Golden Week: Jindo Miracle Sea Parting, Beoseong & Staycations?

The beginning of May where holidays like Labor Day, Buddha’s Day, and Children’s day come close is often referred to as Golden week because of all the days off work/school together. Last year, I got a long weekend and went to the Namhae Anchovy Festival and Taean Tulip Festival. Spring is the time of endless festivals in Korea, and last year I wasn’t able to catch them all. This has been a chance for me to go back and get the highlights I missed last time. Of course the Daegu Lanterns were a part of that, but I also finally made it to the “miraculous” sea parting at Jindo in time to walk across the narrow land bridge that leads to the island of Modo (jokingly now referred to as Mordor after the LOTR movies because the Korean pronunciation is so similar).


Busan to JindoWe set off from Busan (blue dot) in the morning to drive all the way across the southern end of the Korean peninsula to Jindo (red dot). Although Korea is small compared to, say, the US, it was still almost 5 hours of driving with the occasional pit stop. (By the way, in case you’re curious, you can see Daegu on this map as well).  Fortunately, I went with a tour group (my stand by Enjoy Korea) and the bus ride was comfortable. I even got mostly through a Vonnegut audiobook, which is the only way I can consume books on a bus.

The Festival & Traditions

We arrived at the tiny festival grounds in the early afternoon and had the chance to wander around, take in the sights and enjoy the beach. The weather was lovely, and we spent about an hour just sitting in the grass above the sea enjoying some 막걸리 (makgeoli). Although many Korean festivals now have a sameness about them to me, it’s become something to look forward to rather than to be curious about. Favorite festival foods that are hard to find elsewhere, like 동동주 (dong dong ju) or fresh 해물파전 (seafood pajeon). I couldn’t find anyone selling 동동주 in Jindo. Vendors there insisted it was the same as 막걸리, but I didn’t believe them, and did more research. If you’re curious, this blog does a great English language explanation of the two. Koreans also love to invite international vendors to even the smallest festival, and this was no exception. I saw booths selling food from at least 10 other countries, including one doing the cumin spiced mutton skewers from China that I love so much.

20170429_152224The Jindo festival had at least one feature I’ve never seen before: a traditional Korean wrestling ring. A pile of sand was placed in a large circle where two contestants could wrestle in the traditional style. 씨름 (ssireum) is Korea’s wrestling, just like sumo is Japan’s. Each wrestler had a sash of cloth wrapped in a specific pattern around their waist and one thigh. The wrestlers would kneel and lean in to each other for a moment before the bout started to give them a chance to get a good firm grip on the cloth. Then they would stand up together and the referee would call start, whereupon they attempted to dump their opponent in the sand. The holds never changed. Each wrestler maintained their grip on the sashes at the designated waist and thigh position. Working to topple the proponent meant pulling and pushing and moving the center of gravity around. It was different from any other style of wrestling I’ve ever seen. Both men and women participated, though not against each other.

Cultural appropriation or good old fun?

There was also a “festival of color”, similar to Holi Hai. Only, unlike the one at Haeundae beach which was held by the Indian expat community in honor of their holy day, this was a totally Korean run secular affair. I start getting really tangled up in cultural appropriation when two post-colonial cultures are involved. I suspect the Koreans had no real idea about the religious significance and just thought it would attract more tourists. In the end, the only people covered in colored powders were young, party-driven Westerners. As far as I can tell, a group of Koreans cottoned on to the fact that white kids like this dancing with colored powder thing and did it for the fun and the money.

20170429_172837Even more bizarrely, after the color throwing was over, the festival organizers gave each participant a “toga” to wear. The togas were long white robes with red sashes that could have evoked a Roman senate or Jesus. Considering we were about to “part the seas” it was hard not to see it with Judeo-Christian overtones, but the rather drunk person I asked about it just said “toga party!” The entire thing seemed like the festival organizers were trying to find a way to appeal to the expat crowd. I’m glad they had fun, but I would have preferred some more traditional activities, like someone to teach us about collecting clams and seaweed the way the locals were doing as the tide went out. It’s hard to go do local culture festivals when the locals are busy trying to white-wash everything for cash.

The Magic Math of Tides

20170429_175222Finally, the real “reason for the season” was upon us and we muddled our way down the road to the rainbow steps beneath the watchful eye of the grandmother and the tiger. We paused at a bench to don our thigh high rubber boots and got some advice from the locals on how to attach the rubber garters through belt loops to hold up the boots, or failing that, to wrap them tight around our thighs and snap them in place. Thus clad in bright orange and yellow wellies, we made our way down the steps and into the shallow tide pools to wait for the tide to recede.

ModoIf you look at the area on Google Maps you will simply see the beach and the islands, but on Korea’s own Naver Maps, there is a thin line connecting the rainbow steps to the island of Modo. Although this path is only usable twice a year (at most), the Korean map makers consider it important enough to draw in.

