Suwon. City That Give Happiness

In the following weeks my “witch class” had forced me to shudder before entering the room. I stared at May as she smirked at me in her little Salem smile and was certain she was growing a Vlasic nose. Immediately after my worst class I was coached by all of my fellow teachers on how to lay down the law and demand their respect. I did so with much glee. I felt like a stage actor playing the role of a school teacher who keeps all of the students on their toes. Entirely spontaneous (shouting unscrupulously) demanding people to stand up in front of the class and “recite their name because I could not hear the first time.” I was no longer such a push over.

I started the class by announcing new rules. I had 300 pages of note taking paper photocopied and dramatically flipped through the pages in front of the class so they were aware that I could not possibly run out. I then held up the dreadful paragraph which each student now refers to as “the big one.” I had one of the slow readers stand up and come to the front to read its contents to the class (this was a brilliant idea as it really emphasized the length of “the big one.”

We come to CDI to learn English. In order to become expert English speakers we must firstly, pay attention in class. Secondly, speak loudly when teacher asks us to answer a question. Thirdly, put up our hands when we don’t understand a question. Fourthly, be polite and courteous to the teacher and fellow students. Fifthly, smile and have fun during the entire three hour class. In conclusion, we will only improve our English at CDI if we follow these pillars of perfection.

The entire classes jaw dropped and I heard moans throughout the room. At the end of that class I had designated over eighty “big ones” to members of the class.

The witch class has gotten better. It all depends on how mischievous they feel at 7pm on any given Tuesday or Thursday. Last week I was entirely fed up with them. They were throwing paper airplanes, talking with the rudest of tones and writing Korean notes to each other on their desks (you’d think they’d be intelligent enough to pass notes in class where I could not see them permanently written on the desk in which they are sitting).

The next day I taught an advanced listening class which was rather depressing. We listened to a lecture at UCLA on the issues surrounding Elective Suicide. We followed this somber discussion by listening to a CNN News report on The Price of Fame. The news caster talked about Lindsey Lohan’s car crash and even aired a 911 call placed by Scarlette Johansson after being rear ended on Santa Monica Boulevard.

I spent the last thirty minutes of my Friday class blabbing on about the most ridiculous things. I was incredibly excited to take my first trip out of Seoul the following day and pranced around the room with wide eyes in an attempt to entrain my students. I spent ten minutes describing to my class what a Fluffo-nutter Sandwich is. I felt so sad for these children as they have never even heard of the glorious white and fluffy Fluffo product. They stared at me in awe as I explained in great detail what Fluffo tasted, felt, smelled and looked like. I then told them to get out their pens and write down my favorite recipe for Fluffo cream cheese fruit dip. Archie shot up his hand and said, “but teacha we can’t buy Fluffo why we need this recipe?” I responded, “one must always be prepared in the event Fluffo hits the Korean grocery market. I want all of you to promise me that if you go to American on vacation with your families to ensure you pick up several jars of Fluffo!” They all eagerly nodded their heads and scribbled down my recipe on the white board.

I continued the lecture by asking each child what their favorite ice cream flavor is. These Korean children would certainly not fit in back home. The two most popular flavors among Korean children in the ten to thirteen year age group is coffee and green tea. I found it odd that both ice cream flavors are created from traditionally caffeine rich hot beverages. I spent the last ten minutes of class teasing Alice. Alice is twelve years old, 6 feet tall and has a deep manly voice. She sits in the back of the class with her best friend Elly who wears circular black rimmed Harry Potter glasses. Alice spent the entire class drinking green tea out of a plastic bottle which she had wrapped in a paper bag. I called her Ms.Rubby and asked her to please abstain from drinking liquor in class. I had the entire class in stitches when I ever so seriously wrote a new rule on the board, “No Soju in class (unless you have enough to share with the rest of the class). I think sharing is an incredibly important virtue to instill in our future world leaders.

The following morning Dale and I met at the subway and headed to Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do. It amazes me that the Seoul subway system is so far reaching that it actually connects to another provincial capital. I have never heard of a subway system being this vast. I was elated to sit on a subway for seventy minutes and only pay $1.30 for the adventure.

