Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gyeongju

We've spent the past couple days in Gyeongju, my favorite city.  Not only because I share my name with it, but becaue the city's full of amazing history and beauty.  They call Gyeongju the museum without walls.  Gayoung made fun of me because I've been to Gyeongju so many times, but I really wanted Drew to see all the cool Shilla dynasty stuff here.

We took the new KTX line directly from Seoul to Gyeongju--the line opened just three days after we left Korea in 2010, so we didn't get to take advantage of it last time.  The express line cut our commute time in half at two hours.

Yesterday we hiked the trails of Bulguksa and Seokguram.  Many of the lotus lanterns were still up from Buddha's birthday on Monday, which was really neat to see.  Last night we went to a restaurant that Amul had found on a blog that serves traditional Korean meals.  Lots of diferent banchan and stews.  We ordered dongdongju, a freshly-made rice wine similar to makgoli, which was really good!  It was cloudy like makgoli, but sweet and sparkling in flavor.  Drew especially enjoyed the Korean alcohol. :)

Today, my immune system finally called it quits.  I usually end up getting sick at the end of each semester, with all the stress of finals.  However, this semester, I didn't have the luxury of down time after classes since we went to Korea right after classes.  I woke up with a pounding headache and a sore throat--hiking four miles in the mountains yesterday probably didn't help.  Anyway, I took it easy this morning and went back to sleep while Amul showed Drew around the various burial mound sites.  After a nap and a nice hot shower, I'm feeling a bit better.  I'll be meeting up with them in a little bit at the Gyeongju National Museum.

We leave Gyeongju tomorrow around lunchtime to head back up to Seoul.  We'll have a little under a week back in Seoul before we head home.  It seems that the things I need to stock up on in Korea are always so heavy!  I always try to get new books on adoption that are published here in Korea and hard to get in the U.S.  I also usually try to bring back a few bottles of my favorite shampoo which is really the only product that seems to keep my chronic scalp issues manageable.  Anyway, while these things are fairly compact and easy to pack, they're very heavy to lug around and call for strategic weight displacement when packing.

Hopefully photos in the next post, when I can transfer images from the SD cards to my laptop!

Monday, May 28, 2012

My first night in Gyeongju, I dreamed about Danny all night.  It was so wonderful to see him, to talk with him again, to read his poetry.  He was the same as ever, with his gentle soul and sweet smile.  I awoke with a smile on my face, but his visit in my dreams made me miss him in my daily wakeful life.

For me, Korea will always be a place of loss, I think.  Even in finding Omma and Gayoung, that melancholy han still remains, still continues to remind us of what has been lost.

Eleven years ago, I wrote Danny's name on a tile that would be used to restore the Bulguksa Buddhist temple in the Gyeongju mountains.  Last night, he visited me in dreams, reminding me to cherish what we have--even the losses for the sweet heartache they bring.  Today, I climb the sacred mountain again to Bulguksa where I say a prayer for all the love and loss I am surrounded by.  Thank you, Danny.  Your spirit lives on on a tile constructing a heavenly temple, in the call of the magpies perched in pine, in the seaspray haze that shrouds the coastal rice paddies.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hongseong

Thursday, Drew and I made the trip down to Hongseong.  We only got on one wrong train, and were able to remedy our error before the train had left the station.  Drew’s birthplace is a cute little town.  It’s much more rural than Seoul or even Pusan.  We wandered around the downtown area and found the hospital where Drew was born. We actually walked in and got to look around the lobby, but didn’t think trying to wander further into the depths was a good idea.  I suggested Drew try to cross the street at a red light to get a more intense hospital experience, but he declined.

We also found the Hongseong elementary school, where, we assume, Drew’s brothers attended classes.  There are several historic spots around the town, as well.  There’s a fortress in the middle of the town’s thoroughfare, and a tomb memorial for freedom fighters who perished in the uprising against Japan in 1906.

Hongseong is known for its cockles, cavern shrimp, and its beef.  Apparently, Hongseong supplies 6% of the nation’s Korean beef (han-u), and there were butcher/restaurant combinations touting local beef everywhere.  We picked one randomly for lunch, and it turned out to be THE BEST meal we’ve had.  As Hongseong’s fairly rural, no one we encountered spoke English, so we rather randomly picked a kogi dish off the menu.  We got a variety of cuts of beef, from thinly-shaved shabushabu meat, to good sized chunks, to a whole steak.  No seasonings, the ahjumma sliced it ten feet away from us on the meat slicing machine and brought it to our table.  The meat was so nicely marbled, and the flavor was incredible.  We even broke off a couple chunks of fat from the giant cube the ahjumma gave us and fried those on the grill.  It browned wonderfully; the surface was nice and crispy and the center melted in your mouth.

After lunch, we hiked around some of the quieter back roads and got to see some of the countryside, fields, and rice paddies.  Our ride home was long and tiresome, but definitely tinged with something of “real Korea.” We got back to Hongseong’s train station around 5 pm.  There were no trains to Seoul until about 10 pm, but there was a train to Yongsan at 6.  You can pretty easily get to downtown Seoul from Yongsan via metro, so we got tickets for that train.  Though, we forgot to take into account that on Friday evening of a long holiday weekend (Buddha’s birthday is Monday), many people would be travelling.  The seats on the Yongsan train were all full, but we were able to get two standing room tickets.  It was a long two hours, standing in the “foyer” of car number 2.  Stuffy, bumpy, and crowded.  But we managed to get home in one piece!  Drew subsequently spent the next day lazing around in bed.

iPad commercials

The iPad commercial here in Korea is very similar to the U.S. version, but something’s  different about it—I just can’t put my finger on it…

Everybody needs a little time away

Drew and I needed a break from each other today.  We’ve been in each other’s pockets for a week and a half, and as much as we love each other, we were starting to get snippy.  I have also discovered that Drew does quite a bit of talking in his sleep.  Last night’s was “Stop shaking it.  Don’t be such a baby,” followed by vigorous twitching of limbs and a high kick which launched the sheets up in the air an impressive distance.  Anyway, Drew’s out this evening with his friend Yeji hitting up Hongseong.

I went down to Yongsan and met up with Alex for lunch.  It was great to see him.  Before I left, I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to bring from home, and he requested Kraft Dinner and Flaming Hot Cheetoes.  They survived the trip (though I think the air pressure change in the plane poked a hole in one of the Cheetoes bags—Drew’s shirts smelled a bit like Cheetoes until we got a chance to do laundry), and I passed them along to Alex.  I got to meet Alex’s friend, Joyce, who is a fellow TaLK recruit and enviably fluent in Korean.  We ate at a burger joint in the food court of the giant Yongsan shopping complex and then wandered around.  We made our way to Dongdaemun where I parted ways with them and walked the length of Cheonggyecheon back to Koroot.  A relaxing, solitary evening wandering around the city was just what I needed to recharge.

Tomorrow I’m meeting my good friend Joon for coffee, and then meeting Amul at Seoul Station at midnight(!).  Amul will get a few hours to sleep, and then we’re off to Gyeongju for the next few days.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gyeongbokgung

Thursday afternoon was spent exploring one of the royal palaces in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung.  An added bonus was free admission to the Korean Folk Museum, where Drew got to see Paleolithic Korean stone arrows, Bronze Age armor, and Korean horn bows.

Around Seoul