Monday, August 22, 2005

nothing much

Well, the weather has finally broken, and we are enjoying milder temperatures. The ease in heat and humidity is much welcomed, as is the clearing of the sky. All summer a haze has nestled into the nooks and crannies surrounding the city making it impossible to see the mountains. Whether a shift in winds or a Korean mystery for the ages, the haze has lifted and the sky is beautifully clear. The blue expanse dappled with clouds is set afire at dusk with amazing color, even the city's busy construction cranes and building frames look glamorous in the orange-red shock painted by our asian sun. However, it is the later wash of greens, purples, and yellows dissolving into night that create a lasting sense of peace as a cricket-sonata accompanies the light evening breeze.

In the park, families and friends are strewn across the grounds, resting their feet on picnic blankets. Children ride bicycles, couples play badminton, and the older boys try their hand at baseball. It is a Rockwell-esque vision of togetherness sans the saccharin.

Alex and I are still muscling through kumdo. The health and fitness are worth the physical pains we sometimes endure, and it keeps us focused when we feel overwhelmed.

Our social life has been pretty mild since we’ve been here, but it looks like things are changing. We are going to venture to a noraybong (a place with individual rooms for karaoke) with Rachel and Ki-Yoon sometime soon, and we recently met Min who wants to take us hiking. All and all, there are no complaints as life continues to be one big adventure.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

the details

day two: dehydration, an arboretum, and projectile vomiting

after a night with cement pillows and an unforgiving mattress, we groggily rolled into a hot, summer morning already dehydrated and sunburned. alex was a bit worse for wear, mumbling “water . . . water . . . . .” (a sentiment reverberating in my head). we looked over our maps of Wando, marking all intersections with churches, temples, strange houses, and smiling people with easy-to-read pamphlets, before wandering into the sunny, sidewalkless street outside our hotel.

where are we? where are we attempting to go? are you thirsty?

i am thirsty. we hobbled along in the unrelenting sun toward the corner MINI STOP for snacks and water. i cannot describe the intensity of the sun we have experienced while in country. imagine yourself at 5 o’clock in the afternoon with the sky still pushing a noontime sun onto your back. it’s so damn hot, you later check your shoulders for brands.

it was at this point that alex began looking less than up to task for the journey. his head appeared unhinged as his chin reached for his chest, and his walk was that of a man trying to deliver a full martini glass to a table on rough seas. not that i was grand, but i knew i wasn’t struggling with the same demons, and was grateful when we arrived at the mart.

the main street in Wando isn’t too much to speak of. it’s wide lanes are set back from the waterfront about 1/2 a mile. all the roads into town twist and converge toward a single road that leads to the ferry docks. everything about this street made it seems as though this town was a mistake, why else would all the roads lead you out? a manmade waterfall rushes over nature-made rocks on the hillside near the bus station, and is bookended by plain, flat, and unimaginative store fronts (save the Tiki-esque local dive bar).

after staring at the depressing, main street scene for thirty minutes, we wandered in search of transportation to Wando’s Arboretum. finally opting for a cab once the bussing situation became too confusing, we drove around the island toward the park. the countryside was beautiful, a patchwork of rice paddies and pear orchards right up to the base of the mountains. a single lane, two-way road lead up to the park. Marilynn would not have enjoyed this part of the drive.

while at the arboretum, we roamed in the virtually shadeless expanse of the new park. we had not bargained for an arboretum without protection from the sun, but still muscled up the paths determined to see the damn place.

alex had grown very quiet during out walk, and by my estimates wasn’t faring too well, so because you can’t always sense the stupidity that is in front of you, we decided to visit the giant greenhouse. pushing the envelope on what was possibly heat exhaustion, i enjoyed the greenhouse immensely, while alex did not.

later, outside the greenhouse, alex rested in the shade while i explored a bit further. upon my return, alex promptly vomited the most incredible force of water i had ever witnessed. if i weren’t so sensitive (smirk), i would’ve yelled “LANDSLIDE!”

as you can probably guess, we headed back down the mountain, and towards the bus station (which was a good 3 mile walk). i had read somewhere that hitchhiking was safe in Korea, and just as i was about to thumb it, a car pulled up and offered a ride. how fortuitous! they took us to the station in town, where we easily bussed the rest of way back to Wando.

the remainder of our stay, we walked along the waterfront, ate a delicious dinner of Maeun-tang (hot fish soup), and spent time remarking on the difficulties of the trip. all in all, even with the frustrations, it was nice to leave Gwangju. it was even better, the following day, to return and feel like we were home.

next expedition:

Wolchul-san National Park (as seen from the bus window)

Wando Arboretum Pics

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

the details

day one: the jehovah's and pink chicken

the particulars of our misadventurous vacation in the south sea may be in order. Alex is a bit more succinct than i, and knowing that, i don’t feel too bad embellishing on his portrait of our excursion. for starters, our friendly ambassadors to Myeongsasimni (the beach on Shinji-do) were cultists. that’s right, just your standard, run-of-the-mill followers of some bizarre “faith” revolving around absurd theories about the earth’s axis shifting. to save you from too much detail, this cult preaches meditation and the prophecies of Nostradamus and some guy from Butthole, USA. THANKFULLY, we had the pesky language barrier preventing them from sucking our brains through our nostrils in an attempt to convert us (a la Jehovah’s Witness [yep, they have those here, too]).

our companions plied us with alcohol and fish while asking us to sing meditation mantras and to peruse their written material. like i said before, we had the “barrier” to protect us from their constant barrage of crap-slinging. even they had to eventually bore of pointing at the same two pictures, and saying the same 3 sentences English. whew!

