A hiker surveying the city below...
On the peak...being Korean
High rises, high rises, high rises
Oriental Medicine and Herb Market...need some hooves?
And here's the rest of the chicken! Octopus-in-a-bag Twigs? Cinnamon sticks? So many kindergarten birthdays...promise, I do actually teach sometimes...
Pottery in Insadong, in Seoul...my guilty pleasure. I could look at this pottery all day, any day.. Tea store in Insadong
One of my favorite galbi restaurants...that's spicy pork and tteok (rice cakes) cooking on the grill at our table So many little dishes on the table!
This is kindergarten Sean. We celebrated his birthday last week, even though he had just gotten sick (in the classroom, all over the floor, in front of the table with the cake and all the food) minutes earlier. The Korean staff stuck a party hat on him and made him take birthday pictures, even though he was crying...some of their logic, I will just never understand!
Britney Teacher's class
FINALLY- writing this on Sunday night, at my desk that faces the lone windows in my apartment...windows that are FINALLY open to let in a warm spring night's breeze. And it only took until May 1st!
Today was absolutely beautiful...sunny and 72 degrees, with just enough of a breeze. I hated having to waste some of that precious time outdoors by making the hour-long trek into Seoul by bus for church...but this time was very much redeemed by the afternoon I spent hiking with Christine! We returned to a mountain in Suji, just blocks behind our school, that we had climbed back in the fall. It felt pretty surreal to be returning six months later with the same intent of enjoying beautiful weather while scaling the peak. How was that six months ago?! Where has the time gone between then and now?!
The trails were hopping with Koreans decked out in their full hiking gear...visor, face mask, handkerchief around the neck, dri-fit shirt, vest, hiking boots, hiking backpack, and even hiking poles. Many hikers were even toting along their dogs...fluffy little lap dogs who are generally dressed up in obnoxious sweaters and hairbows...certainly dogs that should not be scaling mountains! Every hiker carried a backpack, no doubt stuffed with mageoli (Korean rice wine), gimbap (rolls of seaweed stuffed with rice, spam, pickled radish, cucumber, and more), and dried squid to gnaw on at the rest points (rest points which include, but are not limited to, the following: exercise equipment, hula hoops, dumbbells, and even mirrors- for reapplying makeup, obviously). This is Korean hiking culture, in a nutshell.
And then there was Christine and I...in our college t-shirts and tennis shoes. We passed many hikers who, after doing a double-take at seeing foreigners climbing the mountain beside them, were eager to offer their lone words of English to us: "Hello! Nice to meet you! Hiking!" It was very cool, though, to see the crowds of families out hiking together on a weekend afternoon...would you see this at home, teenage children trekking along after their parents up a mountain in the middle of a Sunday afternoon? Grandmothers and grandfathers, decked out in their North Face gear and head scarves, strolling up a mountain peak? Definitely not. I love this part of their culture, the love and respect for the mountains that surround and define their country. It puts many values into perspective...the importance of good, old-fashioned exercise outside, the appreciation for nature (no matter how scarce it is, in a city like Seoul), and the focus on hiking as a family activity. Never mind that just about every Korean man would qualify as a smoker...and that they tend to drink their soju (Korean rice vodka) like fish...at least they still value and promote hiking as a healthy cultural activity!
Sitting on the peak of the mountain, Christine and I were again reminded of the enormity of the city we've been living in for the past 8 months...surveying the land below is like viewing a tiny model of a city packed to the brim with high-rise apartments and buildings. Mountain, mountain, stretch of high-rises...mountain, mountain, stretch of high-rises...no diversity of landscape or lapse in this pattern, as far as the eye can see. I still can't even fathom the number of people living within the city of Seoul, and especially within its outer limits like Suji. Amazing!
On Saturday, we went to the Oriental Herb and Medicine Market in Seoul...I had been there in the winter but wanted to experience it again when it was actually bearable weather to be outside and linger around the curious stalls of unknown roots, herbs, and animal parts. This market was much kinder to us as foreigners than the last fish market...many questions of our origin, such as one man asking, "Where you make in?" We were confused until he continued, "Me, make in Korea. You, where make in?" Ahhh...translation: where are we from? I bought some loose green tea (nokcha) from a nice vendor who told me, "Miguk, beautiful!" (American, beautiful!) This was one of the few things I could recognize by reading the Korean signs. Probably best not to experiment in buying at a place like this...considering that 75% of the goods were unidentifiable to us, and 20% of the goods were clearly the intenstines or various body parts of animals that should never be eaten or used for medicinal purposes (by American standards, at least): dried frog, butchered dog parts (recognizable by the paws still intact on the legs), chicken intenstines, pig hooves, silkworm larvae...lots of good pictures, though!