빨리빨리! (Yes, I've been busy.)

12:25 AM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

빨리빨리! (bali bali!): This common Korean expression sums up my past few weeks...perfectly. I feel like I've been moving at full steam ahead on half a tank of gas. Staying up late, getting up early and running in between. It's been for all good reasons (!), but I'm still exhausted. There's just so much to do, so many places to go, and so many people to see that I feel like I'm making up for some lost time. Yes, I may be overbooking myself a little bit. But it's better to be expelled of energy at the end of the day rather than full of 'coulda-woulda-shoulduhs'.

The time spent with my family while they were here definitely did not escape the 빨리빨리! factor. They/we literally hit the ground running.
I managed to meet my parents at the airport with less than a ten minute window in between my arrival and them walking through the sliding doors past customs. It was surreal to say the least. I wanted to create the perfect cinematic moment and be the first thing they saw as they handed in their customs form. The Seoul airport is set up perfectly for this type of 'final-scene-a-la-90's-romantic comedy staging. The doors kept opening as more and more people and suitcases flooded though, then, I saw it. A bright, lime, green t-shirt through a sea of travel-safe black and beige. It was my Uncle Mark!

As to be expected, my Mom cried and the rest of us paused for a moment, wide-eyed at the thought that we are all together in Asia. Amazing. Then, in true Korean fashion, we hustled our way through the airport, hopped on the next bus to Daejeon, and caught up for 3 hours. We had about a 2 hour unpacking/decompression party before we needed to head out to meet my head co-teacher at her house for dinner. She had been meaning to invite me over for sometime and now that my parents were in town she felt that she had to. Her and her husband were incredibly nervous (She later told me she asked her husband how her cooking was last night and he said: I don't know. I was too nervous to taste it."). Having "foreigners" over for dinner (into your home) is a big deal. But it was an amazing dinner and a true welcome for my family. They got to try new food (navigate via chopsticks), meet my co-teacher's adorable baby, and meet one the most important people for me here in Korea, Hyo.

On Thursday I was lucky enough to have my school grant me the day off. It wasn't my idea. Hyo actually suggested it to the Vice Principal (love her). Everyone was curious as to the day-to-day goings on of life in Daejeon so we took a little tour of some of my most stomped stomping grounds. We started off with breakfast by City Hall, then made our way to Old Downtown for shopping and their first Korean restaurant. my Dad and Uncle Mark had 비빔밥(bibimbap) and my Mom and I split a spicy-seafood noodle dish. We walked through Old Downtown a bit more (where I was recognized for the Gangnam Style dance contest back in September! Damn, I guess I broke some hearts...) and wandered through the markets of Daejeon Station. I couldn't wait to take them through Daejeon Station. Dunsan and City Hall (where I live) is quite "Western" and comfortable for foreigners I'd say. Daejeon Station is a part of town that reminds you, Oh yeah! I live in Asia. The open air meat markets, bowls and bowls of fermenting fish paste, adjummas crouching and chopping off fish heads, and bags full of dried anchovies are always enough to shock your senses into realizing you're not in Kansas anymore. I wanted them to try some market food from vendors who were just as curious about us as we were about what they were selling, but we were still full from lunch. (So much to eat, so little time!) After breezing through Old Downtown it was time to walk to the baseball stadium to catch a game. It was my Dad's birthday after all! The game was fun and lively as usual. Snacks were had, chants were sung. But, unfortunately. the jet lag was ultimately catching up with my weary travellers. We had to leave the game early because my Dad was falling asleep!

