For those of you who live abroad, you know how hard it is to explain your surroundings to those back home. People ask, what’s it like over there? How is it different? What is South Korea like compared to America? Oy. I can go on and on depicting how different everything is here (and truthfully I’ve been here long enough to not remember exactly what is normal and what I used to consider strange), but even painting a very detailed picture doesn’t capture all that is important when describing this setting. So, imagine how ecstatic I was when my mom and her friend, Cathi, came to visit me and Renee in September during our Chuseok (the Korean version of Thanksgiving) break. After three years of telling different stories, sharing pictures and doing my best to describe everything from the smells to the food to the culture, my mom finally got to experience everything firsthand.
On Friday the 13th (thankfully I’m not superstitious) Renee and I headed to the Busan airport with one of our co-teachers and picked up my mom and Cathi from the airport (who looked pretty amazing and energetic after just having traveled for twenty-six hours!). The next morning we walked along the port and into Gohyeon, and we basically ate our way around town, trying everything from ddukbokki to huge steamed mandu buns to hodduks and potbingsoo. We also walked through our live fish market, which neither of them had seen before. Many different species of fish were there in tanks or in shallow buckets of water, along with clams, oysters, squid and octopus (one of whom jumped out of its bucket, trying to escape its certain fate).
On Sunday we wanted to hike to a little waterfall in the area, but after hearing that there was no water at the moment, we switched our plans and ended up at Wellbeing Park and did a little hiking there. After we were nice and sweaty, we walked to our favorite little coffee shop and enjoyed some ice green tea lattes (Renee and Cathi) and some chocolate banana milkshakes (like mother like daughter). That evening we took them to eat Bossam, steamed pork with a ton of different sides. We then took them to Mr. Park’s, our little joint by the water. Mr. Park’s Café is actually an orange shipping container with a deck built around it, set at the back D Cube’s parking lot. Mr. Park runs the parking lot as well as his café, and he is easily one of the nicest people I have ever met. He even had a sign up to welcome mom and Cathi to Korea!
Monday was a special day because we were celebrating Chuseok at our school, which meant that Mom and Cathi got to see our kids in their hanboks (traditional Korean clothes). We spent the morning playing traditional Korean games and making Songpyeon, a type of rice cake, and they stayed for our school lunch as well. On Tuesday they came to school again and got to see what a normal day is for us. I really loved that they came to our classes and got to see our school, meet our teachers, see the children and see what our normal every day is like. That night we went to Korean BBQ where they got to sit on the floor, experience probably the most well-known type of Korean food, and they got to meet a handful of our wonderful friends here on the island.
Wednesday officially kicked off our five day Chuseok break, and we headed off to Oedo, a botanical garden island (Renee and I went there in May 2012 with our friend, Norah, and I wrote a little about it here. I knew that Mom and Cathi would love it, so we definitely had to go back). In 1969 Lee Chang-ho and his wife settled on the island and tried to raise pigs and grow tangerines; however, that did not work out, so they started their botanical garden in 1976. This gorgeous botanical island has over three thousand different plant species, and you must take a ferry to get there. On the way to Oedo the ferry also goes around and in Haegeumgang, a large and beautiful rock island in the South Sea.
On Wednesday night our awesome friend, Norah, came down from Seoul to stay with us, and on Thursday we all headed to Gujura beach for a BBQ. I was expecting for us to have the beach to ourselves, seeing as it was officially the day of Chuseok, but there were a ton of Koreans out there catching clams and crabs! After watching the Koreans dig for the clams, it was fun to find some ourselves and throw them on our grill or hand them over to the Koreans. That day we ate jerk chicken and steak, a few clams, grilled veggies and some delicious potato salad (thank you, Renee, my amazing cook and grill master! And thank you, Fetsum, for the awesome steak!).
Mom, Cathi and I headed to the Bamboo Forest on Friday morning, and we walked all around the wooded area. This was their first time seeing bamboo in its natural habitat, and it was a really beautiful area with a few different lookouts, and even a bamboo obstacle course! We definitely raided the gift shop afterward for all natural bamboo products. After we worked up an appetite we ate Shabu Shabu, a meal of chopped vegetables, pork and soup that you can roll into rice paper and make your own spring rolls. Yum.
Saturday, their last day on the island before heading to Japan, we headed to Singwangsa Temple. We made our way in a taxi through the winding, narrow streets and halfway up the side of a mountain, unsure that the temple was even open that day. Once we walked up to the main yard we were greeted by a monk and some women who work there. They told us to look around for twenty minutes and then to join them for lunch. This place was absolutely gorgeous with stunningly ornate details on the temples, and also had a statue of Buddha that was around one thousand years old. We were then called to lunch and enjoyed a beautiful and delicious vegetarian meal. We were gifted with prayer beads, face soap and face oil, fed lunch and were allowed to roam their mountainside temple for the price of just being there. On our way out we each dropped a donation in one of the boxes around the area, but we were truly unable to put a price on the experience that we had just had. To end the day we ate at our favorite BBQ restaurant in Gohyeon that makes an amazing seven minute kimchi stew that I’ve only seen served there.
Mom and Cathi left for the airport on Sunday to have their five day adventure in Japan, and then returned to us the following Friday evening for a final weekend in Busan. After picking them up from the airport and dropping their stuff off at the hotel, we headed into Nampo to get a glimpse of the street market and to eat at Izakaya, a Japanese restaurant (I know, I know, they just got back from Japan, but it’s still Asian food, and it was delicious!). On Saturday morning (their final day in Korea (sad face)) we went to the Jagalchi Fish Market, Korea’s largest seafood market. Holy crap, I have never seen such HUGE seafood in my life! The shrimp was literally the size of my forearm. My mom might have also seen an octopus get killed. Oops. We then traveled across the street to Nampo-dong, a large maze of a market, and we happily got lost shopping for souvenirs, jewelry, clothes, hats, purses, cookware and food. Later in the afternoon we jumped on a subway and went to Shinsegae, the world’s largest department store. We mostly spent our time there wandering around the food area, admiring and tasting all of the different treats. To end the night we journeyed to Gwangalli Beach to see the bridge all lit up and to experience another major area in Busan. We enjoyed some Korean BBQ, drank some coffee in the salty air, and after a jam-packed day we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of rest.
At about 5am Renee and I put them in a taxi and sent them off to the airport to start their journey back to the States. I can’t express how thankful and blessed I feel that they made the journey across the world, and I hope that they will visit us again wherever we are in the next few years!