Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…

Adventure Island

When I arrived to South Korea roughly three months ago, I stayed in Wolgot with a family of two of my students for 8 days and had an incredible time. The family and I developed a great relationship and I was afforded plenty of time to have them practice English with me, in addition to having the opportunity to share and learn about our customs and culture. Word of this great experience had spread throughout town and my principal soon suggested the idea of organizing an “official” 2-day home-stay teaching during my first week of Winter English Camp with a few other students of her choosing; I avidly encouraged the idea.

Upon my morning trip to Wolgot, the snowy weather cleared up and unveiled a bright blue sky just in time for the first day of  my overnight “home-stay” teaching with Ferris & Andrew, two of my 5th grade students.

Home-stay teaching with Ferris & Andrew

Before arriving I was slightly nervous regarding the home-stay as I was not given any specific direction on how to conduct it; although, I figured I would just do the same as I did during my first home-stay, which was to constantly keep the students engaged in English utilizing a variety of fun activities. Upon my arrival with my duffel bag, baseball gear, and several board games in hand, I was warmly greeted by the Lee family and my nervousness immediately lifted.

After sipping on some delicious roasted brown rice tea called Hyeonmi Cha for the first time and pleasantly discussing aspects of the United States, my time in South Korea, and the confines of my stay amongst my co-teacher and the Lee family, the home-stay teaching officially commenced when I took Ferris & Andrew outside and began teaching them in English on how to throw various baseball pitches. If I have not explained it before, besides Soccer, baseball is a fairly a huge deal in South Korea and all the kids love to play it, which brings great delight to me. Both students quickly learned on how to throw a fastball, curveball, knuckleball, changeup, knucklecurve, and slider. Ferris was actually surprisingly very good at throwing each type of pitch and I hope he seriously pursues baseball. Immediately following our baseball activities, several other students ascertained that I was in town and arrived with the prospect of joining our next activity: snowball fight!

Snowball Fight!

My co-teacher and I were soon the designated target as we were pelted with snowballs from every direction. We both dusted off the snowflakes and then happily chased the students around the neighborhood in all-out snowball fight; it was definitely a great icebreaker. Following the snowball fight, my co-teacher soon departed and I then joined the Lee family & Andrew on my first trip to Ganghwa Island.

Ganghwa Island is the largest island in the upper northwest region of South Korea right across from the North Korean border. It’s essentially the hub for weekend warriors from Seoul and is normally very busy during the weekend. However, during the 2 minute midday Wednesday drive from Wolgot to the Ganghwa Island bridge, there was not one unwanted stop. After enjoying a scrumptious lunch and all the while instructing my students on how to say specific things in English, the Lee family took me on an afternoon tour of the island and I soon discovered new facets about Korean history, culture, and religion. Our first stop: Chojijin Fortress.

Chojijin Fortress, Ganghwa Island

Chojijin Fortress was built in the 7th year during the reign of King Hyojong (1656) in the Joseon Kingdom along the Han River in order to defend against marine attacks from Japan. The Han River sits between Ganghwa Island and the mainland and is a direct waterway to Seoul; thus, this fortress helped to prevent easy accessibility to the inland. However, by the 1870’s, this fortress served as the battle line of the aggression from American and Japanese military corps. During the “American Disturbance of 1871,” which will later be explained, this fortress was quickly occupied and its armory and powder magazines were destroyed.

After instructing Ferris & Andrew in English on things associated with the fort, we departed for our next stop: Jeondeungsa Buddhist Temple.

The Jeondeungsa Temple and its seventeen cultural properties that reside within Samnangseong Fortress are said to have been built by the three sons of Dangun, the mythical founding father of Korea. Rebuilt to its current standard in 1621, Jeondeungsa Temple played an important role in national defense as it served as an archive in times of external aggression. I thoroughly had a great time trying to explain and teach aspects about the buildings and statues that reside here; it’s truly a wonderful place. Below are many photos with descriptions.

