May Long Weekend: Namwon

Our final day of long weekend freedom started with sun streaming in through the east facing window in our jjimjilbang. That and people beginning to stumble around the bodies littering the floor. We headed in for a nice long soak in a hot sauna. Not a bad way to start a day, really. Our second Jjimjilbang of the weekend was a bit of quieter, although there appeared to be far more people.  This one had a computer room (filled with teenagers playing games) and separate upstairs areas for men and women to sleep if they wanted to avoid the communal area.

Breakfast was a quick stop at Paris Baguette where we made our plans for the day. Our original intention was to hike the northern side of Jirisan. On learning that it was the better part of an hour’s drive and it would be swamped with people, we decided to stick around Namwon instead. It turned out to be a great decision. Namwon is nicknamed “The City of Love” because a famous drama was filmed there.

 

A view out over Namwon

A view out over Namwon

A look a Lonely Planet took us to Gwaghallu-won Garden, allegedly one of the most beautiful gardens in Korea. It certainly was pretty. A reflective pool contained three really pretty little islands and even in the breeze it was possible to see them reflected in the water. These three islands represent Samsinsan, three sacred mountains mentioned in Taoist legends and thought to be three peaks in Korea.

The bridge over the pond is called Ojak-gyo (magpie bridge). According to legend, crows and magpies form this bridge once a year above the milky way so that two lovers who became stars can meet. Apparently, crossing the bridge can make dreams of love come true.

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While these were all well and good, the real star of the show was the grass. That’s right, real grass! A legit lawn! In Korea!!! Only one thing to be done.

May Long weekend T 170

After we had soaked up our fill of grass time (actually we got hungry) we headed out for a bite of lunch and then crossed over the river for a wander around. There is a large tourist complex in the area, but we opted to stay away from it. Instead, we checked out an artificial waterfall, wandered through an older neighbourhood, and climbed up to a hilltop pavilion for reading with a view.

By the time we got back to the car we had dccided that it was time to head back to Gwangju as we were expecting some pretty heavy traffic. As it turned out, we were lucky and hit almost nothing until we were right in town. Lianne and Adam dropped us off at home a little after 4:00. It was so nice to have a long weekend away and the freedom of having our own transportation was pretty awesome.

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On Missing Places…

Something that I never really thought about before I headed overseas to teach English in Korea was how much I would miss specific places back home. I knew I would miss family and friends, some days especially so. However, right now I want to talk about the peculiar intensity with which I sometimes find myself missing familiar places. Some might call it homesickness, but I feel like it’s a little different: perhaps more acute and less sad than it is intense.

It happened twice today: once it was an oldies song playing that made me miss a specific spot in Chetwynd, BC, where we used to stop occasionally on our way to Dawson Creek to visit relatives when I was little. Immediately following this auditory trigger was a snapshot visual memory, coupled with a specific sort of semantic memory, and an intense longing to be in that exact place. The intensity of these feelings is strangely hard to describe. It felt rather like my heart was actually a magnetic object, and someone had brought a huge earth magnet near my chest.

Later this afternoon, I was drinking water out of a mug at school, and, out of nowhere, smelled Morfee Lake, exactly as it smelled when I used to float, face-down, on airmattresses and blown up plastic tigers when I was a little girl, searching for fish just off shore. This olfactory trigger brought, once again, an immediate snapshot visual memory, and even the sensation of floating on the refreshing, cold water. This sort of longing for places across the ocean has brought me back to many different locations, including Colleymount Road on Francois Lake (near Burns Lake), specific sections of Highway 97 north through the Pine Pass, Ospika Blvd in Prince George, and more.

Fellow travelers, if you’re reading this blog: do you experience the same thing? What sort of places do you miss the most?

May Long Weekend: Bogyeongsa

We awoke on the Monday to the sound of construction right outside our tent. Apparently Children’s Day is not a holiday for everyone. Being up early was nice though, and we were able to get a big scrambled egg breakfast together pretty quickly.

