|My last weeks in Korea went by like a blur.
So cliched, but so true. Honestly, I've been putting off a blog entry because just thinking about making a written record of the past few weeks makes my head hurt...
So for 8 days I went on a tour of Korea sponsored by SK Telecom. It's actually called 문화독립기행. and is the 3rd annual trip of its kind. 문화 means culture, and 기행 means trip..
..But 독립? When I looked it up on Yahoo Korean-English dictionary (I love this site), it told me:
1 [자립] independence; self-help; self-reliance.
~하다 : become independent ((of one's parents)); stand on one's own legs[feet]; stand alone; end one's dependence ((on)); be[set up, strike out] on one's own; set up for oneself.
As we were told at orientation, a lot of native Korean youths don't really know enough about Korean tradition... the trip was primarily a way for them to learn more about Korea's culture. As we heard at orientation, the study-abroad (유학) craze in Korea is getting to be a problem--Korea's culture's getting neglected by the younger generation of Koreans in favor of ENGLISH ENGLISH ENGLISH (plus some Grey's Anatomy, CSI, 50 Cent, you know, the general Westernization phenomenon).
But the group, in addition to including 30 Korean students, also consisted of 20 foreign students (including me! and other students from countries like the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Mozambique, Kenya, Poland, and Norway). We got to learn about Korea too, with the help of explanations from our native Korean friends on the trip.
An emphasis of the trip was on 체험 (cheh-hum)... now 체험 is different from the simple word 경험, which means experience. According to 체험, you must experience everything PERSONALLY and directly, literally with your body.
Accordingly, we 체험-ed many things. Here is us:
체험-ing spending the night in a hanok
, or a traditional Korean house. This was at Jeonju Hanok Village
We also 체험-ed the making of hanji, traditional Korean paper. A rectangular frame with a kind of sieve inside is dipped multiple times into a suspension of mulberry tree fibers in water--first it's swished horizontally, then vertically to make a fine network that ends up making paper! The paper's then dried and heated to remove moisture. Hanji is famous, as we learned, not only for its strength and its endurance, but for its usefulness for people with skin diseases (it can be used to make clothes), as wallpaper (it traps dust), and for wrapping foods (since it's breathable, it prevents the spoilage of food).
Jeonju Bibimbap 체험
; we actually made this famous dish! The region of Jeollado is famous for its food, and the bibimbap (rice mixed with different ingredients) from Jeonju is particularly renowned.
I thought my bibimbap tasted pretty good.. but it took a loooong time to make.
Bosung Green Tea Plantation 체험
(actually, I took it upon myself to do 체험 here by eating a raw green tea leaf, haha. It tasted like... a leaf.).
Contrary to what I expected, the scent of green tea leaves did not fill the air. The plantation was beautiful though, and very relaxing to the eyes.
Korean drumming 체험
--this was really cool! At first I wasn't really into it (the instructions were really confusing to me.. "one hand is "da" and one hand is "dum" and one side symbolizes the wife and one symbolizes the husband and the husband can never go to the wife's house and WHAAA?"
) ...but once everyone starts beating that drum to the rhythm, a weird kind of energy fills the air.
Mount Wolchulsan 체험but left us exhilarated!
We climbed up to the "Cloud Bridge" near the peak, a task that was exhausting...
Jindo Island funeral rites 체험: Jindo Island's funeral rites are unique from those of any other region because (1) their elaborate song and dance, and (2) the earthy HUMOR that they include. The rites that we saw were staged for the public (no, nobody had to die for us..)
The above skit is about a wife (played by a comical man with lots of blush on his cheeks) who cheats on her blind husband...it's complete with the conception of the child (seriously), and a mock labor and delivery of the baby.
Us as part of the funeral procession.
Buddhist temple stay 체험
, complete with waking up at 3 AM in order to bow to Buddha and enjoy a twilight walk in the forest
The room that all (30+) girls stayed in:
Eating meals at Buddhist temples is an interesting experience--there are signs posted (1) prohibiting talking during the meal (this rule is not kept strictly) and (2) to finish ALL of the food in your bowl and wash the bowl after eating (this rule must be adhered to). The food? Vegetarian. You get one bowl with rice in it and pile all of your banchan
, or sides, on top. The result is basically bibimbap.
Eating Jejudo's black pig
(nicknamed Poop Pig) 체험
흙되지 (dirt pig), also called 똥되지 (poop pig) is famous on Jejudo Island and its meat is supposed to be more succulent than that of other pigs.
All I can say after eating it is that it's pretty good, but it sure has an amazing amount of fat!!
Jejudo's famous Jeongbang waterfall
, the only waterfall on the island that flows directly into the sea. This was definitely 체험--look at us, we're practically IN the waterfall! One student even jumped in and started swimming around.
Walk a little to the left, and you'll be in the ocean.
I have to give the planners of the tour due credit--anything that could be personally experienced, or 체험ed, was! And in general the tour was extremely well planned--a group of over 60 people traveled together and nobody got lost or injured; every night we stayed in reasonably comfortable accomodations, and everyone got 3 square meals per day (Korean meals, of course).
So after all of this 체험, can I really say that I now 독립 Korean culture? Can I, as Yahoo English-Korean dictionary would say, "stand on my own two feet", "become independent of my parents" and have my own understanding of Korean culture?
Well, it's a start... now when I think of Korean tradition, I have much more to base my thoughts on than I did before. I think my prior knowledge of Korean traditional culture consisted mainly of random readings from Korean class, those Korean historical military dramas my parents sometimes watch on that weird international channel at midnight, and the movie The King and the Clown. Oh, and wearing my hanbok to get money at sehbeh, a Korean bowing ceremony, from my relatives every New Years.
Seeing and experiencing things that represent Korean tradition like celadon pottery, delicious foods, dancing, songs, funerals, and temples starts to give you a deeper understanding of the mindset and the philosophies that are behind Korean culture. For example, my knowledge of Buddhism before I came on the trip was really spotty.. despite that unit on Eastern religions that I studied in high school World History class, most of what I remembered was that Buddha was the obese golden statue and that Buddhists believed in reincarnation. But through the trip, in addition to being assigned to give a presentation on Songwangsa Temple, I got to see the paintings and listen to monks in Buddhist temples, and observe daily life in a temple. I realized that many things in Korean society, like the strong emphasis on human relations (인연) and the belief that everything is complex and interrelated can be explained through the influence of Buddhism on Korean history. Things like these, understanding the mindset behind the culture, were among the most valuable things that I'll take away from this trip.
Better yet, thanks to 체험 I don't just have random memorized facts about Korean traditions and famous sites floating around in my head, but real, treasured memories. Getting to spend 8 days with not only some really interesting people from all over the world, but real Korean students was amazing. I realized that even after 2 summers of living in Korea, there's a lot about Korea and Korean society that I have yet to learn. Also because of the trip I ended up making a cyworld
account, the Korean version of MySpace/Facebook to keep in touch with Korean friends and the Korean friends that I made on the trip. Cyworld AND Facebook? I now have way too many distractions to keep me from doing my work next semester...