Last Weekend in Osan

looking at me looking at himIt’s so strange. I just talked to Josh a minute ago, and he was in Texas eating at a Sonic. Meanwhile, his friend was wailing in the background trying to persuade him to go to a strip club.

We knew that he would be leaving before me-3 months before me. It’s just bizarre now that it’s actually happened. This is my first weekend in 6 months where I’m not hopping on a bus down to see him, or freaking out that I never cleaned my apartment and have to fly around trying to pick up the clothes that are strewn about my apartment before he gets here. Right now, in Texas, he’s muching away on a Sonic Blast. That’s. So. Weird.

Last weekend, since it was going to be our last couple days in Korea together, I busily tried to make  a million different plans. I had considered taking him to see a b-boy show, or maybe getting dinner at N. Seoul Tower. I asked him if he wanted to go to an SK baseball game. I wanted to plan something really exciting for our last few days. When I got down to Songtan and we had checked into our regular home Fridays through Sundays, I laid on my stomache while he collapsed on the bed next to me and asked him what he wanted to do.

He said, “Baby, is it ok if we don’t really do anything? I just want to look at you.”

And this is why I love him, and will be waiting impatiently for September. I mean, how can you not miss this face?

face

 

boys will be boys       cotton looks like snow!

N. Korea

Called the U.S. Embassy in Seoul a few minutes ago, and our conversation went a little like this…

Me: So…heard N. Korea fired more missiles, bringing  its tally up to 6…in the past 5 days. We’re averaging over 1 missile per day, which is flat-out ridiculously scary. I heard the military here is beginning to evacuate their families.

U.S. Embassy: At this time we are not evacuating civilians, what the military does is not under the state’s jurisdiction but I will be looking into it.

Me: So…does that mean you don’t think I will need to look into flights anytime soon?

U.S. Embassy: At this time we are not evacuating.

Me: Uh huh. Well, um, thank you.

Additional scary facts:

1.) Announced they were ending talks on de-nuclearization and I’m sure will have the nuclear facility in Yongbyon up and running soon;

2.) Said they can’t guarantee the safety of U.S. and S. Korean ships in retaliation for the two countries ganging up on them in the sandbox and coming down on weapon trafficking;

3.) We’ve been moved up from a stage 3 to a stage 2 on the military war-o-meter, “Watchcon”;

4.) Hey, remember that time N. Korea fired a long-range missile that could hit Hawaii? U.S. satellites have spotted “vehicle activity” similar to  that seen when they were getting ready to launch it. It’s like Russian roulette of deja vu or something. Will they? Won’t they?

5.) Pretty sure they called off the “truce” of sorts they had going on with S. Korea;

6.) Kim Jong Il is probably dying, and since he wants to name his own successor, he’ll need the backing of his military for that to stick. Which means he’ll be courting the military, and letting them flex their muscles.

 

And then, there’s this little gem reported in a Korean newspaper:

It’s a matter of time when a fuse for war is triggered.

 

And now, relevant theme music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ag8J2NMYmc

 

 

Gang Signs

Several months ago, I taught from a storybook titled New York to my advanced teen class. Of course we went over the districts, the subway, the population, etc. but I also threw in what I consider relevant cultural information. Somehow, this led us into a conversation regarding rap icons Tupac v. Biggie Smalls and their respective gang signs.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but I was speaking with my co-teacher today and we were discussing one of the students in this class. Over the past few months she has noticed that he is morphing from somewhat bookish to somewhat of a teenage punk. She told me he keeps giving her hand signals, and that one kind of looks like a “3”. Shocked, I held up the sign for East Side (which looks kind of like a 3), and she exclaimed, “Yes! He always does that! Why is he showing me numbers?”

Uhhhmmmmm…oops.east side

North Korea + the DMZ

Today, one of my students told me the reason Kim Jong Il has a round stomach is because he eats babies.

After having a 12-year-old throw this out during our 4:30 class, I asked my older students at 7:30 what they thought about North Korea, specifically if they want unification or not. Out of three students, two wanted North and South united, while one wanted peaceful division. It’s definitely a tricky topic, and I was interested to hear what they would say after taking a DMZ tour this weekend. 

While there are several tours that come out of Seoul (I hear the USO is good, all of them around $60), we took the one run by the military base since it’s only $33/person and so convenient! After waiting on the bus for a 1/2 hour in the steady rain we’d be experiencing all day, we headed out at 8am.

