We are home. It was great. I'm exhausted, but I can't wait to do it again.
I woke up Wednesday morning and decided it was time for me to get out of bed for the first time since Monday afternoon. My fever seemed to have abated and some semblance of normality appeared to have been restored to my general condition. It was Tongyeong day, and this was the day I had been most looking forward to all trip. This is Parky’s hometown and it is where I lived for a few years in Korea. I was very keen to show it off to the students as it has a very special place in my heart. More than that though, it is just a beautiful little city. It is affectionately known as “The Naples of the Orient” and is home to 250 000 people and consists of over 140 islands, most of which are uninhabited but probably about 2 dozen have decent populations and about 12 are accessible by car ferry. Parky and I used to live in Mireukdo, the largest of the islands (although the main population of Tongyeong lives on the mainland). Mireukdo (do = island) consists mainly of one big mountain named Mireuksan (san=mountain). On that mountain you can visit the temple Mireuksa (sa=temple), and I think you get the picture, everything on the island is Mireuksomething. I promised the students that we could hike up Mireuksan when we went to Tongyeong, but having just spent two days in bed, I really didn’t feel up to it. Oh well, I thought, others had been crook; they probably don’t want to hike anyway; its got a cable car, we can take that if they still want to go; blah blah blah. So we got in the bus to go to Tongyeong and I ventured “Anyone desperately want to do the hike?” To my astonishment I got quite a few serious replies. Students had rolled up in their hiking boots and tracksuits and were really, truly keen to get up the mountain. Oh well, I thought again, I’ve been banging on about hiking this mountain now for about 3 month, I can’t not do it now. So I put on my big-boy pants and fronted up for the job. No matter how much I didn’t feel like it at the time, I’m so glad we did it. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
After Mireuksan we went into Tongyeong proper. We walked through the undersea tunnel, which was built in the 1930s by the Japanese using Korean indentured labour during the time of occupation. We walked along the harbour and found the Geobukseon (turtle ships). After a quick stop to try Chungmu Kimbap (a Tongyeong speciality of rice rolled in seaweed served with chilli-vinegared radish and picked squid, yum!!) we went aboard the turtle ships to take a squiz. The turtle ships were invented by Admiral Yi Sun-shin and were a revolutionary style of warship in the late 1500s. They were the first ships (at least in Asia) to be completely covered in iron (like a turtle shell). They were also short and squat, almost square. This meant that they sacrificed a lot of straight line speed but they turned really well, in comparison with the Japanese long-boats that had loads of oarsmen, could really move, but didn’t turn so great. Think about the difference between a snowboard and snow skis. It’s the same principle. Anyway, Yi Sun-shin only had 4 of these made when the Japanese attacked with about 150 ships in 1594, but he essentially lured the Japanese boats into a space between islands in which they couldn’t turn around and then blasted them with cannon fire, and when they ran out of cannonballs and gunpowder he just started ramming their long wooden boats with his steel ships and sunk the lot. The Japanese navy took a bath that day and left Korea alone for a few hundred year after that. It was a pretty big deal in Korea’s history, 423 years later they are still talking about it J
We topped that off with a trip to the Mural village which is, to quote Parky, “A dodgy, old part of town where they decided to invite artists to paint murals to make it nicer”. It worked a treat and has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. They now re-do the murals every year and the ‘dodgy old part of town’ is now full of cafes and tourist shops and young couples taking thousands of selfies. Tongyeong was a great day, enjoyed immensely by all.
On Tuesday, Parky, Yong-mi and the students went to Gyeongju. Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Shilla Kingdom (57BC to 935AD). Shilla was the first empire to control the whole of the Korean peninsula which had historically been 3 separate kingdoms. I was unfortunately unable to go to Gyeongju as I was running a wicked fever and had to spend 2 days in bed. The students went to Bulguksa, one of the three main temples of Korean Buddhism and the Seokulam (grotto). It was a long day, covering quite a few miles, but Gyeongju is pretty special.
We celebrated our last day in Jangyu yesterday with a trip to the Jangyu Outlet, followed by a pizza and chicken party with the Gimhae friends and a couple hours in the singing room. It was a grand old time. Up at 2:50am this morning, left the sister school at 3:30, into Busan by 4:15, on the bullet train at 5:10 and by about 5:12am this had already happened ...
On Sunday whilst the students were with their families I got some time to partake in one of my favourite pastimes, hiking. here's what life looked like from the top of Mount Geumsan on Sunday afternoon. The next day I convinced Parky and Yong-mi to hike up the mountain behind the sister school with me. Wow! I have hiked that mountain probably 30 times when I lived here, but I don't remember it being so steep!
Last Friday we arrived in Gimhae and came straight to the sister school. The stduents were introduced to their homestay partners and sister school friends and immediately you could see the bond. These kids were no strangers, they have been communicating over social media for nearly 12 months now and even though they had never met, they had this shared history to fall back on. It was a really rewarding experience as a teacher to see the students that have been bonding over the last year now meet for the first time and see the friendships just click into place.
We had a welcome ceremony, some speeches, spent a couple hours in art class (which was a great ice-breaker) and then everyone went home with their respective homestay families for the weekend.
Sorry guys, I have been running a pretty wild fever for the last few days and have just emerged from bed yesterday. Luckily the students have been safely ensconced in their homestay families over the weekend and Parky and Yong-mi have been steady at the helm for the remainder. I will post a few photo that have been making the rounds on our Kakaotalk chat group.
On Thursday we finished up at Lexis Korea and had a little celebration of completion. It was quite nice. The students all had to come up to the front of class and talk about what they liked about Lexis and their favourite thing they did in Seoul (in Korean). It was great to see their improvement over the course of only two weeks.