The next day everyone was invited to attend Spring Sports Day at my school. I kept hearing over and over from other teachers "This one's smaller than the Fall! This one's smaller!" assuming that they were nervous as to the first impression my school would give my parents. Everything in Korea is about presentation. I kept assuring them that it was fine and really all my family wanted to do was see my school and meet everyone who has helped me through adjusting to working and living in a different country. So, we left my apartment all together with a bag each preparing for our weekend in Seoul (more on that later). It was surreal having them sit in my office, talk to my coteachers and walk around my school. Now that they're gone I look around my office (which I'm currently in) and wonder if it all ever happened!
The entire school was lined around our sports field buzzing with song and talk of the days events. Hyo immediately whisked us all away to the perch where my principal and vice principal were to oversee the day. My principal, who doesn't speak any English, shook my family's hands and said "Nice to meet you." It was adorable. He then proceeded to tell Hyo to translate to them how he hopes they enjoy Sports Day and hope that they get to see many places in Korea. They also got to shake hands with my vice principal and "Korean father" -both adorable and smiley men.
As my Mom keeps saying, my family was treated like royalty that day. We were given front row seats at the starting line of the track so we could see every game and every race. Throughout the games, random students of mine would come up to say hello, ask who they were, or touch my Mom's hair. I knew they would be celebrities. The lunch ladies, whom treat me all like their Korean grand-daughter (Eat! Eat! Eat more so you can find a husband!) were just as excited. They piled on the kimchi when my parents came through the lunch line and all stood with bated breath as they unwrapped their 'special' hamburgers for lunch. (We've never had hamburgers for lunch before. I think it was the combination of Sports Day and my parents arrival.) Hyo was happy about the menu as well. "Ohh we're having hamburger! Your parents should be happy!" Little do they know that my parents rarely eat fast food (if ever) and that my Uncle is a strict vegetarian. Plus, it was only their second day there... I think a little Korean food was in order, don't you? But we were cordial, eating our sweet-bulgogi-hamburgers, kimchi, and thick rice porridge as my Principal hovered by to ensure that all was right with our meals. My Uncle even snuck out his hamburger as a snack for my Dad for later claiming he was full as to not upset the lunch ladies. (Now you understand my pain!!)

