Tuesday, April 25, 2006

weekend recap . . . weekend preview

We may have been dancing monkeys, but we were good dancing monkeys. As members of the Sangmu Kumdo Academy's Demonstration Team, we are most often called on to demonstrate combat situations wherein showing the practicality of what we're taught. Of course there are embellishments, like the unnecessary kicks, spins, and cartwheels, and honestly it’s sometimes like feeding children creamed-corn, but when the masses demand the “airplane approach”, it’s what’s done. In the end we were applauded and “whooped”, receiving rave reviews from young and old alike. Master Lee was quite pleased, and we were pleased it was over (if only to get our lives back).

Ah yes, living. It’s what we’ve promised ourselves to do this year. Since Alex was shackled to his former job, we could not escape the limits of Gwangju as often as we would have liked. This year is shaping up quite differently.

This weekend is the beginning of our quest to see the wonders of the Korean peninsula. On the agenda Mokpo (목포), this state’s major port city, and a historic strategic hold during warring times (most notably, the Imjin Wars 1592 & 1597). Unimaginably devastating wars where Japan’s main objective was to plunder, in the end were won thanks to Korea’s most revered Naval Commander, Admiral Yi. The country honors him for outmaneuvering and out-thinking the invaders with several monuments and statues scattered around the country, but there are reminders of him & the wars throughout most of Mokpo and it’s outlaying islands. I’m obviously my father’s daughter, as I can’t wait to learn more about the wars and Admiral Yi Sun-shin.

Also on our agenda is a visit to Hong-do (홍도,"Red Island",), National Maritime Museum, Yudal-san Park, and a Czech Beer Bar. Yes, beer is on the agenda.

Article: Imjin War diaries Are Memorial of Invasions For Koreans

Article: Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and the Turtle Boat

Mokpo City Homepage

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Foreigner Problem: Part I

I woke up today wondering why we’re still here. My mind raced with people, places, commitments, and most of all, time. The ever-elusive time, those spare days that Alex and I had hoped to save for travel around the peninsula. The hours in the weekend we wanted to explore Gwangju, or maybe, see a movie. The afternoons I wished to be out with my camera, but instead I’m shoulder deep in dictionaries and Korean newspapers in my continuing quest for the language. The late nights of martial arts that, once in awhile, we would prefer to spend over a quiet dinner. “Why are we still here?”, is the question that nagged me this morning as we woke up to bike to the immigration office.

Riding a bike is a meditative thing, especially in Gwangju. Small streets wind out onto the modern city routes between squat, square buildings. These small structures conceal cars from pedestrians, and vice-versa making for close calls, or calls you don’t want to get. Sidewalks are small if they exist at all, and when they do, are littered with young and old alike unaware of others around them. The old woman who is permanently bent at the waist from years of laboring under Japanese oppression and the rebuilding afterwards, I can forgive. The young kids jockeying for a better glimpse of their reflection to coif their hair, I cannot. I will ring my tiny bell, slow a bit, but then I leave it in the hands of the Gods of Pedestrian Warfare. Are there such Gods? I no longer doubt. As I was saying, biking is quite meditative. You're safety depends on you thinking of nothing else. All your focus pours into gear changes, traffic, and those damn hills.

Sweat beads on my forehead as we turn into Immigration’s parking lot. Two men twist around out of curiosity as we slow to a stop. They smoke, their eyes following us to the doors of office before they resume their conversation. When we return so does their curiosity, and they carefully pace towards us as we unlock our bikes. I liken it to an inquisitiveness one has when investigating an unusual object they randomly spot on the ground. No real emotion, just a need to place what one's seeing. Hopping on our bikes and heading out, the men pace back to the sidewalk they were previously holding down. Maybe with curiosity fulfilled, maybe not.

The reason for mentally noting all of their interest is not just because I’m a freak, it’s because I need to understand. The stares, the assumptions, the overwhelming curiosity that leads old men to stand with their faces 5 inches from mine. I’d like to know why the grocery ladies giggle a bit, and why some now, smile affectionately. Or why old women with a twinkle in their eye sometimes pat my arm and give a hefty laugh, while young women walk wide around me like I’m a pitbull foaming at the mouth . . . . .

Puffing my way up the large hill to “Gold Countryville”, the pieces of what once seemed a complex puzzle started to nestle together. I am now faced with “The Foreigner Problem”, and how we'd changed so much by not being a part of it.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

One Year On

So one year has come and gone and here we are still in Korea. This past year has been tumultuous, to say the least. Underwater trees, busted eardrums, vomiting in the park from food sickness or too much sun, or let’s just say it: alcohol. And that was only one trip. I suppose this retrospective should be something along the lines of “Things I’ve Learned” or maybe “What to Do and What not to Do in Korea” or some equally inane clichéd thing, no offense to those who enjoy those kinds of lists, I’m just not that way, generally, I hope. So then what is this going to be? Really short.

When I came to Korea I expected the language to come rather easy, I suppose if I had studied as hard the first five months as I did from August, I would have a much better handle on it. I know enough to get around, but there is a lot more, as if that isn’t obvious. My time at the place where I was employed was as turbulent as this year, and in some way could have been the cause of all the chaos. But that is hopefully water under the bridge.

We have certainly been grateful for all the assistance we have received in the past year and all the kindness, though some assistance was less appreciated, such as showing us how to have a night out in Korea. For my part I have really enjoyed the trips we have taken away from the city, especially to Damyang, and we plan on taking many more this year, as our taste for travel was piqued by the trip to Japan. Top on the list is Seoul, hopefully at the beginning of next month.

Other things that have been invaluable are Kumdo and Sam Kyeop Sal. It is amazing how easily a meal can relax us these days. Though Kumdo has been a wonderful experience over the past year, it has become somewhat of a drain on our time and energy. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be and five to seven days a week has become just too much. This new time will give us the opportunity to really see this country.

Well this year has been a lesson learned and hopefully will not be repeated. Here’s to a new year and a new view of Korea.