Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Pt 1: Rainy Visit to (석굴암 석굴) Seokguram Grotto (05/18/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/18/19 Saturday

How come it’s easier to wake up early in the morning when you are excited? I mean, I am not complaining but I always find myself practically springing up out of my bed when my neurons cannot stop firing with excitement (or nervousness for that matter) but then I’m literally the polar opposite of a morning person on every other day of a mundane week.

Today was an exciting day because it was day 1 of my graduation trip with my NSLI-Y Cohort! We were all a little bit disappointed at first because we would only be going on this trip for one night rather than going for 2박3일 (3 days and 2 nights) due to my class 3반 needing to be back Sunday night in order to take our Korean final Monday morning. And the reasoning behind our disappointment was plainly us wanting to spend more time together–especially as a group which always proves to be more difficult due to scheduling–which I find utterly wholesome. At this point of the year, we had exactly one week left in Korea and we all realized how precious each and every moment we had together truly was. (I am already tearing up just recollecting this trip!!!)

Anyways, on Saturday morning we all met up at the KTX station in 용산 which was luckily directly on my subway line so no need to transfer for me (celebrate the little victories aka having more uninterrupted naptime on the subway). There we embarked on our trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) which I had only read very little about in Korean class and from what I remembered, it was a very historical city seeing that it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom.

For breakfast, 민정쌤 and 소영쌤 prepared us all prepackaged boxed 김밥 (kimbap) in a variety of flavors: beef, tuna, etc and they bestowed the duty of carrying the box onto our lovely friend June. You may be questioning why I feel like this information is pertinent enough to be included in my telling of this trip as it seems like a very miniscule, easily overlooked detail and which, yes, it normally would be however this was not the case today. I had actually been filming us walking to the train platform and boarding the right train car for my 1 second a day video (I will make a separate post on this but it has been uploaded on Youtube already) and this clip included a blurb of June talking to me while holding the box of kimbaps BEFORE she dropped the box.

Seconds before disaster!! 😛

Yes, right before we got on the train, June tripped over herself or something and spilled the contents of the kimbap box on the floor. Luckily, only a few kimbaps exploded and were therefore inedible. So a major tragedy was avoided but Kaitlyn and I (the only ones behind June when this occurred) had to keep ourselves from peeing due to laughing so hard while helping pick everything up. And 민정쌤 of course also had some sassy remarks. But it all turned out okay! And definitely was not foreshadowing for a hectic trip! Not at all!

The train ride on the KTX (My first time riding it!! Next time, I will hopefully take it to Busan!!) took about 2 hours or so. I spent the majority of the time studying for my Korean final (as well as chatting with Kaitlyn, my seat buddy) which was a productive use of my time but it also made me quite anxious as I realized that I would have no time to adequately study during the trip–if I really wanted to enjoy myself with others. This made me worry about the impact this lack of time would have on my test performance. 소영쌤 saw me studying with all my colorful note-taking and praised me for still studying hard despite everything which did make me feel good. I decided to not let my anxieties ruin these final moments with the people I have grown to greatly cherish~

When we made it to the station, we exchanged our fast-moving silver power train for a classic Korean ‘party bus’ decorated with colorful fabrics and tassels and built-in karaoke mic set. For our trip, we would be having our own private bus driver take us to the sights because traveling with so many individuals could prove to be difficult and quite expensive.

Clouds foreshadowing some bad weather ahead…

Even though we had 김밥 for breakfast not too long ago, our first stop once we arrived to 경주 was to get some lunch. We came to a restaurant picked out by the 쌤s and we basically took up one entire half of the restaurant as we all sat at one long table. I sat with Harmony, Addie, and Jenna and we shared our own mini stove which kept our stew warm.

Honestly, I do not remember the name of anything we ate during that meal. There were a lot of side dishes and even this one plate of curious looking round patties of some kind. I cannot remember if they were made out of meat or vegetables… Despite the tastes not being too memorable, I know we devoured everything because we American teens can always eat and on vacation, anyone who is anyone develops a second or even third stomach. Addie, though, definitely fell into a food coma at the restaurant.

Addie down for the count!

 Back on the bus, I sat next to Harmony and with our full bellies, we both fell fast asleep when our heads hit the headrest. The sound of the rain’s pitter patter also did not help as its predictable rhythm lulled us, and many others, to sleep as our bus made its way through the heavily guarded forest and up a mountain towards our first historic site visit: 석굴암 석굴 (Seokguram Grotto).

Seokguram Grotto is an artificial, man-made grotto located on 토함산 (Mt. Toham) that makes up part of the temple complex of 불국사 (Bulguksa Temple) and is famous for being the home of a buddha statue. Getting up to this grotto is actually a little trek from the starting point (where the gate is and a few little shops at the entrance) as you literally do have to climb up the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit when the weather was equally as nice as the view. Instead, it was practically downpouring! I have not seen it rain so hard like that in a long time. Some of us had brought umbrellas while others were very unprepared. There were other groups of people on the mountain too and they were all wearing colorful ponchos and still hiking up to the top of the mountain. So, we did what the locals do and bought our own ponchos for the day.

