Tag Archives: Paju City

KSGI Escapade

10 Jul

They picked me up at 7:10 in the evening – just outside English Village in front of the giant Stonehenge replica, still an unexpected sight in the quiet hills of South Korea.  They opened their car door and ushered me towards them with a friendly wave. I hopped in and we were off!

Where were we going, you may ask?  To the local Paju City meeting of my buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  I am grateful for my English-speaking connections and SGI friends in Seoul.  But from time to time… I get invited to a local meeting in Paju and it is always an adventure.

When they pick me up, I am never quite sure where we are going… it is a simple act of trust really.  We make an agreement to meet at a certain time and then they take me… wherever it is we need to go… wherever the meeting is.  I get a small glimpse of feeling a bit more “normal” in Paju, traveling by car through the regular roads and life of local folks. On the way there we pick up one, no two more people, and now there are five of us tucked into the back seat like a bunch of teenagers out for the evening.

A kind face turns to me and offers some friendly words in Korean.  After a years and a half submerged in the all English world of English Village, I have nothing to offer her.  I smile.  I shrug my shoulders.  She talks more slowly and uses her hands.  While well intentioned, it doesn’t help. I still don’t understand Korean.

In no time we arrive at the meeting and I follow the rush of bodies loading into the elevator.  We find our way to a member’s apartment where most guests are seated on the floor, Korean style.  Koreans know that foreigners don’t do the floor very well and I am no exception. I am escorted to a prime seat on the couch and me, my knees and my back are grateful.

Mostly, no one speaks English at the meeting.  So I sit and smile and look and listen.  I watch with admiration as the meeting is run so efficiently, packed with information, intent and interest and not a moment wasted.  People stand, share and everyone laughs.  I turn to ask, “what did she say?” and realize there is no one there who can answer this.

A near-by member, also on the couch, offers an olive branch.  There is a small paragraph written in English that summarizes the reading for the evening.  He shares it with me, smiles and says, “understand.”  I nod and am grateful for his English word.

The message of the reading is a reminder to “pray as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood.”  I love it and have some inspiration to take home to my daily practice.

As the meeting neatly comes to an end, just a well-packed hour later, everyone stands and prepares to leave.  I am met by wonderful faces and smiles.  The leaders greet me with their kind eyes and tug onto my hand as we share in our own language our wish to communicate.  But still, in earnest, it is nice to communicate in other ways too… the silent ways of smiles and eyes and kind touch.

As we prepare to leave, my couch mate offers his friendly smile and we take a picture together.  Without hesitation, he zips it off to my phone electronically.  But there is no time to wait as my escort is shuffling me towards the door and I feel I must keep up or lose my ride.  And so, I keep my eyes on them like a hawk as they lead me out and to their car amidst the many bodies departing.

A few minutes and a comfortable ride later I am home after my brief immersion into K-SGI.  I offer thank you in Korean, among the few simple words that I know.  I depart and they are off… almost as quickly as they came.

I check my phone to find a copy of the picture from the evening sent via text.  I respond a quick, “thanks!” to which I receive the reply, “No problem.  We are friends.  We are SGI members.”

And so is the beauty of community.  Anywhere in the world.  Whether we do or don’t speak the same language.  While I am someone with hermit-like tendencies and often happy with huge helpings of autonomy, I am also grateful for these snippets of connection and community.  Like a warm light in the night-time sky.

I returned to my apartment… happy to be home but also altered in a small way after my interlude in connection and the shared joy and power of the people and practice of Korea Soka Gakkai International.

Thanks for reading!  … and feel free to drop me a line… it’s always good to hear from you!


Featured photo:  Enjoying a quiet moment before class surrounded by the morning light and summer green of the surrounding hillside.

Sweet Potato Muffins and the Chicken Dance

20 Apr

It’s been a full week for me here in South Korea.  My activities have crossed the spectrum from baking Apple Sweet Potato muffins to doing the Chicken Dance with young Korean children.  I even took a little time to stop by Severance Hospital in Seoul and get my ankle x-rayed… and no, my ankle, still sore after falling down some stairs in France nearly a year ago, thankfully isn’t broken.

