I'm back to Mokpo after a week and some of traveling around Korea. I went from Mokpo to Seoul to Hwacheon (and nearby) to Seoul to Cheongju to Muju to Busan to Gyeongju and back to Mokpo.
Two Thursdays ago, in the morning, I left for Seoul. I had a dentist appointment to get to and I wanted to grab lunch with Tracey and her mom, who had flown in the night before. I got in a little before noon so I picked up Tracey's mom from her hotel and set off to meet Tracey and Andrew, who was also joining us. Tracey is taking Korean language classes so we were meeting her near Seoul National University. After lunch, Andrew and I headed to my dentist appointment, which was set up by Sara through her uncle, who is also a dentist in Korea. The office was incredible, a very classy environment. There were cookies and coffee around too. It felt more like a spa than a dentist clinic. While sitting, we realized it was also a dermatology center where you can get plastic surgery done, which explains the interior design. I went in because I thought I needed to get the rest of my root canal done but apparently it looks good so I'm not really sure what the deal is. There was a girl at the clinic was excellent English who is actually Korean American but there for the year working to gain experience. She translated everything for me. After setting my next appointment to get a crown, Andrew and I set out for Yuchon (near Hwacheon), which is where Maggie lives. Andrew, Katelyn, Adam, and I were planning on staying at the attached "guesthouse" Maggie's host family has and going to the Hwacheon Ice Festival the next day on Friday. We had to do a few transfers and a bit of running but we eventually got there. She really does live in the middle of nowhere. It's more rural than Goesan, and that's saying quite a bit. We got in a bit after 7pm and Maggie's host family was out of town but her host mom ordered some dinner for us. We just lounged about and enjoyed each other's company for the night. It was nice seeing them and just being around them.
On Friday morning, the four of us ventured out to Hwacheon to get a head start on the ice festival. Maggie was going to join us later after her winter camp was done for the day. So the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is apparently the fourth largest ice festival in the world so it was pretty big and cool; there were a lot of things to do too. There was a huge ice tunnel with Snow White and the Dwarves faces carved on the outside. We also went down an ice slide for kicks and giggles. Since it wasn't a weekend, it wasn't that busy either. There were a lot of people, don't get me wrong, but Maggie said it was a lot less because it was a Friday and not a Saturday or Sunday. The main attractions of the day started with ice fishing though. There was a tent labeled "Ice Fishing for Foreigners"--no lie. There was even a separate area sectioned off for foreigners to ice fish. We got our "poles", which looked more like fly swatters with fishing string attached and started fishing. The first catch was really exciting. I ended up catching two fish, which wasn't bad considering that we were only allowed to catch a maximum of three fish.
On Saturday morning, January 12th, we all left in the morning to head back to Seoul. We met up with Liam and Jonathan at the hostel and Maggie and I went with them to a basketball game. Jonathan's birthday was Sunday so we were going to celebrate his birthday early. It was the Orions versus the Sakers. They're part of the Korean professional league but I felt like I was watching high school basketball again. I'm not trying to speak little of them but the level compared to the NBA is incomparable.
Andrew, Katelyn, Anna, and I were planning on going skiing/snowboarding on Monday/Tuesday so Andrew and I were meeting Anna and spending the night in Cheonju with her at her grandparents so we could all head out together on Monday morning to the ski resort. We got in late afternoon on Sunday and got picked up by Anna and her uncle (who is really nice). Her grandparents are really sweet too. Her grandpa attempts to speak English but his vocabulary is limited so it was really endearing. After dinner, the three of us went to see Les Miserables again in theaters (since Anna hadn't watched it yet).
The ski resort: http://www.mdysresort.com/english/ski/slope_01.asp
The three of us headed out to Daejeon to then transfer and get to Muju around 9am. The plan was to get to the ski resort by noon, meet up with Katelyn, and do a day lift. We got in a little later than expected and had to check in so we actually decided on doing a night lift instead. We spent some time in our room until 2pm when we got our rentals, lift tickets, late lunch, etc. It was the first time Katelyn went snowboarding/skiing so she picked snowboarding to try. The three girls went boarding while Andrew went skiing. The three girls all rented clothing so we all looked like twins. It was pretty funny.
I got into Busan, met with Ben and Suhyung, one of his university students and got some dinner. Suh (pronounced Sue) was really cool and she's really well traveled. She spent two years in France and a year in Japan. After we left Ben and got to her home, we ended up chatting until 1:30am. Her mom was really welcoming too and oddly, looks a bit like my mom. I realized it when her mom was trying to feed me fruit when I got to her home. I showed her a picture of my mom and even they agreed they had similar facial features. The next morning, we headed out to Ben's class at Busan National University, where I was going to guest teach his university class. There were only about 5 students in the class on time but Ben said most of his students usually showed up late. Based on the interest of the class, we talked about the gender norms in Korea and how the new female Korean president might or might not change any gender norms and stereotypes in Korea. For the second hour, we spent a lot of time talking about Korean dating expectations and how they differ from American dating culture. It was really interesting getting their perspectives because they are essentially our age and have good enough English skills to talk about complex issues. I learned a few things from them and I enjoyed meeting them. The students who were free got lunch with Ben and me before I headed out to Gyeongju.
