From the BK to the SK
 
So the past week or so, my apartment has been so cold that I wake up every morning dreading taking off my covers and getting out of bed. Literally, sometimes I’m almost positive someone snuck into my place into the middle of the night and airlifted my bed onto some iceberg in the Arctic or something.

When my friend came over Friday night before we went out, she helped me to figure out how to turn on my heat only to bring my attention to the fact that I don’t have a heater. In Korean homes, not all but most, the floors are heated instead. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, I’m going to need to get a serious winter coat and sleep in it every night, or I’m going to have to start sleeping on the floor.

I’m still getting used to the whole Celsius vs. Fahrenheit thing, and so I went to bed that night and woke up in basically a steam room in the morning. I definitely had it up too high, so I haven’t turned on my heat since that night because my apartment still has some leftover warmth from being probably 114 degrees, approximately.

Anyway, so I went to Kyoungju on Saturday with my one co-worker (earlier blog) and went to Andong with a few other of my co-workers on Sunday. I went with my one, life-saving co-teacher, a history teacher (guy who walked me to the gym and stayed there during my first workout to make sure I was OK) and a math teacher, along with her family. The math teacher speaks very little English, but she wanted me to ride in her car with her, her husband and her two children.

I open the back door only to see these two, beautiful little Korean faces staring back at me, their eyes wide with excitement and their mouths eager to formulate the questions that sat on the tips on their tongues. Her daughter looks about four or five years old, but she is in fact six. Her son looks about seven, but he is in fact nine. (This age thing really is kind of crazy.)

The kids ask me question after question – do you like dogs? Do you like kimchi? Do you like moon? Do you like tigers? Do you like my mom? Do you like my dad? Do you like rice? You name it, they asked me if I liked it.

The two kids were so kind and loving with each other. The older brother brushed his sister’s hair back out of her face, let her rest her head on his shoulder and take a nap, kissed her forehead and said “how cute!” She smiled. My heart was brimming with this empty kind of happy, because it reminded me of how much I love and miss my brothers. We fought just as much as these two children did, but at the end of the day, there was nothing in the world I would trade for my brothers.

We went to this city called Andong for a traditional mask festival that is held every year for about five days in October. Long ago, because Korea was (and still kind of is) a society based on class, the lower classes would express their feelings once a year by wearing various masks representing different emotions. The masks of the nobles were different from the masks of the middle class which were both different from that of the servants, or lower class.

We made it to the festival with just twenty minutes left in the last performance. I did think it was going to be a bit bigger and greater and more festive than it actually was. It was sort of just this modest little stage set back in the woods of a traditional Korean village, surrounded with some plastic chairs and standing room. It wasn’t overly crowded, but it wasn’t empty, either. Anyway, I didn’t see enough of it to really write about it. However, the math teacher did stop me and ask me to pick out a mask as a souvenir, a present from her family to me, that I can take back and put in my apartment with me. Not only did she buy me a mask, but her family paid for my ticket, paid for my lunch and paid for anything I did that day. Koreans are very generous, and the simplest of things is something that really comes to speak volumes in a country that has such a scared culture (in my opinion, obviously).

One thing my co-teacher did mention to me on our walk to see the mask performance is that they were all joking that the history teacher and I looked like we were dating because we were dressed similar: black jackets and jeans. I wanted to die. Korean couples here legitimately dress alike from head to toe. Either the girls must put their boyfriends through hell, or the boys are just unusually willing to wear a matching, pink Teddy bear sweatshirt to their girlfriends, paired with the same jeans and the same hot pink, hot orange Nike sneakers, with a satchel bagged draped across their bodies. Yes, I kid you not. We have proof of such a couple.

Of course we looked like a couple, but to be honest, I didn’t have it too bad. If I had to be mistaken to have him as a boyfriend, I was happy, because there are definitely much more unattractive male teachers who work at my school. This teacher is tall and built, unlike most Korean guys, and he is fairly handsome. Not bad, not bad, though the matching couple thing would make me nauseous.

We visited a traditional home in a traditional village, and from there we went to a traditional school. The second I stepped out of the car and walked under the school’s archway, that same, familiar feeling swam through my veins, and I felt that awe-inspiring amazement overpower my heart. I looked at the view and the scenery: It was set along the river, with this beautiful humpback of a mountain chain as the backdrop. The mountains weren’t insanely large, but they were beautiful, and they were green – an endless rolling green set across a blushing sky kissed so lightly and delicately by a beautiful pinkish-orange sun. I kept thinking, If I just had my journal and my computer here, I’d be set for life. Well, at least until I got hungry or thirsty.

But the classrooms were beautiful and open, with no walls or anything, and set under these stone-tiled roofs slanted in a way that would make the rain march in a straight, separate line as it slides down the roofs during a storm. (My co-teacher explained the beauty of the rain at such a school because of the way the roof was built.)

It was so peaceful and quiet and so serene, and it brought me back to those few moments and feelings I can remember like it was yesterday: Walking out of the airport in Paris and seeing the sunset, climbing the Tiger Leaping gorge in China – those feelings and moments when the entire world stops and you think about the plentiful and graceful natural beauty that encompasses every corner of the globe.

The drive home was beautiful and reminded me sort of the Wizard of Oz. We drove along rice fields, golden and infinite, sort of like one big, yellow-brick road that led you right to the foot of these zigzagging mountains.

I did stop and think about how beautiful parts of the U.S. probably are that I haven’t yet discovered or visited. I thought of Iowa and of Colorado and wondered whether either place would freeze the world for me like it did here. I know, you’re probably thinking, Iowa? But the rows and rows of rice fields make you feel so lit up inside, like you just struck gold and it was right there in front of you for the taking. I’m sure Iowa is flat, and maybe it isn’t anywhere near as beautiful, but one of my bucket list goals is to visit the dead center of Iowa, even if it’s just to say I’ve been there.

We traveled home after a long day, and when we arrived back in Daegu, this wave of relief washed over me. It felt so nice to think of it as home. It felt so nice to anxiously wait for the neon lights to sprawl out and conquer the night sky, letting me know that in just a short amount of time I’d be right back where I wanted to be. That was, until, we arrived at my co-worker’s apartment building and they asked me that inevitable question: Was I hungry?

We had just eaten maybe three hours earlier, and I felt confused. I was tired and just wanted to lie down in my bed, though I was hungry. I kind of stalled, as I tossed around the options in my mind, but they unknowingly made the decision easy for me with just two words: 말총, which in English is pig’s intestines.

I gracefully declined telling them I definitely still felt full from lunch (which was fish with the heads still attached), and we went our separate ways.

As my co-teacher and the history teacher drove me home to my apartment, I thanked them and said good-bye. My co-teacher hurriedly called to me, “OH! Alex, take sandwiches.”

The math teacher and her husband bought about three boxes of sandwiches for our trip, far too much for just me. I asked them, Are you sure? I can take just one. You guys can have the rest.

“No, we don’t like sandwich,” she said.

I was stunned – or, maybe that is too harsh. I was definitely surprised. My question was answered. They find our food to be strange, too. I guess I’ll never take my co-teachers to Peppino’s or Bagel Boy or Paneantico if they come to visit.

 


Dad
10/05/2010 04:51

I love reading your blog. You make me feel like I am right there with you. Who knows I might make it there yet, You never know. Never stop exploring and being the adventurer Alex. Love Ya

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