Kindergarten Goodbye

Last weekend, my students graduated kindergarten–a two-hour ceremony that featured caps and gowns, song and dance acts, and a re-imagined version of The Blind Men and the Elephant, for which I constructed a miniature elephant from cardboard, felt, and packing tape–the same tape I used to seal up the three boxes I shipped home to Canada.

This week, while I begin my travels through India, my students will begin Grade 1 and the start of a long road through Korea’s education system: days in public school, afternoons in hagwons, and evenings spent studying, often until they sleep.

I want to give them backyards to run around in and afternoons off and free time with their friends.  I want to give them a school life that inspires them to form their own ideas about themselves and the world.  I want their little spirits to to thrive and grow and create.  Have fun, I told them, kneeling down to hug each one in our last moment together.  I will miss you.

They have graduated kindergarten, but in my mind they’ll be six years old forever, lined up in coats and boots, handing me colour-paper cards that say Goodbye Courtney Teacher.  I love you.  Please don’t forget me.

I won’t forget you.



ps–I am writing this from Delhi.

Up next: Post #100 on Coco Busan (last one!) with the link to my new blog…


Dad, Meet Korea

On October 16th, around 2 am, after the last guests had left from a party Joe and I threw at my apartment called October Shindizzle, I checked my email.  Top of the inbox was a surprise message from my dad, which read:

Hi Courtney;

How are you doing?

I am thinking about coming to South Korea to visit you. It would be about a 10 day trip and I would be in Busan for 8 days and 2 days travel time.

I have looked at flights and the dates Nov. 22nd to Dec. 1st are available now and those dates work for me.

Can you let me know asap if then is a good time for you.



My dad and I write and skype regularly, so it wasn’t unusual to hear from him, but he’d never mentioned thinking seriously about taking a trip out to visit, so the news was completely out of the blue–especially after an evening of whisky and gin.  I turned to Joe in shock and said, “My dad’s coming to Korea!”

After a few date changes so his visit would span two weekends, he booked the flight and I told my kindergarten kids they’d soon be meeting Courtney Teacher’s father.  I wrote his name on the board: C-u-r-t-i-s.  They giggled; none had heard this particular foreign name before.  We all started counting down the weeks.

My dad’s been working most hours of the day most days of the year since I was born and long before.  He sold real estate and managed marketing for a Saskatoon company called Plainsman Development.  When I was six he started his own business dealing Panasonic batteries, beef jerky, and pepperoni sticks to stores across Saskatchewan out of the back of an old black van. When I was nine he bought a grocery store in Waskesiu Lake, and ran it for ten years, living with my stepmom and my sister in a tiny two-bedroom suite attached to the side. (My brother and I worked there too, every summer, pricing cans, stocking produce, and scooping ice cream cones for the evening crowd.)  During the grocery store years, he and my stepmom also expanded their clothing store, The Sandbox, eventually opening a second branch in Saskatoon.  In the winter months, for the last 20-odd years, he’s spent most evenings on the phone or in the car, meeting with clients across the province for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan– a nation-wide program that enables families to save for their children’s post-secondary education.  He finally retired from CST this fall, though his time now is far from free: The Sandbox’s city store just keeps getting busier, and he deals with all the back-end business; a constant surge of orders, invoices, accounting, payroll, marketing, and inventory.  When I was a kid visiting in the summer, I always wished he’d take an afternoon off from the grocery store to relax at the beach, but there were deliveries coming in, and coolers to stock, and a line-up at the til.  He worked for himself, and put the hours in to succeed.

So I was pretty happy to see him arrive in Busan on a holiday.

Though I was teaching full-time during his visit, we had two weekends and each evening to hang out.  Joe and I showed him our favourite Busan neighbourhoods.  We walked along Oncheonjang Stream and drank cocktails with a view of the Diamond Bridge in Gwangalii.  We ate Pajeon at the fish market and sang at a Norebang in Seomyeon. He met my kids and my friends.  In the last months I’ve been a little down, ready to move on from a country that I’ve never felt a deep connection to, despite the opportunities and experience it has given me.  The homogeneous mindset of Korea’s people and culture has grown stifling; I walk among my life somewhat detached from it, my mind scratching at the future.

My dad took back for me a suitcase full of books and photos and the guitar I bought last summer, in a new Fender case he found here at the Bujeon Music Market, so it would arrive in Canada safely.  In an email after his return, he tells me his is proud of me, thanks me for letting him hang out with me, for sharing my life.  He says if he has to fly across the world to spend time with me then that’s okay.

