Champion Professional Mountain Climbery.

Growing up in Lynden, I kind of hated the Pioneer Museum. Yes, Phoebe Judson is a saint, she named Lynden with a ‘y’ instead of Linden because it was prettier….blah. I realized that there were a lot of places around Daegu that I didn’t know, and started my vacation last week  with a $5 tour around Daegu.  An entire tour bus, a non-English speaking guide, a driver and…just me. Do you see where this party train is going? 

We began by checking out the Bullo-dong Tombs in eastern Daegu (Dongdaegu), which are huge mounds of dirt where it is thought the rulers of the area in the 5th and 6th century AD were buried. My guide was (is?) a professor at Yeungjin College, my employer, and had a laugh or two with me in the sunshine as we walked along a bunch of graves. His daughter is a pharmacist (or going to pharmacy school?) in LA, and he told me how he misses her. 

Image

Next we visited a brass museum, which was a little forgettable since pouring molten hot metal and beating it with sticks *sounds* like my jam, but really isn’t. Well, maybe *actually* doing it would be, but watching videos of it just isn’t. Then we drove to Mt. Palgongsan and Donghwasa Temple, where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with some lanterns. This is when my Korean and Chinese speaking guide began to warm up to me as she watched me chase grains of rice around a bowl with chopsticks in vain. She has a 4-year old daughter and is expecting her next one, a boy! in just 4 months. Sidebar: I have got to stop hanging out with so many gorgeous pregnant women because I am not carrying another life and I haven’t figured out how to dress as classy.

Image

 

By far my favorite part of this tour was the Daegu Safety Theme Park, which might be a slightly tragic translation error for somewhere with a memorial of the Daegu 2.18 Terror incident in 2003. Just like everywhere else I was the solo person accompanied this time by a Yeungjin graduate (YJC IS EVERYWHERE THEY ARE BIG BROTHER), Josh, who took me inside this huge room that was actually a hydraulic lift to watch a super sad video dubbed terribly in English about the attack that claimed 198 lives and injured over 147 more. Hearing a girl call her mom on a cell phone and say “There’s smoke, I can’t breathe, I love you” in Korean just broke me. As the video ended and the lift went down to the floor I stepped out to see the actual subway car they had transported to the park. I can’t really remember a time in my life where I could reach out and touch where someone had lost their life. It feels strange to me that my favorite tours aren’t sunshine and lollipops and aquariums but places like this and Alcatraz. Where life, messy and heartbreaking, happens. (“I’m sorry” written in Korean at the memorial, below)

 Image

 

So then I got on a bus to Mokpo, 4 hours away, and discovered that I had told my host the wrong week that I was coming. This prompted a flurry of filling out my CouchSurfing profile, AirBNB, Facebook,  and attempting various smoke signals to try and find somewhere to stay that night. I was kind of nervous excited (read: terrified) about maybe sleeping in a jjimjilbang and kept repeating that Helen Keller quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I arrived in Mokpo to see Jenna, a high school friend, arrive with blankets and a place for me to stay with friends of hers that night. 

RISE AND SHINE, YO, YOU GOT A TOUR IN THE POURING RAIN TO DO! Another day, another guide with almost no English at all, 4 museums, a lunch where I put a whole clam in my mouth and raw oysters too, 5 Koreans over the age of 50 and then…then…I climbed a mountain. 

Image

On our Mokpo tour there was a couple in their 50s with maybe 1% English to my 2% Korean. So we had pretty much just done a lot of smiling at each other for about 4 hours. The tour ended and the guide asked me, “you want to climb Yudalsan?” Thinking it was all part of the tour still, I said “YES!” only for him to jump in his car and leave me looking at the two of them as they gestured to get in their (very nice) car. 

Now…Single White Foreign Female 101, Chapter 2: “Liam Neeson Will Not Always Be There” ($39.95 on Amazon) dictates that getting in the car of a nice looking couple with which you cannot communicate is not really the *best* idea. But in the spirit of Ms. Keller and saying “yes” to unknowns (Improv Comedy 201)…I got in. We drove about 5 minutes to the base of the mountain (please, nobody google how tall this mountain is, I know I was no Bear Grylls here but I’m proud of my tiny accomplishment) and the rain is starting to just dump out. I’m in dark jeans, wool socks, Nike Frees, a deep green hoodie and my 8-year old black North Face fleece and my hosts are in full-on Korean hiking gear. If I looked like a natural-colored wayguk bear waddling around, they looked like a flower garden full of the happiest, brightest poppies you’ve ever seen. So we started climbing. The rain got worse. Station 1. I feel good. Station 2, it’s getting slick. Station 3, fog. Summit. A glorious, rainy, happy heart. I wonder how I ever work indoors. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I belong here on top of mountains. It’s in my hair, my eyes, my joy. Rainy, cold, wet, and the Koreans are laughing at how happy I am. I’m thinking of Marty and Mr. Kredit and home and here and wishing I had someone to share it with. But you can’t wait for someone else to live your life, right? At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. 