We arrived in Suwon and headed right for the Tourist Office where we bought our Korean National Folk Museum day pass. We sat on benches directly outside of the office while eating our treats from Dunkin Donuts. We had to wait about 25 minutes for the next free shuttle bus. There were several huge Samsung Plasma Screens hanging over the Tourist office which explained the many tourist treasures that can be found in Suwon. The cities motto is Happy Suwon, and this catch phrase can be seen on billboards and buses all over the city. We would end up spending the next twenty minutes laughing until our bellies hurt as the video spewed out the most ridiculous claims:

Welcome to Happy Suwon where people find Happiness. In Suwon we make happiness for tourist, your face after being in Suwon becomes marvelous. Suwon is full of culture and tourist possibilities. It is the cultural capital of the world. Suwon has a famous fortress which will make you happy. The folk museum is a traditional place to be smile and happy. Suwon also has many traditional food such as Korean rice wine, BBQ Galbi restaurants and even McDonald’s! Enjoy your stay in Happy Suwon where everyone is happy with culture and shops.”

Looks like we came to the right place! Who doesn’t like a little happiness and marvelous faces?! I was most excited when I found out I was in the cultural capital of the world!

A few interesting background details. Suwon is a city of over one million inhabitants. It lies approximately 30 kilometers south of Seoul. It is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea. This fortress was built in 1796 with the intention of protecting the tomb of Prince Sado. The walls make up Hwaseong Fortress and are the city’s main attraction. Hwaseong is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a fact Korean’s will not let you soon forget). It is a major education center with over fourteen university campuses. Suwon is also the headquarters for Samsung Electronics which produces the world’s finest cell phones, computers and cameras. The city also played host to international footballers at the FIFA World Cup.

We rushed onto the shuttle bus and found ourselves zooming across the city. Dale and I were both shocked at the number of apartment buildings located in Suwon. Row upon row of massive rectangular condominiums. I always imagine that these apartments are actually just a set of domino’s being used by an eager group of competitive giants.

The Korean Folk Village is the best Folk Village I have ever visited (and I like to think of myself as a connoisseur on the offerings of global Folk Villages). A river winds through the Village, which you can cross tip toeing across stepping stones overlooking a waterfall or by walking over various antique bridges. The entrance of the park features a typical tourist center selling Korean nick knacks as well as food emporiums specializing in Korean tea and various specialty cuisines.

In front of the “Three Passage Gate” there was a large monument of stones piled together. We were instructed to stand at a booth and write a wish on a little piece of paper. The paper is then rolled up and wrapped around a long chain of “wishes” to create thousands of wishes joined by a string that wrap around the rocky structure. We walked into the Seonangdang which is a Korean Folk Totem Pole garden and stared at several hilarious Korean families as they tried to take pictures. I made funny faces at an infant sitting in a stroller (who proceeded to stick his tongue out at me). I growled and clawed like a cat (like any normal adult would do). It was at this moment that I realized the most enjoyable part of the Folk Village would be watching the local Korean’s enjoying their history together. The place was jam packed full of infants and toddlers. I had to restrain myself from kidnapping some of the more adorable ones. After realizing that we were the only foreigners I told Dale, “I really appreciate how the museum has so many authentic local Korean’s here interacting with their families so we can appreciate Korea’s more ancient history but at the same time watch the local’s of the present interacting with their past.” I like to think all of these people were here for my own enjoyment.

We passed through a wild flower garden and entered the traditional village where we were able to walk into a traditional school, farmers house (with donkey’s, horses, pigs and everything!) I stared at a cow working a wheat mill as a father held his small infant over the parameter post. He stuck the child directly in front of the cows face. What father would do this to his child I do not know. The infant was not at all impressed with his fathers parenting skills.

There were plenty of staff at the Folk Village dressed in traditional attire. I felt as though I was in a classic samurai movie as they tip toed around their houses looking ever so rurally regal. These dressed “period actors” displayed various life styles. We stopped at a woman manning the ceramics hut who was making overtly erotic sculpture. A group of woman showed us how people used to process glutinous rice for the tea ceremony. Several men sat on a stoop making weaved mats and baskets made of thick dried straw. We turned a corner into an open square and I was soon repulsed by two ladies who were actually making silk from silk worms. One held a sort of spindle wheel collecting the thread and the other had the larvae or worm specimens in a little pot. I will never forget the acrid smell. Ever.

At the far end of the Village there is a large Nobleman’s Mansion complex where you can watch a traditional wedding ceremony. One of my favorite parts of Folk Village was the Provincial Government Office where you can visit a traditional prison. Parents excitedly pushed their children behind the bars and had them “interact with the mannequin dummies” many of which were labeled prostitutes, murderers and tax evaders. The children would smile as they stood in between the village whore and local axe murder as they prominently displayed enthusiastic peace signs. All of the mannequin’s in the jail had been subjected to various tortures. One prostitute had her legs broken using Leg Screw Torture. After walking through the prison we spent the next few minutes in the courtyard of the municipal office where various ancient Korean tortures were available for discovery and photography. What family fun! I could not stop laughing at Korean families who excitedly took pictures of various members being tortured by each other. One young girl lay on a crucifix while her mother (with much zeal) pretended to pound her back with a mallet. One father had his head affixed to a wooden guillotine as his wife pretended to break his legs. Fun for the whole family. Brought me to tears I tell you.

