March 27, 2007

Dear Canada

Hi everyone,

It's Sunday night, we're back at Ray & Trevor's and tired. We've had some big days, and have seen so much. Pretty steep learning curve!!! Tomorrow we do the subway by ourselves. It is an excellent and quick way to get around. We've checked out Ray's school (kindergarten kids are sooo cute), we will check out Trevor's teaching skills this week, climbed the mountain by their place with Kimchi (he loves getting out and running and stays close to us running back and forth between us - he has accepted us as family), eaten many times from the street vendors - so far this food has been very good - hotteok, delimanjoo, churros, cabbage dogs, squid jerky heated on rocks, chicken on a stick - BBQ'd, bean filled "fish cakes".

Eating out we've tried samgyeopsal (BBQ'd pork), bibimbap (mixture of rice, vegetables and meat with an egg on top), kimbap (Korean sushi of rice rolled in dried seaweed with strips of carrot, radish, egg and ham in the centre), kimchi (pickled and fermented cabbage seasoned with garlic and red chili), ramyeon (instant noodles in a hot chili soup), dakgalbi (pan fried chicken in a hot sauce with various root veggies), and many more. Very interesting and quite tasty, except I don't especially like kim (dried seaweed wrap). Tonight we had the BEST yet - Nepalise food. Yum - Becki you need to try this, soooo good. We ended the meal with Chai Tea, the best I've ever had.

We did Insadong, Namsan, Tapgol Park - saw a 10 tier marble pagoda, the remains of Wongaksa - a temple that stood there and was destroyed in 1515, (was constructed in 1471). This pagoda was adorned with Buddhist carvings. Also, Seoul Tower (like Calgary Tower and at night we could see so much of Seoul, but kinda high for me), and saw - actually we were in the middle of this - a major protest in front of the US embassy - you need to see our pics, you wouldn't believe all the riot police there (1000's - probably 10,000+ - of them, plus riot buses parked end on end blocking areas off - 100's of buses!!! kinda weird, Ray & Trevor seemed to think it was safe, but we got some funny looks - especially being it was a protest against Americans, and we look just like them - Stupid Canadians!!!!!). Sat we went to Suwon city and Hwaseong Fortress - 700 years old at least. The old Suwon city is surrounded by a 6 km wall - similar to the great wall of China. Very spectacular. Fri we hiked and saw little buddist temples/worship places here and there on the mountain, plus went to Costco (where else'!), spent some time with Rachel, watching her teach some extremely smart kindergarten kids, and came back to Ray & Trev's to make quesadillas.

I'm going backwards in my days trying to remember everything, we have done so much. Thursday we hiked - haven't even made it to the peak - you wouldn't even know you were in the city. Lots of long needled pine, and trees we've never seen, some flowering shrubs. Ended our day with dakgalbi (pan-fried chicken and quite spicy hot). Wednesday we pretty much lazed around, trying to get used to the time change, wasn't as difficult as I thought. coming home will probably be the most difficult. Anyways, that night we had samgyeosal ( BBQ'd bacon like pork done right at our table), you pick pieces off the grill and wrap them in leaves of lettuce or sesame. You have kimchi, sweet pickled radish and various other sauces to add to the meat. SPICY as all Korean food.

Anyways, hope this makes sense. It has been quite educational, exciting, and as Dad says - very exhilarating and fun. It sometimes seems as if we are just in China town (Vancouver), and then you look around and we are the ONLY white people. Odd!

I should quit for tonight and let these guys get to bed. Will talk to you again.

Cindy Andrus

March 26, 2007

FTA Protest

On March 25th, thousands of protesters marched on Korea's capital city to rally against the negotiations on the proposed South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA). The police had banned the demonstration when the rally's organizers had applied earlier, as is the law in South Korea, but the protest was held as planned, without the police forcibly blocking the rally. The National Police Agency estimated that about 7,500 farmers, laborers, college students, and progressive politicians took to the streets; and we estimated that close to 10,000 riot police gathered to control the massive rally in front of the U.S. Embassy. As Rachel, her parents and I walked around the massive protest and the omnipresent police force, we could feel nothing but awe struck by the mass amounts of people representing both sides of the protest. It was unimaginable to us the amount of damage that either side could cause.

March 17, 2007

Diamond Mountains - North Korea

“If I were to die the day after seeing Goryeo (Korea) Geumgangsan, I would have no regrets,”
Su Dong-Po, Song Dynasty (960 - 1277).