Southgate entrance of Samnangseong Fortress upon entering Jeondeungsa Buddhist Temple site

Jeondeungsa Temple Lantern

Ferris & Andrew spinning a very large buddhist prayer wheel. Before spinning, Mr. Lee slid a 1000 won ($1) inside the wheel and said “omen.”

Lantern Stairway – Jeondeungsa Temple Ornamentaion

Red Lotus – Signifies the original nature and purity of the heart. It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion and all other qualities of the heart. It is the flower of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

The Golden Fish were originally symbolic of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, but now have come to generally represent good fortune for Hindus, Jainists and Buddhists. Within Buddhism it also symbolises that living beings who practice the dharma need to have no fear of drowning in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate (chose their rebirth) like fish in the water.

Buddha Shrine at Jeondeungsa Temple

One of the Four Heavenly Kings or “Guardians of the Four Directions” upon entering the Buddhist temple shrine

Upon taking the final temple photo (below), I felt genuine solace that transcended beyond my understanding and I realized something I had not pondered in quite awhile.

Jeondeungsa Temple Shrine & Monk Quarters

After reveling the ornate tapestries within the last temple buildings, we said goodbye to the mountainside tranquility and headed towards our next destination: Ganghwa Dolmen.

Ganghwa Dolmen

Ganghwa Dolmen at sunset

A dolmen is a structure usually regarded as a tomb, consisting of two or more large, upright stones and set with a space between and capped by a horizontal stone. One of most representative tomb types of the Bronze Age, the Ganghwa dolmen is one of the most famous relics on Ganghwa Island and is the biggest of its kind on the Korean Peninsula. The capstone itself weighs 52 tons and it amazes me how people during this time were able to lift this much weight without advanced pulleys or cranes.

Major dolmen sites within Korean Peninsula

There are around sixty thousand dolmens worldwide and Korea contains close to forty thousand of them, wow! Ganghwa Island is considered the “nation of dolmen” because of its very abundant source of gneiss, which is considered good material for creating one. In addition, no other place in the world where dolmens are found have more compact mass than in Ganghwa, Gochang, and Hwasun provinces.

After enjoying views of the sun falling into the horizon, we took a quick stroll down the road and entered the Ganghwa History Museum.

“American Disturbance of 1871”

Being a History & Spanish major, I am quite familiar with American imperialism around the world and trade in Asia during the 1800’s stemming from Commodore Perry’s various expeditions to Japan in order to successfully garner forced trade deals. However, it was here at the Ganghwa History Museum that I first learned of what is called the “American Disturbance of 1871” or formally known in Korean as Sinmiyangyo.

“American Disturbance of 1871”

In May, 1871, American forces approached Ganghwa Island with the mission to conclude a forced commercial treaty with the Joseon Dynasty by use of military might, in addition to ascertaining the fate of General Sherman, who was aboard an armed merchant marine ship that visited Korea in 1866 and proceeded passed the Keupsa Gate without permission. It is said that the isolationist nature of the Joseon Dynasty and their reluctance to trade, in addition to the assertiveness of the Americans led to an armed conflict that eventually saw many battles being fought predominantly in and around Ganghwa Island.

Korean sniper taking aim during “American Disturbance of 1871”

Eventually, the United States failed to secure its initial objectives. However, 15 servicemen were awarded the medal of honor for their valor, one for being the first to scale the wall at the Chojijin Fortress and another for capturing the Sujaki Flag at Gwangsung Fortress.

Sujaki Flag

This flag is a general flag for General Eo Jae-yeon (1823-1871) in the Gwangsung Fortress. Despite failing to secure initial military and trade objectives in Korea, this flag was taken by American forces and housed in the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis and was recently given back to Korea in 2007. Wow, can you believe that?

It was then time for dinner and Ferris & Andrew expressed to me that they desired fish. Our next destination: Ganghwa Island Fish Market.

