The last week I was studying in Gwangju my NSLIY Seoul host family came to visit me a final time before I travelled back to the U.S. They came on a Monday and left the following Tuesday, and it really meant a lot to me that they drove four hours to come see me. It just shows how close our relationship is.
We met after my Korean class ended at one o’clock. It was so incredibly hot that day (I guess everyday was) that we sat in the car’s AC for about five minutes drinking refreshing 식혜 (cold sweet rice drink) and eating 인절미 떡 (rice cakes). We then drove around part of the 전남대 (Jeonam National University) campus and parked near the 언어교육권 (language center) where I was taking classes. I showed them inside the building, introduced some friends, and then we headed towards 시내 (downtown) to go to a cafe.
We went to a cafe called 밀당 (Mildang) which was a newer cafe modeled after the ones you see in Seoul. It had a very big focus on the aesthetics, and attracted many young people. We could not decide on a single flavor of cake to choose so we got three — 복숭아 (peach), 포도 (grape), 체리 (cherry). We also got a 달끼 라씨 (strawberry lassi) and a coffee.
We sat for about two hours talking and avoiding the heat. There’s some people that when I am with my Korean level improves a ton, and words just come out that much more effortlessly. When I’m with my NSLIY host family it is some reason so much easier to speak Korean. Perhaps because I have known them now for so long I am very comfortable around them. I wish that I could speak on the OPI like I can speak with them.
After lunch we went to the 펭권마을 (Penguin Village) which is an old neighborhood in the middle of Gwangju. My host mom said it reminds her of Korea in the 1980s, with the narrow alleys and the small single-family houses. There are still people living within the old neighborhood, but only seniors. We would pass them in their houses doing daily activities, like the laundry, cooking, watering the plants, relaxing at a meal. All the young Koreans now live in 20 story apartments.
It was so cool to wander around in these neighborhoods. Personally I’m torn between city life and country life. For cities I love the public transportation, the ease of living there, the diversity of people, food, the performances and plays available, etc. But I also do not like living in an apartment jungle complex. As for the countryside, I enjoy living in a small neighborhood where houses go to the second floor and the pace of life is slow and manageable. It is easy to escape stress and just go on a walk and think to yourself.
I think I would be content living in a neighborhood like this in Korea. Unfortunately these neighborhoods are either replaced by apartments or are flooded with tourists. Penguin Village was very special because there were not many tourists and people still actually lived there.
Here’s my host mom looking at the table with little trinkets. The village had tiny stores and restaurants. One restaurant we passed could only fit in two tables for people to eat at.
The other thing that intrigued me was that people must have been very good at conveying directions in the past. The roads are turny, with no specific pattern or correlation to other roads, and quite narrow. There are also no street signs like you see on today’s roads. Now people just plug addresses into their smart phones, but I wish I could experience life back before that.
After the Penguin Village we went to my host mom’s older sister’s house which was walking distance from 시내 and the ACC. She made us the delicious dinner where more and more meat and more and more kimchi continuously came out. I called her 이모 (emoh, or aunt). 이모, like my host mom, is an amazing cook. Actually my host sisters had not been to 이모’s house in more than 10 years because it is so far from Seoul (4 hours in Korea is really far for them ㅎㅎㅎ).
이모 made us beef, about five different kinds of kimchi, rice, 된장찌개, fruit, fish, this pork meat thing, and I am honestly probably forgetting other stuff as well. We were all so full yet she kept bringing out more food and insisting on giving us more rice.
I also got to meet Seungyoon and Jungyoon’s uncle but struggled to understand him because of the 사투리 (dialect) and lower old-man tone of voice. Old Korean men are the hardest for me to understand.
After dinner 이모 drove us to the 광주 전망대 (observatory) and we got to see Gwangju from above at night. It was also a full moon, which it looked orange that night.
Like when I visited the Lotte Tower in Seoul, when I escalated the Gwangju observatory and looked over at the sea of buildings in front of me, I realized just how big the city is. People from Seoul always tell me that Gwangju is like the countryside, it’s a small city, and not much compared to Seoul. Maybe if you grow up in Seoul with 10,000,000 citizens and about 300,000 foreigners (at this point), Gwangju would feel small. But tonight Gwangju felt huge. Afterall it is a city of 1.5 million people.
At this point 이모 drove back to her apartment and me and the host family went to 시내 and walked around the ACC (아시아 문화 센터 Asia Culture Center). We saw street performers, and rested on the 하늘 마당 (sky garden). They kept remarking how much more developed Gwangju is than what they expected. They said they would even bring their friends here now for a weekend getaway.
We then walked home, showered and prepared for bed. It was still so incredibly hot that I took an ice cold shower and when I was sleeping I woke up at 3am-4am covered in sweat. I was not even using a blanket and I had a fan going straight on me. I looked at the temperature and it was 85 degrees inside at 3 am. It was also in the 90 percentile for humidity. As I am writing this blog at 10am in NH it is only 61 degrees.
In the morning I had to head to school, but during breakfast I got to meet Jungyoon and Seungyoon’s little cousins who were about 5 and 7 is what I am guessing. They came up to breakfast in their pajamas and we’re adorable. Meeting all their family reminded me of introducing me to all of my family last summer in the U.S. That was exactly one year ago.
Hopefully we can continue being able to see each other once per year, but I have a feeling it will be hard as I don’t anticipate heading to Korea next summer again. Maybe we could meet somewhere else. It definitely is hard to keep up long distance relationships, but worth all of the effort.
Overall I had a ton of fun with my host family from NSLIY and it meant a lot that they came down to visit me in Gwangju.