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Hello North Korea!

December 16, 2009

The one thing I promised my family before I left Korea was that I wouldn’t venture into or visit North Korea. I managed to keep my promise but barely…but I didn’t really decide to visit the DMZ, it was all part of a two day retreat with fellow teachers in my area.

My district, Gangseo-gu, hosted two full days of what was called a workshop but ended up being three hours total of lecture induced learning and mostly visiting landmarks on the eastern coast of South Korea. About thirty middle school English teachers were rounded up and put on a three hour bus ride toward fish-based soups, mountains and merriment. The further east we went, the colder and harsher the weather became.

We started by visiting a traditional Korean village and a museum of Korean culture. For perhaps the third or fourth time, I learned how Kimchi is made, how hanboks (traditional Korean dress) are worn and how to bow properly. The tour itself was somewhat informative, but the area was beautiful. Manhae village, like seemingly all Korean cities, is situated amongst mountain ranges that just might stretch from coastline to coastline all across the country. Eventually we made it further northeast to a sort of mountain retreat building where we all stayed the night. Outside it was freezing cold but so peace and serene that I didn’t mind the cold so much. I had ample opportunity to start a book  for a bookclub I joined recently and get to know some of the teachers in my area, some of which live literally minutes away from my apartment. Everyone got along just swimmingly…so much in fact that a small party developed by the end of the night, making the next morning a bit difficult to manage.

AFter breakfast, we hopped on the tour bus to the Goseong Unification Observatory, a relatively flattened area between a ton of tall mountains and a sprawling beach (I think this was my first encounter with the Pacific Ocean). FRom the flattened area, I could see North Korean military and a small village opposite of the De-militarized Zone. Something about the area made me thoughtful and introspective – maybe I’ll make my way back when the temperture becomes a little more agreeable. From there, we went to Hwajinpo beach where I saw an aquarium shaped like half of a boat! but…I didn’t have enough time to go inside. Saddies.

After a few other quick stops, we started on the monstrous trek back home. The bus may or may not have gotten lost once or twice or made detours or gotten stuck in heavy traffic. Whatever happened, it ended with all the teachers eating their fill shabushabu – a delicious, spicy-ish meat stew – and returning home.

All in all, a fabulous time. Will add photos later

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