We planned a trip to Pusan this month. Well, I say planned. Next time we'll do better - it was pretty much a debacle but at least we got to check off one thing on the list, and we do have pics to share with you!
We didn't work out our route ahead of time and relied on an out-of-date Google map on my (Judy's) phone to navigate, so we took longer to get there and endured traffic jams on the way. Then, too, it was a sunny weekend, so taking the road directly between the most famous beach in Korea ( Haeundae Beach) and the biggest shopping mall in the world (Shinsegae Centum City, registered with the Guiness WBOF) was probably not the best navigational decision I've ever made. As you can see, it includes a spa, golf range, ice rink, and more, among countless shops and stores, plus a food court famous across Asia. Sadly, we did not have time or energy to stop and browse.
None of us three were in particularly good temper at this point, so regrouping and making a decision was made just that much more difficult. Being hungry and needing a washroom didn't help any either! We had a number of things on our to-do list but after spending thirty minutes inching along one tiny section of roadway in downtown Pusan, in mounting heat and dwindling endurance, we decided to scrap everything but the most peaceful, least urban option - Haedong Yongkungsa, or Yongkung Temple. I'll cheat and let the Korean Tourism Authority give you the introduction:
"Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is situated on the coast of the north-eastern portion of Busan. This superb attraction offers visitors the rare find of a temple along the shore line; most temples in Korea are located in the mountains. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was first built in 1376 by the great Buddhist teacher known as Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty. Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (Seawater Great Goddess Buddha), Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary, Yongwangdang Shrine, Gulbeop Buddhist Sanctum (enclosed in a cave), and a three-story pagoda with four lions (symbolizing joy, anger, sadness, and happiness) can all be seen looking out over the ocean." Well, we were quite done with two of those lions and ready to move on to the more positive two, but again our plans didn't match reality.
"Many people often come to this spot on New Year's Day to make a wish for the new year as they watch the sun come up. April is an especially beautiful time of year with cherry blossoms in full bloom. The birth of Buddha is also celebrated in the fourth month of the lunar calendar and offers a spectacular night view as the temple area is aglow with lit lanterns."
We were there a day after the actual celebration, so the temple was still decorated but also thronged with visitors.
As many people as lanterns! I was able to get a clear spot for a photo of Bryan, which immediately filled in when I lowered the camera. We wound up literally shuffling up and down those hundred and eight steps, elbow-to-elbow with other tourists, to be able to move through the temple and out onto the rocks of the coast. Worth it once we were there, though...
Finally out on the rocks! Anywhere in North America this would be fenced off and totally inaccessible to the trippers and tourists. The shore here is - obviously - extremely irregular, with dropoffs into deep water, and the waves coming in with sucking force. No barricades, no concreted path, no handrails, no life ring on a post - just the snack vendors and souvenir hawkers with their carts and tents atop the flattest parts, and people wandering casually about over the damp boulders.
Were we able to find the fabled peace and tranquility supposedly available at this sacred site?
No, we weren't. It was indeed a beautiful place in a beautiful setting, with careful workmanship, striking paintings and carvings, and natural advantages to set off the human creativity, but it was also packed with vendors and hawkers, children shrieking for food and toys, tawdry balloons next to the worship lanterns, people shoving and pushing to get their hands into the 'holy water' pool in a tiny cavern beneath the temple, and a general overlay of commercial self-centredness of the sort that must have made Jesus start tipping temple tables in his day. One imagines the old monk on the left, above, stepping down from his tree perch with a glare of similar condemnation for the lack of sanctity, or the two tight-lipped bonzes on the right slowly shaking their long-lobed heads.
We shuffled our way back, eventually, through the hordes to the exit; tramped the roadway out to the overflow parking lots (pay parking only); crept our black Korando carefully down the hillside out to the highway; on the open road with, I am sorry to say, a sense of relief.
I think of one of my favorite Korean poets, a maverick wanderer known for his love of makkoli and his oversized rainhat, and how he might have skewered the entire scene in one of his eccentric and colourful pieces - but choose this more printable thought instead.
Joy, he might have said, is where you find it, but while we could see the bones of the coastal hill and the lines of the temple's beauty, there was little of either peace or joy about the place. Let me return to my own green mountain and look again!
We promised pictures to make up for last month's word-heavy essay, so I (Judy) have been busy documenting the beauty around us with my cell phone. Let's start you off with the promised blossoms, and I apologize in advance to our Canadian readers who probably haven't seen as much as a dandelion yet, but please enjoy these blooms vicariously!
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
The entire campus is hung with bloom right now, not merely courtesy of the cherry and apple, but with camellias in lipstick hues, gold festoons of forsythia, rosemary (who knew it came in five-foot woody bushes with dainty periwinkle spikes of flowers?) and here and there the early azaleas flaunting out their startling pale magenta petals against the backdrop of the dark pines
Of course, it would be nice to have a bit more sun to enjoy them with; we've had more overcast and grey this month than fair, and today is actually a cold drizzle under which even the enthusiastic and perpetual basketball practice seems slightly subdued.
Six stories beneath our windowed balcony, the campus spreads out, the cherries in full display along our driveway and beside the attached elementary school's sports ground - from whence the omnipresent sound of bopping basketballs resonates from the morning CCM blast on the campus speakers to the last dying of the light over the western hills. We are looking southeast in this photo, with the water just visible to the east, and the tall buildings of downtown Pohang to the south. As you can see - glorious blooms, but under a melancholy sky.
This balance, like an old scale which vibrates as the spices and coins are dropped alternately on either of its pans, is familiar to every one of us who have lived more than a decade or so on the planet; once past the 'living in the moment' stage in which children exist, and the dramatic pendulous swings of adolescence, we quickly learn that we can hold both joy and tears, kindness and impatience, the lovely and the plain, the mundane and the sublime, simultaneously. So there is my theme for today, made explicit, and perhaps you'll allow me to elaborate on it as I tell you about the last few weeks.