Ganghwa Island Fish Market

The taste of fresh fish was on the tip of my tongue and my mouth watered incessantly while venturing by the variety of vendors all yearning for our business. Ferris’ mother asked me what I wanted to eat and I thoroughly debated between fresh flounder or large mussels and clams. Mussels are in fact my favorite type of seafood and I eventually succumbed to choosing them, even though there were many new types of fish to indulge. However, we soon discovered that no vendor had decent mussels (according to Ferris’ mother). Therefore, she purchased clams instead, which was absolutely fine by me. Then Ferris’ mother visited many other vendors to purchase vegetables and it was during this time that Ferris, Andrew, and I went on our own tour of the market. In English, I identified many of the objects being sold and then gave them of a verbal quiz of many of the items; they passed with flying colors.

Upon leaving the fish market, I quickly snapped a photo of something I’ve never seen before amid a variety of fish. Any ideas?

Can anyone tell me what this is?!?

It was then dinnertime at the Lee house and all of us sat on the floor around the table enjoying clams and various other dishes that were quite delectable. This also gave me an ample opportunity to meet the rest of Ferris’ family. Ferris has four older sisters and three of them were present at dinner. I soon discovered that Heidi, a soon to be university graduate, was fairly versed in English and I was able to communicate complex expressions with her that I wished to be promulgated to her family. She was my very friendly language bridge between the Lee family and I.

After dinner I played a few boardgames with Ferris & Andrew and then became extremely exhausted; I hit the sack early at 9pm sharp.

The next day many more fun activities were organized and after going snow-sledding at a nearby park, Andrew was dropped off at his home. By this time it was almost dinner and I knew that my time with the Lee family was sadly coming to a close. I was really enjoying my time with everyone and I was actually invited to stay another night, but I decided not to overextend my welcome. In addition, I was already pretty exhausted. We then concluded with a farewell dinner at a local sashimi restaurant in Wolgot.

The Lee Family & I at my farewell dinner

One last observation:

Ferris at the beginning of my home-stay

Ferris at the end of my home-stay, immediately asleep after farewell dinner

8 comments on “Adventure Island

  1. Chuck
    January 2, 2011

    That is dried Fish eggs maybe.

  2. Lo
    January 3, 2011

    My favorite blog thus far!

  3. Dan Henrickson
    January 3, 2011

    I didn’t get to read this entire blog, but I also loved it! What a fantastic attitude Paul!!!

    I’m currently on my own Adventure Island….Jamaica…and even though it’s my 1st day opening my work email in 3 days (basically unheard of in the last 4 yrs since we started this company) I knew I should open the email from your blog about this post.

    I’ve never heard of anyone having any sort of homestay before. Maybe a day staying with the director of a hogwan, but not with students. It’s awesome! Good for you for realizing the cultural experience.

    Dinner over-looking the ocean awaits, gotta fly!


  4. Carey Macy
    January 3, 2011

    kidneys (from a shark?) because they are attached. or looks like sea cucumbers.

  5. Adam Bender
    January 22, 2011

    They look like testicles. I’m serious. The testicles of a cow are only slightly smaller and their color is a little different. Plus they are a common food in other parts of the world. Do you actually know what they are? I was very interested in the American Disturbance of 1871 since I’ve never heard of it either. That’s awesome that you can do home stays. It sounds like your education experience is vastly different from our American one. It’s awesome that you are having such a blast.

  6. Sanna
    January 31, 2011

    They are dried fish roe most likely of Cod

  7. Cassandra
    February 4, 2011

    Paul, i love your blog and congrats on the new found relationship.

    The last comment was correct, it is fish roe. Indian people in south Africa LOVE it, in my home back in SA, we fry them then make a tomato based sauce and cook it like a curry. So good!!!!

  8. Jim Boatner
    May 23, 2014

    Paul –

    FYI General Sherman was the name of the merchant marine ship not a person. The ship was burnt and all aboard killed in what is now N Korea. I’d guess that the 1871 incident was partially in retaliation. Incidently, the USS Pueblo (captured by NK in ’68) is moored next to a NK memorial to the Gen Sherman incident at the actual historical site.

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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