the exhibits with the help of diagrams and the always obliging Chae Wu.

One of the acceptable pictures.
The last week of classes was of course packed with testing, cramming sessions, studying, and more testing.  By Friday, we were absolutely tired of studying Korean and ready to have some fun.  So after a three-hour traditional music rehearsal, we set out to make the last weekend night with friends great.  First, a few of us went to a DVD Bong which is basically a place where you can rent a movie and watch it on a projector in a private room.  Yes, you can imagine what generally occurs in a DVD Bong, but I was surprised at how clean and non-sketchy it really was.  After our movie ended, we headed to dinner and then to a lively establishment to hang out.  It was a great mix of Korean and American friends, and I found myself speaking Korean not because I had to, but because we wanted to since that was the language most people were comfortable with.  Our host families gave us all extended curfews since it was the last Friday, so we had a great time.  I'm really going to miss these people!

The wonderful lady who drug me kicking and
screaming through the intensity of beginning Korean.
On Saturday evening, a few of the CLS students and I went to a traditional Korean music concert that was playing near campus.  It was extremely boring, so I was super excited when my host family texted me to ask if I wanted to see Batman that night.  Well, I'm not quite sure what the hangup was, but we instead ended up watching a comedy that was entirely in Korean.  I found out later that it was supposed to be a parody of Gone With the Wind, but I'm not quite sure what the movie was about so can't say for sure.  Regardless, it was certainly a fun way to spend the last Saturday here.

Graduation performance!  Tie and t-shirt,
probably not my best look...

After a four-hour long graduation on Sunday in which I made a fool of myself running around in a bib and bear ears (possibly one of the reasons I was dubbed the Korean equivalent of "Class Clown"), my host family invited Chae Wu to dinner with us.  We ate an incredible meal and toasted the end of a great summer for all of us.  Sitting around the table as I introduced my friend/tutor Chae Wu to my Korean host family was a bit surreal.  It felt very strange to be introducing another Korean to my Korean family when I am clearly the most foreign guy there.  I think my transformation to adopted Korean child is now complete.

Final Thoughts on Korea:
This has been the most incredible summer of my life.  Two months ago, I set myself in a host family in a foreign city, knowing nothing about their culture, language, life, etc. and frankly not sure whether or not I would make it through the full program.  It was a huge challenge in the beginning, but between the other CLS students, teachers, and host family, I have had some of the craziest, funniest, and most memorable times of my life.  It's hard to leave knowing that I may never see some of these people again, but I wouldn't trade the last couple months for anything.  It has certainly been quite an adventure.

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