Here, for example, is how the apartment (not quite, yet, feeling 'home', though I am 'homemaking' on a daily basis!) space appears at the moment:
So, as you may gather, I'm extremely happy to have school-provided internet available, to have a brand-new computer system with an expensive monitor (a gift from Bryan!), to be running Adobe Photoshop's latest version, and to have access to things like French lemonade, art supplies, my own precious books, a print shop on campus, and more. On the other hand (or the other end of the couch, as it might be), the Kitkat and I are both draggy, coughy, stuffy, achy, and subsisting on soup/boring old toast/far too much screen time, having no energy for housework or homeschooling, let alone creative projects or getting out of the house.
Still, that's only the present situation, and there's plenty to catch you up to speed from the last week alone, without a recital of our current miseries! For example:
And did I mention? We have a vehicle!
To be precise, it's a 2013 black Korando Clubby truck, which we've nicknamed 'Maximus' after the loyal steed in 'Tangled'. (I know, Max the movie version is white - we considered 'Khan' after Mulan's black horse, but he didn't have nearly as much personality as Maximus. In the history of loyal steeds, Max tops Trigger, Tornado, Silver, and Buttermilk, as far as we're concerned - I mean, even Shadowfax didn't wield a sword in his teeth, am I right?)
This is the newest and nicest vehicle we've ever had, and his heart has been yearning for a truck (or at least not a sedan!) for twenty-five years, so there's some serious new-to-us owner's pride here. Between this truck and my Google map skills on my now-activated phone, we will literally be going places! So much easier than the shuttlebus....
And finally, a few more pictures in keeping with my theme - remember that lovely seaside café image at the very beginning of this blog post? Here are a few more shots from the evening.
The first place we tried (where I had that strawberry tart with my new friend, Grace) was inexplicably closed and we couldn't decipher the scribbled hangeul sign on the door. But since the second place was three buildings along the tiny coastal road, none of us grieved for long. We had the space nearly to ourselves; only a single table of four adjumoni (Korean 'women of a certain age', otherwise translated as 'aunties') already ensconced and well into their various coffees, were chattering over the background music.
Affogato for Bryan, the hot bitter espresso ready to play contrast to the cold mellow vanilla.
A deceptively innocent rondel of vanilla macaron for me, with just the right textural play of crisp exterior melting into resilient sweetness. Peppermint tea in a glass pot and a china teacup, dainty polka dots on an aqua ground, rimmed with gold. The Kitkat, predictably, allowed her teenage appetite to choose quantity over quality, and plunked for the apple muffin (which to be fair was moist and generous if not subtle), taking it to another table with her sketchbook and pens and leaving us to enjoy our treats and each other's company.
Eventually, though, the icecream was done, the muffin crumbled, the ocean view only a dark mass dotted with the far-off lights of squid-fishing boats, and the conversation of the table behind us rising into shrill giggles and raucous raconteuring that began to break unpleasantly in upon our dusk reveries - a good time to pack away the Kindle, the sketchbook, the papers yet to be marked, and to depart.
Sweet and salt, dark and light, pleasure and annoyance,
the flavor of mint and the scent of cigarette smoke, companionship and a headache,
sour mold in the bathroom and soft pillows in the bedroom -
the scales jangle and tremble as the hours are poured into either side.
I cannot grumble; go on pouring.
It's Wednesday evening and we're all at home, waiting for a phone call. While we wait, I'm (Bryan) going to write the next installment of our blog, to keep y'all updated on what's going on for us.
(Warning, before you go any further: this is a long post and Judy apologizes for not having photos this time to make it more readable for you! If you know us and want to keep up with our daily lives and responses to living abroad, carry on, or at least skim it. She promises pretty images next time!)
For me, I'm busy. I'm teaching multiple sections of two classes this semester; so I have three sections, each of 20 students, taking my EF class, and two sections, also of 20 students, taking my ERD class. One of the tasks is to keep the sections in step with each other, of course! Multiple sections of the same class reduces the amount of lesson prep that I need to do – and lesson prep is extensive here! The classes are challenging both for the students and the teachers.
EF stands for English Foundations, and it's the entry-level class for the English program here at Handong. Students who enter the uni with a higher level of English can actually avoid the class by scoring high on a placement test! The class is similar to what I've done at Myongji: I do some teaching on different structures (follow-up questions, for example, or comprehension checks) and then provide students with specific tasks in which they can practice those structures. I also have students doing large amounts of homework: reading and grammar activities. The EF classes follow a detailed schedule which is already in place, so I'm not expected to do a lot of curriculum design, but rather implement an exisiting set of resources.
ERD is English Reading & Discussion. Reading and talking, two of my favorite things! The point of the class is to get the students trained in reading textbooks and in higher-level, focused discussions, both integral to their future academic career at Handong, most of which will take place in English. We have a textbook in place (although there is some rumbling about changing it, sooner rather than later) but teachers also choose and use a secondary text as material for discussions. I've picked Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? for my secondary text; student-led discussions start tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the students use what I've taught them.
I'm working pretty hard to keep ahead of my students and am making progress in that area; my lessons for this week are done and I'm starting to build into next week. As well as the classes themselves, I have weekly departmental meetings to attend, a once-a-week class for new Handong teachers, and students coming to my office to consult about the discussions they'll be leading. And, just to make sure I don't get bored, I'm also picking up my Korean language studies. Handong has a lot of international students – and faculty – and so there's a tutoring program in place. I have, at no expense to me, a tutor who meets with me twice a week. I've picked up a textbook with some audio CDs and I'm working on regaining what I've lost over the past couple of years – and then extending. To infinity, and beyond! Ahem....
. . .
Well, we've just received, not the phone call we were expecting, but our entire shipment of goods from Canada! Back when we were moving out of our house in St. Thomas, we put together a shipment of 27 boxes; they were shipped (like, on a ship) to the South Korean port of Busan, and then loaded on a truck for delivery to Handong. We were expecting a phone call to alert us to delivery, since we live on the 6th floor; instead, a Handong student who works in the admin office for my department and has been helping Judy with this process knocked on our door. “The truck is here!” he announced excitedly, and then helped us with unloading the truck, moving the boxes into and out of the elevator and then stacking them up outside our apartment door. There they will remain while Judy unpacks them in an organized manner; we don't have enough space to be disorganized, actually. Katherine has opened up a box of her toys, and Judy has been stocking her kitchen shelves with spices and powders and other hard-to-acquire necessities that have been making their way to our home for over a month.