Let’s start with the Apple Sweet Potato muffins.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know my search continues for yummy satisfying food with no sugar added.  Refined sugar is definitely not an option for me, but sometimes too much sweet from fruit and honey does me no good as well.  So I adapted a recipe I found recently and baked a muffin with only apples and sweet potatoes for sweetener (no honey or other sweetener added).  Here is the recipe I used:

2 cups almond flour1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnemon
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt
1 cup shredded sweet potato
1 cup shredded apple

I combined all of the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda) and then all the wet ingredients (vanilla, eggs, oil, yogurt).  Next I combined them both and finally added in the uncooked shredded sweet potato and apple.

I baked them at about 350 degrees F (that’s about 175 degrees C) for 25-30 minutes.

The results were satisfying flavorful muffins with just a touch of sweet.  They were especially tasty with a little butter or with a smear of creamy organic peanut butter (no sugar added!)  If I were to make any changes to the recipe, I might try a little less Greek yogurt as when finished the muffins were a little wet.  I also would liked to have added some nutmeg, but didn’t have any on hand. But just the same, they were a moist and satisfying treat.  Hurray!

And what’s next… yes of course.. the chicken dance!  Who can forget.  Why was I dancing the chicken dance you may ask?  The simple answer is… it’s part of my job.  On the weekends, when we’re not teaching middle school students, we teach fun classes that are open to the public at English Village.  One of our weekend lessons is called Dance Party.  It’s pretty simple… we dance and lead the Korean visitors in a variety of fun and well-known dances.  YMCA, Disco, the Hustle and… the Chicken Dance!  Often our guests are little children who enjoy dressing up in our costumes and doing a little dancing.  Sometimes we get older students… like today.  We had a visiting quartet of early twenty-somethings who put our dancing to shame.  It only took a few dances for my co-worker/dance partner to suggest…” I think they’re professional dancers…”  and…as it turns out…indeed they were.

As I mentioned, earlier this week I took a little sojourn into neighboring Seoul to visit the doctor at the local Severance Hospital.  I learned they have an international clinic from a colleague here at English Village.  It was a welcoming first-class experience all the way.  The hospital itself  had a professional, open and inviting feel.  It didn’t feel really like… a hospital. When I arrived at the clinic I was greeted by friendly English-speaking staff who quickly and easily assisted me with my needs… which was to make sure the my ankle wasn’t broken.  I speedily received an x-ray and soon after I learned, happily, it is not.  After my appointment was complete, I made a stop by the Smoothie King located in the food court inside the hospital. Next I was delighted to find a health food store in the hospital.  I did a little browsing and discovered one of my favorite American brands – Amy’s organic foods.  This is the first time I have seen this brand since I left the States.  They only had a few items, all pizzas, looking somewhat misplaced in the freezer section tossed next to items that were unidentifiable to me.  And what did I do, you may ask?  I bought one of each… yes three different types of frozen pizzas.  What can I say, there is nothing like some good old-fashioned “healthy junk food” for a little comfort like home.  I spent more money on them then I care to say, then made my trek back to the land of Paju.

Earlier, en route to the hospital I encountered what in America we might begrudgingly call a busy intersection.  In South Korea these sticky situations are handled with a little finesse courtesy of the traffic director.  Pictured below in a cowboy hat, the local traffic director displayed an almost choreographed array of moves and ushered traffic with some style and flair.

Well, my laid back day of work is coming to a close…. a real treat today after the past few busy weeks.  Tomorrow is  Sunday, my day of rest, and then once again a new week will unfold.

Spring continues to tempt us with a few days of weather in the 60s this week. But even so, I can’t quite declare it Spring weather even though April continues to fade away.  There are, however, some blossoms showing their face in the surrounding Korean hills among the still barren and dead trees of winter.

Good-bye for now from my world and life in S. Korea.  Feel free to write. It’s always good to hear from you!