The effect is caused by an extreme low tide. Tides are caused by the relative position of the Earth, Moon and Sun and are fairly regular and predictable because astronomy is math. Despite this, I heard no less than five people declare knowingly that “no one could predict” when the low tide would occur. I guess these are the same body of “no ones” that could have known health care is complicated? Science education is important, people. In fact, here’s some now. This cute little website does a basic introduction to tidal prediction methods, with pictures and everything.

laplaceThe history of tidal prediction starts with Kepler (total nobody) in 1609 to theorize that the moon’s gravity caused the ocean tides. He was followed by other such no-ones as Galileo and Newton. It was in 1776 that the first big complex equations came from a man called Laplace. Harmonic analysis was added in the 1860s and polished off by 1921 in the form that Navies all over the world still use today. Although the math hasn’t changed in almost a hundred years, computers make the math easier and the information more widespread so now instead of just ships in harbor– surfers, beachcombers, and clam hunters can go online to see the local low and high tides at their favorite beach.

Tidal harmonics are the reason why low tide gets extra low once or twice a year (if someone reading this is a scientist with a better way of explaining it, PLEASE chime in) All the different factors that affect tides are like a ‘lil wave pattern (think sound amplitude). When the ups and downs of different factors are opposite, they can cancel each other out, but when they align, they can magnify the effect. Because they’re all beating at different tempos, they interact differently over a cycle (year), but in a totally mathematically predictable way, line up all at once and create this “super tide”. Thus it is that the seas part, and we can walk over to the island. Sufficiently advanced math really is indistinguishable from magic.

The Legend of the Tigers

20170429_180517On a more mystical note, the local legend of the tigers explains why there’s a statue of a grandmother and a tiger overlooking the sea. Long long ago, the villagers who lived on Jindo were plagued by man-eating tigers. The whole village packed up and sailed over to the neighboring island of Modo to escape the threat, but one woman was left behind. The woman was Grandmother Bbyong, and she prayed to the Dragon King, the god of the sea, to help her. Finally the Dragon King came to her in a dream and told her he would build a rainbow brigde across the sea for her.  The next day when Bbyong went down to the sea, the waters parted to let her cross and her family came out from Modo to meet her. This also explains the rainbow stairs that lead down to the landbridge, but not why her family couldn’t have just sailed back for her in the first place.

Walk on the Ocean

20170429_181523

Finally, the event saftey team declared it was safe to head out into the water and we began to wade as a huge human conga-line through the shallow waves. I’m told that in some years, the bridge rises completely above the water, and indeed the most famous picture used in every promotional website in Korea is one of a wide and distinct stone pathway through the sea. My experience was a bit more damp.

20170429_183234While math can now easily tell us the time of the lowest tides, it does not yet advance to tell us what the actual lowest level of the water will be. Not that it couldn’t, but there are more variables involved, so it’s not a thing now. While we can say with certainty, the lowest tide of the year on this beach will occur at 18:38 on April 29 (or whatever), we can’t say for sure if that will expose the land bridge or simply be lower than every other tide around it.

20170429_185231We tromped along the path, watching parasailers overhead and rainbow colored lanterns being released in to the air from the beach behind us. It was clear the path was quite narrow because going too far from the group to one side or the other to get a picture resulted in a severe deepening of water level. At the time, my friends and I theorized it might be man-made, or at least man-maintained, however, I have since then found that the build up of rock and sand in this twisty line is a natural result of the currents around the islands.

20170429_184104Before long the golden light of the sunset combined with the swish-swishing of hundreds of feet through water to create a trance-like state. I could not judge how far the island was, nor tell which way the path twisted. The rocks below us rose and fell, bringing the waves treacherously close to the top of my boots and then back down to barely splash over my toes. The whole path is nearly 3km long. I suspect a determined person could make it out to the island and back in the hour or so the path is clear to walk, but I wasn’t racing, and soon we were greeted by the sounds of Korean drums and the distant flags waving as the procession from Modo came out to greet us.

Get Back

Tides are bonkers. When we went to Thor’s Well in Oregon, we had to check the tide charts to see the show, yet practically had to run to get back when the tide turned on us. In New Zealand, my lovely soak in the hot water beach went from peaceful to sea-soaked in minutes. Once the tide is returning, there is not a lot of time to get out of the way before the ocean reclaims what is hers. We had been told, when the big parade starts heading back to Jindo, go with them or you’ll be swimming back.

20170429_191328The walk outward had been slow, trepedatious, as though we were nervous the land could drop away at any moment, but the trip back was much more celebratory as well as much more damp. The parade of drum bangers, cymbal crashers, gong ringers and flag bearers danced merrily in their traditional garb, urging us all back to the larger island of Jindo. Our pace quickened and our legs swung to the rhythm causing much larger splashes. Waves came in from both sides of the path making us nervous, but excited. The water finally breached the top of my boots and sent an icy chill down my shins, but I found I did not mind.

By the time we returned to land, the sun was long gone and we picked our way up the tidal flats to the main road by the bright halogen lights of the festival. Desptite wet knees and sore legs, I felt elated. Participating in huge group rituals does interesting things to the human brain, but a big one is bonding. It raises hormones like oxytocin and dopamine which make you feel good about life and the people around you. I especially like doing them in huge anonymous groups because it fills me with the love and connectedness but there’s no social group to attach it to, so I get this big whole-world love.

20170429_191432

We doffed our boots and made our weary way back to the buses, pausing long enough to scrounge some dinner. Practically everyone fell asleep on the bus ride to our hotel, and I don’t think I stayed concious more than a few minutes after laying down on my little floor mat, content and sleepy and looking forward to the next day’s adventure.

