Poised on the Edge of the World


Advertisement
South Korea's flag
Asia » South Korea » Jeollanam-do » Yeosu
September 22nd 2006
Published: September 25th 2006
Edit Blog Post

So, an interesting week or so, as always. First, the good things. On Wednesday, I had the day off because of testing at school, and my host family was out of town in Seoul. So, my independent self finally reasserted itself, and I decided to get myself on a bus that would take me to Hyangil-am, a Buddhist hermitage that is on the opposite end of my island. Lately, I've kind of waited around to see what my new Korean friends might show me, but because some things you just have to do on your own, I decided to stop being lazy and to get myself to at least one new place in Yeosu.

And, boy, am I glad I did! Hyangil-am is one of the most breathtaking and peaceful places I have visited in Korea. I took a bus (about a 30-45-minute ride) to the back side of the island where one can overlook the sea and see for miles and miles-- all the way to the horizon. The hermitage is at the top of a mountain, just above a quaint, seafood-ridden town. Ascending the steps to the hermitage, I was surrounded by lush woods, and then I stepped onto the hermitage grounds themselves, face-to-face with the traditional-style buildings and looking out over the wide, open sea. I swear, it is one of the most beautiful places I've been to and just what I needed to do. There were a few other travelers there and, of course, some Buddhist monks. Still, for the most part, it was quiet, and I had the chance to sit and breathe in the fresh ocean air, enjoy God's beauty laid out before me, and watch as the sun quietly descended behind the mountaintop, leaving the horizon a dusky shade of purple. I took some steps that led above the main building/area and found a spot even more secluded than at the main level and sat there for awhile, between another building for worship and a Buddha statue-- enjoying a quietness and peace that I cherished. It was such a refreshing and inspiring day.

Before going to Hyangil-am, I had another adventure. I went to a Korean orphanage to speak with the director about volunteering there during the week (I went with a Korean who speaks fluent English and lived in the US for 16 years). The orphanage is close to my church,
The view from the topThe view from the topThe view from the top

Hyangil-ram, at the edge of the world... or the southernmost part of Korea
so at least I know where it is now, and I think I will go back every week on Thursdays to help some of the elementary kids learn basic English. Scary-- I've never taught BASIC English. So, I pray that that all goes okay. I'm really happy to have this opportunity, though-- I've been looking forward to volunteering there. I've also been volunteering on Saturdays at a home for disabled children and adults, which is rewarding work, too! And quite different from places where I volunteered at home. But I wanted to also do some English-related volunteer work, since that seems to be my strongest selling point here. So, one day a week at the orphanage, one day a week at the other place (Dongbaekwon).

And then, yesterday was also a good day for independent Alexis. I had a good day at work and then decided I wanted to see Jinnamgwan, a historical spot in downtown. It's a pavilion built in 1599 by the nationally famous Admiral Yi (equate to the US's George Washington), and it's the largest single-story wooden building in Korea. I meant to go right after school while it was still light but needed to go
A stone turtleA stone turtleA stone turtle

Hyangil-am Hermitage
back to the house to get my camera. So, I took the bus home and back, and by then it was dark. Fortunately, though, Jinnamgwan has lights, so I still was able to see it. Some pictures didn't turn out so well, but that's okay. I got there just before the lights turned on, so it was like this bastion of silence in the middle of a busy city night-- so cool. Then, I spent the evening shopping, and might I say, Korean clothes are ridiculously hard for me to fit into. I'm about an XL or so by Korean standards, and I'm no where near there in the US. So, trying on pants is utterly discouraging. Luckily, my night was saved by finding a shirt that fit (not too tight like the rest), was comfortable, and looked good on me. And made me look less like a waeguk or foreigner.

So, those were the highlights of my week. But, unfortunately, my week wasn't without its frustrations. Living in a foreign country is rarely easy, even if everyone is kind as all get-out. One thing: communication problems. My Korean is improving, but just when I finally think I'm getting
The viewThe viewThe view

From Hyangil-am Hermitage
somewhere, I get into a conversation and totally blank, leaving myself feeling like a dolt and on top of that being able to actually communicate something that's necessary, heartfelt, etc. etc. Or understand something of that regard. Then, in matters of English, people try to communicate but sometimes the idea just doesn't come together. Even with very good English speakers. I know how they feel-- they surely get it on their end when I try Korean. But then there are the even worse times-- the real miscommunications-- when I think I understand something they say but I end up totally wrong or totally getting the wrong idea. I know it is a natural part of the process, but I just wish sometimes I had those international (and universal) translators, the likes of which you see on Star Trek. Gosh, would life be easier! Of course, I guess I wouldn't have come here if I didn't like a challenge.

