Wednesday, February 24, 2010

3. 안녕!!

Today I come to you from an unusually high altitude. It’s what has been coined in Korea as the “hangover soju high”. To be honest it’s been a while since I’ve been here, though nothing much has changed really.. a few clouds have shifted around and instead of the grand feeling of being in Korea; I have a slightly detached melancholy feeling for leaving the place.

I’ve gone through so much over here and as I slowly pack away all my recollections I begin to wonder about all the things that I’ve experienced here. See I’ve got this memory chain thing that is hung up on the wall of my room, it’s basically just a piece of string with pegs on it; I just add random memories whenever they’re made (Cassie’s idea of course; I’m not that creative).. Needless to say, the room was covered in them.. now it’s time to take them down. It’s got a sad finality to it: physically taking down all these random little odds and ends, and remembering exactly how I felt back then. An item on my wall that took me instantly back to summer was the shell chime made from shells we collected from the west coast. I remember tasting the salted air on my tongue and the heat of the sun on my skin, and listening to the waves crashing around me.. Cassie actually made be a really nice wind chime/ ornament from the shells and some string for me.. I hope Aussie customs lets it through!

Anyway, these days I’ve taken to staring out of the window for hours on end and just taking in the scenery of Sangdong and Gurae.. I start to remember snippets of my past 16 months here, and especially of the weather. It might be hard for some people to understand my passion about it; if you haven’t experienced it you’d have no idea what I’m talking about and if you’ve lived in this type of climate all your life then you’d think ‘what’s the big deal’. This is the first time I’ve experienced life in four seasons..

I think of summer and automatically get a feeling of warmth and the scent of what can only be described as ‘explosive greenery’ in the slightly humid air. I think of autumn and am instantly transported to a time when fallen leaves would crunch under my feet and the air had a faint wet and earthy feel to it. Then winter where the crunching leaves were replaced by crunching ice, how the surrounding mountains had an eerie stillness about them; and the cold, crisp air that instantaneously invigorated body and soul. Finally I reminisce about spring, when the birds came back to nest in the mountains, and fluorescent green shoots began to appear. And the rain, oh how I adore the spring rains that bring with it bustling life! After almost six months of cold weather, to see a landscape grow from what appears to be near death.. to materialise in ways that not only appease the eyes but also lift the heart.. it’s truly nothing short of remarkable!

The weather, first impressions of Gurae, the things I did, food I ate, the people I met, the children I taught, the things I felt etc. these are the memories that I will keep with me. It all seems to have passed in a blurry haze (..that has nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol I’ve consumed here), as though in a blink of an eye, the whole thing has passed me by. Just last night, Mark (55) was saying how the same thing has happened to him, only instead of a year it’s more like 30 have passed him by so quickly. It again makes me ponder about how finite life really is.. how we each have such limited time here and that after all is said and done, all that really remains of us are others’ memories of us.




I’d like to thank everyone for reading my blog and motivating me to write more and more. This will serve as a valuable reminder of the time I spent in Korea, when my memories eventually begin to fade. Also it was great having so many people over, the guest bloggers who came and everyone who read this blog are more than welcome to stay with me wherever I end up in the future..


Monday, February 22, 2010

2. Rewind...

We often wonder why our animosity in society brings the worst out in us? When we're lost in the crowd we feel that we can do, and even be, who or whatever we want. We then take this opportunity to do things that are beneficial to us or for those closest to us. Though, this is only the world that I've come from; a small society of 23 million people in a land that's so far from everything. I've been so sheltered in a world where I believe there is no better, or otherwise, greener. Why? Because that is what I'm taught to believe.

I sit here today at Incheon Airport after having spent 9 days in South Korea. What changed from 9 days ago to now? Nothing much in retrospect; just that everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe.

See no Evil

My brother, Sharad (Shiv, Sanu, Kraze ..whatever you call him) surprised me at Incheon Airport. Before I arrived he sent me an email detailing the steps I have to take in order to get to a small town called, Sangdong in Yeongwol. There were roughly 30 steps I had to follow. To be honest, I was worried I'd end up in the DMZ and put myself on a trip up and across the border!

