Lesson 13 for fifth graders is titled “I want to help Mom”. Using the key expressions, I showed my students a short bucket list of things I want to do in my life. My co-teacher and I try to have some kind of moral take-away from each lesson. I taught the quotes “life is too short”, “you only live once” and “catch your dreams”. Students will write their bucket lists this week.
The first on the list was “I want to go snowboarding” among other adventurous things like hiking Mt. Fuji, snorkeling, living in New Zealand, swimming with dolphins, and other things I actually do intend to achieve.
Well, I can now cross snowboarding off of my bucket list. My aching body serves as proof of my expedition.
On Friday night, I took the bus across the country of Korea for three hours to Seoul. Koreans think this distance is rather far, but it is just a walk in the park compared to my days of road tripping in America. My sister, Vora (보라), met me at the bus terminal and we headed back to her apartment after coincidentally bumping into some Gwangju friends on the subway.
I was greeted warmly by my goofy sister, Yumi (유미), and her guitarist husband, Sangjin (상진). We bundled up to go for a walk for a drink and some snacks at a warm Japanese bar. The weather was noticeably colder in Seoul. Something about the air was stiff and piercing. It was the last day of November, after all. I cannot imagine what January will be like. I always hear one word: bitter. No matter how cold it was, I felt warm inside by being with my sisters. They always make me smile. They served as an audience for a speech I wrote for Korean class. The topic could be on anything, but I chose to write about why I’m learning Korean: to communicate with my family. I feel more connected with them as my Korean improves.
Early the next morning, I headed to meet with InKAS (International Korean Adoptee Services) at Sinchon Station. I signed up for a career workshop held at the Phoenix Resort in Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do. Pyeongchang will host the Winter Olympics 2018, making the trip sound even more appealing. This is the second adoptee trip I took, the first being the ten-day InKAS summer camp traveling around Korea. This time, the group size was about 30 or so, a majority being men. Four others also attended summer camp, so it was nice to see them again.
The pleasant bus ride took two hours. I sat next to Leo, a Dutch adoptee, who is getting his Ph.D. in sports psychology in Seoul. I took the opportunity to nerd out a bit and brush up on my psych knowledge and learn about his dissertation on martial arts. He was a very friendly person, as are most adoptees.
The view along the ride was gorgeous. Gangon-do is known for being mountainous and cold. My mouth dropped when I saw snow dusted on the ground. It was the first time seeing the fluffy balls of solid water in six years. I wholeheartedly avoided the cold weather during that time, but I’m surviving Korea pretty well so far.
We checked into our hotel room at the resort where I met my roommate, Rachael, a laid back Californian girl who will be in Korea indefinitely. Our room faced the slopes, so we had a great view of mini people skillfully sliding down the mountains. After basking in our warm room and watching people wipe out, we headed downstairs for the workshop.
I won’t go into details of the workshop. I usually enjoy these kind of lectures and take away some new information, but I must admit that it was not the case this time. Maybe business is just not my thing. Information regarding taxes, loans, interest, and markets were over my head.
After a long few hours and several snacks and cups of tea, it was dinnertime! The bulgolgi and mushroom main dish, seaweed soup, rice, and vegetable side dishes were tasty, but not as good as a local family joint. This restaurant was fancier in the décor as it was in a hotel. Drinks at some little restaurant immediately followed, of course.
We woke up early the next morning to load up on energy at the breakfast buffet before our snowboarding/skiing expedition. I bundled up in layers before putting on the rented snow gear. I was surprisingly comfortable even with the temperature being a few degrees below zero Celsius. After a good amount of time waiting around, we finally got our snowboarding boots and board. A few people chose the intermediate route and I tagged along, thinking I’d be fine. I loved riding the ski lift and watching people riding down the white mountains. My palms began to sweat as we gained elevation, knowing that I have to get down somehow. I never snowboarded nor skied in my life.
I reluctantly attached the board to my feet, leaving no freedom for me to move. As soon as I stood up on the mountain, I slid down the steep hill. The rapidly gaining momentum terrified me, so I purposefully fell backwards and eventually into the gate on the edge. Getting up was a challenge, but I had to get used to it as I fell every five seconds or so. Everyone said that that will happen. They weren’t kidding.
My group zipped past me as they were more experienced, but one of the InKAS volunteers, Ryeora, patiently stayed and encouraged me. She is a contagiously cute Korean girl with outstanding English skills, perhaps because she lived in America for four years. She instructed me to stand forwards and lean back, but my body refused to follow. I kept twisting and turning and thus slid down too fast. I turned around and grabbed the ground as I slid fell down the mountain. I’m sure that it was entertaining to watch because I was cracking up just imagining how ridiculous I looked.
As soon as I finally made it to a flat surface, I decided to take the beginner’s course. Ryeora was kind enough to come with me even though she is more advanced. While this mountain was less steep, it was crowded and I was afraid of crashing into the five-year old skiers. I fell just as much as I did the first time. My body was hurting and I was about to give up and go to the sauna.
She called Gyeonggi (경기), another Korean volunteer, to come and stay with me while she went to the advanced course. I assured her that I am finished snowboarding. I was already sore and thought I would never get it. It was too late though, as Gyeonggi came sliding over to us. He insisted on being my teacher, even after warning him that it is hopeless.
We practiced on a mini hill and I actually stood up and had some control of myself. I decided to give the beginner slope another chance. Instead of the schools of children crowding the slope, it was rather empty and I had plenty of room to use. After the initial and usual falling, I followed Gyeonggi’s repetitive instructions to lean back and stay straight. Eventually, it clicked. I slid down the rest of the mountain with control and on my feet the whole time! I had a big smile on my face when I got to the bottom. I really enjoy accomplishing things and am glad I did not give up. We ran in line to go up the hill again. I slid down with control and didn’t fall once. I even was able to make some turns! It may seem like a baby hill to experienced snowboarders, but I was pretty damn proud!
Before I knew it, our time was up and I had to head back to Seoul earlier than everyone else because of my commute to Gwangju. Gyeonggi returned my rental gear, got my lunch, cleaned up my dishes, and escorted me back to where I needed to be. Just like my appa and male teachers at school, this is further evidence that Korean men are chivalrous. I am usually all about doing things on my own and not accepting help, but it is kind of nice!
I had a total of 8.5 hours of traveling that day: the shuttle to Seoul, the subway to the bus terminal, the bus to Gwangju, and the city bus home. Phew!
It was a good weekend.