I found a shared love with the rest of Korea: festivals.
There’s a festival for just about everything here at just about every time of the year. During my two months, there has already been fire, mud, paint, flower, international foods, local music, hip-hop, break-dancing, and multiple cherry blossoms festivals nearby that I’ve come across; so, you can imagine how many more festivals have taken place that I haven’t even known about. I’m signed up for a huge Jindo sea-parting festival this weekend, so stay tuned for that post because I’ve heard the event is pretty epic in comparison to some of the other ones.
For such a small, rural town, I’m surprised by how much goes on in Sunchang, and how participatory people (especially the elderly, LOL) are in the festivals. We had a cherry blossoms festival about a week ago, and there were many dancing, singing, and karaoke competitions, alongside a packed market of goods along one closed-off street. Travis, Courtney, Tori, and I went on a Thursday night. The festival went on for the following 2 weekend nights, so we were shocked by the hundreds of people that showed up for Thursday’s events.
Oftentimes, I’m not even aware of a festival until I stumble into it. Walking home from school last Friday, this came across my path and turned into a nightly music festival… light show and everything:
When we went to Seoul for my birthday, the same surprise-festival type of thing happened. On our way to lunch on Saturday, a break-dancing, hip-hop, and arts festival popped up outside our hostel. These festivals can certainly turn bland days upside-down!
What else am I shocked by in Sunchang? The scenery and amount of attractions. When I was first assigned the city by the Jeonbuk Office of Education on the last day of EPIK orientation, the representative told me that Sunchang is an agricultural town known for its pepper paste. I did not anticipate to be located in any area of extravagance. Korea is a mountainous country, but I pictured living with a horizon flat land, due to the farming.
The magnificence of the town that I’ve discovered through exploration can only be communicated accurately through pictures, and the pictures don’t even do the views justice as well as they should! Feast your eyes:
Even when the weather isn’t the best, the scenery is still awe-inspiring. When it’s foggy, the entire town is literally in a cloud; you can’t see across the street. I went on a hike the other day, and I discovered the most majestic views of the cloudy day.
I never thought I’d be so grateful to live in a small town and teach in rural schools. A perk of the rural schools is that it’s easier to get closer to my students and co-workers, which makes my teaching experiences more valuable. My small school of 18 students, Yudeung, has frequent field trips on the Friday afternoons that I’m there, and they invite me to all of them. These are things that I’d do and places I’d go as a tourist in Korea, so it’s pretty awesome to get paid to ‘chaperone’ them.
Just like everywhere else in Korea, Yudeung has an eclectic assortment of colorful decorations and flowers. There are sooo many flowers all over Korea. It makes me so happy. I know some people might view their sense of environment ‘style’ as tacky, but I don’t care; I love it.
What’s the best part of living in the small town of Sunchang, though? The people. All of the businesses are family-owned; the only chain restaurant/store in town is the Lotteria. Since it’s a small town, we’ve become frequent customers at our favorite restaurants because the prices are cheap and the food is fresh. It kind of feels like we’re attending family dinner when we go to these places now. Courtney, Travis, Tori and I were talking the other day, and we all agreed that it didn’t take long for Korea to feel like home.
When we go to a certain store a couple of times or buy a few items more than normal, the owner will usually throw in a free item based on our purchases. I bought some ice cream and chocolate at a convenience store on Friday, and the owner threw in an entire chocolate cake. It was so thoughtful, and when they do things like that, it makes me want to share the love. To be honest, back in the US, I would’ve brought the cake home, put it in my freezer, and ate it to my heart’s desire; however, the kindness contagion urged me to bring it to our rooftop and share with the others.
The Koreans I’ve met have all been so kind, so the mix of scenery and people really makes it a wonderland for me. Speaking of kindness and the perks of rural relationship-building, after only a few weeks of teaching at the high school, one of the other teachers invited me to her wedding!! I brought Travis as my date, and we didn’t know what to expect.
The wedding took place in a convention tower, which consisted of a few floors that each contained 3-4 rooms for weddings. We showed the information desk my invitation and quickly found the room in which my co-worker would be married. Travis and I were a little shocked by how casual people were dressed. We were also shocked by how many people were talking during the beginning of the ceremony and throughout it.
