Gunsan visit and soju night

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End May 05, 2006

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Friday, April 7, 2006

As we drove home from dinner, I saw a bag suspended in midair floating amidst the Jeon Ju traffic. Tonight was filled with such unlikely magic and moments.

We went to dinner at a yet another wonder Korean sit down grill with a carpet of different tastes. We ate and we ate and drank beer and soju, except this night we all felt, let's say, very relaxed. Korean ritual surrounding dinner and hosts and elders and drinking and woman all combined with a language that was uunding more and more familiar but none the easier to understand had us all silly by the end of evening.

We have arrived at new level in our friendships when there arises such uncontrollable laughter that tears flow and people sub come to simple joys. We said often tonight that "I haven't laughed this hard in such a long time". And it was true.

Why is this so? Does it take a trip of 10,000 miles to prompt such youthfulness? Does it take ample sojoo or the dizzying challenge of a foreign language or culture to break our day-to-day shells? Does it take a unique mix of personalities to give such laughter a voice? Is it merely a reflection of our situation in life at that moment in time?

I guess it could be any or all of these things. But the laughter was there tonight in such force to shed decades off one's life.

So I begin today's blog at the end, for it was truly the highlight of the day.

We wandered into the traditional area of Jeon Ju filled with traditional hanok houses built of wood, stone and slate and made our way to the paper making area. There we met several people who showed us in various galleries were beautiful lanterns and lights and bowls and wall hangings were, all made of paper.

We sat down and began to make a bowl, composing ourselves, picking our colors and then setting about positioning and gluing our bowls. When we entered, I noticed a woman in the next room with a pair of scissors and paper and glue sitting with herself and her music. As we began our projects, her music spilled through the paper walls. I thought to myself that she's got it going on - music and crafts and focus. In this setting, such things acquire a zen character all their own. I'm not sure if it was really present or something that we merely project but I felt it.

Dinner was in the same area of town where had had dinner last night. We grilled marinated steak, wrapping the bite-sized pieces in lettuce leaves and sesame leaves then garnishing them with shredded lettuces dipped in wasabi dressing and garlic and red sauce.

This food is delicious and feels very healthy to eat. We had a special treat this evening as well - steak tartare. The meat was thinly sliced, a bright red and came with a somewhat spicy and sweet dipping sauce. It was also delicious, almost melting in one's mouth.

Today had been a travel day. For the first time I had awoke in a homestay with a family. Alex poked his head into where Eric and I were sleeping and he saw that I was awake. He came in and joined me in bed and listened to "Clap your Hands, Say Yeah!" on the ipod as I tried to finish the blog entry. (Just as I'm typing this has stuck his head in again this AM).

The children have been incredibly wellbehaved and Alex (8) understands and speaks a great deal of English. I was very impressed with them both.

We ate some breakfast, checked our email then were off.

We spent at least an hour in the van driving to ???? where we visited a market that was equal parts market and aquarium. Then we went to the county office to see a presentation of the Rotary Club president giving funds to local families how had suffered some loss in a recent flood. Though we didn't know much more than that, we could tell that the families were extremely appreciative in a humble quiet way.

Afterwards the local Rotary Club took us to a traditional hanok house that was actually a restaurant. The tidal wave of food set a new mark for us, especially since this was just dinner. Since we were on the coast there was a definite seafood flavor to the meal. Fresh shucked clams, cooked whole fish and shasimi and some "fermented" crab that Susan explored (it was good of her to take one for the team). We had traditional Korean liquor which tasted a bit like cider but not really.

Then we loaded up and drove up to this wonderful Buddhist temple (?????). Though there was no one there to explain things the place was beautiful tucked into the mountains and very calming. We wandered about, took pictures, marveled at the more than 400 (and this was since it had been rebuilt) temple.

From there we went to the Sae???? Dike project where we learned of the Koreans' engineering prowess. They are building the world's largest dike to reclaim land for agriculture, control some tidal flooding, shorten transportation routes and open up new areas for tourism. To say the project is immense would be a terrible understatement. The project was started in 1991 stopped in 1999 by local environmental protests and started again in 2001. Though I was really clear on the environmental concerns, it appears that the destroying of an entire tidal estuary seemed to be at the base.

The director showed around the welcome center with all its displays and we saw a film in English that went to great lengths to stress how great the project was going to be for the region, for Korea and most of all for the environment.

From there we loaded back into the van for the return trip to Jeon Ju. We had a bit of extra time to kill so we ended up at Carrefour department story going "eye shopping" for things and enjoying the general "eye candy" of the moment.

Eventually we found ourselves at the restaurant waiting for some Rotarians to arrive and wondering what twists and turns were going to unfold this evening. As it turned out, none of us had the slightest idea.
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