It's late Spring here in Namwon, South Korea, and that means hot (and sometimes unpredictable) temperatures, high dust levels and itchy feet, as I look for ways to get outside. Everyone is busy. The students are busy as they sit and prepare for tests. The teachers are busy with the extra workload. The farmers are busy planting at the beginning of the rice season. The impression that everyone's busy, all the time, has been given the moniker 빨리빨리 or 'hurry, hurry,' and as interesting as it is to observe this culture, one has to be careful not to be overwhelmed by it.
All in all, living as a foreigner in a culture I'm still largely unfamiliar with keeps life interesting. I'm grateful for the small signs of progress: such as when the student who usually tries to sleep in class is actively engaged with the activity. Such as managing to have a successful (albeit short) conversation with someone in Korean. Such as staying up late to prepare lessons but it being totally worth it.
In recent weeks, I've started to venture further afield. A couple of weeks ago, I cycled to one of several 'literature villages' in Korea. At the centre of this one, in the small village of Seodo, is the 'Honbul,' an epic novel about women living under the Japanese occupation in the 1930's. It took Choi Myeong-hee 17 years to compose, and was finished in 1996. I spent this weekend in Yeosu, on the southern coast of Korea, with friends. We spent the night camping on the beach, and although the rain thwarted the opportunity to go swimming, it was so good to be back on a beach.
Passing through the countryside by bus, train or car, I've noticed how omnipresent the mountains are. They are small in comparison to New Zealand's soaring peaks, scarred by eons of shift and change, but they are everywhere. I've always found that our mountains have shaped my identity as a New Zealander, but I still wonder to what extent Koreans are connected to the land. Maybe it entirely depends on one's level of interaction with the land. But I'm not so sure. In Korea, the cultural emphasis seems to be on people: there seems to be nothing many Koreans enjoy more than sharing food and drink together - in fact, everything seems to be shared. But in New Zealand, perhaps it's not the people around us who define us most significantly, but our history, and our land. Janet Frame thought so. She said that it's not people, but "the land that is our neighbour" (A State of Seige).
My bike finally arrived in April. I've been making the most of the seemingly endless cycle paths along the river.
Maninuichong, or Manin Cemetery of Righteous Fighters, commemorates the thousands killed in Namwon from Japanese invasions.
An afternoon trip with the students to Baemsagol valley in Jirisan national park in April.
Mid-term exams had finished that morning, so the students were happy to be outside.
In mid-May, Mum came to visit on her way to the UK. We hiked up Barebong (1,165m) in Jirisan National Park. The mountain is famous for its azaleas, although we there a bit past their peak blooming time.
Namwon at the beginning of the Chunhyang festival - the city's biggest event every year.
Korean traditional music, which I really enjoyed. Throughout the festival, there were constant musical performances, both modern/K-pop and traditional.
My regular evening run never fails to give stunning views of the city.
Seodo train station.
Cycling around the quiet countryside in Seodo.
This is taken from just outside Sanseo High School. Every Wednesday, I walk over those fields behind the rice factory to the Elementary school. Stunning.
Eating breakfast in the rain at Mosageum beach, Yeosu.
Turtle ship on Odong Island (Odongdo)
Green tea fields in Boseong