Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[Grandma and Jacki in Asia] Day 6: Bamboo Forest (Damyang, Korea)

My sister and grandma came to visit me in Korea during my summer break. We were together from August 8 - 20, 2014. Here are the retellings of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.



We woke up sore and not well rested after our first night on the floor. Not having a pillow is the toughest part for me, I think. If I'd had one of those little "bricks" they have for pillows at jjimjilbangs, I think I would have slept much better.

Korean breakfast

We went to breakfast at 8:00, as we'd agreed upon with Soon Mi the night before. She'd prepared a lovely breakfast for us!

Normally if hostels here provide breakfast, they put out coffee and tea, bread that you can toast yourself, and if you're lucky, eggs that you can cook yourself. Of course, in any hostel, you clean whatever dishes you dirty. But not at this guesthouse! The breakfast here was very much B&B style.

Moments after taking this picture, Soon Mi placed an egg in the empty corner of my tray

The day before we'd decided on one place to visit today: the Juknokwon bamboo park in Damyang.

So we took a taxi to the train station, since it was only just over $3 total, which is right around the total cost of three bus fares anyway. From the Gwangju train station we took a bus about 40 minutes to Damyang.

Juknokwon bamboo forest

None of us had ever been in a bamboo forest before - what a neat experience. Bamboo is such an interesting plant that I'd never seen in the ground up close and personal.


There were many more inclines and hills throughout the forest than we'd expected, so we factored in lots of sitting breaks for Grandma, whose knee was not quite so happy today.

For lunch we had daetongbab, rice and medicinal herbs cooked inside bamboo. It was served with the gazillions of side dishes, in traditional Korean fashion:


We then caught a bus back to Gwangju Station, and another taxi to our general hostel area.

Play Coffee in Gwangju

On the walk back to the hostel, we decided it was too early to call it a day, and I wanted to check out this cafe where I'd seen a big, fuzzy dog through the window yesterday. So we went into Play Coffee.

This was another cafe with lots of personality inside... and the dog!


We each got a slice of cake, and Jacki had tea while Grandma went for a coffee. The utensils and plates were all so cute and unique!


When we got back to the hostel sometime after six, Soon Mi asked about our dinner plans. Oh, we won't have dinner - we're full - and then we tried to explain our late lunch and evening snack/dessert routine that we'd been following this entire trip. It worked rather well for us, but was difficult to explain, as she wasn't familiar with the word "late".

Korean tea time

Then Soon Mi invited us to have tea with her and her husband in the room just across from ours. It was fermented tea, another "traditional Korean" element of the household.

Her husband played for us on some of the Korean flutes he'd made out of bamboo while we all drank tea. This would never have happened at the other hostel!

At one point he let us all try to play one of the flutes. It was really hard to get a sound. I got it for a little bit, but when I moved my mouth then I lost the magical spot.


We found out that it takes about a year to make each flute, which includes several months for the bamboo to dry. The pieces of bamboo that are used to make these flutes have abnormalities that don't often occur in nature, so those pieces are somewhat rare to find.

Soon Mi had her laptop out to look up words and translate them. Throughout tea time and also both breakfasts at the guesthouse, I sort of fell into a translating role between native English and ESL.

Grandma or Jacki would ask something like they'd ask a native speaker, because that's just how you talk, so why would they talk any different, and Soon Mi would understandably have a confused look on her face. I'd rephrase the question into very simple words while speaking slowly and making lots of hand motions. Sometimes I served as a translator the other way around, from Korean English into native English, as I'm used to hearing English through a Korean accent, so I could make out what Soon Mi and her husband were trying to say when Grandma and Jacki couldn't.

If you've never done it before, talking with people who speak ESL (English as a Second Language) is entirely different from conversing with a native speaker, especially at lower levels. I've been doing it for years, so I had forgotten that it's not something everyone knows how to do. I would often be surprised at the way Grandma or Jacki spoke with our hosts, thinking "oh no, too many colloquial words," or "that question is too complicated to ask," while we did our best to communicate over tea.

With low level ESL speakers, you can't say things like, "I could just pass out right now," you say, "I'm really tired." Instead of, "Ok, suit yourself," you say, "Ok." And all of the ways you could use tone and wording to gently tip toe around more delicate topics are out the window. If you say "it's fine" with a tone that clearly shows it's not fine at all, that you'll just have to put up with it, the ESL speaker will think that it is indeed fine. So you must be clear and direct, which isn't always the most comfortable or enjoyable, but beginner/intermediate and even some advanced ESL speakers generally won't pick up on any meaning apart from the literal - so it's a necessity if you want greater understanding.

You definitely get used to speaking this way over time, but it can be unfulfilling to simplify every situation all of the time, not accurately describing what's actually going on. As seen in some of the examples above, speaking this way does cause you to lose meaning and limits what you can express, which is a huge part of what led to my huge frustrations and gloom back in February, since 96% of my communications in Korea were in ESL and not native English. But back to the tea, which was coming to a close now anyway.

When it appeared that things were wrapping up, Soon Mi inquired again about our dinner plans, and we reassured her that we were full and had eaten recently. Then she and her husband left for dinner, so we think they would have invited us along if we hadn't had a late lunch and the cakes at the cafe.

Jacki and I spent a brief amount of time on the rock wall, as we were both giddy to try it and Soon Mi had said we were welcome to use it - any of the rooms in fact - any time. Yet our arms couldn't hold us up for more than a couple tries at the different paths marked on the wall, which accounts for the short amount of time in there.


Oh, and right before they left Soon Mi brought in three small inflatable pillows: two neck pillows and one small rectangle, and apologized for forgetting to bring them in yesterday. I'm assuming it's not often at all that she has foreigners stay in that room, and I wondered if she'd gone out and bought these pillows today. Either way they were much appreciated, and made the second night's sleep better than the first - though we were all looking forward to sleeping on a real bed the next night.


> > > Next: Day 7 - Train to Seoul
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