Sunday, November 9, 2008

Trip to Gangneung

A couple weeks ago one of the teachers at our school asked if we wanted to go with him to Gangneung, the closest big town. After our plans were foiled last week by one of his students hitting another with a baseball bat and the subsequent necessity of dealing with the police, we arranged to go yesterday with him and another teacher from our school. Unfortunately, weather-wise, it was absolutely the worst day we've seen thus far in Korea.

The first stop was Okgye (pronounced "OK") Rest Stop off the Donghae Expressway, voted the most beautiful rest stop in Korea.

This little girl didn't seem to mind the rain.

The second stop was "Sun Cruise" - a huge hotel made in the image of a cruise ship.

Behind us you can see a smaller a ship. It didn't occur to me how weird it is that they had built a series of huge ships on hillsides until we got home and looked at these pictures.

The gardens at Sun Cruise were quite beautiful.

There was lots of sculpture, much of it on the theme of hands(?!).

We learned that this is how Korean symbolize a strong promise, not unlike pinkie swearing.

This was just inside the front gate. Those are decidedly non-Korean breasts!

Our group on a glass bottomed overlook. The teacher on the viewer's left we call "Tom Cruise" for his debonair ways. I teach two fifth grade classes with him. On the right is a teacher we call "Mirage" for our not having really noticed he exists for the first couple weeks we were there. Melanie teaches fourth grade with him. They are both exceptionally kind men.

After the Sun Cruise, we went to Tofu Town, a huge specialty restaurant for uncooked tofu dipped in soy sauce, tofu soup (I think it was really just soft tofu in water, with soy sauce for flavor), a delicious scallion-omelet, and some great side dishes.

Despite, or maybe because of, the surreal nature of the whole experience, it was a really nice day. It felt to me like we were a part of something in a new way, like we were genuinely on a friendly excursion with Koreans - no school-assignment or ulterior motives or feelings of obligation. Like we were part of a community of teachers, and like we were seeing Korea a little more from the inside. And as we talked about the upcoming hard winter in this town of 4,000 people, it was comforting to know there are at least a couple people we genuinely enjoy spending time with.

Tom Cruise's English is very broken (and the second best of all the teachers at school), but he seems to enjoy talking about ideas, which is extremely refreshing. Maybe this is true of all people and my perception of it just gets amplified with communication so limited, but prospects for conversation about anything meaningful have been few and far between. So a day of talking about the history of mining in our region and the effects of Korea's recent switch away from coal (negative population growth, poverty, the establishment of the only casino in Korea for domestic use), government, the election, the economies and how they relate was very welcome. It seems vocabulary is less a limiting factor for those sorts of conversations than is a willingness to slow down conversation and dig for the occasional big concept.

It's good to know that it's there.

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