Our first stop was Imjingak Resort Park. Unfortunately, because our tour guide must have assumed everyone already knew about what we’d be seeing, no one actually ever knew what we were seeing. When we arrived, there were food stalls and some trinket shops and a  little pavilion, but we figured we were only stopped for a  bathroom break. Turns out Imjingak is actually home to the “Bride of Freedom”, famous for being the site where POW’s were exchanged between North and South. D*mn. All I did was buy a scarf and marvel at a hot dog/croissant that Josh claimed was delicious.

Josh looking at N. Korea

Ok, so onto the next stop: Dorasan Station. Once a link between North and South, the new station is still left somewhat unfinished, lying in wait until the two countries can be reunited. Basically just a really clean train station in my eyes, although you can bring your passport and get it stamped with the N. Korean seal.

Next: Observation Point. Recently renovated, the building is modern and accessible, although you can tell they’re still working out a few kinks. After being shown a short documentary of the DMZ, we pressed our faces to the glass windows, trying to see North Korea since the weather was being particularly difficult. After wandering around since we had lost our tour guide (again), we passed through a room displaying a huge timeline of the conflicts, took some photos in a small museum room, climbed through their “glimpse of real life in N. Korea” displays, and bought overpriced lunch tickets for a buffet that included kimchi and french fries. (Blech.)

Ok, so now getting to the good stuff.

 

Back on the bus, we watched the barbed-wire fences sloping closer and knew we were getting close to the JSA, or Joint Security Area. We rolled into the parking area at Camp Bonifas, named after a U.S. soldier axe-murdered by N. Korean soldiers in 1976. We were given a briefing by US soldiers, giving us an overview of the history and statistics, and then signed a slip of paper basically saying we understood that we could be killed at any time by an act of war.

propaganda village

We were shepherded back on buses, passing the “most dangerous golf course in the world,” a one-hole course littered with white golf balls and as-yet-untriggered mines.

From there we saw the North’s “Propaganda Village,” a fake town set up in the DMZ area where no one really lives, but is home to a giant speaker system that used to blare North propaganda messages for 6-12 hours/day at the South Korean village and the military and UN presence in the area.

They also erected a gargantuan flagpole, trying to one-up the flag that had been raised in the South Korean village. 

Onto the Freedom House. Built as a location where family members from North and South could reunite after the Korean War, it has only ever been used for tours. There’s something very sad and somewhat Mrs. Haversham-esque about it, but fortunately that lasts only as long as it takes to cross to the opposite exit, where you come face-to-face with North and South Korean soldiers who are, in fact, standing face-to-face.

divisionThere are several trailers set up for different peace-keeping significance, although the most important building stands straight in front of you, a little non-descript blue trailer that houses the table where North and South come to discuss, negotiate, instigate, and eventually stalemate one another. Even in that room, the table itself is divided North and South by a line of microphones strung across the table. It is now always guarded by a Republic of Korea soldier as they have to watch for enemies cutting the microphone cords and sawing chair legs, which would be ridiculous if it wasn’t coming from people who would rather kill you. 

What is so strange is that the N. Korean and S. Korean soldiers stare at one another, all day long, trying to look fierce and terrifying, constantly trying to out-do each other since they can’t have peace, but they can’t have war. We could see a Northern soldier from where we stood and were told there were plenty hidden behind the barrel of gun who had no problem seeing us. Creepy.

After being intimidated by the RoK soldiers (scary- masters of Taekwando, they’re wound so tight they feel ready to spring at any second), we got back on the bus and snapped pictures of the Bridge of No Return before gingerly heading down the steep path that led us to Tunnel #3

The tunnel itself is surprisingly big, although not very high which makes those construction hats they provide you with come in really handy. It’s dark, and damp, and you can’t take photos, but honestly, it’s a cave. And it’s long. And that’s about it. Not saying that it wasn’t interesting, but really, I’m perfectly fine not being able to take a picture. 

At the end of the day, we were glad we went, rain and all. I got my passport stamped, we saw some important pieces of their history and actually saw where the conflict’s boundary lines are. Josh had a delicious hotdog, I got to wear a bright yellow construction helmet, and RoK soldiers scared the hell out of us. Good times.

Date Night

Every Thursday night, I get together with some neighbors to talk in English, watch bootleg movies, drink W2,000 champagne, and just kind of hang out with the only other Americans in the area until the early hours of the morning. 

After the other two had left, Rachel and I talked until 4:15am about everything from history to PTSD to her co-workers to our mutual landlord. The big topic is always love life- she’s a dating maven since her son is now old enough to be on his own, and I’m in a serious relationship, so we swap stories and support. I back her when she’s stressed about a bad date or a confusing text communique, and she’s always there when I’m insecure or worried, and listens when I gush about how funny, smart, responsible, etc. etc. etc. my boyfriend is. 

