First of many

10.03.2010

I experienced my first weekend in Seoul and I must say, I'm not disappointed. For starters, Seoul always has an incomprehensible energy about it that can't be described with words...it can only be felt. But when the weekend rolls around, the city becomes a madhouse.

My weekend began on Friday evening around 6:30 p.m. when I met up with a few key people at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club. Let me preface this by explaining that around July, I made a conscious decision to stop looking for work as an English teacher and instead, research various journalism jobs out here. I emailed John Glionna of the L.A. Times, who's the only reporter out here for the Times, asking him if there was any possibility of hiring another reporter. He explained that the Times didn't have the budget to hire anyone else, but that he would happily send my energies elsewhere once I got out here. So almost immediately after I arrived, I emailed him again. We spoke on the phone and he invited me to Friday's meet up, where a bunch of reporters come out to have a drink or two to socialize and just hang out. He said, "If I can't help you, I want to make sure someone else can." I obviously accepted the invitation and when Friday rolled around, I nervously made my way to the 18th floor of the press club.

The moment I met John in person, all the butterflies disappeared. He and his wife were so welcoming and excited for me and my new experience. He introduced me to Michael Chandler, a reporter at the Washington Post and Simon Martin, the bureau chief of Agence France-Presse. For the rest of the evening, we talked about freelance opportunities, various independent publications, past stories in the Times, future stories and so on.

I honestly believe the night couldn't have gone any better. Everyone was just so positive and encouraging. I still can't believe how helpful John was in introducing me to all the big-timers out here. At one point, he even said, "Me and Elysabeth go way back. Our moms knew each other, so if you could help her out, I'd really appreciate it."

After about 4 or 5 hours with them, I met up with Mark, Jamie and 2 of her friends, Jason and John. We then met up with another group of teachers at a restaurant in Gangnam (a region south of the Han river and considered the "Beverly Hills" of Seoul). Afterward, we went to Rainbow, a lounge of sorts, and then roamed the streets, eating street food and talking about how great life is. I'm telling you, the energy of Seoul is definitely contagious :)

The next morning (Saturday), I met up with my dad, brother, cousins, aunts and uncle. Together, we jumped into an 11-passenger van that my dad rented and went to my grandfather's grave. I'm not sure how long we were in the van but traffic was terrible, so I slept until the bumpy cobblestone roads of the cemetery woke me up.

The cemetery was absolutely beautiful. It rained earlier, so the fog settled low onto the nearby mountains and the lights of downtown sparkled beautifully. There was complete silence, except for the occasional drops of water falling from the trees. It was a short trek to my grandfather's grave but once we got there, everyone stood in a circle, reminiscing on the good 'ol days. I couldn't understand anything, so I just preoccupied myself with killing the mountain mosquitoes that were swarming us. Then, as the sun completely went down, my uncle took out a bottle of makgeolli, aka Korean rice wine, and gave it to my brother to pour on to the grave. Then, my uncle took out some dried squid for all of us to eat.

[The beautiful cemetery]

[From left: cousin Ji-Hye, dad, uncle and aunt;
the lump in front of them is my grandfather.
People are buried above ground here]

[John pouring makgeolli on the grave]

[First attempt at taking a family photo: fail]

[Better! From left: oldest aunt, uncle, youngest aunt,
brother John, dad, me and Ji-Hye]

It was absolutely fascinating to see the mini ceremony take place before my eyes. I knew it was going to be a good time hanging out with the family, but I had no idea the experience would be so culturally enriching. After a short prayer, we crammed ourselves back into the van for the trip back.

[What the cemetery looked like as we were leaving]

[After the cemetery, we visited my dad's good friend for just a few minutes.
This is his 14-year-old teacup yorkie!]

Sunday morning, I met up with my brother to go to his friend's church. But worry not, the service was in English and the pastor is American, so I understood what was going on :) The music was beautiful (they had an entire strings section!) and they sang my parents' favorite hymn, "In the Garden," which brought back warm memories of dad content on the couch, listening to mom sing and play the song on the piano.

After church, we met up with my dad for a delicious lunch before he went back to Busan. Then, Mark and I tried walking to the Han River, which was much farther than we expected, but we discovered some pretty sweet hiking/biking/running trails along the way.

[A beautiful trail along the Han River]

At 5 p.m., we met up with Kenny, a friend of mine and his girlfriend, Jeena, for dinner in Itaewon, an area known as the "foreigner's section." Because we've had so much Korean BBQ lately, Kenny and Jeena took us to their favorite French restaurant, O Kitchen. We got a multiple course meal to share and the French cuisine was to die for. It definitely took me back to my Lyon days. Dinner lasted about 3 hours as we talked about life in Korea compared to life back at home. Kenny came to Korea over a year and a half ago and he has no plans to return to the States any time soon. Jeena came 6 years ago and she too feels like Seoul is her home now. They were so sweet and generous--they offered their Costco card, a car if we needed to do any big shopping trips, contacts for potential freelancing opportunities and advice on how to get more involved with the community. As Mark and I walked away, we felt so blessed to be surrounded by people who genuinely care about us and our well-being. It's a beautiful thing.

[Jeena and Kenny; I totally stole this from his FB because I
didn't have my camera to take one of my own!]

So, as you can see, my weekend was filled to the brim. I had not a moment to rest--it was all go-go-go--but I can't complain at all. I'm confident that this weekend provided a preview of how my entire year will feel like. Let's just say, I'm pumped.

Until next time...

Bisous xoxo
Elysabeth

2 comments :

Susan said...

Are you going to want to come home after all this???????

Candice said...

aww Susan.


I cannot wait to join you all out there for winter fun!

<3