After classes were done we went to the Lotte World Aquarium. It was pretty great actually, in most respects. Fish are one of the few types of animals I don’t hate seeing in cages. I don’t necessarily love it, but I don’t necessarily care that much about it either. And the sea lions looked happy. They obviously had lots of human interaction as they were well trained and they were showboating. You could see them massively reacting to the crowd’s applause, and hugging, kissing and hi-5ing their human co-stars. I know I’m massively anthropomorphising the sea lions' behaviour, and I know they probably would be happier in the wild and blah, blah, blah. But you know when an animal is unhappy, and they didn’t give that vibe at all. When I saw the Beluga Whales in a tank, on the other hand … you could just feel they were unhappy. I could tell you how big the tank is, but it’s a Beluga Whale. Who cares how big the tank is? It’s obviously smaller than the building it was housed in and was therefore, by definition, too small. You could fill Adelaide oval with water and stick a whale in it and I would still say it was too small. These funky creatures like to travel. It took the shine off of the experience for me. Also because the Belugas were the main attraction. There was so much great stuff in there, interesting, colourful, funky, ugly, weird stuff that lives in the ocean. I just found the whales so unnecessary. But enough of that.
We also went to see another stage show. JUMP! It is a martial arts comedy show. They were amazingly athletic and very funny. I got picked out of the crowd to fight one of the stars of the show on stage. It was a bit nerve wracking, but I managed to get him cowering in the corner very quickly. Little did I know, the rest of the cast was standing behind me with swords, nun-chucks, knives and all sorts of fighting paraphernalia being all menacing, which they then hid when I turned around to make it appear as though the actor was terrified of me alone. I said stage show, that bit was more pantomime. I knew something was happening because the audience were laughing their heads off, but I was unaware of it on stage. Funny.
Anyway, we are now in Gimhae at the sister school and all of the kids are in homestays. Everyone seems incredibly happy with their arrangements and I will update again in the morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, between doing paperwork, tending to sick students, filming K-poppers, dealing with phone issues, finalising Friday’s travel arrangements and finishing up business at Lexis, Parky too me to Samsung D’light. I was attending to other duties when Parky and Yong-mi took the kids there last week. I miust say it was an interesting experience. I had my personality test done on a series of machines that look like something from the coming century; iPad (well Samsung devices) as big as a wall; cameras tracking your movements in 3 dimensions and playing them like a hologram thingo into the next room; and the piece de resistance, the 4D Virtual Reality machine. I had to do it twice. You sat in an armchair and put on a VR mask. They made you wear a seat belt, and I was thinking that that was ridiculous, it’s an armchair, why would I need a seatbelt? Well sir, I did. I would have fallen out of that thing without it, no doubt in my mind. It was the single most freaky experience of my life. It is extremely hard to describe something that I didn’t even know existed until yesterday. If you haven’t used a 4D VR machine you cannot possible imagine what it is like by reading these words, but I will give a brief rundown nonetheless. The VR machine was a rollercoaster into which you sat and had a metal harness come over you fom the rails above you (none of this existed of course, but you really couldn’t tell). The graphics did not look cartoonish, they didn’t even look like a television, they looked like what you see when you open your eyelids on a perfectly normal day (except you are being loaded into a rollercoaster, which is not a normal day for me). When turning your head everything turned as normal, like you were sitting in a roller coaster and looking around. It went up – up – up and then BLAM! Away it went, looping the loop, swirling and twirling, faster-slower, then slowly you are sitting in a chair, rising and rising and rising; BANG! a 100 foot vertical drop from sitting upright in your chair (I remember yelling “THIS IS NOT OKAY!!!”. I have no idea where that phrase came from) and then the twist comes … you hit the bottom of the drop and the rollercoaster loops out in such a fashion that you are now hanging from it rather than sitting on it. You are now hanging with your chest pressing into the harness, high above an alpine-looking region of somewhere (you are of course still actually sitting in a seat). The rollercoaster starts spinning and spinning and throwing you around in the harness with nothing below you but a few hundred feet of air and some very pointy snow covered fir trees. I can state categorically that it was the most frightened I have ever been in my life, even more that when I was once stuck for half an hour in a real gondola with a few hundred feet of real air between me and some real fir trees. At least we were IN the gondola, not hanging from it. And we were stuck, not hurtling through time and space like it’s the last day on earth. That’s it. There’s nothing more that is useful to add, apart from maybe this, I will guarantee you that the experience was a factor of 10 more exhilarating than whatever you pictured when you were reading that paragraph. Wow, just … really wow.
(BTW, the results of my personality test were that I am calm, modest and reliable. Apparently the job I am most suited to is Euphoria Curator and the below photograph is what the world would have looked like if I had designed it. I think the Samsung Execs rode the roller coaster a few too many times before working on the personality tester)
On our second-last day on Seoul we fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinaly went to the K-Pop dance class. I have taken some video and will cobble it together soon enough, but for now you are just going to have to make do with some piccies. It was certainly an interesting experience. Not one I enjoyed immensely, apart from filming everyone practicing silly coquettish gestures into a mirror for an hour; that was funny. Oh sorry, not silly coquettish gesturing, its official name is K-Pop and I must admit it seems a lot more difficult now I have seen it broken down into its composite steps. I would have had no chance of doing it. But I am a bearded, 42 year old man, I would have looked stupid even if I was doing it remarkably well. We sent everyone home early on Wednesday night to pack their bags and get ready for the huge day on Thursday (and also it was well below freezing by 4pm).