I've just unpacked one of my treasures: my Harman Kardon speakers or, as Kath likes to say, my jellyfish. My laptop's onboard speakers are, well, they make sounds, and that's about all that can be said for them. My HK speakers, on the other hand, make nice sounds, with a deep bass resonance that tingles my toes. So, with Judy's help, I've got all the cables sorted and plugged in effectively, and some jazz music playing, and my toes are tingling in a most satisfying manner! My computer is set up in our bedroom, mostly because that's where we have some space, and also so that Judy can shut the door if the music doesn't quite meet her auditory needs of the moment.
So what are Judy and Katherine doing? Home-schooling, of course, and getting acquainted with the campus and the people who live here. There are many expat teachers, some of whom have been here for a decade or more. Handong is looking for teachers able and willing to make long-term commitments! So the level of community and cooperation is very deep, and we've been starting to plug into that community.
. . .
Hullo? Hon? Hullo?
Well, it looks as though Bryan has drifted off into the world of Titan Quest and tingly jazz and forgotten all about his audience. Also, it would seem more appropriate for me (Judy) to actually tell you what Katherine and I are doing, since he's out of the house from 8:30 to past five most days! So without ado, we'll leave him to his orc-slaying and see what other details I can fill in.
'Homeschooling, of course' is actually a rather insouciant code for 'getting emotional new teen to participate in real life and basic household duties'. Our Kitkat, generally a joyful and cooperative child, if not overly self-motivated, is experiencing the tides of adolescence, with the attending physical, emotional, and biochemical changes. Tears come easily at thirteen, as do petulant flare-ups, glowers, and push-backs. So the daily request to, say, set or clear the table for a meal, is now met with enough drama to cover a full evening at the Stratford Festival Theatre, or an entire season's run of The Cherry Orchard. Expectations for following an already-established schedule, or a mutually-agreed-upon list of responsibilities, or simple pleasant cooperation are no longer being met. As I'm trying more to equip her with long-term life tools and positive habits, than to merely get assistance around the house, this is a fatiguing responsibility. And as many mothers are aware, it's actually faster and more efficient to simply continue doing the multiplicity of tasks oneself than to train an unwilling participant....
Then there's the issue of trying to 'school', a word I despise anyhow, with a single internet-accessing laptop which is almost out of usable memory, no printer, no textbooks, no paper, two or three pens, and no English library. I realize people learn and thrive in less salubrious conditions, but that generally requires a strongly motivated learner and less need for meticulous organization and variety on the instructor's part. So we're doing very little that would qualify as academic lessons at the moment: a half-hour on Khan Academy here, a few pages from the Grade 7/8 Summer Sharpen-up there.
But then again, it's my belief that Kath will benefit more in the long run from being able to articulate and identify her goals than from doing a page of fraction exercises, from being able to plan and prepare nutritious and balanced meals than learning the capitals of Europe, from daily habits of hygiene and organization and helpfulness and productivity than writing a book report, from developing compassion and empathy and walking humbly with her God than studying cell division, from discriminating online sources and distinguishing media biases than memorizing the formulas for finding areas...
Life skills, yeah? Yet... all those secondary clauses are important too; the world of academics, research, knowledge....and I want her to have both! How do I intrigue and capture her, how connect her energy and interests into the real world and the vital abilities, how keep alive the same passion for always learning and changing that her father and I have - and still model - to this day?
So what with attempting to nurture my daughter's mind and spirit with a current paucity of tools, plus trying to establish a new household yet again from the ground up, ditto, the days can be tedious if not without interest. There's the challenge of going shopping while on an isolated country campus without a personal vehicle: thankful that the shuttlebuses run regularly into town and that taxis once in town are plentiful and affordable. There's the fun of digging damp laundry out of the bottom of the nice new huge washing machine the uni provided us and trying to fit it along the clothesline I've strung across the enclosed balcony that runs the length of our sixth-floor apartment. There's making meals with an as-yet-unstocked pantry and a choice of exactly five flavouring ingredients: salt, pepper, soy sauce, chopped garlic, and cinnamon powder. I generally wind up using all of them in a meal (no, not all in the same dish!) and try to at least ring the changes on texture, colour, and presentation.
Oh, and that wonderful community that Bryan mentioned? Absolutely true. They are sweet and helpful and outgoing – lending towels, gifting basic furniture and dishes, offering the use of their cars to go into town for the run to the Immigration Centre, and stopping by to make sure I haven't been poisoned by the scent of spray paint they picked up wafting down the hall. They are genuine people and are already a big part of why Bry feels so happy here.
And I'm a self-contained introvert, an INFJ who just wants to get settled in her little nest and feel more confident of her place here before she's ready to reach out and make connections with others... preferably slowly, genuinely, and one person at a time.... so as far as I'm concerned it's one more 'responsibility' on my plate and one more thing to check off the daily to-do list. “Socialize with R”, “write thank-you note to C”, “drop off banana bread to J”. Don't get me wrong, I like individual people, as I get to know them, and I'm neither anti-social nor shy. But the essence of introversion is that interacting with other human beings is draining rather than energizing, and for someone with limited 'spoons' and with a chronic nerve dysfunction, it can be overwhelming – a rising of the water closer to one's neck rather than a lifeline.
One of the aspects of living here that will be very healing, though, is where we are. Yes, it's isolated, but the only bad part about that from my perspective is temporary – once we have a vehicle I'll have the access to food and household supplies that's necessary to keep the home running. We are up in pine-covered sandy hills, five minutes from the coast of south-east Korea, the ocean in view from our balcony. To step out the door of the faculty residence and walk twenty meters past the community gardens is to find oneself on a network of trails through balmy-scented pine forests, sun glowing through the live green and the ground carpeted with springy rust-coloured fallen needles. Bliss, and so recharging for my spirit! And, again, once we have a car, access to the beach on a regular basis.
