Sunday, August 12, 2012

Time Passes (Even More Quickly)

A week ago I left you with an idea of the first day of my vacation. If I don't cover the other five days of it relatively quickly I think I may fall hopelessly behind on this blog. During the soon-to-be briefly described trip to Yeosu, I mentioned to a coworker how being in a completely new environment like this prompts the senses to stay on alert and soak in as much as possible. "Sounds exhausting," she replied. It really is, but in a good way. At every moment there is some new experience or thought to occupy the mind, so these eighteen days have been filled to the brim and have also flown by as fast as the fighter jets west of the city. I expected the time at work this week to feel as though it had slowed down, but I've reached this Sunday seemingly even more suddenly than the last one. There were no other 5am nights during my vacation, so the rest of this description should go more quickly, especially as I intend to call upon the descriptive powers of a couple of talented bloggers and coworkers.

Last week we left me on the couch in my apartment with the windows open. After sleeping for a few hours I forced myself up to close the windows and turn on the air-con, because the noise coming up from the street below was too much. Then it was back to the couch, where I stayed for a few more hours, before waking up for the day. That Wednesday passed quickly and uneventfully. The only happening of note (other than the joy I felt after twenty minutes of semi-random button pushing when the washing machine finally started) was that evening, when I ventured out to order take-out for myself for the first time here. Baby steps.
Washing machine in my apartment
I had noticed a fried chicken joint  during one of my several trips to and from Sangmu Citizens' Park the previous day, so at twilight I left my apartment, armed with the word "pojang" and twenty thousand won. I went in and walked up to the counter and said "Take out" and pointed out the door. The woman working there nodded in understanding and asked me something while pointing at board of pictures above the counter. Everything I saw there looked good so I just agreed with her, and she pointed me to a chair and I sat down. I watched the Olympics on a TV in the corner and studied the subway map I'd brought along for about fifteen minutes when the woman called me over to the counter. I took the bag, paid about 14,000 won, thanked her, and walked briskly back to my apartment. Once there, I impatiently ripped into the bag to admire the results of my adventure. Behold:
AFC box of chicken w/dipping sauce, pickled radish, and a can of Coke
I was quite pleased with myself on this one. Granted, it was more chicken than I could eat, but the unexpected addition of Coke made up for that inaccuracy. I just refrigerated the extra and had it for dinner the next night. The chicken was very tasty, especially with the sauce. The radish I'll need some time with. I ate a few of the pieces, but it wasn't really given a fair shake since I thought it was some kind of fruit up to the point when I picked up the first piece and felt how firm it was. Definitely not fruit.

The rest of the night consisted of finishing reading Karen Russell's Swamplandia! before my borrowing license for it from my library back home expired.* Having an e-reader (a gift from my parents for my 24th birthday) turned out to be very convenient when this trip came up. I only brought two physical books along with me: the small leather-bound KJV Bible my parents gave me as a kindergarten graduation gift, and a book called The Aviator my dad recommended to me a couple days before I left. With my nook I can purchase e-books to read, but my library back home has a healthy selection of electronic titles available, and I have several dozen that I've pulled from their catalog and placed in my wish list. Between those, and the kind offer from my coworker Lily to borrow from her collection I should have plenty of reading materials to last me through the year, and probably much longer.**

On Thursday morning, I woke up and prepared for a trip to Yeosu to visit the World Expo. I met two coworkers downstairs and we caught a cab to the train station. We ended up taking the KTX north to Iksan, and then transferring to a different train for the leg down to Yeosu. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and the few hours it took passed incredibly quickly. I spent a large portion of the time just staring out the windows at the beautiful countryside scenes and impressive mountains.
view from the KTX
The train station in Yeosu was located directly across from the Expo site, so we went straight over and bought our tickets, which turned out to be only 10,000 won. I was expecting to pay around 30,000 won, but we were given some foreigner group discount, which was a nice surprise. This was less than two weeks from the closing of the Expo, and it seemed as though many people were trying to get in a visit before it ended. The lines for most of the attractions and pavilions were very long, with some having waiting times exceeding two hours. We went into nearly a dozen pavilions. The Netherlands and Norway had interesting displays, and Norway's was particularly theatrical, with an actor portraying the captain of a ship that used hyperspeed to take us from Korea to Norway via the Arctic Ocean in about 3 seconds.*** Outside of the Romania pavilion we watched a performance of some traditional Romanian music. Other than that we made our way through several pavilions with short-to-no waits, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei, Uruguay, and Peru. It reminded me very much of a more modern and less permanent Epcot, which I guess is sort of what Epcot was going for. Most of the pavilions even had the gift shops at their exit.

We wanted to get a look at the ocean, so we headed out of the International Pavilion and headed out to a pier toward the edge of the Expo area. We wanted to walk to the lighthouse at the end of the pier, but it was blocked off because they were setting up for a concert on the K-Pop stage on the pier. That was a disappointment, but we made our way back to the International Pavilion and had some delicious smoked salmon, potato pancakes, and horseradish at the German pavilion for dinner.

