Hello, Gayageum

2.5 months in the ROK has flown by.  I wish there was a way to pause time.  I met the gayageum last month and I’m entirely smitten.  Though the original centerpiece of my coming here for sabbatical was a fellowship to study ancient traditional and folk music, it was canceled due to, well, you know.  So, through the generosity of friends at the National Gugak Center I’ve since been able to craft my own course, diving deep into the world of sanjo study and performance practice.  It’s a fascinating instrument with a long history that exists both in the world of court music and folk music, played by plucking with the right hand, sighing, crying, and vibrating with the left.  My studies are now focused on the 12-string sanjo gayageum (one string for each month of the year) with moveable bridges meant to mimic the foot of a wild goose, girogyi.  Though my relationship with this new creature is young (with fresh blisters from the hours per day practice to boot!) I see a long-term relationship in the making…

The spring semester here is nearly complete, and my students at SNU are prepping for their last performance exams and recitals this coming week.  I’m blown away every week by the level of playing here, the intense dedication to hard work, and the humility of each and every one of the students.  I took my own final exams last week, and I have to admit there was something oddly comforting about it.  I’ve been diving into traditional cooking classes each weekend (making tofu from scratch is mega cool) and trying to write from scratch or translate a new poem per day.  Isn’t it ironic that the older we get the more we want to learn, yet the harder it is to do?

Doing my best to soak up as much as I can while I’m here, I’ve loved playing tourist, visiting Namsan Tower, the National Museum, (a perfect pair to my history course) and the super famous Noryangjin Fish Market.  It doesn’t get much fresher than selecting your live fish at the market and then having it cleaned and sent directly upstairs to the restaurants for instant preparation.  A trip to Surisan with my climbing club for some fabulous outdoor crag climbing was how we celebrated Buddha’s birthday.

Perhaps the highlight of the last month was a trip to my favorite place on earth, a little country house set amidst our family’s ginkgo tree farm in Gangwon province.  The soft mountains set against the crystal clear brook that runs behind the hand-crafted cottage bring tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  Time away from the city, far from the air pollution, with family and friends, complete with a picnic to feed royalty and an outdoor recital of Bach and bluegrass ~ another reason to pause time.

Two beautifully unexpected surprises came my way as well since I last wrote: befriending a lovely elderly neighbor in my building who happens to be the owner of a crazy adorable 5-month-old jindo puppy – who looks almost identical to my childhood pup, Sandy – has led to almost daily walks and training exercises together.  And, through this friendship, I was introduced to an incredible volunteering group that helps lead hikes for people who are blind, through the Namsan dullegil each week.  Each volunteer attaches a short rope to their backpack, and we slowly lead our partners through the hike, verbalizing upcoming territory as they follow.  My partner is a tiny, power-packed force of goodness, and at 77, hikes those paths with fervor that would put most young adults to shame.

And lastly, I’ve just learned that, thanks to the swift vaccine rollout in the States and the opening of EU borders, my summer festival season is ON!  So, though it’ll be hard to leave, I’ll be heading back to the States (CA, MN) and to Italy (my festival in Tuscany) for the month of August to play my first live concerts to in-person audiences in more than a year!

Some musings:

Perhaps it’s typical when living abroad, or just a sign that I’m getting older, I find myself often pondering life’s biggest, unanswerable questions.  I came across this cool article on the art of decision-making – it’s worth the read, if you’ve got the time:


조유회 선생님께 영감을 주는 가야금 수업을 정말 고맙습니다 ~ 매일 마다 열심히 연습 하려고 노력하는 중이에요.  덕훈 큰아버지께 저한테 남산 타워와 국립박물관을 보여 주셔서 대단히 고맙습니다 ~ 큰아빠가 화요일에 백신을 맞는게 저는 너무 행복합니다!  영옥 고모와 고모부, 승안이와 지은이, 아름다운 강원도 여행을 고맙습니다 ~ 그 날 대한 자주 생각합니다.  성봉 아저씨, 생선회랑 게 점심 요리 해 주셔서 감사합니다 ~ 전 가치가 없습니다 ^^  경옥 선생님께 다음 주에 남산 둘레길에서 또 만날거예요 ^^

And as always, some pics from this wild ride…

Let bootcamp begin!  Man, I should have started this when I was a kid…

Let’s get cookin’…

SNU end-of-semester rehearsals and concerts…

Tourist days with my great uncle – National Museum, Namsan Tower, palace tours, and FISHIES!
A side-by-side of Joon (the new pup) and Sandy (my childhood dog) – what!?

Meeting the founder of 에스 카사 (a little article was written about me…ㅎ)


Family time in Gangwon-do…(my uncle built that incredible treehouse!)
And all 3 girls found 4-leaf clovers!  That has to be good luck, right!?
Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Happy Birthday, Buddha!
Weekend lunch party with the fam…

The volunteers + partners hiking crew!

And my fabulous partner – she calls herself “Double Sevens” – a phrase that she learned to describe her age in her English class. Love.
And a little outdoor recital…

Until next time…

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