Right now there are so many elements that seem challenging – even the joy of having our boxes come in is mitigated by the hours I need to spend unpacking, sorting, creating new systems and storage and areas to make sure everything has a place and will function optimally in that place. Is this where the baking items should go, or will I need more regular access to jams and spreads? How about this drawer for bags and food wraps? Cutlery on the counter, or table? This bookcase here, or there?
It's less about décor than about the need for everything to flow in the small space we have with minimal frustration, and that requires a lot of decisions and planning. In fact, putting the unpacked clothing away required me to first pile it all on the bed until I had enough empty packing boxes to binder-clip and packing-tape together into a cardboard storage unit for the capacious (six feet of unshelved space and hence useless) built-in wardrobes in our master bedroom. Ditto with Katherine's. As for my arts and crafts supplies, I am proud to say that I scavenged a stack of matching rough flooring boards from the recycling pile, dug out my hammer and nails from the tiny essential tool kit I packed along, and created a storage unit that neatly fits along the back wall of the balcony... then sliced off the bottom half of every large water bottle we've bought so far (tap water is not considered potable in South Korea, though it's perfectly fine to brush teeth with or cook in, and probably a whole lot safer than Flint's, say...) to create multiple modular transparent storage 'bins' to organize the items in. Thrifty as anything you'd see on Pinterest, if perhaps not as pretty for the moment! (yes, home pics later!)
Bry keeps reassuring me that it'll be easier in a week or so: we'll have our ARCs, our alien residency cards that give us ID numbers, on Monday. That allows us to do things like sign up for a phone contract and get SIM cards for our existing cell phones. Which means we can communicate with each other when separated, use Google Earth as our personal GPS, get Korean translated at the click of a button, and of course, the rest of the powers of the Internet at our fingertips. We'll be able to collect points when we're shopping, get our Western driver's licences changed over to Korean ones without taking a driving test, and, very shortly, get a vehicle. And that will definitely make our lives easier.
I can't wait to be able to get out to the beach with Kath, get groceries without it taking half the day, visit the local mogyoktang (bathhouse/spa/onsen), buy some bookcases, go down to the port and photograph the squid-fishing boats, get a Costco membership for real cheese, Western ham and bacon, grain bread. Little things, but little things that improve our quality of life, and our focus of serenity and organization. Katherine and I have also decided that one thing we both want more of in this year is CALM. Finding the patterns and habits that will help us towards that goal is not easy at the moment, but one step at a time, one box at a time, one piece of red-tape-paperwork filled in at a time, and the pilgrimage goes forward.
We're safe. These momentary frustrations will pass
and Bryan and I will keep on working together to create a home out of this space.
We're reasonably healthy and well-fed, warm, dry, earning a paycheque,
free to worship as we will, and most importantly, together as a family.
Amor vincit omnia.
This is a VERY long blog post. In fact, it's basically my trip diary.
If you are just here for the highlights, please enjoy the slideshow below
or review my FB page (Bard Judith).
But if you'd like the good, bad, and ugly details
about our transport, food, and observations, feel free to read on!
Monday, Feb 27, 2017:
B meets one of his classes. Katherine does the dishes and collects the laundry from the drying line on the balcony. Judy packs. We have one bag each (Kath and I choose knapsacks, Bryan takes his computer bag) plus my purse. Clothing, tech, notebook, money, and the all-important passports and visa documents! The lovely Ji-Hyun calls us a taxi when we're ready to depart for the Pohang bus station. Two hours on a bus into Pusan, the big port city in the south-east of the Korean peninsula – the terminal is surrounded by gaudily-neoned 'love hotels', which every traveller knows are the inexpensive but clean option to the big-name Hyatts and Hiltons.
We pick the streamlined G2, and for seventy thousand won get a luxurious, dimly-lit, three-bed room with an en suite whirlpool bath, bidet toilet, rainshower, and complimentary toiletries bag with, shall we say, everything a peregrinatory couple might possibly require. Surfaces are quality and immaculate, beds are made up with beautifully-lofty pure white comforters, and not only is there free wifi, there is a computer as well as a tv in the room. Kath and I are fresh out of the tub and feeling like spa attendees in our crisp white robes, lounging on our lush beds while checking our messages/games.
Tuesday, Feb 28, 2017:
Up at 4:30 am! This is why we left Pohang yesterday – to get to the Pusan international airport in good time. I set out breakfast neatly on a hotel towel – boiled eggs from home, a chunk of cheese, pre-buttered bread, cherry tomatoes, blueberry danishes from the terminal CU mart. We pack everything up and leave in the pre-dawn gloom, motel signs flashing garishly along the alley behind the bus terminal. 'Name cards' showing cross-sectioned strawberries and peaches are propped along the curbs; advertisements for female escorts and nighttime companions. There are taxis along the main drag, waiting in the lineup despite the early hour, ready for the night bus travellers and the over-imbibing salaryman. Our driver interrogates Bryan brusquely while charging along the road with his GPS scolding him for exceeding the speed limit, but depositing us at the terminal in one piece and with a compliment on Bry's Korean.
Currency exchange at the airport tells us they'd have to do two swaps: CAN$ to KRW, then KRW to yen – we decide to do a direct transfer in Fukuoka instead. Quick, short lines through security and immigration, boarding efficiently. We have time to read the inflight magazine, fill in the entry cards, and are served one glass of water, before the plane starts tilting downwards for our descent into Japan again!
An easy transfer from FUK to the airport subway station, and take the Kobe line directly to Tojin-machi. A brisk three-block walk gets us to the embassy @ 11:00, just in time before it closes acceptance of visa papers! We fill in the three application forms, thankful that we already have a) our visa issuance numbers from Mr. Ko, and b) our passport photos ready to be swiped on with the provided glue sticks. A 20,000 Y processing fee puts a dent in our finances, but the most essential part of our trip is DONE...now we can consider ourself 'on vacation' til Friday morning!