 

Not entirely sure what it is, but it certainly got loud when they started working on it.

Not entirely sure what it is, but it certainly got loud when they started working on it.

Due to the crowding at the camp-site and the nasty beach bathroom, we headed up to the adjacent traffic stop to grab some snacks and use clean bathrooms before heading south to Bogyeongsa.

윤기령 overlooking the beach from the rest stop.

윤기령 overlooking the beach from the rest stop.

Bogyeong temple is tucked back away from the coast and is best known for the series of waterfalls along the creek behind it. These were our goal when we left the parking lot shortly after noon and headed through the little village to the temple and trails beyond. The village is like many that area associated with trail heads and temples: several restaurants, souvenir shops, and a few minbak mixed in. Bogyeongsa was fully decked out in lanterns in preparation for Buddha’s birthday the following day. It’s a mid-sized temple, but there is at least one satellite temple/hermitage further up the valley.

Beyond the temple the path is quite an easy one, wandering along the creek for a little over a kilometre until the first waterfall. We stopped for quite a long break on the rocks here, soaking up the view and dipping our toes in the water. Sadly, there were some prominent no swimming signs preventing us from taking full advantage of the gorgeous pool at the base of the twin falls.

By the time we left the first fall it was getting later in the afternoon so we hustled up the trail pretty quickly. After the first fall they come in pretty quick succession up to number seven (Yeonsan Pokpo), although few of them are as well situated for lounging until you reach the sixth fall. To visit the seventh you cross a short suspension bridge for a great look at the 30 metre fall. This is a pretty busy dead end so we did not spend much time there, just long enough to get a few photos, before heading back to the sixth fall. Here the trail crosses the stream and leads further up the valley. This is also the point where most people stop. From here the trail is less developed and the waterfalls are spaced further apart.

As it was getting late, we opted to only head a short way up this trail and found a place atop the cliffs directly above the sixth fall to soak up a little quiet. From all appearances, the upper falls (numbers 8-12) would be a much nicer section, with less people and much less developed. Who knows, you might even be able to swim.

The view over the edge.

The view over the edge.

Cliff-top R&R

Cliff-top R&R.

Once we were finished on top of the cliff, we returned to the bottom where some of our group set up for rock climbing. Adam, Lianne, and ourselves watched the lead climber head up to the top before we retreated back down the trail to the parking lot in search of sun. Sadly, we never did find it. We did, however, set up our own little parking lot picnic complete with hot jeon. By the time the others arrived, it was dark and dinner was almost ready.

Parking lot picnic anyone?

Parking lot picnic anyone?

After the meal our party split up. Our car was heading part way back to Gwangju to find a jjimjilbang for the night, while the others were going all the way home in one shot. Our original plan was to find a place in either Goryeong or Goechang and hike in Gayasan National park the next day. We stopped for a quick kimbap meal in Goryeong a little before 11:00 and then set about looking for a jjimjilbang in the area. That was when things got interesting. Following google maps, we ended up driving along this extremely narrow back road into what appeared to be somebody’s yard. The place looked like a scene right out of a horror movie. It was one of the creepiest accommodation searches we have ever had. We repeated the process for a second listing to the same end: horror movie setting, few cars in sight. Ultimately, when a google search yielded nothing in Geochang proper, we opted to push through to Namwon where we knew there was a jjimjilbang in the middle of town. We arrived after midnight and settled in amongst the other sleepers around one. Lesson learned: don’t go searching for jjimjilbangs in the countryside after dark!

May Long Weekend: Herb Hillz and Chilpo Beach

The first weekend in May included Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday making it a four day respite from teaching. We had originally planned to travel to an offshore island, but friends of ours invited us on a camping/jjimjilbang trip to the east coast in a rental car and we jumped at the chance of a bit of added freedom.  So Friday night saw us piling into a car with Lianne and Adam heading to Daegu for the first leg of our trip.

