Category Archives: special trips

exploring the amazingly beautiful and always wonderfully intriguing, culture, food and landscape. and then some.

a chance to breath

is it ironic that I am trying to read one of the Dalai llama’s books right now but am being distracted by the kunsuhnim’s (head monk) TV next door? hilarious.

I had a relaxing weekend in Seoul, visiting friends and staying at Ji-in and Gwan-oo’s house (the two of Hay-gyung’s friends who came to the temple earlier this week). their parents are just ridiculously awesome and the family is so peaceful. Ji-in came with me yesterday to meet with Eun-hye, Song-bo, Min-chur and Jae-hun. it was a really sweet time, and it was especially wonderful to see Eun-hye again. friendship here means so much. part of me feels like I’ve never been gone (to the US) but part of me is brutally awakened by all of their comments about my physical appearance. while the comments are to be taken as compliments; I have grown so unfamiliar with Korean custom in this regard and it makes me feel more uncomfortable than anything.






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field trip





I’m feeling so entirely despondent today. everyone had a beautiful time at the temple and the kids really got into writing down ten things they saw in English. I think Xiao thought it was pretty cool, too. it’s 9:30pm now and I have no lesson plan for tomorrow or a plan for myself and where I am going to go for the weekend. I have to teach on Sunday so I really don’t want to go all the way to Seoul, plus its so expensive. Apa talked to me today about how the whole money situation is going down and it’s not extremely pretty so I’m concerned about spending…. but many of my friends are in Seoul so I’ll probably just go for it. Xiao is leaving tomorrow, which is way too soon, though a few days ago I thought it couldn’t be soon enough. my pretentions have really gotten in the way with having him here – I think it was hard to have another American on my turf, and not having seen him for 2 years and then being so heavily associated with him was intense. now I think we’ve had some time to relearn each other and I’m feeling really close to him again. but he’s leaving. tomorrow. damn you tegan.

this whole sexism thing drags me down too, and now I’m projecting that anger towards the rest of the culture. I’m just tired of it all. except the kids, of course. I never get tired of kids. oh, last night at the jimjilbag the MOST ADORABLE kid EVER was wandering around and being cooed at by everyone. it just so happened that I walked down the steps as he was making his way slowly down and he looked up to me with his big, dark eyes and reached his soft little innocent hand out – we walked slowly down the stairs together. he then followed me over to the water cooler and we drank together. it’s interactions like this, truly human, full of life, love, trust; that I really live for.

I haven’t touched my cell for days but picked it up today realizing that I had to make weekend plans and have since found out that I’m totally missing meeting some of my best friends while I’m here. the time is just too short, I guess. many of them have winter school – my beloved Ji-min is taking a TOEFL class right now that lasts everyday from 9am to 11pm. that’s not a typo. it’s a 14 hour class. my other good friend is beginning his army service this week. another good one is in Australia. a bunch of them are just scattered across the country in various inconvenient locations. sigh. the funny part is that my chances of seeing them are probably as likely as the chances of seeing some of the random friends that I’ve got scattered throughout my own country. it’s all a meticulous balancing act – who really matters to us? – what really matters? – why do you love someone? – what is sincerity? – what is real friendship and what does it feel like? – can you ever really have too many friends? I was reading a book of Korean Buddhist stories a few nights ago. one of the stories was about the infinite capacity of the human mind. I wonder if that infinite capacity can be applied to human relations and carried over into infinite love…

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살앙해유 침칠방!

we spent last night at a warm jimjilbang in nearby Young-ju which was a welcome change. there were so many rowdy young people at the temple that it was probably a relief for all. the other kids woke Xiao and i up at 7:30 though, which was a ridiculous decision being that we actually had the chance to sleep in until at least 8! needless to say, we were slightly irritated. i slept in the wierdest jimjilbang accomodation that i have ever come across – a cavernous hole in the wall built for one. i felt like a polar bear, a warm and happy one…