Honestly, the weather kind of added to a more mystical feeling or ambience behind the hike. I tried taking some photos of the forest surrounding us and the fog was very intense. I felt like I was walking through a fairytale forest. There were also a lot of colorful lanterns hanging around and they were violently shaking around in the wind because it was not only rainy, but windy too. Umbrellas were almost ripped out of people’s hands. At the top of the mountain was a bit smaller than expected structure in which you could look into to see the famous Buddha statue. And this historical site is considered a UNESCO world heritage site (along with the accompanying temple). Being respectful, I did not take any photos of the actual structure but if you google it, you can find professional shots of what it looks like inside. 

~ We did more this day but this post is already really long and the next few activities on the agenda have a lot of photos I have to go through so I am just gonna separate these posts for now. I hope you enjoyed this little rainy day travel blog post even though I feel like I literally documented nothing… But I promise the next one may be more informative with better (quality) photos as well. My phone was NOT waterproof, okay! Anyways, thanks for reading~

  • Emma 엠마

TempleStay in South Korea (2 Days & 1 Night) (3/23-24/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

3/23/19 Saturday 

Katie and I woke up around 8:30 am today to start getting ready to spend the weekend outside of our homes. She ended up basically not packing any clothes so she borrowed a T-shirt, some sweatpants, and even socks from me. (Which, while writing this, have still not been returned to me… Katie!!!!) We had to meet the rest of the NSLI-Y program at the subway station around 12 so we needed up heading to a bakery in the shopping mall next to my train station for some starchy breakfast. I didn’t end up taking a photos of the bread we ended up sharing but here are some really cute croque monsieurs (Shoutout to Kaitlyn for sharing my first one with me a while ago and bestowing upon me knowledge of such a great French carb!) that have heart cut outs in the bread! 

Apparently when we got to the station, it was raining really hard and only one NSLI-Yian brought an umbrella so 민정쌤 ran out to the closest convenience store and bought us all rain ponchos. All the students were wearing rainbow colored plastic coats that highly resembled gummy bears… you could say we came in an assorted batch of colors and flavors. What made this really funny was that when we made our way outside once the final student was accounted for, it was basically not raining at all—if anything it was just a light drizzle. But hey, at least we looked ridiculous all together! 

We took this one tiny bus where we all almost didn’t even have room to stand let alone breath but after a quick ten minutes, we arrived at the temple: 길상사. We were not allowed to have our phones out during the program because they were locked up during the duration of our stay so the photos that I took last up until this point. (Though I will scatter them throughout this blog post so photos are not only concentrated on one part.) Plus, there was a professional photographer that took photos of us, so I have those shots as well! 

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On the walk there, we passed a famous statue of Korean comfort women from the Japanese occupation of the peninsula. The community (?) dressed the women up warmly for the cold winter weather with hats and scarves.

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The first order of business was giving up our most worldly possessions (cell phones and wallets) and then we went and changed into our Buddhist attire which consisted of these really baggy sweatpants type bottoms and then a corduroy vest that went over whatever top we were already wearing. 

During the beginning of the templestay, we met the main workers and volunteers for the day and the monk that would be taking us through our journey of experiencing Buddhism. We started off learning about the rules of the temple aka the rules we also must abide by while we are here. Most of them were common knowledge like being respectful, peaceful, no phones, etc but others were new to me. I knew that many Buddhists didn’t eat meat (so we would be eating vegetarian all weekend) but I didn’t know that you were required to finish everything that you put on your plate. Also, during the duration of the stay, we were supposed to try our best to be silent but that didn’t last very long…

We were doing the program along with another group of foreigners (a couple European exchange students from SNU) and then several other native Koreans; although, foreigners definitely outnumbered the Koreans. 

It was at this time that we also learned how to properly bow like a Buddhist would in a temple and also how to create the 합창 pose– which is just the post of putting your hands in a prayer-like formation.

The first activity of the day was to take a tour of the temple grounds. We provided our own interpreter aka 소영쌤 for our programming but for the tour part, we switched her out with one the of the volunteers whose English was fluent and almost 100% natural. She was definitely thankful about that because earlier the Monk was being quite a savage to her when she couldn’t quite translate everything (Especially when Josh would shout things out from the crowd to help her out). The volunteer actually attended 대원외교 and so he bonded over that with the rest of the NSLI-Y kids attending that school. 

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One of the more interesting parts of the tour was when we found out that this temple actually started out as a high class restaurant/ alcohol joint for rich men and politicians. There were also usually female performers to entertain the men that came to drink. The lady that ran the place was very rich as the place brought in a lot of revenue but she ended up giving it to one of the monks at the temple, after begging them for years to take the location.

