Mural Hunting in Hagun-dong

After going bowling with our mentee on Sunday, we dropped him back off at his home earlier than usual and found ourselves across town with a camera, curiosity and a little time. Most weekends we are over in this area, near the base of Mudeung, meeting our mentee and every time the bus takes us up the river (more of a stream really) that flows from Mudeung’s slopes. On the other side of this river is an area of old-looking roofs, narrow streets, and pedestrian bridges. Coupled with the fact that one of Blake’s co-teachers had explained that Dong-gu is older Korea and an area where artists often chose to live, this was more than a little intriguing.

We headed down the south side of the river  for a few blocks before we had to move off the driveable roads and into narrow pedestrian-only alleyways. Wandering through these, we really started to get a flavour of the community.

Pedestrian only streets. Always charming.

Pedestrian-only streets. Always charming.

 

There were older people carrying vegetables or sitting outside their homes drying seaweed and peeling onions. The homes are an older style with many having a main gate/door that led into what appeared to be a central courtyard with rooms and buildings off of that. Foot paths wound all around these buildings and we were often walking along at roof level of the buildings on the river side.

Oddly, many of the compounds were topped with rusty barbed wire hung from sharpened rebar.

Oddly, many of the compounds were topped with rusty barbed wire hung from sharpened rebar.

We also started to see the artistic side of the community. There are murals painted all over the place and a mural-based walk.

One of our early mural discoveries.

One of our early mural discoveries.

Of course we had no idea that this was the case until we came on a sign next to one of the murals that showed where a bunch of the others were located and a suggested path to visit them.

A map of the murals in the area.

A map of the murals in the area.

This is a hand drawn map of the neighbourhood that we found near a rest stop.

This is a hand-drawn map of the neighbourhood that we found near a rest stop.

Naturally, we headed straight off along the line in search of the next mural. We never did see them all, but there were a bunch that we did manage to find and photograph.

For those looking to find these murals, most of them were in the area around the north end of Hakso-ro 106 beon-gil.

Overall, the area that we were exploring was relatively small, bordered on one side by the river and on the others by apartment buildings, but it was really interesting. In the middle there was a temple in the midst of being refurbished. We got a few shots of the outside, but did not venture in as there were clearly people still working on the courtyard. However, just past it we found a public rest shelter, complete with a fan and roll down screens for the hotter days, where we opted to stretch out and read our books for a while. It was really nice, as the entire neighbourhood just seemed to be running on a slower, more relaxed clock than the rest of Gwangju.

Taking a load off. These little shelters seem to be somewhat common in older areas of cities and towns.

Taking a load off. These little shelters seem to be somewhat common in older areas of cities and towns.

Finally, just as we were getting our stuff packed up, a young lady stopped by and explained that it was Easter and handed us two hard-boiled eggs with little plastic decorations shrink-wrapped onto them.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

Super sweet! And a great way to wrap up our few hours exploration of a new area of our city.

Hagun Dong 054

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Cooking with Stella: 호박전

A few weeks ago, Stella and I got together one evening to make 호박전, a delicious dish made from young pumpkin (“hobak”), flour, eggs, and salt.

The ingredients: pancake flour, salt, oil, young pumpkin, and eggs.

The ingredients: pancake flour, salt, oil, young pumpkin, and eggs. A side note about the pancake flour: it is not quite the same as pancake flour back home. It is already a little savory, and seems to contain something like onion powder. How do I know this? I tried using some of it in cinnamon buns when I ran out of all purpose flour. Baaaaad idea. 😦

 

Blake and I have eaten various kinds of 전 (“juhn” – some varieties of which are a lot like really thin and savory pancakes), including kimchi 전, shrimp 전, and mixed seafood 전. They are truly delicious. Stella says she and her family make tons of these for big holidays like Chuseok.

Stella and I started out by slicing up the young pumpkin and sprinkling some salt on both sides to dry up a little of the moisture.

The pumpkin should be sliced thin (maybe 3-5mm?) but not so thin that it will turn completely translucent when fried.

The pumpkin should be sliced thin (maybe 3-5mm?) but not so thin that it will turn completely translucent when fried.

After maybe two or three minutes, you can begin the coating and frying process.

Put about half a cup of flour into one bowl, and crack several eggs into another bowl. Whisk the eggs for a few seconds.

Go Stella! :)

Go Stella! 🙂

Oil your frying pan and turn on the gas to about medium heat (or just under).

Coat each slice of pumpkin in flour and then in egg.

Be sure to thoroughly coat each slice of pumpkin in flour...

Be sure to thoroughly coat each slice of pumpkin in flour…

... and in egg.

… and in egg.

Place each slice in the frying pan. Leave enough room to flip them when they begin to get a little brown on the bottom.

The food setting on my camera blurs any movement.

The food setting on my camera blurs any movement.

When the pumpkin has been lightly browned on both sides, it is ready to eat! As with many fried foods, they taste best fresh and do not reheat very well.

And there you have it: how to make 호박전 in a nutshell (and in a tiny kitchen)!

Interestingly, before I realized that this vegetable is actually young pumpkin, I thought it was zucchini. I have used it in a variety of dishes, including stir frys, curries, sweet and sour chicken and veggie dishes, soups, and more.

Thanks for teaching me how to make 호박전, Stella, and for sharing with me another little piece of your beautiful culture. 맛있게드세요! (“Ma-sheed-kay-de-say-yo!” – simply translated as “Enjoy your meal!” which is what Koreans often say to each other before digging into their food.)

 

Cherry Blossoms

The first week(s) of April are cherry blossom season in Korea. At least they are in our area of Korea. Last year we were busy with other things, so we never really took much time to actually seek out the blossoms and soak them up. This year we resolved that we would not miss it. In pursuit of this, we dashed home from school on the fourth, dumped our stuff, grabbed some snacks and jumped into a cab headed for the Uncheon Reservoir in Sangmu.

