Thursday, March 8, 2007

so far so good

Well our adventures didn't start out as planned, but we've made the most of it. Missed our first bus to Gyeongju and ended up in Busan for two nights. But I enjoy Busan's flavor, so it wasn't that much of a setback. We wrapped up loose ends in Gwangju with a quickness on Monday, and the most difficult part was parting with Master Lee. I cried a bit, and I think he wanted to, too. He hugged me for quite some time. Beyond that, I'm Happy to report Alex's contract was upheld.

We're doing well and enjoying our travels around Korea right now. Finally made it to Gyeongju on Wednesday. There's so much to see that we decided to stay until Saturday morning. We were also fortunate enough to run into a man that runs a budget hotel, AND he speaks excellent english. He drew us a great map of must-see attractions. Gyeongju is a large historical area with massive burial mounds of past kings. Lots of Buddhist culture, too. We were on Mt. Nam all day today taking in the sights. We'll be on the east side of the mountain tomorrow.

The only downside to our trip is that the food doesn't come close the the deliciousness of Gwangju. We were truly spoiled. There's no kimchi like Jeolla kimchi.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Audrey's (brief) Retrospective

When asked about my experiences in Korea, I’ve discovered that words escape me. In the grand scheme of things, Alex and I have become so accustomed to the society and culture of Gwangju that we have a hard time remembering the specifics of our lives before coming here.

Korea is a country of nuances, which is why I find it so difficult to explain. I simply do, and of that I am the most proud. Living here has been challenging and far from easy, as you’ve no doubt read on this blog. At no other time in my life can I remember being so calm yet so awkward, or so self-conscious yet confident.

The cultural differences, even those that irk us, are just a normal part of everyday life, as is Kimchi. No longer does anyone warn us about spicy food or linger over us to make sure we know how to cook our Sam Gyup Sal. Most people, with the exception of children, barely seem to notice us as we wander our neighborhood. We are familiar and comfortable faces to shopkeepers and restaurant owners, who go out of their way to offer an “Annyong haseyo”. At night taxi drivers mistake me for a Korean, and the old women slap me on the back with wide smiles and nod approvingly at my grocery purchases. And though I will always stand out in a crowd, I move within them at ease.

Kumdo has truly been the greatest asset to our wellbeing. Our school is family, and a part of me feels empty leaving, just as I felt an emptiness leaving Master Cheon in Chicago. A great many memories of Korea will revolve around Kumdo; tournaments, demonstrations, & cabbage trucks, our 2nd & 3rd degree black belts, mornings in Damyang & lunches of Guksu, and the sadness in Master Lee’s eyes when we told him we were leaving.

As our time here comes to a close, I feel a tug on my heart that resembles an earlier homesickness for America and the familiar. It will overwhelm me when I walk the streets of Chicago. I’ll look to a horizon without mountains and fog and remember the chants of monks, the food stalls stuffed with uniformed teenagers, and strangers’ children climbing into my lap. I may even miss the kimbap deliverymen weaving their motorcycles between people on sidewalks, and the drunken businessmen trying to drag us into bars.

It has been a remarkable two years, and as we move on to our next adventure, Korea . . . Gwangju will always be a small piece of home for us in this wide world.