Chuseok

3:51 AM Jessica Montgomery 1 Comments

This may be my most epic post to date. Yes. Even more epic than my birthday weekend. If things keep trumping each other like this I may never be able to face a "normal" day again. My outlook on "daily life" will be spoiled. haha  (-I'm debating if I should break this up into multiple posts actually...)

Let me start from the beginning...
Friday was Sports Day at my school. Every school has a Sports Day. It's essentially a day that showcases the camaraderie and collectivism of the school. It's fun for the kids buts its also a lot of work and stress. Especially for the teachers. The students have been practicing for weeks and when the day finally arrived I could see why. Everything was coordinated. The lining up, the ceremony, the marching, the salutes, the warm-ups, the dances, the music performances, the races...etc It was extremely impressive. Food and trinket vendors from town were set up on the school grounds selling everything from cotton candy to silk worms. It was like a festival! Races and games were being played simultaneously across the field and even some of the parents and grandparents got involved. So fun! It was nice to walk around and mingle with the students outside of the class environment also. But, I don't think I've said "Hello!" that much in my life...ehh, at least they're speaking English right? Even if it is only one word..haha I have to say that I think my favorite part was the 2nd grader rendition of Gangnam Style. Too cute.
Once sports day ended I had to run home and finish getting things around for my Chuseok trip.

Ohh, Chuseok. The foreign teacher's dream. A 5 day break consisting of two holidays: Chuseok, a Sunday festival that celebrates Korean ancestors, and a holiday that commemorates the founding of Korea -which happened to fall the Wednesday after. (If your school is nice they will give you time off in between the two holidays.) The closest thing we can compare Chuseok to is Thanksgiving. It is a festival that celebrates harvest and most importantly ones ancestors. Prior to the break I asked my students and coteachers if they were excited for Chuseok. Typically they weren't. Chuseok is the busiest travel day in Korea and culminates in a lot of work for the women in the family. For a foreign teacher it means the opposite -unless you call travelling work...which it very well may be. I don't think I'm what you'd call "rested" after my vacation. But, really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

This trip has been a month or more in the making. My friend Claire, of KCAD alumni fame, has been in Korea for about 7 months and she suggested that we get together for Chuseok. After the whirlwind of my arrival, scouring the internet for trips, and figuring out the logistics of it all we finally decided on the Adventure Korea trip to Ullengdo and Dokdo.  Claire was a lifesaver. This was my first big trip in Korea and she helped with everything from train tickets to securing a seat on the trip itself. (Thank you Claire!) Though the trip itself was a decent chunk of change, especially for a first paycheck, there was no way you could round up everything on your own for what we payed. It was an incredible deal. I would highly recommend booking through Adventure Korea. Even if you're just here for a wee bit and not a true ex-pat. Worth it.

Ok so Friday. Insane travel day. I get out of school a little early from Sports Day, take the subway home, finish packing, and have dinner. I leave for the subway station around 6:15 to make it to Daejeon Station to meet up with my friend Natalie who is also going on the trip. (Daejeon Station is the major transportation hub in Daejeon and essentially the center of the country. If you want to go from Seoul to Busan, you go through Daejeon Station.) This was my first Korean train experience so I was a little nervous. It takes me a while to find Natalie but once I did it's pretty much smooth sailing from there. We even ran into a couple of our friends while waiting in line to claim my reserved ticket.
The train station was a zoo. A high population combined with a culture that doesn't value personal space is an interesting thing on the busiest travel day of the year. I don't think I've ever had so many (one for that matter..) elderly women push me out of the way. The elderly! I swear!