Jimjilbang

Why every white-anglo blogger I’ve read is scared of these is a giant tragedy. I’d say mystery, but I think I understand it. They are terrified of nudity. Prudish Victorian and Puritanical values passed down from our anglo ancestors have made us associate all nudity with sex, which is itself an activity with much shame, blame and whispered scandal about it. But, oh my god, strangers (of the same gender) might see my naked body in a non-sexual context while they are equally naked… this is scary to the anglo-mind.

I too held this prohibition for part of my life. Theater and dance classes took some away, because you can only be so modest while changing in the dressing room. At some time, I fell in with a group of rabid exhibitionists in St. Louis who were often non-sexually naked around each other. I went to public hot springs in the mountains of Washington where total strangers stripped down to soak, but it was never awkward. Over many years of various levels of friendships, intimate relationships, and gym memberships in multi-cultural parts of town, I eventually unhooked my nakedness=sexuality link and can now comfortably enjoy the jimjilbang experience.

This particular morning, at 7am, I headed downstairs to get a bracing shower and some good soaking in after my muscle straining ocean walk and never-as-fun-as-it-looks sleeping on the floor. After washing up in the shower, I got into the mid-warm pool and enjoyed the hard water massages to pound out my stiff back. I graduated up in heat until I was able to get into the super hot pool which was made of an herbal infusion that turned the water a deep smokey topaz black. For the next hour, I bounced between the super hot and super cold, bringing all the inflammation in my unhappy muscles back down and getting me all set for the next adventure. Why anyone would let a little nudity interfere with such glorious bathing, I will never know.

Boseong and the Green Tea

I visited Boseong last winter for a midwinter lights festival. We spent some time in the green tea fields and I was surprised at the time how beautiful they were, even in the bleak austerity of winter. Now at the end of April, I had the chance to see the fields in their spring colors.

20170430_115224Before heading to the fields, we walked up a long road past the area of the light festival where a few wire frames from reindeer and dragons could still be seen. The road up the hill was painted with fun perspective illustrations of a stream, complete with little camera icons to show the best places to stand to see the visual effect. Optical illusions are fun.

20170430_105220At the top of the hill, far beyond the little pagoda that had marked the highest point of the lights, we finally came upon the green tea museum where we were treated to a special showing of the Korean green tea ceremony (complete with English translation by our awesome guide). The ceremony involves a process of several containers: a water pot, a cooling bowl, a tea pot, and the drinking cup. The hot water pot is filled with boiling water, which is then poured into the bowl, and from the bowl into the tea pot and finally into the cups. The instruments are warmed up in this way. Then more boiling water is poured into the cooling bowl. Tea leaves are scooped into the warm but empty tea pot and the ideal temperature water is poured from the bowl over the leaves. While the tea steeps, each cup is emptied of it’s hot water into another bowl on the floor and wiped dry on the outside. The tea is then poured into the pre-warmed cups by pouring only a half a portion into each and the other half in reverse order on the way back. The tea is then served, 4 cups to the guest and one to the host.

20170430_110142The hostess tried to tell us a bit about green tea, red tea and black tea but her translated explainations seemed off to me, since she said it had to do with the age of the leaf when it was picked from the plant. I don’t know if this was her or the translation, but the real story follows: In any country with Chinese roots in it’s culture and language, the three colors of tea are a bit different in meaning that in the West. Red tea is not Rooibos, in fact all three come from the same plant. And it’s not the age of the leaf at picking that determines the difference, but rather the post picking, pre-drying process. (although especially young and tender tea leaves are sometimes referred to as “monkey picked” and do make a delightful tea).

Green tea is picked, cut and dried. It doesn’t stay fresh long (no more than 2 years) so don’t let it sit around in your cupboard forever. 紅茶 Red tea is how Chinese and their linguistic relatives refer to what the British call “black tea” (confusing, yeah?). It is also picked from the same tea plant and cut, but then it is oxidized, which I am not going to try to explain the chemical process of, but you’ve all seen it because rust is what happens when iron oxidizes. Red tea is what happens when tea oxidizes. When the desired level of oxidation is achieved, the tea is dried and the oxidation stops in the absence of moisture. This is your standard English teatime tea and when stored properly stays good for a loooong time (making it ideal for trade and trans continental shipping in the days before FedEx). 黑茶 Black tea is fermented or post-fermented tea that is both oxidized and fermented over a period of months or even years. Pu-erh is the most widely known of these. There is a lot more about tea, but I’m stopping here.

20170430_130215After we conducted our own tea ceremonies, I drifted lazily back down the hill, examining the spring flowers and the grounds that had been lit up beautifully last December. When I finally got back to the tea fields, I took off on the same route I’d walked before and was happily greeted by many blooming apple trees and a small army of busy bees who were so focused on the brief blossoms that they paid no mind to all the humans fussing around. In fact, I think it was the only time I’ve seen Koreans in the presence of a bee not totally freaking out. I guess the selfie with the tree is worth it.