Temple stay: http://sunmudo.net/
I had to get to the temple to check in by 5pm so I left Busan around 2pm to give myself some buffer time for transfers and whatnot. After arriving in Gyeongju, I had to take a local bus about 45 minutes and walk about 10 minutes to get to the temple. I purposely picked this temple for my templestay experience because they practice sunmundo, a type of martial arts and I didn't want to just be cleaning and meditating all day. I figured I might as well do something cool. The templestay experience was...interesting. I can't say I liked it for sure because it was just so different from my normal life. There were aspects that you would expect: no technology, meditation, bowing, a simple diet, waking up early, etc. but there was much more than that. I stayed at the temple three days and two nights, which I think was enough for me. It actually felt like much longer. The facilities were really nice and seemed updated. There was heating in all the buildings so that wasn't a concern. My room had its own bathroom and it seemed like it was newly built or renovated. We woke up at 4am to make it to the 4:30am chanting/meditation daily ceremony. Afterwards, we would do more meditation (walking and stretching and whatnot) and then we would get breakfast. After breakfast, there was sunmundo training (but it felt more like yoga in the mornings) followed by 108 bows/tea time. Then we would get lunch and there would be archery or meditation (depending on the day of the week) and community work (aka cleaning) and then dinner. After dinner, there would be evening chanting followed by sunmundo training (more legit than the mornings) and then we would head back to our rooms to get ready for bed. I also got to see a sunmundo demonstration by the masters. There was usually some free time between these activities ranging from ten minutes to an hour. The things that stuck out the most were the 108 bows, the meditation, and the sunmundo training. I actually bowed 108 times. It was... repetitive. I was having a hard time because my knees were still banged up from snowboarding but I did it anyway. According to the website, there is a reason for 108 bows: "Why 108 bows? The 108 prostrations represent our basic mental sufferings. These sufferings arise through the meeting of the six sense organs. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind and the six sense objects; namely corresponding color, sound, smell, taste, touch and concept." The meditation was pretty hard actually. I mean, I definitely had some thoughts while I was doing it, but the hardest part was dealing with sitting with my legs crossed for so long. They were falling asleep and it hurt so much when I was trying to change positions. The sunmundo training was pretty cool. It was like Taekwondo in some ways but also differed a lot. I was impressed by how flexible the sunmundo masters were though. I did my templestay during an interesting time because there is a summer camp going on and there was also a visiting kids group so there were kids doing these things with me too. They were not taking it as serious as me and the other templestayers but it was kinda amusing having them around.
I left Golgulsa around noon on Friday the 18th, after lunch to head back to Mokpo. I had to travel a bit over 7 hours because there are only buses to Seoul, Busan, and Daegu from Gyeongju. There is a bus to Gwangju but they only run two times a day and I wasn't willing to wait a few hours for that bus. I first went to Daegu and then went to Gwangju and then back to Mokpo. I got back to my homestay around 8pm. It felt really nice to get back, unpack, shower, and lay in my bed. It felt refreshing. Granted, the reason I came back was for a wedding, but I think I would've had the urge to come back at least for a few days, had that not been the case. On Saturday, I went with a bunch of teachers from my school to the school nurse's wedding. The school nurse likes to practice her English with me and she's pretty good at it so I go to her office and hang out with her every few days during the last semester. She was getting married in Gwangju so we headed out about an hour and a half beforehand. A lot of teachers were there and I even ran into the school chairman, my old vice principal, and my new principal. Three of my third year girls were invited to the wedding too so it was nice to see them. Unfortunately, one of the girls looked different when I saw it and I had the instant realization that she got double eyelid surgery sometime since I last saw her at the school festival. It was a bit unnerving for me for a few minutes when I first saw her. So much for my beauty lesson.
To go to the wedding, Mr. Lee (my coteacher) picked me up in front of my homestay apartment to go to the school to meet up with the other teachers heading to Gwangju. In the car ride, he told me that the English teachers had all met the day before and they wanted me to teach all the classes--that is, grades 1-3. That means I'd have 23 classes in total. I wasn't sure how to respond to that. All I know is that next semester will be an interesting one.
Since the wedding on Saturday, I've been bumming around my homestay today and probably tomorrow. I went on a run outside today since the weather was pretty nice (only 48 degrees Fahrenheit). The plan was to visit Amy T in Hwacheon this week since she's back from Taiwan but that's not a plan set in stone. My parents are coming to Korea on the 24th and we are headed out to Japan together on the 31st before heading to Hong Kong on February 4th. I might do a hanok stay sometime between now and when my parents get in but that's also up in the air. It's been a fun and somewhat eventful break thus far. I'm excited to see what else happens next.