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This unique characteristic is why some of the buildings and the makeup of grounds is not exactly representation of most Buddhist temples. When 소영쌤 was translating this fact earlier, she called the place a high-class bar. Everyone was a bit confused so when we actually got to see where people would drink (and where the females would change), the volunteer rephrased the explanation of the place so we wouldn’t be confused. (So, in conclusion, the place was not as seedy as a normal bar.)

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We walked around a bit more to see the rooms in which the monks sleep in and mediate in and the main temple where the monks (and visitors to the place) can go and pray. We also were showed two statues that our tour guide really made sure to emphasize that they symbolized religious harmony. One of them was donated by a rich white Christian to the temple while the other depicted Mary. 

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After our tour, we learned how to mediate like a monk. This involved a demonstration of hand positions and breathing techniques and then all of us trying out meditation for ourselves. The monk walked around us carrying this large wild stick (Don’t you love my descriptions?) and showed us how he would hit people if they fell asleep during mediation time. He ended up showing off the stick’s power (it sounded like it hurt badly but apparently it was not that hard) on Alix, Jacquelyn (good foreshadowing) and 민정쌤. I am going to be honest, it was really difficult for me not to fall asleep while sitting there. I was tired and toasty from wearing so many layers and so I definitely felt myself nodding off at times. (Luckily, he never caught me) Although I will say even when I wasn’t fighting with sleep, I couldn’t mediate very well.. I kept the thinking of other things—my mind was racing with thoughts about everything and anything. I wouldn’t be a good monk for sure. 

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Picture of me meditating…or was I dozing off at this point?

Eventually dinner time rolled around and it was time for us to experience Buddhist food—very simple ingredients, no meat, not much seasoning, and very healthy. In Buddhism there are actually a lot of different words for things that differ from plain-spoken Korean. For example, meal time is called 공약. And like I mentioned previously, the food you take is all the food that you need to eat! Monks do NOT waste food. 

Unfortunately, since there was no cameras or phones allowed, I can’t exactly remember what we were given to eat… what I can remember was that there was soup, different types of 김치 and vegetable 반찬, batter covered mushrooms and other root vegetables, rice, watermelon, and traditional rice cakes. Every single person had to wash their own plate and silverware at the end of the meal. 

After dinner, we had an evening Buddhist service in which we got to bow along with the monks at the temple as they had their nightly pray session. We were given pamphlets to follow along with what they were chanting but regardless of the fact that I can read Korean, I was confused at what page to be looking at. Either way, we all got to participate by bowing along with the monks.

We also did walking meditation after this which although it was very cold, I really enjoyed just mindlessly walking around the temple grounds. Compared to sitting meditation, I was able to let loose of more my thoughts during this exercise—maybe because I wasn’t as tired and because I had just eaten and was in a very calm and satisfied mood. 

We got the chance to talk with a different monk and ask him all his questions during a tea time session. We were given plum tea and a bunch of 약과 and assorted nuts. I was able to understand a lot more of what the monk said (before the volunteer translated) which made me quite proud. I could not imagine how I much I would have understood after only being here for a little while (say back during first semester).

We finished off the night with a movie documentary on a famous monk: 법정스님. It was interesting seeing how he lived his life as a monk. One thing that I thought was interesting was that he was highly judged by his parents. They had paid so much money for him to get a college education (not an easy feat now and not an easy feat then either) and he decided to leave the academic world behind and become a monk. But because of this tension, he did not help his family at all once he started earning money from the royalties off of his bestselling books. He had some ask for help but he basically cut them off completely. Instead, he would donate a lot of money to students who were struggling to pay for their college tuition and were near having to drop out. 

We all got ready ready for bed and slept on mats on top of the heated floor. I was expecting it to be rather uncomfortable but honestly, it was one of the best rests I have had in awhile. I think that sleeping on the floor is really good every once in awhile! I definitely do not mind it. I fell asleep right away and the next thing I knew… it was three in the morning.

3/24/19 Sunday

The lights slowly turned on and a bell began to sound. I looked around the room and watched everyone stir awake. No one had their phones so we could not tell that it was 3 in the morning but our bodies definitely were aware of this fact. We got up, changed, washed up a little, and then headed out for the early morning Buddhist service in the temple. Like the evening service, we got our own mats at the side of the temples and were given pamphlets to follow along with the monks. We finished off the service with another round of walking meditation around the temple grounds. This one, in comparison to the last, was actually very relaxing for me. Maybe it had to do with the fact that it was the morning and I was too tired to think of anything else but I was able to just watch my feet while I walked and forget about the world around me. It was very nice.

The next program on our schedule had been highly anticipated since the beginning. We would be doing 108 prostrations or bows. This involved bowing in the right way that was taught to us during the temple etiquette presentation and with every time we came down to the floor, we strung a brown bead (handmade, completely unique bead! You cannot find them/buy them anywhere else. You can only obtain them by doing a templestay!) on a string that would later become a necklace. We were told that with every bead strung onto the string, we were saying goodbye to a temptation, something bad in our lives, worries, etc. I found this activity very peaceful and I actually enjoyed being able to count out everything that had been consuming my mind recently. I metaphorically imagined myself saying goodbye to all my worries: not reaching my desired Korean level, confidence issues, not making friends in college, struggling with grades in college, homesickness, trust issues, my friends moving on without me in their lives, not being able to find true love, negative body image, missing out on a dream job of mine, etc. (Was that information too intimate? Oh well…)

It felt good feeling like I was releasing them into something else. I also figured that the 108 bows would be more tiresome than they were. I felt wobbly by the end (my legs) for sure but I did not really break a sweat. By the end of the activity, I was able to look at my necklace, and its 108 beads, with pride. I had done that. I had made this with my own hands and it definitely was not easy. When I got home, I hung it on my vanity mirror and I cannot help but smile when I look at it every day.

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The finished product!~

We had breakfast after which consisted of 죽 (porridge), 잡체, spicy tofu, salad, lots of 반찬, and apples. It was all very clean tasting~ The next activity of the day was community work. For this part of the morning, we returned to the temple that we prayed at earlier and “cleaned” the mats that you kneel on while bowing. This process involved taking the mats out of the temple (assembly line style) and patting/smacking the dust off of them outside and then placing them back into stacks inside the temple against the wall. 

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Smiling faces after accomplishing the task!

To work off some of the breakfast, we did temple yoga next which was not exactly like my yoga classes in high school; this yoga was definitely centered more on stretching and breathing. It  was a nice final session to end this program before we wrote our reflections and got ready to leave the temple. 

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Last Photo of our TempleStay experience!

Katie and I went back to my house together so that she could pick up her bags. We ate lunch together at the shopping mall near my apartment– at 홍익 돈까스 to be exact, sharing 돈까스 and tomato pasta.

We also dropped by a cafe where I bought Katie bread for getting into UCLA!!! Congratulations Katie! ❤ We hung out there to study and chat for a bit before we both returned to our respective homes for dinner.

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This bread’s name was 남편보다 더 달콤한 빵 (Sweeter than your husband bread)

My host mom was not feeling well and my sisters were out so I ended up eating dinner by myself in my room that night while I was studying. It was a very chill Sunday night. Although I did no actual work or studying during the templestay, it was still quite draining yet rejuvenating at the same time. Probably one of the biggest examples of something contradicting itself but hey that is how the world works sometimes!

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That is all for this blog post! It is a very long one… more than 2,500 words yikes! If you got through all of it then… thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it! I really had an amazing experience doing the templestay. I am so glad that we were able to get approved by Better World as it truly was such a unique and eye-opening experience. Especially because a lot of Buddhist values can be seen in aspects of the Korean culture even to this day! 여러분 기회가 있으시면 꼭 템플스테이를 해보세용~ Alright BYE!

  • Emma 엠마

Visiting 숙명여대, Cute Cafe Find, and Curbing my 떡볶이 Craving {03/09-10/19} NSLI-Y Korea AY

03/09/19 Saturday 

Katie and I talked a lot at the cafe last night trying to make plans to spend our weekends doing new things—spending the time we have left wisely! We were against going to any area we have been to on multiple occasions **cough cough basically 홍대** cough cough. 

I threw out the idea of having Katie visit the university I took NSLI-Y summer class at: 숙대여자대학교, which she was down for! I figured we could go there and walk around (I could show her all my 단골집s) and the school itself. After a short tour, we would study at a cute cafe before going to a cute restaurant that was the first place I ate out at in Korea—with my host mom. 

To get to 숙대, I ended up using the same route I used during the summer program {before Tucker showed me the ways of Seoul buses} which mustered up some nostalgic memories. I even took photos of the ugly station because I wanted to remember it… walking out into the actual station, I immediately remembered the exit I would take. Last time I was here, with Addie, we went out a different exit but this time I was taking Katie the way that was so familiar to me.

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We walked up the large hill to the university and I pointed out everything that was of importance to me during that summer: 오빠’s 계란빵 (older brother’s egg bread) shop with the inflatable egg on the roof, my go to place for bubble tea, the random pink Waffle House that popped up our last week, the frequently visited 김밥천국 (kimbap heaven), the cafe where I would eat waffles instead of real food, the hello kitty restaurant, the school book store, and even the pharmacy I bought slippers at when my socks got soaked from the monsoon. So much has changed, but so much was the same as well. 

We went to the top of the hill to see the school but because of the construction they did during the fall, the front looked completely different. Before there was a huge staircase leading up to an open courtyard of sorts that led to one of the buildings {these stairs were a real pain to climb…}; however, now there was a huge glass building acting as a lobby perhaps at the front of the school. That part was completely different so I instead had Katie take photos in front of the big sign of the school to commemorate my return. 