We trudge another three blocks to the Seaside Momochi – much humbler and smaller than our last night's accommodations, but clean, and with ingratiatingly helpful staff. Three beds with puffy white comforters, faux-rice-hull pillows, a mini fridge, mini table, and mini bathroom, a window looking into the circular lightwell at the centre of the hotel rather than out over the ocean. Lunch is a priority, we decide – breakfast was, after all, in another country and seven hours ago! Hotto Motto, a bento take-out, is just outside the hotel's front door; it looks cheap and smells good. We choose three bento boxes with chicken chunks, rice, a miniature garnish of cooked sauced spinach with three shreds of carrot, and devour them on the first park bench we encounter.
Bryan wants to know why everything in the area is called 'seaside' if he can't actually SEE the ocean, so we wend our way to Seaside Park - a long barren beach with a boardwalk, some associated cafes, and a grandiose Spanish-hacienda-styled wedding pavilion out over the water which looks like a set from a big budget Zorro film plopped down on concrete pillars. It's amusing to hear the familiar sounds of Korean on a Japanese beach; a vacationing family is trying to keep their youngest members out of the ice-cold water.
Traffic runs on the left here so vehicles are constantly where one least expects them, though everything is meticulously signed visually and aurally, so if you jaywalk you'll find little sympathy. Buses do not idle at lights; the motor goes off and is restarted. Crows and sea eagles vouch for the resulting high air quality.
Flowers! It's subtropical, feeling more like April or even May, with vivid pink rosettes on the boulevard bushes, yellow spikes of something in the daisy family beside light stanchions, and fruit trees in bloom against a baby blue spring sky....though there is still a nip in the sea breeze and most pedestrians are still wearing light jackets.
Lovely old buildings in the traditional Japanese manner, with grey or black roof tiles and the classic scorched-wood exteriors, are tucked back in the alleys, while the main streets sport the modern glass and concrete, office buildings and shops, asphalt and metal poles and overhead wires, that could be any major city on any continent...except, of course, that here the streets are immaculate and sidewalks innocent of litter, while all the signage is in kanji with a few romanizations.
I can't rid myself of guilt for not speaking or even attempting Japanese while I'm here; it feels like I'm the typical self-centred tourist assuming that everyone should speak MY language, the ugly (North) American stereotype, the Victorian Englishwoman playing the memsahib to the hilt. Look, I tell myself: you speak English exceptionally well, decent French, a bit of Dutch, a smattering of Spanish, and survival Korean. Plus a good handful of Latin vocabulary. You've invested in the countries you've lived in, and you'll probably never be back in Japan in your life. Just be courteous and appreciative when they make the effort to communicate with you! It doesn't help that I actually know about twenty or thirty useful Japanese words but my brain insists on opening the Korean file drawer for all the basic phrases instead, so I wind up tongue-tied in every interaction unless I default to English.
Post our afternoon siesta back at the hotel, we grab some maps from the front desk and negotiate with the concierge for a good restaurant. 50% off here if you mention our name, he tells us, and, hai, they have gyoza! It's a long walk back to the subway line, but interesting – along the Sazae-san road honouring a famous Japanese cartoonist from the Fukuoka area – we avoid the many bicyclists en route and ask directions repeatedly.
Third time pays for all, as usual, as a young sales clerk leaves his store and actually walks us around the corner and to the front entrance to make sure we are at Hakata Kurogane. It's an elegant traditional place on the second floor, overlooking the Nishijin subway entrance. Dark, quiet: delectable chicken skewers, rice, gyoza with a lemony soy that Kath and I nearly lick off the plate. On the way back to the hotel we stop at a grocery store and go into sticker shock at the food prices. We'll have to be thrifty, B cautions me, so we buy a simple half-loaf of bread, a small jar of jam, and a chunk of cheese for breakfast the next morning.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017:
I spend a wakeful night with nerve/pain issues. A quick breakfast, then a stop at a pharmacy for some relief before we all head out to Canal City. Hike back to Nishijin, transfer at Nakatsu-Katabawa, exit at Hakata, the downtown core of Fukuoka! We can't decide on one place to eat, so we split up for lunch – B goes for a bowl of udon noodles with tempura, while Katherine and I have strawberry-banana crepes at Dipper Dan's, followed by a rosemary-pork sandwich at our rendezvous point, the Starbucks (with its free wifi and computer charging stations) at the back of Central Court. The budget is tight, but we manage to get K a small Dayan cat figurine out of the Japanese change in my coat pocket, after ogling the rest of the feline-themed 'character goods' store in the South Building, and taking fan pictures at the Ultraman shop.
I desert B and K at the Starbucks to rest their legs and spend some time on their devices while I hunt some little souvenirs at the Daiso around the corner. I also discover the Canal Tourist Lounge and drag them both back to help me decide on an onsen for tomorrow. The two staff look happy to have some gaijin to actually serve, and have intense discussions in Japanese as to exactly which onsen would be the simplest for us to get to before turning to us and rattling out equally intense sentences in accented English. I write everything down carefully, double-check the maps they give us, and we head out again content with tomorrow's schedule!
Thursday, March 2, 2017:
Onsen day! It was an adventure that involved walking, subway, train, taxi, shuttle bus, bus, train, subway, and walking, but we made it to a traditional hot spring and soaked away some stress.
It dawned cloudy, cold, and rainy: B and I both had hats/hoods and reasonably water-resistant jackets, but the darling daughter had left HER coat in Korea and chosen to go with her beloved dragon hoodie for the entire trip. We bought her a 500 Y umbrella which she promptly managed to invert five minutes later, bending the ribs irrevocably. It still kept her dry until we got to the subway, anyhow. Subway from Tenjin, transfer to the Nishitetsutenjin-Omuta train line (say that three times fast), exit at what I transcribed as 'Foot-Sky-Ji' (actually Futsukaichi) station, show a taxi driver the brochure and repeat 'Ten-pai-no-sato?' in a cheerfully inquisitive tone, a short ride through free-standing Japanese houses and up onto the slopes of a pine-clad mountain just outside the suburbs.