20170430_132033

The tea fields were much more crowded than in the winter, but people were still fairly polite about taking turns at the best view spots. One kind man noticed I had been framing up a photo of an especially stunning tree with the tea as a background when some more photo seekers stepped in front of me. I had been prepared to simply wait them out, but the gentleman spoke to them in Korean and pointed out they were in my way. 감사합니다!

20170430_131911In addition to the blooming fruit trees, there were cascades of purple flowers covering the rocks wherever tea was not growing. It made the whole place feel like a still frame of a rushing river in shades of pink, purple and green. Besides the tourists, there were also tea pickers at work. Each ajuma looking lady had her sun guards on, gloves and a mesh basket to place the leaves. They were not picking the bushes bare, but selecting only some growth. It seemed to me to be the newer, brighter green leaves that they were after, but I couldn’t tell for sure. In the age of automation it was strange to see people picking by hand. I know that it’s still the way for many crops in the world, but sometimes it gets driven home that there’s a human on the other end of my tea or strawberries or carrots, and then I’m carried off by sociological musings on how we came to value people who sit at desks manipulating imaginary money so much more than people who make our food.

20170430_131217

Speaking of food

green-tea-noodles

photo credit: honjatravel

Of course I had to go back to the everything green tea cafe. It was a warm day, and walking for hours in the sun (even with my sunbrella) meant that I was all set to try some cold green tea noodles. Cold noodle soup is one of the best ways to survive the summer in Korea because it’s served with chunks of ice floating in the broth along with the filling noodles and crisp pickled veggies. I managed to pick up a lunch companion from a whole other tour group, too. Boseong was a target of opportunity following the Jindo festival, so multiple tour agencies were out in force.

I pilfered the gift shop for more green tea latte packets that had gone over well as gifts then impulse purchased a bag of green tea caramels to share with my co-teachers too. I think they remind me more of green tea salt water taffy than caramel, but still delicious.

My last treat was over at the ice cream shop. No visit is complete without some green tea ice cream, but this time I opted for the green tea affogato. I have to admit, I did not know what an affogato was before I came to Korea. I guess it’s just not popular in the parts of the US I lived, and I’ve never been to Italy. But it is on the menu of nearly every cafe in Korea. In case you, like me, spent your life in an affogato black hole, it’s a scoop of vanilla gelato (or ice cream) topped with espresso. Yum!

18195080_10101177909332080_7560252973513082033_n

photo credit: Annemone

I somehow expected the green tea affogato to be vanilla or green tea ice cream topped with a shot of green tea. Makes sense? Not what happened. It was green tea ice cream topped with espresso. Don’t make an ick face. It was insanely delicious. Even one South African girl who hated green tea said that it was nice. I’ve had the tea/coffee blended drink that’s popular in Asia and enjoyed it, so it shouldn’t surprise me that this was delightful, too. Now I’m on the hunt to bring home some green tea ice cream and some espresso to reproduce the experience.

On the way back, I discovered my unintentional link to @shmaymee and her art, bringing the whole weekend around into one small world ride of awesome fun.

Golden Week

This beautiful conflagration of holidays that resulted in me only working 2 days out of 10 during the end of April/beginning of May was the first time in over a year that I spent any real time off just relaxing at home. Of course, some weekends I don’t make it out on an adventure, and some adventures are just going down to the beach for a market or karaoke night. I’m not a non-stop sightseeing extravaganza, but I realized I haven’t had more than one day in a row of slothing at home in over a year. I pounded thru the entire Magician’s trilogy, fixed my friend’s computer, celebrated another friend’s birthday, watched the new Guardians movie and finished Iron Fist. I can’t say I want to binge watch Netflix and read fantasy trilogies with all my free time, but it felt good. I love traveling, but if my latest trip to Thailand taught me anything it’s that rest is important too. Even when my job is easy, it’s not restful and even when my adventures are amazing (or perhaps especially when they are amazing), they are not restful.

Life can be full of wonder or dull as dirt almost no matter where you live (I admit it’s easier to be wonderful when you live in someplace like Busan as opposed to any small town where Wal-Mart is the most interesting store), but I’ve seen so many expats who go abroad and after a year or less they become blasé, falling into habits of the same bar, same hobbies, same expat friends, and no more magic about the experience of living abroad. I saw those people from the very first time I went out and I could NOT understand how it happens. I fought against it and fought hard. I didn’t join the expat gaming group or theater troupe, I spent at least one weekend a month but usually more going out and doing something unique. I sometimes wore myself out doing that. And while I still don’t want to become one of the blasé, I think I’ve come to peace with the idea of a middle ground. So, maybe once or twice a year, in addition to my big out of town adventures, I can have an around the house staycation, too.


