The Saga of the Island Squatters.

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Asia » South Korea
October 4th 2010
Published: October 4th 2010
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“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”-Henry Miller.

The life of a SEPIC teacher can be totally confined by four walls. The walls of the classroom, your office, your home, the grocery store, restaurants, bars, clubs, and so on. Therefore, as our planned camping trip to the island of Anmyeondo, where our friend Nick lives, approached, the excitement to adventure in the outdoors was getting out of hand. We had cabin fever. We all fussed obsessively over our plans to meet each other and over-used the words "excited" "woohoo" "fun" "awesome" "sweet" and "yipee". We were already convinced the trip would be epic. Never mind the blatant facts that over half of us did not have sleeping bags or tents and the weather gods of Korea had decided to bring the unwanted present of winter early. Logic was not our strong suit, but then again I've never been a fan.

Friday. The day had arrived. SEPIC teachers from all over the land were taking various modes of transportation (trains, busses, bikes, donkey (ok maybe not) ) to convene in Hongseong at Sunelle and Tijana's apartments. From there, we took taxis to the island. Yeah, so I still think if you can take a car to an island, it's not a "real island" but we will let it slide. I guess bridges don't count as land. The taxi conversations worried me. Duane was talking about how he had never been camping and then we got on the subject of going to the bathroom outside and the general consensus was utter horror. Consider this with the fact that Duane and Jamal both doubted their biking skills and it had been decided we would be biking a fair distance to our camping site. Would this ragtag group ever make it in the wilds of the island? We would soon see.

Our taxi dropped us off on a dead street in who knows where and there was no Nick. Had the apocalypse happened while we were in our taxi? Did people live on this island or had they all been eaten by wild boars? As my imagination ran wild, I heard a bike bell ring and we turned around to find Nick zooming up on his bike, all pimped out with speakers and blasting the Beatles. Our guide had arrived. He told us we would be painting the town red and going out so we headed up the street to find a bar. Piro said "this is probably the most action this street has ever seen" as the horde of foreigners loudly paraded down the deserted street. Oh wait, not deserted as a drunken Korean woman was helped out of a bar by a man who was practically carrying her. The Koreans wear drunk well.

The bar was called Cape Town, but there was nothing South African about it. We ordered nachos, which turned out to be a plate of cheesy spaghetti with a crown of tortilla chips. Duane and Steve were super appalled but soon enough we were fighting each other to eat it. We also ordered a LARGE amount of beer and soju to go with our cake that Sunelle had brought to celebrate some of the groups 6 months in Korea anniversary. A photo shoot soon started taking place amid the screaming, laughing, and general teasing of each other. We were the only people in the place and yet it sounded like the place was packed because of our boisterous presence. Soon the bar was "closing", (I think they just wanted us out) and the drunkards straggled out into the night. I had passed on a good amount of the soju shots (not a fan) so I believe I saw the rest of the nights events from a fairly sober perspective. What happened next could have ruined the trip, but due to positive vibes afterwards and people controlling their tempers, it all turned out fine.

The sitch was this: in our drunken joy we were playing the ipod speakers in front of a Family Mart and dancing to the muisc and chatting away. Two Korean boys who were dressed up and also out drinking came and joined us. They started dancing to the music and we tried teaching them dances. They seemed fun and nice so we let them come along as we started the walk through the dark backroads and fields on the way to Nick's house from town. A walk I would never do alone but there was a large group of us. Soon we found out the boys were in high school. As teachers, it would do no good to be hanging out and drinking with students so we told them nicely they should go home. We told them we were going home to sleep and it was nice meeting them but goodbye now. They did not like this idea and told us that they lived the way we were walking so they kept walking with us. It got to the point where they kept pressuring us to let them hang out with us and they were angry that we wanted them to leave. I think they felt insulted and frankly they were drunk and being stupid. Shouting matches started to occur. The fact that neither of us spoke the others language well made things much worse. Yet anger is a universal language and they were not getting that they needed to leave. Piro and I tried our best to get people to ignore these boys, but they were hard to ignore and they kept getting in our faces. I was ahead with some of the group and couldn't see where the Korean boys and the others were. I saw them coming up the road saying "just go, just go" and it came to light that one of our friends had been punched in the face twice by one of the Koreans. Luckily a huge brawl had not broken out and our friends had left in a hurry. Still, none of us were happy to have one of our friends hurt, especially since this friend had been trying to defuse the situation. A dark cloud was starting to grow over the group as anger and resentment grew, but the Koreans had left and it was over so we all tried to forget it and get back into the moment of why we had come to the island. To have fun and spend time with each other!

At Nick's tiny place, we all threw our sleeping gear on his bedroom floor and made ourselves a little "slumberland", where we continued the festivities until sleep started to conquer us and it was every man or woman for themselves to find a patch of ground to sleep on.