I don’t try to compare our situations because we’re not even remotely at the same place, but, I can’t seem to help it. Every time I leave her apartment after having one of our sit-downs, I really miss my boyfriend and just feel so lucky. He’s perfect, and perfect for me. I mean, I met the guy in Korea for chr*st sake. Anyone who knows how random I generally like to roll will know that this couldn’t be more ideal. On our first date, we got lost and ended up in a Korean police station. I knew he was the one when he took out his camera so we could take glamour shots.

I’m really gonna miss him when the last of his unit is shipped home in the next couple weeks.

Visitors

Oh. my. God. I’m 100% officially freaking out, and trying not to throw up and scream at the same time.  I saw a huge, and I mean monstrous, bug in my apartment. I could strap a carseat to it. I asked my co-workers about them, and what they were. Another teacher told me they’re “wheel bugs,” but I can only take her English with a grain of salt. Then I asked my co-director, Kate, who calmly let me know that I had spotted what  Westerners might know as a cockroach.

Throwing up, I’m throwing up.

Ok, so I thought cockroaches only appeared if you were really dirty, never tidied up, and frankly, I considered it a damning mark against someone’s personal hygeine. I didn’t even recognize what the d*mn thing was. Well, turns out they’re fairly common in the U.S., but usually someone comes in to spray apartment buildings so you don’t ever see them. Not the case here, apparently. While I was freaking out, wondering what to do, Kate shared one of her life-reassessing anecdotes from her youth.

She told me that growing up in her parents’ 2-room hut/house in the country, sometimes she would do her homework on the floor, laying on her stomache with her book spread out in front of her. Suddenly, she would hear the crinkly wings of a cockroach (yes, they FLY HERE) before it landed right in front of her. She would calmly lift up her book and smash it down on this mammoth insect and her father was always cleaning up after dead bugs in the summer months.

Basically, she handed me a note for the woman at the grocery store to get insect repellant. 

draino

After exchanging awkward language barrier, help-me-these-things-could-eat-a-toddler kind of conversation, I made it to the checkout line. On the way there, I noticed a 3-for-1 deal on the cockroach-killing spray, and the woman handed me a coupon since it’s the big seller this week. (Gagging.)

I plunked down the bug spray, sponges, windex, bleach, rubber gloves and something hopefully death-giving to pour down the sink. Why? Because Kate told me they can COME UP THROUGH THE PLUMBING.

And what’s weird, my co-workers kind of giggled when I was freaking out about this because they think I’m being a crazy foreigner. They make it seem like I’m screaming about finding a moth or a couple of flies or something manageable. No, these are disgusting and I’m not going to let anyone cutesy it up by calling it a “wheel bug.”

Bukhan Mountain

 

cheonchuksa

Happy Children’s Day! As such, I will not actually be seeing any of my kids since it’s a holiday and the institute is closed. I know there was a lot going on for children all throughout the day- I could hear music and laughing from the park near my apartment. I wanted to go hiking and spent my Children’s Day at Bukhansan National Park.

After crossing the street from the train station, I found a hiker’s merchandise paradise. Everything you could ever possibly need, including visors, backpacks, zip-up vests, shoes, walking sticks, bandanas, etc., was sandwiched among multiple restaurants and street vendors. The deals were excellent. I bought a little backpack for W20,000 and found a price tag tucked inside that marked it as W42,000. Loved it!

Since I didn’t really know where I was going, I just followed the huge crowd and found the entrance and the information center, where they handed me a map and highlighted a suggested route to the peak. This turned out really well, since I had no idea the park was so huge. Holding the Guinness record for the most visitors per square foot, there are hundreds of paths and several different peaks you can climb.  I made my way towards Dobongsan Peak, also known as Jaunbong, which is roughly 800m high.

straight up

On the way up, I was stunned after climbing up a few stairs and found row after row of Buddhist statues. A few other hikers were there offering up prayers, and rounding the corner I was surprised by a jaw-droppingly gorgeous temple, known as Cheonchuksa, standing at the edge of a sheer rocky drop with one of the mountain peaks towering above in the distance. I walked through and stopped to fill up my water bottle before weaving back towards the path.

Taking my leisurely time, I made it to the top in about 2 hours, although I think if you’re serious 1 1/2 hours should be fine. It was AMAZING and totally worth it. Getting close to the top, it turns into an almost sheer rock face where you literally haul yourself straight up holding onto a rope. It’s crazy.

At the peak, it’s breathtaking. The pictures will never do it justice.

p1000717

 

very, very windy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Bukhansan National Park

Free

Line 1, Dobongsan Station

 http://bukhan.knps.or.kr/Bukhan_eng/

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