Yesterday was the first instance of air conditioning on the bus this year. It heralds the end of so brief spring and the beginning of … the Hot. It will probably be ok for another month, but soon, too soon, the summer will be upon us. Hopefully I’ll get in a few more good adventures before the heat becomes unbearable, but I have at least finally purchased my tickets for the Philippines this October. Whatever else happens, I have that to look forward to. In the mean time, I’ll be pumping out some more of the Malay adventures as the emotional and experiential roller coaster gets revved for some serious ups and downs. Don’t forget to check out all the photos from Jindo and Boseong. Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

Holi Hai & Beyond: April Adventures in Busan

Korea certainly keeps me busier than just about any other place. Before now, I intended to have one good adventure a month and be able to spend some time doing more local adjusting as well as reflecting on my most recent adventure and planning my next one. Since recovering from my arrival flu, I feel like I’ve been in a non-stop adventure here, catching only a day here or there for the more mundane purposes of laundry and catching up on my shows. Since the Jinhae festival, I’ve attended the Holi Hai Festival, visited the long cherry tree lined walk in Busan, tried Korean style raw fish for the first time, gone on a super windy sailing adventure, witnessed a (rare) Korean bar fight, tried out the norebang, visited the Busan Canola Flower Festival, and done some mini-car racing. I keep meaning to sit down and write, but most of the time, everything else seems more fun. Finally, here I am on a lazy Saturday afternoon hiding from the late spring chill and rain, in a desperate bid to record some of the adventures of my last two weeks.


Holi Hai (April 3)

holi-flyer2016-logoIn India, the Hindu people ring in the spring with a festival known as Holi. It is often called the festival of love or the festival of colors. The main activity is throwing colored powders at each other until we all look like crazy rainbows. There is a huge mythological background involving gods/goddesses and heroes, and it seems like various regions within India each attribute some slightly different details to the history, but you can Wikipedia it if you want to know more about that part as I did for myself before attending. I’m here to talk about how a bunch of foreigners from more than 20 different countries (Indian and other) celebrated Holi here in Busan.

20160403_105807A group of Indian expats organized the event to take place at Haeundae beach. They set up a stage, a DJ, and tents where we could collect our colors, store our bags, and enjoy some delicious samosas. They started setting up at 9am, but since it takes me about an hour to get to the beach from my place, I opted to join a little later on. It was supposed to rain that day, so we had a lot of clouds in the sky, but when I showed up the beach was still dry. To abide by the Indian tradition, we were all asked to wear white to the event, and most people complied. In India, everyone would be wearing all white versions of their traditional styles, but we had to make do with what we could find here. Some girls were wearing white sundresses, and lots of guys (ok and me too) were wearing cheap white men’s undershirts.

We all lined up to sign in and receive our color packets, and several folks found some liquid paint that we used to paint pretty and colorful designs on each other’s faces. This turned out to be almost entirely pointless once the festivities started in earnest. I ran into a bunch of people from Orientation, including some of the girls that had been sent to Daegu instead of Busan. It was really nice to see everyone and to realize that even if I go to a big foreigner’s event on my own, I won’t stay that way for long.

The organizers moved up the first color throw a little just to make sure that we got one in before the rain hit, so we all gathered up in the sand near the stage and proceeded to dance like crazy people to the Bollywood beats until the countdown began. 20160403_121555_2When the announcer reached one, everyone threw handfuls of powder up in the air, creating a sandalwood scented rainbow haze above us that settled down on our hair and shoulders. After a few minutes of ecstatic throwing of colors, people got down to the more serious dancing. It seemed another major part of the ritual involved hand painting people with paint or powder as you wish them a Happy Holi, so my face and shoulders quickly started to acquire more colors. All of the revelers were very respectful of body space, so the most popular targets for strangers were cheeks and arms/shoulders to avoid any uncomfortableness.

20160403_131021I went through two such countdowns while staying in the core of the dancing area, I didn’t have my powder yet for the first one, so I made sure to be in the middle for the second one. Then I started wandering around the rest beach area to see what else people were up to. Some folks had built a sandcastle and decorated it with colors. Some had decided to take a dip in the ocean, causing their colors to take on the gentle fading effect of watercolor paintings. Lots of people had broken out bottles of beer and soju, and everyone was getting more and more colorful, happy, friendly and generally frenetic.

Religious rituals like this (and secular ones too, as it turns out) where people bond over a common experience, dance, drink or imbibe other substances (not at this one, but often throughout history and around the world), and generally lose themselves in the crowd and the experience have been a really major part of human culture for basically as long as we can tell. More recently, scientists have taken a look at some of the effects of crowds on our emotional state to explain what happens at political rallies and sporting events. The point is, participating in something like this isn’t just about what one person feels, it becomes more than that, and you feel like a part of something bigger and more amazing than just yourself or a collection of individuals. I’m not saying it’s a “religious experience” per se, but I think that the feelings celebrations like this engender help to bind a community together and could easily be a part of what keeps followers devotional.

20160403_125153I hadn’t actually had anything to drink at all at this point, but the atmosphere of excitement and the music combined to make me feel like I was floating through some kind of happy dream land. I met tons of new people, in addition to running into familiar faces, and I got more and more colorful as the afternoon wore on. Some folks had found the face paint and started making paint splatters and dribbles on one another, while others coated their hands and left hand-prints on their fellow revelers. Even as those hand-prints started drifting away from just shoulders and upper backs, I noticed that consent was always obtained. Lots of people of both genders turned up with hand-prints on butts and breasts, but every time I saw someone touch or get touched it was with respect, consent and Happy Holi. This was even more amazing, since such a party with free flowing booze and an excuse to touch people would have likely ended up with a good deal more unwanted groping in other places. And who knows, maybe someone here did experience that, but I tend to be aware of such things, so at least I can say the overall mood was of respect and not abuse.