Straight from school we packed up and headed out to Daejeon Station to catch a train to Seoul. I pre-booked our tickets but was lucky enough to snag seats for a train hours earlier. We hopped on a train a mere 20 minutes after arriving at the station. Niceuhh. Just a couple passes between us of my Moon Travel Korea handbook and we were arriving into Seoul. I'm not as familiar with Seoul as I would like to be. But, in comparison to Daejeon, English is everywhere. Real English. So following a map and figuring out our way through the subway (6 lines!) was easy enough. We made it through to our lovely hotel in Insadong with only a few...subway snags, if you will.
Insadong is one of my favorite areas in Seoul. Why? Art and pottery of course. Insadong street is lined with galleries and shops selling the wares of local and tradional artists and artisans. From teapots to chop stick rests: I want it all. And, like most areas of Seoul, the food is fabulous too. We wandered around Insadong for a bit and ended up in a neat little eatery off an alley way from the main cultural hub. I introduced my family to some of my favorites: 파전 pa-jun (Korean pancake with seafood and green onions), 김치볶음밥 kimchi boeceumbap (kimchi fried rice topped with a fried egg), and 순두부개 soonduboon gae (spicy tofu stew). Our server was completely adorable and I think she loved the fact that I tried to order completely in Korean. (Seoul has a larger foreigner population and better handle on English than any other city in Korea. So, I'm assuming, there's a decent amount of foreigners here that get by without ever attempting to speak or read the language. Can't really blame them. If you're comfortable, you're comfortable.) So she smiled, took and repeated everything I ordered, and soon enough our entire table was full. After lunch we walked around the shops viewing art and ceramics -all of which I wanted to take home. My Dad and I even had time to squeeze in a traditional music performance put on by the Insadong Tourism Centre.
After a brief stint at our hotel just to touch base and sink dangerously into the cushions of a bed, it was 빨리빨리! once more. I never really had the time to do any of the real "touristy" things in Seoul so after wandering around Insadong a little longer we figured we might as well capitalize on the night with a view of the city from Seoul Tower. We were lucky enough to run into a nice Korean couple eager to snag us a cab on the street. They stood with us in the cold hollering at taxis as they went by telling us to avoid the black cabs and hail the orange ones because they're cheaper. (Women after my own heart.) After a parting 감사합니다 we took our hailed cab up to the cab car of Seoul Tower. My Dad wasn't too happy with this decision, but I insisted: When else are you going to take a cable car in Korea? Never. So we bought our tickets, swallowed up our fear of heights and faulty mechanical equipment, and piled into the cable car with more Korean couples on dates than one can humanly count.
The base of Seoul Tower was neat in itself. Which was a good thing considering we decided to skip the $20 admittance fee and 1:45 min long wait to get to the top. Seoul was in a haze anyway... ain't nobody got time for that.
Saturday morning it was time to check another tourist hub off my Seoul list: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Widely known as the Palace of King Sejong, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a massive historical time capsule in the heart of bustling metropolitan Seoul. I will say this over and over: I love the contrast of Korea. We wandered around the complex for hours: admiring carvings, taking photos in gardens, and listening to tour group after tour group go by; attempting to figure out what language they were speaking. Halfway through our time at Gyungbokgung some ..problems arose. We lost Uncle Mark. Yes, this wouldn't seem to be a problem in the cell phone age, but for some reason none of their phones were working even though they were set up for international travel. And, like I said, I don't know this city as well as I'd like. After a couple hours of searching the grounds and posting up at various exits, my parents and I decided that we would just have to rendezvous with him at the hotel later. We were wasting our day and figured Uncle Mark thought the same and was already off doing something Seoul-tastic (which we was). So, we moved on with our day and headed back to Insadong to grab some lunch and *hopefully* meet Uncle Mark back at the hotel. The lunch scene around Insadong was insane. Every placed was packed. Even the wee little alleyway 만두 (mandoo, dumplings) stands had lines reaching out and around their so-claimed alleyways. So, it was a pleasant surprise that we ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant appropriately called Pho. This was my first time trying pho (the classic Vietnamese noodle-soup staple) and I must say it did not disappoint. The restaurant was lovely and the staff was adorable again. This time my Dad noticed how excited our server was when I said 'thank you' in Korean. It's just so crazy to think! In Daejeon, you have to do that. But in Seoul, only a 45min train ride away, you can get by without it.
I wanted to give my family a taste of what my time is really like ( I have no secrets. haha) so I took them out on a cab ride to Hongdae to experience some Korean nightlife. I mentioned Hongdae before in my post about the beginning of Kate and I's South East Asia adventure. Hongdae is the young and trendy part of Seoul. Every restaurant has an eclectic view and scene all it's own and the same can be said for the people walking it's streets. I took them to the little Hawaiian restaurant for fruit and good beer, then over to Burger B's for fish and chips and even more good beer. After our third round we caught (an extremely early for Hongdae!) cab back to Insadong and called it a night.
The next day we met my Dad's old high school friend at the Korean War Memorial in Itaewan. Richard (I'm paraphrasing here. His job is far more intricate and important that I can explain.) works as a liaison between the US military, Korean government, and the private sector. Let's just say he is a very interesting and smart man who does business with other very interesting and smart people. So, touring the war museum with him and his wife was a treat. Listening to his inside perspective and knowledge on every facet of modern-age Korean war (and beyond), events, and policies was extremely interesting and helpful. I've heard The Korean War being called The Forgotten War before; being overshadowed by such conflicts as WWII and The Vietnam War, which is a shame. It's a very interesting and important piece of our history and affects us even to this day. After the museum we took a walk past the military base and ended up in the heart of Itaewan. I'm not a big fan of Itaewan. It's extremely far removed from Korean culture and if you were by some chance teleported onto it's streets from let's say...some borough  of Chicago, you wouldn't know the difference. But then take that street, full of every 'world' and 'foreign' food option on the planet, and combine it with a frat boy that has a little too much freedom on his hands and an ego to lug around as big as his love for 'Murica: That's Itaewan. Not my favorite. During the day it's ok! But at night it's a whole different animal. But, like I said, we went there during the day and I'm soooo glad we did. Richard took us to Vatos Tacos: A lovely Mexican food joint set atop one of the hills overlooking the surrounding area of Seoul. My Mom and I split my very first Corona-Rita (A Corona stuck into a fish bowl size margarita.) and, I must be slowly evolving because I opted for the kimchi burrito. Dee-lish. Seoul is my Mexican food haven. I don't care if I'm on a diet. Whenever I'm in Seoul I'm having at least one burrito. Two if I'm lucky.
After we parted ways, it was back to Insadong for some last minute shopping and whatever else we need to wrap up before heading back to Daejeon. I had a custom stamp made of my name (in Korean) by a famous stamp shop and Uncle Mark did the same for his friend's daughter Chloe. The hangul characters are situated in a square format on the end of a marble block. We both bought traditional ink( set in a lovely celadon dish) to use with our stamps. So beautiful! Just talking about it makes me want to go home and use it! Anyone want a hand written note??? ;)

