Gye Cheon Jeol: A Berenstein Bear Family Trip to Yong Pyoung, South Korea with My In-Laws

I am in kind of a daze today. I just got back from a three day adventure with my In-Laws. I don't know whether it was all my new relatives doting over me and my ability to speak Korean, or the incredible amount of traffic we all suffered through to make it out of Seoul. My instinct tells me it has to do with sleep and needing it. Before I head in that direction, I will share some tidbits from the mackdaddy event. That's right. Macdaddy is coming back with a vengeance. I just decided.

The trip began with my encounter with this incredibly colorful frog outside my apartment. I tried moving him off the side of the road, but he curled himself up into a ball on his back in what I can only assume was frog-possum or frossum as it is known by red planet dwellers.

Eventually, I just coaxed him off with a water bottle near his tuckus. Somehow I didn't think touching the little guy was okay. Later I would find out that this was a good move on my part. Apparently, my new friend was a poisonous frog, according to my uncle.

"Is poisonous," my uncle said in his broken English. "Colorful frog is poisonous."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

Our trip was to a southern province in Korea known as Kangwon Do. It is a popular destination spot for most families in Seoul, so the roads were an inch by inch race to the next traffic jam. It took three naps and a couple stops before we finally reached Yong Pyoung, a ski resort town in Kangwon province that is hoping to be the next home of the Winter Olympics in 2018. Of course, there wasn't any snow yet, but the cute, little bungalows were done up like one would see in their Boulder and Aspen equivalents in America, with hardwood floors, fireplaces, and fancy steam rooms for the uber, chilly.

I was very impressed with the view from the front porch. I stood there for about 15 minutes. My uncle soon joined me to give me his recipe for jaehoi.

"You have jaehoi with those trees," he said.

"What is that?" I asked.

"For Buddha's people, they say jaehoi with the things from before. You have jaehoi with that tree, with me, with that rock."

"Oh, you mean like karma?"


"When I find out you were going to be in this family, I think this is very good. I have Iranian customers. You are Iranian. I have been to Iran. We have jaehoi."

"You mean I could have been Korean in another life and you could have been Iranian."


"I like this idea, this jaehoi."

My uncle and I peeled garlic until dinner was ready. We didn't talk about jaehoi. We didn't talk about anything at all. It was a long drive. Everyone was feeling it a bit. 

I was enlisted as a remedy with my massage abilities.   

My mother-in-law kept screaming in pain. I kept going "Ohhhhh!" Then I would press harder.

I am the devil. I also know how to play cards. I taught the uncle I have jahoi with how to play the Persian card game, Passur, or "Eleven" as we call it in my family. He played non-stop with his wife. Sometimes he would try to cheat and she would hit him.

The picture above is domestic bliss. I wish I had a shot of them beating each other to a pulp. That would be exciting. I would like to see people so competitive over a card game that blood is spilled like in the Wild West. That did not happen though. 

The three ladies in my immediate family made dinner and I watched them set the table. I was not allowed in the kitchen. I did the dishes though. Something my Iranian-Korean-jaehoi-uncle told me was the reason he would do dishes later that weekend. Who knows? Maybe, I started a trend. I was very professional. I told everyone I would wash dishes quickly and effectively and I did. It wasn't until I was scolded for taking bad pictures by my mother-in-law that this feeling of egoic superiority dissipated into horror and guilt.

"Bad picture," my Mother-In-Law told me in Korean. "I want to see the face of the home behind me. Give me the camera!"

At least this is what I think she said to me. I know very little Korean. I  simply saw her point to the home behind her, yell at me, and then point at the camera. 

Eventually, I took a picture that met her objective slightly, as she snorted a "humph" that insinuated that another picture taken would be more trouble than my ability to actually get it right within the next hour.

To make-up for my lack of photographic skill I decided I would become the best mountain climber the Kwon family has ever seen. I held So Gee's hand and we climbed like two, nimble goats. We were, in fact, so good, that no one could keep up with us nor did they want to. We were already halfway up to our destination before we noticed that the rest of the clan had ventured into the side of the mountain for a more adventurous path - a phrase I had heard before from other weak and ungraceful mountain climbers in the past and was able to translate for So Gee as the tired-mountain-climber-jargon for "easier" path, or as I correctly foretold: an-excuse-to- head-back-down-the-mountain path.

"How'd you know?" So Gee marveled.

"I am a bad photographer," I replied. "But I am a nimble and goat-like mountain climber. Would you like to run down the mountain like a goat?"

"Yes," she said. 

This is where we ran like goats. No picture was taken. We only took photos before the goat incident.

Here is So Gee in a tank-top moment. It is rare. I am glad I got it on film. Her mother came up after this photo to cover her sexiness. I got a taste though. I will be back. 

So Gee says I look good in this picture. I think it's my mountain-climber-nimbleness playing tricks on her sexy frame.

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain, everyone got a rub down. 

Then we ate grapes.

On the way home, I saw a dead grasshopper. 

"Beautiful," I said.

Then I saw a Praying Mantis that was alive.

"Beaulifut," I said. 

"Huh?" So Gee asked.