20160403_140043People started conga lines, crowd surfing, or just lifting and tossing each other up in the air. I headed up to the grass line above and behind the stage to try to get some pictures of the crowd and hopefully to see the countdown color throw from outside, now that I’d seen and participated from in on the inside. While up on the sidewalk area, I noticed a fair number of locals out for a Sunday stroll who gave us a wide range of interesting looks from curious to downright horrified. Some stopped to take pictures, and I was even asked to pose a couple times. Plus, although we were several hours into the event, it had not rained even a little bit.

20160403_140103

Pictures taken, I headed back down into the crowd to dance again. I got handed some more powder by a late-coming young reveler who’d gotten too many extra bags and I taught him how to toss and hand apply the colors before we parted ways. I ran into more friends. I took photos of and for others. It seemed that photobombing had become a favorite hobby of the festival. Any time anyone took a candid photo, this was barely noticed, but if a group was seen to be posing, they instantly attracted a huge number of extras who did everything from pop up in the back row to throw themselves into the air in front of the group. Again, this behavior was taken in good fun by everyone I saw, and even when a group wanted a photo-bomber free photo, they simply asked the bombers to wait their turn, and they did.

20160403_132116After the last countdown, we gradually started winding down. The music didn’t stop, but the announcers asked everyone to help clean up the beach, which had become littered with empty plastic bottles and empty color packets. At the risk of sounding like a jaded broken record, pretty much everyone still there at this time did as they were asked and began gathering the rubbish in to large piles where it could be picked up by staff more easily. I’m not sure when I stopped believing that masses of young partying people could be polite and respectful, but I am really glad to have been so pleasantly proven wrong. The event coordinators must have had a ton of food leftover, or they just brought extra because they were also giving away free delicious Indian food at the end of the event as well.

13016718_10101394817956241_1276198467_oSome of my new friends and I lingered around the beach for a while, and it eventually did begin to rain and get colder, so we headed back inland to the Wolfhound, an infamous Irish Pub where we proceeded to drink some very large pitchers of ale and dance to some of the best top 40 hits from the 80s and 90s. I headed home only slightly after dark, and despite my best efforts (not drinking any booze while on the beach and going home at a reasonable hour) I still woke up the next day with a magnificent hangover. Inhaling lots of powdered colors, forgetting to drink enough water, and not eating enough did me in and I got a chance to try my very first Korean hangover cure (sold at convenience stores everywhere). And, although I washed everything else, my Holi shirt now hangs on my wall as souvenir art of the wonderful day.

20160409_112422

Cherry Blossom Road & Hoe Restaurant (April 6)

Just as I was starting to recover from my weekend revelries, the school announced that the teachers would go on Wednesday after school to the nearby cherry blossom road, a famous walkway that is lined on both sides with cherries, creating a tunnel of blossoms. Due to the rains on Sunday, the blossoms were somewhat faded, but it was an incredible sight, nonetheless. What I didn’t know in advance, however, was that our fitness minded Principal had decided we would walk from the school, along the road to a restaurant several kilometers away. As it turns out, repetition even of beautiful things can get a little dull after about 2km. I believe it would have been a great way to spend an afternoon with some friends if we’d had more opportunities to stop and rest, take more photos, or even stop when we reached the end of the blooms, but it was a little rough to take at such a brisk pace carrying all my school bags (since we weren’t returning to the school that day).

The last part of our walk left the trees almost entirely behind and became increasingly industrial, and we finally paused for a rest in a small park that was still mostly brown. But our efforts were finally rewarded when we arrived at the restaurant where I got my first taste of the Korean style raw fish dish called “Hoe”. Hoe is similar to Japanese sashimi, raw fish served with sauces, but no rice. Like all big Korean meals, it also came with a huge number of side dishes that included a raw fish and vegetable salad, some cooked whole fish, candied sweet potatoes that were almost like my favorite Chinese treat basidigua, egg dishes, roasted corn, and of course kimchi. The hoe itself was quite different from sashimi. Sashimi is served in slices that are rectangular, similar to the slices you see atop rice for sushi, but hoe was cut in long thin strips that looked more like noodles. We dipped them in the sauces or mixed and matched them with the other sides, especially the white kimchi. It was quite a unique experience, and I enjoyed the meal immensely.

Sunday Sailing (April 10)

20160410_142318

I must either be the wimpiest adventurer or the most adventurous wimp because the exertion of these three events left me wiped out and I spent the next few days resting up to get my strength back so I could properly enjoy the sailing trip I’d booked a couple weeks earlier. Fortunately, the sailors weren’t morning people, so I didn’t have to start my Sunday too early either. I discovered early on in my stay here that Google Maps doesn’t work that well in Korea, thus quickly installed and learned how to use the Korean map app called Naver Maps, which allows me to choose a wide array of bus and subway routes to get anywhere as long as I know the Korean name for the place I want to go, which turns out to be good language practice too.

20160410_145643Armed with Naver, I headed down to the marina at Gwangalli to meet up with the sailing group. It was a good mix of the more experienced sailors (the crew) and first time sailors. Everyone was friendly and happy to be there, and once the whole group arrived, we got a short safety lecture and headed to the slip where our boat awaited. We were in for a great sailing day with clear skies and winds up to 17 knots. There were some issues getting the sails up, so we motored around the bay and under the bridge, getting some fantastic views before we finally got under way.