After meeting him we decided to have breakfast. I gathered I'd be having a traditional Korean meal as my first culunary experience in the country - I was wrong, he took me to MacDonalds. After breakfast we headed off on, what they call here, a Limousine. The normal buses here are equipped with recliner leather seats and double the chair space of any economy airbus seat you may have sat on. It was freezing, by the way. We headed off to Yeongwol, a town of 40,000 people (from memory), and then Sanu drove us back to his town in Sangdong.

To say that it were possible to describe the beauty of South Korea, especially that of Sangdong, with mere words would be a fallacy. Though, I'm going to try. The drive back was amazing. We drove through mountains (literally) on roads that had four lanes on each end and not on pothole in sight. In one one-and-a-half hour drive I saw hundreds of apartment buildings 30-40 stories high next to each other in a huge city, to hundreds and hundreds of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. The feel you have when you're here is very different to that of any other country I've been to. On my second day here I saw it snow...soft, white, fluffy snow. It was incredible.

Hear no Evil

The most amazing part of Korea are the people. The way they go out of their way to help anyone. When Sanu and I arrived at Yeongwol we walked down the road to Cassie's car; it was so cold all we wanted to do was sit in the heater. We got in and Sanu turned the ignition and nothing happened. Sanu had left the headlights on for the past 3 nights and the battery had gone flat.

Sanu picked up the phone and called Joey (one of his Adult-class students) who came without any hesitation in 5 minutes. He had a look at the car, and because he couldn’t do anything, he called his dad. Joey's father left his restaurant to come help us. He pulled out the chords and tried to jump-start the car, nothing happened (his car was significantly smaller than Cassie's). So he looked in the dashboard, called the Insurance Company who came within 10mins, jumpstarted the car and left with no payment.

This was my first, and by far not the only, good gesture by a Korean person. Simple things that matter in our "culture" are forgotten or not mentioned to them. They're from a culture where necessity is actual need, and want is something you might get in life; however, no matter what happens, you do what you do with pride, respect and genuine happiness.

They will go out of their way, drop whatever they're doing, to help you. It has nothing to do with whether you're a foreigner or a local, it's simply who they are. They don't litter; not because it's against the law, but because they don't deem it right. They will respect you; not because they'll get shunned, but because you showed them the smallest amount of respect (even if it was the way you said hello).

They are from a way of life I've only been fortunate to experience within my family and close friends; but, this is an entire nation I speak of. There is no "They" and "Us"; we're all one, no matter who you are or where you're from.

Speak no Evil

I've been brought up with one piece of advice I'll never forget, and what has probably put me where I am today, "language is your biggest asset ...if you can talk the talk, you can make it anywhere." The amount of respect I have for Sanu because of what he has done and achieved, not only for himself but all those lives he would've changed along the way, amazes me. I'll dedicate this segment to him and what he's done, simply because of "language".

To go from walking into a country - blind - where you know no one or the language, to today where he can speak, read and write the local language is something so admirable I cannot begin to explain it. For the past 14 months he's lived in the town of Sangdong and has nothing ill to say about it. But my question is, why?

I understand the tranquility and beauty Sangdong has to offer, but how long can all this matter for? When you wake in the morning, go to work, can't speak to anyone because your language skills aren't good enough to hold a conversation with a co-worker, spend the whole day doing nothing (or have one or two classes), come home to no one but your computer, cook your own food for one, sleep, and the next day do it all over again ...isn't this the recipe for mental illness?

And this is my point, above all and everything - what Sanu did and has achieved with his time in Korea is beyond the realms of anyone I know. He didn't do this out of necessity, he could've picked up his bags and come home. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, nor did he have anything to prove to himself. What he had in Sangdong and for the past 16months was all he needed, and that itself is a true testament to who he is.

To be honest, on my first day I was so sad to see Sanu's lifestyle; where he lived and how he lived. But spending time with him, seeing how much his character and personality is exactly the same, how having "gone through" everything he has he's still the same brother who left 18 months ago ...I now know who he is.

