One of my co-teachers invited me to go on a tour of Tong Yeong. She informed me that the tour would be in Korean, but she would help translate the Korean for me. I was a little hesitant at first. I pictured myself on a tour bus full of trigger happy people taking pictures of everything from shoes, to horses butts (this actually happened to my mother in Banff, Canada - Asians kept taking pictures of her and her horses butt... But that's another story all together.)
After a night of restless sleep (mere seconds of contemplation), I accepted the invitation realizing that I didn't have any friend nor plans on a Saturday.
My negative perspective of the Asian tourist was completely flip-flopped once I got to the tour station. The tour bus was for a total of nine people and the bus was more of a large van similar to the old aerostar mini van my mom and half the country use to sport in the early 90s. For the record, the aerostar has been off the market for about 10 years now.
To say the least, the trip ended up being a cultural lesson in how Koreans interact with each other and common enemies they share...
On the first leg of the voyage, we were taken to an island called Hasan. One of the famed historical sites in Korea for its beauty, its history and its influence on poets.
My pictures of the island will not do it justice. I felt a presence on the island and a magical beauty that I've only felt two other places in my life: Grenada, Spain and Athens, Greece.
Historically in the Song Dynasty, the Koreans were able to defeat the Japanese in this harbor. A famous General named General Lee created a turtle ship, which gave the Koreans the advantage of having a hard shell top on their vessels.
Koreans boast that during the battles, 7,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and only 19 Koreans were killed. The likelihood of this is very grim, but I would never challenge a Korean on their history.
During the telling of the tale, my tour guide became very passionate and any time the death of a Japanese person was mentioned or the shame of the Japanese defeat was mentioned the Koreans would laugh. Koreans have a national pride and anger towards Japanese people, which stems from a long history of Japan's extortion of the Korean people. This negative feeling is slowly beginning to fade with the younger culture, but older Koreans hold true to their distaste for the Japanese.
If you really want to offend a Korean, you will call them Japanese.
Also to note, Koreans laugh a lot. They laugh when they can't think of anything to say or during uncomfortable moments. For a long time I thought they were laughing at me, but during the trip I was informed that it is part of the Korean culture to laugh when you feel many different emotions. My friend told me that because Korean's take school and their work so seriously (An average Korean child is going to school for about 12 to 14 hours/day, including Saturdays), they like to laugh at the innocence of life.
Video clip of the tour guide, a very passionate man indeed.
Furthermore, I found that Koreans are not the type to take pictures of everything, this is mainly a Japanese tourist trait. Koreans like to take pictures of themselves or each other rather than scenery. I was the most obnoxious picture taker in the bunch and was often left behind. My co-teacher Priscilla, always asked me to take plenty of pictures of her and she found it rather weird that we took pictures together. Most young Koreans will seldom take group photo shoots, but choose to take solo/glamor shots of each other.
During the tour I noticed a lot of older groups together. I asked my friend if this is common and she informed me that every three months groups of friends will get together and go on trips, they call these groups "gays" this is obviously how it is pronounced. Groups of friends of all ages will go on little 'gay' adventures together.
Another interesting thing I would like to note here is that Korean men have purses... And I'm not talking about the European style man bag, they have full-blown purses... I've pictured a man with a Korean male purse below. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but the purse has a feminine shape and a glistening alligator skin texture.
More about the pictures below:
To the far left is a gate way into a Korean Shrine. Korean shrines always have three doors. You enter in the east and exit in the west, if you don't it is considered bad luck....
Second picture to the left is a dragon drinking fountain Koreans drink from the same cups; it is not a faucet style drinking fountain like we are use to. However, if I tried to drink from these cups or any foreigner for that matter, Koreans probably wouldn't drink out of the cup I (we) used. A lot of Koreans think that foreigners have swine flu. If I touch something at the local supermarket, a worker will usually sanitize the area after I leave...
Shrines Drinking Fountain Man Purse Ferry Boat
Back to the story:
On our way back to Tong Yeong, an old woman pushed my friend and then a different older woman wouldn't move while I tried to take pictures. I asked me friend about this and she explained Agimas to me. Agima is a name that you give to old ladies, but you would never tell an old lady she is an Agima, it literally translates into old lady, but it has many other hidden meanings.
Agimas are everywhere in Korea. They apparently are the worst in Seoul. Agimans are little old ladies that have no respect/manners for anyone but their grandchildren. They are very rude and will push you around. Most the time Koreans let them do this and thus I do too, but it is very annoying.
My friend informed me that Korean women believe themselves to be princess, thus when these Korean princess are at the Agimans age (50 +), they have become full blown spoiled queens. Now, this is not to say that all older women are rude. We had a very nice woman on our trip that gave me candy when I got scared of heights while traveling up the gondola; I'll talk about this later in the piece. But, Agimans are very common and if you ever travel to Korea, you will stumble upon these very rude Korean women. And they are rude to everyone; everyone except their grandchildren.
After we went to the beautiful island of Hasan we stopped by a history museum, where again the resentment of Japan was in full force with the below picture. It is of a dragon eating Japan. Can you see it?
In the museum, my Korean friend and I touched the artifacts. I must say, I don't know if this was really allowed, but they didn't say anything to me and so I just had to jump at the opportunity; I'm very opportunistic here.
Rar, Japan, Rar
After the historic museum we headed to the only modern art museum in Tong Yoeong - Ottchill Art Museum. The art was beautiful. It was very interesting too because one of the artists did a piece on Native Americans. I found this fascinating for two reasons, the first being that all my little students want me to call them Indian boy and second because at the art museum I went to in Busan I also saw the Native American theme. I asked my Korean friend and she said that Native Americans were very posh in Korea currently. Yes, very interesting.
Below is a couple of pictures from the gallery. The artist infused tiles with abalone shells.
After we went to the art museum, our last stop was the gondola ride to the tallest mountain in Tong Yeong. This particular gondola is also the longest in Korea. It was a beautiful ride up and when I got a little nervous because of the height a nice lady gave me some ginseng candy to cool my nerves. It did actually help.
Priscilla and I climbed to the top only to discover some older Koreans playing king of the mountain. Again, my hand went trigger happy and I took a lot of pictures, I've given you a select few. If you wish to see more, I'll have a very elaborate and boring slide show when I get back. I'm sure if you are invited to my house during the Christmas season my father will insist that you look at the slide show, while he explains in detail every picture, even though he in fact was not in Korea with me. It will only be apparent to the intoxicated guest (Rob Kincaid) that my father actually wasn't there when he continues to mispronounce Korean words like Kimchi as both my mother I correct him. While all this is happening, my brother will slink off the Lowther's house to smoke weed and play halo. Oh, I miss you family and friends.