Dad–Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in six months! 


(Please click on a photo below to see the collection in a full-size photo carousel–best way to view!)

Gyeongju Tree Heaven

Back in the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries, Korea was ruled by a kingdom called Silla.  Its capital was Gyeongju–a city northeast of Busan and an hour and a half by train. It’s loaded with history: hilly tombs called Tumuli, a royal pond called Anapji, and a temple called Bulguksa are just a few of the sites that draw crowds in the thousands to explore.

So a couple weeks back, Joe and I and our friends Kent and Amanda hopped a Sunday-morning train to the Silla Kingdom capital, looking forward to kicking back with some snacks and taking in the coastal scenery along the way.  This would be Kent and Amanda’s first train trip in Korea, and Joe and I had talked up the views, mentioning its route along the sea. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the station, all the seats were sold out, with only standing-room tickets available. We hoped we’d be able to snag a sit-down for at least part of the ride, but as soon as we settled into a cozy grouping of four, a Korean family appeared in the aisle beside us pointing to, well, their seats.

But who needs chairs when you can crouch on the floor of the train’s hallway beside the bathrooms? And who needs big windows when you can wedge your body into the narrow space between cars and jam your nose up against the glass for a glimpse of track and sky?  And who needs anything else when Amanda’s homemade chocolate chip cookies are along for the ride?

It was good times.

Self-timer success! We rested the camera on the sink counter...

Our plan was to spend the day cruising around the city on bikes.  Kent and Amanda brought theirs along, and Joe and I rented a couple from a shop just outside the station in Gyeongju.  First stop: a forest that belongs in some sort of fairy tale. Seriously, these trees were mystical-gorgeous.

Branches above the roof of some sort of ancient mini-temple...

Fall, I love you.

I could have walked among these beauties all day. But the bikes were calling...

More Gyeongju highlights to come!


Chuseok Love…

with the kiddies.

For my readers at home: Chuseok is a three-day Korean holiday that traditionally celebrates the autumn harvest. For us waygooks, it means a four-day weekend. (Asa!) For Koreans, it means returning to their hometowns, paying respect to their ancestors, and sharing a feast.  Many also wear traditional clothes called hanbok.

So at school on Friday, we held a Hanbok Fashion Show so the kids could show off their gear…

It was a pretty big deal.

Monica, Louis, and Jeff--I start each morning with them, grateful that coffee was invented.

My little Charley, pretending to be...a bird?

Albert! Class clown is an understatement...

As you can see.

A few of my girls: Elsa, Ruby, Olivia, and Monica

Christina and Dustin...

First love.

Cooper! The wave in his hair is from a recent perm.

James, Cooper, and Albert, waiting to strut their stuff...

The usual suspects...

Ruby. She's so sweet.

Elsa. Sometimes she gets solemn.

Still together!

Almost show time...

Now that's a red carpet.

Happy Chuseok everyone!

xo ~Coco

In Thinking: Nights with My Korean Uni Class

Hello all–this is Part 2 of “Where Have I Been?”  (If you missed Part 1, click here for a quick read…)

~Coco xo

I kind of want to sum it up.

The writing class, the teaching university experience, the whole three-and-a-half months of carting essays around in my big leather shoulder bag with the worn-out strap, marking them up in green pen on subway rides or lunch breaks or in bed on Saturday mornings, circling letters that should have been capitalized, drawing arrows to potential thesis fragments buried between non-sensical phrases written in a language that attempted to be English.  On Monday and Tuesday nights I spent hours typing up google-doc slides that broke down the essay form into parts, explaining why the hook matters, what I meant by “Be specific!” how to start in the middle, if you had to, and ride your thoughts out to the beginning, how it was okay to discover a new angle halfway through, that you could circle back and re-write, why re-writing was the most important part.

The thing is, the 28 students who stared up at me from their desks on our tenth-floor classroom Wednesday nights as I asked them questions like” Why do YOU think writing matters?” and “Where do ideas come from?” weren’t writing students–their majors were disciplines like International Trade and Law and Engineering and Economics.  One student studied English Lit–a tall young man called Jingan, whose nods from the back of the room as I spoke during those first few classes gave me hope that some form of connection was occurring between the minds in front of me and the words I heard flowing from my mouth.

