Friday, October 26, 2012

A Traditional Korean Wedding

Last weekend, Tyler and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a Korean wedding. Sessy, our English friend who we met at the EPIK orientation, got married to Myung Seo. The two met in Korea through mutual friends several years ago. Sharing with them in their momentous day was so special and certainly something we will never forget. 

The event was held at the Chungnyeolsa Shrine, a gorgeous and ornate edifice that was set atop a high platform overlooking beautifully kept grounds below of trees, foliage, and koi ponds. We found Sessy and Myung Seo taking pictures in these picturesque surroundings when we arrived about an hour before the wedding began. 

Sessy and Myung Seo chose to have a very traditional Korean wedding. Many Koreans nowadays choose to have a Korean/Western hybrid wedding or just a Western wedding all the way around. It's very uncommon, so my co-teachers said, to see a strictly traditional Korean wedding anymore. Sessy and Myung Seo wore traditional, brightly colored hanboks. After the wedding, Sessy told us, "I was sweating like crazy because I had five bloody layers on!" Despite the sweating, I think that both the bride and the groom looked absolutely stunning. 

Another thing that made this wedding particularly special was that Sessy and Myung Seo had invited Tyler to be in the wedding! Tyler got to be a part of the wedding parade, or Ch'inyoung. He was the official pink-robe-wearing umbrella holder. He looked so pretty! 

Tyler actually lucked out with his position as the umbrella carrier. Two of our other friends who Sessy and Myung Seo invited to be a part of the wedding parade had to carry the groom and the bride into the ceremony. A picture of the entire wedding party is shown below. Aren't they cute? 

The ceremony itself was very complex and packed with Confucian rituals. I should have researched Korean weddings before I came, because for me, it was all just confusion rituals. Bad pun. Anyhow, after the ceremony, I read up on the different parts of the wedding and everything became much clearer. The first thing that happened was that Myung Seo was handed a little wooden goose. Apparently, this is called Jeonanrye and is a very important marriage symbol. Myung Seo placed the wooden goose on the ceremony table before the bride was carried in. 

Next, Sessy was carried into the ceremony.

After both the bride and the groom were situated beside the wedding table, a series of bowing took place. This is called Gyobaerye. The attendants of the bride and groom helped them bow at the appropriate times. 

Next, Sessy and Myung Seo drank from two halves of a gourd (Hapgeunrye). The drinking signified the destiny of the new husband and wife and their harmony together. Drinking out of two halves of a gourd symbolized that they each make up one half and only be considered whole when they are together. 

At the end of the ceremony, Myung Seo carried Sessy out on his back! Apparently, this is not a Korean tradition and neither Myung Seo nor Sessy knew that they would be instructed to do this! 

After the ceremony ended, the bride and groom took more pictures with their extended families. 

After photos were finished, all of the guests went to a nearby Korean restaurant to have a traditional Korean lunch. We had plenty of delicious food, shared between guests at each table, and an unlimited supply of soju and wine! 

We had such a memorable experience at Sessy and Myung Seo's wedding and were so lucky to be a part of their day. We are looking forward to many adventures ahead with this wonderful couple! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jagalchi Fish Market

The Jagalchi Fish Market is one of the top tourist attractions in Busan. Tyler and I had heard about the market before we came to Busan and had been curious about it ever since we arrived in Korea. This last weekend, the market hosted the annual Busan Jagalchi Festival, giving us the perfect excuse to go and visit. 

The moment we stepped foot on Jagalchi grounds, we were overwhelmed with a pungent, fishy odor and a startling panorama of hundreds of dried sea creatures in all colors and shapes. It was certainly a sight to see.  

Jang Ran, the Japanese teacher at Tyler's school, kindly met us at Jagalchi to give us the grand tour. After we found our way through the winding maze of dried fish stalls, we came to the main walkway where the festival was being held. Dozens of men and women selling seafood lined the path. Tyler eyed giant clams filled with peppers, spices, and other veggies being freshly cooked by a line of men in rubber boots squatting over their culinary creations. Jang Ran kindly bought us a plate that we shared together in a nearby undercover cafeteria. Below are photos of our "cook" and Jang Ran.

Before coming to Korea, I would have told you that I wasn't much of a seafood person. If you ever move to Korea, you'll find that your options are to eat seafood or starve. On average, I'd say that 90% of all lunches at my school contain some kind of creature from the ocean. From little fishies to miniature, rubbery, tentacled arms, I've eaten it all (I shouldn't speak so soon, right?). Given that my tastebuds have been accommodated, I have to say that the clams off of the street were pretty delicious.

After our snack, we cruised down the street gaping at all of the strange scenes we saw. The proud woman in the picture below is showing off the sliced whale meat that she's selling. If you've seen the documentary "The Cove," you'll cringe like I did.

Next, Jang Ran led us into the indoor section of the fish market. Not even an aquarium contains such a variety of sea life. I saw creatures there that Lewis Carroll couldn't even have imagined. Tyler and I followed Jang Ran through the aisles of shellfish and soft fish and slimy fish with our mouths open in awe.

Below is a photo of Unagi. If you've ever tried Unagi in sushi form, you'll drool every time you hear the word. However, they weren't very appetizing alive and slithering.

After we finished gawking at the fish in the indoor market, we found more fish to stare at in the undercover market next to the docking area for the fishing boats. Here, fish were sold on display, spread out in buckets or on large platters.