Hay-gyung being molested by one of our high-schooler companions this morning, she screamed “piunte!” (pervert) at her, but it had little effect –


my deliciously cavernous dwelling –


we are visiting the nearby Bulseoksa temple this afternoon with the kids for a fun little excursion. i’ve been there before and it really is a striking ode to korean buddhism and buddhist structures, being the oldest standing wooden structure in the country. i really wanted Xiao to see it before he leaves (tomorrow) and coudn’t think of any other way than to take the whole class. so. each student must write down ten things that she/he sees on the excursion in english and then we’ll talk about what we saw.


i keep having bizarre dreams and dreams about school. a few days ago i dreamt that i missed all of my classes on the first day and didn’t remember anything on campus, so i printed off my schedule and went over it. i think that i am just excited about being home and in charge of my life again, and i miss my kittens and the joy of college. there is such a comfort in knowing what my mission is and what comes next; college is a strengthening, self-fulfilling project that at once yeilds boundaries and goals and also felxibility and personal empowerment. i love it. i miss it. but i don’t want to miss it too much because i don’t want to forget to be here right now, knowing that when i am back i will miss being here and laugh at my own idiocy in being excited for homework and 8am classes. ha! could i know myself any better?

i don’t make new year’s resolutions, but i want to spend more time outside this semester, especially enjoying the lake. life is so short.

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weekend in the big city


after a cold and busy weekend in Seoul i am “home” to where the rooms are slightly warm and the rules are much stricter, but home it is. i almost missed the quietude and peace when i was in the big city.

it snowed quite a bit while we were in Seoul, but we still managed to have a pleasant time of it. Insadong is always such a pleasure, but the real highlight was visiting with my old roommates last night in Sincheon. sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone; how much you know about their idiosyncracies; how long you’ve been apart; until you are reunited. it felt like i’de never even left.

we spent friday night at So-youn’s in Garak where we went out to drink and then woke up to delicious fruit and yogurt, her parents being fruit dealers at the gigantic market there. we visited with friends all over the city, but many of them canceled because of the bad snow which was sad, but what can you do? we stayed last night at a jimjilbang in southern Seoul with my friend Pil-jin and this morning with empty pockets we took the subway to the train station and headed home. this bizarre korean girl that was sitting in front of us asked if she could have her picture taken with me (which was not an entirely wierd request on it’s own, believe it or not, but what followed was a bit quirky…). we took the photo and then she said that she was traveling alone and would like to share the ride with us. we said sure, and she actually turned the entire seat around to face ours and proceeded to paint our fingernails in neon polishes – each a different color – and i say “ours” because she painted Xiao’s too, for which he received a bit of flack from the monks when we returned to the temple. tee hee.

what followed was a dance of human interraction, a combination of meeting her english abilities and enduring her constant photo-shoot and drawing sessions. Xiao loved it all and showed her his pictures of Tibet. the converstation was constant and eccentric.

back at the temple; i am tired of cold weather, which is hilarious because we really haven’t seen anything yet and we’ve only gotten about 2 inches of snow. but part of me wants to be home with my kittens. part of me hates showering the bathroom with a spray nozzle in a plastic bowl with cold water, part of me doesn’t care about “endurance” and “building character”. i’m slightly fed up. i miss the freedoms that i had here before, and the cash. the temple is toughening me and i feel like it’s going to be really empowering in the long run. i love the kids. but it’s just such tough work!

Xiao and i looking way too cool


visiting Anji at the hospital. tear.


fancy tea with Xiao, So-youn, Song, Yo-jin


amazing Jogyesa, the Buddhas are immensely impressive




a cool art market in Insadong –


Venus in Korea…


the train ride home wasn’t really as bleak as it looks here –



the awesomely crazy girl who entertained us all the way back to Youngju –


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most amazing sights in the world: sans camera….