Tourist images of hot springs tend to favour the most exotic: smoky pools surrounded by snowy rocks, kimono-clad maids proffering warmed cotton robes, wooden slippers artfully arranged on bamboo mats.... which is all very well if you are a wealthy tourist looking for the 'authentic' artfully arranged onsen experience, but doesn't reflect the typical bathhouse. To us, familiar with Korean mogyoktangs and jimjilbangs, it was not particularly exotic – but it was the relaxing and enjoyable experience we'd hoped for.
We navigated the entryway with its rows of small lockers above tatami mats easily, confidently taking off our footwear and tucking it into a locker, then ran the gauntlet of the restaurant area with helpful staff bobbing out to greet us and gesture at menus, to get to the actual onsen entrance. Pink banners over the women's side, blue over the men's – but first we needed to figure out the ticket machine. An obsequious maitre-de was summoned from the restaurant by credit of having more English than the rest of the staff, and patiently attempted to guide us through the intricacies of the various fees; since we clearly did not have towels with us, we would need to either buy or rent towels, and the big size were only rentals but the small size for purchase was so small (all this accompanied with gestures and about fifty percent Japanese) and the ladies want to share a towel to save money, oh dear, not done.... and would we please look at this poster with the rules for the onsen and read it carefully? Honestly, I mutter to Bryan, Korean mogyoktangs GIVE you a towel and pyjamas with the entrance fee and don't make nearly this much fuss about it. No warmed robes or wooden slippers, no free bath essences or hair products or bamboo scrubbies... But once we were in, and past the formulaic rows of changing lockers and benches, ah, familiar steamy bliss.
A large wooden dome over stone and tile floors and various hot and cold pools. A line of seats and hand-held showers along the left side, glass windows along the right looking out to the open air pool. Saunas to one side, complete with a TV behind protective glass, and a huge container of salt. Kat and I, well-trained, headed straight for the small wooden shower seats, filled our bamboo buckets, and began scrubbing down. Fully clean and rinsed, we took a few moments in the inside pools but then made a beeline for the exterior and the open-air pool, which we had completely to ourselves for the majority of the time. A five-foot wooden wall around the stone pool allowed us both privacy and a view of the grey sky over the pine-covered mountains; standing on tiptoe let me peek down over the town and its dark grey tiled roofs. Part of the pool contained a shallow submerged bench with a thatched roof over it, where one could lie back with the warm water lapping around one's edges, but I was happy to perch on the stone edging and soak up the contrasts of texture.
Wood and stone, cold breeze and steaming water, pine trees and cloudy sky, with the occasional ray of sunshine breaking through to illuminate our pale Canadian skin against the amber water. Two hours of sensory bliss, calm and peaceful and nourishing.
On finally emerging, we realize we have no way of getting back to the station unless we ask the staff to call us a taxi – which we already know will be expensive- and which Mr. Maitre-de humbly points out. He also wishes to inform us that there is a bus to the station, but.... and here his English breaks down, but we surmise that it's a bit of a hike to the bus stop from Ten-pai-no-sato Onsen. We stare at each other in mutually good-natured frustration for a moment and then his eyes light up. He beckons us to the entryway, where we quickly retrieve our shoes and shoulder our knapsacks again. “Wait,” he hisses, and dashes off through a Staff Only exit. Within moments he pulls up outside the door in a small white van with the onsen's logo prominently on the side and waves us in proudly. He has just deserted his restaurant and wait staff, and, presumably, clients, in order to drive us three lost gaijin down the mountain to the bus stop. And there it is, turning its motor on at the stop, just as we screech to a halt behind it. We pant our too-hasty thanks as we scramble out of the van and into the bus, digging for hundred-yen coins for the fare. Kat and I, as always, are energized by our time at the bathhouse, while Bryan is enervated and pleasantly drowsy, but we all agree we're hungry. Unusually, there's not much open in the Futsukaichi area – we follow our noses to a bento place and gulp down some rather good teriyaki chicken on rice with a side of oriental coleslaw, before finding our tickets and our platform to train back into Fukuoka central.
Friday, March 3, 2017:
Down to the bottom of our budget and Bry discovers I still have a wad of Korean bills tucked away; he decides we'll exchange 50 thousand, splurge and enjoy our last day in Japan.
We go for a Subway breakfast sandwich - somewhat disconcertingly, the 'B' in their BLTs and breakfast sandwiches is supplemented with a kind of crispy salami, but it's warm and filling to start off the day. Our schedule as B lays it out, is to exchange a bit more money, then kill time, maybe at Hakata station, until 1:30 when the embassy is open for visa pickup, then to hustle it to the airport for our 4:00 flight. But, he adds, we might as well stop by the embassy and see if one person can pick up all three passports so that Katherine and I don't have to hike back from wherever we choose to spend the morning.
A bright sunny day, after yesterday's cloudy drizzle, gives us energy to stroll along the river bank to the grey-tiled Korean embassy, and we wait outside while Bry consults with the gate guard and is eventually let in. He emerges a few minutes later through the little barred wicket gate with a big grin and a double thumbs-up; the amiable clerk has asked him for his last name, rummaged behind the counter, and handed over our vital documents on the spot! So now in possession of the essentials, we are free to do what we want as long as we make it to the airport in time.
Hakata Station and the surrounding shopping areas are busy, bright, richly packed with things to do, see, buy, and eat. We wander down the underground 'Peace Street' with its hole-in-the-wall restaurants, emerge into a gigantic department store, find the currency exchange, and eventually negotiate a place to eat. I choose a gingered pork set, Kath picks gyoza (which she insists on calling mandu), and Bry is happy with his roast mackerel.
Reading to digest, dessert at a coffee shop, browsing, then back on the subway and the shuttle to the international terminal. An interesting model of the Lindbergh family's Lockheed Sirius is on display – I'd had no idea they'd landed in Fukuoka at one point.
The flight itself is the same monotonous up, level off, drink a glass of water and re-read the air magazine (no inflight entertainment here) in a painfully tight seat, angle back down, land (all right, that part was white-knuckle as we come screaming into Pusan's runway with flaps wailing). We swing our knapsacks on and make an efficient escape through security, immigration, and quarantine, and find a taxi happy to take us back to the Pusan bus terminal.