Shameless Tourism

15 Feb

It was a great day.  The temperature was above freezing (I think it reached a balmy 3 degrees Celsius) and, coincidentally, it was Valentines Day.  It wasn’t a typical day for me here in South Korea.  In the midst of my 5 day Seollal Korean New Year holiday, it was time to explore.  And so with the company of two fellow teachers at English Village,  it was off to Seoul for some sightseeing.

It was a day of shameless tourism…. without a doubt.  We boarded the Seoul City Bus Tour and within minutes we were whisked to various locations throughout the city.  We even had our own headphones to listen to recordings of information about each site in English (or if we chose Korean or Japanese).  Headphones on head, nestled in the seat of our bright red tour bus, one of my travel companions said “I have never felt more like a tourist then right now.”  And so it was true.

But for the day, being a tourist, well… it suited me.  The bus was a great price, only 10,000 Korean won (about $10 American) and for that basic rate we were toured to many of the highlights and tourist destinations of the city.  We could get on and off the bus as we liked and every 30 minutes a new bus would come.  It was a great overview and introduction to Seoul. There was even a tour guide on the bus and while admittedly, some tour guides were more helpful than others (one tour guide fell asleep in between stops) it was generally helpful to have an English-speaking guide on the bus.

There were a total of 36 stops on the tour. The first three stops spun by before we could get our bearings.  We took a quick diversion and departed the bus at Itaewan, known as the ‘foreigners area” of Seoul and close to the American military base.  We grabbed a bite to eat at Petras Palace enjoying a satisfying lunch of mediterranean food complete with delicious hummus!  Then we hopped back on our tour bus and once again we were on our way.

We enjoyed seeing many sights and destinations from the window of our ride, but didn’t depart the bus again until we reached the Namsangol Traditional Korean Village.  We took a quick stroll through the village, happy to find traditional Korean homes.  We even stumbled upon a traditional Korean dancer!  As it was just the Korean New Year, there also was an opportunity to write down a wish for the New Year on a piece of tissue-like paper and tie it onto a string decorated with many other wishes.

Our next stop was Seoul Tower.  As we approached the tower, our bus drove up a windy road and dropped us off nearly at the top of the “mountain”.  Still there was one more steep hill to walk up until we found ourselves at the base of the tower.  There was a spectacular view of the city from there as well as the Seoul Tower itself looming even higher on top of Namsan Mountain.  This is not just an ordinary tower, but actually a radio wave tower broadcasting television and radio to Korea since 1969.

Of course, you can go up in the Seoul Tower.  The friendly Korean staff load you on the elevator and then shoot you up into the sky over 700 ft to an elevation of more than 1500 ft.  While you ascend, the roof of the elevator plays a video that simulates looking out the top of the tower into the sky and the music sounds like a modern-day rocket.  Me, well, I chose to look down at the ground during that part.  We departed the escalator and was greeted by an inviting space, spectacular view and… gratefully on my part, nicely protected glass windows.

Looking at Seoul from the tower was just another reminder of the size of the city.  Seoul has a population of more than 10 million people and is flooded with apartment high rises filled with the massive population.  From the observation deck of the tower all you could see from any view were buildings, high rises and apartments outstretched far and wide. We took our time there, enjoyed the view as well as  a cup of tea from the little coffee stand.  Then in no time at all, we were on the ground and quickly found our way back to our tour bus.

By now the day had nearly slipped away from us.  The palaces that remained on the tour were now closed.  So we chose to enjoy the rest of our tour from the comfort of our coach, peering out the window as the city of Seoul slipped by. For me this tour was a great introduction leaving me with a wish list of things to do in the future and a sense of where I’d like to go and spend more time.

We hopped back on bus 2200 Paju-bound and in no time at all (just under an hour) we were back on the steps of the English Village.  As were were approaching the gate, one of my fellow teachers/travelers  said, “It’s good to be home.”  I agreed.  Seoul is an interesting and stimulating city, but after a day noodling through its streets it felt good to return to the peace and tranquility of Paju and English Village.  There was a sliver of a moon in the sky and the fresh cool air was invigorating as we made our way back to our apartments.

