Making Time for Wonder

By Amelia Wagner, ETA 2018–19

Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and plan and work every day some. — Robert Fulghum

The salty breeze tousled my hair as Carlee, a fellow ETA, and I sat on the dock, our feet dangling off the edge, looking out onto the blue sparkling eddies and coves of the rocky shore. It was towards the end of our trip in Yeosu. We had woken earlier that morning in hopes of going to Geumodo Island (금오도) National Park only to find that the first and only ferry had left several hours earlier. Having planned well the day before and seen all that we wanted to around town, we made the impromptu decision to take a bus along the southern coast. Our plan was to visit a small beach and grab some lunch before leaving. After the bus dropped us off in the tiny town, we meandered our way down winding back alleys and found ourselves at a cove where lines of pretty blue boats bobbed in the gentle waves. Sitting together on the dock, we absorbed the sun’s rays. Around lunchtime we began to get hungry and, as the town was too small to support a convenience store let alone a restaurant, we decided to head back to the city in search of seafood pancakes (해물전).

Catching a bus again on our way back, we passed Manseongni Black Sand Beach (만성리 검은 모래해변), a more populated area with open restaurants. Thinking we might find some 해물전, we made the spontaneous, and somewhat reckless, decision to jump off seconds before the bus doors closed. Immediately we realized we had made a mistake; none of the restaurants served 해물전. Instead, we discovered a delightful bowl of mixed rice and raw fish (회비빔밥); a more than fair substitute. After lunch, we still had several hours before our train and decided to take a stroll along the beach.

The smell of burning smoke mingled with the salty breeze drew our attention to a group of twenty or so older women and a monk. Slightly removed from the tourists, they were gathered around a decorated table. Curious, we watched as one of the women stepped forward, burning paper in hand, and quickly threw it into the waves. She then bowed, her hands pressed loosely together by her chest.

One by one the women approached the shore and threw their burning offerings into the sea. A gust of wind caught one of the papers, causing it to flutter back to shore. It tumbled near the edge, leading a woman on a chase down the beach to retrieve her fallen prayer. She quickly scooped it up and extinguished it in the lapping waves. The black sand ground into my feet as Carlee and I watched—bemused—as the wind played tricks on the group, blowing their prayers away from the water.

After their papers had all been extinguished, the women gathered in prayer before cleaning up, chatting cordially, and passing out oranges. Out of pure luck, in this little coastal town, we had stumbled upon a traditional ceremony. A ceremony that was so localized that even Google couldn’t tell us its name. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse into that tradition and one small aspect of these women’s lives.

Throughout my travels, I have come to recognize the importance of striking a balance between spontaneity and planning. Our mistake at the ferry station, our rigorous planning the day before, and our impromptu decision to get off the bus had all led us to chance upon this ceremony on a small little beach on the coast of South Korea. While detailed plans are important in traveling to stay within budget, see the sights, and enjoy all the city has to offer, you will miss precious opportunities if you don’t allow yourself room to travel outside of your detailed plan. Planning gets you places; but by taking risks and setting aside time to be spontaneous, you can create opportunities for adventure and unique experiences. The practice of balancing rigidity with flexibility is not restricted to travel. While it is important to keep a schedule in everyday life, it’s equally as important to create opportunities to go on mini adventures. Explore a new section of town or take a different route home. This will allow you to not only accomplish your goal but also enjoy yourself along the way. As with most things in life, balance is key.