Despite the fact that it ended within my lifetime, it's quite hard for me to imagine the craziness of the Cold War. And it's not like I haven't experienced its after effects, traveling through Vietnam's once ravaged countryside and trying to imagine a worse place to have a war. I know there are terrains that are perhaps as unhospitable as the jungles of Vietnam, but of all the people I've met, I would definitely not want to fight against the Vietnamese. Or living in Korea and visiting the line that splits the North from the South; one of the last real remnants from the Cold War, a country so cut off from the rest of the world I can't imagine what life is like up there despite the fact that I lived amongst their brothers and sisters for two years.
And it's that experience that helps me imagine what I would have experienced if I had been in a position to understand what the fall of the Iron Curtain meant when I was four. I know if I woke up tomorrow and someone informed me that there had been a bloodless revolution overnight and the North Korean regime had fallen, I'd be shocked. And yet, North Korea is only one small country and despite it's posturing, I loose no sleep from fear of them blowing something up, even when I lived a few hundred miles from its border.
So when I visit places like the border between East and West Berlin I remember my trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea and imagine it bigger. And it's amazing what twenty years can do to something that seems so permanent, because unless I had Jordan spouting stories and facts at me about European history as we walk along its streets, I'd really have no idea. The biggest dilemma I faced while staying in (formerly) East Berlin was which bag of Haribo to buy.
Yesterday I walked around Sweet Home for the last time, as Gunsan Education Office employees removed the last of the government-supplied furniture. The place was much as we had found it two years ago, but somehow looked a little less pregnant, and a little more abandoned. The wallpaper was new back then (though just as floral), some of the furniture was already in place, and of course we were arriving, instead of leaving: bringing through the door some hopes and expectations (would we have a tub to shower in, fingers crossed?), but mostly just energy and excitement, and a little bit of luggage.
Sweet Home without us.
We're up bright and early this morning to say goodbye to Jim and Carol, whose apartment we've been staying in the last couple of days while we moved out of our Sweet Home.
You can see the fantastic floral wallpaper that we've been sleeping with for the last two years. Life without it is kind of boring, and perhaps that is how the rest of the world will feel after we leave Korea. Probably not, but there will always be something special about Korea for us. And notice that this is also the only time in two years that we wore our shoes in the house.
Jim and Carol, who are from New Zealand, were kind of enough to fix us a delicious lamb roast for one of our going away meals.
This is the amazing view from their 15th floor apartment. Our apartment is amongst the ones you see in the distance. The best view of the Dream Hub I think. A great to one to to remember as our last view of our home for two years.
Our trip to Naejangsan National Park to see some fall leaves.
The only thing I have had any forewarning for in the two years I've been in Korea is for the speech I had to give at yesterday's morning meeting. They gave me two whole days to think about it. I think I did a good job. I said my one word of Korean and everyone clapped. I said some more words in English, but they obviously weren't as good as the Korean one.
My students have been writing me goodbye notes, all of which have been wonderful, even the naughty boys have taken a time out to write about how they love me and will miss me. It's great leaving Korea because you can really embrace your inner corniness and say whatever you feel because the Koreans do exactly that times ten (or "x thousand" as my students write in their notes).
I got some going away presents yesterday. The best definitely being the couple-set underwear for me and Jordan from the ladies in my conversation class. They think that Jordan and I are the cutest because we love each other. I'm not sure why there are whales and crowns on Jordan's underwear.
This past week has been a big holiday in Korea, so I've had off school. We took a short trip to visit a friend of Jordan's in another town in Korea. We had a great time and got to visit the ancient capital of Korea and see some old stuff. The weather has (finally) turned cool, so it was the perfect day to be out and about.
Jordan ponders life.
Top of the famous pagoda at the temple we visited.
Marisa enjoys the sun.
The sun sets over a spectacular view.
To check out a few more pictures go here.
I've been having summer English camp for two weeks, and the highlight for me is always reading the amusing things my students post. Here are two answers to writing the conversation for this photo:
Spiderman say "superman! How are you?"
The first match of the 2010 World Cup not to end in a draw goes to Korea. We had a lot of fun watching on a giant portable TV from the entrance of a Korean bar, surrounded by a lot of hollering Koreans with drums and trumpets, who kept buying us beer and cheese sticks.