Image

 

Going back down was treacherous but we found a surprise temple as we came back–hello, Indiana Jones, where are you? My hosts asked “jowa Soju?” which means “do you like Soju?” and I answered back with a slang phrase taught to me by Freddy Richmond, the cool, smoking older brother I miss dearly: “hanjan harkayo (lets have a glass).” Which I meant as a joke…and then we started driving around a shipyard and I was quite convinced that I was about to be cut up for parts. They’d tested me out and found I was halfway competent at climbing things (aka lots of stairs) and were going to sell my organs to the shipmongers. Which was fortunately not true as they then took me to a restaurant where we ate live octopus (낙지) and Soju! I only wish I’d taken a photo…but then you wouldn’t have seen all the tentacles squirming, which was kind of the coolest thing ever. I know that kind of luxury isn’t cheap and they wouldn’t let me pay for it either. NakJin and JeongSun: Thank you for teaching me about friendship without words; it’s not something I’ll easily forget. 

Image

And then…Seoul. I took the KTX going aaaannyywhere…to Yongsan Station. I putzed around eating kimbap outside a palace and walked around Bukchon and another palace before my 2o’clock tour of the Bukchon Hanok village. The village is full of hanoks, a style of wooden houses that grew in popularity in the 1920s and 30s as Seoul expanded. The area is carefully preserved and yet very modern. For my Arkansas friends, think Hillcrest. Tulsa friends, think Blue Dome district. Old, historic, and full of too many hipster artists to count on both mustaches. I then went down to Itaewon, the foreigner district, for an hour to hunt down a few cans of Diet Coke and a new shirt or two before attempting to rendezvous with my host for the night. As I sat on the floor of Nowon Subway Station…I started to feel…off. I secured secondary housing (the second time this week, if you remember), as my host thought I was again coming a different day (do I need to set my clock differently or something?). And as I walked into her place, I pretty much became *that* scene in Bridesmaids. If you know, you know. I was every character in every place in her tiny bathroom. I nominate me for worst houseguest of the ever.

Image 

After surviving the night, I pretty much crawled home to Daegu and the safety of my bed. Which only took about 9 hours to do, but still. MADE IT. 

I had a difficult time with this vacation. I requested it over 6 months ago to go to Hong Kong with college friends, but plans fell through in January. I only get 2 true vacation weeks of my own (we have to take 2 at Christmas) per year, and here I was, *wasting* it (or so I thought) as I bounced through Korea, a county I already lived in. Work was very slow this week, with people having mornings or whole afternoons off and I was angry that I was gone on an easy week. Angry I had to use this time and felt like it was wasted. Friends were in Thailand or Bali or the Philippines and I didn’t even leave the peninsula. And then I got sick and had to come home from Seoul on Friday rather than Sunday. 

I’m instead trying to focus more of my world on positives: 

1. I didn’t have to teach at all this week. 

2. I climbed a mountain. 

3. I ate live octopus and soju with absolute strangers. 

4. I saved some money! I think!

5. I saw some really old, unique places in this world that I may never have seen otherwise. 

I leaped. A little leap, but it felt kind of good. Next time: bigger leap. 

Image

 

Advertisements

In Which Forever 21 Declares War On My Butt: A First-Time Trip to Seoul

As promised, the saga of Seoul in all of it’s glory! Roy-Gene and I hopped in a cab at DGEV with a dream and a cardigan around 6:15 with our coworker Casey. We went first to Waegwan, where we caught a quick 15-minute train to Dongdaegu, the big train hub for Daegu. There we boarded the KTX, the super duper fast train to Seoul–it takes just shy of 2 hours and you get in at Seoul station, the heart of the city. Image

We got in around 10, and then began to wander and wander and wander as we looked for the way to Hongik University, our stop for the hostel we were staying at. I had downloaded an awesome subway app, but my smaller-town brain and the pretty much million subway colors and lines of Seoul weren’t working late at night. We began to ask Koreans to direct us the right direction, and they were amazing. Actually, all weekend Seoulites were the most gracious people ever, going above and beyond time after time. They made me love Seoul.

