October happens to be a month that has a few extra holidays in it. Which one of those days turned out to be my new school’s birthday, so I had the day off. I was thankful for this as it enabled me to go to Gangneung to see my old students. Logistically, my two schools are very far apart and I debated for a week or two, as to whether I should rent a car or not. I decided that I would leave it up to fate and boarded the bus to Gangneung that Wednesday night. When I arrived in Gangneung it was 8:30 P.M., and I was in luck all of the little rental car shops were open! I must have been blind during the year I lived there as I never noticed there were about 10 rental car shops in front of the bus terminal. I decided to go into the shop that looked like it had the door open. (I later learned it was just a piece of plastic off to the side of the door.
But what an interesting experience! I knew walking into any shop that I would need to be able to navigate the conversation so that I understood the terms and conditions, the price of the car, etc. Turns out I met a super nice ajusshi! Him and another guy were eating tangsooyook (sweet and sour pork) when I walked in and they were a little apprehensive at first to do business with me until I spoke to them in Korean. We went over everything I arranged a time for the car to be dropped off the next day and asked which insurance was best to take for the one day. He told me to go for the one in the middle, it cost about 15,000 won ($15). So the total cost of renting the car for almost 24 hours was 75,000 won ($75). The sweet thing was that I only had to fill the gas tank up to the same line it was at when I got it. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know how much gas I would go through so they ended up with extra gas in the car when I returned it. I would use this rental car shop again as I also received a bag with cookies, a water bottle, and two canned coffees for the ride.
The bag of goodies.
I drove back home in America and loved it. This, however, was my first time driving in Korea. I felt absolutely free and realized that whatever it takes I need to get myself a car in the next year. Before I left I was offered some of their dinner so I ate a few bites and we chatted a bit. He said that to the people outside he most look amazing talking to a foreigner, even though we were speaking Korean, outsiders wouldn’t know that. Off I went on my merry little way. I got gas and then drove around Gangneung without using the GPS to find the old jjimjilbang (public bath house) I went to last year. I came upon parked the car and went inside for the night. Since this was my mini little vacation, I decided while I was soaking in the hot tub that I was going to finally get scrubbed by an ajumma.
The place where I stayed.
I was a little nervous about going up and asking her in case it was too late, but she said to wait and she would call me over. Sure enough about 5 minutes later “언니~!” Oh that’s me. Now let me give you a scenario here, the ladies are in the their 50s to 60s, I believe and most wear a bra and underwear. Mine was just wearing underwear which was all right with me. You never truly realize how much dead skin you have until you experience one of these scrubs. She joked with me that we should send all of my dead skin to my mom in America. (Sorry, mom!) Although people may be apprehensive about the experience it isn’t much difference than getting waxed, except you are in the nude. My 17,000 won (17) got me super soft skin. Thank you, lovely lady!
I look like a hot mess. But these were the clothes they gave me.
Many people avoid jjimjilbangs, because they will feel uncomfortable in them. My advice is that most likely your first experience will be the most uncomfortable, but it won’t be as bad as you think. People may stare a little, and you may get a random person who wants to talk to you, but other than that you will be left alone. The great thing about these places is it is 10,000 won or (10) for the night. So I changed into the clothes they gave me and headed down to the bottom floor to sleep for the night. It was a bit chilly without a blanket to sleep with so I curled up inside of my shirt for extra warmth.
As always I rise too early. So I was dressed and out the door by 6 a.m. I decided to go visit Gyeongpo Beach and Gyeongpo Lake. Both looked beautiful in the morning. There is nothing like the ocean breeze filling your lungs and soothing the soul first thing. Afterwards I decided to embark on my journey out to my smallest school in Wangsan.
I also arrived a little early, but I was warmly welcomed. The head teacher said, “Look it’s the foreigner we communicate well with.” It is a compliment to hear that and its nice to see the teachers relax when they can be themselves and speak in Korean to you. It was nice that all of the old teachers recognized me and one of the old teachers at my main school transferred to this school, so I was so happy to see everyone. The students were lovely too. They all said they missed me very much. I received a few hugs which made me feel super happy and we took a group photo together with my old coteacher. I had not seen him since his car accident last year, but it seems his health is improving slowly.
This is me and the entirety of Wangsan Middle School.
I had time to kill before I visited my main school in Okgye, so I went to Anmok Beach. I went and collected more seashells, which I don’t need. I also went to one of my favorite coffee shops to have a latte.
On the way to Okgye I enjoyed the scenery and decided to stop and park at my old coteachers apartment so that I could walk around easily. As I was walking around the corner I heard an “Ah! Nina Teacher!” from a student on the other side of the fence. There were my old fifth graders now sixth graders chatting excitedly while they stared back at me. I said lets take a picture and motioned to the front of the school gate. They ran and I ran and this is what we got.
A big thanks to their homeroom teacher for taking the picture.
I arrived at my main school and dropped off the juice I brought in the teachers room. Everyone was so surprised and happy to see me. I received a lot of hugs and news that my old principal and vice-principal were no longer at the school.
When the bell rang I saw my old coteacher in the hallway and she was so excited to see me. I greeted the new native teacher as well. The kids were excited to see me as well and were surprised I was back at the school to visit. My coteacher told me she missed me a lot and so do the kids. I went around the school at lunch time to take pictures but very few students actually would come and take a picture with me. Many of my students confided in me via Korean that they miss me and thought I was a better teacher than the current one.
They said my personality was brighter and more fun. That is a very high compliment to receive and in many ways I am so thankful I taught these fabulous children.
Although my visit was brief and I walked my coteacher to her class at the end of the day before I had to leave it was bittersweet. She wished I could stay and so did I. We managed to take a picture together before I left.
My coteacher, Rami, and I.
Visiting where I lived last year is bittersweet. There were times when I was very lonely and I cursed the fact that the buses were rather infrequent. Yet, there was a greater sense of community and belonging. It was a slower pace of life by the water. We move for different reasons hoping that it brings good change into our lives, but sometimes it doesn’t have the effect we were hoping for. Looking back I know I need to incorporate a little bit of both as I continue to move forward through life. We all have a place we call home. I just happen to have two places to call home. My second home will always be the city of Gangneung. My old students have a special place in my heart.