When evening came, we headed back towards the main walkway where the festival was being held. We watched as crazy old Korean men danced away to their hearts' content with the music blasting from the loudspeakers as the hectic motion of the market continued on behind them. Fish sellers were loudly advertising their bounty as Jagalchi ajummas (middle-aged or married women) worked away washing and preparing fish.  

We talked with Jang Ran about old Korea, what Jagalchi used to be like, and her childhood in front of the harbor. Finally, we settled down on the second floor of the indoor market to enjoy some very, very fresh sushi, Korean style.

Our first experience at Jagalchi was exceptionally memorable, although quite shocking and smelly. Nevertheless, we will definitely return another day when we're in the mood too see a fish circus and eat freshly caught seafood.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fukuoka, Japan

Since I was a young girl, I have always dreamed of visiting Japan. Of course I wanted to go because I am half Japanese. My parents imbued me with a sense of awe for the country by taking me to local Japanese festivals, feeding me miso soup, and dressing me up in kimonos throughout my childhood. However, I always sensed something exceptional about the country that was felt beyond the influences of my family. Some quiet secret was hidden in the cherry blossoms, in the Japanese gardens, and in the koi fish. 
Our trip to Fukuoka absolutely confirmed all of my preconceived feelings. The moment we stepped onto Japanese grounds, we could tangibly feel something distinctive in the air. Although our holiday only lasted 3 full days, it was one of the most memorable we've ever had. Japan is a truly unique and remarkable place.

After the long, overnight journey on a ship from Busan to Fukuoka, we dropped our things off at our hotel and set off to find breakfast straight away. We wandered the quiet, Saturday morning city streets with Josh and Kalie, a young married couple we'd met on the ferry. Coincidentally, they also live in Danggam Jugong, our apartment complex! We soon stumbled upon the only restaurant on the street that appeared to be open and sat down at a small table. After puzzling over the menu, we picked our poisons and were instructed by the waiter to crack raw eggs into our bowls of rice. Well, itadakimasu! 

After we said goodbye to Josh and Kalie, we hopped on the easy-to-maneuver subway and headed to  the Yahoo Dome, Fukuoka's baseball stadium. We bought two tickets for the afternoon game and settled into our seats early with sushi and noodles. When the game finally started, the crowd burst into a frenzied commotion. They blowed trumpets, beat drums, and struck little blow-up bats together. They chanted numerous Japanese rallying calls and loudly cheered on the men at bat. The Japanese baseball game experience was extremely memorable and so much fun! 

That evening, we went to a restaurant down the street from our hotel called Hanamidori. It is rated the #3 restaurant in Fukuoka on, and the food certainly did not disappoint. We waited for about 10 minutes before we were greeted by a lovely server in a kimono who showed us to our seat. We ordered mizutaki, a hot pot soup dish with a variety of delicious meats and vegetables. We ladled the dashi soup stock into small, ceramic cups to drink and ate the meats and veggies in another bowl with ponzu. Every spoonful we put into our mouths was exquisite. 

The next morning, we took a two-hour train ride from Fukuoka to the quaint city of Beppu. We passed miles and miles of picturesque countryside dotted with traditional, thatched-roof houses and bamboo forests. 

After we arrived, we spoke to a tour guide at the information desk and headed to a nearby restaurant upon her recommendation. To our delight, the restaurant specialized in tempura, which we thoroughly enjoyed. 

Beppu is known for its famous onsen, or hot springs. There are eight major geothermal hot springs in the city which are referred to as the "eight hells of Beppu." We viewed several of them during our walk around the city and ate delicious hot cakes baked over the hot springs steam. 

We also bathed in the hot spring waters in a traditional family bathhouse. The experience was so relaxing and calming. After we bathed in the (very) hot water for about a half hour, my body felt rejuvenated and refreshed. It reminded us of Spirited Away, our favorite Hayao Miyazaki animated film, where spirits come to bathe in a Japanese bathhouse. 

On our third and last day in Fukuoka, we toured the major historical sites of the city. First, we went to the Kushida Shrine, which was originally built in the year 757. Even though the shrine was located in the midst of the bustling city, the shrine grounds were peaceful and holy. Many Japanese people walked into the shrine to behold the ancient structure and pay tribute to the gods.

After the shrine visit, we walked to a famous shopping district down the road called Canal City. Here, we browsed traditional Japanese shops and picked up a few souvenirs. The character below decided to flash me a peace sign as I took his picture.  

Our last stops of the day were Ohori Park and the Fukuoka Castle remains. Our walk through the park was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. The park was so tranquil and hushed apart from the buzzing insects that hid in the trees. The sun shone through the dense canopy, creating a scenic stroll for us. A man on a park bench sang an ancient-sounding Japanese song that echoed through the grounds as we walked. We stopped under the shade of a big tree to enjoy the moment. 

While walking, we came upon a large lake surrounded by a track, playgrounds, and treat shops. We decided to rent a swan boat and paddle around, talking about and reflecting upon our beautiful vacation. 

There's not much left of the Fukuoka Castle, but the remains provided a glimpse into the Japanese Edo period and furnished us with a spectacular platform on which we viewed the park grounds and the city panorama. 

I still reflect in wonder and amazement about our first trip to Japan. All of our experiences left us with such sweet and vivid memories. We are confident that our times in Japan have only just begun. We cannot wait to go back again.