Today is a quiet day as I prepare to return to work tomorrow after my 5 day break.  I am switching to a weekend shift starting Saturday and will work weekends for two months, with two days off during the week.  All staff take a turn on the weekend shift and I am looking forward to a little change in my schedule, classes and students.

As I sit in the comfort of my little EV apartment, I am grateful for the balance of this new adventures – time to explore new places, time to work and time to rest.  It’s good to be in South Korea!

The Road to South Korea Just Got Shorter

5 Dec

The scenery is starting to change.  The bright leaves of fall have given way to naked trees.  My laundry that has been scattered all over my room is now finding its way in an organized fashion to my suitcase.  And my Passport, previously mostly barren except for a stamp here are there from Germany and England, now has a Korean Visa in it.  Funny, it seems I am going to Korea…

I am in that busy hazy phase prior to making a life-altering shift.  You know the one, where you tend to the immediate details at hand preparing you for something that… hasn’t fully consciously hit you yet.  Yep, that’s me.  Although it’s starting to hit me… waves of excitement and anxiety are finding their way to my body.  I wake up before the sun rises, before the busy little bodies in the home where I stay rise.  I get up and I start to work… on whatever I can think of to do next to make sure I have everything cared for before I leave.

Bye the way, did I mention that I am leaving on Tuesday?  As in less than a week from today?  I was patiently riding on the slow visa train to Korea when all of a sudden, I switched tracks and landed on the express.  And here I am wandering in everything I want to make sure is complete and wondering about the little things I am not thinking about that still need to get done.

Last week it suddenly dawned on me… that I needed to buy a plane ticket.  I felt sort of like an expectant mother who had gotten so comfortable in the process of pregnancy that I almost forgot about giving birth.  And then one day, the alarms sounded… it is time!  It is time NOW!

So here I am bustling in the wake and energy of my plane ticket purchase preparing for my imminent trip to Korea.  My new place of employment, the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV),  is ready for me to arrive and to begin training for their new program.  I will be teaching English at a hands-on-learning campus created to immerse Korean and international students in the English Language.

Happily I will be making a brief stop in the mid-west to visit with my family – my parents and my sister and her family.  My gut says its important to spend some time with them before I leave, even for just a few days.  I will leave for Korea from there.

This is not something that happens for me every day – preparing to travel to Asia!  It’s my first time there.  I am grateful for a few little tokens of comfort like knowing that I will be picked up at the Seoul airport by a taxi driver sent just for me who will be holding a sign with my name on it.  It’s funny I have always seen that scene played out in the movies, but it has never happened in my own life… until now.  I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it!  From there I will be taken to my apartment on the GEV campus.  Yes, my own apartment – a luxury that I have not had the pleasure of since I have been traveling.

I am wrapping up my time here at the family residence in Philadelphia that I have called “home” for the past 3 months.  The youngest boy has been feeding me a steady diet of hand-made presents, since I won’t be here for Christmas.  Practically speaking, this home has been a perfect place for me to be at this time of transition and visa making.  I have been just a stones throw away from the post office, UPS office and other “city needs”.  Additionally I have been most fortunate to have use of a happy, thriving, macintosh laptop computer.  It’s a lovely toy, if even for the short-term, and especially with the expected death of my slow but well-loved PC laptop… hanging in there for now, but… it doesn’t look good.

I am trying to make the most of these last few days here… preparing the family as best as I can to transition to life without an extra set of hands.  I did my best to stock up on groceries and even cooked a few casseroles to put in the freezer for a little added comfort and joy when I leave.

And now, well,  I keep walking the walk of “what is there for me to do next?” on my road to South Korea… getting shorter and shorter as the days go by.  A busy and expectant time!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my journey and trip to Korea, I invite you to view the video I created.  It’s on my Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there please consider a contribution of any amount to support the continuation of this long lovely journey and big school of life.

Thanks for joining me from time to time on the road.  Much more to come!

Photo of Forbidden Road, my favorite “getaway” in near-bye Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia, PA.

%d bloggers like this: