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Heart and Seoul

If memory serves, the bus ride from Goeje to Seoul took about 6 hours.  Upon arrival in the big and bustling city of Seoul, we wandered the streets, referred to our maps and eventually made it to our hotel room down a quiet alley.  We stayed in a room on the 2nd or 3rd floor, which was outfitted with a ‘descending life line’ kit for use in case we had to evacuate the room from the window… Definitely the first time I had ever encountered a need for such an item, but I guess in case of emergency (during an earthquake perhaps??) it could come in handy. (?)  In any event, we settled in for our first night, making plans for things to see and do in the following days.

Our ‘things to do and see’ list initially included visiting the N. Seoul Tower, the Namdaemun market and the darling and very quaint Bukchon Hanok Village.  Of course during our street wanders we came across other points of interest, such as the Sungnyemun Gate, Deoksugung Palace and the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

My sister (a shopping enthusiast) was told about the Namdaemun market by a friend of hers, and well, being a shopaholic, we just had to check it out!  Indeed, this market is a shoppers dream come true!  Absolutely anything you could ever imagine wanting could be found there.  Clothes, jewelry, household items, knick-knacks, food, souvenirs, beauty supplies… the list could go on forever!  And it wasn’t just street front shops along the main road of the market, but you could go in to many of them and find your way to a second floor where even more shops existed.  Seriously I think one could probably spend days alone just exploring the vast number of stores available in that market.  Now granted, there were several repetitious stores where similar or same items were sold, but still, it was impressive how many shops were in such a comparatively small space of the city.  We ended up visiting the market a couple of times.  Once to just check it out, and the second to get our souvenirs.

From the market, we headed over to the N. Seoul Tower, which offered lovely panoramic views of the city.  While views were a bit smoggy from a higher perspective, it was certainly the perfect spot to really get a feel for the expanse of Seoul.  It of course was a very touristy spot and seemed to be the main location for lovers or friends to add their love locks.  Hundreds of thousands of locks were attached to various places in the park surrounding the tower.  We hung around for a couple of hours and enjoyed some beers until night came so we could enjoy the lights of the city.

Bukchon village was our adventure destination for the next day.  The brochure for the village describes it as “a village frozen in time for ages” though it is right in the middle of modern Seoul.  That description could not be more accurate, as once we stepped foot into the village, it was as if we traveled back in time.  The homes were no longer modern and the noise from the city seemed to dissipate immediately.  The streets were pristinely clean and immaculately paved.  Lush greenery spilled from every wall giving the air a cleaner, crisper scent.  It was absolutely darling!

We spent several hours wandering the village streets, but once we left, we came upon a tiny local shop with some artwork (my sister purchased a couple pieces) and teeny tiny, itty bitty cactus plants for sale.  Literally, these cactus plants with their pot and all were maybe an inch in height at most!  They were so darn adorable, we just had to get some!  Very smartly, the amount of soil the plants were in, were within the legal limits for Customs, so they could be taken back to the States without any issues.  In the two years since I bought my cactus, it has travelled with me to Japan, lived with me in Hawaii, and now resides with me in New Orleans:)  And while it has grown quite a bit, it is still under 2 inches tall, lol!

We visited a couple of Palaces during our stay in Seoul as well.  What was particularly notable of each Palace at the entrance, was a little kiosk of sorts that rented out clothing designed after original or traditional Korean fashions.  For a price, men and women could rent these traditional clothes to wear while roaming the Palace grounds.  And let me tell you, those rental shops were always full with customers!  While at first it seemed a bit odd, really it added to the ambience of touring the Palaces as everywhere you looked, people in traditional attire roamed about.  And again it gave that feeling of being in Seoul hundreds of years ago.

What was particularly interesting about the way homes within the Palace grounds were built was how they had truly modern accessories.  Though built hundreds of years ago, they had features that even nowadays you would only find in very fine and upscale homes.  For example, homes were built several feet from the ground on top of rock.  The gap under the whole house would be mostly hollow and there would be only one “entrance” to the hollow space in one area of the wall.   In the winter, the “entrance” would be filled with wood and would be set on fire.  The heat from the fire would travel all through the under side of the house and the smoke from the fire would eventually make its way to a chimney on the opposite side of the house.  So essentially,  during the winter, residents had the luxury of heated floors!!  Pretty darn clever engineering if you ask me.