through my exiting online-life i have managed to reunite with a lot of long lost friends because of various profiles, etc. sometimes we find eachother accidently and have some wierd coincidence happen, all through the www. a amazing friend i met last year at the rainbow gathering; he was our doughnut fry-chef, wearing his sturdy overalls and 1950’s rimmed glasses his red beard sizzling with the fry-grease, Shaney was love at first sight. we talked about literature and life and i ended up hanging out with him later that summer at his home in Eugene with my other fantastic friend Annie. he gave me the most life-revealing tarot card reading and took a group of us to some remote mountain hotsprings where we soaked under shooting stars. and he confided in us that he was sick and may be dying.
recently when we bumped into eachother online, he looked a lot thinner in his photo. we started dropping eachother emails and he told me that he actually used to teach here in Daegu, and told me not to leave the country before seeing Gyungju.
after drumming class the next day, Jason and i dropped all of our study responsibilities and hopped on the train to Gyungju. we got there at like 3:30 so we just wandered around the city, looking at this and that and marvelling over the random placements of ancient earthen tombs in city parks. this is what Gyungju is famous for. its a big tourist place, but mostly for Koreans because it has so much historical importance. it is the ancient Silla capital of Korea and hosts hundereds of earthen tombs and countless other treasures, like a thousand year old temple, a mountaintop grotto, and countless stone buddhist relics. the city itself is quite small, the surrounding area hosting various national parks, small and large, that host the various marvels.
after having a discusting breakfast (we just ordered “koh” or soup – which ended up being this horrid concoction of half-cooked fatty pork and rice gruel. i thought i might be brave enough to eat the rice out of it, but almost choked when i tried a spoonful. the ajuma was understanding enough to offer me some side rice and kimchee instead….while jason bravely slurped his way through.) after losing my digital camera somewhere downtown before 6am and reporting it to the little shoebox of a police station, we hopped the first bus to Bolgoksa, the ancient temple with the grotto on the mountain peak above. i had to forcefully stave off my camera-losing-blues as i explored the impressive monument with its two famous pagodas and amazing stonework and paintings. i prayed inside a few of the halls, and they were absolutely stunning. sitting on the 700 year old creaking floorboards and looking up at the smiling golden Buddha, while carved dragons roared overhead and a thousand lotuses bloomed on the ceiling – cured me of all fatigue and frustration.
next we trekked up the mountain to the Grotto, which was a huge stone statue of Buddha surrounded by Boddhivistas and creatures. (both Bolguksa and the grotto are protected Unesco treasures.) the entire display was tucked under a small hillock behind what orignally looked like a small Buddha-hall, but held a huge underground dome cavern for the display, unfortunately, it was protected by a glass wall so we couldn’t enter to pray or view it more clearly. we met an overly friendly man named “Michael” (so many Korean gradeschoolers, college students and business men have english names) and his children. we chatted about our lives and he ended up inviting us to join him and his family for the day. but when we met his wife and mother-in-law in the parking lot, they were just livid, screaming and stomping to the car where she slammed the door shut behind her and continued screaming. we rested in the sun and waited an hour to catch the bus to downtown.
when we got back to Gyungju we visited the parks that are within the actually town. these boast a huge stone celestial observatory and over 20 earthen tombs. the traditional Korean tombs are really a pheneomena of their own. first the ground is duggout and the huge wooden coffin, filled with the deceased and all of his/her treasures and food for the afterlife, is placed on top a slab of stone. the coffin is then stacked with tons of boulders which are covered in clay and then soil, and last, planted with green grass. the entire thing just looks like a wierd, unnaturally steep and well-groomed hillock. they are kind of magical, really. especially the ones we saw in the early morning dawn. by this time, around 4, we were really tired out. we fed rice cakes to some huge goldfish in a pond for awhile, then caught a bus to the ocean side where a famous underwater tomb of a king Mutmu lies. we had ramien and beer as the sun went down on the beach.
on the bus back to Gyungju we met a really interesting french student named Julien, who drank a few pitchers with us in Gyungju before we caught our train back to Wonju at 12am. the beer tasted great as we sat in the little bar, full of sneaky highschoolers getting drunk for their friend’s birthday and watching the world cup on the tv. a gentle rain began to fall as Jason and i said goodbye and slowly walked back to the train station. i have to say, i held hopes throughout the day that the police station was going to call me with good news. but maybe there just weren’t enough inspiring photos on it, or maybe the wrong person picked it up. either way, i’m trying to imagine my camera-free life now and its both a little freer and a little depressing.
after a few hours of much needed sleep, we got back to Wonju – home-sweet-home, at 5am and waited for the bus until 6. i took a nap and just woke up and showered. i feel refreshed, better educated, inspired, and liberated from the world of digital photography, but totally unmotivated to memorize all of the Korean that i am supposed to for tomorow’s test.
it was a fabulous journey, and i saw the most amazing things i’ve ever seen in my entire life. i’ll always trust in Shaney’s word.

