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Published: December 18th 2006
Jeju Island. Sanbang-san.
It's almost that time of year again-- that time that all students and most teachers look forward to most in the year--winter vacation.
My winter vacation begins December 23. Exams are over, classes are almost done. It's hard to believe a semester has already gone by. Then again, when I look back over my piles of lesson materials/plans I know that I've been here the good 5-6 months it feels like I've been here.
To catch you up, many things have happened since my Thanksgiving update. We'll start with the actual Thanksgiving.
I knew Thanksgiving would be hard in a foreign country because, well, only the US really celebrates Thanksgiving, of course. So, I was a little homesick Thanksgiving Day, even though I was able to call home and talk with everyone. But, lucky for me, an American friend came to visit and really brightened up Thanksgiving and the week or so that followed.
My American friend, Tommy, went to the University of South Carolina with me, and we were both in the service organization Alpha Phi Omega. I had a really great time with his visit. I showed him around some of Korea, and he allowed
me to talk at a normal conversational pace (and corrected me when I talked to him in ESL teacher mode... aka, very slowly and distinctly). It was really nice to have someone to hang out with all week.
So, I showed him around Yeosu, and we also went to an expansive green tea field about 2 hours from Yeosu (with my homestay Mom and some guests she was entertaining), Suncheon Bay (about one hour north of Yeosu), and, best of all, Jeju Island.
Jeju Island is a decent-sized island far off the south coast of Korea. We had to take a plane to go there, and supposedly it's the tropical paradise of Korea. Well, I don't know if I'd call it the Bahamas, but it was beautiful and mystical and, I think, all it was advertised to be.
My co-teacher helped us find a place to stay and get a taxi driver to drive us around the island for our touring (the recommended mode of travel). We only had two days or so there, so it was a short visit, but fortunately, with our very own taxi driver, we got around quite well. Our taxi driver was
Huge Green Tea Fields
And... my homestay mom. She's so cute!
a lot of fun. He didn't speak any English, and I only speak some Korean, so it was fun for me to play interpreter. And a little exhausting. But, when I did truly understand what he was saying and could relay it to Tommy (who, of course, knows no Korean, beyond the "thank you" I taught him), I felt pretty special.
So, we started at Sanbang-san, this interesting mountain-type-thing on the south coast. The entire island is a dormant volcano, and old lore says one day a long time ago a man on Jeju-do was hunting and accidently shot a mountain spirit in the buttocks. The hunter realized his mistake and made a run for it. The spirit was so angry, it ripped off the top of the mountain and threw it at the hunter. The piece he tossed is now the aforementioned mountain--Sanbang-san. (The story is well-known, but this is all paraphrased from my Moon Handbook guidebook for Korea.) It was an interesting moutain, needless to say. We also saw the temple on the mountain, replete with a natural grotto and a Buddha statue and a small pool of pure, natural water for drinking (originating from the top
of the grotto).
After Sanbang-san, we went to Songak-san, the island's southernmost tip. We didn't climb up to the crater, but we got a nice view of Sanbang-san, the ocean, and beyond. It was beautiful.
We finished our tour the first day by going to Woedolgoe (or Lonely Rock, as it's called in English--I don't think it's a direct translation, but I don't know), Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, and some cool rock formations on the coast near Jungmun.
The next day, we began our day at an early 9AM and headed east. First, we stopped by a traditional Jeju village called Seongeup. It's like a folk village except, well, people still live there. It was purposely preserved with thatched-roof houses, etc., so that history could be preserved and observed... I guess that's the best way to explain it. Then, we went to Seongsan Crater, on which we climbed to the top, despite torrential rain. Thanks, Tommy. But, it was fun, though I was soaked afterward.
After that, we headed to Manjang-gul, which is a series of lava tubes that have been converted to tour-able caves. It was creepy and cold and wet, but it was also interesting and
something new. I hadn't been in any caves since the Ozark Caverns in Arkansas when I was a kid, so it was fun to see what Korean lava tubes look like. I always feel special when I get to go in these secret-seeming places, like caves or secret passages and things. Okay, really I've not been in many secret passages, but still...
We had one more place on our list that we wanted to visit. But, the taxi driver suggested we stop for lunch then visit that place and then go back to the airport. He asked me what I wanted to eat, and I said something quick--kimbap (like a sushi roll without the sushi) or ramen or something. He nodded and then said he had ramen at his house and that his house was nearby and he wanted us to eat lunch at his house. Yes, really. Tommy was suspicious, but I've gotten used to Korean kindness, though maybe this was just too nice. Still, we went up to his apartment (in the city where the airport was), he made us ramen and rice and kimchi, etc. etc., and we ate. It was really nice, and I still
don't know why he was so nice to us. I mean, I guess we were polite, and I tried to speak some Korean to him, and maybe he felt bad he couldn't speak English to us. Tommy maintains it's because we gave him ice cream and chocolates the day before, but I'm not so sure. Anyway, it was a totally pleasant lunch, delicious, and his hospitality was amazing. I was amazed, and it's hard to amaze me these days.
After that surprise lunch, we saw our last sight--Yongduam (Dragon Head Rock), which was pretty cool. Then, back to the airport where we flew to Gwangju and then took a bus back to Yeosu. It was quite a whirlwind trip, but really fun. I was quite happy to have seen Jeju-do, and I hope to go back soon!
Since then, during my students' exam week, I did some traveling, too. I had three days off from school and then a weekend, so I went to Gwangju, Daejeon, and Seoul, mostly to visit with friends. In those cities, I met up with Fulbright friends, such as Susie (who actually met me in Yeosu before we traveled together to Gwangju and
Daejeon), Christina (my former roommate who we met up with in Daejeon and who also went with me to Seoul), Michelle, Anurag, and Bianca. Then, in Seoul, I met up with two friends from USC, Songyi and Denae. It was quite a social week for me, and it was nice to see everyone. I love my Fulbrighters! And, of course, my USC people :-)
Now, just one more week before winter vacation. Forunately, I'm going home for Christmas. I wasn't planning to go home, but one week ago I decided I wouldn't really have a merry Christmas in Korea (Christmas is a couples' holiday here), so I'd be far happier to go home for the holidays. Add to that some homesickness and my love for my American friends, family, and food, it sounded like a great idea. Once I convinced myself my time in Korea wasn't about my expat willpower, or a challenge for how long I could go without my American friends, family, and culture, I went ahead and bought a ticket. So, I'm excited to be home for Christmas!
After that, back to Korea recharged and refreshed, and back to Yeosu in just enough time to
teach a two-week special English class at school. Then, in February, I'll take Korean language classes in Seoul. I really want to be able to communicate better, especially with my host family, who is so wonderful to me, and my fellow teachers. I hope a three-week intensive Korean course will help with that!
Well, now I'm off to go watch a movie with some of my students and then to dinner with one of those students and her family. Fun times!
(I have all the Jeju-do pictures uploaded, but be on the lookout in the next few days for the addition of incriminating pictures of me with sketchy characters such as Yoda and Darth Vader... talk about some good times in Seoul!)
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