23 The Beginning
My Korean Christmas started this day. I have been planning to go somewhere for quite a time now and I felt like this is the best opportunity to do my plans. I have never been crazy about traveling because it just makes me sick. Anyway, for this day, I called Rio, my friend in Incheon, planning to go there. Good thing my friend was free and I was welcomed with arms open widely. The thing was I didn’t feel like going. Before I left my dormitory, I hesitated so much that I was on the verge of canceling my appointment with my friend. But because I am determined and I live up to my words, I walked out of my room and didn’t look back. Actually, I was to meet my friend at 12:00 but I decided to go to church first with Hoyang. He was late in the church so I didn’t understand a word from the mass but going to church surely made me feel better. Little did I know that Rio was already waiting for me in Incheon and even thought that I won’t be coming anymore. So I told him that I will be arriving at around 4 pm. But since he got the impression that I’ll be there at 12, he expected the time so much, cancelled his appointments for me and was so disappointed that I went to Church and got late.
Rio. All right, let me tell you something about him. He had been my student in this online English teaching company for 3 months I think. All that time, I had to pretend that I understand him. It’s certainly is a tough challenge to do so. All that time, he kept on stuttering words which are so incomprehensible that I just laugh when I don’t understand him. Or even say, “really?”, “oh, is that so?”… and so on. He is a very paranoid guy and thinks that everyone is watching him. That the world has conspired to make his life miserable. His pessimism is so dreadful that you feel it cross up to your skin. Quite freaky indeed. Also, he is frank, brutally frank. Whatever happened to prudence I just don’t know cause this guy doesn’t even know how to spell that virtue. Imagine, we were in his room talking and chatting and talking and when I changed my clothes and saw that I was wearing a shabby undershirt, he said “oh, that’s so cheap!” I was really dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to strike back but I just thought that it’s not worth it. His frankness doesn’t affect me anyway. I guess. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Second time, we were sitting on this bench waiting for some other friends to come. There were beggars around that I wanted to go somewhere else. He said it was okay. I said no, we look like beggars sitting there. But know what he told me, “No, we don’t. On second thought you look like a beggar coz you look like you didn’t take a bath.” Now, he’s pushing me to my limit. Just can’t take conceited people like him. All I wanted to happen was for my friends to arrive and get away from him, seriously. Well, he’s not really that bad it’s just that he can become obnoxious, spitting in front you or just anywhere he wanted to like the world is a big toilet. He also doesn’t want to take his pictures because he is so worried about his hair though he can use a little combing.
Photo 1. Rio, yeah that's him
24 Going around Seoul
And so, from Incheon, I moved to Seoul and first stop was Gyungbukung palace. It is a nice old traditional Korean palace. Just that, nice and old. Well, you can also include the fact that it is huge. Had to walk for almost two hours to go round the place. After that, nothing. Rio and I just stayed in that corner watching couples go by like we were some kind of voyeurs. But I really wanted to go somewhere though Rio was too exhausted I think too move some limbs. The subway station was interesting and fun only if you are gifted with patience. I tell you, you will be needing a lot if you’re naïve about Korean subway stations. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I think I won’t be able to come out of that station alive if I’m alone. Good thing there was Rio. See, Rio isn’t so bad after all. At Seoul station, we waited… and waited… and waited. Oh dear, my friends were so punctual I started worrying about Rio. He really wanted to go back to Incheon but he just can’t leave me. Even if I have cheap clothes and look like a beggar, he didn’t leave me. If only for that, I am thankful.
24 Meeting Woodam and Young Uk
By this time, I am already exhausted but still I had to meet my students… my middle school students who said they’ll be arriving at 4:15 in Seoul Station but they were late by just one and a half hours. Talk about keeping promises. After waiting, I bid Rio goodbye and thanked him for his patience. It’s really something to stay though your feet would have liked it so much to go somewhere else. Next stop- Lotte Department Store for ice skating. I was so moved of the generosity of these two young men. Especially Woodam who really saved money just to pay for me. It wasn’t really big but the gesture was so grand. I don’t think I can do this act. Imagine, saving your money and then spend on a stranger. That’s crazy, but for them it’s not. That is what I like about Koreans. They don’t give because they expect something in return. Obviously, I cannot give anything back in return because I’m just a student and they know this. Although I am not a good ice skater, I still agreed with my students to do it because after all it’s Christmas and it’s my first time to really ice skate for the holidays. So there I was, crumbling and making my way through the hundred other skaters who go hither and thither. Mind you, I am not that bad in skating but the blades are really hurting me. Such a pain that made my gargantuan skating effort all the more difficult. Nevertheless, thanks to my very enthusiastic and helpful students, I was able to enjoy. Who said only couples hold hands, I was like a baby learning how to walk that time, for my two students held mine as they guide me through the ice. Whew. It was so much fun.
