Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Korean vacation. Or, the week my butt was constantly numb.

I got the job. I'd heard nothing from the company, and no voicemail or e-mail arrived while I was gone, but yesterday after Eric picked me up (after making me wait an extra half-hour at the airport so he could go home and change his clothes, mind) I got the mail and there was a letter, which I opened in dread; but it began "I am pleased to offer" so that was all right. I start Monday. I'm deeply, deeply thankful.

So, my Korean vacation. It was busy, it was fun, it was exhausting, I met oodles of relatives, I ate oodles of rice, I got food poisoning, I brought lots of stuff back. The first difference between our culture and theirs I noticed right away when my aunt brought us to her place the first night: they have no carpets, just heated laminate floors, and no couches. We ate breakfast (rice, vegetables, bean curd soup, and meat, just like every other meal I had while I was there) cross-legged on the floor around a fold-up wooden table. I brought back a smaller verson--a tray really--because I was so enamoured of these tables. However, sitting on the uncarpeted floor gave me some unusual aches and pains. I noticed my grandmother's ankles had thick calluses on them, presumably from a lifetime of doing this.

We went to a Korean folk village in the cold ("You'll need only a light coat or no coat," Mom had told me, but she had also told me to pack light, and she showed up with a gigantic suitcase and carryon) to see how Koreans used to live and to Gyongju, the ancient capital, to see how they died. Koreans bury their dead on hillsides--or at least they did. As we drove around the country we kept seeing little, perfect mounds, some marked with stones or lights and some plain, on the slopes by the freeways. They're dums--tombs, but there's no chamber inside unless you're a king. The king's dum, cut open for everyone to see, is in Gyongju.

The family reunion was last Saturday, and to prepare for it my uncle and my cousin and James and I went to the Pohang market for fish and meat and fruit. The fish portion of the market was unbelievable. If you could catch it in the Pacific, you could find it in that market. There were long silver fish and short dark fish and gigantic fish the size of men; there were tiny squid and huge wriggling octupi; there were flounder and rays and sharks; there were clams and oysters and sea urchins; there were sea cucumbers and strange pulpy things I couldn't identify. I saw a woman haggling about some fish while we were making our own purchases and noticed her bag was wriggling. In a moment she noticed it too and hit it until it stopped.

The last day, Tuesday, we went back to the market to see what else was there. The fish were still there, not as many as on Saturday but still plentiful; there were dozens of types of seaweed, flat and roasted or still salty from the ocean; there were doughnuts and roasted chestnuts and rice cakes to eat. The best way to convey the feel of the market would be through smell. There was also everything else at the market: clothing, blankets, children's toys, tables and trays, knockoff designer purses, knockoff clothing (James got a pair of Adipas pants), candy, spices, yarn, housewares, kitchen supplies, crockery, silk flowers, real flowers, fruit, socks, shoes, lingerie, T-shirts. I bought a couple of T-shirts with nonsense English on them. The salespeople there are more pushy than they are in the US. I also saw at least two legless men maneuvering the market on little wheeled platforms, shoes on their hands to help them get around.

At the reunion I met my English-speaking uncle and his two children and my dead uncle's wife and another lady whose connection to me I either don't remember or never learned. I had already met one aunt and her granddaughter/ward and another aunt and her three children, plus the children of the aunt I was staying with. I have yet another aunt, who has apparently disappeared as far as anyone can tell. I've never met her and, possibly, never will. But I had a good time talking (or at least eating with, as they only knew a few words of English and I a few words of Korean) with my family and watching my mom with them. At the end of the night it was decided that nineteen people in that place with one bathroom was probably inadvisable, so I and James and my uncle and three of our cousins went out to karaoke (we sang English, they mostly sang Korean) and to a hotel. The hotel was just like my aunt's house in that it had a heated smooth floor, a bed with thick puffy blankets and no sheets, and a bath with no shower curtain. The hotel provided shower slippers, shampoo, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, but no soap--though there was a place for it so it might have been an oversight.

The next day we all went to the beach, where there are two sculptures of hands, one sticking out from the surf and another standing a short way up the shore. The first sunrise of the new year appears cupped between these hands, apparently. Most of the family nibbled on seaweed--I'm not sure whether we bought it from a sidewalk vendor or just picked it up--which I passed on after the first piece. I'm afraid I'm really not as adventurous with food as I'd like to be, as the stuff I ate and liked there was mostly what I've eaten and liked before. After walking on the beach and taking pictures--I let two of my cousins use my camera and they had apparently never had such fun on a beach before--we went to a restaurant. Previously my aunt and uncle had taken us to this beach, but it had been raining torrentially so we just went off to eat at a sushi place where the fish were caught in the ocean right in front of the restaurant--low overhead, I figure. This time the family had cooked fish and I made myself eat part of an egg they ordered for me instead. My English-speaking uncle noticed I wasn't finishing it and bought ice cream for me. After lunch we toured my other uncle's steel-making company and eventually most of my relatives left.

Either the egg or the ice cream was most likely what gave me food poisoning the next day. It was unpleasant, especially as we were going out to do souvenir shopping and stopped at a place with a lot of interesting pottery and jewelry. Apparently Korean amethyst is the best in the world--at least that's what the sign said. When we got home my stomach was still hurting so my aunt gave me a homemade quince drink she said would help. The alcohol in it might have been what did it; but I felt better the next day, when we went to the market. Then we came home. I was ready to. I had a good time and I'm glad I went; but I'm thoroughly enjoying my carpet, my couch, my non-rice meals, my car, and my own determination of my schedule. And my new job.


Jennifer said...

Congrats on the job!

It sounds like a whirlwind vacation. I hope you took lots of pictures. :)

Jennifer said...

Oh, and that is very cool about the two hands and the sunrise. Are there pictures of this online somewhere, do you know? I'd really like to see that!

Jenny said...

Thanks! I'm not finding any pictures of the hands online, but I'll post some of the ones I have soon. :)

Jennifer said...

That would be cool. Thank you! :)

JLB said...

Congrats on the job Jenny, and thanks for sharing so much of your experiences from Korea!

It sounds like a wonderful adventure, and I am so glad you had the chance to go. You didn't mention if halmoni liked her quilt? Were you able to bring it along and give it to her?

Welcome home. :)

Jenny said...

Thanks, Jade! Halmoni did like the quilt. I put it in her lap and Mom explained that I'd made it for her, and she good this impressed look on her face and turned it over and looked at both sides all over. I was happy. :)

JLB said...

That's wonderful Jenny! :)