Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Very Korean Birthday

Please visit my Picasa page for all the pictures that accompany this post.
I'm sitting here, listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," wondering if I might be too old to identify with the desperation and, well, piss and vinegar that I found so appealing about the album as a whole throughout the last few years. But no, I'm still feeling it, rocking out at my desk in the teachers' room at school.
I am 25 years old, a quarter century and I honestly didn't ever picture myself making it this far. I guess it didn't occur to me. Whatever the feelings may be at present, I am glad I am kicking and living in Korea.
I imagined my birthday here to be a low key event with little fanfare. I am lucky to have the quality friends here that I do, both in my town and throughout Korea but celebrating on a Sunday night isn't necessarily convenient. It didn't really occur to me that this mentality left my birthday completely off the radar of my coteacher, Mr. Do. He was surprised to find out last four days before my birthday and as soon as he found out, I could see the cogs turning in his head.
Sunday, about noon, Mr. Do and I, accompanied by one of my best friends in-country, Jacky, went to Mungkyeong Sayjay, about 40 minutes from my hometown. Sayjay is one of my favorite places in Korea, a wonderful place to hike. It is the ancient road connecting my province to Seoul millions of years ago. Anyway, everything in Korea seems that old. The road snakes up a wooded mountain and is marked with three defensive gates (sayjay means three gates). Autumn is my favorite season and I loved walking among the colors of the mountainside. To the top and back is about 2.5 miles. The following are some pics from the glorious autumn walk.

The first gate and the start of our walk

Loves me some changing leaves

This is where buddha reached enlightenment. Just kidding.

Me, Jacky and Mr. Do at the third gate, top of the mountain

Me being super contemplative. Guess I needed one of those "I look wiser because I travel" shots. Pretense is my forte.

I had this picture taken because it represents exactly the kinds of autumn days my mom and I love to share

So that was our walk. At the top of the mountain, we partook in san che jan, which is like a friend pancake type thing made with mountain vegetables. Instead of flour, they used oak powder. One of the peculiar things about this jan specifically is that none of the ingredients came from a garden. All of the ingredients were procured from the forrest. We washed down the jan with herbal makuli, a kind of rice wine derived from sticky rice, ginseng and other herbs.
After our adventure up and down Mungkyeong Sayjay, we went back to the outskirts Yecheon (my hometown) for some bulgogi and a sauna. Bulgogi is almost exclusively for special occasions and Mr. Do treated me and Jaclyna to its wonders, of which I have never indulged before. Bulgogi is thin slices of beef, BBQ'd at the table, with many delicious side dishes. At the same venu, after the meal, we dawned what looked like prison uniforms and crawled into a sauna. But that doesn't even begin to describe the significance of the sauna at all!
The main business of the establishment is actually making charcoal out of oak trees. The owners have built large soil "caverns"in which they char the oak. After the oak is charred and the room has cooled enough, the employees throw rugs into the cavern and people are welcomed to sit in the cavern and sweat. It was awesome on so many levels, but one significant level is that the cavern smelled like Bull's Eye BBQ sauce. The sauna was like nothing I have ever experienced as it was a dry sauna. It felt like Phoenix, riding around in the P.O.S. Ford my dad bought that didn't have any airconditioning in June. However, I must add that this was a pleasant experience, especially the aroma!
Soil Caverns