The KTX is the Korean version of the Bullet Train. But don't call it that unless you want to be berated for 15 minutes. It's the KTX and for all intensive purposes it's better than the Japanese Bullet Train. Just so we're clear. The ride was smooth, relaxing, and incredibly quiet. But I'm pretty sure the woman next to me wasn't fond of my foreign-ness. She rolled her eyes, flipped her hair, and shut her phone when I asked to move past her to my seat. Maybe it was the fact that I looked like a bummy American with my flip flops and sloppy bun and she was suited up to walk down the runway. Haha, we will never know...
After the KTX to Suwon Station, Natalie and I needed to find Claire's friend Reuel. Claire didn't get off work til 10pm so her friend Reuel offered to come find us and bring us to her side of town. She found us in the hustle of the station and we mowed our way through the crowd to push our way onto a bus. I don't know what we would've done without Reuel. Suwon is a satellite city of Seoul. Basically a transit hub. Chaotic. After our hour KTX ride we had another hour on the bus to get to Claire. Traffic was insane that's why it took so long. I stood most of the way and had to employ every leg, arm, and ab muscle just to stay upright. We reached Claire and had a brief "Aww! Hey! Missed you!" hug moment before it was Bali!Bali! (Hurry! Hurry!) to our next bus. With Claire was Reya and Kirstin: super cool, sharp witted, Californian beach girls; friends of Reuel and Claire who were joining us on the trip. More friends! More fun! The second bus ride was almost another hour because of traffic but it took us to the Express Bus Station in Seoul to meet up with the Adventure Korea group. By the time we boarded our final bus it was about 11:40pm. This was THE bus; the overnight transit bus that would take us all the way across the country to Pohang harbor to catch an early morning ferry to Ullengdo. Reuel, Claire, Me and Natalie all sat in a line together across the aisle. The seats were relatively comfortable but with my height and some foreign wandering body parts, I was quickly suffering from cabin fever. It was no surprise that when our bus stopped at 5am to watch the sunrise on the beach I was one of the first ones out.

Clad in flip flops and my Founder's Brewing Company sweatshirt I walked off the bus, through a tunnel, and past a little fishing village to reach the water. It was 5am and I was groggy, but the sea air immediately shot through me. This was the first time in Korea that I've been cold. I was actually shivering. It was nice actually.
The beach was gorgeous. It was pretty dark when I first stepped foot in the sand, but if you looked to the right you could see the blinking lights of a town and a corral of fishing boats. To the left was a raised path that cut into a rock face and into some trees. I took the path, reached a clearing and took a deep breath. It was amazing. Overlooking the water were rock crevices, trees, and a warm orange color beginning to seep into the dark blue of the horizon. When the sun finally began to rise I went picture crazy. I definitely boarded the bus more wide-eyed than I left it.

Sunrise at 5am.

We stopped for breakfast (convenience store breakfast) in a little town by the ferry. It was good to catch up for a bit before it was Bali! Bali! once again. After our 6 hour bus ride it was on to a 3.5 hour ferry to Ullengdo. The ferry to Ullengdo wasn't all that bad. I guess that's because I don't really remember it. I actually fell asleep. Once the ferry docked we had to march up a hill to our hotel. Walking the streets of Ullengdo was an amazing site. Lining the streets was rack after rack of fresh squid waiting to be dried by the sun. It was interesting to see it in various stages of the drying process. I feel a drawing or two coming on. But I'm pretty sure we left the island smelling slightly of cephalopod.

The six of us piled into our hotel room and claimed corners. Traditional hotel rooms in Korea are essentially that: a room. You sleep on the floor with mats like one big slumber party (Nightcrawlers anyone?) haha, it was fun! But, once again...Bali! Bali! No down time. It was time to change, eat lunch, and meet in front of the hotel to begin our Ullengdo adventure. First up was walking along the sea path. One of the most surreal moments of my life. The sea path is this coastal walkway that hugs the rock faces of the island through caves and peaks. I was probably beginning to annoy others in my group by stopping, looking around and saying things like: "This is incredible.", "Can you believe we are here?", "Can you believe that this is our life?", "Is this real life?". Haha, but it was truly incredible! Every windy bend, every up and down, every rock formation provided new and beautiful things to take in. The water was the clearest and bluest I've ever seen. And the best part? I was about to jump off a bridge into it. After a hike up to a lighthouse is was back down to this little bridge peaking out of a cove. I was nervous of course but nerves just add to the excitement. Besides, by the time I reached the bridge Claire and Reuel were already in their suits ready to go. "Ready?!" -"Uhm, I guess so! Ha!" The greater part of our group lined up across the bridge and one by one jumped into the teal water. I'd say the worst part was slinking my way in between the railings. Being tall definitely has it's disadvantages, yikes! But once I was through there was no turning back. Reuel and Claire jumped first, then Reya and Kirstin, then Me and Natalie. The water was colder than expected -took your breath away for a second but beautiful none the less And so surreal! After we jumped in, we bobbed around in the cove for a bit watching and cheering on others on as they took the plunge. The water was so clear that you could see full bodies under the water and the rocks 10s of feet down below. We all got out for a second jump. This time, since I was floating high with new courage, I did Gangnam Style all the way down. Everyone laughed. haha
Walking about Ullengdo.

