I had a few reservations regarding our end of the semester teacher's trip. After all, I'm the only foreign, non-Korean speaking teacher at the school, so these gatherings require some effort. This time around, my co teacher would not be attending because she had to take care of her children. She gave me the option to attend the trip or remain at school for the day - anti-social and alone. Despite my slight fear of the prospect of 12 hours of incomprehension, I refused to peg myself as the outsider and decided to attend.
For no apparent reason except bad luck, I couldn't sleep at all the night before the trip. I arrived at school hot, sweaty, tired, and unenthused. Nevertheless I was early and my poor start to the day declined further when I turned my key in the classroom door and it snapped off in the lock. Great...
At 10 am I boarded the bus and sat next to one of the teachers on my floor who speaks English very well. Song Hwa is a kind and very beautiful wife and mother in her thirties and I enjoy speaking with her, but I was mainly happy that the teachers didn't just avoid me so they wouldn't have to speak in English the whole ride. When the bus set off, bottles of Korean wine were immediately opened. Korean adults can be a bit like high school students - Summer vacation wooo!
Two hours later we arrived at the ferry which would take us across the Han River to Nami Island. Ropes swung high atop a bungee tower and motorboats skimmed across the river towing massive yellow inflatables which flapped like kites in the breeze. Mountains rolled on the horizon like waves of soft green forest beneath the afternoon sun as the ferry made the short crossing.
Sunshine and a soft breeze graced us with their presence as I explored the island with Song Hwa and Jong Hwi, a tall and lovely teacher who strikes me as regal but always entertains me with the latest gossip. There were footpaths lined with tall pines snaking all over the small island and we followed them leisurely until it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
The next stop was the somewhat random "Le Petit France" - a small group of buildings built to look like French villas and housing tributes to various aspects of french culture. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on or why the melodies to Beatles songs were playing on all the speakers but we were atop a hill and there was a lovely view of the river and mountains. Unfortunately I had forgotten to charge my camera and only managed to take a few photos. I did however pose in countless pictures with the other teachers, most in front of a statue of the storybook character "Le Petit Prince" and they've assured me they will email me copies.
At this point I was near exhaustion and we headed to a restaurant for what would be one of the best meals I have ever had the fortune of eating. After discovering that the restaurant we were supposed to go to was closed, we walked towards the shore and stopped at a small outdoor patio to enjoy a dinner of fresh eel.
The sun sunk low against the sky and the air grew thick with mist as plates of salmon sashimi arrived at the tables. We ate the fish slices wrapped in lettuce leaves with fresh ginger and an array of vegetables. Next came the eel. It was grilled in brown sugar and melted as soon as it reached your mouth, every bite tasting better than the last. I thought I couldn't eat anymore but steaming pots of spicy soup arrived brimming with shellfish and vegetables. My skin flushed as I ate spoonfuls of the spicy liquid, warming me as the air cooled and the night mist rolled in over the moonstone river.
Finally there were slices of fresh watermelon and small cups of coffee to go around. We finished our meal and were drawn silently to the shore of the river. The mountains were layers of tissue in cerulean, cobalt, slate and steel. They melted into the soft night air and multiplied to infinity in the glassy river surface. I stood silently a long while and remembered what it is so easy to forget in the city, that I am here, in the land of the morning calm, experiencing life and beauty as I have never known it before. And though the mist obscured my vision, turning the world to watercolor, I felt I could see clearer than I've been able to in a while. I remembered why I came here and what I've been missing and made a silent promise to return.