Back on the afternoon of Monday August 11th, we got together with one of Blake’s co-teachers for lunch and then a trip to one of the nearby villages outside of Gwangju. Jangseong is where her grandparents live so she is familiar with it and had a list of places she wanted to show us. It is a gorgeous area.
After driving through the town we stopped for a walk in a cypress forest, Chungnyeongsan. It is a managed forest (not sure there is any other kind in Korea) that stretches across a large section of northern Jangseong County. Apparently, the air in cypress forests has a whole host of health benefits so there are several clusters of pensions around the perimeter. When we got there, several families were camped near the parking lot, but the forest itself was actually relatively empty.
From there, we headed to a traditional village, Geumgok, tucked up against the edge of the cypress hills. We wandered up into the village and found a really cool outdoor café in the back of one of the minbak spotted through the village. The gate into the back yard had a sign to ring the bell for service. Tamara did the honours and a very friendly Korean man emerged to usher us into the terraced backyard.
We settled in and ordered a traditional dandelion tea (dandelions are white in Korea). The great thing about the village is that it is actually really quiet. There was no traffic noise, people shouting, or the general hum that is everywhere in Gwangju. Just relaxing and enjoying it was really great. The owners’ two kids were floating around and they were really cute. They brought us complementary sliced peaches at one point. The oldest was only eight, but had amazing English and was more than willing to talk with us. Incredibly, they are home-schooled by their parents, but the eight year old’s English level is higher than many of Blake’s middle school students. He said he learned most of his English from TV and the internet.
Overall, the ambience of the place was great. Blake’s co-teacher explained that the feeling is part of a concept called Cheong in Korean. Cheong is a sort of feeling of attachment, wellness and caring that can exist between people. In this case, the effort that was made to make us feel welcome and the fact that we were so comfortable there indicated that the café and café owners had a lot of Cheong.
We lingered here much longer than we intended, but we had one more stop in mind. There is a park near the end of the lake, just on the southern edge of Najangsan National Park, that is dedicated to a movie director who was born in the area. It has a ton of sculptures, most of which are associated with his movies. We were there for the viewing platform that looks down the valley and across the lake. Sunset was almost over when we arrived, but we managed to get up there in time to catch the last of it.
It was the perfect way to close out a gorgeous afternoon.