Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em, Pt. 10

The following account details experiences that, though due in no part at all to my own efforts, I believe to be possible only in the country I was in until the end of June. South Korea. Thus, this post will be long. Unbelievably long. Deal with it.

(1) Chungju

Bright and early on a Saturday morning, the crew assembled at Gangbyeon where one of the many bus terminals lies. Duncan, Heidi, Anna, Kara, Ashley, and I boarded a bus bound for Danyang. We made great time and soon found ourselves walking to the Danyang Caves, a sight I'd experienced the year prior with both the Freeburgs and the Johnson. The cave captured our attention for a spell; 'twasn't as busy as last year, but 'twas as dark, damp, and delightful on the eyes.

While we were walking back from the caves, which was a fifteen-minute hike, Duncan and I were straggling a little bit. Then out of nowhere some Korean dude came running up the sidewalk after us and yelled, "Guys!" We turned and he gave us six cans of pear juice. And then he just turned and walked back in the direction he'd come from. And...the pear juice was pretty good! Unfazed, we continued on into town and had a hearty tofu lunch at some restaurant nearby.

We then hitched a ride to the ferry port, where we were accosted, quietly and suddenly, by Ben and The Norwegians. They were from - sit down for this bit - Norway, and one of them had a pretty badly sprained ankle. And they'd arrived in Korea late the night before. But they underwent all of the following with us, making us eleven strong as we boarded said ferry.

Most of the nautical voyage was spent shooting the breeze up on the highest of the three decks on the ship. There were, however, a couple minutes that few of us will probably ever forget or experience again. Advertisements for this ferry claimed that there was some noraebang activity on board, and many of us snooped around to investigate this claim. But, instead of finding a place to sing, we found an surprisingly full room of elderly men and women dancing to old school Korean dance music. And they found us.

The trip was deemed a success when we landed near Chungju and took taxis to the deep interior of the metropolis of 200,000+ individuals. This destination was chosen because Ashley (and her sister, the late fifth grade CCS teacher/current wife of Mr. Jordan Williams - congratulations!) lived in that fine town for one year. Our stops included a 4D simulator (we rode "Bloody Road 2" and were attacked by zombies and bats), a clothing store that sold awful English-havin' t-shirts and other fun wardrobe items (I bought my sister some penguin socks), "the most delicious restaurant in Korea" (it was pretty good), a cafe bar called Jazz and Sancho (there wasn't much jazz, nor was there much sancho, but everything else - especially the atmosphere - was pretty stellar), and then, around 10 p.m., the local bus terminal, from where we took a bus back to Seoul by 12:30 in the morning. A full day! But a good one nonetheless.

(2) Dog Cafe

It was a dark and stormy night. Elyse and I met at Hapjeong Station and located the Bau Haus by foot, and by umbrella. There was a fence enveloping the entrance to the third floor establishment. We should have read this omen better.

I am not a huge dog person. It is common knowledge (among who?) that I would do anything for a cat, but I have connected with few to no dogs in my time. The most memorable connection, to me, was when Bonnemas' dog (its name was "Bear," no joke) bit me in the butt in Roseland, Minnesota, when I was a lad. Anyway, the dog cafe was merely on the list of stuff to do before, right up there with unclog the Sullivans' toilet and finish the Paris puzzle. But we all know how much Elyse loves canines, so: we went.

The dog cafe was not unlike the cat cafe; we were let in, ordered some beverages, sat at our booth, and hoped that one of the pack of dogs would come give us its attention. If I knew more about pooches, I would write here the various breeds and mixes and such that we witnessed. But I don't; we saw big dogs, small dogs, dogs that were super furry, dogs that lacked much hair, dogs that were brown and white and black and gray, dogs that peed on the floor, dogs that pooped on the floor, dogs that had lots of energy, dogs that were tired or depressed, dogs that were handsome, and dogs that were ugly. We seemed to get love only from the pretty homely ones.

