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Buddha's Birthday in Jeongdongjin

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: Buddha's Birthday in Jeongdongjin

Friday, June 1, 2012

Buddha's Birthday in Jeongdongjin

Perhaps the best weekend of the spring for any expat teaching English in South Korea is the weekend of Buddha's Birthday. This year the holiday fell a few weeks after Children's day, so it was only a 3 day weekend in comparison to last year's 4 (or 5 or 6 days depending upon your school's preference) days. Fear not, my loyal readers. We had plenty of traveling action to fill the three days and had a great time exploring a new part of Korea that we both had no idea was actually there. Let me take you back in time a couple of months.

Sitting in the living room of our little villa, we were warm and cozy, and the thought that soon warm weather would come was really all that was was keeping us comfortable at the tail end of our first Korean winter. Both of us looked up from our bowl of soup and said in perfect unison and harmony "I want to go to the beach." Okay, that might be a bit embellished, but we wanted to go to a beach, and we knew that our best opportunity would be Buddha's Birthday. Realizing that we only had 3 days, we checked flight prices to places like Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to see if there was any chance of getting out of the country. Sadly all of the flights would have been quite difficult to catch from our hovel in Daegu, so we decided to stay in the country and head to a beach. For a while we looked at the little town of Mokpo at the far southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula, but ultimately we decided to go to Gyeongpo beach, far north in Gangwan-do, to spend a few days laying on a beautiful white-sand beach with theoretically blue water.

A small bit of research and asking around led us to the conclusion that what we should do is take a train (overnight) Friday night to Gangneung, and spend the weekend sprawled out on the beach. Easy enough. We booked the train tickets and a hotel room in Gangneung on, and thought nothing of it. Fast forward to May 25th.

Friday night we got off work, went for a run, and then had dinner at Bae Yun Bak (aka Happy Cow) behind our house. They have daeji kalbi now (pork!), so we enjoyed a fun Korean bbq dinner, packed our things, and headed to the train station to catch our 11:56pm train to Gangneung. We packed a couple of beers, and after having one of them passed out for an uncomfortable night's sleep on the train. When we woke up the next morning we were high up in the mountains, the sun was a red orb floating in the mist between the mountains, and the mountains had grown from the tiny little mountains around Daegu into towering, beautiful, oddly shaped behemoths that looked like the landscape from Kung Fu Panda. A couple of hours later, we disembarked in Gangneung, and realized something...our hotel's address had the word "Jeongdongjin" in it. The last train station before Gangneung was Jeongdongjin. Should we have gotten off there? Why did everyone else get off there? Hmmm.

So we waited around for the bus and found our way to Gyeongpo beach. It was beautiful, but we were really too tired to care. I stripped down to my board shorts, slapped on some sunscreen, and sacked out on the beach for a couple of hours. Carolyn did too.

Korean people in hiking outfits on a rock about 50m offshore.

Korean fishing boat about 5m offshore.

Korean tourist speed boat thrill ride.

I don't think that it's ever really advisable to make sweeping broad generalizations about a group of people, but Korean cultures roots do lead to an environment of conformity that I think makes it easier to make general observations about Korea and it's people. Thus I present to you with two lists of observations below.

Charlie's list of things he thinks Korean people like to do at the beach:

  1. Ride things with loud engines. On this trip I saw people lining up to ride in loud little speed boats, rent ATV's, and of course the scooters are ubiquitous.
  2. Shoot fireworks. This was one of the coolest things I've seen in Korea. Families would go buy a wad of fireworks, then go to the beach. You would see the mother stand back with a camera, and the father "pass the torch" (quite literally) to the child. One could certainly imagine the same thing happening 20 or 30 years ago with the father and his parents.
  3. Wear lots of layers of clothing. It wasn't cool at all, in fact it was quite warm for the first two days of our trip. While the foreigners were wearing swimwear on the beach, the Koreans were wearing the finest and heaviest looking North Face/Black Yak/K2 hiking gear. The women had every inch of skin covered, and the men did as well. It's not news to us at all that the Koreans don't want their skin to darken, but it seems like there IS enough sunscreen in the world to prevent significant tanning action. Different strokes!
  4. Wrestle. Typically men hang out with groups of men here, and women hang out with groups of women. It was fun watching grown men turn into little middle-school boys on the beach a bit. They got into some good wrestling and usually the wrestling match made its way to the water's edge where one of the participants would "finish him" with a plunge into the Sea of Japan.
  5. Eat seafood. Every restaurant in the area seemed to serve the exact same thing. Hue. Basically sashimi, but the types of fish they use aren't as tasty.

