Where do I even begin? Since my last entry, a lot has happened: my parents came to Korea, I went to Tokyo with my parents, I went to Hong Kong and China with my parents, I went to Nepal and trekked around the Annapurna Himalayas with Tracey, I came back to Korea and had my first week of classes, etc.
Since chronological order is important to me, I guess I'll just follow in that order.
My parents arrived in Korea on January 24th. Before they got here, I went up to Seoul and then visited Amy Tseng in Hwacheon. I went back to Seoul the morning of the 24th to check into the hotel and then go to the airport to get my parents. It was actually REALLY nice to see them after so long. Granted, it's only a little bit of more time spent away from them than when I was in college, but so much has changed since I last saw them that it was just really great to see them again. Honestly, I was worried before they got here because I realized I was spending close to three weeks with them in Asia. While I will always love my parents, I also recognize that there is a time limit as to how much time I can spend with them before going a bit crazy. This time around though, things went great. Don't get me wrong, there were moments when I needed to take a break from them but overall, I found that I've learned to appreciate them so much more now as an adult. Now that I've "matured" or whatnot, I noticed so much more about them, their personalities, their habits, their strengths, their shortcomings, etc. It was so eye-opening. Some things I realized, in short:
-My parents are a hell of a lot more fun than I ever realized
-They are funnier than I ever remember
-They both trust me/rely on me and my knowledge and think that I know more than they do; they trust my input (they would make statements, then say, "Right, Ammy?" to see if I agreed or disagreed)
-They really do love each other, even if they show it in unconventional ways
-My dad is getting old and can't walk too long or for too far distances
-My dad is SO chill (I get this from him)
-My mom has a lot of energy (I get this from her)
-My mom walks FAST, my dad walks SLOW (and I walk at a pace somewhere in-between) so I have no idea how they ever dated
-My dad is frugal and cheap
-My mom is picky about food and likes fried foods
-My mom likes the outdoors and looking at pretty nature sights
-My dad doesn't seem to have much of a preference for much
-My dad takes up a lot of space when he sleeps
-My mom hates lines and will cut people in line
-My dad smells, REALLY. I need to introduce him to deodorant.
-My mom likes to drink a little bit and then claims she drank a LOT
-My dad can spot alcohol a mile away, especially when he's on the lookout for it
-My mom takes things to the extreme
-My dad makes a lot of random comments that are hilarious (I get this from him)
-My mom likes to copy me at times
-They act like little kids at times when they argue about things or make fun of each other
-They are very similar in that they both like to be right and act like they always know what's going on (even when they have no clue)
-My dad never admits when he's wrong and has a horrible sense of direction
-My mom likes to act helpless at times but also likes to act like she's a genius at times
-I love my parents A LOT
I spent a lot of time with them. When they got into Korea, I took them to all the touristy places in Seoul (all the palaces and whatnot) for a few days. From there, I took them to Geumsan so they could buy Ginseng. They really liked it there. From there, I took them to Mokpo where they got to meet my hometsay and see my school. The last stop was Busan where we did more touristy things before heading off to Japan. It was kinda cool that I got to do the touristy things with them while they were here because I hadn't done most of them before and now I don't have to do them again. Tokyo was a little overwhelming at points. When they were in Korea, I had a lot of control over what to do because of the fact that I live in Korea now and know how to get around, what to do, etc (more or less). When we were in Tokyo, I was without access to a phone (no internet/maps to look up stuff if I'm lost) and had never been to Japan myself so I was trying to figure it out while leading them. To be honest, I think I was more worried about making sure they were okay, getting fed, having fun, etc than myself. If I was with a friend in Japan or even by myself, I could go at my own pace and do whatever and be okay with it. Instead, I was concerned for my parents' sake. On the first day in Japan, I was overwhelmed with the train/subway transportation system. It's HUGE and rather confusing at first. Since its not operated by the government/central entity, but rather by private companies, there are a lot of different lines and ways to get places. Luckily, we were staying in Shinjuku, which is a major hub and had a lot to do around the area so my parents weren't too bored. We were in Tokyo for 4 days but I think we did almost all of the touristy things within 3 days. Tokyo was fine but it wasn't anything amazing to me; I think the experience of visiting Tokyo with my parents is a lot different than had I visited with friends though. I will note that Japanese people are EXTREMELY helpful and kind though. Knowing no Japanese and not always knowing how to get somewhere, I had to stop and ask people for directions a lot of the time. Everyone I asked would stop and help me. They would even go out of their way to make sure I got there. I remember asking one man who was going in the opposite direction for help; he stopped and walked me in the opposite direction of where he was going to a tourist information office about 50 meters away. Out of all the Asian countries I've been to so far, Japanese people are the kindest and most willing to help foreigners/strangers. From Tokyo, we went to Hong Kong, for a