Sunday, September 25, 2011

Turkeyless Thanksgiving and other updates

A view of Naju from a mountain

Hi all,

     I have been in Naju for about 3 weeks now.  My students no longer scream or stare at me with fascination whenever I speak.  My host sister has started to call me obba (Korean for older brother).  My host family's dog no longer barks in terror whenever I walk into the yard.  I think these are all signs that I am slowly starting to build a life here.  Below, I have put a photograph of my host parents.  This picture was taken at Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).

Jinro and Jenhi

They are both wearing pink in the middle.  When I took this photo, we were all making rice cakes at my host father's childhood home.  Jinro, my host dad, works for the Naju Agricultural Department.  Jenhi, to the right, is my host mom.  She is currently studying to become a archaeologist for the government.  And here is Heo, my host sister.


     Thanksgiving was certainly an experience.  I traveled to Muan, a nearby town, in order to visit my host dad's relatives.  I met his parents, his brother, and his brother's family.  I spent a lot of time playing with the kids that were running around the house.  Aside from being the entertainment, I also participated in the traditions of the holiday.  It is customary for Koreans to visit their ancestors' graves and pay their respect.  This consisted of going to where Jinro's grandparents are buried, bowing in front of the graves, and eating some food at the site.  We also left food and drinks for his ancestors.

I made this food!  It is a popular desert.

     During the holiday, I also partook in similar festivities at my host mother's childhood home.  I met her side of the family (less little kids and more people my age).  I had an especially good time talking to my host uncle and my host grandparents.  Even though grandpa does not know a word of English, he has decided to come to America and visit my parents who he thinks are quite attractive.  Grandma and great-grandma laughed every time I spoke in Korean and loved that I would watch the tv with them as well as help by picking peppers.  Needless to say, we definitely bonded.

My host cousins tried to teach me Chinese chess.
Below is a photo of traditional Korean clothes, also known as hanbok.  Many of my host relatives were wearing these types of outfits throughout the weekend.

Hanbok on display in the Korean Folk Museum

The following weekend, I went back to Seoul with a bunch of other ETAs.  This time, I was able to explore some different parts of the city.  When I first got into the city, I went to Dongdaemun, a part of the city that is famous for fabrics and shopping.  I checked out this ancient gate that used to be part of the original wall surrounding the city (it has since grown past the boundaries).

Sadly, this is as much as I could get with 1 picture of this gate.  Pretty massive and elaborate.
I also checked out Cheonggyecheon, the famous stream that runs throughout the city.  The stream is 8.4 km long.  Many people moved from North Korea to Seoul after the Korean War and settled along this stream.  It has since undergone a major restoration and is now a public park.

   After relaxing by the water, I met some friends in Myeongdong for dinner.  Myeongdong is a popular shopping area in Seoul (similar to Oxford Circus or Fifth Avenue).  Koreans love to shop.  In fact, they never stop shopping.  Many of the stores were open till 10 or 11pm at night.  Seoul is also famous for having whole shopping malls that are open 24 hours a day.  Additionally, every city that I have been in thus far has shopping areas that are on streets such as this one.  Even though they are narrow, cars are still allowed to drive down  these roads, which just adds to the chaos.

Myeongdong at night
   During the trip, I also spent a lot of time in Insadong.  We first met our language teachers from Orientation and then explored the area in smaller groups.  Insadong is one of the older parts of the city and is known for having many traditional Korean objects for sale.  There were a ton of small cafes and small art galleries that we were able to walk through.  This part of the city was beautiful and had a great atmosphere to it.  Lots of art museums are also in this area that I hope to explore in the future.

Awesome shopping complex in Insadong.  Lots of cool stuff here.

All of the signs in Insadong are in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet).  Here is one for Starbucks.

A funny ad for an art museum.
We did get to check out the Traditional Folk Art Museum which had lots of historical objects and information about Korea.  Here are some of the highlights:

My friend with a fan (the same version of the fan is on the wall in the display case behind him).

Museum buddies.

Oldschool classroom...  mine is nothing like this....

   If exploring traditional Korean culture wasn't enough, I also learned more about Korean sports this past week.  My host dad is a big fan of joku.  Every week, he meets up with friends at least once in order to play this sport.  He wanted to introduce it to me this week so, I went along with him.  In short, joku is a combination of soccer and volleyball.  A net is set up low to the ground and four players form a square on each side.  Then, with what looked like a volleyball, you then proceed to kick the ball across the net in hopes of scoring.  Initially, I wondered why such a painful game was so popular but after some practicing I started to have fun.  Although, the next day I was definitely sore from using muscles that I probably have never worked out before.  Here is a youtube video (
    Over the past weekend, I planned on celebrating my birthday with the other English teachers in Naju and a Korean friend of ours from Orientation.  Little did I know that a friend of mine had planned a surprise birthday party for me in Gwangju (our nearby city).  Thus, I spent a lot of time catching up with friends who I haven't seen in weeks.  Additionally, my host father also took me to his small farm.

Showing friends around Naju.  We are on top of a mountain.

My host dad loves the outdoors (we have gone on a few hikes together), and he likes to farm as a hobby.  I helped him pick some tomatoes and then we went weeding (my mom would be so proud).

The family farm...  See those weeds... GONE!

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