Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Weekday Getaway

Despite the fact that I thought November would be a long month (only one scheduled day off for the Korean SAT and our school festival) I've been blessed with some extra surprises. Last week was the annual EPIK trip which I was lucky enough to join this year, giving me an extra two days off school, creating a nice little 4-day weekend.  The bi-annual trips are open to all EPIK teachers, however preference is given to those that have been here over a year (have renewed their contract) and received a positive recommendation from their school.  I was happy to hear that many of my friends, both from Buksam and my original orientation class would be joining for the adventure, although I had some reservations about spending 24+ hours with 150 foreigners, I guess I've gotten used to my isolation on the farm. Honestly the best part of the trip, in my opinion, was that I didn't have to go to school for two days. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and don't mind coming to school everyday, but the students seem to be in a slump with an insurmountable need for sleep, not ideal teaching conditions. So yes, I greeted the opportunity to wander Korea for two days with open arms, even if it did require my wearing a name tag.  

Woryeong bridge, Nakdong river and golden Ginko trees
Our day started early with Rey, Shaun, Loudine and myself (the whopping 4 foreigners that live in Buksam) meeting at 7 so that we could make it to Waegwon in time for our 7:50 train to Daegu.  Sara met us at the station and we eventually met the rest of the Native teachers (NETs) in Daegu, excitement building (just kidding it was doing the opposite of that).  I had a brief look at the attendance list before leaving so I knew a few familiar names but somehow missed the fact that my friend Ariel would be on the trip ~ so excited to see his shining face that morning!  Soon it was time to board the buses at which time we were given our lovely name-tags (very reminiscent of orientation), bottles of water, disgusting (no really this was exceptionally bad) kimbap and had coffee spilled in our laps (oh wait that was just lucky me).  A fairly quick hour and a half later we arrived at Andong folk village, unfortunately not the famous Andong Hahoe village but rather an under construction runner-up tourist attraction of the city.   

After a semi successful attempt at a group picture we were told we had an hour to do as we please, check out the museum, wander the grounds, or as some of my counterparts opted for, drink at the convenience store.  I did a speed lap through the museum but decided to spend the rest of my time outdoors taking in the beautiful scenery, I am a sun worshiper after all.

After the hour was up we were ordered back to the buses and sent on our way for lunch, which was literally around the corner.  We actually could have walked across Woryeong bridge and found ourselves at the restaurant but I guess they wanted to waste a little gas.  Two hours had been set aside for us to eat and check out the bridge, I'm not really sure what logic was being used with this time table.  Lunch was already laid out (Korean restaurants might have some of the best organisation skills in Korea, bus terminals are a close second) and consisted of deliciously salty grilled Mackeral and Heotjaesabab which is an Andong dish very similar to Bibimbap.  Seeing as we were directly across from the folk museum grounds we spent the next hour across the bridge (yes, where we had just come from) exploring the traditional buildings and enjoying the beautiful, no perfect, weather.

헛제사밥 ~ Traditional bibimbapesque dish from Andong
served with Grilled Mackerel 

It's been a while since I've been treated like a 5 year old or maybe an animal being hearded from one pen to another, but that's precisely the feeling this trip evoked.  Leave it to the Korean government to worry that 100+ foreigners won't be able to survive two days away from home.  I guess that's what happens when you try to organize that many people though, and one of the main reasons I prefer solo travel to any type of organized tour.  After another hour long bus ride we arrived in Yeongju a small town further north, where we'd be spending the night and majority of the next day. As we descended from the buses and saw a traditional hanok village I knew that our bus leader had misspoke when she repeatedly mentioned our 'hotel'. We were given some time to find our rooms (where I really just wanted to curl up in a little ball) before congregating at the front gate for our next set of instructions. It was at this point that we all began to realize there was nothing in the surrounding area and very likely no alcohol on the premises, where had they taken us??? Sure enough, we were told that our curfew for the evening was 9pm (wait what?) and that there was to be no drinking (excuse me?).  Apparently foreigners can't be trusted to act like normal human beings after a few drinks so they shipped us off to the middle of no where, ah but where there's a will there's a way. 

The next few hours were set aside for cultural experiences ranging from brush painting, traditional games, bow shooting and traditional dying. I was first assigned to brush painting which was actually pretty cool, despite the fact that the room wasn't heated so as my fingers began to freeze the novelty wore off.  There was a bit of poor planning here as well, seeing as the teacher spoke zero English, resulting in one of the NETs having to translate for him. A fair amount of what he said was lost in translation but that may have made the experience more fun, or maybe that was just may sarcastic comments that filled the air. I channeled my inner artists (who am I kidding I don't have one of those), painted my fan and was ready to go, but instead sat around until we were dismissed (yes children).  Our next activity was 'Yut' (a traditional game maybe?) but was combined with 'Korean bow' (archery) outside in a cold field.  ha, haha.  