We woke up the next morning reeling from the effects of soju. There was ten of us strewn around the room all complaining of the aftershocks. I felt like my head was being stepped on by someone with steel shoes. The room looked like one of those immigrant houses, where you have 10 people paying rent for a one bedroom place. We forced ourselves to get ready and face the day. Some people showered but Phuong and I did not and branded ourselves, "The Dirty Girls". If I'm camping, I'm not showering. We went to Nick's school across the street to borrow bikes. The teachers there were so very sweet and they gave us all ice cream. We sat on the steps eating as students and teachers passed by and gaped at the freak show. I even did a little dance just to entertain them. The bikes were sweet as, complete with bells, so we all strapped on our gear to our backs and bikes using rope and whatever we could and set off like some bohemian bike gang.

It was starting to sprinkle and we were a bit worried about this whole camping situation but we carried on. We stopped at the beach to see Grandmother and Grandfather rock and I found myself a cool Fall themed shell. We ate corn dogs and waited for Nick to go pick up John, another South African, from the bus station. By the time they came back it was raining for reals. Hoods went up and we carried on. John actually rode with his umbrella up but it was in his face most of the time and looked extremely dangerous. We rode along the ocean on the road and then turned onto a dirt path covered in rocks. This led us to another paved road and then we reached the woods with more bumpy riding and slippery pine needles where poor Phuong wiped out. Her bruise actually looked like the island so at least there is that... 😊

Our campsite was beautiful. No one around, pine trees, the ocean right at our feet, and wait, what's this?? A wood shack sitting on the shore. We ran up to it and jumped for joy. We were all soaked and cold from riding in the rain and fortune had given a home to stay in. There was floor space for all of us, there was no door but there was some benches, what looked like a cooking area, and most importantly it had a roof. It looked like something that would be in a museum to show how pioneers used to live. There was even candles. F the tents, we are staying in this!! We threw our stuff down and started milling about.

I had a burst of energy and just wanted to RUN. Beaches and rain have this effect on me. It's something primal I suppose. The tide was very low and far out, you could hardly see where the ocean was. I decided it was my goal to reach it so I started jogging out on the wet sand, jumping over puddles and little sea creatures and shells. It was still raining but it was light and felt great. I figured I was wet anyways, what did it matter. There was still some areas where the ocean had come in and I had to run through the water so I gave up on having dry feet. I finally made it to the actual ocean and looked back and everyone was dots. I looked to my right and saw an older lady collecting sea creatures. Hmmm now this is a situation I thought. I had known from the start I wanted to jump in the ocean on this trip, no matter the weather. Mom, you would have been proud. I learned from you that if you want to get the heart pumping and feel truly alive, then all you need is some cold water to jump into. I just knew this was the time to get in the water. My clothes were soaked, should I just jump in shoes and all? No, that seemed silly. I considered the clothes I had in my bag and decided to get in my skivvies. But then what about the old woman? Koreans don't look kindly on undressed foreigners. I decided to keep my tank top on so as not to scandalize her, maybe she would think I was in a bathing suit. I took off my boots and pants and stepped into the water. It didn't feel too cold and with the rain hitting my face I felt totally alive. The water was shallow so I had to walk a bit out and then I dove in. I came out and just started laughing because I was just so damn happy to be in Korea on an island in the middle of the rain. I swam around trying to stay warm and saw some shapes running towards me. One turned out to be Nick, who got in the water as well and was yelling like a jungle man. Next Piro showed and after he dove in the water, he acted very manly about it 😊 Then John arrived and Sunelle and him came in. We all cheered and shouted for each other as we dove in (well except John who dove where it was too shallow and got a mouthful of sand) the water and braved the cold water. We all started splashing each other and playing "water baseball". We then had the idea to try making our own spa of sorts where we could churn the water and someone would stand in the middle. So silly, but we were having a blast! Until the tide came in and threatened all the clothes and consumed mine! So I was walking back to our hut wet clothes in hand, in my underwear, when I decided to run again. I wanted to get to the hut before the others so I could change into some dry clothes. John ran with me and we tried to gracefully run barefoot over shells and other sharp objects. We ran by a circus car, a truck of sorts with yellow and white striped material on it and low to the ground, that was combing the beach for something. It was so surreal. Perhaps this Korea thing has all been a very nice dream...

I got cozy in my sweater and as the others came back, John decided we needed a fire to keep warm. He went into South African Man Mode also known as SAMM. SAMM is very dangerous, yet useful. SAMM had made John decide that a fire inside an old wooden hut was a bright and neccessary idea. There was a small area in the corner where fires could be lit so he started throwing all the wood, pine needles, and sticks he could on it. Soon Nick was also joining in on the SAMM and breaking sticks over his knee like a warrior. Man made fire and soon we had a toasty and scary looking fire going with TONS of smoke billowing out of it. This of course got the attention of the Koreans down the beach who were also camping. They arrived in an unhappy state and wanted to know why exactly we were trying to burn down a Korean television show set!! Apparently our new home had been the set of a Korean show and the banner said this quite Hangul. Whoops. Anniyo, no sleeping here! said the Koreans. This was sad news. We no longer wanted to put tents up in the rain outside. Things got worse when we realized it was getting dark and all we had was cookies and marshmallows. NO WATER. We then made a grocery list(far too late) and sent then men off to get supplies and pick up Jonathan and his bike. Sunelle, Piro, Tijana, Phuong, Duane and I were left on tent duty. Seems no one had set up a tent..dear god. Lucky for the South Africans, they had pop up tents. Mine not so much..Just as I had taken mine out and started wondering where I would stake it, the Koreans showed again and were laughing at us. My first thought was fuckers...but then they said Sleep, yes! you can sleep there! We were allowed back in our island hut!

We took the tents down and decided we would set them up inside the shack. A squatters version of camping. We fit 3 tents inside, two could fit 4 people and the other could fit 3. It looked like madness. We waited for the boys to come back and ate marshmallows and drank beer to try and keep hunger away. We hadn't had a real meal since we arrived! Weariness hit Piro and I and we went in the tent to take a nap but soon Sunelle came in just buzzing with energy and the nap got put on hold because she wanted to spread her happiness 😊 We lit candles and sat on the ground eating our puffy snacks looking as homeless as could be. Just when we thought the boys may have died ("it's so dark out, how can they make it back?" Duane wondered) there was a growl and there they were in all their mud covered glory. It had been quite a journey. Many of the bikes brakes did not work. Ruben could not wear his glasses and there had been mud all over the place. But they had found Jonathan and so we had a new recruit to squeeze into our new abode.

Us women folk had specified "healthy food" and yet the boys set out bread, fake cheese, and spam for sandwiches. For some reason, peanuts and ice cream cone fingers were also chosen. Don't let a man do a woman's job oh man. We were starved though so we all sat in a circle and chowed down with a flashlight giving us light. This my friends is no camping, this was straight up squatting. The wine and soju flowed as did the laughter and the ridiculousness. Ice cream cone fingers, cat paw hands, a foot rave, and a chubby bunny contest all took place. Then fireworks came out and we let them off the porch. The first one went FLYING into the camp of the Buddhists next to us who were chanting and hitting a gong. I sure hope they didn't think we were trying to kill them but they just keep on chanting along. It was the most out of this world fusion to have a shack of crazy homeless looking foreign teachers next to camp of Buddhists under a tarp practicing their religion. When we decided to go to sleep that night, the sound of the gong got even louder as if they were trying to get us back for our own chaotic noise.

Sleep was hard to come by as we talked about things like our favorite tv shows as kids. Phuong and I couldn't even handle the fact that the SA boys had watched a show called Bravestar, that was about a Native American in SPACE. And he was a SHERIFF. WTF. I also somehow got the idea of Carebears being in the movie Avatar and had a serious laugh attack which ended in my scarf/pillow being doused in tears. But sleep did come and soon I woke up with it still dark outside and me sweating to death from being in a tent with four people. I felt antsy so I went outside with my sleeping bag wrapped around me.

The wind was chilly and it was still rather dark but I could tell the sun would be coming up soon and I decided to stick in out. I got my IPOD and listened to some Coldplay and Iron and Wine as I watched the gold of the sun touch the beach and bring new things into my view. It was a beautiful sunrise because it was all mine as I watched it sitting on the porch like a big rolly polly.

I started to feel tired again so I went and laid on the sand and went to sleep. I woke up to see the circus car staring at me and could see the Buddhists were up and at them. I looked like a tramp out on the beach by myself but I went back to bed. Woke up again to Sunelle standing over me and she got her sleeping bag as well and we cat napped yet again. The others came out and joined us and breakfast happened on our sleeping bags with some fruit that was a present from the Buddhists. We had half a watermelon which we all drank from as sacrament. We were threatened by a shanking from Nick if we did not take part.

We cleaned up and went to get the bikes and head back to our lives off the island. It was soon obvious that Duane's bike was gone. It had been stolen. Yet another dark moment in our weekend. We were worried about how we would get his stuff and him back and then Phuong suggested that I ride on the back of Nick's bike and Duane could take mine. This was a little scary, but I had been an avid bike passenger in Sweden so it was nothing new. The sun had started to shine and the weather was GORGEOUS as we peddled along and I clutched onto Nick as we bounced over rocks and zoomed down hills. We stopped along the beach so Nick could get a ride on the microlight and the rest of us went onwards to find food. We went to a seafood restaurant and had a seafood soup, complete with scallops, squid heads, and other umm delectable things.

It was soon time to head home back to the reality of the week. We took bikes, then walked, then took a taxi, then a ferry, and then in our different directions on busses or trains. It took me about 6 hours to get home. A horrendous journey but on the weekends we are always in transit. It is the way of the Korean teacher on weekends.

Our ferry back from the island was full of love and happiness and we all chatted about what a wonderful time we had and all that we had to look forward to together. The sun was setting and seagulls were flying overhead as we threw them shrimp chips. It was the perfect way to end the perfect weekend.


4th October 2010

ocean enlightment
There is something strange and wonderful about jumping into the cold ocean or the river on a cool rainy day or a lake surrounded by alpine snow!! I wish I could have jumped in too!! You do feel so alive!! I would like to hear more about the kind buddhist sharing watermelon with you as well! What an adventure, the bike ride sounds wonderful along the coastline. You are livin the life....meeting interesting and wonderful people along the way. ( the beatles playing on the bikes with bells ringing, what a sight!!) Love you and miss you!!

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