Monday, December 21, 2009

Mysterious island Ulleungdo

Ulleungdo is one of Korea's islands, it is not very far from Japan and the famous Dokdo island. Dokdo is forty-five minutes away from Ulleungdo. Why mention Dokdo? Dokdo is a Korean territory which the Japanese claim is theirs. A hundred and thirty of us set out on our unforgettable trip to Ulleungdo. We left for Pohang after midnight. The bus ride to Pohang was an interesting one, at least it was for me; I was sitting next to someone who was very quiet. My friends and I tried to sit next to each other but we could not because people were already seated when we got on the bus. I had no option but to sit next to a total stranger. Although he looked like he was sleeping when we got on the bus, I still do not think that the person who sat next to me on our way to Pohang was asleep. He was just pretending to be asleep. I must say, I was glad he was not interested in having small talk with me. I just wanted to rest or read and not do much talking, we were a perfect match. I had a pleasant journey sitting next to him. I did not even get his name, nor did he get mine. I think we arrived in Pohang around five in the morning because I was sleeping when we arrived. I woke up to an empty bus, none of my friends were on the bus. They were outside - they apparently went out to go watch the sunrise. Unfortunately for them there was no sun in Pohang, they woke up to just take a walk and take pictures around the “beach”. I also decided to go outside to get some fresh air and brush my teeth. Outside, a lot of my travelling companions were scattered around. Most faces I looked at looked like they wanted to go to the harbour already – they could not wait to get to the mysterious island of Ulleungdo. At Pohang harbour we took a three and a half hours ferry ride to Ulleungdo island. The ferry ride was really nice and still. It felt like the ferry was not moving at all. I loved the ride and I was looking forward to returning to the mainland. Little did I know that the trip back would be the most unpleasant ferry ride I'd ever experience in my life. I will leave that one for later. So when we arrived at Ulleungdo that morning, we were taken to our “hotel”. Ulleungdo is a mysterious island and the only hotel on the island lived up to the mystery. My friends and I signed into room one hundred-and-seven. Everything about the room was mysterious, we walked in and looked for the beds or bed but the bed was not there. Inside I was hoping that the hotel staff would bring us beds at night. I also imagined the beds springing out of the floor at the right time. My hopes were shattered when I opened our closet; our beds were starring at us. At least they maintained the island's mystery. We had Korean style beds, not what I was looking forward to after spending a night and half a day travelling. I was so tired, I immediately took my bed and laid it on the floor and rested. My bed had a mysterious smell. I did not realise that until I woke up from my short nap. My friends were too excited to even nap. Luckily my system can shut down even when I am surrounded by a lot of noise. I shared a room with my three crazy friends. There was only one bathroom so we had to take turns showering before lunch. The water was freezing cold but the shower was much needed after travelling for a very long time. For some reason, one of my friends believed that screaming would heat the water up. We had to listen to her scream until she walked out of the shower. A broad smile on her face told it all, she enjoyed her scream-heated shower. Needless to say, I hang out with interesting people. I was the last one to shower and I must say I enjoyed the cold shower; it was refreshing. We had lunch at half past one, after lunch we were taken around on a tour of the island. The island tour was the most interesting activity for me. Our bus driver and tour guide were by far the most entertaining guides I have ever met. The tour guide was one of us, an Adventure Korea employee who had a great sense of humour. The driver was also an interesting character who told us a lot of stories about the island. One of the stories was that he went into the sea and put a rock on top of one of the rocks that were in the sea. I believed him. The tour guide Kyungsu had a girlfriend who decided to turn into a rock and live in the sea. Something like that - his story was interesting but not clear. There was a story behind most of the rock formations on the island. Most of the rocks were named after animals such as the elephant. One of the rock formations in the sea was called the “Drinking Elephant”. I can be very slow sometimes, I think I was the last person in my group to grasp the idea of a drinking elephant. I struggled a great deal trying to figure it out. One of the interesting stories was also the one of a mountain that has a window-like hole. The story behind that mountain is that the whole world was once flooded and God used a hook to fish Ulleungdo island out of the water. As we were driving around the island we came across a place that looked like a female's private parts. The bus driver stopped before we drove under the formation. Through our naughty guide, Kyungsu, the driver told us that he was going to drive forward and backwards for a couple of times at the entrance of the formation. He instructed us to shout “I'm coming!” just before he went through the formation. The driver did his thing and at the end of it we all screamed “I'm coming!”