After dinner we walked up to the Dokdo museum and cable car station. That was a trek. So steep. But once you made it up to the cable car station and hopped on the view was incredible. Korean culture was literally below our feet. You could see the ocean, the village where our hotel was, and a Buddhist temple nestled into the mountain. On our way back down we stopped at the temple to take photos and I bought a set of prayer beads with a beautiful carved turtle. Couldn't resist. When am I ever going to be back? "Buy it now. It wont be there later." -Thanks Claire! haha
Saturday night we were all exhausted, but really...we're young and on vacation. Sooo we rounded up some drinks and headed back to the hotel room. We stayed up talking and playing Korean games like Korean jacks (Reuel is the master!!!) and GoStop -a Korean card game that takes a while to get the hang of but is incredibly addicting.

Sunday: Actual Chuseok. We started off with an early morning bus tour of the island. Ullengdo is pretty small so we made it around the island and into the crater (more on that later) in a couple hours. We stopped at a couple picturesque locations to climb rocks, take photos, and walk about. Our tour guide, the owner of Adventure Korea, was adorable and made the trip super fun. He pointed out rock formations and their names and would make jokes along the way -most of them I wouldn't put in this blog.. When lunch time came around we made our way up, up, and up to the center of the island. I swear...you must've done something pretty bad in a past life to come back reincarnated as a Korean bus driver. I would never, could never do the things these men do with a car let alone a massive bus! After whipping around turn and after turn for a half an hour with all of our hearts in our throats we finally made it into the islands interior: The crater. The crater is the only flat land on Ullengdo and is essentially the birthplace of the island. Ullengdo is a volcanic island and this is where it erupted from. The soil is fertile and a little village sprung up just as the plants did -only 35 people live there though. We ate lunch at a traditional restaurant and had bibimbap complete with medicinal herbs that are grown in the crater. As side dishes we had syong peyong (traditional rice dumplings made at Chuseok) and jun -my favorite! among other things. Sooo good. Before heading off to Dokdo we had a few minutes of downtime in the crater. Just to walk about and take in the village and the sun. But Claire wasn't feeling too well, and we were a little worried about the ferry trip. Almost everyone we told we were going to Dokdo asked if we get sea sick. No? Why? Should I? Ugghh...

The ferry to Dokdo took 2.5 hours. Dokdo is in the middle of nowhere: The. Middle. Of. Nowhere. And the seas weren't necessarily rough, but the choppy waves took it's toll on the wee boat and the stomachs of some of the passengers. Of course, my seat was back by the bathrooms. Yep. I had to bury my head in my coat and wedge it into the window just to keep away the sounds of yaking. Luckily I was able to fall asleep for a little bit.
Stepping off onto Dokdo was, yet again, another surreal experience. Most Koreans want to go but haven't been to Dokdo but here I was. Dokdo is a symbol of pride for Korea. After the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, Japan claimed Dokdo for their own. To this day it is a site of tension between the two countries. It's territory is currently being fought over and it's waters are the main prize. Control of Dokdo means a larger empire, a larger fishing net, and a further reaching military hand. The small island, essentially a large, uninhabitable, pile of rocks is a piece of contemporary history. And one that I can see coming to head in the near future.
Dokdo.

The ferry back was rough. The wind picked up while we were on the island and followed us out into the sea. The boat was-a-rockin'. And people looked like cartoon characters that ate something bad. One girl in our group actually got puked on. Thank god it wasn't me. I snuggled back up in my corner and waited out the puke storm. What made it even better was the thought of all that dried squid in the bellies of the passengers. Nummy.
Sunday night was part two of our slumber party. Reya, Kirstin, and Natalie went out on the town. But Claire, Reuel, and I -being the adjemas we are, stayed in and talked. Those two are amazing. I can't wait to hang out with them again. Did I mention Reuel is Korean-American and has been here for 3 years? She knows her stuff and her personality is truly admirable. She's a strong woman and I can only hope some of it rubs off on me.

Monday was our final day on the island so we wanted to hit the ground running (How many more idioms can I possibly fit in this post? I should go back and count..haha) and fit in whatever we could. We asked the front desk of the hotel for a beach that we could swim at. One crazy cab ride later we found ourselves on the outskirts of a fishing village laying about a pile of rocks. Not what we were expecting, but we were alone and went for it. Well, alone aside from a couple locals looking at us in our swimsuits laughing. The water was cold and only Reuel got in. Some storm clouds were coming in and we got some sprinkles but nothing to deter us from the ocean view. After a couple hours we managed to catch a bus back to the hotel and entertained some of the locals by singing the chorus to a Taylor Swift song on the radio.
Walking down to the ferry was interesting. A new batch of tourists just landed on the island and the harbor was packed! So we stood off to the side for a bit to avoid the rush. In doing so, we witnessed a local restaurateur fulfill an order... We walked out to the front of his store and dove his hand into one of the fish tanks lining his storefront. He grabbed on to and yanked out a squid with his bare hand! I wasn't expecting this...but the creature was hissing and flailing its legs trying to fight for his life. Hissing. I never would've guessed.
Squidy-squid-squid.

