This week we had no classes, so I thought it would be a week of just hanging out in the office. But I was wrong! The school organized a staff overnight trip to Seonyudo Island, off the coast from Gunsan. There were 14 of us altogether- 6 native teachers, 5 Korean teachers, the intern, the office manager, and the Headmaster. It's was a one-hour ride to the island on a beautiful, if slightly foggy morning.
Seonyudo is one island in a small cluster which also includes Munyeodo and Jangjado. Some of the islands are connected by bridges, with a total population of about 500.
We went to volunteer at the local elementary school teaching English classes. On this small rural island, the students never have a chance to interact with native English speakers. With all the elementary and middle school kids from 2 islands converged, we had about 22 students. We brought a bunch of materials and did art, science, culture, music, and PE classes.
After school we took a hike around the island. There are trails all over, and with our local guide we made a huge loop of two islands over hills and along the water. It was gorgeous, and I felt right at home being on a quiet island. It was so nice to be out of a city. (Last weekend I went to Seoul and had a great time, but almost pulled my hair out trying to navigate the huge concrete jungle.)
Fishing is of course a dietary and economic staple for the island, and we came across locals drying fish. I've eaten plenty of these small dried fish since I've been here, but there's nothing like meeting the purveyors, knowing the food's origin, and eating out of a wheelbarrow.
Dinner was a large and festive affair with all of us, as well as the staff from the island schools. You can probably guess what was on the menu... yes, seafood, and more types than I have ever had in one meal. The side dishes included sea urchin, sea snails, sea cucumber, oysters, seaweed, steamed mussels, and little softshell crabs that you eat whole, with a surprisingly nice *crunch*. The main course was raw fish, called hoe in Korean (pronounced hway) spelled 회 . It was good, though not quite as soft as sashimi I'm used to in the States.
And what staff night out would be complete without a trip to the noraebang? It was a hunt to find karaoke in this small town, and it was actually more of some one's converted shed, but we had a lot of fun. We hadn't all been out since our newest teacher Bryony from England arrived, so this was the official welcome for her. That meant we had to give speeches... yes, all 14 of us. Finally we got to singing, switching off between English and Korean songs. At the end the Headmaster did a solo, then summoned me for a duet of Unchained Melody, which we have sung together before. Apparently now it's "our" song. Which is both sweet and a little awkward.
The next day we were busy with morning classes and then said goodbye to the school. After a clam udon lunch, we had some extra time before we had to catch the ferry home, and it was a sunny day and there was a beach... So of course I wanted to go swimming! I hadn't been swimming outside since New Year's day in Greenlake, and now it's May so I was eager to get in the water. You can't really swim in the industrial, polluted shoreline of Gunsan, plus it's been so cold still, so this was a golden opportunity. Bryony, being a woman after my own heart, was not only up for it, but she also had brought 2 swimsuits! We made a mad dash for the cold water of the Yellow Sea.
We started to walk back to the hotel, my hair matted with salt water, skin bright pink. We passed a group of middle-aged Korean tourists having their lunch on the rocks, and they motioned for us to join them. They had quite the picnic spread, typical Korean-style with many small tupperware containters and about 12 different dishes. We tried to say we just ate, but they insisted we try some pork, mushroom frittata, green onion kimchee, and a sweet fruity dessert wine. Then they poured me a shot of soju... and really, who am I to be rude and resist their hospitality?! We couldn't really talk much, but we managed to find out that they were all on vacation from Seoul. Finally we made it down to the dock just in time to catch the boat home, warm and exhilarated.