People brought their dogs to the dog cafe, a big difference between it and the cat cafe. Usually this wasn't really a problem, but one dog came in and every other mutt in the joint completely flipped out. Barking and carryin' on. The new dog ran around and some of the others chased it, chased the beast right under our table, where the new dog unleashed everything his bladder had ever had in it. Right where our feet - some of which were equipped with sandals that had holes in them - were resting.

The other thing was that the dogs mostly flocked to whomever had treats. Dog snacks were available for purchase, but we did not buy any of them. And so not many of them came and talked with us. And the ones that did were, as previously stated, hideous. Oh, well.

Ultimately we tuned the dogs out and caught up, and it was fine, and then we went on our merry way. Good times, Bau Haus. You may not be a cat cafe, but you're good at what you do.

(3) Namhansan

It was a dark and stormy day. Kara, Duncan, Heidi, Anna, and I struck out from Noksapyeong, transferred sixteen times, and ended up at Namhansansamseong, literally translated, "boom shakalaka." This was completely uncharted territory for we white folks, but we slyly maneuvered ourselves to the entrance of the park surrounding Namhansan and began exploring the slopes.

One element of this excursion that I took particular delight in was the fact that a) the destination was my idea, for once, and b) even though it was pouring rain, as it had been all week prior and would continue to do for weeks afterward c) the crew was still hellbent on hiking here. Hurrah!

There were foot therapy sidewalks. There were bags for us to wear on our heads. There were small caves - though nothing that could compare to the Danyang ones. There were waterfalls. There were small temples. There were bells nearby. There were pagodas upon which to rest. There was "The Great Wall of Korea," a wall to the fortress that sits atop the mountain. There was a wall being rebuilt. There was perfect weather for such a day. There were many photography opportunities. And, apparently, there were breast castles. We didn't make it to those (I am tempted to type "unfortunately" at the end of that last sentence, but).

After a while, we were wet and gross and went back into Seoul. The day had been owned, despite the elements.

(4) Eurwangni Beach

Seoul is not incredibly close to either the Yellow Sea nor the Sea of Japan, but getting to the shoreline is not entirely impossible. On yet another Saturday, Kara, Duncan, Anna, and I proved this fact to be true by taking the airport railroad from Seoul Station to Incheon International Airport and then getting a bus to Eurwangni Beach, which means "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" in Korean.

The beach was fine. We staked our territory, tackled Anna into the water, and went exploring. We left the fine sands of the shore for a rocky, vegetated lookout point, one that caused Kara - having recently broken an index finger of hers* - some pain but still provided a spectacular vantage point out over the waters.

The lookout point's marvelous view was no secret; we soon discovered that the South Korean military used it to make sure no North Korean or Chinese troops captured the beach unnoticed. There was a dangerous watch dog, a strategic foxhole, Vietnam-esque underbrush, and complex militaristic warfare equipment.

As we returned from the war march, we met some cute little puppies.

And then crawled through a big drainage tube.

Hungry, the four of us ate lunch. Tired, some of us took naps. Rejuvenated, we chucked the Frisbee around for a while. Actually, first, as we returned from devouring our bibimbap, we noticed that the waterline on the beach had changed. There was no way to tell - or maybe we were grossly unobservant - whether the water had crawled up the beach or receded away from it. Fortunately, the latter was what had occurred, and the sea continued to sneak further away from our towels and bags until we left around 8:30 that night.

As the tide went out, there emerged more and more room for everyone at the beach to romp and play. Duncan played rugby with some youth there. We did throw the disc around for a while. There were ships that appeared to have been stuck for years in the sand as well.

After cleaning our mud-caked feet off with a hose at some fancy restaurant and getting yelled at for it, we went out to the end of some pier to enjoy the lower temperature and to climb some rocks. Sunset was soon approaching, so we hiked back to our camp, got a bunch of junk food, and watched the setting of the sun on that fine Saturday.

I can't say I didn't get sunburned. But that is a sign of a full beach experience. We returned to Seoul sandy, red, and tired, but again the day had been ravaged by us.