. At that point the driver sprinkled water on the windscreen. I must say, I was a bit traumatised. Not because of what had just happened, but because I was shocked at how liberal Koreans could be. I think its a Korean island thing to be sexual because there is a sex park at Jeju island – a big chunk of land dedicated to sex. We drove to what I thought was the volcanic crater where we stopped and drank some Korean alcohol (Makoli) and coffee. Some of my group members took pictures but I was feeling too cold to be taking pictures, so I stayed on the bus and drank coffee instead. After an hour of drinking, we drove back to our hotel. Some of my companions were already sozzled and kind of making nuisances of themselves. It was indeed time to head home. When we arrived at the hotel we were very happy to find the water boiling hot. We took turns showering. I must say I was a bit disappointed because I was going to miss listening to one of my friends taking a scream-heated shower. We went down to the restaurant for lunch. Lunch was very mashisayo(delicious in Korean). I think I ate three fish all by myself. The soup that was served with the meal was also very very yummy and there was enough seaweed on the table. At lunch I met and exchanged a few words with a few other people. After lunch we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. My friends and I went up to our mysterious room and watched TV. Here I should be saying, they watched TV because I think I fell asleep as soon as they switched the TV on. TV and I are not good friends. After dinner we did the same, went up, watched TV and slept. To my dismay, I found a few spots of old blood on my mysterious bedding. I took it back to the closet and shared another one with one of my friends. I slept peacefully on my mysterious bed covered with a mysterious duvet cover. The next morning I woke up to a cock crowing in the passage. I was on a mysterious island after all. The only thing distinct about this cock's crowing is that it was spelling out WAKE UP. I must say I was not happy to be awoken to such screaming. However, I was later very grateful to the guy who woke us up. If he hadn't woken us up we would have missed breakfast and also missed out on a memorable four hours hike up a mountain. I could not afford to miss out on my first ever island mountain hiking experience. At breakfast people were talking about things they got up to while we were sleeping at night. The most interesting and unforgettable story was about a guy who got so wasted he even peed on his own bag. His roommates woke up to find him standing and peeing on his bag. When he was stopped, he apologised in Korean. Soju brings the worst or should I say the best out in people. Some get courage to speak a language they do not know. Soju also clouds people's judgement. Bags turn into toilets when people are sojued. We had a great breakfast laughing and all. After breakfast we assembled in front of the hotel, ready to hike. As we were standing waiting for some of our group members to join us, the weather changed from being ok to raining. It rained buckets! We were told to go wait in our rooms. What a bummer! Fortunately it stopped raining and we went up the mountain. The beginning of the hike was so steep, some people turned back before they could even finish a hundred meters. My friends and I trucked on. This was after all our first and only chance to hike up a mountain on a mysterious island. The view on our way up and from the top of the mountain was well worth the hike. We did not spend a lot of time at the summit because it was really cold. We went back to town where we tried to find a sauna. We found two saunas but they were both closed because it was Chusok(Korean thanksgiving). The thought of taking a cold shower crippled me. I could not get myself to move. Luckily there was some squid hanging out to dry close to where I was standing, I moved. The squid smell moved me. We went back to the hotel and to our surprise, the water was boiling hot! We showered and went down to the restaurant for dinner. Dinner was again great. After dinner we walked to a place where people could jump off a bridge into the sea. My swimming is not so good. So I steered away from the bridge jumping. I was instead the camera woman. After the jumping we trekked back to the hotel where I continued reading a book that I had brought with me on the trip. While I was reading, my friends went out to mingle with the other tourists. I was not up to mingling and my throat was acting up. I managed to finish the book while my friends were away. My friends came back to the room in high spirits, I had no option but to wake up. They went to a norebang (karaoke) and they came back with good stories. Like I always say, Soju brings the worst and the best in people. My friends told me stories about people who were seriously sojued. Our little mysterious room was reeking of cigarette smoke! Mind you, my friends do not smoke, but they were stinking of smoke – seemed to me they were covered in smoke. They had a cigarette-sauna smoke experience. I was glad I did not go to the norebang but thanks to my friends, I laughed my way back to sleep again. Sunday morning Young woke us up again, I was glad he just told us to wake