Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sister Visits Busan

Note: This guest post was written by my sister, Crystal, who visited Busan with her husband, Nick, back in March 2011. We thank her for her contribution to Soju Cocktail and for visiting way over here.

A lot has changed since we left Busan on March 14th; we found out that we are having a second baby, we traveled to Arkansas for yet another music festival and we traded our responsible family station wagon in for a “ridiculous” VW bus in which to create family memories. 
But one thing that hasn’t changed since then is how much I loved getting the invitation and opportunity to travel across the world to visit Rose & Shane. Visiting South Korea is something Nick and I would have never done if it weren’t for family being there. I’m super glad that they decided to become temporary residents in what Rose calls “The Land of Contrasts” so that we were able to enjoy all that Busan has to offer.
The contrasts Rose was talking about were instantly apparent. One of the most memorable was the obvious division between the generations of women, the younger generation obsessed with perfecting their faces while the older generation was obsessed with gutting their fish. I never encountered a young lady who didn’t have her eyeliner on to go hiking, and I rarely laid eyes on an older woman who could stand straight after squatting over a pail of fishy entrails. It wasn’t just the people that showed these contrasts, but the scene itself. The bustling city streets set itself against peaceful mountain paths in a way that kept making you forget that the other even existed. Then there were the modern technological advances surrounded by the remnants of past wars; people were taking pictures of rusted barbed wire fences with what looked like a smaller, better Ipad. It was magnificent. And it was fun.
The first night we arrived, Rose & Shane took us to a Korean BBQ. As I will most likely say about almost everything we did while in Busan, the Korean BBQ was definitely one of my favorites. The family-sized portion of meat comes to you raw and then you cook it yourself on a hot skillet or grill set in the middle of the table. When done to your liking, you wrap it in lettuce or sesame leaves and choose your other assorted toppings, like roasted garlic, kimchi, or a spicy sauce. You eat the little wrap with a nice, light, watery beer named Cass or with Soju. I liked the BBQ so much, I requested to go back at least three more times during our visit. 

The next two days were spent at temples. The first temple we visited, Beomeosa, is the temple all the traveler’s websites tell you to go to. Although impressive and large, it was nothing compared to the temple we visited next, Hae Dong Yong Gung. Hae Dong Yong Gung is set atop a rocky shoreline of the Sea of Japan. It has many multi-sized Buddhas, fresh spring water to drink, beautiful temples and scores of worshipers. It was a place to be at peace.
It was not quite so peaceful when we made the trek back in the city. We visited the busy markets in the streets and sampled different street foods. Every street was packed with hungry people looking to buy and sell goods and services.  Although they all looked exactly the same in my eyes, Shane was able to bring us to one 3x5 table that was making these crazy pancake type dishes, filled with chives and who knows what else. I will have to say, whatever they put in there, it was delish.  
One of the great things about Busan is that even though it’s a busy city, it only takes the short walk of a block to get back to peace. The city is on the shoreline, so we were able to spend some time on the beaches as well. Even when in a winter jacket, a beach is relaxing. Watching the water come in, writing messages in the sand, taking pictures with your friends to put on your next record cover, life is good when you’re on the beach.
Did I mention this was all just in the first 2 days?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lantern Kaleidoscope for Buddha's Birthday

Buddha's Birthday is not a holiday I normally celebrate. I've still never really celebrated it, although I did have the day off from work. I knew the day was coming weeks in advance, since ordinary city streets gradually became lined with long strings of colorful paper lanterns. It's a beautiful religion I know little about.
A few days before Buddha's Birthday, or Welcome Buddha Day, which fell back in May in accordance with this year's lunar calendar, my friend Miranda flew over from her adopted homeland of Japan to experience all that is Korea. Naturally, we had to sightsee. Off we went to Haedong Yongungsa, a beautiful temple at the edge of the city. We had never seen it like this before:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Going to Gyeongju

Tumuli. Tumuli. Tumuli. It's fun to say. They're also fun to look at, these giant round mounds popping up around the city of Gyeongju (경주시). The tumuli are actually tombs of the Shilla kings and rulers of ancient Korea. One, called Cheongmachong (천마총), or the Heavenly Horse Tomb, is opened for sightseers to go inside. It's dark and cool, and a little disconcerting when I see that I'm inside a pile of rocks about fifteen feet deep that is covered with dirt ten feet deep. Also, you're standing inside someone's grave.

In the tomb, we marvel at artifacts like an uncomfortable-looking wooden saddle and a fragile gold headdress. Shane, Mom, Britt, and myself wander through the rest of Tumuli Park, grateful for the cloud cover that are keeping us cool. It's so nice to be surrounded by fresh air and green. 

The path through Tumuli Park leads us through a stretch of gnarly knotty trees. Because of the rain that has just passed through, the park is nearly empty and very still. Smells fresh and mossy and I feel like I'm in a children's storybook. We walk on.

After a bit, we reach a place I recognize from my student's textbooks. I'm standing in front of Cheomseongdae (첨성대), the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. Seeing this landmark now in person is so anti-climatic that I have a hard time believing it's actually a big tourist site. It looks like a pudgy chimney. I'm the only one in our group who takes a picture. 

Unimpressive landmarks aside, the open, wide expanses of Gyeonju's historical section are serene and calm and beautiful and impress me much more. 
We had come here with the intention of seeing a piece of Korea outside of Busan's confines. As much as my mother and sister enjoyed the city, we all  needed respite from the hot urban summer. So we jumped on the KTX, the high-speed train that connects Korea end to end, and an hour later we were at this UNESCO World Heritage Site

From Cheomseongdae, we sojourn across a field toward another wooded area, which a sign informs us is Gyerim Forest (계림). The post goes on to explain that this is the place where a gold box was found hanging from a tree, with a rooster crowing underneath it, and in that box was a boy who's heirs would later rule the Silla dynasty. Britt and I are eyed up by two ajumnas while Mom and Shane try to take pictures of a cool blackbird.

Later, after walking through the rapeseed field, past the red and white hollyhocks, under the gourd and zucchini vine-covered tunnel, and after taking turns sticking our faces through a painted board that made it look like we were the Shilla princess in a pink hanbok riding a white horse sidesaddle, we make it to Anapaji Pond (안압지)
I've never seen so many or such huge water lilies. The leaves are larger than my head. By the time we finish walking up and down the pathways, we're tired and ready to head toward the bus station.

To get there, we have to walk down Hangover Soup Street. Hangover soup (haejangguk or 해장국) is a traditional stew made from ox or beef bone broth, soybean paste, sprouts, radish, green onions, and sometimes ox blood. Today, each of the hangover soup restaurants is nearly identical, and each is empty, save the proprietors swatting flies away from giant silver pots. I guess that by 3:00 in the afternoon, the hangovers are done for the day. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dance Stanford Class

Nothing gets my five year old students more revved up for the day, out of control hyper, than a little song and dance time.

Our previous supervisor handed out CDs labeled "Pop Songs" to us teachers,  under the auspice of making our lessons more fun for the elementary school students. I'm convinced that is was actually so the Korean teachers could teach the kindergarten students cute dance routines.

To fill your cuteness quota for the day, here's my class, Stanford class, doing their best Dancing Queen. Bear with my off key vocals in the background. I can't take credit for teaching them the routine; that's all Hannah teacher. I wonder if this is what ABBA imagined when they recorded this song.

Untitled from Shane Ebel on Vimeo.