It really was gorgeous, despite the fact that we only caught the end of the season. Winds the next day began the process of stripping off the blossoms so the entire show was pretty well over less than a week later. Sangmu is not that easy to get to from our area and we had only about half an hour at the reservior before it started to get dark and we were chased home. It is certainly a place worth visiting even when it’s not cherry blossom season. Based on the number of people we saw there, 90% of Gwangju agrees that it is a great place to view cherry blossoms. This is clearly a couples thing to do and we saw many, many couples on our little wander. Quite a few of the ladies had a sprig of cherry blossoms tucked into their hair (which explained why there were no blossoms left within reach of the ground). In one instance, we saw a young man in the process of acquiring a twig for his girlfriend. He was up on the third railing of one of the bridges, stretched out to his max while she directed him as to which particular bushel she wanted. It was actually pretty hilarious. Sadly, we got no photos of that performance, but here are a few that we did manage to get.

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We did get a few close-ups of blossoms at 518 park the following Sunday, but by that point many of the petals were already off the trees and it was far less striking.

Cherry Blossoms - Jusang 077 Cherry Blossoms - Jusang 095

The best part was that we got in a little R&R. Gotta love it!

Cherry Blossoms - Jusang 099

The Parting of the Sea (almost): Jindo Island

Last year around this time we listened with great interest as Caitlyn and Hendrik, now sadly departed from Korea, told us about a festival they attended where, in company with Moses, they walked across the sea (read their account here). When we decided to stay in Korea for a second year the ‘Jindo Miracle Sea Festival’ was near the top of our bucket list. Last weekend was it.

We had decided to sign up for a Lonely Korea (Pedro) trip rather than trying to sort out transport, tickets, and timing for ourselves and we met the group at Usquare at 10:00 in the morning. Pedro had chartered two buses and we chatted with a few of our friends before loading up and heading out under cloudy skies. We were lucky that Chris, Will, and Tim were also heading out along with us for this trip. It’s always nice to have great company to travel with.

After a stop to pick-up more people in Mokpo, we arrived on Jindo a little after noon and headed to Ullimsanbang House, a garden and museum area, for our kimbap lunch. We wandered among the restored buildings and looked through the museum and art gallery (all explanations were in Korean). This area was the home and studio of a family of famous painters who passed their talent down through the generations since the 18th century and the gallery contained their works. The museum deals mostly with naval battles that were fought against the Japanese nearby.

Looking out over Ullimsanbang

Looking out over Ullimsanbang.

Jindo Sea Parting Festival 014

An hour was more than enough time for Ullimsanbang and we headed from there to the Jindo Dog Centre. Jindo dogs are really well known throughout Korea and you can see them, or at least mixed breeds of them, all over the place. First stop was a sort of museum/display area with what we assume were explanations about the different breeds. What we saw out the second story window led to us quickly abandoning this and bee-lining up the hill. Tubing! They have a year-round tubing slide made from plastic! We all took a round on the tubes and it was pretty darn entertaining.

Then came the dog show. It was pretty entertaining. Rather than have the dog just do the standard obstacles, the trainer put the dog through a bunch of different little tricks. These included: fetching a drink from the fridge, cleaning up the garbage, carrying a flower basket, raising the flag, displaying a banner about the centre, dance gangnam style, hop around with a bandage on its leg, and perch on the trainer’s shoulder. It was only about fifteen minutes long, which was just about right.

Festival time. We headed to the festival site and were immediately greeted by the usual sea of people that accompany all of these events in Korea. So happy we did not decide to sort out our own transport to this particular event. We bought hip-high rubber boots for 8,000₩ right near the gate and then headed deeper into the festival site. There were booths everywhere selling food, art, kites, and a ton of other stuff. We drifted into the International area and grabbed some delicious naan bread and curry from the India booth then capped it off with Turkish ice cream, kebab and a beer. Not a bad afternoon snack. Tickets come with a 5,000 ₩ voucher that you could use at the food booths and prices were not overly steep.

Mmmmm, ice cream and kebab.

Mmmmm, ice cream and kebab.

From the booths area we headed along the waterfront road towards the massive tiger statue that marks the start point of the parting. While we were waiting, we had front row seats to watch a boat run itself aground along the side of the sea path. You have to wonder what he was thinking. ‘Right, there’s thousands of people here because the tide pulls back to expose bare ground in the next 10 minutes; should be fine to take my gigantic outboard through here.’ Either way, it was a nice bit of entertainment while we were waiting for the tide to drop enough to cross.

Despite starting near the front of the stream of people heading into the water, we never did get all the way across. It could be that Sunday was not one of the lowest points for the tide, but either way the sea only fully parted for about a third of the distance and that third was from the far island. We never got to walk on the actual land bridge. Most of the time we were wading through ankle to knee deep water, but there were a couple times when we were standing on gravel bars with basically no water on them in the middle of the sea. That was pretty cool. After less than an hour, a police boat came by blowing whistles and waving people back. A quick glance behind us showed that the tide was now coming in and a few hundred metres back there was a point where the water threatened to flood our boots. This led to a rather rapid dash back towards shore which did not abate until we had passed this danger zone. The rest of the wander back in was pretty tame and we managed to make it back without mishap. Once we had removed our boots – which were collected by some older Korean ladies – we walked back to the parking lot just in time to catch the bus and head for home.

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Although it was a little bit of a disappointment when the water did not part completely, the festival was still a great time. We would recommend that people give it a look. Jindo also appears to be a place worth spending some time exploring, and we may well return to hike some the small mountains near the centre. The parting of the sea – a great way to spend a Sunday in Korea.