Welcome to 2010!

Wow. A whole decade. It makes you feel kind of old. I mean, since this is the first time that I’ve been old enough to remember the turn of the last decade. (And I do remember hoping–just a little–that Y2K would hit and I would suddenly become the heroine of a young adult post-apocalyptic novel.)

I had an excellent New Years, and spent the evening with my friend Maddie and her family, who were very kind and just took me in as a surrogate daughter for the holiday. We went to see “Jump!” a comedy martial arts and acrobat show, which had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. (Partially because it was really good, and partially because the man in front of me had an enormous head.) Seeing stuff like that, even in a comedic way, inspires me to get more flexible and work harder at my Taekwondo–though I did notice that most of their flashy stuff was Kung Fu. It was interesting–they kicked like Taekwondo, but all of their weapons work was very Kung Fu–to the point where I actually started to recognize forms that I’d worked on in high school.

After the show we went to a bar that was VERY Korea (underground, tiny, shoved away in a nitche that could easily have been the size of a bathroom in the States) in the area where the New Years festivities were to take place. There were walls of police, which you don’t really see too often in Korea, but I soon realized that they were there not to intimidate us, but to keep us away from the setting up of the stage, where some terribly famous performers were about to engage in K-Pop madness.

The New Years Tradition, as I said before, is the ringing of the Bosingak bell 33 times. The Bosingak Bell is located in Jongno in Seoul, and originally constructed by the Joseon dynasty in 1396 (but has, of course, been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times). These days it is only rung on New Years Eve. When we arrived there were parties of dancers preforming traditional Korean music, and this is the first time I’ve seen such excitement in Korea. They were dressed up and dancing in a circle, pounding on drums, and it was a great beat. We had to dance a little just to keep warm, but we tried not to make absolute fools out of ourselves (of course.)

Then, the countdown happened, and I believe we skipped about 5 seconds, because the clock and the crowd were not on the same plane of existence. And then the cheers went up, and people started to shoot off fireworks in the crowd. (A totally acceptable past time, it seems, because they were selling fireworks to the average folks, with long tubes that you could point up in the air. Only in Korea would this work, because honestly nobody shot each other with them, or even made any mistakes.) The best thing, though, was the sound of the bell. Things were rather quiet, except for the hissing of the fireworks, and the sound of that enormous bell. It had a rather eerie toll, and so we rung in the New Year with something more solemn. I liked that. It fit Korea well–everything so modern and excited and happy, but the pervasive, comforting sound of this ancient Buddhist bell.

Another thing you might find interesting about the ceremony is the Korea Times report on who was chosen to ring the bell. Sixteen people were chosen, of which there appear to be a few naturalized citizens. Five city officials (including the Mayor) are selected by default, but the populous chooses by survey who the other 11 are. (Though I don’t know if it is consistently 16 each year.) Everyone was recognized for service to the poor, or educational prowess, or one Mongolian woman, who was chosen because she recieved a “filial piety award” for serving her sick father in law. Intriguing.

It’s nice to see people accepted into Korean society. A lot of foreign teachers complain that they will remain “foreign teachers” forever, and that the Korean world has no place for them, and that this is “the most racist country in the world”. After seeing things like this, though, I don’t think it’s necessarily the “foreign-ness” of us, but our status in a complicated social and economic structure that puts us in the “foreign teacher” box, which may be much more difficult to assimilate than the mere “foreigner” box.

Anyway, I know I promised a post about Jeju, but I am slacking considerably. Maybe tomorrow.

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