Boseong Green Tea Fields

After our shark dive in Busan, my friends and I took a bus to the southwest province, Jeollanamdo, to visit the famous green tea fields at Boseong. We originally planned to spend the night in a jjimjilbang, or Korean sauna, but a quick Google search showed that there were none near the bus station of this tiny rural town. Instead, we spent the night at a motel in Suncheon and took the intercity bus to Boseong the next day.

Before coming to Korea, I didn’t enjoy drinking green tea. Although green tea-flavored foods (ice cream, cookies, bingsoo, etc.) are popular in Korea, coffee is usually the hot drink of choice. Because I don’t drink coffee, I usually drank green tea when the English teachers took a coffee break after lunch. With our everyday coffee/tea breaks last semester, I acquired a taste for Boseong’s specialty.

We arrived at the plantation around 9:30 and spent the morning walking around the fields. We ate green tea ice cream, drank hot tea, hiked through the fields, and learned about the different types of tea that were harvested.

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The plantation wasn’t crowded because we were there so early, but by the time we left in the early afternoon, more tourists were swarming in. An hour to Suncheon and three more to Gimhae, and I was home.

Though I enjoyed the visit, I would have liked to have spent more time in other parts of the province too. Jeollanamdo is a far trip for me and more than twice as far for my friend who lives near the DMZ. If I didn’t have to be back in Gimhae that evening, I would have liked to have traveled a few hours north to see the bamboo festival in Damyang, too. So much to see, so little time!

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Shark Diving in Busan

There I was, staring into the cold, dead eyes of the beast. Its mouth was slightly open, revealing rows upon rows of crooked teeth pointing in every direction. Hovering above me and moving as slowly as a blimp, the big fish looked with curiosity at the four strange creatures clad in all-black, with large metal tanks on their backs and masks obscuring their faces. Its gray pupils glancing ever-so-slightly in our direction, it decided it wanted a closer look.

Whoooooooosh. Our diving instructor took his spare regulator out of its pocket and blew a rush of bubbles into the shark’s face, deterring it from approaching us. I could almost see the shark wrinkling its nose as it changed course, its fins nearly brushing against my arm as it swam past me.

Motioning us to come forward, the dive instructor knelt on the ground of the tank and pointed to the sea life around us. My two friends and I watched in awe as the dozen sharks swam around us, a merry-go-round of flashing teeth.

Moby Dick has nothing on the Busan Aquarium.

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Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae

On Saturday, I met with some Fulbright friends to attend the famous Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae. Despite the crowds and the traffic, we had an amazing time looking at the trees and eating the street food at the green and white tents that lined the road.

I don’t have too many stories from the trip, but I will post some of my favorite pictures!

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Honja: Backpacking Through Asia, Part II

Thailand

Bangkok

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was The King and I. It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, but I loved the story of the British governess, the king of Siam, and the intrigues of the royal court. I knew fairly little about Thai history other than the events and historical figures in the musical, so I was eager to learn more about a country that had always held a special place in my imagination.

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Honja: Backpacking Through Asia, Part I

Honja

On January 8th, I sat with Host Mom and Ye Bin at the kitchen table, reviewing my itinerary for my winter break trip. I will be in this city, in this country, on this day, I said, pointing at the organized spreadsheet I had printed for them. These are my flights, these are my planes, these are my ferries. This is how you can contact me because I don’t have an international phone plan. Ye Bin nodded, listening intently, then looked in the living room.

“Where is your suitcase?”

I picked up a small hiking backpack that fit within AirAsia’s 7 kg carry-on limit. Ye Bin raised her eyebrows, probably thinking about the two oversized suitcases I had brought with me to Korea. But I decided to pack sparingly for my 27-day journey, hoping I would have just enough room for souvenirs.

Host Mom asked me in Korean when I was meeting my friends.

“No friends, just me.”

HONJA?!”  Alone?!

Maybe I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to mention that. I could almost see Host Mom’s thoughts. She’s lucky she can get by in Korea–what’s she going to do by herself in southeast Asia?!

I’ll be fiiiiine, I assured her. Enjoy having some time away from me.

So I left. Honja.

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Fall Conference Updates

This weekend was the annual Fulbright ETA Fall Conference. The conference was held in Gyeongju, which is about an hour and a half north of Gimhae. Gyeongju served as the seat of the ancient Silla dynasty, and over the weekend I saw some of Korea’s most important historical sites and relics. All ETAs made the journey to this small, historic city for a full four days of discussions, workshops, and reunions.

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Jinju Lantern Festival

I glanced at my two sleeping sisters in the living room, and then I glanced at my watch. 6:15 AM. It was Friday, the national holiday of Hangul Day, and my ETA friends and I were meeting in Jinju for the famous Lantern Festival. It was going to be the first time in weeks that I had seen another native English speaker, let alone another American. It was also going to be my first weekend away from my host family, a thought which horrified Ye Bin.

“Where you stay?” she had asked me all week. “How many friends? You go Jinju alone?”

I scrolled down the list of contacts on my phone and pressed “call.” A woman’s voice answered, “Yoboseyo!” and I gave the apartment address. If the taxi pulls up in front of the gate in the next five minutes, I thought, I will have made my first successful Korean phone call.

I hung up the phone and saw Host Mom poke her head out of her bedroom.

Odi-e kayo?”  Where are you going?

“Jinju.” I held up my phone. “Taxi.”

She nodded, remembering, and waved goodbye. I headed out the door and saw the black taxi pulling up in front of our building. Success!

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