After that we kept walking along the street to find a cafe to go to and study at. A part of me would have taken her to one I’d been to before but instead, I wanted to find someplace new and cute! While we were walking, we passed by this small little sign advertising a cake cafe with the cutest decorations on the drinks. We decided to try it out even though the fact that it was on the third floor of some building really intimidated me at first. We went up and soon realized that it was a cafe that works a lot like 놀숲 in the fact that you take your shoes off and get to enjoy your drinks and private little spaces or cubbies. The sign actually said that children under 13 where not allowed inside. I guess they are really trying to upkeep a chill atmosphere. 

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We came in and immediately started freaking out over the cuteness of the entire place. The grass carpet, the cute stuffed animals, the swinging stairs, the colorful pillows, and the sparkly (tinsel?) curtains were too adorable. Unlike 놀숲, this place just required you order a drink and you do not have to pay by how long you spend there. I ordered a toffee nut latte as I really wanted to switch things up since this cafe was a new experience! 

At the cafe, we took advantage of the really good lighting and took lots of pics before getting back on that study grind. I was able to review two grammar points as well as edit a blog post so it was pretty productive. After our two-three hours at the cafe, we left to have a late lunch at this restaurant called Best Friends with the best set lunches {with 떡볶이, 라면, 만두, etc} and very cute Hello Kitty decor. Unfortunately, we went there and realized that was some bad news written on the door: Saturdays are off days. I was upset at the fact that I couldn’t take her to this place but because we loved the cafe so much, I knew we would we back at least once more time and would then get the opportunity to try out the restaurant together! 

Instead of that, we went to a cafeteria style restaurant that was actually my last meal out in Korea during the summer program! I ate there after our graduation ceremony with some other NSLI-Yians and supporters because my host family had to work and couldn’t spend the rest of the day with me. They had really good food and it was cheap too so I knew it would be a good place for us. 

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Katie had some meat and rice dish while I ordered a bowl of 떡볶이 because I’ve been craving the spice!! And it did not disappoint! There was so much food for only $5 so I didn’t even end up finishing it! 

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We went our separate ways after having lunch together (and after getting in trouble at a drug store… money is a bit lacking now…) and at home… I just did more studying and writing of blog posts… nothing exciting at all for my Saturday night! 

03/10/19 Sunday

Also Sunday… it was not an eventful day whatsoever. Originally, I planned to visit Katie at her station and study at a cafe together but I didn’t have money to spend on that and I needed to do a writing assignment which is always best done alone. I hung out in bed with Andy and even watched a movie on Netflix~ It was a really nice chill Sunday at home, not much to document. 

Well that’s all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed! 

  • Emma 엠마

Korean Cooking Class, Making Kimbap, and Playing 장구 (Jangu–Traditional Korean Instrument) 02/22-23/19 (NSLI-Y Korea AY)

02/22/19 Friday

Friday was our last day of “Culture Week” if you will. We would be doing two cultural activities: making kimbap (김밥) and playing Jangu (장구). We ended up taking the cooking class at the same location that I had Korean cooking club during the summer program for six weeks back in 2016. We met up at the station together (It was at this point in time that I spotted a pig cupcake in a display case at this cafe and I made the very bad decision of spending my stipend on a cupcake at 10 in the morning. No regrets though! It was delicious!) and then walked to the Food and Culture Academy. The walk was so familiar as we passed by the side street that I walked down with 수진언니 when I met up with her back in November (That blog post here~) and 통인시장 (Tongin Market).

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I was happy that we were being taught how to make kimbap (김밥–rice, veggies, and sometimes meat and egg wrapped in dried seaweed) because I never learned how to make it during 요리동아리 (cooking club). I eat 김밥 so often when I do not want to spend money on real food, so it will be nice to know how to make it when I go back to America. I can easily whip up some rolls when I am missing Korean food and this is something simple I can do for my friends and family back home. Cooking the kimbap was a lot of fun because I was able to joke around about my cooking skills with June and Josh who were at the cooking stations near me. We all struggled to roll our seaweed correctly to make sure that things would not unravel during the cutting process–which they still…kinda did. But regardless, all of our rolls ended up being delicious even if they were not the prettiest!