The wedding started with a singer and a light show, and then the bride and groom walked down the aisle to the classic “Beauty and the Beast” theme song. The entire playlist was classic American love songs, which I thought was a little funny. She looked absolutely beautiful, but I was a surprised by her Western princess dress because it was open-shouldered and showed a little cleavage. In Korea, wearing a super short skirt or shorts is completely acceptable, even for school uniforms; however, showing shoulders or cleavage is not acceptable. Pop stars that want to be risque will usually choose one or the other: shoulders or cleavage.
Once they had walked down the aisle, they read their vows and faced a serenade by a professional singer. Travis and I talked about the next two events that took place after the serenade, and we think the bride and groom each picked one (secretly) and surprised each other with their chosen events. After the serenade, an artist came on stage and painted a golden glitter portrait of the bride. After that, some of my students came on stage and performed a dance to a popular K-pop song! Then, the bride joined in! It was awesome.
The whole event lasted 20-minutes. Yup, 20-minutes. Just like most other things that go on in Korea, it was short and sweet. The bride and groom’s families took pictures in front of the giant LED angel wings on stage, and as Travis and I were walking out of the show space, we saw the next bride lined up and ready to go for her event. Apparently, the real traditional stuff takes place after the ceremony, and only close family members are invited to that. The wedding event for me was finished off with a convention center buffet-style lunch, which was absolutely expansive and delicious.
Since the wedding took place in the capital city of our province, Jeonju in Jeonbuk, we decided to stay for the day/night with Tori and Courtney and explore. We walked around the beautiful suburban-style city and went to one of the most famous markets in Korea, Nambu Market. It was street food Heaven. I ate so much that I almost puked so we couldn’t go out to the bars at night, seriously. I wish I could’ve taken more pictures of the market, but nothing besides a drone could capture this place and all of the food options appropriately to do it justice.
Once we got back and comforted our food babies by laying in bed, Courtney “played Tinder,” and that was our night. A lot of the teachers that we attended orientation with and have kept in touch with have fun with Tinder, actually, so that’s how Courtney and Travis caught onto it. I don’t f*** with Tinder, no exceptions, haha.
Boy, the language barrier becomes super apparent while on Tinder. Flirting and little sexual innuendos (eg. In America, ‘wyd’ is a slick way of txting ‘what you doing’ or ‘I want to meet up right now to hook up,’ but is just random letters to foreigners) are just too complicated and culture-specific, so messages between Koreans and foreigners in English are a lot more straightforward than you’d typically expect. As a result, you can see why the app might be (especially) either super entertaining or super efficient for foreigners in Korea, depending on your reasons for using the app, LOL. A final example of this language barrier that I think is funny is that the Korean phrase for ‘hanging out with friends’ or ‘having fun with friends’ translates to ‘playing with friends,’ so you don’t really know what a guy means when they say, “Let’s play.”
I just found out that until they get married or move in with a significant other, most Koreans move back home with their parents after graduating college. Now it makes sense why there are so many ‘Love Motels’ around the towns we go to, LOL. A few guys have gone straight to the point with Courtney within the first few messages on Tinder and asked her if they should book the motel room for the night. Based on my initial assumptions, I never would’ve thought so much promiscuity exists in Korea!
I’m equally shocked by the popularity of Christianity in Korea. My co-teachers stop to pray before eating lunch, and in every city that we visit in Korea, churches are packed on Sunday mornings. Whenever I ask random co-workers what they did or plan to do on the weekend, they more often than not respond with, “Church.”
I’m willing to bet that anyone who visits Seoul will get “Jesus’ed” at least once in or outside of a subway, no matter how long their experience in Seoul is. I think 7 times was the average for our group over my birthday weekend. Here’s what getting “Jesus’ed” means: A Korean randomly comes up to you and asks you if you need help or starts talking nicely to you. It’s all fine and dandy until they catch you off guard by randomly asking you if you’ve found Jesus yet or by shoving a Bible or pamphlet into your grip.
We half-joke about wearing cross necklaces or Christian t-shirts just to avoid the awkward and pointless conversations. I mean, really, does approaching random people, obviously going somewhere in a busy subway, and shoving your religion in their faces really work? Who has ever “found Jesus” in a subway?
Anyways, I’m not going to spend too much time complaining about anything here because I know I’ve got it good. Work is easy and enjoyable, and I don’t do a whole lot of it, or at least it feels that way. I have a great group of friends in a wonderfully friendly town. I’m healthy, and most importantly, I’m simply, genuinely happy. So I’ll end this post with another one of my favorite positive quotes.
“Just keep swimmin’.” – Dory.