(5) Seoul Forest

To be honest, I went here twice in the fall. But, I went alone. After church one fair Sunday, Ashley, Kara, Anna, Heidi, and I took the green line out to that green place, intent on running around and enjoying the beautiful spring afternoon. There is not a ton to tell about this except that we did just that. As per usual, a Frisbee got thrown around. As per usual, Anna got involved in numerous other games that were being played around the area, including baseball and jumping rope. As per usual, we purchased an entire watermelon for the five of us, cut it up into huge chunks with a pocketknife, and hauled the pieces around with us as we continued in the sporting activities.

After a while we relocated to the more western part of the park, where the deer and the more beautiful photo opportunities lay. Slowly but surely we made our way out of the forest, across a branch of the Han, and to Oksu Station, where we parted ways for the evening. Swing.

(6) World DJ Fest

Yangpyeong. That was where it was. I'd never heard of it, either. But to it we went nonetheless, "we" being myself and K-Nat, our wonderful host in Busan on the spring break excursion to the south. We took the subway a million miles east and got off with the herd of young folks who arrived as we did. A ten-minute walk took us to the festival grounds. I am not allowed to tell the monetary price for such an event, so do not ask. The DJ's were set up in typical festival fashion; on many stages. The attendees were also set up in typical festival fashion: energetic and wild.

A wide variety of...stuff accompanied the DJ's as they strutted their stuff: many a booth offering tattoos, the limbo, food, drinks, and T-shirts you could make yourself. The music was your typical house variety: dying down and then picking back up fervently, borrowing liberally from other songs, fun for a while, a little monotonous after some time had passed. Though I have no doubt things digressed as the night wore on, the crowd was like what you'd find in a dance club but different in just the right ways: very few people stood around idly, not dancing, and there weren't any creepy dry humpers sneakin' around. Despite this, K-Nat and I had to work on Monday and knew that Saturday night was a poor night to not sleep. So we headed back to Seoul at a reasonable hour and taught well the next week.

(7) Eungbongsan

Simply put, Eungbongsan is this large hill that sits on the edge of the river in east Seoul, near Oksu Station and the Seoul Forest. It affords viewers a grandiose scene of the Han River and several different parts of Seoul that lie along its banks. This spring I went once during the day and once during the evening. Both times were alone, both times were serene, and both times resulted in a few worthwhile pictures.

(8) Everland

At some point in the spring semester, even before I announced that I would not be returning to Centennial Christian School, the class of 2012 and I had a conversation about going to an amusement park during the summer. The conversation resulted in the signing of a contract between me and them. As time progressed toward the end of school, plans were laid for the amusement park trip. June 16 was decided upon.

And so, on the morning of that glorious day, Mr. Mark Nola - may the Lord smile upon him all of his days - and I met eleven or so of CCS's finest juniors outside the gates of Everland, an enormous theme park in Yongin, south of Seoul. It was hot, but we were not to be denied.

All day we rode rides and watched parades and ate Korean food and competed in shoe tossing contests and looked at wild animals and made fun of each other and heard twelve-year-old girls singing "I'm on a Boat" under their breaths and stood in line and sang "The Moose Song" and saw a dude with a Twins hat on and dropped a shoe off the chair lift and got into dance battles with park employees and posed for an inhuman amount of pictures. This part of the post is littered with the latter.

The Everland trip was the last time Mark or I saw most of those particular students. It was, to use a phrase I employed far too many times, a solid stamp of closure on some really awesome relationships. Saying good-bye at the end wasn't very fun for Mark or me, nor was it fun for two girls who missed their last bus because of us and got home at 1 in the morning. But: the day stands as one of the best spent in Korea. Thanks for a ballin' day, Jason, Josh, Justin, Nana, Rina, Minhael, Samie, Sarah, Susanna, Yeojung, and Nicky! It is not one that will easily be forgotten.

*Hurrah! The weekend before the beach trip - a weekend on which the characters involved and I were apart - a claim was made that Kara was not very good at punching, so to prove this statement false, Kara punched Duncan's shoulder. Duncan did not flinch. Kara's knuckle was fractured.

**So few of the photos in this post are mine. It is not even funny. A tip of the cap to everyone I stole from.