I can't wait to be here on New Years Day. Biggest birthday party ever.
OK. Last Tuesday (and pardon the lateness of this post, but I just acquired the pictures from this event), after applying for my ARC Card with Taebun, I was dropped off at school and told "Oh Sara, today teachers have workshop after lunch." Taebun had to leave again (he's the busiest person I know), so the only additional information I could glean was something about the Andong Dam and dinner later. When 1:20 came around, I left with Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im and hopped in the car with the 5th grade PE teacher (by the way, the difference between "hop on!" and "hop in!" was discussed at great length during the ride, which later lead to a routine where they would say "hop on!" and me pretending to leap onto the car hood).
So "Workshop" turned out to be another word for "Hang out." I'm not sure what happened with the students at school, but we met up with the entire faculty turned at the Weolyeongyo bridge("Moonlight Bridge"), which is about 10 minutes by car down the river from my apartment, near the Dam. It is the longest walking bridge in the nation, named for the view of the moon you can see reflected on the river like an old Oriental painting, and has a large hand carved gazebo in the center of it.
From left to right: Mrs. Im (4th grade), Me, Mrs. Shim (5th grade), and the 5th grade PE teacher (I still can't get his name, but we both show up to work early every morning and he tries to have a rapid conversation with me in Korean and sings to himself at his desk).
The faculty is really a big family here. Which is interesting, because there's over 50 of us, all at different ages. I had expected something much more strict from a culture that puts such a value on respecting elders, but it's actually very relaxed. I can laugh, drink, and joke with my principal (although I still maintain appropriate conduct, such as offering to pour a drink when empty, and when he pours me a drink to hold it with my right hand and touch my left to my wrist. As a foreigner I do get away with little slip ups though). You can respect your elders without being afraid of them. Mrs. Im is 36, Mrs. Shim is 43, Taebun is 30, and I'm 25, but there is absolutely no problem with all of us walking around and chatting about everything. It's great.
After an hour of leisurely strolling the bridge and the area on the other side with Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im, where traditional Korean houses dot the landscape up the mountain, we walked down the street to some nearby buildings with exhibitions for Andong craft work. In one, you can view and purchase items made in the style or look of traditional Andong art, such as framed miniatures of the famous masks, scarves and coin purses, ties made out of onion plants, and tassels for traditional garments.
(This is me and my school principal)
(Me and Mrs. Shim. I have this framed- one of the teachers gave it to me the next day. Behind me is the display and mannequin that the dress was on.)
It was a lot of fun, even if it was a little strange for me to be on display. It certainly broke the ice a little bit for the faculty who have been a little afraid to talk to me because they didn't think their English was good enough. Afterwards, it seemed like it was easier for them to approach me for a few words or questions.
This is how I suddenly became a tennis pro.
Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im were not always by my side, so I would try talking with the others. I was seated at a table with about 10 of the female faculty, and they were trying to find things to say. They wanted to know if I played any sports. The only one I know, well aside from riding horses, is tennis so that is what I told them. One woman (I think the school nurse) said "I play!" and wanted to know if I would play with her. Now, this has evolved over the course of the week because I also found out that, because the faculty is a big family, they like to share gossip. I did tell them that I hadn't played in years, mostly just in high school, but that didn't stop word from getting around that I'm fabulous at the sport. Now I've been approached by about five teachers to play tennis with them, and pretty soon I'm about to become a huge embarrassment because I've heard these women are really good. I'll update you when I have my debut.
After leaving the exhibitions, I "hopped on the car" to go to the top of the Dam which is massive and was only just built in 1981. From the top I could see all the way down the Nakdong river, flanked on each side by the rising mountains (which is all the more beautiful of a view when the cherry blossoms are in bloom- pink speckled at random all over. It really brings out the sheer depth of the rising landscape), and could count the bridges all the way to the one nearest to my apartment. I had no idea when I moved that I was not only going to be living right across the river from downtown, but also just down the river from beautiful uninhabited scenery in a country that has to do a lot with limited space in cities.
And then dinner. My parents should enjoy this one because they saw exactly what this was on the Anthony Bourdain Korean food special before I left the country. Dinner was a big pot of spicy red soup complete with a whole catfish (and if it's like we saw it made on the show, they just catch the fish and throw it on it) along with long thin mushrooms that are in most every soup here, and a few other vegetables. Oh yes, I ate the catfish, which was really good once removed from its scales and bones. I must say, I'm really enjoying this whole concept of communal eating that takes place over here. Everyone shares what's on the table. We also had hot stone pots of rice, and various side dishes including tiny dried sardines, peanuts, kimchi, and mushrooms. And of course, Soju. It's too delicious for it's own good.