Monday my family was invited to my school to participate in my class. My Monday schedule consists of five straight 4th grade classes so it was time for my parents to down a couple cups of coffee and deal with the energy that is Korean children. My students were adorable and had so many questions. The gems of course being: Do you like Psy? Do you like kimchi? And why is your Uncle bald? My lesson was titled Touch Your Nose -learning body parts and actions. So, like any good elementary school teacher, I started off class by singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. My Dad took a video which I'm sure will come back to haunt me. I incorporated my family into the game component of class. Each family member was a different station. Every student had to say the key sentence at their station and play Rock, Scissors, Paper with them. If they won my family signed their paper. They needed all four signatures to win. I think my family had just as much fun, if not more, as my students did. They were celebrities and at the end of each class they were swarmed with students asking for their autographs. Too cute.
Korean hospitality is incredible. After school Hyo and my former co-teachers, Chani and Mrs. Nam, took my parents out to dinner. That simple sentence really doesn't do our evening justice so let me elaborate. Mrs. Nam picked all of us up in her car and drove us a half hour outside of Panam to this amazing restaurant in the mountains. The restaurant was more of a compound. It was comprised of three or more buildings surrounding a central fire pit, waterfall, and botanical, latern-lit, walkway. It was beautiful. We dined on 비빔밥 and 파전 and had enough sides to cover two tables. We almost need two tables once the chestnut mackoli came... It was a lovely spread, with lovely conversation, and lovely people. I'm so grateful to have met this group of women and I'm even more thankful that my family got to meet them. They were saying extremely sweet things (buttering me up for my looming contract re-sign date no doubt..) such as "Oh, we think Jessica is the best foreign teacher in Daejeon". Craziness. But I was thankful all the same; even if my face was beet red. After stuffing ourselves a day out in Korea is not complete without going to another mountain for coffee and you guessed it, more food. We walked along a beautiful valley walkway drinking lemonade until it was time to call it a night and head home.

Tuesday was a bit of a blur. But one thing is for sure: What was set up to be a casual, hospitable dinner, turned out to be a night that change the entire dynamic of my family's trip. Hana, one of my new coteachers, said that when her Mom wanted to invite my family and I over to their home for dinner. Our week was slowly becoming more and more booked but I had to accept because she is so adorable and what another great experience this could be. I left with Hana straight from school and met everyone at Noeun Station. Panam (where I work) is at one end of the subway and Noeun is two stops away from the opposing end. It's a long trip which Hana takes every day. We arrived at Hana's home to find the little kitchen table already set with an adorable place setting for four. Yes, four. Hana's Mom already ate and simply wanted to cook and serve us. She made 비빔밥 (the third or fourth time my parents ate it, haha) and rice cakes. Hana's mother was/is absolutely adorable. It's almost exhausting to write about. There's so much I can say. She doesn't speak any English but she felt so strongly about welcoming us into her home that it didn't really matter. Smiling and giggling was enough to parle this cultural barrier into a beautiful friendship. After dinner we went out for coffee at a cafe in Banseok (Note to self: Go to Banseok more. It's lovely.). And, surprise surprise! Neither Hana nor Poppy drink coffee. They just wanted to take us out; assuming we liked coffee. We sat at this cafe until 10 o'clock at night. This is actually when we found out that Poppy doesn't like her real name and insisted on ebing called Poppy (sounds more like "puppy") by her friends and family. Hana was explaining this to us and we repeated "Poppy" after her. Poppy's face lit up and she started laughing at hearing us say her nick-name. The night went on and as a display of her adorable personality, she offered to take my family out for the day while I was at work the next day. She was afraid that they would be lonely or get lost. I think my parents were a little nervous of the idea (language barrier/taking up Poppy's time) but I convinced them to go. The conversation turned to the following days events and led to a statement that made all of us laugh for a good hour. Hana was concerned that her Mom might be a little "full speed ahead" so she told my family to make sure she knew when they needed a break. Then my Dad said, "Poppy! Break!" This cracked Poppy up. I've never seen a Korean laugh with such uninhibited force. It was hilarious. My eyes were watering up because she would laugh and repeat "Poppy-break!" over and over under her breath to herself because she found it so funny. I knew my family was going to have a fabulous time. I just wasn't sure when I'd see them again, Poppy had so much planned.
They did have a fabulous time. So much so that Poppy offered to take them out again while I was at work the following day. She fed them and fed them. And then fed them some more. Noodles and kimbap. Tofu rice and red bean ice cream. Galbi and tteokboki. So much food, so little time.