ANYWAYS, we made it to the hostel–at every turn I didn’t know what we would do, but it just. kept. working out! Pencil Hostel/Guesthouse in Hongdae is seriously great. We walked in to bedding, towels, shampoo, soap, A/C, TV and a refrigerator and slept like the dead until morning.

Friday morning dawned fair and bright and we headed out in search of breakfast: Image

Now that we were experienced in all things subway, we went to Myeongdong on the reference of a co-worker to check out H&M, Forever 21, and a host of Western brands. We met a lovely older Korean man, who helped me as I struggled with how to use my subway card in the reader. He then asked if he could help us find anything and recommended a breakfast place to us. We then explored H&M and I felt super thrifty as I picked up a $70 (aka 70,000 KRW) navy blazer for only $30, and a purse $13 instead of $35.

Then came Forever 21. It had FOUR FLOORS. It was magical. Escalators everywhere, men, women, kids, accessories, and I found two cute shirts and some leggings that I figured I should try on. I got to the dressing room and the girl took my items, turned to me and said, “these 2 ok, this (points to leggings) not ok, you will stretch out the shape,” and walks me to a dressing room. I try on the shirts, trying to shake it off. Having worked in retail, I cannot come up with a good reason for what she did. I tried all the “be flexible, this is a different culture” ideas I could think of. And even though I liked one of the shirts I tried on, I left, handing her the items without a word.

I mean…they were leggings. $16 leggings. Was it really vital to not let me try them on? Obviously your brand is doing well for itself; do you really want to…I mean, c’mon. I realize I have a butt. It’s big. It’s out there. It’s also pretty strong. It’s taken a lot of stairs and lunges and hours on a stone floor of an Apple Store. Lately it’s also worn a lot of heels. And you know, as much as I’m trying to eat well and work out and drop some weight, the butt is still gonna be there. It doesn’t need your $16 leggings to feel good about itself. So you, Forever 21, can shove them up your ass.

Meanwhile, back in happy-about-my-life world… ImageRoy-Gene and I continued exploring with a trip up to the US Embassy, where this exchange occurred:

Me: I can’t wait to go in and be all ‘AMURICA!’

RG: You know it’s like the heaviest fortified embassy ever…you can’t just walk in.

Me: Don’t you just run up to the front gate and scream “I’m an American!” and they have to, like, contractually let you in under asylum?

RG: (jaw drops, shakes head)

So, I didn’t. We ended up walking by, and visited a former palace instead. We then rested up a bit before retrieving the David Brown from the KTX. We traversed back to the hostel to make David think we were pros, and went to sleep to prep for Saturday. Well, tried to sleep. DB got the giggles so bad, I’m not sure he ever slept.

We woke up and headed out around 9, and went to Itaewon, the foreigner district, to find David some clothes, and me some Diet Coke, Roy-Gene some proper coffee, and breakfast for all of us. On Leslie’s (another coworker) recommendation, we went to the Flying Pan-Blue, which was expensive, but good. ImageAfter that, DB and I trundled around, searching for clothes. I found an appropriately touristy t-shirt that said “I ❤ Korea!” and some leggings at a store for Big and Tall women, where I got to meet 2 South Africans and an Italian expat, all of whom teach English for EPIK, the government program for teaching. We all commiserated about the Forever 21 experience, which is apparently common for those of us lucky enough to be voluptuous in Korea. Dave found the button ups that he was looking for, and I found what made my trip worthwhile: Image

After that, we went back to our hostel to pick up our bags (and for me to repack to accomodate the plethora of Diet Coke), and headed home on the KTX. All in all, a great trip, and we got to rest and recharge today to prepare for the week.

It was interesting how the vibe and feel of Seoul was very different to Daegu. Everyone was gracious and kind and intentional about helping us. We had people carry bags, ask questions, and race up an escalator to make sure they gave us the right directions. We met expats from all over the world and shopped at a foreign market. I think I understand the feeling people get about New York–it’s huge, it’s overwhelming, it’s fun, but when it boils down to it, it’s about people. I loved every minute.

Image