Two other students: Jae Hak and Junghee, who sat beside each other in the front row, participated readily; they asked questions, they offered responses.  But the others, for the first month, remained mostly silent during the hour-and-a-half lecture; breaking them into smaller groups was the only way to create real discussion.  When I asked for a show of hands at the end of the first class, in response to my “Who here enjoys writing?” an empty pause followed, and then, tentatively, one or two palms lifted into the air.

In my last post, I mentioned three things I’ve been processing from the experience: Korea and how things operate here, writing and how to teach it, and what drives me. None of these are easily summarized; to do each one justice, I’d have to back up to pre-pre-pre-war Korea, include an exploration of ancient poetry and the ongoing human attempt to convey the essence of thought and emotion through the confines of language, and some sort of nature vs. nurture meander, peppered with tidbits from my vivid and rather complicated childhood.  I’ll spare you (and myself!) the hours this would take, and instead offer a few highlights on the themes.  First up:

Korea and How Things Operate Here

The students were exhausted on Wednesday nights. They took back-to-back classes the entire afternoon, and the GLP program was taken on TOP of the courses for their majors, so they were doing double the workload of a typical Korean university student. They lacked free time and sleep.  Their class the period right before mine was “Philosophy of Science,” with no scheduled break between the two.  The pace of their curriculum left such little breathing room they were forced to squeeze their thoughts onto the page during sleepless nights during which they were also studying for exams and completing other assignments. Even if they had been writing students, and wanted to fully engage in the long and tedious process the craft requires,  the program , and the university structure, didn’t allow for it.  What mattered to administration was the letter grades plugged into the system at the end of the term (more on that later)–not what kind of knowledge or insight the students actually gained.

The GLP was in its second year of operation, and had been designed by a Korean professor seemingly interested in western-style education, in which critical thought and class discussion were key components of the classes.  But, I wondered early on, wasn’t critical thinking an inherent part of all universities, western or not?  Wasn’t it…what post-secondary education was BASED on?

The students first assignment was a 400-word essay called “How the GLP is Preparing Me For My Future Career.”  This batch of papers was riddled with grammatical issues, sentence fragments, a lack of punctuation, entire passages that had been fed through some form of online Korean/English translator, and at times indecipherable syntax.  But what was made clear–stressed again and again in multiple essays–was that the students valued the program because its professors were foreign, and taught in the “western style.”

What did this mean, exactly?

A few elaborated in their papers; others spoke up when I asked in class.  The Korean education system, including that of the university, is made up of lectures in which the professors speak and the students take notes.  Period.  Students are not encouraged to ask questions, discuss the topics, offer opinions, or debate.  Tests and assignments are graded on how well a student can memorize and regurgitate the information they’ve been fed.  History isn’t deconstructed, its delivered.  In short, the population of a university, and of the elementary, middle, and high schools that precede it–the population, by extension, of the nation–hasn’t been taught to think.

I must be clear–in no way do I mean by this that Koreans aren’t intelligent; they are, by my observation, extremely so.  I mean that the education system’s failure to encourage the pursuit of individual thought and expression has, I believe, inhibited the society as a whole.  The students in my class disliked the system they’d grown up with. Some had taken semesters in Western countries overseas; others were in their second year of the GLP, so had engaged in this “other style” of teaching.  By comparing the two, they felt their life’s education up to this point was inadequate.  They wanted to go deeper.   But a life of keeping silent in the classroom, hesitating to raise your hand because you believe it makes you look incompetent, and cramming lecture notes and textbook chapters only to spew their information out on exams with no critical thought given to the material doesn’t change overnight.  The students, I realized, wanted to learn differently–they just weren’t quite sure how.

I didn’t know how to bridge the gap either.  But their desire to cross it inspired me to try. Teaching them how to write required me to back up to where the process begins–in thinking.

Where Have I Been? (Part 1)

First off–hello everyone!

I’m back on the blog after an unintended month-long hiatus.  I wish I could say I’ve been away somewhere exotic or tropical or both, but the truth is I’ve been working–teaching my kindies, doing freelance marketing, and wrapping up the end of my three-month stint teaching university on the side, which took up more hours of my life than I care to count. The uni experience has given me a lot to process–about Korea and how things operate here, about writing and how to teach it, about what drives me.  So, I’ve decided to write a few separate posts to describe this recent chapter–the first is here for you below, with a to-be-continued…

Also–you’re probably noticing the Coco Busan site looks different–I’ve switched over to a new theme. In the mood for change these days…gotta keep things fresh!  Hope you like:)

I always love hearing your comments, everybody–keep them coming!  Hope summer is treating you all well.