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bandages and bondages of the mind

my weeks seem to be getting more exiting the closer i come to departure – and i dont mind a bit. i’ve only got two and a half weeks left now, which just makes me want to cry and cry and try to extend my ticket. but its near impossible. so i’ve got to live it up.
on thursday i went out for dinner with my project group from my public administration class. we had sam-bap, for my first time, and it was absolute heaven for newly-returned-to-vegetarian. there were all these amazing little dishes of tasty veggies to be wrapped up in green lettuce leaves with sauce, just like bulgolgi without the meat. divine.
afterwards we went out to a beautiful valley and splashed around in a stream together with our pant legs rolled up. eventually, someone got thrown in and thats when the pleasant trip took a drammatic turn for the worse. one of the guys attempted to throw another one in, but instead they both fell, one on top of the other – who fell face first, onto a huge boulder. the sun had just dipped behind the mountains, and in the darkness it was hard to tell how much blood there was in the water and on his face. but it was clear that he needed medical attention – so off we all sped, dripping wet and scared in opa’s car through the beautiful valley and into downtown Wonju to the creepy hospital there.
the doctors cleaned him up while Mi-na and i had disconcerting experiences of our own in the ridiculously disgusting bathroom. they bandaged his forhead and told him he would have to go to the plastic surgeon the following day for the stitches. it was obvious that the deepest, darkest fear of everyone involved, excluding myself, was that the boy would have, god forbid, a scar on his forhead. forever! and the guy who caused the accident clearly felt worse then the one with his head gashed open, who was responsive, amicable, and even laughing a little, while Jin-hyung(the trouble-maker) sulked and apoligized profusely – even to me, he said he was “so sorry for giving me a bad memory.” come on people! cant you see this isnt about me, or my memories, or scars on someone’s face?? doctor – stitch that boy up, give him some meds, and let him sleep soundly tonight! what is this?

regardless, i learned a lot about culture through this unsettling event (i called the boys the next day and his surgery went fine, though i won’t actually see him until tomorrow) about how people deal in times of panic and emergency, and what is most important in their minds, what they do and say first. i felt peculiar and my place in the situation was clearly peripheral as i marveled over the fact that even though i have been here for four months and have a good understanding of the way people act here, i still know next to nothing about why people here act the way they do.

that evening i had to attend a party at my favorite bar in Maeji-town with my business students. a friend drove me home in another friend’s car by curfew so that i could submit a paper online, but first backed the car up into the jeep behind it.
nice. maybe it was just me today. bad karma?


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loss of words

Dreams never smelled so sweet
Windows down, sun on my face, wind in my hair
Jasmine floats in the warm air
As we speed past citrus and nutmeg trees
Over deeply hidden volcanic caves, along the sea
Garlic patches that flourish in the fertile dark soil
Bob their heads in revelery for the mighty Hallasan
Harraban, with their chubby hands resting on their bellies
Chuckle at the quiet omnipresence of that magnificent,
Sleepy volcano that has the means to create and destroy
But rather, sits quietly, witnessing the ins and outs
Of days and nights for millions of years and never tires
A haze settles across the hills and valleys, stretching
Out across the ocean with its long fingers
Fishing boats disappear into mysterious corners
Of the universe, and harvest mysterious creatures
From mysterious dark depths
Waterfalls crash down upon huge boulders
Spraying fresh, green, voluptuous trees and vines
With life-giving blood of all things
Eels squirm their long bodies through the pools below
Ancient volcanic rock, unable to restrain it’s grainy,
Unrefined self from participating in all of the action
Witnesses the lives and events of every living creature
On this paradise island
My eyes must be lying
But how did they get my ears, nose and fingers to
Jeju-do dream come true.

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