Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alive and Kickin' in my XXXXL Jacket

This past weekend was perhaps the biggest weekend I have experienced thus far in my 2+ months in Korea. Lunar New Years, according to Wikipedia and the mixed stories I have gotten from my Korean friends, is also known as Seollal, and is the most important of the Korean traditional holidays. This, combined with the fact that we had an extra day off of work, combined with the fact that our dear Korean friend Donna is incredibly motivated, inspired myself and two other teacher friends to head to Busan, "The San Francisco of Korea" to ring in the Korean New Year.

This whirlwind weekend was only topped by the amazing scenery of Busan. The jagged cliffs rising out of the bright blue ocean were a perfect scenic compliment to the Buddhist Temples set high in the mountains above Busan. But before I go any further into a description of this amazing weekend, let me give you some background information on exactly how it all came to be.

I have found that I am very good at planning vacations with friends that never seem to transpire. The Western mindset seems all too accepting of letting plans slip by the wayside until it is too late to logically book the necessary tickets and accommodations to make these fantasy plans a reality. This is where our friend Donna comes in. A simple facebook message was sent a few weeks back asking if we would be interested in spending the Lunar New Years with her and her family in Busan. We sent messages back that said something along the lines of "sure!". The next message we received, sent minutes later, was that our bus tickets had already been purchased and a hotel reservation had been made.

Three weeks later, we find ourselves exhausted and stumbling off of a 5+ hour bus ride that started at 4 AM. The jam packed Busan schedule did not allow us any time to rest up before the adventures began, and we made our way to the hotel to shower up and hit the road. Our hotel room was amazing, but seemed to be missing one key thing a person would hope to find in a hotel. Beds. Instead we quickly came to terms with the fact that at the day's end, we would be curling up in blankets on the floor, enjoying the amazing ocean view from the giant picture window.

We made our way through beaches, museums and hills. We saw crying mermaid statues and extension bridges. We collected sea glass, took hundreds of pictures, and eventually made our way to Donna's home.

We met her grandmother, mother and sister, and were warmly welcomed into their home. They did not speak much English so the communication was relatively limited, but this did not stop them from teaching us how to make Mondu (dumplings) from scratch and preparing a really amazing meal. We finished the food, watched as Donna's talented artist sister gave Stephanie a two hour manicure, and eventually made our way back to the floor of our hotel room.

The next day we went to a Buddhist Temple in the cliffs, which is probably the most amazing thing I have ever seen. (Pictures will be posted ASAP). I finally found the courage to be a creepy tourist, and was comfortable taking pictures of the really adorable kids dressed in their traditional clothing, bowing before giant Buddha statues.

From here we went to a giant market to do some shopping. We made our way through shops and carts selling a mixture of designer knock off goods and really trendy Asian clothing. Let me preface the rest of the market story by saying that it is nearly impossible to find clothes that fit in Korea, but that I generally wear a size L or XL in the States. After trying on clothes at countless stores, I finally found a jacket that fit, which was pretty exciting for me seeing as I have been braving the winter weather in nothing but a sweatshirt for the past few months. I went into the store to ask about jackets, and the woman looked at me and said, "Fat Size?" "Yes," I told her, "fat size." She gave me a really great fat sized jacket, and I was honestly thrilled with my consumer participation in the Busan marketplace.

From here we made our way to the biggest fish market I have ever seen, not that I have seen that many, but seriously this place was huge. We passed hundreds of carts selling a bizarre array of seafood, things I could not have dreamed existed. We passed carts selling fresh whale meat and giant octopus, and then made our way to Donna's favorite place to get some nice, fresh eel. The three of us Americans and Donna ate the eel with varying levels of excitement. The meal is one of Donna's favorites, and Blake honestly seemed to agree with her, I attempted to be polite and took a few gracious bites, and Stephanie screamed and made vomit faces as she choked down a single, chewey bite. After we ate the meal, they brought over some of the eel they had not yet killed so we could see what it was we had just eaten. The living writhing eels had been skinned alive and were covered in spicy sauce and their own blood. Let me tell you, that this is not exactly the prettiest picture, especially when being viewed in the context of of a meal you have just eaten.

We made our way to the university area where we participated in some good old fashioned Norebang (singing room), and prepared to make our way back to Suwon at 6 AM the next morning. We arrived in Suwon at noon on Monday, happy to have had such a satisfying weekend with great friends. I seriously have 200 pictures to document these two days, which I will upload asap. To close out my first blog post in a really long time, I will tell you a little bit more about my fat jacket. Yesterday, upon closer inspection, I found a tag on the new jacket that listed the size as XXXL. The people at the store seem to have thought that this was not nearly a big enough representation, as they drew on an extra X with a pen. I am now nice and warm, and slightly insecure, in my quadruple XL Jacket. Thank you Korea.