Monday, May 27, 2013

And I quote...

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
― Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

And I quote...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dear Jeremy

As I mentioned in my previous post, a friend of mine recently passed away.

Jeremy Steven Jackson was a lifelong friend of mine, whom I had grown up across the street from since the second grade.  Short of family, he is one of the few people who I have known for that many years.  And although in recent years, we had slowly begun to grow apart, he was a great friend and his death was a tragedy.

Jeremy Steven Jackson
1977 - 2013

After learning of his going into hospice care and that he wasn't expected to live much longer, I sent this letter to his family so that it could be read to him before he passed (he was non-responsive.)

In fact, this letter was read to him, just a few short hours before his death, and then again at his memorial service.
Dear Jeremy, 
I hope this reaches you. I'm deeply sorry I won't be able to see or connect with you before your journey. But, I wanted to let you know how much you were loved and how you impacted my life, as well as many others. I want you to give yourself the full credit for the person that you are. You have made a huge impact on this world, and I hope you realize that. 
You are truly one of my oldest friends, and my life wouldn't be the same without knowing you. In fact, it is hard to recall a time growing up that I didn't live across the street from you, and I can honestly say that I can't think of a better place to grow up than among our family on Ponder Place, but it was you who had the most impact. Who knew how close I could get to the boy who once threw pennies at me from his rooftop?  
We have had our differences, but more importantly we have shared the good times; the block parties, the secrets, the bravery of roller-blading for the first time hanging on to the trunk of a car... and countless other memories, far too many to even attempt a list. There are few people who know me like you do 
I feel lucky to have had you in my life, and for knowing you. I know I am a stronger, smarter, and better person for it. I suspect that you don't even realize the good you've done. You have shown true bravery since this all began, and I admire you for that. 
My wish for you is that you have peace & be free from any and all pain and heartache. Know that you are loved and important. You will always be with me (and everyone else whose lives you have touched) and you will be missed. Find your comfort and rest, you deserve it. 
Love you,
I feel honored that he was able to hear how I felt before his passing. I am lucky to have had such an opportunity, many don't get the chance.  Go now and tell your loved ones how important they are, and how much they mean to you.  Life is short.  And, as I said in the letter, I hope Jeremy has now found the comfort and rest he so greatly deserved.

Hugs & Kisses,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beautiful Bijindo

Last year a few of my lady friends and I had a spectacular weekend on Bijindo Island, so when the opportunity presented itself to go again, I jumped at it.  

Bijin-do, a.k.a. Bijin Island, is an island of the southern coastal city of Tongyeong.  Bijindo is actually quite a nice and small little island (technically two islands connected by a land bridge), and is very low on the tourist radar. 
(click on photos to enlarge)
father and soon enjoying the beach, land bridge in the background

view from the land bridge

A friend of mine reserved a private ferry to the island (although it wasn't totally private) for his birthday weekend.  About 50 foreigners from Masan and Changwon met up at the ferry terminal in Tongyeong early, early Saturday morning to catch the ferry to the island.  (Usually, one would just catch the public ferry, which runs twice daily, and I believe a few in our group did just that.)

on the ferry

Of course, I had gotten a pretty rough sunburn while waiting for the ferry and on the ferry crossing itself. (Curse you harsh Korean sun!)  Once at the island everyone just did their own thing; some hiked, sunbathed, swam, read, chatted, and played beach games.  

campsites on the beach

some people enjoying the floating dock

After setting up the tents, mingling with a few people, and a quick lunch of snacks... I wound up taking a nap (I had dealt with some personal things - I had learned a friend of mine from back home had gone into hospice care - late into Friday night and thus had not had much sleep.)  Additionally, the effects of the sunburn were kicking in. 

after setting up on the beach

friends gathered on the beach

Once I awoke, the rest of the day was filled with all normal beach-y activities, and as night fell, a bonfire (placed too close to the water to survive high tide...oops!)  The night even provided me an opportunity to see some bio-luminescent plankton, which I sadly did not get a photo of.  (Although I did spend some time to myself quietly reflecting on memories and life, as I learned moments before I saw the radiant, glowing ocean that my friend had passed away.)

All day Saturday and a good chunk of Sunday was spent just relaxing on the island, a much needed retreat indeed.  

morning mist

Bijindo is a beautiful island complete with a dazzling view, and well worth the 2 hour trip from Masan (1 hour bus and 1 hour ferry).  The small town just off the beach has just enough to supplement anything that may have been forgotten.  There is one small restaurant that serves Korean food (well, really only 2 dishes), and a couple small stores to stock up on snacks or drinks (sodas, beer and Soju only folks).  The small town is also a nice area to just take a little walk and explore, as everyone on the island is quite friendly.

being a sunburned dork

stairs in town

a small mural

drying seaweed

claim shell waste

The island is certainly a paradise to escape to from the loud and neon cities of the rest of the peninsula.

Hugs & Kisses,

And to my old friend, Jeremy Steven Jackson (1977-2013), may you rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy Teacher's Day!

For Teacher's Day in Korea, it is traditional to give the teacher's some sort of gift.  Since I'm not only not a Korean teacher, but since my time is also split between two schools, I wasn't expecting too much.  However, one of my more bizarre students that has grown quite close to me brought me a nice gift and wrote out a card.  She even snuck it to me, since she didn't get anything for my co-teacher... shhhhhh!

