Week 6: Mountains, Movies and Mandoo, Oh My!
Gwangju Travel Blog› entry 7 of 33 › view all entries
One of my favorite aspects of travelling is meeting so many interesting people from all walks of life. This week I spent some time with Kim Youngim, a professor of English Lit at one of the universities in Gwangju. We first came in contact when I answered her ad requesting volunteers to read English stories to local orphans and underprivileged children. We decided to meet on Tuesday so she could go over the basics of the story book program and we could get better acquainted. At 8am she picked me up at the apartment and took me to Mudu Mountain (aka Mudeungsan) which was only a 15 minute drive from my neighborhood. Mudeungsan is part of the mountain range that encircles Gwangju.
She gave me a bit of background info on herself and the Kona Storybook program. Before earning her PhD she spent two years in England assimilating anglican culture and perfecting her command of the English language. While writing her thesis she began to volunteer at one of the local orphanages with her children.
Now, several years later, Kona is still going strong. She invited me to come to her home on Sunday to meet some of the orphans and other volunteers and witness firsthand how the program is run.
We spent the remainder of the morning taking in the exhibits at the Indian Museum at the base of Mudeungsan. This museum was established by the same organization that created the Tibetan Museum near Suncheon. We were given a private tour by Mukul, a scholar of religion and native of India. He has spent the last ten years in Korea studying, giving lectures, and running the museum. He explained to us the origin of the Hindu religion and the ways that it embraces many other religious icons including Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus. According to Hinduism these religious figures are all reincarnations of the supreme divinity, Krishna. It's difficult to explain the philosophy behind it but it seemed to me that such an unobtrusive, harmonious view of global religions could prevent many future battles between diverse religious factions.
After our enlightening visit to the museum Youngim took me to one of the orphanages and introduced me to some of the kids and the staff. The orphanage was equipped with a small computer lab, a modest library/reading room and several crowded classrooms. The kids seemed to be in good spirits and looked at me, the awkward foreigner, with unabashed curiosity and open mouths. Youngim explained that we will only be reading with a few kids at a time. Some lack the slightest inclination to learn English so we work with only those that show the greatest determination and eagerness to learn. All of the kids I saw were under 12 so I can't blame them for not wanting to be cooped up reading stories instead of running around outside in the sunshine.
I got another opportunity to spend time with the orphans at Youngim's house on Sunday. We split into groups and read stories, presented story maps to the class, sang songs, had an improptu puppet show (put on by none other than moi...it went well considering I hadn't read the story it was supposed to be based off nor did I know ahead of time that I would be putting on a puppet show.) Mukul led us in a meditation exercise (in Korean of course) so I crossed my legs and took a refreshing power nap. After we were done with the program I got a chance to sit down and talk with some of the other foreign volunteers. Viva, a Filipino whose husband is Korean, is one of Youngim's students. Two other volunteers I met were my age.
The remainder of the weekend consisted of self-indulgence in the chaotic shopping district downtown. Justin and I met our friend Grace to study Korean and snack on yummy treats at her friends bar/cafe, "Funny Tree.
Later we feasted on Mandoo (Korean dumplings) and tried to see Stardust on Saturday night but we missed the last showtime (this has happened several times before) so we opted for The Simpsons Movie instead. I think this where my Korean students got there favorite phrase, "Oh My God" from. Sunday morning we were determined to see Stardust so we took a cab to the cinema and caught the 10:30 showing. We were definitely not disappointed. If you haven't seen it I recommend you rent it in the future- it's worth it just to catch a glimpse of Robert DeNiro flitting like a fairy in women's underclothes :)