On our way to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we came across an unexpected detour.  In the pedestrian passage between city traffic, Shoes of Hope had several tents set up.  We stopped to check it out and participated in their charity event.  They gave us a “passport” where each of the 8 stations had something educational about their program.  Once you visited each station you would receive a stamp of completion.  To be honest, we really had no idea what most of the stations were about, because well, they were all in Korean, however what was clear was the purpose of their mission.  While I don’t recall all the details, essentially Shoes of Hope is a charity program whos mission is to ensure every child has shoes, in every country around the world.  Their message was about spreading love, compassion, and making sure every child that needed shoes would have them.  Pretty cool!  One of the stations we visited allowed us to decorate a pair of shoes that would be donated and to add a message to that child that would receive it:)

One last point of interest that we enjoyed while visiting Seoul was to take in a show.  Nanta, a non-verbal comedy/musical, originated in South Korea.  It started in 1997, making it the longest-running show in Korean history (thanks Wiki!) and has earned worldwide fame.  It was indeed a delight to see!  Though no words were spoken, they weren’t needed as the highly entertaining actors, through their animation, were able to convey a joyously funny story of three cooks attempting to finish preps for a wedding party while given the challenge of having a clueless new chef added to their mix.  It was a delight to be able to see the show, especially in its country of origin:).

Back to South Korea

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Favorite Memories from Bajo

Not in any particular order:)

Riding on the motorbike with Ainul: This one has a little back story.  We were all out in Belopa hanging out at one of Faisal’s friends place (Misba) and among other things we got into a conversation about the Muslim religion.  I learned about ‘haram’ (forbidden) and ‘halal’ (allowed) and about proper ways to interact with other Muslim men and women.  On our way back to Bajo, I rode with one of the students, Ainul (Arabic for ‘eye of God’ essentially) and he continued to educate me about the religion during our 15 minute drive back.  He told me that the Muslim religion teaches to love your family, your neighbors and yourself.  To treat others with respect and kindness.  To give what you can and be grateful for what you have.  Then he asked (which still brings tears to my eyes thinking of it) whether I had heard of the recent bombings in France (November 2015).  I replied yes, I had.  To which he said ‘those people are not Muslims.  Our true religion teaches love, not hate.  Those people doing those bad things are not true Muslims.’  Through my welled-up eyes I simply replied “I know.”.  People so often judge others and their religions based on the evil behavior of a few who claim to be of the same religion.  But at the real heart of every religion lies the same undeniable truth: Love one another and be good to one another.  We are each here just trying to live our lives in the best way possible for ourselves, our families and friends.  It’s a shame those with evil intentions and evil in their hearts try to ruin it.

Spicy food:  Ok, so I love, LOVE spicy food!!!  I thought up to this point in my travels that I’d already encountered the spiciest food available in Asia, but I was wrong!!  Indonesia (at least South Sulawesi) has THE spiciest food I’d ever tasted!!  Even something simple like nasi goreng (fried rice) was so unbelievably hot that I was in heaven!!  Truth be told however I couldn’t always finish all my food because of the heat of the meal and the heat of the day!  Indonesia blew both Thailand and Malaysia out of the water in the category of spicy foods!

Cooking with Faisal: Watching this young man teach english was a marvel enough, but amazingly he’s also a talented chef!  I enjoyed joining him in the kitchen several nights a week to watch him whip up  delicious traditional Indonesian dishes full of intense flavors and of course spice!

Meeting his friends: Misba, Ucok, Mita, Iswan, Andre, Aput, Ainul, Lily, Diarah… the list of his beautiful friends could go on forever!

Helping to make Kapurung with Mama and at Iswan’s house with his family.

Amazing Hospitality: Everywhere you went, the hospitality was unbelievable.  Such beautiful people and so giving in every way


Treated like a celebrity: Seriously if you’ve ever wanted to know what it must be like to be a celebrity,  GO TO Bajo!!!  People literally stop and stare, ask for photos and want to get close to you!  They are all of course very respectful and will ask for pictures etc, but once you give the ‘go ahead’ they will come in close and one picture turns into about 70, lol!!  ‘Lagi, lagi’ (again, again) was the common word heard during picture time.  Even just walking down the street to the store I would be stopped by people driving by for a picture with them.  Seriously an ego boost!  Though truthfully there were lots of times when the honor wore off!  I would still always acquiesce to pictures with the people, but after that experience certainly would never want to be a real celebrity!!

Hiking the mountain: The name of it escapes me but it was one of the tallest in our area.  Iswan had a family home at the top of the mountains and after a 2 hour hike, we enjoyed a beautifully relaxing, quiet and calm afternoon chilling at their home.  We practiced our shooting skills with a pellet gun (only shooting targets, no animals!!!) and ate fresh food cooked up by the boys literally plucked from the earth.  So beautiful!

Going to Iswan and Ucok’s home: Such amazing families and homes!!  They were simple yet so gorgeous!  Animals roamed around as we sat on the floor eating home cooked traditional foods and talked.  We tried some palm wine (normally haram, but was only served to myself and the two other volunteers so it was all good!).  We met the most amazing man, Iswan’s grandfather who was apparently over 100 years old, yet looked as if he was maybe 60!  He loved meeting tourists and though he didn’t speak a word of English, his smile and constant laugh said it all.  You couldn’t help but smile and laugh with him non-stop any time you were in his presence!!