Photos (from L-R) Woodam, Allan, and Young Uk
It was certainly fun though the pain on my feet is killing me. After the ice skating, my students decided to eat some snack. They asked me what to eat, I said I wanted spaghetti (very pinoy) but since we were about to eat dinner with Woodam’s family, we just had some ice cream. How ironic could it get? Winter and yet ice cream! Anyway, we sat there eating our ice cream. I ordered for chocolate but I got cookies instead. Woodam had cookies too while Young Uk had chocolate. Thought Young Uk’s was mine but I just enjoyed mine. After some time, Woodam said it was time for our exchange gift. They gave me theirs. Young Uk gave me two pairs of socks, Woodam scarf. I gave them mine and they were surprised that it was the same… scarf. Woodam took out some cookies too. Said he like it coz it isn’t too sweet. The cookies weren’t really sweet indeed. While talking and having fun in our place, I noticed another bunch of people on the other seat. They look like Filipinos so I glance at them every once and a while. But they talked Korean very well I was convinced that they really are Koreans. Made me miss my country that moment. Not that my family does special things on Christmas but I just miss the feeling of being with the people you have been with all your life. Woodam and Young Uk are both special to me too so Christmas wasn’t that bad. Actually, if there’s one thing that I’ve realized about spending Christmas away from home, it would be that it doesn’t have to be so bad, not at all. The sadness only happens because we let it happen. What is Christmas anyway? There will always be another year, my family will still be my family. Nothing has to change. I just feel like spending this season with the people near to me at the moment.
After eating, we proceeded to the subway station. On our way, Woodam always stays ahead of Young Uk and I. I think he has leadership potential or he is just excited of my presence. Nevertheless, we lost our way. The kids were quite confused where to go so we had to round for some time. Alas we found the entrance to the right platform and got our tickets. When we finally got in the train, I had to look for a seat but they remained standing. Said kids their age don’t sit to give way to older ones. I wished I could do the same but I’m on the brink of collapsing and a little more, I was going to die so I reasoned that I am a foreigner so it would be okay if I sit. The travel was quite far, guess it took us half an hour and after getting off, we rode a bus to get to the Woodam’s house which we had to walk a few more meters. Oh dear, I thought commuting in Manila was complex. It wasn’t even close to Seoul’s.
At Woodam’s house, I met his mother and his very cute dog JEJE… I love his dog. His mother was also very kind and hospitable. It made me so comfortable to learn that Woodam’s family was glad of my visit. I saw Woodam’s room and just so I won’t forget it, let me write a detailed description of it:
Woodam’s room is a nice one, not really spacious but it is certainly comely. There you can find a window with white curtains. The curtains are assembled in such a way that you can pull the end lining and hang it on two hooks. There is one bed suitable for one person. The bed is covered with a soft fuchsia sheet. Beside his bed is a small table where he puts his little stuff. At the end of the bed is his study table. Beside the study table is the book shelf and the books are properly stacked on their place. On the right side is his wardrobe and if you open it, you’ll find that most of his clothes are in line with the winter season. On the door of his wardrobe is a dart board.
But if there is one thing that surely caught my eyes when I entered his room, that would be his bed which made me think how it would have felt to sleep there. I was musing about this thought while unpacking my stuff and was cut short when Woodam called me to eat some fruits. Young Uk already left by this time. So while eating, Woodam’s mother stared at me and asked some questions (in Korean) and Woodam was prompted to translate it for me. There was also Woodam’s uncle who I really find it hard to remember the name so I just called him “old boy” just like Woodam’s mother. Old boy is Woodam’s mother’s younger brother. He was surfing the internet when I arrived. Not much of a talker but he is also hospitable just the same.
24 짐질방: Christmas inside a bathhouse
After a few minutes, we went out to eat dinner. We went into this restaurant and we ate Kalbi. Kalbi is a Korean delicacy where you grill pork meat using charcoal on your table. Woodam said Kalbi is delicious but he doesn’t fancy eating it because the smoke sticks to the clothes. That is true but this delicacy is the nearest thing to grilled spare ribs which really made my mouth water. And so, since I was a guest and it was Christmas, I the center of attention and the food didn’t really leave my side. They just keep coming and coming until I can’t take no more. Coupled with this Korean drink called Soju, I was both full and somewhat intoxicated. After dinner, we went to Jimjilbang. This was my first time and I was very anxious because this will be my first time to be nude in public. But I was surprised because when I went to the bathroom, nobody cared if all of us were naked. Everybody was just having a good time, relaxing and feeling the comfort of the hot water. So, after realizing that I have nothing to worry about, that even if my body sucks, I went to have my shower and brushed my teeth together with Woodam’s cousin Jason.