So, where have I been?  Hanging out with these guys.  Essays.  The five-paragraph kind–complete with hook, background info, thesis, topic sentences, supporting details, concluding sentences, counter arguments, and conclusions.  Or attempts at conclusions.  Though all writing, I suppose–is an attempt, isn’t it?  At saying what you mean.  Which makes the entire tedious and beautiful process revolve around figuring out what you mean, or think, or at least think you mean, so you can write it down.

The course began in March, and I was hired to teach it by an American anthropologist called George.  He leads a program at Dong-A-University called The Global Leaders Program, and was looking for a writing instructor.  A  mutual friend connected us via email on a Friday morning; by lunchtime we were discussing specifics over the phone.  George explained that GLP courses were all taught in English by a foreign faculty, with an emphasis on critical thought and in-class discussion.  The writing teacher they’d lined up for the semester had backed out, and the course was due to begin in five days.

While George and I spoke, my kindergarten students stacked blocks and counted stickers in the classrooms down the hall.  I was on lunch break, taking the call from my hagwon.  I’d been teaching elementary-aged children for exactly one year, wishing my days were spent writing instead of deconstructing short and long vowel sounds, but there was no better opportunity to squelch the student-loan debt that had parked like a semi-truck in the driveway of my life than teaching in Korea, so here I was doing it, trying my best not to resent the tiny creatures who, despite the impact of their voices on my ear drums (at what age does the noise dial begin to self-monitor?!) I cared about deeply.  I held their little hands as we strode down the hallway during bathroom breaks; I decorated their classroom walls with sunrays and tulips.  I just wished persuading them to stop dropping their pencils on the floor while I attempted to explain the rules of past and present tense didn’t mean 40 hours a week not writing–160 hours a month not doing the thing I wanted to do.  

Teaching at a Korean university, however, came with the shiny-gold benefit of four months vacation time per year.  Four months!  Off!  Paid!  The job I was being offered was, albeit, just one course–not a full-time gig.  And it would be taught on TOP of my full-time hagwon position.  But it was teaching writing. To adults.  And maybe–maybe!– it would lead to the carrot I could see dangling in the distance.

“How many students?” I asked George.

“Oh,” he said.  “About twelve, maybe fifteen.”  I agreed to meet with his office assistant that weekend, and we hung up. The job was mine.

On the tenth floor of the Dong-A building where GLP is taught, an office overlooks the stacked homes of Toseong, a neighbourhood one stop past the Jagalchi fish market.  It isn’t much different from any other Korean neighbourhood–the underground stairs ascend to a concrete sidewalk, the streets are jammed with cars and Koreans; windows reveal the insides of coffeeshops and raw fish restaurants blinking with television light.  But when you turn the corner to the campus entrance, your feet are met with cobblestone steps.  Hills rise up behind a tall glass building, the day’s newspapers are displayed open on wooden stands in a big foyer alongside a tall clock, and young Korean men are playing basketball in the middle of an outdoor square.   Dong-A, like universities across the globe, has the distinct air of possibility–the sense that minds are at work.

The office assistant was a young Korean woman called Young-hyun.  We went over some basic paperwork, and upon my request, she showed me a course list for the GLP.    “What is the name of the course I am teaching?” I asked.  I felt a twinge of bewilderment that I had to ask for this detail–shouldn’t the course title be a primary piece of information for a newly-hired teacher?  I would soon learn that what I believed should or shouldn’t occur in a university setting didn’t apply in Korea–the Western form of logic was a non-existent piece in the puzzle I had stepped into.

Young hyun pointed to a title at the bottom of the page. The Advanced English Essay, it read.  The class was scheduled for 8:30 pm on Wednesdays.  Because I was unavailable to teach Friday afternoons, she explained, two classes had now been combined into one.  “So how many students in total?” I asked.  She checked a computer file.


“Twenty-eight?”  I recalled George’s estimate of 12-15 students.  This new figure would mean twice the amount of marking.  “Will I be paid for the amount of two classes?”

“No,” she said.  “You give lecture one time each week.  So, payment is for one class.”  I sat there, absorbing.

“You need to choose textbook for students,” she said.