Our crew were kind and skilled, and also quite adventurous. They took advantage of the winds to treat us to a roller-coaster style ride, tipping the boat nearly 90 degrees to the side. The passengers clung to the side of the boat high up in the air, and we all got splashed regularly by the waves. 20160410_155906We sailed out past the small islands nearby before tacking for our return trip. Because of the strong winds, it was important for us to sit on the side of the boat that would be in the air, and we all had to change sides before the tack, while avoiding the boom. I let some of the first time sailors go ahead of me, figuring they would have a more difficult time, but this meant I was still on the port side when the boat tacked, and I got half dunked when the boat tipped up the other way before I could clamber up into the middle.The trip out had left most of us soaked, and several people started shivering in the high winds. We brought out some blankets from the hold, but in the end a some had to go below decks to get warm. I was chilly, but wasn’t about to miss a minute of the great weather and views.

I didn’t get very many pictures that day, because I could only bring out my camera when we were calm enough for me not to worry about holding on with both hands, or dropping it in the water. The few I did get were quite nice, and I had an absolute blast. I talked to some of the crew, and it turns out they go almost every week. They even do night cruises in the summer. I have to admit, I got colder than I would have liked that day, so I’m really looking forward to going out with them when the weather is warmer and a dunking is more refreshing than bracing. It took several days for my shoes to dry out, and I think next time I might have to learn how to use the dryer function on my washing machine. One crew member told me that in the summer, they often sail out and take a swim before returning, so I definitely see this as a repeat activity!

Out on the Town (April 12)

The following Wednesday was election day in Korea, and the schools would be closed. Take a brief moment to appreciate the fact that government employees get the day off to vote, even though early voting is available here. However, since we expats can’t vote here, it just meant a free day off, so I made some plans to go out Tuesday night with some of my newly acquired friends. Because I get up at 6:30am to work, I don’t get to go out much during the week, and this was a perfect opportunity to sample Busan nightlife. A bunch of people were getting together for a birthday party, and even though I didn’t know the birthday boy, I was invited to come along anyway.

I started out by heading over to a friend’s house about an hour away from mine. I’ve noticed that although my neighborhood is quite awesome itself, because it’s basically in the middle of Busan, it takes me 45min to an hour to get most places I want to go. We hung out at his place for a while, chatting, drinking, watching YouTube videos and singing Disney songs. I don’t know about other people, but this is one of my top ideas of a good time. Then, we got some burgers for dinner and then headed out to the bar to meet up with the group.

When we came up to the front of the bar, I was surprised to see several faces I recognized from the sailing trip, and we quickly reconnected. Inside, I saw more people I’d met at Holi and even one I’d met at orientation. Busan may be a big city, but the expat community seems to be pretty tight. After my experience of isolation in Saudi, it’s a huge relief to live in a place that not only has so many activities, but also has a friendly community of people I’m likely to run into again even without planning to. Inside the bar, however, it quickly became apparent that something was amiss.

I may have oversold this slightly as a bar fight. There wasn’t any physical violence. What there was was a Korean girl who was very drunk and very belligerent. I missed the beginning, but apparently she’d beaten on the bathroom door when one of the expat girls was in it, then burst out with a spate of anti-foreigner epithets, threw a bunch of stuff around in the bathroom when she finally got in, and generally yelled at everyone in a massively hostile way. Even though many of the expats there were long time regulars of the bar, it was still culturally difficult for the staff to treat her too harshly. Eventually I guess she called the police and we all headed out to avoid further confrontation. I’ve been reassured by basically everyone (foreigner and Korean alike) that this is really rare behavior here, and even the long time foreign residents seemed shocked.

Having lost the bar, we decided instead to head over to a local norebang joint. Norebang is the Korean word for Karaoke, and it’s set up very similar to the Japanese style where you get a room for you and your friends and pay an hourly rate to sing. The norebang we went to was significantly cheaper than the karaoke bar I went to in Japan, but also not quite as nice. No phone to order your food and drinks to your room, no soft drinks dispensers and no soft serve ice cream. You’re not supposed to bring in outside liquor, but they also don’t check to closely or make a big deal about it if an employee happens to see some in your room, so we had quite a bit to go around, and settled into some crazy singing fun. Norebang rooms also come with multiple microphones, and you just enter songs you want using the remote panel, so there’s no real rotation or solo singing the way there is in America. Most of the time, this is really not an issue, everyone just shares and has a good time singing and dancing, but every so often you get a mic hog (usually too drunk to notice). I do my darndest not to hold on to a mic for more than 2 songs in a row so I’m never that person.

Since we all had the next day off, we stayed out until about 3am. Private room style karaoke/norebang has the distinct advantage over the public American style in that you’re with people you choose, and everyone is more relaxed and comfortable, so it feels more like a house party than a public spectacle and time just flies. The subways and buses had all stopped running by this time, so I also got my first ride in a Korean taxi. Fortunately, I live really close to a landmark hotel, so it’s very easy to give directions and it’s a short walk to my apartment from there. I was pleasantly surprised at the taxi rates too. Even though I was clear at the end of the subway line, it still only cost about 10$ to get home. Not something I want to do daily, but it’s good to know if I stay out past subway time, it’s not going to cost me an arm and leg.