Admist all of the travel, sight-seeing, and food ingesting; I had to get ready for an artshow. My -international debut, if you will. My parents were *awesome* enough to bring me some of my most missed art supplies so I could make pieces for a show I was supposed to install on...oh yeah, Friday. Oh wait. Nope. Change of plans: Thursday. It was a wee bit stressful navigating around suitcases and finding a place to make the work; but my family were cordial guests and moved things around as best as they could. But, it was hot, and I was unsure as to how things would dry in this climate, and I was unsure about other factors; like whether or not my floor was level (affecting how things would pool). All of these things (and then some) were stressing me out for a couple days and I'm sure I wasn't the most pleasent person to be around. Especially after my pieces dried. I wasn't pleased with how they turned out. And, like I said, I was treating this show as a modest international debut of sorts. But I tried to erase away the most offending bits, packed them up, and installed them at the gallery anyhow.

When I had the chance to steal my folks away from their new-found best friend, I introduced them to some of mine. Kyle, Tony, and I went out into late nights full of roof top bars, tables that cooled your beer, good conversation, and some stories that were probably best left unsaid. But ehh, I got nothing to hide. Case in point: Friday night I took them out to experience a little Korean nightlife, Daejeon style. That's right. Timeworld. After a nice dinner with a few of my closest chingus it was off to a wee bar to post up, have a couple Asian brews, and meet whomever else was wandering the streets. I did have a few "What am I thinking?!" moments as F'bombs were flying off the shelves. But eh, we're all adults here. And meeting my amazing and eclectic group of friends was half of the reason I took them out into the bright lights of Daejeon's entertainment district.
I must've been feeling my martini from dinner because I ended up taking them to Cantina. haha It was fun though! We ended up playing pool, making rounds between groups of friends, and managed to avoid any awkward situations that may come with bringing ones parents to their bar. Ohh wait, nope. I forgot. When we were leaving one of my friends was outside howling like a wolf... So close!
After Cantina I took my Mom and Dad to norebox. I knew my Mom would be instantly hooked. We pumped won after won into that thing and ended up singing for almost two hours. Our last song was a Carole King number that suited both of our vocal ranges. So, I say, we went out with a bang. 99% I believe! I had them home by 3am. Great success.

Staying in step with the true form of my parents vacation, it was Wake up! and 빨리빨리! once again teh following morning. Poppy invited us over for lunch again and of course we couldn't say no (Even though we were pretty exhausted.). She made three different courses for lunch and three different kimchis as sides. After lunch she took us to Daejeon Dam. I was feeling a little bit pressed for time because we also wanted to fit in a Daejeon Citizens soccer game before my art opening later on that night. But! Once again, I'm so glad we took her up on her offer because it turned into another cute moment to put in our mental scrapbook of Poppy. Long story short: We ended up singing karaoke on top of a mountain to an audience of Korean adjummas and ajushiis. My Dad made a comment that Poppy reminded him of his Aunt Anne. So true! When travelling with Autn Anne you always find yourself doing things that you wouldn't normally think to do...or, that you were allowed to do. But Poppy and Aunt Anne want you to have the best time possible regardless of whatever else is happening. So, Poppy saw a man singing to a group of people. She went up and asked if we could sing instead. Why not? So we put on a little waygook spectacle and sang Let It Be. Don't worry. I won't forget you when I'm famous.