So if you ask me what the past 9 days has showed me, it is this: "everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe."

On the first day I felt so sorry for him; today, every ounce of me envies him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

1. Three short weeks

I know I have been reallly slack this time. I haven’t updated this blog in ages! The excuse I’m going to use this time is that I’ll be leaving Korea in the next 3 weeks so I have a lot of running around to do and therefore have no time to take pictures which then limits my motivation to upload a blog entry.

Well, now that that’s all sorted out. Let’s forget about the second part of the India trip for a while. I don’t have my notes with me at the moment and I can’t remember what else happened during the trip.

So I got back to Korea in the peak of Winter season and after enjoying beautiful weather in India my return started out quite miserable. That was short-lived though, as soon as I rediscovered how damn easy everything is over here.. it made me feel much better. I had to say good bye to my second school as I’ll never be seeing them again.. the kindy kids were particularly hard to say goodbye to. Here are a few pictures from then:

Oh and I also made some pizza for the teachers in December:

On the drive back to my place one day we stopped over to find this cool little island. It wasn’t really an island rather a bit of land that divided the river. Being winter all the leaves had fallen except for the pines and evergreens, there was a grave site there and also a traditional Korean bridge that led over the river. It was freezing so I snapped as many shots as I could and then scrambled back into the warmth of the car!

During the adult classes I had to teach for a week, I met some really cool people. We now meet once a week and do a random assortment of things from tourist attractions around yeongwol to dinner to coffee.. one of them is a young guy named Joey who just finished 2 years of university and now must complete 2 years of compulsory military training before resuming uni again. The other two are teachers at a middle school.. one is a math teacher and the other is a music teacher. They all want to be able to learn English conversation better so we usually end up talk quite a bit during these meetings. Here’s a bit of information of one place we visited a couple of weeks ago..

Exile place of young King Danjong, Cheongryeongpo Cheongryeongpo is located on the upper side of the Namhangang River, Gwangcheon-ri, Nam-myon, Yeongwol-gun and was exile place of King Danjong. It's surrounded by a river to the north, south and east side. In the west side, it has steep cliff called Yungnukbong. It's like an island that can't access without a boat.Cheongryeongpo where the King Danjong who died at the young age of seventeen was stayed consists most of a pine forest and gravelly field now. The Gwaneumsong which located in the middle of the pine forests has 30 -meter-height and 600-year-old. When Danjong was banished here, he rested under this pine tree. It is good to see Cheongryeongpo itself but it is famous for geographical features of a mountain and river around Cheongryeongpo, especially the crystal clear river that can see the river bottom.

We got there and saw this sign.. it said something like: "Sorry the boat is out of service since the river is frozen solid.. please walk across"

Another weekend I went to visit Cassie in a place called Yanggu, where she lives. They were meant to have an ice festival but apparently it was only open for Friday and not Saturday too. This is a picture of the festival grounds that were teaming with people and sculptures and tents and games and other general festivities.

This next photo is of me painting a teapot/cup all in one. Cassie’s high school girls informed her of this cozy little artsy waffle/coffee/pottery café place in Yanggu so we went to check it out. Its one of those places that you’d definitely miss if you weren’t looking for it. Just up a narrow staircase with the word Dorothy’s in Korean. I’ve actually found that common among a lot of really cool places in Korea.. most of them aren’t listed anywhere and you just stumble upon or other people tell you about.

Finally I have some pictures of a place between Yanggu and Inje when we decided to take another route home instead of the highway. If you think it looks grand in the pictures, you should’ve been there to see what it really looked like. The fresh crisp air and the slight smell of rain on the wind made this stop on the side of the road very, very memorable!

That puts us up to date with my travels so far. I have this constant feeling walking around with me that I’ll miss this place. But you don’t want to hear too much about that.. I know that it’s just a stepping stone in the journey of my life.. and to all those who said leaving is a less than wise decision, maybe you’re right. But I’ll never know until I leave and look for greener pastures.

Chook will be arriving the day after tomorrow so look forward to another guest blogger!