Saturday, December 15, 2012

마창대교 - MaChang Bridge

I spent a very pleasant afternoon with my host parents today. This weekend is the last one I'll be able to spend with them this year, because next weekend I'm heading home! So, I think we all appreciated the time we had together.

First, we drove out to Masan (the ex-city that is now a district of Changwon) to go to a popular 짬뽕 restaurant. 짬뽕 (jjamppong) is often translated into English as champon, which looks French. I suppose it's an awkward loanword? According to Wikipedia -- which I fully trust to answer all my culinary inquiries, naturally -- champon is a Japanese dish based off of a Chinese dish. I mean, whatever; take one look at this and you can tell it's Asian. Order yourself a bowl of 짬뽕 and you get a spicy noodle soup with All Of The Sea Creatures, plus bean sprouts. I couldn't finish, not because it wasn't delicious, but because there was just way too much.
짬뽕/jjamppong. I spy octopus, mussels, and abalone, along with vegetables and spicy soup.
After we finished our meal, we drove out to Masan Bay (마산만), which has been nicknamed the "Dream Bay". Now, Masan has an economy that relies pretty heavily on industry. Like Changwon, there are lots of ports, shipyards, and factories. Many years ago, these took their toll on the environment, and the bay was extremely polluted. However, today you wouldn't even be able to imagine that. Masan Bay is surprisingly beautiful. It was very peaceful (평화러워요) and quiet (조용해요); I would even say serene. Cars rumble overhead on the MaChang Bridge (마창대교), which was completed in 2008 and connects Masan and Changwon (clever, eh?), but the sounds I focused on were the lapping of the water on the rocky, oyster-covered shores and the whizzing of fishermen's lines going out into the bay.
마창대교/MaChang Daegyo. It was cold and partly cloudy, but nonetheless beautiful.
My host father proudly said that MaChang Bridge and the bay were comparable to San Francisco's Golden Gate and its world-famous bridge. Sorry, host father, but I beg to differ (read: So Not True). After walking around and being sufficiently impressed by this feat of architecture, we popped into a cafe called Cordelia. It was almost impossibly cute: your typical Korean iteration of the cafe with plush seats, a hand-written menu, potted plants, random Christmas decorations, and $6 lattes. The wonderful thing about it, though, was that its enormous windows offered a perfect view of the bridge and the sun as it set behind Masan's mountains, bathing the sky in 노을.

MaChang Bridge and the Dream Bay.
As my host parents had their coffee and I sipped my hot chocolate, we chatted about many different things, including how my host mother thinks the bridge is pretty but the fact that it's lit up prettily at night is probably a waste of electricity (전력 낭비). Most importantly, I think there was a solid moment of connection when my host mother asked me what my motivations were for studying hard when I was in high school. (Currently, my host parents are having trouble with my puberty-stricken host brother, who isn't very focused in school.) This led to a relatively long conversation, due mostly to slow, belabored communication.

I told them that I studied hard mostly out of the spirit of competition (경쟁); "I wanna be/The very best," etc. I also wanted to get into a good college, as I set very high standards for myself, and lastly, I wanted to make my parents happy. I left out the part about my parents having pushed me really, really hard to succeed at everything, because I figured my host mother is already doing that with my host brother and doesn't need reinforcement.

I also tried to explain, in my broken Korean, that although I studied really hard, the competition was severe and I was sometimes too competitive to have close friends, or too focused on my studies to have a social life. I said that while competition is important (중요해요) for school, after graduation, it becomes much less so. Now... I have to admit that I don't really know how strictly I believe this. I'm competitive by nature, and I will always be. And in the workplace -- in the Korean workplace, especially -- having a competitive edge on top of intrinsic motivation and a good work ethic are absolutely necessary. But really, I was just trying to explore the possibility that studying hard and getting good grades isn't the Most Important Thing for a teenager. This is because I feel bad for my host brother, who just wants to play Minecraft and watch Running Man and build model airplanes. This isn't likely to get him anywhere in life, but for goodness' sake, he was in elementary school last year! I don't want to see his childhood get sucked into the black hole of hagwons and self-study so soon. Then again, he's not my son, and the burden of raising him in Korea's education-obsessed society isn't mine to bear.

All things considered, I don't think that I could have eloquently articulated my ideas even in English, but nevertheless, I am touched that my host mother even thought to ask me for my opinion. As my host brother navigates the rough waters of adolescence (사춘기), here's to hoping he ends up happy and not as awkward as I am! In the end, I really treasure today's small bit of bonding time. It's a rare occasion for my host parents and me to connect on a level that's anything more than superficial, and today was one of them.
Host parents with me in front of the MaChang Bridge as it begins to light up in the evening. Low-quality photos are the fault of the smartphone camera, but it's better than nothing, as I'm glad I now have something to remember the evening by.

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