Canola Flower Festival & Mini-car Racing (April 15)

20160415_172454

The Nakdonggang Yuchae Festival is held near the Nakdong river in a huge field of canola flowers. These bright yellow blossoms used to be called by the unfortunate name of “rape flower” due to some cross linguistic issues. The Latin name for the plant is brassica rapa, so you can see how that happened in some non-English speaking countries. It is also the source of canola oil, and now more often called the canola flower once people figured out why English speakers were looking so horrified. Interestingly, the brassica rapa family also has lots of edible plants which is why you sometimes see ‘rape leaves’ on Chinese menus. It’s also the root of the name Rapunzel, who was named after the plant her mother so craved from the witch’s garden (non-Disney).

20160415_172337The girl I met on the bus back from Jinhae invited me to come with her to the festival and we decided to meet up Friday after work and head over. It was a long and winding subway ride, but we arrived with plenty of late afternoon sunshine to enjoy the flowers. The plants grow about 1-1.5 meters and there were little trails through the fields where visitors could walk among them, often chest high in yellow. Busan is a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains where it isn’t bordered by water, and as we crested the hill and the fields came into view, my breath was taken away by the expanse of brilliant yellow, bounded by the low mountains and a bright blue sky above.

D20160415_172111uring the weekends, and possibly earlier in the day, the festival has a variety of events and booths, but by the time we got there at 5pm on a Friday, there were only a few food vendors left. I didn’t mind this too much, since my primary goal was to see the flowers anyway. The fair food on offer wasn’t as interesting as what I encountered in Jinhae, but there were still some spiral potatoes and a tremendous amount of kebab vendors, as well as the sculpted candy floss. After a brief survey of the vendors, we headed into the flowers and were soon immersed in a fairy world. It reminded me of a sort of reverse horror scene. You know the movies where people are lost in a field of crops until the monster leaps out at them. But instead of monochrome crops by night, we were amidst the brightly colored blooms in glorious sunshine, and I felt that instead of a monster, we should expect a unicorn to leap out at us.

We sang songs to one another as we strolled around and paused often to take pictures. There were plenty of areas of interest to break up the sea of yellow including stone cairns, gazebos, a horse-riding area, platforms for posing, small irrigation ditches, giant pinwheels, and larger paths. We stayed until the last bit of the sun dipped below the mountain line, leaving the sky a beautiful orange and slowly draining the glow from the flowers around us.

20160415_171921

I’d also been invited to a mini-car racing night with some of the folks I’d met at Holi/Sailing/Norebang. I had expressed that I’d already planned to do the festival with Jinju, but would be happy to join afterward if I could invite her along (I hate ditching people I’ve made plans with). They said sure, so after the sunset, we got back into the subway maze to make our way across town again. I had suggested we pick up some dinner on the way, and only once we were looking at restaurants did it become clear to me that she didn’t realize we weren’t doing “Korean style”, by which I don’t mean Korean food, but the fact that often if one person brings food, they should expect to bring enough for everyone and share. I had to explain that as Westerners (mostly US and Canada) we were very comfortable with a more fend-for-yourself style and that if anyone else had wanted us to pick up something for them, they would ask and would pay us back when we arrived. I could tell she was skeptical of this change in etiquette, but once we arrived and the others all backed me up, she got comfortable enough to enjoy her dinner (bacon and tomato pasta, yum!).

13009731_10153334479315989_253832677_oKorean apartments are tiny little studios, comfortable for one, cozy for two and not actually terribly well suited for a party. On top of this, our host had set up his racing track which took up nearly the entire floor in the sitting area. We had to carefully step around and between the loops of the track to move across the room and there were only 6 of us. We watched the guys race while we ate, and then we got a crash course in how to use the track. It was a little like Hot Wheels on steroids. The cars were about three times the size of the Hot Wheels, and the track was equally sized up, which is why it took up the whole floor. In addition, it was linked into a video game system that measured our laps as well as our “fuel” so we had to not only drive the mini-cars, but pull into a pit stop when our fuel was running low or risk losing the race by running out and getting stranded.

Once Jinju and I learned the basics, we tried for a 6 car race, but ended up with too many wrecks, and settled into 4. I don’t even know how many years it’s been since I raced toy cars, but it was just as fun as it was when I was a kid, only this time we were also drinking beers and complaining about politics. I still think Mario Cart is the best drinking and driving option, because we crashed those mini cars too many times and may have damaged a wing mirror, but we made it through a 100 lap race and I came in a respectable second place behind our host.


As you can see, Busan is treating me very well. I’ve also done some more totally practical things like finally getting my medical reimbursements and setting up my Korean phone, and of course teaching adorable munchkins! I know I’m still in the “honeymoon” phase of life in a new country, but so far I honestly feel like this is a place I’ll be content and even happy to call home for quite some time. There’s always something to do, the locals are helpful and kind, and the community of expats is fun and friendly. I’ll do my best to keep blogging because I genuinely enjoy writing about my experiences, not just to share them with you all, but as a record of my experiences I hope to enjoy in my dotage many years from now. As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out all the rest of the pictures on my Facebook page!