We arrived close to midnight and settled in at the paradise jjimjilbang for the remainder of the night. This was Blake’s first experience staying the night at a jjimjilbang and it was somewhat interesting. Mere minutes after Adam turned off the TV soap opera in the common area where people were trying to sleep, an older lady not only turned it back on, but turned the volume WAY up. This necessitated a move into an adjacent room which was being used as a noraebang by the single older man stretched out in it. Getting to sleep was a little tough. Staying asleep in the early hours of the morning was just as tough, as some of us were awakened to what sounded like the birth of ET – but was really just said gentleman snoring.

Despite the difficulties, we did manage to get in a few hours of sleep before morning. Once of the great things about sleeping in a jjimjilbang is that the day starts with hot baths and some sauna time to get you in the right frame of mind for the day. Refreshed, we headed to a nearby rooftop cafe to enjoy breakfast looking out over a little urban lake.

Looking out form our breakfast table.

Looking out from our breakfast table.

Post breakfast photos with Adam and Lianne.

Post breakfast photos with Adam and Lianne.

After a few navigation errors, we managed to locate Herb Hillz, where we were joined by four others for the remainder of the trip. Herb Hillz is an eco-park that in some ways resembles a much nicer, forested fair ground with a variety of rides, games, etc. for all ages.

What actually drew us there was the eco adventure part. This involved a suspended obstacle course running through the trees all around the park. It was awesome! We paid 20,000 each at the gate and that included the King Kong course, which is the longest one in the park. We definitely recommend this place to anyone with a little time to spare around Daegu.

 

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We wrapped up our day at the park with a late picnic lunch before heading further eastward for some beach camping. Being a long weekend, there was often a fair bit of traffic, but for the most part things moved along pretty well. Our destination was Chilpo Beach, just north of Pohang and we washed up there in just over two hours (we inadvertently took a slightly creative route).

Floating picnic!

Floating picnic!

It was heading towards dark at the time, so we threw up our tent (borrowed from Lianne) in a stand of trees back from the beach. Once camp was up we went for a short wander. There is a hotel nearby that has a pricey Chinese restaurant in it, a small mart, and a set of (filthy) public washrooms. At the time there was no running water (in the taps), but we have been told that once summer officially arrives in Korea they open the facilities and maintain the beaches. Apparently 25 degrees is not beach weather.

Our little half moon of tents.

Our little half moon of tents. For lack of another option, ours had an… innovative rain cover: Tamara’s rain jacket.

Either way, by the time we got back, some of our fellow travellers had dinner on the go. By the time everything was cooked, eaten, and cleaned up we were more than ready to crash.

A note about Korean camping: it’s nothing like western camping. The complete lack of personal space extends to camping. People would wander through our cluster of tents and around our cooking area with no concerns or apologies. There is just no space. When we got up on the second day, a Korean couple were in the midst of setting up their tent only a few feet from ours; right in the middle of our little group’s camp.

This is not a great photo, but you can sort of see the hodgepodge of tents with no real defined boundaries.

This is not a great photo, but you can sort of see the hodgepodge of tents with no real defined boundaries.

Dawn gave us a chance for a little bit more exploration and one discovery was that our party had grown by two (up to ten) the night before. Two guys who are physical therapists in Daegu had driven down to join us. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal we wandered out to the shoreline, tossed a frisbee for a bit, then settled in to watch the waves. Sadly, the beach was in sorry shape. The amount of broken glass made us more than a little hesitant to even chase the disc without keeping one eye on the ground.

The water is just out of the frame to the right. We were camped in the stand of pines along the left side.

The water is just out of the frame to the right. We were camped in the stand of pines along the left side.

Before leaving the beach we had a little painting party on the shoreline. Several of the people we were travelling with paint regularly and had brought the necessary materials. It was pretty fun, stretching out on a mat by the sea and painting. A great way to relax for the afternoon.

During the painting sessions the Pohang horse club was out running their horses up and down the beach. Kinda interesting to watch.

During the painting sessions, the Pohang horse club was out running their horses up and down the beach. Kinda interesting to watch.