At the far end of the Village is a traditional Bazaar and marketplace which features a massive food court. The diners sit cross legged on raised dining room tables. There were many different kiosks preparing various Korean delicacies. We stood in the longest line to order a traditional Korean pancake (served with soy ginger sauce that come in many varieties;  kimchie, oyster, green onion and mixed grill seafood). After our quick pancake lunch we walked along the stream. Then I suddenly stopped in my tracks as I heard a huge gong followed by massively pounded drums.

Dale and I ran across the stepping stones across the river and sat down at the outdoor performing art coliseum.  We spent our last hour at the museum watching three different live arts shows. The first show was a magnificent show of traditional Korean Folk dance and music. About thirty men dressed in elaborate red, blue, white and yellow jumped around the circular stage like manic acrobats. They each played a different instrument (large skin drums, brass gongs and flutes). I was most excited by the costumes. Each of these performers had a huge pompom hat on their head which had a spinning apparatus attached to the back of their head. As they pranced around the circumference of the stage they moved their heads in such a way that the apparatus made a figure of eight in the air. Each apparatus had a coloured ribbon attached so when looking at all of the performers it seemed as though magical ribbons were floating in the air. The final performance of this “gong show” (literally my first real Gong Show!) was a solo act where a very talented break dancer frolicked in the center of the stage with a ribbon attached to his headpiece which measured over twenty meters long. As he flicked his head the ribbon would shout out into the audience and snap back into his arms as he cajoled his body to and fro.

We hopped up from our seats and found a perfect spot under a tree to watch the next two performances. I thoroughly enjoyed a twenty minute acrobat show which involved four Korean woman dressed in neon yellow, pink and lime leotards who jumped and flipped incredibly high on giant see-saws. The final performance was a lame spectacle. A two-hundred year old man wearing a jesters costume and holding a rather enormous fan hobbled across a tight rope. We rolled our eyes and decided we had had enough. I think it is funny that entertainment such as tight rope walking is only entertaining when the person falls and injures themselves. Everyone watching is secretly wishing for the worst.

We ran to the parking lot and hopped on the shuttle bus just as it was leaving for the city center. It was now 5pm and we hailed a taxi headed for Hwaseong Fortress. We were dropped at the most westerly gate called Janganmnun. We hiked up massive steps to the top of the gate which features the typical ancient Korean royal architectural style. We spent the next two hours walking half of the fortress walls. Every kilometer or so we would come across another important landmark temple, look out point or war related relic. The “stroll” became an arduous climb as we stood at the bottom of the tallest staircase I have ever encountered in my life. Unbeknownst to me the fortress actually climbs up and over Mount Paldal. Dale and I huffed and puffed up thousands of stairs as we slowly rose above the city. I gasped for breath several times and asked many passing locals where the elevator to the top was located. My legs burned like a hot skillet as we finally reached the top of the fortress. I was out of breath and fell onto the steps as we stared out at the massive city of Suwon which sat directly bellow us. Clouds were darkening and the air started to fill with slow moving spit. I was elated to feel the cool moist air against my bleating forehead. We stared in silence for several minutes at the skyscraper filled city bellow.

We got up from our comfortable perch and found the landmark Bell Pavilion. The Bell is roughly the size of n overgrown elephant and twice as heavy. Tourists are encouraged to give the Bell a good ol’ gong. It represents the symbolic image of Suwon as a city of filial piety. We walked through a creepy forest. Trees whose branches twisted and groped the air like witches fingers before frowning down another outrageous staircase. Whatever goes up must come down. I let out a bleating cry and huffed and sulked for a good minute. The slow decent was worse than the climb. Half way down the mountain along the fortress walls I had to stop every few steps as every muscle in my leg was spasming from overuse. By the time we finally made it to the bottom of the fortress staircase I cried out to the heavens, “finally, Thank God that is over!”

We searched for a quick bite to eat. I held chopsticks in one hand and groped my knee with the other as my legs shuddered. I tried to stretch them as much as possible without noticing any positive results.

We hopped on the Subway just after 7pm and I closed my eyes from the exhausting and exhilarating day of site seeing. I pulled my left knee up to my chin and quietly whispered to my legs, “I am sorry, don’t tremble…but wasn’t it so worth it?!” They uncontrollably nodded in agreement.



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