Mountains and Valleys

6:58 PM Jmo 0 Comments

Summertime in Korea is a fast paced existence of jam-packed weekends and sleepless nights. Be it because you are so busy going from event to event or because it's just too hot for sleep, either or, it's made for an interesting and exhausting couple of weeks. I'm not even exhaggerating when I say that I've had plans these past 8 weekends straight. My bank account has taken two damage, but my experience is at +2.
A couple weekends ago I was invited out to Puppy's sister's house out in Gonju. Puppy and Hana picked me up from the Noeun subway stop by their apartment and drove me through the mountains of Gonju to the amazing home of Hana's Aunt and Uncle. It was such a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Even though her Aunt and Uncle (Who are very young by the way!) spoke no English and my Korean is slim to none, we were able to communicate through gestures and smiles. I later found out that Hana said her Uncle felt very comfortable around me, which I guess he normally doesn't with other foreigners. I also met Hana's two little cousins SungHee and MinHee. They on the other hand took a little time warming up to me. They have an English teacher in their school...but they speak Korean! So, haha, I couldn't connect with them on that front. But I tried to work my little kid magic as best as I could and it eventually payed off. SungHee likes to draw and MinHee likes soccer. Done and done. I drew SungHee a dog out of her drawing book which had her sitting on my lap posing for pictures with me in no time! SungHee reminded me of myself at that age. A little ham. Posing for the pictures, face in the camera, center of attention. MinHee was a little more of a challenge. She was older and more reserved. But! Once the ping pong table was rolled out... we were good to go. I played ping pong with her, her second favorite sport behind soccer, while lunch was being whipped up by Puppy in the kitchen. After MinHee and I were done, her Dad wanted to get in on the action. Ping pong was the activity MinHee and her father did together, which was great because I told them that my Dad was the one who taught me how to play as well. Family is family. Doesn't matter if your in suburbia America or the mountains of Korea: You can find the simplest thread to connect on which leads to a larger weaving. Hana's Uncle was really good. Like, really good. But he went easy on me and I ended up winning. I think everyone was surprised that I could spin the ball, let alone play. haha It was too fun!
Lunch was great of course. Puppy made chapchae: a stir-fried noodle dish where the noodles are actually made out of sweet potatoes. One of my favorites! (And I'm sure Puppy knew that...<3) After lunch MinHee and SunHee wanted to go to the river for a boat ride. I guess that's something that they commonly do on Sundays. So, what started out as "Hey, come over and have Sunday lunch with my family." turned out to be another adventure entirely. -As Korea tends to do... 
We drove into the country and ended up a this little riverside platform-shack that no non-Korean would ever think to go. We suited up in life jackets and the next thing I know I was doing 360s in a speedboat. Puppy was NOT having it and was holding on for dear life. The little girls loved it though! They were so adorable; screaming what I can assume to be "Faster! Faster!" at the driver. After our initial boat ride SungHee, MinHee, and I were put on another boat which turned out to be towing a wake-boarder. This was a prelude to what was going to happen later. We got off the boat and Hana comes up to me asking if I would like to try. Uhm, what? Aside from having a belly full of chapchae, a hangover from the night previous, and no water sport experience: YES. I was a little hesitant though because I knew that training would take time and I looked to be the only one going in the water! But, Korean hospitality in second to none. MinHee was also going to try. But really, they were doing it all for me. They even payed for everything (Against my will, I swear!). Water-skiing was intense. You discover muscles you never knew existed or knew that you even needed! Which, you do need in order to balance. What made it more intense was the fact that my training was all in Korean, with little translation, and! I couldn't see. I ddin't anticipate I'd be water-skiing later on in the day (Silly me, right?) so I didn't have my contacts in. But! I stood up on my second attempt and didn't fall once! My trainers were pretty impressed and told Hana it's because...wait for it, wait for it: Foreigners are bigger and stronger. haha *Hulk out!*

