Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Episode 58: In Which DFM Has Dinner For Breakfast And Beats A 10 Year Old At Parcheesi... Twice!

Day 2 of my journey called for an early rise.  Mr. Kim's parents were up and a traditional Korean breakfast had been prepared, so I thought it was polite to come join them.

Korean breakfasts look exactly like Korean lunches and Korean suppers.  There's rice, kimchi, and a large collection of side dishes.  In fact there was more food at this breakfast than there was for dinner last night.  I was served another bowl of samgyetang, and I had an opportunity to show off my new kimbab eating skills.  

Rather than using my hand to hold my kim (dried seaweed) and then filling it with a spoonful of rice, I would take a spoonful of rice and then place the bottom of my spoon on the top piece of kim.  The seaweed would stick to the spoon and I would shove the whole conglomeration in my mouth.  Mr. and Mrs. Kim were impressed, because apparently Mr. Kim's father is the only person they had seen eat kimbab that way.  For the record, I had learned the technique from Yoo Sung Bok's father when I had dinner with Sung Bok's family.

After breakfast, April and I left with her sister Julie, and brother-in-law Kenny.  We were planning to see a famous temple nearby, but first we stopped in at an incredible tea house.

The tea house was hand built by the owner and is located  on the side of a beautiful mountain.  I can't remember the name of the place, but I'll never forget the stunning front yard.

It was hard for me to believe, but the inside of the tea house was even more beautiful than the outside.  It felt like stepping back in time a few centuries, because the floor was made of dirt, and you removed your shoes and stepped up onto the raised wood platform to find your table. (Note:  I have no idea what Korea houses were like a few hundred years ago, so ignore my earlier statement about stepping back in time).

I had something called 5 Flavours Tea, served cold, and it was fantastic.  While we drank and talked I was stuffed full of delicious traditional Korean cookies made from fried rice , and some sort of candy-coated traditional Korean peanut treat.  After tea I was given yet more tea, this time a special plum flower tea with the plum flower in my cup.

After tea we travelled a bit further to see the 1 370 year old temple, Gwangduksa.  The temple once housed 9 Bell Houses and 8 Castles, but was burned down by the Japanese in 1592 and had to be rebuilt.  I didn't bother to count how many buildings there are today.

Incredibly, there was one historical item still left standing.  This walnut tree is over 400 years old and is the first and oldest walnut tree in Korea.  It was brought to Korea by a monk and subsequently the Cheonan region has become famous for its walnut cookies.  I found this out later, otherwise I would have asked to have some.

After seeing the temple, April had to visit a high school student she used to tutor.  The student now attends an advanced language learning institute for grade 10 and 11 students.  The students can learn any of four languages, including Spanish and English, and April's student told me in near perfect English that she was at the bottom of her class.  April even got me an interview with the head recruiter who told me to send my CV to him in case there were future openings for teaching positions. 

The school had some young ducks outside in a pen.  Kenny and Julie's kindergarten aged son, Jun, came along with April and I (his parents went home), and he kept trying to get the ducks to come near him so that he could pet them.  Of course every time he moved closer to the ducks they moved away from him, and he started to become quite upset.  A few times I had to come and prevent him from lashing out at the cage in frustration.  Jun was a favourite of all the high school girls on their class break, and they would come to look at the ducks, but most him.

The school is located right next to an expensive apartment complex, built by Samsung for housing its employees.  Kenny is a Electrochemical Engineer and works for Samsung, building laptop batteries.  He told me he dreams of one day becoming the head of his division and expanding the business.

As if the pond/fountain weren't pretty enough, the apartment complex also had this large Teletubbies style rubber hill for the children and numerous other playground areas (all coated in rubber matting).

April left to go visit even more former students and I stayed with her sister at their new place.  Kenny told me that I was the first guest in his new apartment, so I felt honoured.

Julie slaved for well over an hour on this feast, which made me feel kind of bad.  Not bad enough to not scarf it all down, though.

Kenny/Julie's other son, Matthew, has a friend named Whi-seol (sounds like "whistle").  Whi-seol is twelve and very clever.  After dinner we played an intense game of Parcheesi.  Matthew loves this game and I had beaten him twice earlier, so he was happy to finally get his revenge this time.  Jun is only five and he soon got bored and started trying to steal my pieces.  Matthew got upset and started stomping on him repeatedly.  It reminded me and my brother at that age.

When I got home, another former student of April's was over at Mr. and Mrs. Kim's house.  We talked for a bit and then Mr. Kim took us all out for dinner.  By this time I was pretty full, but I had a reputation to uphold, so I finished my portion and more.  Mr. Kim ordered me some makgeolli, but no one else had any.  I didn't know that there was another option, so after I finished my makgeolli I finished off two giant bowls of tea, one each from Mrs. Kim and the student in the white shirt who had both ordered but not finished theirs.  Mr. Kim said, "he eats good and he drinks good too!"

Finally 1 O'clock AM rolled around and we finally went back home.  Tomorrow I will rise at 7 AM to catch another train for Gyeongju.

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