whole 8 hours. Long story short, I had purchased tickets from Tokyo to Hong Kong because my parents told me we had to arrive in HK by February 5th. They had booked for us to go on a tour in China with a tour group that was leaving on the 5th. What I didn't realize was that the tour group was going to depart HK for Shanghai and the tour was for Shanghai and other cities nearby. So why is this a big deal? Well, we had to transfer in Shanghai to get to HK so it was a waste. So what ended up happening was we left Tokyo for Shanghai (where we transferred) and then went to HK from Shanghai. We arrived in HK late at night (delayed flight), around midnight. By the time we got to the hotel that one of my relatives booked for us, it was around 2am. The plan was to leave to go back to the airport by 7am to catch a flight back to Shanghai with our tour group to start the tour. YEAH. It was very inefficient and unnecessary. It left my parents and me in a very cranky mood. I don't remember exactly where we went but I know we were in Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, as well as a few other cities. My parents had fun, which was all I was really worried about. The tour was kinda boring to me but I didn't mind too much. The tour group would hit up 1 or maybe 2 tourist spots a day and also a factory where they sold us some product (jade, silk, pearls, tea). Other than that, we spent our time eating (very full and good meals) and sitting on the bus traveling to the next spot. It was also pretty cold in China. It was a five day tour; we arrived back into Hong Kong on Lunar New Year Eve. We went to the Lunar New Year Fair/Flower Festival that night. They sell flowers, balloons, trinkets, stuffed animals, food, etc. It's crazy. It's apparently this huge tradition that HK does every year. They are open until 6am or so or whenever they sell out of all their products. It was JAM PACKED with people. I felt like I was being herded through the entire thing.
The next day, on Lunar New Years Day, we took a bus back to China. We were going to Guangdong, the province where my parents are from. More specifically, we were starting in Enping, where my mom is from, and then traveling to my dad's old home. This was the first time my dad has been back to China since the 1980s when they took my brother back when he was a one year old. I could tell my dad was really excited and happy to be back. I could also sense his fear of the unknown. It was like watching a little kid and it was really endearing. I got to see most of my relatives that are still in China while back and while it was only for a few days, I really enjoyed and cherished the time I did get to spend with them. As I'm getting older, I think my family is getting more and more important to me. My family has always been important to me but I think my appreciation for them is getting stronger and stronger as I mature. When I leave for Nepal on the 15th, I actually didn't want to leave my parents. I found that I really enjoyed being with them and I also realized that this was the last time I would really spend an extended amount of time with them. Once I start my career, I won't have that much time for vacation or traveling with them. Thus, when I left for the airport, I found myself crying a little. There's also this realization that my parents are invincible and they are only getting older. If nothing else, I'm glad I spent some of my vacation with them.
From Guangzhou, I went to Kathmandu to meet Tracey. We were both flying into Nepal (she was coming from Vietnam) to start our planned Everest Base Camp trek. We had booked through Trailblazers online and the plan was to spend the night in Kathmandu and then fly out early the next morning to begin our trek. We had to fly into Lukla to begin our trek to Everest Base Camp. The problem was that the weather was bad and although our original flight time was 6:30am, we couldn't get a flight out. We waited until 2pm to find out all the flights to Lukla were cancelled for the day. From there, we went back to the hotel to stay another night and hope for better weather the next day. We didn't have better luck on the 17th. There were multiple concerns about this: if the weather was bad (snowstorm), it would make it even harder to trek; since we're already delayed a day or two, we don't know if we would be able to make it to the base camp; the potential that the weather could also be bad in a week and we wouldn't be able to get a flight back to Kathmandu to make our international flight back to Korea. So we went to the Trailblazer office and picked another trek--that is, the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek. It was supposed to be a lot less strenuous (it was an easy trek compared to the moderate Everest Base Camp trek). So, due to weather and conditions outside of our control, we started our trek through the Annapurna Himalayas. I do honestly believe everything happens for a reason and that hindsight is 20/20. While it's not fair to say that we wouldn't hated our initial trek or had a hard time, etc, I can say that I did enjoy the ABC trek we did. We walked through Rhododendron forests and mountains. I think we experienced so many different things, from temperature differences (extremely hot and sweaty to bitter and numbing coldness) to different scenic spots (flowers and forests to snow peaked mountains). We also passed by and stayed in mountain villages. Those were interesting. It's literally a bed and a table. The walls are usually a piece of plywood. The toilet is usually outside or inside (if you're lucky) and indoor plumbing isn't available. Showers are interesting too. Some places require you to pay but all the places we stayed at were gracious enough to not charge us. Still, there was a period of 4 days that I didn't shower because it was cold and the pipes were frozen (closer to ABC).