“Let's eat first, then grab our tickets,” one of us suggests, and since the food court on the second level is sending an amazing waft of aromas and a wide choice of items, we all acquiesce rapidly. A sushi tray for me, with succulent cold shrimp and strips of sweet salmon daintily balanced on their wasabi-tinted platforms of rice.
Back downstairs, pick the right line at the ticket booths, and blithely ask the stone-eyed clerk behind the counter for three tickets to Pohang. At this point plans suddenly come radically derailed: she gives us a flat look and mumbles 'Sold out.' Bryan's incredulous look, and repeating the time of the next (and last) bus elicits no sympathy, only a repetition – 'sold out'. Clearly we aren't about to negotiate with her, Koreans already pressing in behind us to try to get their tickets.
We turn away and regroup off to one side, trying to process this and suggest alternatives. I'm for trying to get to Kyongju, or Daegu, or another town at least in the vicinity of home, and then grabbing another local bus from there to Pohang. B vetos this as chancy and points out that busses may stop running earlier in smaller towns and then we are still stuck. At least here we are two minutes' walk from the motel section, a known variable. No one is particularly happy, but we agree to get a hotel for the night and then take the first morning bus home. I point out, Pollyanna-fashion, that at least this way I can stop at the Home Plus at the Pohang station and grab some groceries before we take the taxi back out to the university – thus sparing ourselves a comfortless evening and next morning in a foodless apartment, and a subsequent taxi into town and back. (Yes, we are all quite heartily sick of doing without a personal vehicle, and the calculations attached thereto...)
The G2 hotellier recognizes us but her broad grin dies when I insist on a cheaper room, pointing out that Japan is an expensive country – with which first proposition she agrees – and that as a result we have very little money left. In fact, she wants to charge us extra for Katherine this time. I smile sweetly, gather my family around my coattails with a queenly gesture, and sweep out. The gentleman behind the counter at the SS proves far more amenable to reason, and we not only obtain our simple double bed but an extra pile of quilts and blankets so the Kitkat can bed down on the ondol floor beside us. Perforce, we rest up for the evening instead of travelling, and prepare ourselves for sleep early.
Saturday, March 4, 2017:
A quick breaking of our fast on rather unsatisfactory CU Mart items, eaten perched on the edge of the orange plastic terminal seats, and three tickets successfully bought for Pohang and home. The bus is full, even at seven-thirty in the morning, but it empties out at Kyongju, the half-way mark, and we each get a double seat to ourselves the rest of the way. Pine trees on sandy soil, the familiar shapes and colours of Korean farmhouses, industrial parks, plazas full of mountaineering gear brandnames, toll gates, bridges, and the sturdy shapes of Korean peaks rising from the flat farmed plains....good to be back in our 'ain countree' and reading hangul instead of kanji again!
I park B and K at the Starbucks while I grab a hundred bucks' worth of groceries – some treats along with the basics, mind you... oats, balsamic vinegar, REAL Western bacon, biscuit mix – and we pile our bags and baggage into one last taxi to get us back to Handong University and home. Sans sofa, sans bed frame, sans bookcases and sans most of the basic necessities for gracious living, our little sixth-floor apartment is nonetheless already 'home' and we are so thankful to be back in it.
As I say to Bryan later, making the three of us lunch over my own stove again, 'Home is where the hearth is...' and he agrees; a mattress is a mattress, and one can sleep almost anywhere, but cooking and eating in your own kitchen means that you are truly at home. Grateful. Now, one day of rest – tomorrow our Sabbath – and then Monday new adventures await. See you then!
Whew! It's been a busy week. Welcome to our new home, a snug little two-bedroom apartment on the 6th floor of HGU's IFH-1 building, on the campus of Handong Global University, Pohang, South Korea. This place sure does love its acronyms! We now live in International Faculty House 1, and the number is important because there are, as far as I know, 9 of 'em...that's a lot of international faculty here.
So let me catch you up on our first full week back in South Korea. We arrived in Incheon Airport on Thursday afternoon and were met by my friend Chris. His wife, Haerun, works for a major airline, and they live about 10 minutes away from the airport. We kept him waiting in the car with Kath while Judy and I dragged two overflowing luggage carts halfway across the terminal to their temporary storage facility and paid the local equivalent of ten dollars a bag (ouch, ouch, but still better than trying to transport them to and from the airport for a single night). Our immediate needs for water and a decent-sized bathroom satisfied, they took us out for a very nice dinner (Korean tweji-kalbi for J&K, kimchi chigae for me!) and lots of conversation before we crashed in their guest room. Early Friday morning Chris dropped us off at the airport again so we could catch the 8:40am direct bus to Pohang.
The bus ride was really nice – more leg room than on the flight, for one thing, and no security check for another – but it took about 5 ½ hours. So we read and chatted and enjoyed the scenery...and waited...and napped...and read...and finally arrived in Pohang at about 3pm.
We'd been here for at least an hour when there was a knock on our door. A giggling gaggle of slim lasses in an assortment of heights and ethnicities – well, six girls, all of them close to Katherine's age, all of whom live on campus and were eager to meet the new girl. The Posse, we call them, and Katherine's already starting to bond with them. We're pretty happy about that, let me tell you.
There were also some people who stopped by to meet Judy and myself, offering food (home-baked sour-dough bread, for example) or other necessities (clean towels, clean cups, a bag of flour, some cans of plum juice). We are among people who travel, pilgrims who know what it is to enter a new place with very little. Other colleagues had left gifts just outside our door. Toilet paper, basic dishes, coffee sticks, pillows. Notes, welcome posters, the oft-repeated phrase 'if you need anything, just knock!' So we did some unpacking and then, wonder of wonders, another family, living just down the hall from us, invited us for dinner. And such a dinner! Fresh salad, bruschetta, carbonara with generous hunks of bacon, garlic bread, lots of water....and a very sleepy daughter who started snoring into her dinner plate. We excused ourselves and settled in for the night.