"They're almost extinct. My dialogue is poetry."


"It's like fifty dollars if you kill one of these in the states. Want to dance?"

"You're weird."

"I'm glad I got this picture. I can frame it next to my frog picture."

"I am the best photographer," So Gee said.

"You are a good photograsshoper," I agreed.

As we rested from the hike, we got news of the death of Choi Jin-sil, a famous Korean actress. The whole family was glued to the television as the details of her suicide by hanging and clips of other famous Korean stars were shown in a non-stop repetitive fury that only a media in a pursuit for higher and higher ratings would be capable of mustering. 

I didn't understand anything because it was in Korean. I also didn't want to watch another E! True Hollywood Story done Korean style either. I was more interested in being alive. 

I took a picture of a father and son riding a motorbike instead. 

Then my Father-In-Law arrived. He wanted to take all of us to the ski resort's lift. We were going to see "the mountain".  

I took a picture of my uncle (이 머 블, e-ma-pul) and aunt (이머, e-ma). 

"This is the best picture," I announced to the others in the lift.

My Father-In-Law immediately announced contention. "Take a picture," he said.

"Okay," I said. "But it'll be tough to top."

He didn't understand me though. I didn't say it in Korean. Not that I can. At least not yet. I would be so much more naughty if I could.

I am working on it though. That's the whole point of learning languages. Being naughty. Yup. The end.

I caught one tree that changed colors already on the mountaintop. All the rest of my shots came out too blurry or with the flash reflecting off the glass of the lift - a sign of my abilities as "best photograsshoper". 

"You see this pine tree," my Father-In-Law said pointing at a tree in front of me. "That is a national treasure in Korea. It's over a thousand years old."

I immediately felt sexual awe. I had to get me some action. 

Then the whole family got a group photo. 

I am the Martian up front. 

My antennae are hidden. 

I could still sense that this was a large rock pile that made all others I have seen on this planet pale in comparison though.

I am a nimble Martian.

My brother-in-law and his wife got their photos taken next to a cut-out of some actors from a famous Korean soap opera called, Winter Sonata, or something. 

I thought that was cute. The picture that is. I haven't ever seen the drama. I am in the middle of John Adams at the moment. 
Ji Hyun, my brother-in-law's wife, told me to take a picture of him next to a bear statue. 

I listened to her. She is very nice and kind. I don't even have to check her intentions. I will listen to her without fail. 

"Dance now!" she might shout.

"Okay," I could say.

"You are a good dancer," her dialogue continues.

"Sometimes," I might say.

"It's true," she could say.

"U-Know-it," I might say if any of this was reality and not spoken by a 1,000 year old pine tree named Biff.

So Gee wanted to take some crazy ride down the mountain. I really did not want any part of this adventure. She likes speed. I like old men in bathing suits. It was a bad combination. Half the time I was screaming for her to slow down, while she spent the other half telling me to speed up. It's definitely the recipe for our sex life. 

I won her a prize to make up for my fear of heights though. It was at one of those crane jobs. Somehow I have mastered their mechanics. Either that or I have jaehoi with the crane. 

"You were once a stuffed Tazmanian Devil," my uncle said in my imagination, otherwise known as the blue, pastoral sea OF EXCHANGE and reaRRANGE.

"Sey," I said. "Mour."

"Moor," he laughed. "Eeeee."

That night we had a mini-celebration for my In-Laws 30th wedding anniversary. I was enlisted as the official photographer. I took exactly one photo as part of my duties. Then I was re-assigned as official gambler. We played some game with sticks. It was like CHUTES & LADDERS. I don't know what it was called.

"What was it called, So Gee?"


"Oh, right."

So we played Yut. It's this game where you throw four sticks on a towel and then move four pieces with a partner around a chutes and ladders like maze. If the other team rolls on your square, then they get to send you back to the beginning and get another turn for doing so. If you roll a Mo (모) or Yut (), you get to go again.*

The winner of our game wouldn't have to pay for karaoke later.

So Gee and I won. 

She says it has to do with our prayers before tossing. 

When we got to the singing room (노러반ㅇ), my In-Laws took over with dancing, singing, and an all out war to make everyone look like they hadn't been married thirty years. 

It worked.

My brother (초너, cho-na) and his wife sang a hip hop song in Korean. It was so fast I had a flashback of hearing MC Solaar for the first time. 

My former life mother known as my uncle sang Korean country songs in a Johnny Cash lilt. I was deeply moved by his chagrin and salty demeanor.

Then the gruesome-twosome took over again and it was all dismemberment and Huckleberry Finn - a phrase commonly used by nimble goat herders who pose as tennis players.

And pose I did. On our last day, we all got to play a match at a local high school in the area. I was given a 30-Love handicap on every game. So Gee and I lost to my uncle and father-in-law in a game of doubles, but when I played both of them alone (minus a So Gee handicap), I won 6-3. That felt good. I would like to do it again. Who knows? Maybe, there will be another one of these family trips before I am home in February. 

*My Korean writing is made courtesy of my one week completion of Korean I, a class that includes physical violence for those who do not study like myself.

1 comment:

Elizabet said...

Beautiful pictures from your family trip….