up. He was lucky because I was planning to wake up and slap him if he screamed W.A.K.E.U.P again. He was also lucky because my whole body was in pain and I was struggling to get up. I managed to get up and take a shower. We went downstairs to have breakfast at the restaurant. After breakfast we took a cable cart to go have a bird's eye view of the entire island. It was very pleasing to look at. I enjoyed looking at creation. It was breathtaking, I did not spend a lot of my time taking pictures, I spent it just appreciating nature and being grateful to be part of it. I could not really get enough of what I was seeing. I eventually decided to go sit down and peacefully digest the beauty of nature. I was unfortunately disturbed by one of our group members. He introduced himself as X. The mention of his name made me want to crack up and laugh but I controlled myself. X was the guy who was known by all of us as the guy who peed on his own bag. I had a difficult time trying to hold my laughter while I was talking to X. X and I had a deep conversation, it lasted only for a while before we sidetracked. I still feel like I need to meet X and finish off our conversation because it left me with so many questions and so much to say. What we spoke about was not the usual small talk that sometimes irritates me. Although he peed on his own bag, I must say, X is a mature person with a great sense of humour. We went to a pizza restaurant just before we left the island. When we were done eating we walked to the harbour. We boarded our ferry back to the mainland. The boat ride back to Pohang was the most treacherous boat ride I have ever had. Almost everyone on board was seasick. People were vomiting left, right and centre. Some were lying on the floor of the boat and some had their mouths buried in plastic bags. When we arrived at the harbour in Pohang everyone was in a rush to get off the boat. Once I was outside and away from the boat, I thought of going back to spit on it. I had never felt so sick in my whole life. I was also very grateful to have made it safe to the harbour. I was even scared to get on the bus back to Seoul. On the bus back, we enjoyed movies and the traffic was clear, so we arrived in Seoul on time to catch buses to our different destinations. The short time on a mysterious island was very very interesting, to say the least!

For a few days I was a 농부 in Pyeongtaek

In South Africa we have a saying that is originally said in one of our native languages, I am just not sure where it originates from. In English it goes something like “you can take a ghetto child out of the ghetto but you can never take the ghetto out of the them” something similar to that can be said about me and that is: “You can take her away from the farm but you can never take the farm out of her.” My grandmother used to own huge corn fields and I would sometimes go and help out during harvest time. The time that I spent at the farming area reminded me of the good old days when I still had a grandmother. The weekend started with me being stuck in traffic and getting lost for almost three hours. At some point I was even thinking of going back home. Luckily I do not usually entertain the part of my brain that gives off negative messages; I do not easily quit. As loud as the negative voice in my head kept telling me to turn back, I kept going forward. Going forward almost landed me in Choenan; which is way past where I was supposed to be at. The story of my journey is that I got stuck in traffic, got lost and had to ask a taxi driver lead me to where I was supposed to meet up with some of the people I was going to spend the weekend with. I eventually found my destination – the small farming community's community centre. The community centre was our home for the weekend. When I arrived I was offered dinner and I dug in because I was really hungry plus it felt like a reward for not turning back home on my way. We had rice, kimchi and chige(soup) for dinner. The food was very good, it put a smile on my face. Half way through my dinner, my Korean farming partner came to introduce himself. He is a very kind and knowledgeable young man, I really enjoyed his company. So we had dinner and talked and talked some more. A few other people joined us and we talked and talked. After almost two hours of non-stop talking and meeting new people, we were instructed to group ourselves and get ready to play games. We played the chicken game and then later went on to playing drinking games. Those who made mistakes during the games had to drink “makoli” – Korean rice booze. Makoli reminds me of our own African beer called “umqombothi”. Their tastes are almost similar and umqombothi's is usually drunk by people working on farms. All these things confirmed to me that Korean culture is not very far from African culture. When I got tired of taking part in the games I went off to sleep in a container. I must say, I was one of the lucky ones because some of my companions could not sleep because others were still playing games where they were supposed to sleep. Some told me that the games went on until the wee hours of the morning. The main room was also very cold so I was indeed very lucky to have slept in the container. When morning came, we all had to wake up and get ready to meet the farmers. Our “weekend home” only had two bathrooms for all sixty inhabitants. Trying