It feels like I have been in Korea for several months… each day is packed full of activities, studying, bus riding, friends, travel. The first weekend I got here was actually just a Sunday which I spent getting to know my host family. The following weekend I went to visit my NSLI-Y family in Seoul. Last weekend I went to Gunsan and Jeonju. This weekend was my first full weekend in Gwangju — and it was amazing.
For starters, I got to sleep in which I have not done since before coming to Korea and even before going to D.C. in early June. I eventually woke up around 9 because the air was so hot and sticky I could not bear sitting in my bed any longer. Yesterday I ended up just relaxing all morning, catching up on blogs. Then for lunch I went with my host mom to a town called Hwasun, 화순, which is right outside of Gwangju and is completely countryside (완전 시골). I have seen the country side from buses and from the KTX but have not had many chances to actually experience it myself. As soon as you enter the 시골 you can notice the complete difference in the pace of life — it is slower, and because of that there are no young people. They all left. My host mom says that there are no students there, and so there are not any schools either. I would like to live in the 시골 for a little to experience it. Reminds me a lot of some parts of rural NH.
My host mom took me out to this place that makes their own 두부, tofu, and it is black colored because they use black beans. You put the tofu in a fermented genip leaf, alongside with fermented kimchi, some onion and a piece of pork belly, raw garlic, and other ingredients to your taste. My wrap always ended up being so huge that when I stuffed the first one in my mouth I thought I could not breathe. Worth it — so so so yummy.
It was really nice of my host mom to take only me on a “mother daughter” date — it really meant a lot to me. I know she is very busy and tired with raising two children.
After that I thought we were going to go straight home, but instead she kept driving and we ended up going to Unjusa Temple, 운주사. We saw a lot of buddhist temples and statues and then I found another set of stairs (seem to find these off in the woods a lot recently) and was too curious. My host mom says she hates stairs, but she ended up trekking up with me and we got this amazing view!
It turned out that the rock we climbed up to (more that I convinced my host mom to come along) had some religious meaning. The old ladies in the first photo all touched the rock, closed their eyes, and then thanked the rock for the special experience. My host mom followed along once learning about the rocks religious connections and asked for H and S (my host sisters) to study harder in school. I wished that H and S enjoy their studies.
Then I went on an hour long run at home and night quickly came. After dinner and showers, H and I played chess together.
Okay now for Sunday.
So Peter and I had talked for a while about climbing 무등산, Mudeungsan, which is the most well known mountain in the region aside from 진리산. Anyone will tell you that Gwangju is known for food and 무등산.
Anyways, today was supposed to have a ton of rain. In fact, because of the monsoon/rainy season, there have been a lot of flooded areas in Korea where people have needed to evacuate the lower levels of apartments and their houses. So Peter and I decided we would go to the National Museum in Gwangju instead… but come noon there still was not any rain. So with a quick change in plans we ended up deciding to hike and carry along rain gear to be safe. We planned that if it got too story and it was hard to see and keep balance, we would return back down the mountain.
In the end it never did rain which was superb. However, it was HUMID. I was sweating buckets and everything just stays wet. Even the money in our wallets felt wet. It was also very foggy, which made it hard to see all the views. Regardless, it was so worth the trip up and I had so much fun.
Here are some more photos but bigger. Also Peter took all these photos with his nice camera, so picture creds to Pee-toh.
Also forgot to mention that before we hiked we ate at a restaurant at the base of the mountain. This is very different from the U.S. where usually the base of mountains are just a parking lot. But here it is very developed, there are clothing stores, coffee shops and restaurants for hikers to enjoy.
My host mom also packed us a TON of food that she insisted was a light snack in case. It was more like a fourth meal of the day. She gave us kimbab, kimchi mandus, grapes, watermelon, clementines, and these sweet crackers (I’m not sure why all bread here is sugary tasting…). I was practically forcing Peter to eat more mandus because I did not want to bring any back home. If you do not eat all the food given to you in Korea, Koreans could mistake it for being untasty/you are not polite. Then at the base of the mountain we each got an ice cream.
Overall the hike up the mountain took maybe 2-2.5 hours and about 1-1.5 hours back down. I am not sure to be exact because I was not watching time. But an awesome hike if you are in the area. I really enjoyed getting back in nature and just chit chatting with Peter about school (both here and in the U.S), our host families and real families, our futures, etc.
Then after my hike my host father came and picked me up, since the trailhead we used is about 10 minutes from our apartment. He came and picked me up in his blue SPORTSCAR. You do not see these at all in Korea, so everyone was gawking when it pulled up. And so I think I may have strutted right to the car — I was so so so excited. His car (shoot, I forget the name) is a Korean sports car and is pretty small as you would expect. It only fits the driver and passenger, and he got it back in 1997. But he keeps amazing care of it, so it looks relatively new. The fastest it can go is 240 kmh.
I think my host father could tell I liked the ride, because as we were nearing the house he asked if I wanted to keep driving. Of course, YES. So we went to the countryside right by our house and zoomed around and listened to music. And for the second time I actually felt connected with him. That is something I have been really struggling with because of the strict gender roles in Korea and the fact that many conservative Korean men stay quiet in their room and do not get involved in the house hold activities. The first time I felt connected was this morning when it was only us two in the house for breakfast. We talked about technology companies and how much he likes Hollywood. He made me boiled eggs.
Anyways, my host dad took me to a temple really close to our house, and then also around the tops of the mountains so we could get some cool views.
For dinner we had fried chicken and pickled radish. My host dad kept talking about how this is American food and kept trying to pour me a glass of cola, insisting this is what Americans all like. It is funny talking about stereotypes with people in different countries. He believes we all eat fries and burgers multiple times per week. I told him that Americans think that all Koreans eat spicy food well (which is false) and that they eat kimchi at every meal (which he admitted to be semi true).
ALSO before I wrap up this blog. I always forget that with little kids in the house there is always something big going on… well this weekend my host sister got chickenpox! It is called 수두, soodoo, in Korean and she thought it was so funny that the in the U.S. it is called “chickenpox”. Anyways she is covered in itchy dots everywhere and I really feel bad. She cannot go to school for the rest of this week. I am trying to keep my distance and washing my hands quite often.
Also the dog has a yeast infection and its skin is flaking everywhere… hahah what can you do….
Until next time!