Go Red Devils!
This is where we live. Yes, it's awesome.
So after being delayed for several weeks, spring finally came, and with it the world's most beautiful sight (site? which one is it?): cherry blossoms.
There is nothing prettier in the world than a street filled with cherry blossoms, except perhaps if that street is next to a lake called Eunpa. Luckily we live next to such a lake. Everyday after school I get off the bus a little early and walk down this little piece of heaven. Jordan meets me and we eat snacks as we go. It's the prime holiday week for Eunpa, so all the street snacks are out. Our favorites include chicken on a stick, waffle, and lately we've found ice cream sandwiches at the GSMart across from the lake. The other day we had chestnuts and sometimes we have cotton candy. Jordan eats hot dogs occasionally and once in a while I have a corn dog. We never eat the stinky silk worm larvae (well, Jordan ate it once).
Spring not only means the blossoming of the trees and the ability to wear only half my closet to school instead of everything to stay warm, but also the fact that I get to chillax at school. If this year is anything like last year (and it looks like it might be) I hardly taught at all once we got to the last weeks of April. The first month and a half is hard work, but from here on out it's coasting time.
Luckily I am very busy running a new digital scrapbooking website: Pixeled Memories. Jordan is also very busy helping me to get it up and going. We are both very excited about it and are hoping to take over the entire digital scrapbooking community soon. We seem to have just the perfect skills to make this website and I can hardly believe that the nicest website on the internet is mine. Jordan also recently finished a game related to the 10 Days board games, although it's not posted online yet, so we'll let you know when that's up.
And that is a brief update of life in the Dream Hub, even dreamier now that we have our very own Subway and Coldstone.
If you want to take a peek at lots of pictures of the beautiful cherry blossoms, go here.
Jordan looking cute.
To me the most interesting aspect of this video is how critical the Korean government seems to be of its own education system--Obama's compliments notwithstanding. Thanks to Marisa's dad for passing this on.
There was a bit of a todo last week about my computer. For a long time now I have been bringing my own laptop to school to use instead of the ancient, scary Korean machine that sits on my desk. I of course plug into the school's network so that I can be a part of the hip and happening things online. However, recently the network had a security update and my presence was discovered; at least they (correctly) deduced that "Marisa EEE" was me. I don't think anyone really has a problem with me using my own computer, as I have good reasons for using it, but apparently I had a virus, at least the system update had detected one.
I know that viruses are out there, but I am married to someone who knows at least a thing or two about computers, so I figured I was safe from such an infection. I showed the computer man my virus program, of which he was dubious and decided we needed to run a Korean virus scan. This gave me a little panic because you really have to watch out for Korean programs because they will dig into your computer and become impossible to root out no matter how hard you try. But I had few options, so I said okay. The virus scan scanned and determined that I was virus free. This led to some discussion, and later it was reported to me that another virus program should be run. Double cringe, will my computer ever recover from this? Second scan also declares that my computer is healthy. Another consulation is held and it is determined that you can never really trust a foreign virus scanner (of which only the first, the one that I use, is one), so we'll try yet another virus scan. At this point I have really given up hope on my computer ever working again, and to at least make me feel like it was all worth something, this virus scan also came back with a clean bill of health. Computer man then tells me (through my coteacher) that some sort of reformatting will be necessary to rid my computer of this super stealth virus (which at this point I have decided is a figment of the system update's imagination).
When I relate this story to Jordan he of course says it's ridiculous, especially since he's the one who will have to reformat my computer. But, and this is the point of the story, I reminded him that before we start making big warpath type plans, we should remember that in Korea, whenever someone tells you something bad and/or crazy you are best off ignoring it. Because 10 times out of 10 whatever has just been told to you will never happen. And today, when I tiptoed back to school after the weekend and plugged my computer in it was allowed to connect to the internet (after being banished the previous week due to its "virus"). No mention of anything from anyone about anything, everything was just back to the way it was. And so, once again, "ignore it and it will go away" proves a successful way of life for the foreigner in Korea.
The first lesson in our book this year is about making goals. So, of course, since I always like to stay on topic in class, I had my eighth graders write down their goals for the year. Here are the best ones:
"I want to grow at least 7cm this year. This will make me better at English."
