Saturday, October 10, 2015

Memorials, Parades, and Gifts

Friday in Cheonan, a day of wide ranging emotions.

We were met by new guides this morning, Yu-Mi (which she introduces as You & Me) and Hyung-Mok Kim, and headed over to the Cheonan Independence Hall, a national memorial to Korean independence from Japanese occupation. 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the independence gained in 1945 at the end of World War II. We learned about the recent history of Korea from the takeover by Japan in 1910, the brutalities inflicted upon the Korean people, and the independence movements which ultimately resulted in their freedom. People from Cheonan played a major role in the independence movements which is why the memorial is located here and visited by people throughout South Korea.

Our next stop was lunch with the mayor and his wife and several other representatives from the International Cooperation Division of the city. The mayor introduced us to the Korean custom of acknowledging a compliment with a gift when he said Steve was very good looking. We scrambled, and Ann Doyle passed Steve a Beaverton city pin to offer as his gift for the compliment. As you can imagine, compliment-escalation was not far away. The mayor complimented Ann on her beauty. Thank goodness I had brought along our entire contingent of gifts and brought out the Jasmine Pearl Company’s Dancing Dragon Tea (thank you, Andrea!) as we had learned while in Seoul that the dragon is a symbol of kings and kingdoms. The mayor mistook it for coffee and said that his wife really loved coffee, so he gave her the package. Well, without thinking too much I took out one of the bigger packages of tea that Andrea had provided and said that the small one was for him while she deserved the bigger gift. There were many laughs, much joking around, and fabulous food and company.

Our next stop was at the Gagwonsa Temple of Taejosan Mountain, a beautiful Buddhist temple set in the hillsides of Cheonan. Yu-Mi led us through the traditions involved in offering a prayer including three cycles clockwise around the giant Buddha followed by three deep bows to his image.

We had a choice to make then as we had a couple of hours until the next event. We opted for some rest time back at the hotel, and asked Yu-Mi if we could have take-out fried chicken and beer for dinner. She is a super-energetic and positive lady, and to see the shock on her face was pretty hilarious. She looked over at Mr. Kim (who doesn’t speak English at all) and you could just see her trying to figure out how she would explain to the head of the International Cooperation Section that we weren’t going to have another fancy dinner. She must have asked if we were sure about 5 times, and in the end they came through like champs. We dined in glorious informality in the Biz Lounge of the hotel.

The evening found us smack in the middle of a parade! We marched near the front of the line with the mayor, his wife, and other “distinguished” guests through the city streets. There were several spots along the route where the festival participants performed their dance for the audience, and at the end of the route we were ushered to seats where we could watch the remaining groups give their final performance. Outstanding dances and lots of fun.

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