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We got to enjoy our kimbap rolls with some nice warm egg soup. We received some certificates too for completing the cooking course~

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After having our lunch, we made our way to have our 장구 (Jangu) playing lessons at the National Center of Traditional Korean Music. I have never been musically talented which has led me to not play any instruments throughout my life. Unless you count playing the recorder in the fourth grade. I did DO that recorder competition with the different colored strings that you would wrap around the bottom of the instrument as if they were karate belts. (Who else relates?) The teacher was really patient with us as she understood that everything we were doing was quite new! I struggled a lot trying to figure out how to hold the drumsticks correctly as well as keeping in pace with everyone else. It seemed as if I had one good run through with the music, the next one would have to be a fail to even things out. There was one point where I messed up the order of when to strike one half of the drum and I just put my hands up in defeat and stopped playing because I could not continue on with the others because I lost my spot. However, what made me more embarrassed was that when this happened… I made eye contact with the teacher! I felt ashamed for not being able to keep up. Even though I was not the best at it, I really enjoyed playing the instrument. While we were playing the music, I immediately felt rewarded hearing everyone playing together and when I did follow along matching the beat, I also felt good! I can see how doing this would also become calming once you get in the zone and just following the rhythm however you like.

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After music class, a big group of the NSLI-Yians went to a 찜질방 (sauna/public bath) to celebrate Josh and Kaitlyn’s birthday which was today! (They share the same birthday but were born in different years!) I ended up just going home to have dinner with my host family when a different plan fell through. It was nice spending a chill Friday night in. My host sisters ate 회 together and since coming to live with them, I have become more accustomed to eating raw fish! And I actually do think it is good now! 

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02/23/19 Saturday

I literally have no pictures from this day because I was not feeling well today. I woke up with a bad headache and my stomach was aching severely so I spent the whole day just laying around in bed doing no work whatsoever. I may have written some blog posts or something? But more likely than not I was just watching Youtube the whole time. At around 8 pm, I ended up meeting up with Josh. He was so kind as to come visit me and we went to a cafe near the subway station in the mall. We stayed there for about three hours trying to focus and do some work. Josh worked on workbook homework while I did Quizlet before quickly giving up and resorting to writing blog posts. 

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One funny thing that happened while we were at the cafe was that after we put our stuff down and approached the counter to order, we were being instantly stared at by the worker at the register and the owner (or higher positioned worker…) of the cafe. They were looking at us and watching us discuss what we wanted to order (in English). They seemed almost…nervous. I went up and asked for a hot green tea latte and as soon as those words left my mouth (in Korean if that was not obvious) the male worker smiled and the female worker signed in relief and remarked that she thought that she was going to have to speak in English. I did order in Korean; however, the worker continued to switch between Korean and English while taking my order. I just thought it was so funny to see them, at first, so visibly nervous to have us order and then feel so much relief when we proved them wrong–AKA show them that we could speak Korean. This area really does not get many foreigners.

Well, that is all for this post! I hope you enjoyed~ Thanks for reading~ I hope the next blog post can be more interesting than this one~ Sorry, things were pretty hard to describe and I did not take a lot of photos so…. this is what you are stuck with for today :p

  • Emma 엠마

Visiting the DMZ, Dorasan Observatory, and a Secret North Korean Tunnel (02/20/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/20/19 Wednesday

Today was our first cultural excursion of Culture Week (or of all of February as a matter of fact)! We would be visiting the area around the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone–border zone that divides both halves of the Korean peninsula) with a pre-orchestrated tour that had planned stops throughout the day. To start off our day, we all met at 시청역 (City Hall Station). This stop was about an hour away from my home station which was a little bit annoying seeing that we would need to go up to 파주시 (just south of the 38th parallel) anyway… which is actually close to me! I live literally two stops away from the city! For once, we would be going somewhere close to my home and yet I had to meet everyone somewhere else… Oh well, I was able to write some blog posts during the hour train ride.

We took a shuttle bus to our first location which was also being shared with several other English speaking foreigners who booked our same tour guide and then another separate group of Japanese tourists that had their own tour guide. We ate breakfast on the shuttle bus and then mostly tried to sleep till we arrived at the first place: 임진각 (Imjingak). 임진각 is the last settlement in the city of Paju right before the DMZ. Most tours make this place a pit-stop because it has a lot of famous statues and monuments from the Korean War.

임진각 has the bridge of freedom (a bridge that South Koreans used to return after the signing of the armistice agreement), a peace bell, a pool shaped like the Korean peninsula, observation deck/lookout, and a bombed-out steam locomotive still standing on its original tracks. Also… a bit more on the touristy side… this area also includes gift shops, a convenience store, fast food places (like a Popeyes!), and even an amusement park called Peace Land! I mean I guess that is Capitalism for you… I could never imagine why anyone would want to build a theme park near a zone brewing with so much tension and memories of pain and anguish… it really beats me… 

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View of the said amusement park. You can see a couple of rides. 

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I think my favorite place of the large settlement was the barbed wire with all of the colorful prayer ribbons tied on. These ribbons had messages of hope and reunification on them–many were written by individuals with family members or loved ones still living in the North. It brought up images of hope but also sadness as no one knows how long it will take for these people, these two counties, to be united once again.