"The first goal is to grow up. The second goal is to score up."
Despite the fact that I never would have thought of it as a goal, about half my student's goals were to grow. A lot of milk will be consumed this year in the middle school.
"I hope to new world children. I hope to grow at least 3cm this year. I hope to rule the world. I hope to become a demon."
And how will they do this?
"I will get up early. I drink milk. I need to be stronger than before."
"My goal is musician. Because of I like listen to music. I am goal very fantastic.
Um...always all day long study music!! many listen and many study!!"
"My first goal will make a battle ship. My second goal is to make a B-25. My third goal is to make a B-17G."
And how will they do this?
"My first goal is to president.
My second goal is to get up early.
My third goal is to get great grades in test."
It's good to have your priorities straight.
This past weekend we took Jed on a quick trip to Jeonju to see the traditional Hanok village. They have one of the largest surviving groups of traditional Korean houses there and it's a big tourist destination in our province. We were lucky enough to go on the same day as some sort of festival; we think they were celebrating the deity in a tree. We made a little video about our experience, some things to look out for are: jump roping, a cute puppy and Marisa dancing.
Sometimes people ask me if I think it is dangerous to live in Korea. I always wonder why they ask me this because Korea is a very safe place with very little crime. Sometimes I remember that they ask me this because we live so close to North Korea, and word on the street says it's a little crazy up there. Generally for me though North Korea is just a place on the news that other people worry about (my mother not included).
This weekend Jordan's good friend Jed came to visit us, so we picked him up at the airport and took the opportunity to visit the DMZ. The tour started in the Joint Security Area, an area that has both a North and South presence, where the two sides meet for talks. We were "lucky" enough to see real, live North Koreans on a tour from their side.
Apparently this is a rare occurrence and both sides were busy taking pictures of the other side. The visiting rules are very strict, so we couldn't point, wave or make any gestures to the visitors on the other side. There are very serious South Korean guards standing around you all the time to make sure you behave and to keep the North Koreans from getting you.
After the Joint Security Area, we toured a tunnel dug by the North Koreans to secretly flood Seoul with soldiers. Luckily the tunnel was discovered before this happened. So far they have discovered four tunnels, however they estimate that as many as 17 more exist. In order to cover up their true intentions, the North Koreans painted to tunnel black and claimed they were looking for coal. Any rock sample will tell you though that the rock is solid granite. We got to wear cool hard hats as we walked through the tunnel, but pictures weren't allowed, so you will have to imagine us looking cool.
We ended with a view of Freedom Bridge, which was where prisoners of the Korean war were exchanged when a cease fire was declared. Now it's a place of pilgrimage for South Koreans to leave messages for their families in the North.
It's been snowing for so long here in Gunsan that I no longer remember it not snowing. Yesterday we took a walk out to the park to enjoy the fresh snow, please enjoy some of the pictures we took.
Keep watching, and you'll get some crazy hops starting at 1:20.
We hear the Korean version of this song almost every day here. It is much loved by our middle school girls. Now it is apparently much loved by American middle school girls as well. Notice how the beginning of this music video is obviously just a dubbed version of the Korean video--and yet the thing still managed to do well on MTV...
Yesterday I was witness to the giant migration of the Baikal Teal. At least we think it was the baikal teal, as there was no English around to inform us and I had to look it up when we got home. Huge groups of these birds meet at this one place in the river delta near Gunsan and then fly off. From what I read on wikipedia it sounds like Korea could be the end of their trek, as they start from the Baikal region in Russia.
I was invited out by our friends Jim and Carol. Jordan was busy working on a game (to be released later today I think), and didn't join us. We had an adventure on the bus, first missing our stop and worrying the bus driver, then walking in the frigid Gunsan air (sometime overnight it turned freezing, there's a chance of snow today). There is a bird zoo and museums at the site of the bird's landing, and an observation tower. Since this was the big weekend, there was also an exciting festival going around. I think Carol and I will feature in next year's informational brochure because there was a photographer following us around for a while.
We almost missed the birds whose party it was because unless you looked really closely they just looked like a sandbar out on the river, despite the sandbar being pointed out as a thing of interest by the men in charge of the binoculars.
For more pictures click here.