Given the state of the beach, we decided to head into Pohang for lunch, shopping, and sauna time before relocating farther up the coast. Tamara certainly had a memorable sauna experience. Not only was there a toilet in the corner of the ladies’ public bath area (no walls, no curtain, just porcelain), but a well-meaning ajumma in leopard print undies also grabbed the loofah out of Tamara’s hand and proceeded to wash her back for her! Again, western notions of personal space and boundaries just don’t fit here in Korea.

Some of our party, Blake included, had a hankering for burgers so we headed to Mr. Big family restaurant which proved to be just the thing. Four of us followed that up with a trip to a sauna downtown before stocking up on groceries at a nearby mart and hitting the road north again. Sadly, we hit some of the worst traffic yet and it took us nearly two hours to reach our destination.

Mr. Big family restaurant.

Mr. Big family restaurant.

We arrived at Hwajin Beach just as it was starting to get dark and found a camping site in one of the clusters of trees. The stand of pines nearest the bathrooms was already full to bursting with Korean campers so we opted for one a few hundred meters down the beach bordered by some sort of strange trench. Once again, setting up camp, cooking dinner, and cleaning up took us pretty well through to bed time. Fortunately, there was running water in the bathrooms at the beach so that made tooth brushing a little easier. However, it had also drawn more campers so the bathrooms were, again, disgusting.

We retreated to our camp and spent some time learning a few Korean games from a Korean couple who were travelling with us. They are actually pretty fun and really hard to keep straight. Especially if you play them (as they were) with shots of soju as punishment for errors. Even our unclouded brains had trouble keeping up. After watching a few rounds we slipped away into our tent to try and catch up on a bit of sleep.

 

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

The last day of April saw us heading out to watch our first ever professional baseball game. Gwangju’s team, the Kia Tigers, recently moved into a brand new stadium that has been under construction since before we arrived. This little Wednesday evening excursion was the brainchild of the Volles, who have attended Tigers games on several previous occasions. Blake’s co-teacher had helped us out with booking tickets online ahead of time, so we had some pretty great seats just twenty rows up and on the first base side of home plate. For those who watch games in North America, be jealous – these seats cost only 14,000W (about $14) each!

 

Now, Korean ball games are, apparently, a very different event from those at home. Koreans are pretty die hard fans when they get behind something like a hometown baseball team and they really put on a show. However, they are also forgiving. We were told that when the team is losing/has lost, the crowd will often chant the equivalent of ‘it’s OK’ to the players.

We had (in our opinion) some pretty great seats with a good view of the plate.

We had (in our opinion) some pretty great seats with a good view of home plate.

The new stadium is really nice and the outfield is surrounded by a grass area with picnic tables and sand areas for families to sit on the grass and let their kids play while they watch. Of course, any home runs will be coming straight over the fence into those sandboxes, but I guess that’s a risk you take.

This is the first season for the new stadium. Right behind us is the family picnic area.

This is the first season for the new stadium. Right behind us is the family picnic area.

Before heading in to claim our seats, we decided to partake of the traditional Korean baseball cusine, chi-maek. This is short for chicken and maekju (chicken and beer) and is a super popular, possibly even essential, part of the baseball scene in Korea.

All of these stalls outside the stadium were selling chicken and beer.

All of these stalls outside the stadium were selling chicken and beer.

These signs were everywhere.

These signs were everywhere.

We got settled into our seats just in time to see the Tigers hit the first home run of the game – there were three in all – and joined in the fans hollering for more.

Cheering the first home run of the game.

Cheering the first home run of the game.

The game was great entertainment. We had a bit of everything: foul balls flying into the stands nearby, a bad call by the umpire leading to a drunken fan jumping the fence and attacking him, an awesome wave by the audience that made two full laps of the stadium, a drunk guy standing on a table next to us trying to start a second wave, the noise-makers going crazy, and it was that much sweeter when the Tigers won.

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What a great way to spend an evening!