Since last weekend was the last weekend before the new semester, I spontaneously suggested to my husband that we go to Gyeongju in the south-eastern part of the country for a weekend getaway. Well, if you can really call finally getting your lazy butt out of the greater Seoul area after 7 months of living here “spontaneous”.
Anyway, tickets were booked, bags were packed, and off we were on the south-bound KTX train Friday at noon. In just two hours we had arrived in Shingyeongju, only to realize that it would take us an additional hour by bus to reach our hotel. Well, no problem – we weren’t in a hurry. In fact we had agreed that this weekend should be all about recharging, and getting back in touch with nature.
When we arrived at the hotel, we had an eerie feeling that we were the only ones there. Everything seemed very closed, and there were no restaurants in the area that appeared to be open. Being used to people and traffic around the clock in Seoul, the quiet countryside proved to be very unsettling, at least for me. My country-raised husband, on the other hand, felt perfectly at home.
The first day, we walked to the Bulguksa temple, which is one of the most beautiful historic temples in Korea. (Actually, for those of you unfamiliar with Gyeongju, it’s a city that used to be the capital in the Shilla-dynasty. Consequently, there are a ton of historic landmarks and amazing sights.) We walked around the temple and enjoyed the sunshine. It felt warmer than in Seoul, and we both agreed that it seemed like spring. Back at the hotel we realized that the hotel restaurant was closed as well (re-affirming our suspicion that we might be the only guests) so our only dinner option, short of taking a cab for 30 minutes, was to order a delivery of Korean fried chicken. So that’s exactly what we did.
Next morning we headed to the Anapji pond to see an old shrine. It was again a beautiful and clear day, and we enjoyed walking in the park, taking in the sights. At one point a group of middle school girls realized that there was a non-Korean present and one girl said to another “와, 외국인이다” (whoa, a foreigner), to which I smiled and told her in Korean that this foreigner understood what she was saying and that she therefore should choose her next words wisely. This let the entire group of girls to start giggling, and the one who had pointed out that I was just tad more blond than your average Korean gave me an apologetic expression and said it was awesome to meet a foreigner who spoke Korean. Oh, I love freaking people out over here. Haha.
After having eaten lunch in central Gyeongju, we took a taxi to the Cheomseongdae tower, which is an observatory from the 7th century. It was truly amazing to see and tons of people were gathering around to take pictures displaying various degrees of creativity. I myself am also guilty in doing a shot where it looks like I’m holding the observatory in my hand. Oh, well…
We ended the afternoon at a museum, before having dinner. We also stopped by a fruit vendor and bought a ton of apples, bananas, and strawberries, since there was no breakfast at the hotel. On Sunday we went to see the coastline, and that was where I really felt I was far away from Seoul. First of all, it was my first time in a long time inhaling the fresh sea air. But more importantly, a lot of people seemed to be doing Buddhist rites by the shore. They were bowing toward the waves, and some families had even gathered to set up the ceremonial meal for the 제사, the ritual that honors a deceased family member. On the more sinister part, I also stumbled on what can only have been skulls of dogs lying around on the beach. Aww, Korea… Why?
In the afternoon we hiked all the way to the top of a mountain, essentially meaning walking 2.2 kilometers of stairs to see an old stone statue of Buddha. It was really beautiful, but it was actually the hike in itself that was the most enjoyable. The view from the top was just amazing.
Back in Seoul, it was time for me to start preparing for the new semester. The semester starts on March 1, but since that’s always a public holiday in Korea it starts on the first workday after. In my case the first class of the semester was yesterday. This semester, my teaching load has doubled, and my student count has increased more than ten-fold. I now teach two classes with over 100 students in each. I had a great time being back in front of my blackboard and the students seemed very excited as well. Since I didn’t have the time to get to know each of them, I gave them an assignment: Send me a page where you 1)introduce yourself, 2)explain why you enrolled in the class, and 3)write what you expect to learn. They have until Thursday, but the emails have already started ticking in. I love reading them, and because English can be challenging for my Korean students, there are several paragraphs that brought a smile to my face. Here’s an excerpt of the gems I’ve received so far:
“I love whipped cream on my cafe latte, but never seem to gain weight” (I guess some people are just lucky)
“I signed up for your class, because I heard from my friends that Professor Sofie is like an angel” (This one just melted my heart)
“You are the most famous among professors!” (Cool!)
“I’m 183cm tall and quite good looking, I also love Kpop” (Wow, self-introduction or online dating ad?)
Oh, and my favorite (from a male student):
“I’m older than the other students because I’m right out of the army and so excited to take your class. Most of all I want to become intimate with Professor Sofie” (I hope this one is not intended as suggestively as it sounds. Luckily “intimate” in Korean may also translate into the less inappropriate “be on good terms with”. I chose to read it that way.)
This weekend I’m super busy preparing for my biggest Korean challenge yet. For more on that stay tuned for my next update and have a great weekend!