Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immersion and Acclimation - Friday, April 9, 2010

We slept in 'till 05:00 today, then laid there trying to get back to sleep, finally giving up at around 05:30. We scurried around getting ready for our day, trying not to make any noise. Mom and Pop were asleep in the next room, and didn't awake until around 08:00. They're both in their eighties, and neither of them work, so they spend most of their time eating, watching satellite TV, or napping. Pretty laid back. It's getting harder for Mama to get around. Her knees are bad from years of working in the fields, and she suffered a couple of falls recently which has exacerbated the problem. Since we've been here, Ok Hwa has been doing a lot of the kitchen work for her.

When they got up, Ok Hwa started getting breakfast ready. It was really just a continuation of the supper we'd had the night before - chicken soup, kimchi, rice, and various vegetable side dishes.

After breakfast, Mom and Pop retired to the front room to watch TV and talk. I laid back down for a mid-morning nap. I think the lack of real coffee is getting to me. I would never be able to take a nap right after breakfast if I was back home in my normal routine. Ok Hwa cleaned up the breakfast dishes, put away the food, got her shower, and did some hand clothes washing. She's an amazingly industrious girl when she has a real task at hand. She woke me from my nap, and I got a shower, got dressed and ready to face the world.

We were going into town to do some shopping, with a swing by the beach on the way. As the only American in sight, I had an image to uphold, and intended to dress the part. It was blue jeans, a western shirt, my new hiking shoes, and no hat, with my camera slung over my shoulder. A lot of Koreans would be giving me the eye today, and I wanted to look right. They are very surreptitious in their glances, with no open stares, except for the little children. The little ones are very forward, with lots of giggling and a tentative "Hello, nice to meet you!". When I answer back it's all nervous laughter and good natured embarrassment on their part. They are always in a group of friends or schoolmates when this happens. The young ones must be learning some English in school, because they all seem to be able to carry on a basic conversation with me. Very encouraging. Of course, the Koreans are all about industrious hard work, being the best, and learning as much as possible to get ahead in the world. In case you didn't notice, I have the utmost admiration for them and their culture.

So, we got on the bus here by the house, and transferred to the 202 bus about half way to town. The 202 runs down to our favorite beach, Gyeongpo. As outlined in last year's posts, the whole Gyeongpo tourist area is an excellent place to spend some time. Aside from the great beach here, there's also the lake, many seafood restaurants, hotels, museums, parks, bikes to rent, walking along the boardwalk through the pine trees, horse drawn carriage rides, the I Cheng men who will tell your fortune, and music clubs for dancing into the night. Someday I hope to take advantage of all these many attractions. For today, however, we contented ourselves with a walk along the boardwalk, and a short stroll down the front street just behind the pine trees along the beach, looking at all the live fish in the big tanks out front of all the seafood restaurants. It was a short walk back to the bus stop by the lake. There we waited for the 202 bus to come back by and take us into town.

I was determined to have a hamburger for lunch, so that was our first objective when we got off the bus in town. The quickest, easiest hamburger we could find was at McDonald's. It is one of the few American restaurants with a market share in Korea. A few of the others are Dunkin' Donuts, and Pizza Hut. These three were adjacent to each other on a busy downtown street, so into the McDonald's we went. Back home I would never be caught in a McDonald's, but in Asia it is a welcome sign of home and comfort food. It was just like any McDonald's back home. The menu was in Korean, with English translations below. Ok Hwa got the chicken sandwich combo, and I settled for the Bulgogi Burger combo. We got a table by the front window, and had an interesting time watching the group of young Christian women who set up a sidewalk stand right out front of the McDonald's. They were handing out religious books and pamphlets, and generally trying to win some converts. They were not having much luck. They never got discouraged, or lost their enthusiasm, though, a testament to their faith and good nature.

After lunch, we made our window shopping way over to the Jungang Market to pick up some groceries. Downtown Gangneung is a walker's, shopper's paradise. Street culture reigns here, with crowded sidewalks full of pedestrians, sidewalk vendors of all sorts, and a proliferation of boutiques, restaurants, and stores of all kinds. This is what city living is all about. Too bad we Americans have largely lost sight of this, with our car culture and urban sprawl.

We had a few things on our to-get list, namely fish, kokma (Korean sweet potatoes), and bananas. The rest was up to us, what ever caught our eye. After browsing the meat and vegetable area for a while, we descended a ramp to the lower level fish market. This is a vast subterranean seafood wonderland. The ramp allows the seafood delivery trucks to bring their fresh wares straight from the docks to the market stalls. We had to weave our way through a few trucks in the parking area. The floor here was wet from them emptying the water from their tanks after unloading the fish. There was a drain in the floor, and some people were sweeping water towards it. The stalls held every kind of fish, mollusk, or crustacean you could imagine, and a few you couldn't. These people will eat just about anything that moves or grows out of the ground!

After Ok Hwa selected a couple of blue and silver fish, and I took pictures of a few more, we made our way back topside. We made our vegetable selections amid much commentary from competing sellers there. A few of them are a bit aggressive in their marketing. Back on the traffic filled streets, we window shopped our way over to the Dunkin' Donuts for a variety box to go. Packages in hand, we headed over to the bus stop by the railroad overpass. A twenty minute wait for the 308, and we were on our way back home. It was just past three o'clock in the afternoon.

The bus ride back to Sacheon Valley is about twenty-five minutes, and was a bit crowded for so early in the afternoon. A couple hours later and it would be packed to standing room only. These buses have only a single seat per row along the walls, leaving a large standing room in the middle with, many hand holds. Along the back, there is a bench seat from side to side, usually occupied by cliques of school kids in the afternoons. We saw a little brother and sister about five and six years old get on about half way out to the valley cut off. It is not uncommon here to see little kids traveling by themselves on city buses. Can you imagine this taking place in any American city? Big sister and little brother sat huddled together in one seat until their stop, then bounded off the bus, running for home with their backpacks bouncing up and down on their backs. Precious children.

Back home Ma and Pa were excited to open all our bags to see what we'd brought. They were especially delighted by the Dunkin' Donuts, and immediately dove into the box and fished one out. I joined them, having a chocolate covered chocolate for myself.

At dinnertime no one's appetite seemed diminished by the donuts. We had another great Korean supper, featuring the blue and silver fish, skinned, cut up, and pan fried. It was excellent.

I recon the jet lag is still with us some, because after dinner we were about ready for bed. I managed to stay awake, reading and writing, 'till about nine-thirty.

Here is a video slide show of pictures from today: