Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Cozy Korean Christmas

The normal hustle and bustle of Christmas was noticeably absent this year.  Rather than my usual tradition of waiting until the last minute, presents were wrapped and boxes were sent before December began.  We allowed plenty of time for some gifts to arrive before Hannukah’s end, and ensure that others would find their way under our friends' and family's Christmas trees well before the big day. 

If we were back home, we'd have started Christmas Eve by meticulously painting my mom's cookies using egg yolks dyed with food coloring.

Later we’d head to my grandparents’ family packed houseboat for an authentic Swedish Smorgasboard.  The menu would include Crab Aspic, Pickled Herring, Lime Jello Salad and too many other odd dishes to name and explain.

On Christmas Day we’d fill up on brunch back at the houseboat.  After that we'd open gifts around the large Christmas tree and set off for Eugene by late morning to spend the night with Ryan’s family.  Once there we'd enjoy prime rib dinner, good conversation, and the opportunity to dote on their adorable yellow lab puppy.

Obviously this Christmas was different.  Without the familiar gray and rainy skies of winter in Oregon, it was hard to believe it was truly Christmas when the day actually arrived.  We awoke early to find sunshine leaking through our sliding doors and into our living room.  We opened our gifts and toasted the holiday with mimosas.  Later it was on to Bailey's spiked coffee.  Why not, it was Christmas!

We skyped with each of our parents in their respective cities, waving hello and wishing them a Merry Christmas all the way from Asia.

Brunch was made together, consisting of creamy scalloped potatoes, roasted garlic veggie salad, tomato bruschetta, delicious deviled eggs, a savory cheeseball and sliced ham.

As the afternoon turned to evening we watched seemingly endless Christmas movies and savored our holiday.  We finished the night with my personal favorite, sipping homemade Glogg and eating way too much dessert.  There was a nap somewhere in there too.

Although we miss our very family and friends very much, we again were reminded that (corny as it sounds) home is where the heart is.

We wish you a belated Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Green tea with a side of freezing

With four days off last week we decided to take an overnight trip to western Korea.  The area of Boseong happened to be putting on a winter light festival coinciding with the holidays.

The bus to our destination took just over three and a half hours.  We made one quick stop at a rest area to grab a snack.  Passing up the fried octopus on a stick, we chose something more familiar---potatoes.  We also snacked on walnuts encased in  sweet red bean paste and fried dough. 

Once we finally made it to the small run down bus station in Boseong, we waited to board a local bus that would take us to the Bohtjae Green Tea farm.  After showing the bus driver the name of the plantation housing our accommodations scrawled in Korean, we were at his mercy and awaited further instruction.  Eventually he waved his hand toward the door.  We took that to mean, “get off the bus.”  Once we did we found ourselves here. 

It could have easily been the exact definition of “the middle of nowhere.”  A Korean couple we encountered took mercy on us, and upon seeing the same pathetic paper we’d shown the driver, they pointed us in (what we hoped) was the right direction.  Luckily it was.

Soon we found a friendly woman who showed us to our small and cozy room inside this rustic cabin.

It wasn't much, but it was inviting and warm.  The temperature outside was quickly dropping and our room was toasty.  Reluctant to leave the heat, we bundled up and caught our first views of the Christmas lights we’d come to see.

As we waited for a taxi to the nearby Yulpo Beach we appropriately enjoyed some green tea.  The wooden furniture inside the teahouse was funky and artistic.

The tiny beach town proved to be nothing more than a short strip of seafood and barbecue restaurants.  We chose one, took our seats on the floor, and made room for the food that quickly began to arrive.
Samgyupsal and side dishes
Doenjang chigae
Following dinner we found our way back to a plantation close to ours.  Colorful lights lined each of its many tiers.  A stroll through a decorated walkway had colorful lights and festive archways prettier than any photo could capture.  We tried anyway.

After a picturesque and freezing walk among the tea plants, we wove our way through some green tea gift shops and many outdoor street vendors. 
Fried Fish
Potato Roasting Machine
A new friend purchased some of the delicious taffy for us.  We struggled to chew it and began the icy cold walk back to our room.  The wind whipped around our bundled heads.  With the wind chill, temps had been predicted to be around six degrees.  It felt colder.

Finally back in our room, warm and cozy, we laid soft blankets on the heated ondol floor and read side by side until we fell asleep.

We awoke to Christmas Eve morning and gulped more green tea for breakfast.  Before heading back to the bus we took in some daytime views of the plantation.  Although in its prime during spring and summer, the sights were still very pretty.

Exhausted and deliriously happy to be home, we came through our apartment door later that evening.  Under our arms were green tea souvenirs and groceries for our Christmas day brunch. 

Then it was Merry Christmas (Eve) to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Santa in Korea

Santa made an appearance at our school on Thursday.  In fact there were two Santas, dressed head to toe in red, and complete with wide black belts, full puffy white beards and jolly voices.  The Santas “ho ho hoed,” encouraging each awestruck child to come to the front of the gym where we had gathered.  One by one each student came forward to receive a present, personally chosen by the Santas (and initially by the children's parents) from their velvety red sacks of gifts.

Many of the six year old children were skeptical, proclaiming, “That’s not Santa, that’s Ryan Teacher!” and, “That can’t be Santa, Santa is Korean.”  The four year olds didn’t quite know what to think, the youngest looking at me curiously when “Santa” called her name. 

Believers or not, when it was their turn, each child accepted their gift and posed for the obligatory photo.

Even I got a chance to cozy up to the handsome Mr. Clause.

Following the gift giving, students and teachers made (far too complex) Christmas cards to present to their families over the holiday weekend.

Then it was on to a lovely four-day weekend with my Santa.  More on that to come!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Cuteness

Last weekend our students took part in an English performance.  Each of our seven classes acted out part of an existing book or movie.  The kids practiced for weeks before the show, their shaky memorized lines and off pitch Christmas carols echoing throughout the small school.

On the big day their hard work paid off, with no one making a mistake or forgetting lines.  There were multiple costume changes in the large dressing room, and if possible each outfit seemed to be more adorable than the last.  
Cast of The Blind Men and the Elephant
The Bremen Town Musicians
International Girls
Stars of The Little Red Hen 
No explanation. 
The Wizard of Oz
Everyone did well, but nothing was cuter than the opening dance by the four and five year olds.  Here are they are getting ready...

And performing a snippet during the dress rehearsal.

Ryan and I were involved in the show as well; he as “Scary Dino” in a short play of the same name, and I as the Wicked Witch of the West in the classic “Wizard of Oz.”

Once the curtains closed, the teachers were treated to a delicious multi-course Chinese meal at a beachside restaurant.  The sweet and spicy food complemented by crisp Tsingtao  seemed never ending.