We'll always have Korea...
I peered out of my window 30,000 feet above ground and watched, in quiet reflection of the the week I had just spent, as the sunset faded softly away in the distance below the glow of a crescent moon. Seoul had been the perfect solution to my growing wariness of Hefei and China as a whole.
As I mentioned in my previous post, being on Post in South Korea was an enjoyably delicious taste of home. At times I even forgot that I was still in Asia. I was shown, by the many wonderful friends I made there, not the tourist experience of Korea, but that of a G.I. I was surrounded by American soldiers and dependents for the majority of my stay, both on and off post, I took up residence in the barracks and I shared in the rush of getting back through the gate before 1 am curfew each night. I was taught to 2-step and line dance in the country-western bar, The Grand Old Oprey, frequented by expats, service men and Koreans alike and I learned, first hand, the dangers of the popular Korean liquor, Soju. Everyone I met was welcoming and ready to show me just how fun living in Korea can be. I will never forget them.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed partaking in the lavish (compared to life as an Expat in China) lifestyle of living on an American post in South Korea, I refused to allow myself to get so caught-up in it all that I neglected to experience the foreign culture around me. I ventured off on my own around the city, getting lost on numerous occasions, but was always assisted by a local citizen or member of the national military of Korea (because South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, military presence in Korea is heavy, but the young officers are all very friendly) and I made sure to visit the Korean War museum and the DMZ (De-Militarization Zone). The DMZ is the region between North and South Korea that stretches East to West across the entire border of the divided countries. It is a peaceful region that was devised as a result of the cease-fire agreement between the Koreas in the 1950s and remains as a symbol of hope for reunification. Being in this region that juxtaposed both peace and war tension I was overcome with awe and wonderment. I was granted the opportunity to look into North Korea, an area so mysterious to myself and the rest of the world as a whole. It was like I had been given codes to unlock a top secret world. I also trudged through a North Korean infiltration tunnel, built by the North Korean army in attempt to attack South Korea. The South Korean military discovered the tunnel and three others like it over the decades of peace. They built blockading walls at the North Korean ends but have opened sections up for civilians to witness. It was a truly surreal experience walking through the dark, damp, murky tunnel, knowing who had dug it and what it had been dug for.
On day two of being in Korea, I ventured off on my own for Jisan Forest Resort where I planned to do a bit of snowboarding. With zero knowledge of the Korean language (apart from 'thank you' and 'yes') I took a taxi to the major Seoul bus terminal. From here, I took an hour and a half long bus ride to the city, Incheon. In only a matter of minutes of being in Incheon I learned that I had mistakenly gone to the wrong city and it was actually Icheon (note the missing 'n') that I needed to head to. Back on the bus for another hour, I arrived to Icheon almost two hours behind schedule. From here, I took a taxi to the city at the base of Jisan Forest Resort and completed the remainer of my journey on foot. I would like to take this moment to say that this was all done with the help of a number of kind and friendly Koreans (I have yet to meet an unfriendly Korean) who were eager to assist me despite the thick language barrier between us.
I spent the afternoon snowboarding on the various slopes offered at the resort. It was refreshing. I had forgotten just how much I missed boarding. Initially, I was intimidated. I pulled up to the first lift, left foot strapped in, right foot pedaling, and observed the Korean snowboarders around me (I was the only non-Korean). They were decked out in high-snowboarding fashion, each of them wearing the coolest pants, coats and hats manufactured by top brand names. They had fancy boards, wore mini-backpacks and traveled in groups and here I was, alone, wearing my oldest boarding jacket, borrowed ski pants and using a rental. I was also the only person in line whose board remained strapped to them. Feeling self-conscious of this, assuming it was some curios etiquette and not wanting to comit a faux pas, I loosened my boot straps and carried my board onto the lift in the same manner as those around me. Once on the chair lift, I got a better chance to scope out my 'competition' and almost instantly was overcome with hearty amusement. Snowboarding is very clearly a new thing for Koreans. It is another adoption from the West,and like most things adopted from Western culture into Asia, they are still getting the hang of it and a few concepts are lost in translation. The riders spent the majority of their trek back down the mountain on their rears, or sliding slowly forward on their heels, holding up their super cool pants in the process. Needless to say, I was able to spend the afternoon feeling very good about myself and, as usual in Asia, the object of incessant staring.
Eating my full in Brazilian BBQ my first night there, I opened my stomach up greatly, preparing it for the tremendous amounts of food I would be eating as the week continued. As far as Western food goes, I enjoyed Subway for the first time in four months, ate Chinese food (American style, that is), drank countless Chai tea lattes from Starbucks (can't get those in Hefei), shared a rack of Jack Daniels glazed ribs from T.G.I.F., devoured fresh sushi, savored Mexican food on multiple occasions, and crushed a stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza from pizza hut. All of this glutenous indulgence did not impede upon my desire for real Korean cuisine however. I tried various street foods and was taken out by an amazing man to a delicious dinner of Korean-style beef & leaf (Essentially Korean BBQ) and rice beer.