 No one was looking forward to the ferry/bus trip back. But, because of the physical demands of the trip my body was once again ready to sleep awkwardly in a bus seat. I watched some Korean tv on the ferry and watched a couple movies on the bus. We had the "fun" bus on the way back and got to watch movies: 300 and Gulliver's Travels. haha, random. Finally reached Seoul and had to hop onto yet another bus back to Claire's place. Everyone dispersed back to their apartments but Claire and I decided to not waste a night (even thought we were dead tired) and headed out for some food and a beer. Claire took me to this awesome bar where I finally had a good Korean beer! An IPA! Yessuh! We talked of art, future prospects, a show we plan to do together, Korean culture and men among other things. Loved it. Love her.

Tuesday: Seoul. Woke up pretty early because my vacation adrenaline can not be tamed. We got ready and made our way into the city. We had to take a bus to get to the subway system and then transfer subway trains to get to our destination. It really wasn't too bad. I'm sure I would get the hang of it eventually -but dang was it crazy...So many people! We made our way to a vintage market that Reya found a while back. It was HUGE. Room after room piled high and the little adjemas there to guilt you into buying something. It was a little intimidating, especially trying to barter. I'm not good at bartering even in English...ha! But we ended up getting some good deals -I still spent way too much. Reuel met us in the market and we headed out from there. I left this district with: 2 dresses, 2 coats, a sweater, and an amazing purses. I also left with a bloody toe! Somehow while walking through the market I cut my foot open on an edge. My feet can't win here.
 After the market we made our way to Insadong. I loved Insadong! We met another one of Claire's friends who is staying here for a month to study Korean. We made rings in an underground arts district, ate these crazy ice cream canes, and shopped to our hearts content. Once I again..I spent way too much money. First paycheck baby, first paycheck. I was thankful that my hands were full from the vintage market or else the damage would have been more severe. Insadong is famous for local art and artists. Pottery and paintings galore. I will be back!
After Insadong it was Itaewon. Itaewon was strange. It's dubbed the "foreigner district" and for good reason. Some storefronts looked like I was on Spring Break rather than in Korea teaching English. When you walk down the street and see an Outback Steakhouse next to a Bud's Tennessee Grill you know you're going to have a bad time... But! Apparently Itaewon is the place for me to find shoes that fit. But, alas!, I had a bloody foot and couldn't shoe shop. Ha! Lovely. One thing that is nice about Itaewon though is the random things you can find there. Miss Cherry Coke? You can find it there. After we had our fill it was off to Gangnam. Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen Gangnam -of Gangnam Style fame.
The feeling that I got from Gangnam was 5th Avenue NYC. Large, beautiful, new storefronts showcasing everything from the wardrobe of the rich to the classiest Burger King you ever did see. And guess what, we ate there. haha! Opa Burger King Style! And of course, because I have no shame, we found a sign that said Gangnam and I danced in front of it. Some locals stopped and laughed. Life complete.
We got back to Claire's apartment around 11pm and sprawled out our treasures and had a fashion show. Claire gave me some Korean music (Thanks Claire!) and I introduced her to An Idiot Abroad.
I walked away from this trip with: An Ullengdo bandana, Buddhist beads, pumpkin candy, 2 shirts, 2 scarves, 2 coats, 2 dresses, 1 sweater, one badass purse. socks for me and gifts, a wallet, a ring, super sparkley nail polish (true Gangnam Style from Gangnam), a Korean flag, and a backpack to carry it all! haha. Plus some little things to give as gifts but I'm not disclosing that information.

Woke up, had lunch, and headed to the train station. The train back was incredibly relaxing and it gave me some time to breath and think back on the weekend of contrasts I just experienced. I went from a remote island in the East Sea to the second largest city in the world. What? Korea, I love you.
-I'm sure I'm leaving some things out...but for now, that's it! Tomorrow is Friday again already. Woof.

Oh! We calculated that I travelled (between all the ferrys, buses, and trains) appx. 27 hours during the past 5 days. Yep. Craziness.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!!! This sounds like soooo much fun and crazy busy!!! So glad you are having an awesome time! Thank you for these posts!!! :)

    ReplyDelete

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