Did I tell you about our bed? The apartment is semi-furnished, we were told, and that's true. What does that mean? We have a table and four diningroom chairs, but no sofa or other seating in the living room. One desk, attached awkwardly to a bookcase. A brand-new washing machine but no dryer. No garbage pails or curtains. In our bedroom, it means we have a mattress but no bed-frame to put it on. We've been here a week and our mattress is still on the floor; on the other hand, better a mattress and no frame than a frame and no mattress!
Saturday was more of the same – meeting people, unpacking, trying to get settled – and then Fred and Renee, the ones who fed us dinner last night – took us shopping. It's possible to get into town on the university shuttle bus (Judy and Kath have done so repeatedly this past week) but it certainly is more convenient with a car! More Korean food (bibimbap, omoktang and yukgaejang, for those in the know) and a nice coffee made for a pleasant afternoon before we returned. Jetlag made for an early night, and that brings us to Sunday.
There's a church on campus called HIC (Handong International Church) where a number of my co-workers attend. Service, music, sermon, in English. Katherine met up with a few of the Posse, Judy was able to sneak away from the coffee kletsching and play the grand piano after the service; it seems like a comfortable place, certainly to get started. And we were invited to lunch! These people know how to make others feel welcome.
The new semester starts on Monday and so this past week has been in high gear, filled with meetings – the ERD team, the EF team, the full DLE meeting. I did warn you about those acronyms! I've also met with my team leaders as I grapple to set up syllabi, class schedules and teaching plans and resources. Tuesday and Wednesday were occupied with a faculty retreat featuring two presidential addresses summarizing upcoming challenges and opportunities, several sermons, a guest speaker inviting us to use flipped learning as a teaching paradigm...and some very nice buffets! HGU is different from other universities I've been at; here the language department is considered an integral part of the school, not always the case in other universities where English classes tend to be mandatory and small-stakes.
And through this whole week has loomed the specter of my visa. I need a working visa, an E-1 specifically, and while I was hoping to get the visa paperwork before I left Canada, well, that didn't happen. It actually came through sometime while I was soaring over the Pacific, somewhat ironic. See, the thing is that the visa is prepared by the Immigration Office in Korea but needs to be processed by a Korean consulate. And as there is no Korean consulate inside Korea, this has proved to be awkward. There were some indications that I might be able to get the matter resolved in-country by the Immigration Office, so on Monday it looked like a trip to Japan, Tuesday, no, it can be done here, Wednesday was the 'we're not sure' day, Thursday it was firming up to be done here....and Friday, final answer, nope, you need to go to Japan. (Remember that line of mine, last blog post, about feeling like a pingpong ball?)
The problem is that classes, as I mentioned above, start on Monday. But the visa process is no longer an overnight affair, as it used to be. In fact, it's a three-day process, and that doesn't include travel time getting to and from Fukuoka, where the closest Korean embassy is located. In effect, we'll be gone all week, leaving late Monday and coming back early Friday. So I've been working, yesterday and today, to get materials ready for those teachers who will cover my classes while I'm in Japan. This has been made a little more difficult – well, more than a little, actually – because I can't access the university's on-line site, including student lists and other resources, until I get my alien residency number, which is directly dependent on the visa. I also can't get my university email address, which doesn't seem so bad except that it means that I can't set up Google Classroom, a teacher-student interface that I've used before. I totally realize that teachers were running things long before Google and online tools and computerized class lists...but these days everything is geared for those tools and systems. One of my classes, for example, uses a digital textbook. With digital homework. Which I can't use because...well, you get the idea.
So, that's where things are at the moment. With any luck, the next blog post will be 'postmarked' from a beach in Fukuoka!
Text by Bryan and Judy Alkema, C 2017. All photos and images unless otherwise indicated by Judy Alkema, C 2017, all rights reserved. Please feel free to share or quote directly from this site.
So I'm sitting in Tim Horton's, sipping my coffee and wondering whether I'll rrrrroll up the rrrrrim to win, when my friend asks me, “How many times is this now?”
And I say, “Three.”
Let me explain.
For those of you new to the Alkema saga, a swift recap: Judy and I met in 1988 in our first year at Redeemer College (as it was then) and were married after we graduated in 1991. We looked for work in Southern Ontario for the next few years and then, in 1996, decided to relocate to South Korea; we packed everything up and moved overseas. We worked at a small after-school academy for two years and then made the jump to teaching university; we worked at Myongji University in Yongin from 1998 to 2002 and then moved back to Canada to spend time with our parents and siblings. That was #1.
Re-entering North American life wasn't so easy for us; we moved both residences and jobs a couple of times, our lovely daughter Katherine was born, and then I spiralled down into depression. (That sound suspiciously like a cause-effect relationship, but it's not!) Anyway, Judy was still working, but things were getting really tough financially, and then, of all things, we got a job offer from Myongji University again! So we packed everything up and moved overseas, and worked at Myongji from 2007 to 2015. And that was #2.
Actually, Judy and Katherine came back in 2014, while I remained in South Korea to complete my contract and returned in early 2015, and then looked for work. That, however, was easier said than done! After a few months, I chose to move to Oman and teach for a year there, just to keep the family finances solvent. Judy and Katherine visited for a couple of months, but it was pretty clear that the Middle East wasn't really where our family was going to thrive. So, when my Oman contract was complete in July of 2016, I returned to Canada. We'd been applying for work here in Canada for over two years – from Newfoundland to B.C. to Nunavut – with very few responses, so we sat down and had some coffee (for me) and tea (for Judy) and discussed returning to South Korea.
We sent out dozens of applications and Judy booked a last-minute airplane ticket for me; I was in South Korea from late November to mid-December of 2016 for interview purposes, then back to chewing my nails in Ontario for January 2017 and fielding massive amounts of emails.
But the upshot of it all is this:
I've been hired to teach at Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea;
we're packed up and moving overseas one more time;
the house is sold, our few remaining possessions on a slow boat to Pusan;
our flight leaves tomorrow; and this will be #3.
Bryan & Judy Alkema are educators, travellers, pilgrims, wordsmiths, and global learners. They are returning to Asia for the third time in their 25-year marriage and look forward to sharing their travel writing, cross-cultural experiences, wisdom perspectives, and beautiful images with you.