If you know me, at all, you'll understand that being cold is probably my least favorite thing ever.  Thus, the outlook of sitting around in a cold field for an hour waiting my turn to play some games or shoot an arrow sounded terrible. Instead I persuaded (not like it was hard) Loudine to join me in sneaking back to our room to curl up under blankets. Call me a bad sport or party pooper if you please but I quiet enjoyed my 40 minutes of peace and quiet trying to bring feeling back to my limbs (okay it really wasn't that cold but like I said, me and cold do not get along).  Loudine and I also spent some time texting friends aka looking to be rescued, which was almost a success.  Again able to feel my fingers we embarked back into civilization in search of Ariel who was dying a scarf,, complained about the evening a bit and then were ushered into dinner. I guess they spent enough on our lunch because dinner was a step down from what I get every day for school lunch, disappointing (and cold). By this time it was only 6:30pm but our schedule for the day was over, the rest of the night was ours, hooray!  Wait, we're in the middle of no where with limited entertainment, limited meaning one volleyball oh and our cell phones I guess...  There was actually talk about hailing taxis to take us back into town to find something to do, but before too long opportunity presented itself.  I received three different versions of the same story (thanks friends), there were in fact two restaurants down the road, both of which served soju, beer and maekolli, hallelujah. 

EPIK orientation, culture trip or prison? You decide

 freedom in a bowl

Happy teachers^^
Not to sound like an alcoholic or anything but when you're with 100 people (some of which you enjoy and others well not so much) a few libations makes the night more interesting.  Plus I didn't really fancy sitting outside in the cold just in order to chat with some other NETs about our lives in Korea. But give me a warmish bar and a few drinks and sure, i'll listen to what you have to say. The best part of the night was when the Korean orientation leaders came filing into the bar and averted their eyes away from us, some females trying to muffle their giggles as they walked by us. As if the day hadn't already made me feel like a high school student this was the icing on the cake and immediately made me think of my trip to Jeju (students searched for alcohol while the staff went to the basement to drink), although this time my role was a bit reversed. Eventually we drank the first restaurant dry and had to move on to the second. Thankfully by this time our leaders warmed up to the idea of us being there and decided to join us. Out of respect for the 선비존 we were asked to head back around 10:30 and seeing as I wanted to avoid the soju and predictable hangover (had I joined) I let Mr. Lee walk me back, and was soon cuddled into my warm spot on the floor.
Okay, let's all be friends 
The next morning was another early start, I seriously need to teach Korea the value of sleep before I leave. Breakfast was being served back in our lovely cafeteria but I was in no rush to get there, especially after my roommates came back and told me what was on the menu.  I love Korean food but honestly rice, cold eggs, and kimchi for breakfast are not my idea of a good time; this is when that extra persimmon I threw in my backpack came in handy.  The rest of the morning was spent exploring the surrounding area which consisted of the 선비문화 숙연원 (our home), the 선비천 (a restored Scholars village), the 소수물관 (confuscius museum) and the 소수서원( a Confucian education center). We were handed a few tourist maps of the area and told to be back at the buses by 11:30 so we could head to lunch, oh yeah and another group picture.  In all honesty now that i'm reflecting on the trip and actually reading the brochure it seems like it was a pretty cool place however at the time everyone seemed to be more focused on leaving.  It's a shame really that they didn't prepare us better or explain the importance of where we were. Honestly it would have been more beneficial to us to include some information about our accommodation and plan before we went on the trip. I know I have myself to blame for not being more into it that morning but honestly I was still getting used to being treated like a child and reconnecting to the hoards of foreigners I was thrown in with.

Loudine, get out of my selca ㅋㅋㅋ
선비 (scholar) statue 
I spent the majority of the morning with Ivan who was actually in the same orientation with me but whom I never really talked to before this trip.  We had some quality conversations about the past, present and future (deep I know) and thoroughly enjoyed our surroundings. 

After spending two hours wandering around it was time to load up the buses and head on our way.  It was only a short ride until we arrived at our lunch destination which was once again bibimbap, for some reason this is like the go to meal when foreigners are present. Unfortunately this lunch was not as good as the last but I was starving ( I guess the lack of breakfast caught up with me) so I finished not only my own but also part of Ariel's. During lunch they announced that they'd be moving up our departure time from 3pm to 2pm meaning we'd have a little less time to explore the temple but also that we'd arrive home earlier ~ you can only guess the reaction this received. We spent an hour hiking to and admiring 부석사 [Buseok Temple] which was established in the Silla Dynasty (A.D. 676) and holds numerous national treasures, including the oldest wooden building in Korea (at least according to Mr. Lee).  While standing at the top enjoying the scenery Ivan, Ariel and I discussed the possibility of living here. It's funny a few years ago I would have immediately dismissed the thought, I was a city girl, but more and more i'm learning to enjoy and appreciate the quietness [and beauty] the country has to offer.  

Ivan, myself and Ariel

This trip definitely provided some ups and downs but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable two days off of school, reconnecting with some old friends and taking in lots of Korean culture.  I shouldn't have predicted too much from an EPIK organized trip, they do tend to treat the NET's like lost little children/puppies/ducklings, after all.  It's unfortunate that after living here for nearly two years we're ushered into a group where we're treated like we're new teachers fresh off the boat.  Anyway, thanks to EPIK for giving me a chance to see parts of Korea I probably wouldn't have gotten to otherwise, oh yeah and those two days away from the classroom were nice too. 

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