Monster bird puppet performers at the Expo

Romanian traditional music performance

I didn't take many pictures at the Expo, and most of what I did take was with my Sony camera. Unfortunately, I don't have an adapter yet to get the photos from the Memory Stick onto my computer, since I didn't bring the cord for the Sony camera. However, if you are interested in seeing and reading more about the Expo, check out Lily's blog post about her trip to Yeosu here.

The Expo really was huge. Even if there had been no one else there it wouldn't be possible to take it all in in one day. As it was, though, I enjoyed browsing around and just experiencing an event so massive in scale. The St. Louis World's Fair is still considered one of the major historical moments back home even more than a century after the fact. While I realize the scope and nature of such events has changed since that time, it was still something I'm glad I did.**** I was able to visit another part of Korea and get to know a couple of my coworkers (who seem to be lovely people, by the way). All in all, a fruitful experience.

After dinner we left the Expo and caught a cab to the bus terminal. Our bus left Yeosu for Gwangju at 8pm, so it was already dark. The drive back was still impressive though, and once again I stared out the windows almost the entire time. Seeing the mountains at night was very captivating and piqued my interest in venturing outside of the city again soon.

After arriving back at my apartment, I heard music coming from the City Hall area, so I ventured over and saw that there was some sort of concert going on. I watched for a few minutes, then made my way over to the street that runs along the river. I wanted to scout out the riverside trail, but it was after dark and I couldn't see where the path from the road to the trail was, so I turned around and walked home.

Friday was another day of sleep and cleaning my apartment, which I've been doing in sporadic bits. I cleaned up the loft area and the bathroom on Friday, and ventured out again for more takeout for dinner, this time at a place where I could just point to some bibimbap on a menu, so it was much easier.

On Saturday I met up with Jolene, another coworker from a different branch of the school, to venture out to Mudeung Mountain and Jeungsimsa. The picture atop my previous post was taken at that temple. I'll let Jolene do the heavy lifting here. She wrote a post about our visit to the temple that you should read.
part of the Jeungsimsa complex

After visiting the temple we made our way back down to the bus stop to get back home. At the base of the mountain were a complex of restaurants and shops, many of which sold hiking and camping gear. It reminded me of a miniature version of a Rocky Mountain skiing village. My family spent a few days in Snowmass and Aspen last summer taking advantage of the offseason hotel prices and trekking around the mountains, so I liked how the wooden buildings and shopping area recalled the base of the slopes there. I think when the weather cools down I'll try to go back out and hike the rest of the mountain. Hiking is very popular in Korea, which I was glad to hear because I was just starting to really pursue back home before I left. It's something I predict will come up in this blog quite a bit in the future.

After resting on Sunday, everyone at the school hit the ground running Monday morning with intensives. Despite an incredibly busy workweek, I went out with my coworkers several nights, including a delicious dinner at a western-style restaurant to celebrate a birthday. Even with the hard work the teachers at my school do, they really seem to value spending time getting to know and bonding with each other, and I very much look forward to learning more of their stories and perspectives.

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend you check out Lily's and Jolene's blogs. We all work for the same company, and Lily works at my branch. Lily's been here almost a year and Jolene just a few weeks, so for those interested in learning more about our school or the general experience of teaching English in Korea it's worth a read. I also read their blogs and will try not to rehash too much of what they've said in places where content may overlap.

For now, I need to rest up for another week of intensives (minus a holiday on Wednesday), so it's off to bed and I'll try to check in next week. Thanks for reading!

*I enjoyed Swamplandia! It has an endearing whimsicality while also hitting its dark notes clearly and profoundly, though they sometimes are darker than what I expected. I was very struck by her story "The Hox River Window" (excerpt only) when I read it in Zoetrope: All Story last fall. I thoroughly enjoy that magazine, by the way. Mom and Dad, feel free to open up and check them out when they arrive at home.
**I'm sure Lily's mini-library is quite good...she grilled me on my tastes in literature shortly after we met on my first night here. Fortunately my fondness for Faulkner and Virginia Woolf were met with approval. I'm also relieved she didn't ask for my favorite movie because I'm not sure how my boss and other new coworkers would have felt when I responded "Jurassic Park".
***I suggested we visit Norway in hopes that they would show footage of Lofoten, and I was thrilled when they did. It was only a few seconds of video, but it somehow made me feel closer to home. The several days I spent in a fishing hut in Lofoten when I met my older brother in Europe six years ago were the highlight of that trip for me, and that trip included Venice at the beginning and Frankfort during the World Cup at the end, so that gives you some idea of what my favorite types of environments are. Italy and Germany were great, but hanging on a ledge between jagged peaks and the sea in the Arctic has a way of distinguishing itself even amongst such esteemed peers.
****I don't think this Expo will have introduced anything like the ice cream cone to the world as the St. Louis World's Fair claims to have done, but I also did not see any "savage villages" built along the shore. Times change, more for better than for worse.
*****I need to figure out how to use superscript so I can start numbering these if I'm going to keep this format. Perhaps I'll go back to using parentheses. Any more asterisks and I'll be too confused.

No comments:

Post a Comment