Manmulsang (만물상) District

On March 9th of last year, we started our long over-night journey to the last Stalinist regime still standing. The Democratic people's Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea, is a measly 40 Km north of our home in Seoul. The trip itself took 5 hours as we had to snake east across the peninsula and cross customs of both Korea's.

Upon arriving at our hotel, we dropped our baggage in the lobby, sprinted back across the parking lot (battling the ferocious winds) and settled into our bus seats for a roller coaster ride up the side of the mountain which boasted 77 switch backs over a 10 Km one-lane road.

After our stomachs calmed down, we were able to enjoy the first hike. It was truly spectacular. Hiking in and around the 12,000 pinnacles offered us an amazing view of the marvelous rock formations, valleys, and waterfalls below. This breathtakingly scenic spot was one of a kind and is considered the most beautiful mountain range on the Korean peninsula and some say in the world.

Samilpo Estuary (삼일포) District

Very shortly after we finished our mountain expedition, we bused back down to the tourist zone and were able to take a leisurely stroll around a teal mountain lake. Here we viewed the many inscriptions on the rock faces. The massive boulders bracketing the lake were inscribed with traces of short verses from the communist celebrities of olden days. Communist propaganda slogans in red paint were also a common sight. The carvings were pro-socialist quotations. Most of them deriving from Kim Jung Il or Kim Il Sung and all of them thought of as scripture in North Korea. One of the longer inscriptions we came across was a song which stated sentiments of war and annexation towards South Korea.

Yet, seeing these rock inscriptions and dying pagodas made me wonder once again how much the government causes us to see and just how much this all-controlling government allows us to see. As one author wrote, "Knowing that virtually every encounter is choreographed in advance creates a strange mind-warp"(CNN, J. Dougherty). We were defiantly feeling the full effects of this ‘mind-warp’.

We ate dinner at our hotel. The restaurant was called the Sky Lounge and rightly so as it was positioned at the top of the hotel and overlooked the valley to the south, the mountain pass to the north and the small North Korean village that was quietly sitting across the high tourist fence and the clear mountain river. As the sun faded into the west we sat overlooking the tourist belt (a small well lit rest area which included a few restaurants and a sports dome where the Pyongyang acrobatics show takes place) and the contrastingly drab North Korean village. On our side, there was indulgence and laughter and lights to shine into the darkness of the communist night. On the other side a village sat quite, still, almost eerily in silence, not a single light flickered in the small time beaten, perfectly symmetrically, dwellings. We were told that as the result of power shortages all electricity, to North Korean homes, is shut off after the hour of six. The real question is when is it turned back on again? Needless to say, it was hard for us to sit in our posh four star hotel and choke down our steak and baked spaghetti.

*The tourist fence mentioned above was to keep us in as much as to keep them out. One female tourist recently (July 08) crossed this fence on an early morning walk and was shot dead.

Guryongyeon (구룡연) District

Bright and early the next morning we were herded up a mountain side amongst a boisterous group of South Koreans. The scenery was once again not lacking in mysterious charm. With the winter wind’s blowing forcefully again today, the craggy, steep and seemingly uninhabited range seemed as unforgiving as any isolated wilderness. As we continued hiking past iced-over waterfalls we felt fortunate to have been able to have such an experience.

On the way back from the mountain we stopped in at a reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist temple. There was one monk who lived on site and he oversaw volunteer work completed by trainees who sometimes come up from South Korea. He too was a South Korean and lucky for us he spoke English as well. He was able to fill us in on what this rare temple was and how it was able to survive in a country that worships its leaders as gods.

He also answered one of my burning questions... and, yes, it takes about four months of solid work to paint the distinctly Korean designs on the underside of a temple roof. Wow, talk about perseverance!

As our trip was coming to a close and as we headed to the heavily fortified border once again, we looked around trying to capture the scenery. We wanted to etch it in our minds as pictures of these rare scenes were not permitted. Oxen carts and plows, people laboring in the fields and soldiers standing at attention at regular intervals along the road, red flags in hand, were memories we would take with us. We peered closely at the hills straining to detect any of the slight movements in amongst the rocks. But it was really those ‘slight movements’ who were watching us so closely. The tanks and missile launchers on the hills bid us a hearty goodbye and as we crossed the boarder. As we pulled away from the North Korean customs and entered the DMZ we felt five rounds of three shots each booming in our chests and echoing off of the badlands surrounding our myriad of buses.

