It took me a while to actually figure out the title of this post. Yes I know, how can a person get any more basic than ‘Chuseok?’ I wanted to think of something clever, something sentimental, something that would truly define this ever-so-welcome Korean vacation, but the truth is-I couldn’t. You see, there was just too much to tell for a mere title, to many memories. A few words cannot even due it justice
>>Wait a moment as I go grab my can of beans that I have warming up for dinner (don’t judge). I’m settling in for the long haul on this post.<<
Chuseok. It’s a national Korean holiday celebrating harvest and prosperity, as well as paying tribute to ancestors. Most of my students were pretty excited about this holiday, because not only does it mean five days off of school, it means money, food, and lots of other gifts. To put it simply, Chuseok is basically squishing Thanksgiving and Christmas into one holiday.
Derik and I were pretty excited about having five days off of school as well, and had been thinking about where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to do over the holiday. We ruled out traveling to another country…nothing like traveling for one day, staying some place for three, then spending the last day traveling as well. Not enough time. So, we decided to stay in Korea.
Now before I tell you the rest of the story, I need to give you some background. Derik and I went to a private college back in Missouri (just in case you were wondering how we met, there you go). The school was tiny, with a whopping 1,500 students. Although, the advantage of having so few students on campus, is that you were able to not only know faces, but names. If you didn’t hang out with someone, you probably are really good friends with someone that does. Another spiffy thing about our college was that somehow, someway it seemed to instill on a bunch of us that traveling and living somewhere overseas was a good thing. I know classmates living in Egypt, Israel, Dominican Republic, and Mexico…just to name a few. Well, we were no exception and ended up in South Korea. As did two other couples: Stephanie and Josh, and Ethan and Sandra.
We all came out here at different times, and live in different cities, but that didn’t keep us from staying in touch, and meeting every once in a while (after all, it only takes a few hours to drive across this country). After a few short messages all six of us decided that we should go on an epic camping trip.
I can’t even tell you how refreshing it is, after eight months of being here, to be able to hang out with someone from back ‘home,’ someone that knows your past (or at least the last five years of it), someone that knows the same ‘names’ as you do. It’s hard to describe, especially after coming out here and starting completely from scratch…and having people not knowing where you come from, or what your ‘story’ is. If anything could sum it up: it was the biggest breath of fresh air we’ve (Derik and myself) have had in a long time.
We decided on camping on the south island of Namhae, known for its blue water and silver sand beach. And boy was it pretty! Unlike back home, you can pretty much pitch a tent wherever you please…and not have to pay some sort of camping fee. We decided to camp right on the beach in a small, carefully planted grove of trees. It was peaceful, somewhat quiet (or so we thought), and near a convenience store we visited often.
What we didn’t know at the time was that there were no showers in a thirty minute radius available anywhere. By the second morning we were all sorely in need of a warm shower and clean clothes. We brilliantly decided to rent a room at a nearby ‘love motel’ where rooms could be rented by the hour. Take it how it sounds. We must have weirded the owner out, because after asking for one room that all six of us wanted for only an hour (to take turns showering), we were quickly told, “no,” and shooed out the door. We eventually came across one love motel (after a 30 minute drive) that literally looked like a castle. It was owned by a small Korean man who seriously may be in the Italian Mafia.
After some convincing, the Korean guy let us use a shower…only if we went up two at a time. No problem there! He spoke very good English, and we found out that his wife lives in Chicago, and he’s been to Italy over twenty times. He’s in love with Italy, and was quite excited to hear Derik was Sicilian.
We met plenty of other characters…most of them came out at night on the beach. Our quiet, tranquil beach became quite the happening place, especially to party animal, drunken, foreigners. We had all sorts of visitors: a couple spreading the love by giving us each a marshmallow, a sincerely lost middle-aged woman who shared her whole life’s story with us, a couple of guys from England that had all of us rolling on the floor laughing with their jokes, and then there was Naam.
Naam is young and spry 60 year old Korean man who spoke little English. For some reason, he was very interested in us from day one. He would come over every evening and stay for over an hour and a half, talking to Derik (mostly in Korean as Derik listened with a smile and a nod), showing us his pictures from his digital camera, and bringing us Korean snacks. On the last few days he began to frequent more often, and started trying to ‘teach’ derik about quantum physics drawing formulas in the sand. He would come morning, noon, and night. You couldn’t help but smile as Naam strolled into our camp site, and you knew you were in for another hour or so of creative Konglish.
He did however help us out with our navigating, and even showed us where to go to visit the temple on the mountainside. Im so glad we did, it was breathtaking. I’m sure the pictures will not do it justice, but there was nothing like standing on the deck of one of the temple buildings, or standing on the top of a jutting rock and looking out at the coast. Gorgeous.
We did quite a bit of costal driving, which was fine with me (even though we did have six adults squished in our little hyundai car), because the views were beautiful. I saw so many picturesque moments as farmers were out in their fields hand harvesting their rice, and burning the rest. The country part of Namhae is so indescribably traditional Korean. I live in a twelve story apartment complex, drive a car around, am able to find plenty of coffee shops, and go shopping…it’s easy to forget I’m living in a whole different world. It wasn’t until the moment that we were driving around the country and the sun was setting on the horizon (leaving a beautiful sunset) that I realized…I can’t see this back in the USA. It was so rustic, so rural, so historical feeling…driving through the colorful little shanties and brick buildings. It was poor and dirty, but beautiful. By no means third world, but definitely not what you see everyday. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My photographer’s hands were itching to stop the car, jump out, and take pictures…but I refrained for the sake of the other passengers.
Unfortunately Josh and Stephanie had to leave a day and a half early, so they did not get to witness German Town with us. It was sad to see them go, this last week was their last one in Korea (well, hopefully not for long). The remaining four of us headed to Octoberfest in Germantown, on the east side of the island. It was quaint and cute, but as any foreigner, I was expecting the full blown ‘German’ experience. They had only two different types of beers and brats…luckly for us, we found a legit German dude selling brat sandwiches with horseradish mustard. Seriously the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time…and I don’t even like horseradish.
To top it all off, they had an older Korean band rocking out, and every third song was ‘Gangnam Style.’ If you think it’s bad in the States…I’m not sure you can beat watching literally dozens of Koreans walking and meandering around while performing the ‘horse dance’ simultaneously , yet completely separate. I’m talking about very young, mid age, and old Koreans alike. Not so German if you ask me. All in all, I’m glad we went, but I wouldn’t go back.
As far as the Chuseok camping trip goes? I would DEFINITELY do it again, especially if the same company was present. We had a lot of fun, and made a lot of memories. Thanks Ethan, Sandra, Stephanie, Josh, and Derik for the amazing trip!