Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mom, Dad, and The Capital of the Korean Spirit, Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

It didn't take long after our return from Jeju-do for my parents to experience what many people call the real Korea. Resort towns like Jungmun (where we were in Jeju) and big cities like Daegu and Busan certainly have a different, more international, feel than the "little city" of Andong. Andong, though a frequent tourist spot for Koreans, is unusual territory for westerners. The city's slogan, "Capital of the Korean Spirit," refers to Andong's long-standing and deep-rooted tradition of Confucianism and Hahoe Village's status as one of Korea's oldest and most traditional folk villages. When we returned to my Korean hometown, my parents were definitely thrown into the deep end.

Our first stop was visiting downtown Andong. I wanted my parents to be familiar with their surroundings since I wouldn't be able to be with them 24 hours a day. I gave them enough know-how to navigate a few spots and showed them where they could get an English menu if they needed a bite to eat. Still, we ended up eating almost all of our meals together, so translation wasn't a problem.
During the downtown tour, my parents were introduced to our very Western downtown (Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Pizza Hut), as well as some of the more traditional nooks and crannies. We walked down "Chicken Street," which is Andong's largest traditional market. It's called chicken street because you can eat Andong Jjimdak there, an Andongian twist on a traditional Korean spicy chicken dish. Though our market is a bustling intersection in Andong, mom and dad were unimpressed due to their previous visit to the Busan fish market, Korea's largest.

Korean Hospitality and Mrs. Lee
On day two in Andong, we were scheduled to meet one of my co-teachers, Mrs. Lee, for dinner at her mountain art studio, which I have blogged about previously. The plan was to go to the Jebiwon Stone Buddha in the morning and head to her house in the mid-afternoon. On our way to the bus, I got a call from Mrs. Lee, during which I quickly figured out that the plan was for LUNCH, not dinner. Ohhhh Korea...

So with a limited time-table, but an urge not to waste a minute of my parents vacation, we hopped in a cab to visit Yeonghoru, a traditional wooden pavilion overlooking the Nakdong river and all of downtown Andong. The pavilion's history is a little cloudy, but what is known is that it's over 500 years old. Around the ceiling are planks of wood with poetry written on them in Chinese and Korean. Apparently, Confusian scholars would come from all over Korea after hearing of the view from Yeonghoru and would compose poems to be hung on the ceiling. Years later, the poems still hang there, a constant reminder of the transcendent nature of some places.

On the way out, my parents and I ran into a Korean family who were very eager to talk to us. We told them where we were from and what we were doing in Andong. The father, we found out, had only been studying English for a few months. But he spoke far better English than all of my students who have been studying for several years.
Afterward, we headed back downtown for lunch with Mrs. Lee. The meeting lived up to my mother's expectations (my mom repeatedly told me that she was most interested in how Koreans lived at home), as Mrs. Lee cooked us a traditional (and delicious!) meal of sam gyeop sal with an array of side-dishes. Unfortunately, she had bought enough food for six (as she thought the Eagles, who were still in Busan, would be there), so my parents and I could hardly walk at the end of it all.
After lunch, Mrs. Lee suggested that we go to Hahoe Village (pronounced hah-hway) and the nearby Confucian academy, Byeongsan Seowon with her. Though we already felt as though she had done enough, I know better than to refuse an offer like that from a Korean person. If they offer to do something for you, it's not just a formality here. So we found ourselves touring Andong with Mrs. Lee for most of the afternoon.

Though a wonderful experience, my parents both felt a little overwhelmed by the excessive hospitality they were receiving, as they both thought Mrs. Lee was doing too much. I wholeheartedly understand, even if I am more used to it now. A perfect example of the overwhelming generosity of Korean people toward their guests and the difficulty that we westerners can sometimes have of accepting it.

The Rest of Andong
During my parents remaining days here, we visited many of the local hot spots such as Dosan Seowon, which was under construction:
The Jebiwon Stone Buddha, a HUGE statue of Buddha carved into a hillside (he's in the back there):
And Mask Dance Hall, which mom took very seriously:
On one of our final nights in Andong, my parents finally met Hyeon-beom when we all went out for Andong Jjimdak. Unfortunately, since we were in a small backroom of the restaurant (with 8 people), I don't have any good pictures of that meeting. In short, my parents loved meeting HB, and HB loved meeting my parents.

The Final Day and The Sky Bridge From Hell
Due to dad's persistence that he visit the sky bridge detailed in one of Sara's blog posts, we found ourselves visiting Cheongnyang-san Provincial Park on mom and dad's last day in Andong. For a detailed account of the climb to the top of this "small" mountain, see Sara's earlier blog post. To completely understate the entire experience, this mountain is steep. This is the kind of place where real mountain climbers go for a good time, and Average Joes like Sara and I and our parents go to see just what we're made of. Let me just say, dad decided to go back after a mere 15 minutes due to some chest pains, and he was most certainly the lucky one. If I'd known what we were getting ourselves into, I might have joined him. Here are some pictures that don't even begin to give you a scope of what we went through:
When we finally reached the Sky Bridge, we were lucky enough to have a view of absolutely nothing. The fog was so thick, we could barely see the other end of the bridge.
Down below us was a beautiful view of--well, more fog:
Still, we had a good time, and we had fun teasing dad when we got back down for sending us all up there. In the meantime, dad had a lengthy conversation with some young Korean girls who wanted him to visit their traditional house. As cool as it would have been, he decided to stay and make sure he was waiting for us when we got back down. What a guy!
And now, after a week in one of Korea's most traditional cities, I can say that my parents are truly and thoroughly Korean.
After a good night's rest, my parents and I packed up and sped off to Seoul during my extended vacation. (I was allowed to use two of my winter vacation days now so I could spend a little more time with the 'rents!) Come back soon for more details about the last leg of our journey.


  1. Mrs. Lee really is the model of Korean hospitality, and it was sweet of her to plan for my parents too, although we couldn't make it. You got really lucky having her at your school- and I'm glad your mom got to get a glimpse of home life.

    I love the picture of your dad and all the shoes, and your mom at Mask Dance Hall, haha.

    I still want to make it out to the Jebiwon Buddha one of thses days- what a nice idea to make that a side trip. You really showed them the full scope of the Andong area.^^

  2. Many thanks to Scott for not posting (yet, at least) the video of me crawling up the side of that "small" mountain. Tim