I said goodbye to Elon with the courage to leave, giving a final hug to many of my friends and mentors uncertain of the next time I would see them. But in moving forward sometimes past memories and feelings get unearthed and grow with the present.This past weekend I experienced this intertwining mix of reminiscing and living in the moment.
Friday (7/18), I escaped the cement palace (campus) and traveled with my Fulbright cohort to Donghae, a city on the coast of Korea. The weather and landscape was different from Goesan; it was the first time we saw a clear canvas blue sky and mountains not covered behind the humid mist and of course the ocean. There is nothing like the ocean. I have such a deep love for water; its calming presence, its rolling waves, and its vast endlessness. Yet it was staring out at the water’s edge that first put me in a past daze.
I saw myself years younger, shorter and more rounded, wearing a magenta band covering my ears and the top of my forehand. I was crying, unwilling to jump into water, scared that the water would hurt me or worse swallow me. My tears had settled, but my eyes stared unwaveringly and I could hear the silent anger in the look. I was angry at the water. I had terrible ear issues as a kid and when I got too much water in them I had the most awful ear infections. So I was scared and angry about something I couldn’t control. Eventually this feeling changed and everything that I felt about the water was different. I owe much of that change to my parents for refusing to allow me to stand on the sidelines and ultimately throwing me into the water until I learned to swim. It was in one of those moments when my dad threw me in, that I realized what we are most afraid of can bring us most joy. That’s how I feel about Korea right now. There are some days that I am terrified by the thought of teaching ESL and living with a homestay that may speak no English, but when I look pass my fear I see that I am beginning to love this country and the people.
My vacation to Donghae reminded me of this growing love and gave me even more reasons to love Korea. Friday after we arrived to Donghae we continued our programming with a lecture on Buddhism. I was both interested and tired during the talk so it was hard to balance the excitement for learning and the desire to dose off. Nevertheless, I learned that Buddhism first came to Korea from China in 372 C.E and this religion/philosophy is one of the few doctrines that was started by a person with no link to a God. The speaker explained that Buddhism is a religion that seeks the answer and understanding of who am I. Moreover, I was most struck in the talk, by the monk’s question of why do we capitalize the “I”? He insinuated our society’s overwhelming egotistical mindset and our rush to create separations between everything around us that ultimately limits our respect and understanding of the world and our environment. I appreciated his perspective, but I was more excited to be outside and experiencing Korea firsthand. So thankfully following the talk we traveled to the Samhwasa Temple. The temple sits surrounded by a tide of mountains, creeks, and lush trees. It was weird the scenery reminded me of North Carolina somewhat. It was nice to spend the afternoon in nature. The next day (Sat, 7/20) a group of us decided to return to the temple area and hike for a few hours. We only had a few hours so weren’t able to summit the mountain, but we walked along a travel with a waterfall and were able to play around in the water. On our way back we found a path that ascended along a narrow and deep slanted stair case. We all decided what the hell and began climbing up. I was towards the back of the line moving slowly feeling our distance from the ground growing farther a part. We all reached a resting point on the trail and just took time to process the view. It was a beautiful outlook with a single rock jutting out with enough space for a few of us to sit or stand at a time. We were all standing quietly admiring the scenery when a member of my group, blurted out “I feel like I am in Jurassic Park.” And she was right, the view was otherworldly. Back at the base of the trail we were all enjoyed a good lunch celebrating a fun hike. At the restaurant I tried Pajeon a pancake-like dish made with a variety of meats and vegetables. It was delicious. We finished the meal in time to catch the bus and head back to the hotel. With still much of the day ahead of me, I changed into my bathing suit and went to the beach. The beach was crowded from all sides. Umbrellas sprouted from the sand all over the place, protecting individuals from the rays of the suns and preserving peoples’ fare and pale skin. Beyond noticing the number of umbrellas, I also observed the different dress between American and Korean beaches. Many of the females wore one piece suits or shirts over their tops, while men were wearing speedos or traditional bathing suits.
Quickly a bunch of us found an open patch of sand and made it our home. I walked to the water letting my feet touch the Sea of Japan for the first time. I quickly learned that calling this water the Sea of Japan was a major insult to Korea. The more inclusive and commonly used name here is East Sea. The water was definitely cold, but I trudged through. Later on a few of us decided to splurge and we went on a speed boat tube. It was a blast. I was convinced the driver was determined to knock us off because we he was swirling around and maneuvering with steep sharp turns. I ended the beach on a high and decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Dinner was with Mrs. Shim a short, but spirited women with continuous insightful words and a steadfast conviction. Dinner was Korean barbeque and it was delicious. Each table was built with a gas grill in the center and the servers would bring out trays of fatty pork meat and vegetables. The meal was great. Later that night many of us just hungout at the beach. It was great to unwind and begin to feel that we were solidifying friendships. The next day we left fairly early in the morning, but thankfully with enough time to enjoy some scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, and french fries for breakfast. We headed to Ojukheon and Seongyojang. Ojukheon is known for being once the home of Sin Saimdang, the mother figure of Korea and the birthplace of Yulgok Yi Yi. Yulgok is remembered in Korea for being a prominent Confucian Scholar. Later that day we returned to Jungwon with the realization that our first time teaching would be this week!
I am a little behind with my blogging, but I hope to catch up this weekend! Keep reading and feel free to comment with any questions about Korea!