Here's how our journey went:
Start trekking in Nayapool 1100 meters
Day 1: Trek through farmlands and villages to arrive in Ulleri 2073 meters
Day 2: Trek through villages, farmland, and forest to arrive in Ghorepani 2855 meters
Day 3: Wake up and trek to see the sunrise over Himalayas on Poon Hill 3200 meters and get stuck in Ghorepani for an extra day due to bad weather conditions
Day 4: Scale ice before arriving in Tadapani 2630 meters
Day 5: See monkeys and a woodpecker before arriving in Chhomrong 1950 meters
Day 6: See mountain deer, and trek through ridges and mountains to arrive in Himalaya 2873 meters
Day 7: Arrive at Machhapuchhre Base Camp 3700 meters, where we are staying for the night but continue trekking up to Annapurna Base Camp 4170 meters in a white-out-can't-see-50meters-infront-of-me
Day 8: Trek back to Chhomrong 1950 meters
Day 9: Arrive in Syauli Bazar 1300 meters
Day 10: Arrive back in Nayuapool 1100 meters
Here are some pictures from the trip:
It was no doubt one of those adventures I will always talk about when introducing myself to a group of strangers. Not everyone can say they've done a 10-day trek through the Himalayas.
From Nepal, Tracey and I got back to Korea safely on March 1st. We decided to splurge and stay in a hotel instead of a hostel for Friday night before heading back to Mokpo later on Saturday night. I had a dentist appointment that Saturday morning and we also both wanted to go to the hair salon. Tracey got a keratin and straightener treatment while I got a perm. IT TOOK SO LONG. I've never done anything to my hair other than gotten it cut so sitting there for hours was painful. I was really happy with the result though!
I dreaded the beginning of school on Monday though. Even after a two month vacation, I wasn't looking forward to going back to school and teaching. Maybe it was the fact that I knew I would have 23 classes and over 800 students. Or maybe it was the fact that I hadn't lesson planned at all yet. Or maybe it was the fact that the third years, whom I loved, all graduated. It was a combination of things. The first day was a hot mess. I think it had to do with the fact that it wasn't just the first day for but also the first day for all the other teachers and the students, as well. I felt bad asking for anything or taking too much of my co-teachers' time since I knew they were probably really busy as well, prepping for their classes, getting settled, etc. It was exasperated by the fact that I found out my main co-teacher, Mr. Lee is now a homeroom teacher for a second year class and Mr. Cho is now the head teacher for all the first years (head of all the first year homeroom teachers, in addition to being a first year homeroom teacher himself). Between the two of them, I get all my information about the school, my classes, events and happenings, scheduling, etc. Now, I feel like I will be extremely out of the loop because they're both really busy. Mr. Cho even said to me that if I need anything, I'll need to go to Mr. Lee now. Funny thing is, Mr. Lee said that he's really busy now. My first main thought the first day was, "This is going to be a long and interesting semester." Regarding Mr. Cho, since he's now in charge of all the other first year homeroom teachers, he's spent a lot of time in the first year homeroom teachers' office, leaving me to myself in our office. On Friday, two students even moved his computer to his other desk in that office. This past week, I saw him only a handful of times in our office, and it was usually only when he sat down to eat his lunch. He's not there in the mornings when I come in, during breaks when I'm coming back to drop off and pick up stuff for classes, or when I leave for the day. With his computer gone, he has even less of a reason to come by our office. This means, I'm alone in my office, in the corner of the building, where no one comes (unless they have class in the next classroom over). There is no way I'm going to be plugged in this semester. I'm pretty worried about that. However, I do know that the third year homeroom teachers all love me. They're a bunch of ajusshis but everytime I come in, all of them stop and see what I need. They even feed me and tell me to come whenever I want, to just hang out in their office with them. I stopped by to see Mr. Kim, one of my English co-teachers, and though Mr. Kim was not to be found, one of the other teachers handed me two California oranges. Yep, the third year homeroom teachers are pretty awesome.
Seeing the Mokpo crew for the first time in two months was really nice. I didn't realize how much I missed them until I saw them again. I think final parting in July will be really hard.
I missed my homestay family. Although I really, really like them and care for them, and I can tell they care and worry about me, I think they're so chill, to the extent that I'm not sure how much they actually care. For example, when I go out, they don't contact me or check up on me, which is nice, but also a bit worrying. I know they worry though; I was out with Mokpo on this past Friday and came home a little after 1am. The lights in the living room were still on and my host mom and host brother were passed out in the living room. I knew that my host mom had tried to stay up to make sure I got home okay from this action. I shut off the lights for them and then proceeded to bed myself.
I can't believe there are only about 4 months and some left in my grant year. The Fulbright conference in Jeju is coming up (it's on my birthday! :D) so it just feels even more so like this grant year is flying by. Although I don't feel like I have anything left that I "need to do," I feel like I should try to experience some more things before leaving Korea. That being said, if I'm honest with myself, I feel like I am ready to go back to America and start the next step. I don't want to live in the future and miss being in the present, but I can't help but be excited to the next thing right now. I like Korea, I do, and it's been a great grant year, full of adventure and new experiences, but I'm glad I have something to look forward to when I head back home.