Two weekends ago was another weekend full of firsts. I went with my dance class to Seoul to test out our moves at a traditional salsa club. I was excited at the thought of dancing with others who know how to dance and are actually there TO dance. We took a late train to Seoul and made our way to Hongdae. We found our club just as the night hours were setting in and everyone was out. We walked into the basement of this tiny Seoulite establishment and was hit will a wall of energy and ...steam quite frankly! It was incredible, and a little intimidating! I walked into this place thinking "Ehh, I know how to dance. This'll be fun!". But after a few moments Me, Kate and the rest of my dance crew was huddled at the bar with our free drink ticket looking for an ounce of liquid courage. Gin and tonic, please! Stat!
The club was mostly full of Koreans. But, when Koreans have a hobby or want to learn something, they LEARN it. Everyone there was far beyond our level (aside from our instructor) and had the flair to show it. I could've just sat down there all night and simply watched. But! If you're unfamiliar with how real dance clubs work, here's a simple crash course. Men invite women to dance. If you are standing up it means that you are waiting for a partner and are free to be asked. If you are sitting that means you are off the table or taking a break. If you are asked, the man will take your hand and lead you to the floor. After you are finished both parties say thank you and you are free to be asked by someone else. It's a little intimidating. Ok. A lot intimidating. Especially when you are being pushed and pulled, swooped and twirled by people that obviously "train". But! It was fun. SO FUN. And of course, us foreigner girls were a hit. We had older Korean men (Nothing creepy, I swear.) wanting to dance with every one of us just to ask where we were from so they could practice their English. Almost everyone in Seoul speaks English. It's amazing. And not just Koreas! Seoul, especially Hongdae and Itaewan, is the melting pot of the country. I even danced with a professional baseball player from the Dominican Republic. Not bad for a Saturday night. ;)
I stepped on a few toes...but I made it out of there with my dignity. A slightly bruised ego, but my dignity none the less.

My most recent weekend was... a little less coiffed than the salsa club in Seoul. You could go as far as to say it was downright "dirty". Because, well, it was. This past weekend was the infamous Boryeong Mud Festival. 30 people-plus of my closest friends shared a pension in downtown Daecheon Beach to get a bite of the mud-filled action. It was one big, happy, family slumber party. Just what I needed. The first night we broke up into smaller groups for dinner spots. I ended up at a little outdoor seafood restaurant where we grilled all-you-can-eat clams. Good friends. Good food. And beer. Can't really say "good beer" 'cause let's be honest: It's Korea.
-Funny side story! As an adjumma was bring over our seafood, she dropped one clam onto my friend and let out an exclamation. None of us knew what she said aside from the friend who it was dropped on because she speaks Korean. After the adjumma left, my friend let us in on what she said. Apparently, even though she dropped seafood all over my friends lap, she exclaimed "My precious clam!". Yep. Seafood trumps people here. I get it. I get it...
Mud Fest is pretty much what comes to mind when you think "Mud Festival". There's a mud "park" complete with mud pits, mud races, obstacle courses, and even a "Mud Jail" where you can be locked in as others hurl mud at you. Speaking of hurling mud....first things first, before jumping into the park, we hit up one of the many mud troughs to cover ourselves. Admist the madness, some mud got in my eye. Apparently you could see it swirling about in my contact. This came to haunt me later. But I couldn't let it stop me from having a crazy day.
The highlight of my day was getting a good coating of mud on me, letting it bake and dry, then running into the ocean to have it melt away. It was the best feeling in the world. The waves were big, everyone was having the time of their life, and that was enough for me. My fellow Michiganer friend and I also made a few noteworthy memories. We ran back into the mud pit while everyone else rinsed off on the beach and had a crazy time. We dove into the mud pool, mud wrestled, and ended up posing for photos. We might be famous now. No, wait. We are.
So, back to my eye. Sunday morning I woke up and my eyes felt a little funky. At first I assumed it was due to being in the sun and salt water all day. But then I looked in the mirror. My right eye was almost swollen shut and had...yellow gunk coming out of it. A couple of my friends had eye issues as well, but mine was by far the worst. Apparently the mud imported for the festival has a reputation for not being the "cleanliest". Awesome. But! It's all better now! And, aside from the potential health hazards (haha), I'll definitely go back next year. :)
Next weekend I'm going to a rock festival where I get to see such fabulousness as Fun.! So excited. And then one more weekend 'til I go to Australia. What??!? My life. It's looking up.


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