Sunday, August 19, 2007

and then i went to the dmz. and then i moved to an island.

On Monday the 70 of us packed into two buses and headed north. After two hours on a windy, hilly road we stopped at our first destination: South Korea’s Peace Dam. According to our guide, North Korea built a dam close to the border, and South Korea, worried about potential flood damage if North Korea let the water out, built a larger dam nearby and declared it a symbol of peace. The Peace Dam was interesting, but more so was the bus ride as we continued north. The area close to the DMZ is a curious mixture of real natural beauty—dark green canopied hills, rare Korean pine trees, small, clear streams—and reminders of the area’s political volatility. Nestled into the lush landscape are uniformed men on patrol, army stations, and red signs cautioning against sections suspected of containing land mines from the Korean War.

We stopped at Chilsung, an observation post just before the DMZ. From the windows of the building, we had a decent view of both the DMZ (the 2.5 mile-wide de-militarized zone between North and South Korea) and the North. Apparently the DMZ is the most heavily fortified border in the world and there are canons (yes, canons) on both sides ready to go at any time. Through binoculars we did see North Korean soldiers, but I’m guessing there wasn’t any immediate danger as we saw them bathing in a stream.

Two days after the DMZ visit, we headed off to Yonsei University in Seoul for final workshops and some shopping. On Friday we met our school officials and nervously headed off with them to our respective areas around Korea. For most people, this meant a bus ride. For those of us on Jeju Island, it also meant two hours in the airport and a plane ride. As I’m on the south coast of the island, for me this meant a car ride as well. My co-teacher and principal met me in Seoul, and we traveled back as a group. Jin, my co-teacher, is really energetic, helpful, and great at English. My principal is polite but sort of disinterested—regardless of whether I was speaking English or Korean he nodded and went “mmmm” when I talked. I am grateful, though, that they both understood how tired I was and let me sleep through most of the trip.

I met my host family late Friday evening. I think I was more anxious then any first day of school/ date/ important thing in the last five years. I don’t have any real complaints, though—my family is really kind. I have a large room in their apartment on the sixth floor with a view of a Family Mart below and a mountain in the background. My host parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, are doctors. Mrs. Lee knows some English. Mr. Lee doesn’t, but he comes off as warm and good-humored. I have two host sisters, ages 12 and 14, who spend at least 4 hours a day taking classes in things like English and math after school. I live in an extremely talented family that makes me guilty for not studying more. I still haven’t figured out the bowing thing and have dropped something with my chopsticks at every meal (excluding breakfast, where we thankfully use spoons), but I’m getting by and am learning. Tomorrow I should be getting a cell phone, and on Monday I teach my first classes. Wish me luck!


Christina said...

I'll be wishing you lots of luck for teaching your first class - although I know you will do wonderfully!

Looking forward to hearing about it...

Aaron said...

I hope that your island is great. How would you pronounce DMZ if it was a word? I'm thinking it would sound like a muffled "DAMNZ!" like if you tried to swear really enthusiasitcally, but without actually opening your mouth.

I love that the South Koreans built a peace dam, but the North Koreans said "damn peace!!" ... I mean, "DMZ peace!!"
Mom also said you saw peace otters or something?

Steve said...

wow the DMZ. that's so insane! how is class then??