Week One – Journal
Korea is such an interesting place. I have seen a few movies and pictures here and there; I’ve heard my friends describe it. I didn’t expect what I found here. I really love this place! Seoul has the vibrant atmosphere of Times Square in New York City or Piccadilly Circus in London. There are people everywhere, shops everywhere and neon signs directing you to cheap, tasty food and great deals on everything from socks to digital cameras. The people are friendly and the public transportation is wonderful. Almost everybody… EVERYBODY… is skinny, which amazes me because everybody seems to spend their days eating and drinking.
I am attending a 5 week long course at Yonsei University in Seoul. Yonsei University is considered the second best undergraduate college in S. Korea and it is especially interesting to me because it is my mother’s alma-mater. I am attending the foreign language institute’s Korean language program. It is a class open to anybody and they usually attend it for a year and a half to two years starting at level 1 (no knowledge of Korean) through level 6 (fairly fluent). The class is taught entirely in Korean (no English allowed) and consists of people of all nationalities. I started out half way through level 3 and am actually the only English speaker in my class. I have about 3 Chinese, 3 Japanese, a Mongolian, a Taiwanese, a Bulgarian, and a Thai in my class and it has been a great experience so far. The class goes from 9am to 1pm. After a short lunch, I have to go back and get together with all of the military students (6 in all, 3 in my group from Texas and 3 from Hawaii) and we study the higher level vocab words that appear on our yearly language test. We go from 2 to 4pm and then we are free. Free to experience the So-ju and Korean food of Sinchon (only a few blocks away).
I have gone out a few times to Myong-dong (명동) with Stephanie (my former first sergeant’s girlfriend) and then to the revolving restaurant at Nam San Tower (남산), located atop a mountain in central Seoul, with the two guys I came here with from Texas. The meal ended up costing us about 100 dollars each, but it was so worth it.
My mom flew out last Friday and is staying with an uncle here in Seoul. I met her at Inchon Airport after class and we met up with her uncle and aunt who asked us if we wanted to drive south for a wedding. We decided to go for it even though I had no clothes or toiletries; we just decided to buy it when we got there. So, we began a 5 hour drive toward the southern coast of S. Korea. We made it as far as Gumi (구미) (about 3 hours from Seoul) and spend the night at a motel (여권). That night we did what Korean’s do… drank So-ju, ate snacks, and talked until about midnight. We woke up fairly early and finished the drive. On the way, we stopped at my great-grandfather’s burial site. In Korean culture, family members are usually buried on a hill-side with the best view possible. My great-grandfather was actually a famous Korean in the southern regions because he was an expert at Confusionism and Chinese characters. He did not actually speak Chinese, but could write in the old fashion of Korean Han-moon (한문) that was used before the invention of the Korean alphabet (han-gul) in the 1600s. People went to him to determine the spouse for their children (arranged marriages based on the Chinese characters in their name) and to write in Chinese for gravestones…. etc.
We did the big bow to the grave and followed the tradition of throwing alcohol and food to him and his first wife (also buried there). She passed away when my mother was young and he re-married (she is still alive and living in the same house my grandmother grew up in).
Our next stop was to the small village where my great-grandfather lived and my grandmother was born and raised. I do not know the name, only that it is about 20 minutes north of Masan (마산), which is on the south-east coast line of Korea near (B)Pusan. There were maybe 20 or so homes here, but mostly farm land. My great grandfather’s home was the highest home overlooking the village and included a small room where he did all of his writing.
We spent most of the day in Masan where my mom’s distant cousin was getting married. Instead of going to the wedding though, we decided to meet up with another of my mom’s relatives that lived in the city. In this area was many of my grandma’s side of the family, the Bae side. We spent the day shopping and eating a wonderful meal topped off with tea at my mom’s second cousin’s tea house on a hill-top overlooking the Masan bay. On Sunday, there was another wedding, this time my mom’s cousin’s son from her father’s side, so we met up with one of my mom’s other cousins at stayed with him in Chonwon (천원) just a few minutes away from Masan going east. I have met them before in Virginia when their daughter San-gyong (상경) got accepted to Seoul National University and came to the US and a present from her parents. This was about 6 years ago I think. She is a few years younger than me.
The next morning, we made the two hour drive to Ulsan (울산) on the other side of Pusan with my mom’s cousin. There we actually attended the wedding and met most of my grandfather’s side of the family (the Song side). We spent a few hours eating more and drinking more and then we were finally on our way back to Seoul. I had to be back by Monday morning, 9am for class at Yonsei. We got back to Seoul around 6:30 and went to Nam-dae-moon market (남대문시장), one of the famous Seoul street markets located by the history south gate of the old Seoul city wall. Most of the shops were closed so we ate some Chinese food and I bought a blanket. We parted ways; my mom went to her uncle’s house in Am-sa (암사) and I took a taxi back to Yonsei.
It was quite an interesting weekend and it’s been such a great trip so far. Tomorrow (tuesday) after class, I am going to meet up with my mom and grandfather somewhere in SW Seoul. I did a little research on my grandfather ahead of time (I have never really gotten many straight answers on that topic). I discovered that my grandfather, Song Bo-Gyong (성보경) did actually run for president of S. Korea in 1971, which turned out to be a famous, heated election between military dictator type Park Chung-Hee (later assassinated by the head of his intelligence agency) and Kim Dae-Jung who later became president in 1997. My grandfather did not really compete against the two front runners. This coming weekend, we are flying to Cheju-do (the small island south of the Korean main peninsula).