In Gwangju with family

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Here it is, the second part of my week with my parents.

The bus ride from Seoul to Gwangju was largely uneventful; though Dad may like to point out the oddity of getting off at the rest stop and seeing a group from Ecuador dressed in full-feathered Indian regalia and blowing on their flutes for any who’d listen.

It’s not that unusual of a sight to see if you go to a lot of festivals but it’s definitely strange the first time.

As for Mom and Dorothy…well, they couldn’t stop laughing after their trip to the bathroom. While everyone had stood in an orderly line waiting for their turn to use a stall, old Korean ladies just walked past us and into whichever doors opened first. Many of them were doubled over, leaning on walking sticks and half a foot shorter than me. The rules clearly didn’t apply to them. No one reacted or said anything because that’s just how Korean halmonis (grandmothers) are. Someone once told me that after the history they’d lived through, they deserved to do whatever they wanted. Mom and Dorothy found it incredibly amusing. I suppose you kind of had to be there.

We get to Gwangju in the afternoon, drop by the hotel, then walk to my apartment building. I introduce them to all those aspects of my mundane daily life that I’ve been eager to share with them: my tiny closet kitchen, the shops downtown, the culture complex, the underground shopping center, and the couple from Cafe Florida. We finish the afternoon with one of my favorite meals: shabu-shabu.

Credit for this image goes to my dad.

I found myself rather out-of-sorts that afternoon. I didn’t feel like myself, in part because I wasn’t sure what “self” I was supposed to be: my parents’ child or the person I’d become after living here for a year as an independent adult. The first few days in Seoul had configured me into my “parents’ child” version. Experiencing my home in that mode felt incredibly strange and uncomfortable.

Thankfully, the feeling passed and I was able to to continue my week quite happily.

IMG_1224 (2)Wednesday: a sunny day, perfect for flower viewing. we take a bus to Suncheon where we plan to explore the international gardens (the site of the 2013 Expo). We pretty much spend the whole day walking around, looking at flowers, watching the flamingos (Dorothy keeps mistakenly calling them penguins), eating ice cream, and admiring the impressive landscaping.

The “American” garden section is underwhelmingly nondescript. The Spanish style garden is a patio with some citrus trees and little water fountains artfully arranged. It’s quite popular, as evidenced by all the children playing in the water.

Thursday, Boseong Green Tea Plantation:  It’s another day perfect for being outside; sunny with a bit of a breeze. Mom, Dad, and Dorothy hike the trail to the top while I opt to stay at the halfway mark. Once was enough for me. While I wait for them to come back down, I take pictures of the dragonflies sunning themselves, flowers, and anything else that captures my interest.

We eat green tea ice cream and peek at the bamboo grove nearby before leaving.

Friday is an overcast day but this hardly matters since we don’t have many plans. We meet up with my co-worker and supervisor, then walk over to the restaurant where the academy owners treat us to a traditional Korean meal.

Banquet is a more apt description. We’re served at least 4 courses, each consisting of numerous dishes of artfully arranged food and requiring a bit of rearrangement to fit them all on the tables. Slices of raw fish, rice cake, various kinds of cooked and stewed veggies, oysters, squid tentacles, and…..skate fish.

If you haven’t tried this expensive Korean delicacy then let me give you just a whiff of what it’s like. That’s what you’ll notice first, by the way: the smell. The way it is fermented or preserved gives it a strong ammonia smell. Never stuck your nose in a bottle of that? That’s fine. Just head to the nearest outhouse or visit that elderly neighbor with 20 cats. Breathe deeply, then imagine eating that with a slice of pork and a little kimchi. That’s samhap, a popular way to eat the stingray-like creature. The other two components help keep your taste buds confused while you chew, which means it’s a much more pleasant way to eat skate than it would be to eat it as a stand-alone item.  On the upside, it clears your sinuses. On the downside, the taste and smell of it can linger long after your meal was but a distant memory. It’s something of an acquired taste, I’m afraid.

Credits to my dad for this picture.

After that experience of a meal, we take a trip to my workplace so Mom, Dad, and Dorothy can see it in person. My co-workers have a busy day ahead of them so we don’t stick around long.

We spend the rest of the rainy afternoon at  a jimjjilbang (spa) called Hyundai Wellbeing Land.

Saturday, Wando beach:  Even though it’s a Saturday, it’s not unusual for kids to spend several hours at a hagwon or two. Still, I’m surprised by how empty the beach is. The showers and many of the nearby shops are closed, too. I guess beach season ends along with the students’ summer vacation.

We manage to find a fried chicken place open for business and order lunch there. Then we relax in a perfect combination of sun, sand, and water.

Sunday: We attend church (a rare communion day), then take a bus to Busan with all our bags. Mom, Dad and Dorothy plan to take the KTX (a high speed train) to Incheon airport in the morning. I, on the other hand, will leave for the Japan portion of my vacation from Busan. We say our goodbyes that night, feeling incredibly blessed to have had such a wonderful time together but sad to part ways once again.

Image captured by my dad.

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