I met Katie's host family...very sweet mom, friendly dad, shy siblings, and not-at-all-shy baby brother Haesung (you can see pictures of them here, provided I managed to make that a link properly). Haesung made me feel right at home, bringing me pieces of apple (which he thoughtfully pre-chewed), showing me his toys and awesome car-scooter thing, and doing a lot of running and yelling.
While in Hwasun (and the nearby, much bigger city of Gwangju), I...
took sticker pictures with Katie,
Sticker picture shops are all over in Korea. Basically, they are just rooms full of photo booth machines, hats, and costumes. You get to add backgrounds, text, and cunnin' little pictures to your photos after you're done (although this is timed and a bit stressful--since it's all in Korean, we accidentally turned one of our best pictures black and white and couldn't change it back). Katie and I went all out, bringing all manner of hats and props into the booth with us...behavior that scandalized the other patrons of the shop (all Korean girls taking glamorous pictures of themselves with their friends. I'm reasonably sure that random foreigners are the only people who ever use the hats or costumes).
listened to some really pretty music,
Katie's orchestra played some really beautiful pieces (I'm not going to pretend to know anything about classical music...but there's something about listening to it live that just feels really amazing). In addition to Katie's little band, there was an incredible little girl whose playing kind of made me wish my parents had forced me to practice the violin 4 hours a day from the age of 3 (after the concert, her dad told us that's how much she practices). It was fun to get to meet Katie's orchestra friends...my favorite was the (I think) first violinist, an older man who wears glasses liberally studded with rhinestones and is a really passionate player and listener. I also got a big kick out of Mrs. Ahn, another violinist who gave us a ride to the concert and chatted all the way.
drank free coffee,
The concert was in a really pretty little coffee shop, so we got to drink mocha lattes, hot chocolate, and green tea the whole time we were there. It had really great lighting, lots of open space, and was playing Norah Jones rather than kpop (I looove kpop but it is not at all soothing) for the two hours before the concert that we were there (our ride was very worried about being late). There was also free kimbap, mandarin oranges, rice cake, and cookies for us to stuff ourselves with, and Mrs. Ahn gave us some garlic bread to go with our first drinks (it was offered to us as "gingerbread," so getting garlic bread to go with our sweet, chocolatey beverages was a little disappointing. Since the garlic bread in Korea is actually very sweet, it didn't clash with our beverages as much as it clashed with itself). As you can see from the pic, Melinda overdid it just a bit with the mocha lattes. All in all, an excellent afternoon.
spent time with chingu,
Two other ETAs, Dana and Nika, also came to Gwangju for the concert. After the concert, we wandered around the city (Katie's viola and bouquets of flowers in tow) and went to a very loud bar to sit around and talk.
and played in the snow.
When we left the bar, it had started gently snowing. This quickly escalated into a full-scale snowstorm that had Melinda making dire predictions of being trapped in Hwasun for Christmas. The snow was big and beautiful and fluffy and perfect for packing and very, very cold. Melinda, Katie, and I rode back to Hwasun through the snow with an extremely friendly cab driver who took quite a shine to Melinda and refused to believe that she and I are teachers (Katie passed). The next morning, when we woke up it had stopped snowing, but as soon as Katie and I were outside and walking to the bus stop, it resumed with as much vigor as the night before. Two of the three buses I took on my way home to Gongju had to stop because the snow. It took me more than 7 hours to get home, but it was definitely worth it to have everything turn so purty and feel a little more like Christmas...plus Katie and I had brought it upon ourselves by watching White Christmas on Friday night.