I glanced around the room.  “Are there textbooks here to choose from?”

“No,” she said.  “You must find at a bookstore.  Email to me title please by Monday.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon combing the shelves of three different bookstores in two different neighbourhoods, finally kneeling on the carpet of Seomyeon’s Kyobo Books as it grew dark outside, flipping through a soft-cover called Effective Academic Writing 3.  It was the beginning of the end of my free time.  The textbook was chosen.  Now all I had to do was plan the course.  In three days.

An Ajumma Stole My Firewood

Well, technically it was Joe’s firewood.  He wrestled it from the brush on the hill behind the beach on Bijindo, the island we chose for our one-night camping trip in April mostly because I tracked down photos of it on a foreign dude’s blog, and in the photos foreigners were camping.  On the beach.  With a campfire.  “Check these out,” I said to Joe.  “Looks like you can have a fire on Bijindo.”  

Anyone who’s traveled in Korea knows it’s tough to find seclusion.  Forty-nine million people live here, in a country three times the size of Vancouver Island. Head to the beach or the mountains or a paved park on the edge of the city and prepare yourself for company: Koreans love a dose of fresh air, even if they are a little sun-shy, as their detachable arm sleeves and foot-long visors suggest.

So, when we arrived on Bijindo around 3 pm to a mile stretch of almost-white, almost footprint-free sand and NO ONE in sight, we were stoked.

Spend the night? Okay, if I have to...

The wind had picked up, so we carted our bags and the tent to the end of the beach, which was sheltered by a tall rock wall and bordered on one side by the sea, and on the other by a battered but oceanfront motel/pension that appeared to be closed.

Rock wall camp spot

Pension at the end of the beach

On the way we passed an ajumma, squatting on the concrete looking out at the water.  Her hair was grey and she was gripping a fistful of green onions.  For my overseas readers, an ajumma is a Korean granny. Technically the term means “married woman”, but really it refers to members of the aging female population–a demographic that largely outnumbers that of the ajushi, or elderly Korean man, as so many from their generation were lost in the Korean War.

These grandma’s are tough.  They push in front of you in the grocery line and stare you down on subways.  Their hair is short and curly and they travel in packs. Most wear animal prints, and they like to hike.  Often you can find them sitting on the sidewalk, selling socks or shellfish or root vegetables displayed in red plastic bowls.  They also like to work their muscles on the outdoor exercise equipment parks scattered throughout the city.  If you see one ajumma, you know there’s more nearby.  They. Are. Everywhere.

Deciding to check out the town behind the beach and search for wood, we set our stuff down in front of the rock wall and cruised up the beach steps toward a narrow concrete path.  It was quiet on Bijindo.  Ghost-town quiet. Little houses with overgrown yards lined the alleyways, but no noise drifted from their windows, not even the buzz of a television or a barking dog.  People must live in these dwellings, but we saw no one until stepping inside the nearest restaurant, where a middle-aged woman appeared and nodded yes to our request for dwinjang jiggae (spicy tofu soup).  April was definitely still off-season on the islands.

Abandoned building between the beach and the town

Vines on the concrete

The scene on the street...


Bijindo house

After stocking up on essentials for the evening (beer and chips), we headed back to the beach…

collecting a few sticks for firewood along the way.  Our evening plan: Pitch the tent.  Build a fire.  Sip on cups of wine and cans of Hite.  Watch the sunset.  We strolled back towards the bushes on the hill behind our camp spot and loaded up on branches, including one particularly hefty log that Joe dislodged from a stubborn tangle of brush and proudly added to the pile.

Back on the beach, we settled on the exact locations for tent and fire, and while Joe stacked the wood, I began collecting stones for a makeshift fire pit.  Something about this task–brushing the sand from each stone, then placing it down, arranging it into the circle–started to infuse me with a kind of peace I can’t seem to access when I’m inside the walls of a fourth-floor classroom, looking out through the window bars at the neighbourhood rooftops while the kids ask me how to spell continent or mountain or Brazil, scribbling sentences in their little notebooks, forgetting or remembering where the period goes.  The last time I sat in front of a fire was a year-and-a-half ago in Spring Lake, Alberta, with friends who had known me as far back as Australia and before, when I still played guitar and wore my hair in braids.

