Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Escape From the City

Oh my...where do I begin? How can I possibly put all of our new Korean experiences in one post! Since they all happened in one day, I'm going to do my best to put them all in this one post, so it's going to be a long one!
Our school is (in some ways) operated by the Korean Foreign Schools Foundation (KSFS). Basically, that boils down to the fact that the Foundation owns our building and the land it was built on, and they are the reason that International Christian School-Seoul changed its name to Yongsan International School of Seoul and now offers the Oasis path (non-Christian) from grade one. The Foundation wanted our school to appeal to all foreigners and NICS was willing to oblige in trade for a state of the art facility and the opportunity to be able to serve more students. One way that the Foundation shows us their appreciation is by organizing a trip to South Korea's countryside so that those of us who are new to the country can learn a little bit more about the Korean culture. We heard about the trip not long after we got here, but basically all we knew was that the food and accommodations would be good and we would get out of Seoul. So, we signed up and were ready for an adventure!
Our adventure began early Saturday morning...we arrived at school in a taxi and climbed aboard the large tour bus covered in paintings of lions. I've ridden on several chartered buses since my arrival here in Seoul (and I may have ridden in one throughout my whole life in the States), but this was the most luxurious bus I've ever seen. Even if it did have lions all over the outside. Our first stop was a rest stop 2 hours into what was supposed to be a 2 hour trip. Korean rest stops are unlike anything I've ever seen being from the Pacific Northwest where a rest area is a freezing cold concrete buildings with a couple of toilets and a sink with no soap in them. There's rarely anyone there except a long line of semi trucks. Rest stops in Korea are more akin to an outlet shopping mall in western Washington. They are jam-packed with Koreans peeing, shopping, and eating (in case you hadn't figured it out yet, the picture from the Teaser post was of a rest area). The bathrooms have bidets, toilets, and oriental water closets (basically a hole in the floor). There are dozens of choices for food (American & Korean) and coffee, as well as a dozen or more stores to do your impulse shopping. We only spent about 10-15 minutes there since we were already about an hour behind schedule, though.
Finally, we arrived at the Mungyeong Ceramic Museum where we learned that our driver took the wrong route (as well as a few other wrong turns and awkard back-ups) and the man meeting us from the KSFS got there in only 2 hours. We were hustled through our tour of the museum so that we would have time to get to our Korean pottery making experience. All four of us got to make our own piece of pottery (my first experience having passed up Pottery in high school), and Kennedy enjoyed herself in spite of the fact that she had originally decided against it for fear her hands would get too dirty (not sure where that came from!).
We're hoping that one of ours will be among the 3% that make it through the kiln!

Our next stop was lunch. We had a traditional Korean lunch sitting on pillows on the floor and eating rounds of banchan (Korean side dishes), as well as soups, rice, and duk (Korean rice cake). The table already had many, many dishes on it when we arrived, and they continued to bring us dish after dish throughout the meal. The kids ate a lot of rice and were challenged to try several foods. Cade tried a few; Kennedy wasn't up for it, though. After lunch, we were each supplied with two locally-harvested apples as we boarded the bus for our next destination.

We had about a 45 minute bus ride to Mungyeong Saejae (click on the link to read more about the history here) where we went on our hike which give Cade and Eric a chance to take a short nap. When we arrived (or so we thought), we were told (by our English translator) that it would be a 5K walk downhill and that those who were up for the walk should get off the bus. Shortly, we boarded the bus again, as we learned that we were not at the beginning of the hike yet. Our second try was more successful, and we did not have to re-board the bus this time. The hike began decidedly uphill. And it continued to be uphill. Through a street of restaurants, past chickens and gardens, alongside cars making it up the hill considerably faster than we were. At this point, we were fairly sure that something had been lost in translation and the whole 5K was uphill. Thankfully, after the 2nd gateway, we began the descent. Eventually, after about 3 1/2 hours, walking into the dark, we made it back to the bus and we headed to the hotel.
 the 1st gateway

Cade ended up walking without us for most of the hike, so we got family pictures without him!

We checked into our room, dropped off our bags, and were very pleased with American-style accommodations. We had beds (not plush, but not rock hard), a couch (it was rock hard), and a table. We headed down to dinner shortly thereafter where we learned that not everyone had American-style accommodations. Across the hall, the singles got Korean-style bedding (a mat on the floor) and Korean-style chairs (a pillow on the floor). We enjoyed a great dinner of bulgogi, various banchan, and a delicious salad, followed by soft cookies for dessert. The kids had rice. Again.
no, this is not our hotel...just another stop along our hike

Here's where things got really interesting...our hotel had a hot springs in it, so I had my first experience at a jjimjilbang. A jjimjilbang is a Korean bath house which usually includes a sauna and hot springs or hot tub. Traditionally, they have several different types of saunas and several rooms. Most are gender-segregated because in traditional jjimjilbangs you are required to be naked. There are a number of rituals that go along with the jjimjilbangs that I won't go into here. Let me just say that experiencing a traditional jjimjilbang with about 15 of your female co-workers makes for an interesting evening!
Meanwhile, Eric put the kids to bed with Cade at the foot of the twin bed that Kennedy was sleeping in...even with American-style beds, things tend to be a little off...needless to say Cade woke up a few time in the night and crawled into our full-sized bed. I can't say that we slept restfully all night, but it was considerably better than the one night we spent in the Capitol Hotel here in Seoul.
Kennedy and Haven traipsing through the leaves

Sunday morning we had a breakfast buffet complete with whole fried fish (eyes and everything), scrambled eggs, kimchi, and french fries. What a combination! No, there were other foods, too, and we were full by the time we boarded the bus to head home again. We were disappointed to find that our lion bus would no longer be our mode of transportation, but we were very pleased when, in spite of a long stop at the rest area, we arrived home in only 2 hours this time!
the view from our hotel room Sunday morning

All in all, we had a great weekend. It was great to get out of Seoul, to experience more of the culture, and to see the countryside. I just chose a select few of the many pictures that I took over the weekend, so click on the new KSFS Trip slideshow the top right of the page to see the rest of them.

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