Mama: Faisal’s mother was just too cute!  She didn’t speak any English yet was still able to communicate in her own way.  She was warm, welcoming and always a bright spirit to be around!  I loved going to the markets with her or just hanging out with her on the front porch.

Learning Bahasa: I started to carry a little notebook with me so I could write down any new words of Bahasa to refer back to when needed.  I would always write the word phonetically so I could pronounce it correctly and was often corrected in my spelling, lol!!

Salma: One of Faisal’s cousin is an amazing!  She invited me to her beautiful home and served me kapurung (a traditional soup made with sagu, vegetables and meat) then took me to her sister’s house for a tour of their land.  I actually learned the majority of Bahasa words from her.  She couldn’t really construct sentences, but she knew a lot of individual words so as I watched her prepare lunch she would point to items and say their equivalent in Bahasa.  One of my favorite afternoons!

Dressed in local wedding attire: What an amazing experience this was!!  Another cousin of Faisal, brother of Salma was a make-up artist and he turned myself and the two other volunteers into brides complete with the full traditional hair, make-up and gowns!  We were then whisked off to Belopa to several locations to have professional pictures taken by 3 individuals (Aput-the real pro and Andre were 2 of them).  Talk about feeling like a star again!  We even went to the home and met one of the Queen’s of South Sulawesi (one of 8!) and were allowed to take pictures inside her home:)

Karaoke: As part of a going-away gift, Faisal, Ucok and Iswan treated myself and another volunteer from Spain to a night of karaoke!  Sooooooo much FUN!!!!!  We had our own booth and jammed away until our time was cut off, lol!!  Loved it!

The students: Attentive, respectful, full of life, cheery, smart, inquisitive, beautiful students!!  From the 6 year olds up to the 18 year olds, what a wonderful group of kids to have been given the pleasure of teaching!

Visit to recycle center: My first task upon arriving at the request of Faisal was to help set up a recycling center at his home.  Traditionally all trash is burned (not good for the air!) but luckily a recycle center was located in Belopa.  So we visited the center and arranged for us to be able to bring in our recycling.  I set up a little center near the school and we educated then encouraged the kids to bring in their plastics, paper and metals to us so we could collect them and take them to the main center.  Faisal would even get some money from the recycling, which could in turn be put back into helping fund his school!  Visit Faisal’s Environmental Page!

Leaving Bajo: This one was definitely a bitter-sweet memory.  I didn’t want to leave, yet at the same time was ready to.  I received one of the most beautiful send-offs however.  They loaded me with parting gifts and hugs.  I tried my best not to get emotional and cry, but that was just impossible.  I was a big ball of sopping wet tears by the time I got on the bus.  I still carry each of their gifts with me and smile whenever I see or wear them.  My eyes are welling up again…

Building and blessing the volunteer house: I really can’t take credit for this bit as I didn’t actually help build any part of it, lol!!  I kept hanging around and asking if they needed help, but the boys and Faisal’s father had everything under control.  They built a beautiful 2 room home for volunteers just behind the school-house.  I did help with some of the painting however and with a little poem written on the inside of each room, but that was the extent of my contribution, lol!  Once complete, we had a gathering in one of the rooms with food and the entire family and friends and had a little prayer to bless the new space.

Spiderman/Justin Bieber: One of Faisal’s nephews, a feisty character of a young man was often at the house as many other young family members were.  We’d often play games of hide-and-seek or watch them rollerblade around, and the reason he got the nickname ‘Spiderman’ was because you would literally have to look up the walls or to the ceiling to find where he was hiding!  Quite the talented climber that one was.  And he’d constantly sneak up on you from the most random of directions while we were painting or writing on the walls of the volunteer house.  Can’t recall why he also got the nickname ‘Justin Bieber’, but using either of those two nicknames and everyone knew who we were referring to, lol!!

The guitar and songs: Hanging out with Faisal, whether at his home or Misba’s place, one of my favorite times was watching him and listening to him play his guitar.  Self-taught and brilliant!  I could listen to him play for hours while either humming along or simply sitting quietly.

Children, children and more children: Aside from the school children we were accompanied daily by younger family members and in general anywhere around town or other people’s homes would be swarmed by them.  Too cute!!

Invited to an ‘Aquika’: Not at all as you should spell that word I’m sure, but essentially an aquika is a series of blessings given to newborn babies.  Family and friends gathered together to eat and watch the blessings and celebrate the new life.  The first blessing was to ensure good fertility, the second was to ward off bad spirits in her life and the third to grant her good health throughout her life.  Absolutely amazing to be a part of!

Learning the Bajo way of cracking eggs.  Basically use one egg to crack the other!  To crack the last egg they use the table top of course.  I crack my eggs the Bajo way now:).

Going to Faisal’s sisters house to watch her make (and us subsequently eat) donuts and muffins for her bakery business.

On to Learning Bahasa

Back to Indonesia