Seoul and Eumseong, Korea – A visit to Danny at GVCS

Monday March 4, 2013 Shanghai to Seoul

We got into Seoul and settled into the warm wood and soaring traditional elegance of the Imperial Palace Hotel. I kept forgetting we weren’t in Europe (every other Asian hotel I’ve been in seemed dazzling in its modernity with tons of clean and cold-looking marble).We loved the formal furniture settings, fine china, and old-world warmth of this place – and oh, what service! We had supper in the hotel bar area with several Kohler people who were also arriving for the Asia-wide Kohler distributor meeting.

Here’s the breakfast setting:

The lobby.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

I visited the Chojun Textile and Quilt Museum and saw these “pojagi” Korean style quilts – done with very translucent fabrics and designed to be hung in windows where you would see right through the fabrics. The seams are very precise and sewn with tiny stitches.

This large quilt was just stunning – with very thin pieces and incredible precision.

From the museum, I walked up the hill to the cable car that takes you to the N Seoul Tower located on Mt. Namsan. One of the highest ten towers in the world, it offers great panoramic views of the city, and has been a symbol of Seoul since it first opened to the public in 1980. I lucked out by arriving just in time for a Korean cultural show! I nice guy even took a video of me spinning one of these plates. I know, hard to believe.

Seoul is a city of over ten million people.

Silk worm larvae, anyone? Found these on the street at the traditional Namdaemun Market located in central Seoul near the Great South Gate. This large traditional export market has been in operation for over 500 years.

In the Namdaemun Market, I also saw a really funny guy make honey candy – also called The King’s Candy or Dragon’s Beard. He was hilarious – counting the additions to the strands of silky candy as he multiplied them by twisting and pulling out the candy. I uploaded my video of this “OMG” dude to YouTube. You can see it at this URL (you might have to copy/paste into a browser):

Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7, Eumseong, Korea

I put the concierge, Henry Jueng, to work in helping me map out my trip to Eumseong, pronounced “mmmmmm-sung,” almost two hours away from Seoul, to visit former Lakeland student Danny Spatchek. Since pretty much no one outside of Seoul speaks English (including bus drivers, cab drivers, and hotel managers) this trip was going to be a challenge. Henry gave me seven notes, all written in Korean, explaining to each human link along the way exactly what I wanted to do.

Here are the seven notes, guiding me to the bus depot, getting me on the right bus for my one hour and forty minute ride to Eumseong, getting me into my hotel (with breakfast), and then getting me back to Seoul the next day. (Henry was so good I wrote up a compliment for him on the hotel feedback form and posted a review on Trip Advisor!)

Danny tried to help from his end, too. He even visited hotel rooms with a friend to see if they would be OK for me. He laughed when he said, “I hope this is okay, but the best hotel we can find for you is a “Love Hotel.” Apparently this is a common name for a group of motels in Korea!

Henry’s notes worked perfectly and I checked into the Eum Seong Tour Hotel, which was basic but clean, about $60 US per night including breakfast.

Danny and his friend used Henry’s note (which I had photographed and sent to him) to find my hotel. Trying to communicate to their taxi driver any other way would have been difficult. Yes, I give Danny and his buddies a lot of credit for struggling away on a daily basis in their immersion experience in the countryside of Korea!

By the way, Eumseong is in a county of about 100,000 in population, and is the birthplace of current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It’s also known for its red chili peppers!

Rice fields, hills and mountains around Eumseong.

Danny arranged for five of his teacher friends to join us for dinner at this local Korean restaurant located next to the bus station. It was such fun hearing the stories of these teachers; some of them had been at the Global Vision Christian School longer than others, some were debating about renewing their contracts for the next year. Several were Korean Americans who were touching base with their Korean roots (and who had the benefit of some knowledge of Korean).

The food was very good – and very cheap. The average price was about 4,000 Won or about $4.00 US each.

My dinner:

Julia’s dinner – a soup served in a steaming hot bowl. It sizzled while she ate it.

The restaurant where we ate, near the train station.

After dinner, Julia and Justin, best friends of Danny’s, a married couple who live in the same apartment complex as Danny, invited me to their apartment. What fun to see how these “kids” live – well actually they are grownups now. And what a great apartment – huge by Asian standards, with a laundry room and wonderful outdoor porch. We had a beer and skyped with Brittney Sandberg, another LC grad and Mirror family member who is teaching in China. What a blast! I couldn’t believe we were doing that – and I could feel the presence and support of so many Mirror family members (many of whom piled on my FaceBook pictures of the event posted the next day).

Julia and Justin’s kitty.

Skyping with Brittney!

Danny’s apartment complex.

The conservative Catholic school is very interesting – and seems to stand as an example of why American schools are lost in the dust in terms of academics. The parents pay about $20,000 US per year per child to attend the school, which serves kids in middle school through high school. It’s a residential campus, pretty isolated even from the city of Eumseong – it’s a couple miles out of town and surrounded by rolling hills (almost mountains).

The students are not allowed to have cell phones or use the internet (except for academic purposes). They often stay on campus on the weekends. They study! The teachers are paid about $2,000 US per month plus airfare to and from home. According to Danny and the other teachers, they really have to work. Expectations of the teachers are high.

I sat in on Danny’s 7th grade English language class in the morning. He has a wonderful, gentle style as a teacher. Anyone who knows Danny would say of course he does! He already knows the sixteen students in his class despite that it’s only the second week of the term. He is tuned in to them and seems to know when he needs to repeat things and when he can move on.

In my favorite moment in the class, Danny asks the class to imagine the scene in the Sherlock Holmes mystery they are reading. He then assumes the personna of the farm maiden and waddles in little lady steps across the front of the classroom and into the imaginary barn, asking the students, “What does she see? What is happening?” The students are responsive – especially the little brain child in the front row named John, who always has his hand up. Finally Danny says, “Okay, does anybody besides John have the answer?”

Danny on the GVCS campus.

After a quick look around the campus, Danny took me to see the Buddha of Busin-ri in Eumseong. (The fact that I failed to get information on this Buddha on the internet underscores the immersion experience that Danny is having: there’s not much info available in English on this amazing gold buddha.)

At one point while we were driving around together in Eumseong, Danny said, kind of out of the blue, “I’m glad I went to Lakeland, Martha.” I’m so proud of him for what he has accomplished, both at Lakeland and out here in the world. And it’s a nice feeling to know that his appreciation for the Lakeland experience seems to be standing the test of time. I know, after having the opportunity to see my former student shine in a classroom halfway around the world, that my Lakeland experience is standing the test of time, too.

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