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The next place on our itinerary was 도라산역 (Dorasan Station) on the 경의중앙 subway line (The one I take from Korean classes back home!) This is the train station that is the closest to the border of North Korea (about 17Km I do believe… according to our tour guide!) Currently (as you could probably guess), this train station is not in use. A train does come into the station about twice a day but this train is the DMZ tour train (owned by the Korean Government) and is not actually public transportation. You cannot take a train on the 경의중앙 line and end up at this station.

At the station, we were able to pay for a fake ticket and gain access to the station platform (which was called 통일–unification–platform) for about $1. The air felt kinda eerie as it looked just like any other outdoor train station platform except for the fact that there was no one there.

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Our next stop was 도라산전망대 (Dorasan Observatory) which looks out across the demilitarized zone. On the very top floor, there are special viewing areas but because the dust was really bad today (or maybe it was actually fog this time; I have no clue) it was pretty hard to see anything. All of the photos we took up there literally looked like they were taken in front of white backgrounds but nope… that is the color of the sky!

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I also took some time to go to the gift shop and buy some products only available at the DMZ tourist stops–and that would be all food products of course. I bought these DMZ soybean chocolate and chocolate eggs as well as this special Choco Pie (famous Korean snack) that is made with ingredients grown around the DMZ. The reason that the choco pie became a famous snack to buy at the DMZ is because there is one famous North Korean refugee that escaped North Korea by car by crossing the 72 hour bridge (or also known as the Bridge of No Return– it is named the 72 hour bridge because it was only built in 72 hours). He was shot countless times while crossing the bridge but still happened to make it to the other side alive. When he made it to South Korea, the first thing he wanted to eat was Choco Pie and so the CEO of the snack brand vowed to give him free Choco Pies for his entire life! It was a really interesting story. 

The last thing we did for the day was going underground and walk through the Third Tunnel which was a secret tunnel that the North Koreans built trying to find a secret passage from North Korea to Seoul for sudden sneak attacks. We were not allowed to take our phones inside to take any pictures so I have nothing to share besides my words! We had to wear yellow hard hats and walk down to get to the tunnel. The ceiling and the walls were quite moist and the tunnel was quite low. I was able to stand up straight most of the time (without any worry of hitting my head) but I am only five foot three or so…anyone taller than me probably had a sore neck after walking through the tunnel. At the end, there was a sign and viewing area for looking into the North Korean side of the tunnel. Something that we noticed which was interesting was that we could see an actual plant growing on the other side! There was life! Walking down to get to the tunnel was not too difficult (besides the fact that it kinda hurt my knees…I love having weak joints!) but walking back up was pretty exhausting. 

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Once we finished exploring the tunnel, we walked around the area and took lots of group photos (We had to take a banner photo in front of the iconic DMZ letter sign.) before heading back into the bus for our return back to 시청역. I was able to pretty much sleep the entire way back which was much needed seeing that I could not go home right after we arrived… I was going to do community service!

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Usually, the Wednesday squad consists of Shada, Kaitlyn, and I but Josh had nothing to do for the rest of the day so he decided to join us. We had about three hours to kill before community service so we chilled at this cafe in the subway station called Tammy’s House or something like that. While we were there… I tried finishing my workbook but it was hard. I just wanted to hang out and talk with the others. While we were there, Josh and Kaitlyn were getting really existential and asking really deep philosophical answers and it was interesting to see how their answers more often than not differed. Today, I learned, that Kaitlyn is such a nihilist at times! One of the questions that I remember vividly was “Are Humans or Animals More Free?” Kaitlyn was on team animals since they are not constrained by society and its rules/standard while Josh argued that they cannot even understand the concept of freedom with their small brains. It was such a fun conversation! I love hanging with them two!

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We did our community service which ended up probably being the last one for a while (We could not go the following week because of orientation and now that school is starting soon… I do not know if I will have the energy to do community service every week.) I really enjoyed spending the time helping out with my fellow NSLI-Yians and the kids have really begun to open up to us~ It was fun being able to have more conversations with them today. It was probably the best service yet! I will definitely miss it…

That is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed~ I put in a lot of effort into this blog post to make it interesting and educational at the same time. Honestly, it is probably one of my favorite ones. Well, until next time!

  • Emma 엠마

 

Korean War Memorial, Studio Ghibli Store, and Karaoke (August 10th, 2016)

Wednesday (08/10/16) was one of the last (free) days we had in Korea because we there was a supporter meeting the following day and Friday would be our graduation ceremony. Wednesday was also our Korean Finals which I stayed up until one in the morning the previous night to study for. The final was in two parts. The first was the grammar/writing part and the second was the conversational part where we had a one on one conversation with our listening and speaking teacher. I think I did really well on it seeing that I studied so much. I have improved exponentially during this summer and the final was definitely a way to showcase that to my teachers. I won’t find out my grade until tomorrow but either way, I was proud of myself for working so hard on a goal and I knew I achieved it no matter what!

