Happy Chuseok! This is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, but bigger, and usually involves travel either to one’s hometown or abroad. For Americans who don’t need to go anywhere, it’s best to keep off the roads…Typhoon Sanba brought several inches of rain but no wind damage. It didn’t phase the pheasants who populate the US Embassy compound: colorful males and brown females. We also have a large population of black and white magpies, the national birds of Korea.
We went on an embassy-organized, three-hour bus trip to Mt. Seorak in the northeast corner of S. Korea. The weather was fine, and since the leaves hadn’t started to turn yet, it wasn’t crowded. The mountain consists of several jutting, beige peaks that looked like ones I’d admired in Asian paintings. Tom and I hiked up one of them, passing streams and chipmunks along the way, sucking in the fresh mountain air. Unfortunately, our legs started to stiffen that evening, and it was difficult to walk for the next few days!
On another Saturday, we visited history-laden Ganghwa Island. It contains old, defensive fortresses where Koreans unsuccessfully tried to fight off Americans who arrived in 1871 to force the country to open up to trade. We hiked up to the impressive Jeondeungsa Temple, stopping for an Embassy employee’s sixth-grade son to purchase a cup of cooked silkworm larva to munch on along the way. I declined an offer to try a bug, as I had nothing to wash it down with. We explored a history museum built next to an ancient dolmen (portal tomb) consisting of a 52-ton rock perched atop a two other rocks, one on each end. We’d seen a dolmen similar to it in Ireland, and learned that Korea has 35,000 dolmen, the largest concentration of them in the world. It’s thought that the 52-ton rock was placed after raising the two supporting rocks, then covering the area around them with earth to create a mound, using a system of ropes and logs to position the rock on top, then removing the earth.
The Seoul Arts Center showed a National Geographic exhibit of photos called “The Beautiful Days.” It highlighted images of birds, animals, sea creatures, and landscapes from around the world. Simply stupendous! My favorite image was of camels treking in sand dunes taken from above, so that it took a while to realize that the large, black images of camels your eye focused on were actually the shadows cast by smaller animals.
We’re still struggling with learning the Korean alphabet, Hangul. When we walk around town, it takes me half a minute to read a word on a sign, after which I realize I have no idea what the word means. Now that we’ve learned all the letters, our lessons have switched to reading entirely in Hangul rather than the Romanized version of it, forcing us to plunge forward.
As the days get cooler and our houses stay warm, the occasional mosquito figures out a way to enter and visit our bedroom at night. There’s nothing worse than hearing that tell-tale whine around your head at 1 a.m. I’ve tried pulling the covers up over my head, but that makes me too hot, so that last time I heard one I turned on the light and hunted for it. It took awhile, but I got my insect!