Saturday, October 3, 2009

I bit off more than I could Chuseok

Happy Chuseok, everybody! Unlike last year, when Heeduk invited me to his parents' home to share their observance, this one, today, has been solitary for me. While Koreans are feasting with their families and bowing to their ancestors' pictures, waegookin (foreigners) are left with nothing open but the 7-Eleven. Still, it's been a busy few days and a down day or two isn't such a bad thing.

As I've been whining, the school's trip to Jeju Island was canceled due to fear of that swine behind the curtain; it's been a good though hectic week nonetheless. On Wednesday, the whole school went to Nami Island, a little resort northeast of Seoul. The place, perhaps borrowing a leaf from Key West, styles itself the "Naminara Republic" and issues passports to its visitors. It's a small, leaf-shaped island in a lake, and is much beloved by Japanese tourists because it was featured on a Korean tv show that was wildly popular there.

The Naminara Republic is replete with (in case you're a nihilist who doesn't believe it really is a small world after all) a King of Pop display,

artwork (of which this...

...was my favorite), little electric Model T's, duck boats, ostriches,

restaurants, bike rentals, trails, and a big big field perfect for our school "Olympics": three-legged race, balloon toss, egg-and-spoon race, and the like, all topped off with a nifty photographic scavenger hunt. I'd like to point out, first, that the Cornpeople did not finish last (eighth of nine teams isn't bad), and also that I didn't get to draft my own team. Kinda like being a Mets fan. (For God's sake, must you keep bringing up the Mets' season?)

On Thursday, the kids had off and the faculty had an in-service day, after which Mr. Park, the director, took us all out for a massive dinner at VIPS Steakhouse. Ironically, I had one of the best meals I've ever had in Korea, as their salad bar has salad (shocking, I know), all kinds of fruit, pasta, pizza, desserts, five kinds of coffee... it was a really nice time with everyone there, darkened only slightly by the fact that when I got out of the cab as we arrived, my pack zipper came open and the bottle of Chilean cabernet Mr. Park had given me for Chuseok shattered all over the sidewalk. (When we got to the restaurant, I couldn't figure out why the floor was sticky... it seemed like a nice place and all... till it occurred to me that if you walk around in Chilean cabernet, the soles of your shoes are likely to be a bit agglutinative.) (I swear, that's the first word from a thesaurus that I've ever put on this blog.)

Afterward, a few of us went up the stairs to the street, looking for a bar, walked around, found none, and went back down to the one in the basement, where we had a pitcher of good German lager. It was nice, and demographically and linguistically balanced: Lauren, Chris, and me as the Anglo contingent, Korean-Americans Susan (who speaks Korean) and Nick (who doesn't) and our office manager Jin and secretary Michelle, both lifelong Koreans who speak wonderful English. Chris, Lauren, and I are customarily beer buddies, but we'd never been out with the others before, and it was good to see them on a more social level. Nice folks.

Yesterday (Friday), we were off for the holiday, and I was delighted to get a text from my Kiwi friend Emma, up from Daegu for the weekend. (By "Kiwi", I mean that she's a native of New Zealand... she is neither green nor fruity. Come to think of it, though, she is small and flightless.) We went to What the Book and then to lunch, both in the notorious Itaewon neighborhood, then took the subway to the Ingwangsan Shaminist Hillside Walk, as Lonely Planet calls it.

Right in the middle of the world's second-biggest metro area, we walked ten minutes up a very, very steep hill (one to rival Gunshop Hill in Ithaca, or all of the hills in Florida combined) and entered a little village carved out of the rockface, with winding, uneven stone stairs and the little homes of Buddhist monks; we wandered innocently into a yard and a monk came out to tell us, in English, that we should feel free to walk around and take photos. (The tv dish on his home and the next-door convenience store's advertising Cokes and cigarettes seemed utterly incongruous.)

The area apparently is a key, ancient Shamanist shrine, especially these rocks...

...which allegedly house many spirits, but most of the religious presence is Buddhist:

...and that's Emma. This is me...

One odd thing about the life we waegook sangsaengnim (foreign teachers) live is that we make friends easily, but know all the while we won't see them for long. Especially at the hagwons (private, evening academies) people come and go as if they were on a traffic circle. I hugged Emma goodbye on the subway, knowing I'd never see her again, as she'll be back in Middle Earth soon, and thinked heavy thunks about the transience of life and how I'll miss her.

Sic transit emma mundi.

1 comment:

Emma said...

Ooh, I'm famous! I'm gonna miss you, Steve!