Alex did rupture his eardrum, and was assaulted by a violent, vengeful and submerged tree stump. i, on the other hand was a body-surfing maniac, attacking the sea with a force found only in a person who (A) loves the water and (B) is seeking to escape an uncomfortable situation. let me say, before coming across too harsh, that our two hosts had the best intentions and were truly considerate and generous people. they were also, unbeknownst to us, harbingers of the awkward and often anxiety-ridden following day. Urgh.

sunburned and exhausted we headed back to Wando, and the comfortable, quiet of our hotel. after a nap, a shower, and a gallon of water, we headed to town. Wando is like any american town on the outskirts of a tourist destination. so many people pass through, no one stays for any respectable amount of time, and the kids love that shit. i honestly believe that we heard more English attempted on this trip that at any other point in our stay in south korea. the girls all thought alex was hot, and people wanted to TALK.

we ventured to a familiar resto-hof, for a pitcher of beer and, what would turn out to be, possibly undercooked chicken. i say possibly, because the lighting was poor. it was probably my imagination considering that only Alex felt ill later on, but . . . . ANYWAY, we sat in a private booth, ate & drank & enjoyed one another’s company. Lights out . . . it was a long dehydrating and sunburned day.

click for vacation pics

Sunday, August 7, 2005

vacation: a blog by the other one

How to have a stressful vacation:
1) Injuries are a must.
2) Drinking Helps
3) Sunburn
4) Uncomfortable situations
5) Massive language barriers
6) Food poisoning, maybe
7) Sunstroke, also a maybe
8) Illness

First, we went to the beach and met some Koreans there who wanted to show us how to be on the beach in Korea, which involved a lot of drinking and eating fish. On my fist venture into the ocean I was hit by a wave in a strange way and ruptured my eardrum. I knew it right away. Luckily, I had the same thing happen about five or six years ago and I knew there was nothing to do about it but keep it dry. So I wasn’t too worried. On my second time in I was attacked by a submerged tree and nearly lost my package. I escaped with some nasty looking but shallow scratches on my inner thighs. I decided it was best to stay out of the water for the rest of the day. We eventually extricated ourselves from the Koreans and headed home, sun burnt, bleeding (on my part), and dehydrated. We had a very nice taxi driver and the ferry trip back was quite beautiful. In fact all of Wando is beautiful, mountainous, wooded, capped by blue sky and ringed by ocean. We decided to have a nap and go out later that night, when we had fried chicken, which might or might not have been undercooked, and beer. We went to sleep with big plans for the next day.
Unfortunately, we both slept terribly. I woke up feeling okay and we decided to go ahead with our plan of visiting the arboretum. After getting ready to go I started to feel a little sick to my stomach, but I figured a little food and some water would help me. It did help for a bit and we tried to find the bus that ran to the arboretum area, eventually we gave up and took a taxi. The Arboretum was beautiful; they had a new greenhouse, which was really great. It reminded me of Garfield Park. The Arboretum was relatively new, meaning less shady trees, and the sun seemed to be much more intense. I needed to rest for a bit, so I slept in a little shade and Audrey went to take some pictures. When she came back I got up and promptly threw up. I thought that I would feel better, but I didn’t and we decided to head back. We were in for a long walk, fortunately some more generous Koreans gave us a ride to the bus station and we got home relatively easily. When we got back I slept for two more hours.
Getting up after the nap I felt a lot better, but there was still a knot in my stomach. We decided that we couldn’t leave Wando without trying some seafood, so we set out in search of a good dinner. There was a good-looking restaurant with a number of semi private rooms, and we went. It was amazingly difficult to verbally communicate our desires and eventually the waitress came back and wrote out some options that we recognized. We ordered hot fish soup for two. It was delicious. We ended the night with a walk and some ice cream. We returned home to Gwangju early the next day.
Ultimately, the vacation really left us drained and discouraged about our lack of language skills and inability to communicate, but also more determined to learn Korean and adapt to this country. Now it is back to school and hopefully an end to Audrey’s stress over teaching. Last week, fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

polls are closed

even with Mokpo making a late surge, Wando still held the edge and will be our vacation destination. three, hopefully sunny, days and two nights on the southern coast. i will post pictures when we return, lots and lots of pictures.

love you all.