We were happy to be heading home. We had so much to think about and so much to digest. North Korea, the polished part of it that we were able to see, is a hurting nation. We were left with this question, what can we as outsiders do to help?

Point of Interest - The mountainscape changes so distinctly as each season rolls in and out that the Geumgangsan region has long been called by different names in different seasons. At sunrise in the spring, the spiky granite peaks sparkle in the morning dew like crystal diamonds, so in spring they call the Geumgangsan Mountains, the Diamond Mountains. In summer when the forest is thick and green, they are called Bongnaesan, the Verdant Mountains. When leaves blaze with a crimson tint, they are called Pungaksan, the Autumnal Foliage Mountains. In winter when the rocks are bare, they are Gaegolsan, the Skeleton Mountains.

March 12, 2007

A Momentous Occasion

Yep! That's right... Ji Hyun's married! After only a few short months of dating and an even shorter stint of engagement she managed to land herself a robot making, Japanese speaking, taller than average, South Korean heart breaker, Jang Ki.

Ji Hyun was the first Korean to befriend us when we first immigrated to this hot and humid country. She met us on our very first day here as we were wandering around the street with our jaws gaping open and our pocket linings empty. She took us for lunch where she, over many repeated sessions, successfully taught us how to eat cal gook su (or a kind of warm, fat noodled soup) with skinny metal chopsticks. She put up with our ignorance of the Korean language and culture and even managed to teach us how to climb a mountain in + 40 degree weather. She also tried to teach us many different hymns in Korean, although somewhat less successfully. This I assure you was no fault of the teacher.

As we grew to know her and appreciate her love and kindness we saw that her great passion in life was first to serve her God and second to be married and have a family. God granted her wish. We were thrilled to join her on her wedding day to see her joined into this covenant in the sight of God and many others from the Korean church that we attended for so many months. We marveled at the many idiosyncrasies that make Korean weddings distinctly Korean. For example: strobe lights, monetary gifts only (which are counted when you arrived and recorded in a book for all to see - wish we would have know that before we arrived...oops!), arriving one hour early to take professional photos with the bride and the groom, and eating our reception dinner at a buffet style luncheon before the wedding and without the bride and groom. As far as we know there are no receptions here, just lots and lots photo opportunities.

Above is just one of the hundreds of group shots that is mandatory for the bride and groom to take immediately following their ceremony. You will notice the hanboks worn by the women. These are not bridesmaids, as there were none in the wedding, but instead this is Korean traditional dress that is required for special occasions including the marriage of the a family member. We were told that later in the day there will be a traditional Korean service that only family will attend and the bride and groom will also change into hanboks for this ceremony as well.

Ji Hyun and Jang Ki we wish you the best in life and marriage. May God bless you and keep you, may His face always shine upon you and may the grace of God go with you now and forever. Amen.

March 2, 2007


Congratulations to the Kinder Grads of 2006/2007! An ecstatic Minwoo just finished reciting his memoirs to all of the prying parents, as well as, a few Harvard scouts no doubt!

Kindergarten graduation is a funny concept to us westerners, we would presume to call it a cute ceremony. But to these Asian moms it's a whole different story, serious is the name of the game. During the grad ceremony, which we practiced and prepped for extensively, one of the girl's mothers spent the entirety of the time knelt before her daughter fixing her already salon perfect hair, straightening her arrow-straight cap, and polishing her perfect shoes. (I am happy to report that at least this mother allowed her to be somewhat involved in the two songs that the grads had to sing during the ceremony). However as soon as this graduate hit her seat she was back under the spit-thumb of her overbearing mother. I should comment at this point that this child is one of the girls Korea has now labeled as having "princess disease". What is this ailment? It involves a growing generation of girls who think that they are indeed royalty. Nothing in life is good enough for them and contrary to Korean culture they refuse to work hard because they might strain something (a brain, a muscle, a fingernail) and then be unsightly the next day. Their parents can live in squaller as long as they have at least seven different Gucci bags, one for each day of the week. This particular child is 7 years old and acts like the queen of England. I always wondered where she got her straight-faced, "Teacher, I just can't work today because I am too cute" line. Now I know.

Crystal and Kenny are sisters that I teach at Poly. Crystal is a cute energetic girl who is more than happy to be your friend, while Kenny is bright, intelligent and will bring her family honor.

Jessica, the perfect princess.

Julie and Elizabeth holding bouquets larger than they could ever hope to be.