(Click on picture to enlarge)

In case you can't read it, the note says:
To. Liz-
I am Yoon-Jung! Hello, Liz?
Long time no see!
This flower is flower soup-so you can use it for wash. ^^
Merry Teacher's Day, Liz!
Pretty sweet, huh?  Although, it did take me forever to figure out that "soup" meant "soap" - I was quite confused for a few minutes.  And now I have some soap flowers to pretty up my desk, or ya know to shower with if I happen to run out of soap.

And to all the rest of you teachers out there, both near and far... Happy Teacher's Day!

Hugs & Kisses,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Under the cherry blossoms

Spring is one of the most delightful times of the year in Korea, the weather is finally bearable after the frigid winter, and the thermometers haven't yet skyrocketed for the summer months.  It is also at this time that the cherry blossoms begin to bloom.

Although Korea claims these are a native species to the country, it is probably most likely that they made their way here from Japan.  Fortunately enough for me, the supposed best location to experience the cherry blossoms is just a short (ok, long in cherry blossom festival traffic) bus ride from my house, to the neighboring town of Jinhae.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Each year Jinhae is home to the largest concentration of cherry blossom trees in Korea, as well as the largest cherry blossom festival.  It is estimated that over 1,000 trees line the road between Jinhae and Changwon alone.  The Jinhae Gunhangje Festival (진해군항제) began in 1952, when a statue of Korea’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Yi Sun-shin (이순신), was erected in the city’s center.  Admiral Yi Sun-shin was a Korean naval hero who played an important role in defeating the Japanese army during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Today, it has become one of the largest festivals in the country, with approximately 2 million annual visitors, the main draw being, of course the cherry blossoms.

I attended the festival last year, but due to some freezing temperatures, and a few bad storms just before the blossoms were to bloom, although lovely, the blossoms weren't as large as they normally would have been.  This year, however, due to some favorable weather conditions this time around, the temperature in late February and early March rose an unexpected 20 degrees Celsius from last year and accelerated the blooming.  They bloomed about a week before the festival.

I thought this would work to my advantage, and that I'd be able to enjoy the blooms without much of a crowd.  I was wrong.  The whole of Korea knew this "insider information", that the blossoms had bloomed early, even a week before the festival the crowds (and vendors) were in full force.

Bukwon Rotary

I headed out on a Saturday morning, with every intension of wrapping things up by about 4 p.m. to head home and then later down to Busan for the Holi Hai Festival the following morning.  That plan did not come to fruition.  However, having been last year, I knew a bit more about where to go in Jinhae, and that turned out to be a major plus.  

After hoping off the bus from Masan/Changwon I decided to grab a Nubija, and bike through the outskirts of the festival.  One of the more idyllic places to take in the view of the cherry blossoms is along the tracks near Gyeonghwa Station.  The picturesque area has often been featured in Korean dramas.  

Railway services in and out of Gyeonghwa Station have been discontinued as of 2006, but the station has been reborn as a popular tourist attraction known for its picturesque cherry blossoms.  Every so often everyone must clear off the tracks so a (very slow moving) train can come through (from one of the neighboring stations.)  

After taking in the sights in this area, I rode (with friends) my bike to the main part of town and the center of the festival.  Last year, I made the mistake of walking this stretch (nearly 4 km or about 2.5 miles), and between that and the festival it is enough to wear one out.  (Additionally traffic tends to back up in the area, so no matter the route it takes quite awhile to get from one location to the other. Clearly, biking was the way to go.)

Once I got to the main part of town, I was dead set on hitting up the Yeojwa Stream (여좌천) and Promenade, known for being one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots, which are located near the Jinhae train station.  The area is popular for couples, and has also been featured in some K-dramas. I missed this area last year and was a bit sad that we hadn't made it that far.  (I blame the long walk across town.)

The area is quite picturesque, and as it gets dark (see my timing was way off from my original plan) there are many lights in the area to illuminate the blossoms.  (I like the blossoms being illuminated, but am unsure of some of the cheesier hearts and decorative elements - see pictures - but what are you going to do.)

After walking, biking, and smooshing (that is totally a word by the way) my way through the crowd (seriously, the festival hadn't even started yet!) I was just about starving... thankfully I was able to grab some meat on a stick, as this was also the main area for the street food vendors.  

Leaving the festival (although technically I was there a week before the festival) is quite a pain.  Last year, I was convinced I'd have to stay out all night and catch the morning bus home until I happened to luck into a taxi (and by luck, I mean I threw myself at an available taxi and begged when I said, "Masan" and he didn't laugh at me, like the 1 million before him had.)  This year, I was able to make it out while the buses were still running, although that isn't saying much.  I crammed and fought my way on to the first bus I knew that was leaving Jinhae.  I wound up having to stand (while getting very friendly with the other passengers mind you) all the way to Changwon, where I jumped off the instant I knew I could transfer to another bus (any other bus that didn't go through Jinhae.)

At least the walk TO the bus was beautiful.

Next year, I'll probably skip the festival entirely as there are cherry blossoms all over Korea, but it was worth it to go to the cherry blossom capital when the trees were in full bloom at least once, or in my case twice.

Hugs & Kisses,