Then, all of this evaporates when communication occurs. I think that is one of the most rewarding parts-- when communication is successful or when verbal communication is succeeded by something even more human, like sharing a warm smile, or using a
A small BuddhaA small BuddhaA small Buddha

Just outside Hyangil-am Hermitage
certain tone of voice, or laughing together until you cry even though neither of you speak the same language. Those are moments that mean something.

And then, one more thing that has bothered me recently: random people asking for my phone number. I know they're nice. I know they're not out to get me. And not even all of them want to practice English-- some just want to show off Yeosu, make a new friend, and maybe have been abroad themselves so know what being a foreigner means. Regardless, I still can't and don't plan on getting used to it. For example, I will talk to someone for two minutes-- unrelated to work, unrelated to my host family, unrelated to much of anything about me-- and they will ask my phone number so they can take me out. Not on a date, or anything-- it's been women or families mostly. And it's happened 4 or 5 times. The tough part is, they're nice and I don't want to lie, so I frequently give out my number. Chalk it up to not knowing how to say no. Of course, I should probably just say I don't have a phone or
The pathwayThe pathwayThe pathway

The pathway to the hermitage
something (though that'd be tough for anyone here to swallow-- everyone has one!). But then it gets even stickier. For instance, I met a teacher from another high school here who teaches English (she's Korean) going out of a church service one night. She asked me what I was doing there, etc. etc. We spoke for about 1-2 minutes, and then she asked my number (because we were parting ways at the door). Certainly, this was at church so I could use a good church friend who's fluent in English and is a teacher like me, right? And she was about my age, maybe. So, it kind of makes sense. But, then again, I don't really know anything about her, and we only talked for 2 minutes. Did she want English practice or to really befriend me? Or both? See, that is where the sticky part comes in. I am a stranger here, and I could always use more friends, so I'm shy at turning these offers down-- especially when there is the possibility of genuineness and a good time. Then again, I do have a loving host family, great coworkers, and a few friends already. Yet, sometimes, they are
The main areaThe main areaThe main area

The center of the hermitage
all busy, doing the things they do best. So, should I not expand my circle? Regardless, it feels utterly awkward to give out my phone number like that, not knowing if I will be used as a makeshift English conversation tutor or maybe will find real friendship. And can there be both?

I think that's been the biggest conundrum (beyond language issues) so far. Because I know so many people here want to learn English. But there are also nice people. And it does sometimes get lonely in a foreign country. Who am I to refuse offers of friendship, however they come? I know that I can, but again, it's not easy for me to say no about those kinds of things. Of course, most people have told me just to not give out my phone number or take someone else's. But, then again, you can't even decide if you like someone until after you call and go out, and by then it's too late to jump ship-- you're already in an acquaintanceship, at least! And then there are the texts, the phone calls...

I guess I will figure out a way to deal with this sometime. I
The view from the topThe view from the topThe view from the top

Hyangil-ram, at the edge of the world... or the southernmost part of Korea
hope it is soon, and I hope I make the right choices.


Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 28


Advertisement

An army of turtlesAn army of turtles
An army of turtles

Wooden (I think) turtles at Hyangil-am. I thing some had coins on their backs. I'm not really sure what this is about, but I know that some say the shape of the island at Hyangil-am looks like a turtle. Also, the turtle ship was an important Korean defense against the Japanese... Not that either of that have anything to do with these turtles, but those are the only other turtle images I know...
Buddha statueBuddha statue
Buddha statue

At the most secluded part of Hyangil-am
Buddha statueBuddha statue
Buddha statue

At the most secluded part of Hyangil-am
Buddha statueBuddha statue
Buddha statue

At the most secluded part of Hyangil-am
Settling into duskSettling into dusk
Settling into dusk

At the most secluded part of Hyangil-am
Temple BellTemple Bell
Temple Bell

Hyangil-am Hermitage
Small BellSmall Bell
Small Bell

Hyangil-am Hermitage
The viewThe view
The view

Hyangil-am Hermitage
LampLamp
Lamp

Hyangil-am Hermitage
Near duskNear dusk
Near dusk

Hyangil-am Hermitage
Near duskNear dusk
Near dusk

Hyangil-am Hermitage
Near duskNear dusk
Near dusk

Hyangil-am Hermitage


26th December 2006

Enjoyed it!
By chance I landed your blog.. Although I'm Korean, I didn't know such a great place like this... I hope visit someday!

Tot: 0.14s; Tpl: 0.053s; cc: 7; qc: 23; dbt: 0.014s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.2mb