Staying put this week in Hwacheon has given me a little more of a vacation. I really like to finish a holiday tired from a lot of activity and experiences, and I'm sure I will be pretty warn out by the time I get home, especially with jet lag from the long trip home and time re-adjustment, but it has been nice to lay around some and read and not do much for hours at a time. I was able to finish the book I brought with me, Ed Abbey's The Fool's Progress, I have also had some time to write about my experience some (in a traditional and personal handwritten format).
Another diversion has been the coming changing of the US presidency that will take place in just over 24 hours. There has been a lot said about it and about the potential changes we may see in even the first 24-36 hours that Obama is in office and about his "solemn" approach to the position and the first black president thing and the (sort of) rags to riches thing and all of that. And it is all interesting, but what I find even more fascinating is the logistics of it all. Stuff like what is revealed in this article. It is that behind the scenes stuff of life that I find very interesting. It is the stuff that is assumed and taken for granted.
That is also one of my approaches when traveling, whether here to South Korea, or to a small town in Kansas to attend a friend's wedding. Even across town or across the street. Anywhere and any life that is different to my existence is fascinating to me. Sometimes only for maybe 30 seconds until I (in a stereotyping manner) decide I have seen that life pattern before or maybe for 2 straight weeks in which almost everything I do or everywhere I go presents new challenges, ideas, and adventures.
Here in Korea, I find it interesting that tennis balls come in packs of two instead of three. Leopards raise their tails when they are full and not needing to find food and lower it when they are on the prowl (and deer and other wildlife know this and are not threatened when the tail is raised). Homes in Korea are heated in the floors, hence the tradition of short tables and sitting and sleeping on the floor. In Korea, soup is apparently served more often at the end of a meal than in the beginning. The standard loaf of bread in Korea is many times better than the standard loaf of store bought bread in the states. Likewise with meats. Bread is still sold from bakeries in Korea and meat from butchers. (When I bought ground beef to make a spaghetti meat sauce for my sister's host family, the butcher sliced off the amount of meat I required and then took it back to grind it for me... and it really did taste better.) In Korea, the roads are marked with stripes and signs like in the US, but no one really follows the rules. It is mostly a free for all. And the local police do not really enforce any rules. But it all seems to work.
The Koreans have a pretty well-defined and traditional system of respect and hierarchy among all people, and that respect is reflected into all aspects of their lives. It would be easy to say that the USA needs to have something like that because people are just so damn inconsiderate and disrespectful of one another (which I agree with), but just saying that wouldn't solve anything and there really isn't an easy solution. The Korean race is one that has really stood the test of time and has persevered. Their traditions and culture is millennia old. I do not believe the US will ever get there, and many speculate that Korea is losing some of it, but I still see an exceptionally high level of respect by children to their parents, by younger adults to older adults, and even by peers to peers. If there is one thing that the rest of the world should learn from Korea, it is how one person should treat another person.
It is the little things about life that make it rich and worth pursuing. Different peoples in different cultures have figured out, each in their own ways, how to make their lives rich. By exploring the little things of different peoples lives, maybe I can add that little bit more of richness to my own. By learning how one president moves out and a new one moves into the White House, maybe I can get idea for making my next move smoother (or maybe it just satisfies that part of my mind that likes to find order and method in every little (or big) thing). In Korea, I learn a little bit about accupunture, I learn how to combine foods to make a more satisfying snack for a bus ride, I am introduced to soju, and cold noodles, and instant coffee with the sugar already added, I learn what happens when my feet really do lose feeling from cold numbness, I eat meals with people I can't communicate with by talking, I see huge 2-3 story high ice sculptures, I eat sushimi within hours of the fish being caught, I play tennis on a dirt tennis court, bowing to my opponents before each of my serves, I help a new friend with his English while he explains the virtues of "Globish" (and how everyone worldwide who has any English can understand it... except for native English speakers), I spend a train ride speaking to a Korean Philles fan (who can't speak English) with the help of a Buddhist Monk (who can), I drink "flower essence" that has been fermented for over two years, I ride on a decorative sled through a decorative sled contest (which ended up being somewhat of a disaster - but was fun nonetheless) and am interviewed by the official Korean Tourism department (the interview will no doubt appear online... I may supply a link if I can find it) as if I created the sled myself, and I experience a true winter... even if only for a week or so.
And I still have a full day left before I get up early for my extra-long day of traveling home....
It's the little things.