Poppy and Hana dropped us off at the Daejeon World Cup Stadium to take in a football game. Daejeon happened to be playing Seoul that day; the timing couldn't of been more perfect. Heading into the stadium I saw a couple of my students, but once we got inside it turned out to be a Panam Elementary school party. The entire soccer team was there and we happened to sit right in front of them. We had to leave early but Daejeon played a decent game from what we saw! They handled the ball pretty well, especially since  they are the lowest ranked team in the league and Seoul is the highest! haha I can't wait to go back and take in a full game.

We had to rush home from the stadium to make it back in time for my art opening. I actually had to sprint across the park in front of my building just so I could have time for a shower. But we got ready, hailed a cab, and made it there in reasonable time. The gallery was lit beautifully from the outside. Watching the patrons inside from the street was almost a work of art in itself. We had an amazing turnout and my work was pretty well received. I have a few purchase offers and I was interviewed by a man who works for a cultural newspaper based in Seoul. International exposure? I'll take it! It was great experience, confidence booster, and jump-starter. I'm so happy to be apart of this collective and all around lovely group of people.  Your hard work and steadfast organization pulled off. I can't wait for our next show! Pieces are already in the works!

The show marked the last event and last evening with my parents. It was a bittersweet whirlwind that was coming to a close. My parents shuttle bus to the airport was leaving at 11:30am and of course Poppy had to come see them off. She even swung by my apartment and loaded up their luggage even thought the bus station was in walking distance. Too cute. So we all stood, huddling in the wind, reminiscing about the past week and how it flew by. Poppy stood there arms interlocked and hands clutched tight with my Mom. So much happened and such a strong bond has been forged between two people who live worlds-apart. Poppy had to continuously wipe away tears, which led to my Mom unleashing a waterfall, which led to me crying, and eventually the trickle-down effect was so strong that my Dad let loose a tear or two. When their bus arrived, like everything here, they had to throw their luggage underneath and rush on. No time for long goodbyes here. My Mom, Dad, and Uncle Mark hugged me goodbye; dotting my shirt with tears. Poppy held my hand as we waved to them from their bus windows. And as the bus took off Poppy pulled me along to meet them at the stop light though we were too slow to reach them. It was a sweet farewell and I'm so glad that my family was able to see I was in good hands. Literally. Poppy walked me back to her car and insisted on driving me back to my place because she was afraid I'd feel lonely. As soon as we got into her car she put on Track 15 and whimpered "Marie". That was the song they listened and danced to over and over on their weekday outings. Absolutely adorable considering it was an extremely obnoxious 80's K-Pop song. It lightened the mood for sure.
The drive back took a whole 5 minutes (just enough time to finish the song!). Poppy got out of the car to walk me to the entrance to my place; still worried that I'd feel sad and alone tonight. She hugged me and whispered "Jessica, I love you. Jessica, I love you." over and over. Enough to make anyone cry, right? Well, once again, Poppy has a way of lightening the mood; unintentionally this time! She's short. So. As she hugged me: Her arms wrapped around me and her hands fell onto my butt. I couldn't help but laugh.

So yeah. That's about it! I know I'm leaving some details out... No doubt my Dad will read this and say: "Hey! What about this!" But to sum up my family's visit... It was: surreal, eye-opening, confidence building, life-affirming, amazing, loving, adventurous, trusting, slightly stressful, and fun.

(I wrote this entry 10 minutes at a time at the end of each school day whenever I had time. Sorry if it's lacking in transitions and literary devices. No timeeee!  ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ!)

My next post will talk about my new after-school class on Travel & Culture (My subject choice. Obvi.), random nights out on the town, my recent successes in the classroom, my new workout routine (!!!), a weekend trip to Busan, another to Daecheon beach, Ultra Music Festvival, upcoming travels, and whether or not you view an avocado as a fruit. Discuss.

I'm never going to catch up on this blog am I...?

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