It was around this time when the ajumma approached.  Not the one we passed upon arrival, but another, younger one in flowered pants and a pink vest.  Her hair was short and curly.  She called out in a loud voice, pointing at us.  As she drew closer, her voice grew louder, yelling in Korean.  We realized she was telling us we couldn’t make a fire, but with my embarrassingly-poor and Joe’s better-but-still-limited Korean skills, we couldn’t discern the details–namely, the WHY we couldn’t have a fire.  Was it because of the wind?  It was windy, but we had chosen a spot sheltered by a rock wall for that reason.  Did the island not allow fires?  But we had seen online photos of foreigners having a fire ON Bijindo, with no text alongside it reporting ajumma interception.  Was there somewhere else on the beach we were allowed to have a fire?  If so, where?  We couldn’t ask, and the ajumma couldn’t explain, at least not in English, though she was definitely trying in Korean.  I didn’t want to listen.  I wanted to keep arranging my stones.  It was only April, which meant the nights were still cold.  The entire evening ahead revolved around THE FIRE.  We had traveled an hour-and-a-half by bus and another 45 minutes by boat to be here, on the island where we had seen photographic evidence of flames at night.  I guess you could say we were feeling a little determined.  So we did what I feel confident saying many foreigners would do. We played dumb.  Eventually the woman walked away, shaking her head, and we pitched our tent, shaking ours.  Problem unresolved but solved, or so we hoped.

Twenty minutes later she returned, and had recruited an ajumma friend.  The woman’s hair was short and curly.  She wore pink pants, a flowered shirt, a blue vest, and a red baseball hat.  The hat and vest, it seemed, were part of a uniform, because as she shouted at us, she kept pointing to the logo on each.  At one point she even took the hat off to point to the logo, really reinforcing that she was in charge of something.  Was she the Bijindo Island Park Service?  A one-woman crew who monitored all island incidents?  We couldn’t ask.  We had to listen.  She pointed to the firewood, then pointed to the ragged front yard of a shack next to the abandoned pension.  There were a few boulders and a steel vat in the corner of the yard, with a small opening beneath for fire.  After a lot of hand gesturing, we deduced they were telling us we could have a fire there.  The second ajumma marched over to our wood pile, grabbed Joe’s prized branch, and started heading in the direction of the shack.  All we could do was follow.

I'm telling you, they run this country

New fire location meant new tent location, so I hauled the already-pitched tent over while Joe flattened the sand in preparation.  The ajummas sat on the concrete sidewalk, watching.

Being a good sport

Once the tent was officially set up in the new spot, the ajummas seemed to trust we weren’t going to strike a match back near the rock wall, and left us alone.  It was fire time.  Not the crackling open fire we had envisioned back in my apartment in Busan, but the contained, covered-by-a-vat kind of fire you get when you’re in a foreign country that’s also kind of your home but you don’t speak the language and it’s run by old women who have lived through wars and who wonder why you’re there in the first place.  That kind of fire.

Thinking about the other kind of fire...

Joe and the fire stick

But then it was sunset time…

And the fire didn’t matter so much.

I wish I could say we were left in peace for the rest of the trip.  The truth is yet another ajumma emerged, and shouted at us about the fire, or the vat, or something to do with the fire and the vat, then walked away muttering and shaking her head, and re-appeared in the morning and yelled at us some more as we were waking up.  Then, as we waited at the dock for the boat that afternoon (after some breakfast ramen on the other side of town), an ajushi who had clearly been informed about the waygooks (foreigners) on the island, pulled up on a bicycle and pointed to us, shouting a bunch of Korean, then pointed back at the beach.  We didn’t know what we had done wrong.  Did the ajummas not tell us we could make a fire where the vat-firepit was?  Had we misunderstood?  Had we let the fire burn too late into the night?  Was there a fire shut-down time?  Were we terrible people?

 We didn’t mean to disturb anyone on Bijindo.  We just wanted to camp, with a fire, on a beach.  Which we did.  Sort of.

Waiting for the boat on the dock

Scene of the crime

I'm pretty sure we didn't disturb the starfish

We’ve made plans to visit another island called Somaemuldo in a couple weeks.  We’re bringing the tent.  But if the island ajummas say no fire, we’ll rent a room in a minbak.

I’ve lived here a year and three months.  Korea is my home, for now.  But the country belongs to the ajummas, the ajushis and the generations that have followed them.  Mostly the ajummas.  These ladies gut the fish the country eats and carry its heritage in their bones. They’re in charge.  I’ll settle for candlelight.