Right after taking a shower, I followed Jason to this common area where everybody was staying. By the way, we were all wearing white clothes and I find it nice to see that we are in uniform garments. Anyway, in the common are were two big flat TV and almost everyone was lying on the floor. It wasn’t long before Jason and I met up with Woodam’s mother and uncle. They were eating something and they offered me coffee which I gladly accepted. Woodam gave me a kind of a pillow but it was so hard I was sure I won’t be able to sleep. Nevertheless, I tried to. I was really tired and I just wanted to rest. But my efforts were all in vain. I just couldn’t sleep because of thepillow and the hot temperature. Add to that my distressed tummy. So I walked out of the room and went to the toilet. After a while, I was so surprised when Woodam suddenly came looking for me. Then and there I told myself how much my student really cared for me that I can’t be left on my own. Well, I was quite worried thinking I might have woke Woodam. But when I finally went out of the toilet, I saw Woodam there outside, sitting and waiting for me. What a sweet kid. Then I can’t sleep anymore, Christmas also came inside jimjilbang and to me, this is one new experience I surely won’t forget. After my toilet rendezvous, I ate boiled eggs with Woodam’s parents inside this oxygenated room. Here is where I met Woodam’s father. Not much of a talker either but he looks nice just the same. There was also this drink called Shikye, sweet rice juice. The juice wasn’t bad. Woodam and I went out of the room and stayed in the area where Harry Potter 1 was being shown. I watched the movie while Woodam tried to sleep. After getting bored, I also tried to sleep. I really tried hard. But to no avail. I wanted to start a small talk with Woodam but I knew how tired he was too. So I just lay there. I didn’t know what happened but Woodam just shook me and told me that we were going back home. It was 3:00 am and I was really groggy because of exhaustion and sleepiness. I just realized that I will be sleeping in that wonderful bed after all. It still took me some time to catch sleep but I had the most relaxing sleep in Woodam’s bed.
25 해와: A Visit to a Filipino Community
In the morning, I took my bath. Take note, I didn’t just wash my face but took a bath. I think I was too long in the bathroom again that Woodam had to knock and tried to open the door. Well, just told him I was taking a bath. Afterwards, we ate breakfast with Woodam’s father and off we were to HEWA. Jason drove us to HEWA. Young Uk was also with us this time. The traffic was smooth. Not much cars were on the street. It’s Christmas day after all. We arrived in HEWA at 12:45 and entered the church. This is my first time to visit the infamous church and found a lot of Filipinos inside. I felt like I was back in the Philippines. The people in the altar praying the rosary surely needs some working out with their pronunciation, but what the heck. What is important is that you are with your fellow Filipinos. All the while praying the rosary, Young Uk and Woodam just slept. The two boys were still tired from the previous day’s activity. After that, we went outside and passed by the Filipino vendors selling all sorts of things. I found balot (duck egg) and bought one. That was a mistake coz after eating, my hands smelled terrible I had to look for a restroom and so I did. When I came back to the place where I left Woodam and Young Uk, they were gone looking for me. They just can’t let me be out of their sights. Anyway, I told them I wanted to go to Myongdong or Namdemon but they said we have no time. So we just went back to Woodam’s house. The travel back to the house was so long I felt like I traveled back to Chunchon. In Woodam’s house, we ate the cake his mother prepared for Christmas. That was so great, thinking how much they have prepared because they know that Christmas is so special to me. Then, after the cake came our late lunch which was a kind of chicken menudo. Fantastic lunch I would say. So, before I went back to Chunchon, Woodam’s mother insisted us to go to Norebang (singing room). But before we went to Norebang, we passed by this store called E-market and Woodam’s mother bought some things. She also gave me my ticket. I was so surprised because I didn’t have to pay for anything. I thanked her and we went to Norebang. She couldn’t join us three (with Woodam and Young Uk) so she bid me goodbye and gave me an air freshener. I just can’t help thinking that I received so many things for Christmas and I can only be thankful for it and for the people who gave them to me.
25 It’s Hard to Say Goodbye
We sang and sang and we had a great time. I tried to forget the fact that I have to leave them and I might not see them again. It pains me to say goodbye but I just have to. I half wished time stops, that Christmas doesn’t end and everything was as pleasant as this. But the time to leave finally arrived and I couldn’t help but feel sad. On the way to the Sangbong bus station, we sang Lemon Tree. When we finally arrived, I gave Woodam my ticket and I went to the toilet. Woodam and Young Uk also followed me there. Now that I think about that time, I feel that they were also sad that I am going. My bus leaves at 7:00 so I still have 30 minutes. We sat there, waiting. I couldn’t say anything. I don’t know if I was just tired or was sad to think about anything at that moment. But no words wanted to come out from me. So Woodam and Young Uk talked to each other while I sat there, watching them. Ten minutes to 7, Woodam went outside to check and came back announcing the arrival of my bus. I went to the toilet again before I got on the bus. I wanted to hug Woodam and Young Uk and thank them for their kindness but I thought it would only make leaving more difficult so I just stayed there in my seat, watched them leave. I sent them an sms message thanking them which they replied to immediately.
Everything happens for a reason. I didn’t intend to go here but fate gave me this chance. Before celebrating this Christmas, I’ve always had the usual Christmas and they were all boring. But this year, I can say that I have had the best Christmas. I know this will never happen again and I acknowledge the impermanence of human experience, but these memories I have of my students, of Korea will remain in my heart forever. And if afterlife exists, I would be happy to look back at my life when I was living and come to this chapter of my life and say how meaningful it has been. This is my Christmas in Korea.