I spent the first half of the day reflecting on my summer which you can say made me very emotional and feeling very sentimental towards all the memories I had made. I decided to take video of my entire walk to the subway station from my host family’s house in order to remember the walk I took every single day. I took some screenshots of the videos (because my blog does not support videos) and I will upload them here.

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My breakfast today. Some kind of spicy meat dish, white rice (as per usual), eggs, my host family’s version of bacon, and some other side dishes that included pickled vegetables of some kind.

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The entrance I have started using ever since I changed my route to be half subway and half bus.

Madeline shirt day was also planned for this Wednesday. To elaborate, I noticed that my RD Madeline wore this black shirt with a deep plunging collar that reminded me of a sailor on one of the first days of our program in Korea. Ever since then, whenever I see a shirt that even vaguely resembles it, I have called it a Madeline shirt. This type of shirt is actually very popular in Korea and you can find them basically anywhere (in lots of different colors too!) I let everyone in our program know about the plans in our Kakao group chat. (Unfortunately, some of the girls on my program wore their shirts earlier in the week so they missed out on our group picture.)

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Me, Ava, Sofia, Abby, and Madeline in our Madeline shirts~

Anyway, after our finals, Sofia and I have been wanting to go to the Korean War Memorial ever since we saw photos of it on Instagram. I never learned much about the Korean War in school, it is called the Forgotten War for a reason, and so I thought visiting the museum would be such a great experience. We also wanted to do some other activities too since our time in Korea was coming to an end shortly. Casey, Sofia, Abby, and I also planned to go to the Studio Ghibli Store as well as do some Karaoke later in the night. But first, we headed to the Korean War Memorial. I got some directions online but they were very hard to follow (as they were in Korean… I was trying to practice my skills!) but eventually, we found the memorial after passing so many Korean police officers. (I have never seen so many in Korea… well, besides the time they were everywhere near Gyeongbokgung that one weekend.)

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Korean War (1950-1953)

The War Memorial of Korea is a really big museum with photos, maps, and artifacts from the Korean War. The outside of the memorial has lots of very deep sculptures as well as military tanks, missiles, planes, and so on. We didn’t have that much time to walk around and so we decided to just go on inside just covering the basics of the outside area.

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We went on inside and explored some parts of the museum. (like I mentioned before it is pretty big and we didn’t have time to see everything. I would love to come back and spend a couple more hours there, to be honest.)

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I have so many photos from the museum. (I basically took a photo of everything I saw.) I will end my spam of photos here and maybe I will upload a separate post with more later. I have a lot more things to write about for the rest of this day and If I put all my Korean War photos here, this post would take 10 minutes to read.

After the Korean War Museum, Sofia and I met up with Casey and Abby at Hongdae Station in order to go find the Studio Ghibli Store. Studio Ghibli is this Japanese animation studio that is internationally distributed by Disney. I love all of their films. They have made really famous animated movies such as Spirited Away (2001 ), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Ponyo (2008). So when I found out there was a store located in Hongdae that sold merchandise (I can not find any back where I live.), I had to go! And… It was magical!~

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All of my favorite animations are by Studio Ghibli and they include Spirited Away (2001), Whisper of the Heart (1995), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and When Marnie Was There (2014). The store was quite expensive and because it was the end of the trip, I was very mindful of my spending. I ended up buying 6 folders for about two dollars each of some of my favorite Studio Ghibli movies. They also had a life size Totoro and a Cat Bus you could take a photo in. My childhood dream had finally come true!

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AHHHHHH The Cat Bus! EEEEEKKK~

After the Studio Ghibli Store, we headed to sing some songs at a 노래방! (Karaoke Room). This one was really good as they had free refreshments and some snacks and it wasn’t even pricey. They had tambourines for us to play and even lights that flashed around the room. ( I mean all rooms do but I can never figure out how to turn them on but this room had the lights automatically turned on.) Karaoke in Korea just gets better and better because every time I go, I learn what songs are the best Karaoke songs and I gain more confidence to shout loudly. I literally mean shout, I can’t sing. haha

We sang soooo many songs. We sang Taeyang’s 눈 코 입, Let it Go from Frozen, Cnblue’s 외톨이야, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, BTS’ I Need You, and (of course) SHINee songs like Hello and Sherlock. We had such a good playlist and even earned scores of 100 like five times! (In Korean Karaoke rooms, each song performed is ranked. I personally think the key to a really high score is simply singing (or screaming) really loud.)

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Our playlist at the end of the hour. We did pretty well. Karaoke rooms have such good song choices that include more than just Korean songs. But if you want to sing a Korean song, you must be able to read Hangul because there is no romanization.

That was my Wednesday! It was honestly action packed and I did so many things I have been wanting to do. It was a lot of fun too~ I am gonna miss being able to sing at the top of my lungs in 노래방s whenever I please… Thanks for reading~ Don’t forget to subscribe! 안녕 친구들~

  • Emma (엠마)