to take a shower in the morning was a mission, so I ended up just brushing my teeth and rinsing my face; I had taken a shower before I went to bed the previous night. For breakfast I had a truly Korean breakfast; namely rice and kimchi. It was what I needed to have enough energy for the work I was about to do. The farmers came and we all dispersed to different directions. My teammates and I went to a nearby egg plant farm. our first task was to prune eggplant leaves. The farmer gave us instruction on how to prune. He gave the instructions in Korean and I was the only one in my team whose Korean was not so good. I thought I understood the instructions anyways. So we started working. I had interesting and value-adding conversations with my teammates while working. At eleven o'clock the organisers of the trip brought us food. I do not think the food was totally Korean. It was a fusion of Mexican and Korean, I think. Whatever it was, it was very very tasty. We took a very long time eating and chatting to the farmer and his wife. The farmer is a very knowledgeable person. He knew a lot about America and South Africa. What impressed me a lot about him is that he did not only know just about Mandela and the upcoming soccer world cup, he knew about the Gautrain, the fact that we have a lot of land and diamonds and a lot more. We went back to work, we continued pruning till the proper lunch time. During lunch we just went back to eat more food. I could hardly eat lunch as I was still very full from the food we ate earlier on. Lunch was over in no time and in no time the farmers came to pick us up. My teammates and I had to walk to our farm because it was only two minutes away on foot. I was looking forward to working again, only to find out that our task had changed. We had to weed! Very funny because a few minutes earlier I had told one of my teammates that I hoped not to weed. Alas, the farmer told us to weed! Off we went to start weeding. I bent and did what I was told to do, bending became too painful for my back. I am a tall person; I had to bend a lot in order to do a good job. I tried kneeling but kneeling was also a lot of work. Trying to be comfortable and doing the actual job was too much work for me. I weeded sitting down on my butt, but I think that's the lazy people's way of working – working on your butt. The farmer came to my rescue after a few minutes. He brought us small stools to sit on while weeding. The stools made such a huge difference, I think they even helped in accelerating the rate that we were weeding at and in helping us do a clean job. I am sure I was not the only one struggling to work comfortably. Thanks to the farmer, the struggle became history, we had loads of fun weeding and conversing. I found out a lot of interesting facts about my teammates. Working with my teammates was very very pleasant. I was sad to be separated from them the next day. Time to head home and have fun came very quickly. I was still enjoying weeding. We went to some of the farmers homes to go get ourselves clean for the night of fun. In no time we were all clean and ready. We had dinner – boiled pork, Korean pancake/pizza also known as pajeon 파전in Korean, tofu and of course kimchi. The dinner was also very delicious. A very funny thing that happened is that they brought rice to the tables an hour after we had started eating. Here I thought rice had to be the main dish, but no, I was wrong after all. This time rice was desert. Along with rice came the first lot of makoli (Korean tradition alcohol). We were supposed to have a concert but for some mysterious reasons, the concert was cancelled. The cancellation of the concert did not stop us from having fun. We had a lot of makoli at our disposal, the only natural thing to do was to play drinking games. Some of us had missed them the previous night. The games started after dinner. When I was tired of playing, I made my way to the container but on my way to the container I came across some of my companions. Just like me, I think they were tired. They were sitting outside having a guitar jam session. I joined in on the jam session. I sat outside under the moonlight singing and talking to very interesting people. I still wanted to do more of what I was doing, unfortunately my eyes were starting to see in doubles and my body could not take it any more. I had a very hectic day, so I went to sleep. Sharing sleeping space with others is never a pleasant thing. When I finally got into the container, it was full and someone had taken my sleeping spot. I did not mind because I am a small person, I managed to squeeze myself in. To prove that I was very tired, I slept right away, I was not bothered by my roommates' loud talking. I could not sleep for a long time though, unlike the previous night, the container was freezing cold. The next day was another working day, I was still tired from the previous working day. All I wanted to do was to go home and sleep as I hardly slept the previous night. I went home, showered and slept. Thanks to Wooriwa and the MeetUp groups, I had a great Korean farming experience. However, I need to come clean and say it myself; I cheated big time during the drinking games. I have lived through the unpleasant near- death consequences of playing drinking games and I did not want to go that way again. IT WAS ONE OF MY BEST WEEKENDS IN KOREA!