Charlie's list of things he thinks Korean people DON'T like to do at the beach:

  1. Generally get wet. The only Koreans I saw getting in the water for the most part were those being unwillingly dunked, or little kids fascinated with the mud.
  2. Get tanned. See #3 above.
  3. Swim. I think swimming just might not be a thing here. Everyone at home swims, or at least it seems that way, but Korea is so recently developed that I think swimming might still be associated with some scary things, like encephalitis.
As you can see, the "like to do" list is longer than the "don't like to do" list. I think the Koreans are generally a pretty congenial crowd, and at the beach it's all fun all the time.

Now, back to the story of our trip. We couldn't check into our hotel (which we knew was a train stop back, but it seemed like it might be close because the train was only about 10 minutes between those two stops) until 2pm. At 1pm we decided to preempt any potential problems and get to the hotel right away at check in time. We hailed a cab, showed him the address, and were horrified when he gave us a really confused look. Another driver came over who spoke a little English, they called the hotel, we piled in the cab, and drove. And drove...and drove...and drove some more. Most cab rides in Korea are pretty cheap. This one was about $30 and 30 minutes. But it got us there.

Our hotel wasn't at all on the beach as implied, but it was on top of a hill overlooking the sea. NOT BAD! The room was really clean for a "love motel" and we were situated next to one of the most ridiculous resorts you could imagine, a cruise ship on top of a mountain.

The view didn't exactly suck.

Ridiculous cruise ship resort.

We were both pretty tired by this point, but we wanted some more beach time, so we hiked down the mountain for about 15 minutes and found ourselves on the beach. The good news is that this beach was much prettier than Gyeongpo beach, there were way fewer people, and no motorized traffic aside from the occasional train going by. It was really, really nice. We walked around a bit and looked at the local stuff, like old ladies picking seaweed, seaweed drying on racks, and the beautiful blue Sea of Japan.

Seaweed getting its dry on.

Beautiful, uncrowded beach.

We even learned that the east coast in Gangwan-do is called Korea's "Romantic Road of Gangwan-do." You can learn so many useful things from tourist information signs! This is just one of them. As soon as we learned that we were on Korea's romantic road, we felt love in the air. The sky turned shades of pink, hearts started floating out of the flowers, and unicorns flew over in formation, dropping beautiful poops of Skittles and farting out rainbows.

Anyhow, we were tired. An overnight train ride isn't really any way to get a good night's rest, so we hiked back up the damn mountain, laid down, and crashed early. We woke up to see the sunset, but we saw a cruise-ship shaped hotel instead, and went back to sleep. When we finally got out of bed at about 9:15am it felt like we had probably slept until noon. 

What do you in Jeongdongjin? Well, in my experience, you slather on some sunscreen and go down to the beach. That's exactly what we did. We were happy to see other foreigners laying out in the sun and enjoying the weather, so we set up about 50 yards away from them and sunk in to enjoy the sun. But first something really important needed to be done. We needed to take cute pictures. 

Remember these commercials?

Well, noting that we haven't been so great about taking super cute pictures together in cool places, we decided to do our own version of this. So I present you with pictures of us and our beverages in front of the ocean.

Me: Iced Vanilla Latte, Her: Hot Americano (just like her fiance. har.)

Sharing a Kirin Ichiban. So cold. So good.

I also quite enjoyed a tuna kimbap roll seaside. Carolyn doesn't like kimbap so much because she doesn't really care for the taste of the kim (nori to all of you Americans who didn't know kimbap existed). I've got about a million things to say about kimbap but I'm going to save those for another post.

Tuna Kimbap: Sortof like maki-zushi, more like futomaki, yet altogether different.

Anyhow, this continued for quite some time. Share a beer, read, flip, sizzle. Share a beer, read, flip, sizzle. Snack on something. Repeat. Until a cold breeze blew in. Out of nowhere a cool breeze blew in and we both grabbed our shirts and shorts as fast as possible. We decided that it reminded us of our time in Florida and we recognized that there could be a storm coming. So we loaded up, hiked back up the mountain to the hotel, put some chairs and a table out on the balcony, pulled out a card game and another beer and some snacks, and watched a thunderstorm develop out to sea. We only got a few sprinkles, but between the two of us we carry around about $2,000 worth of camera, so it was a good idea to head up the hill anyway.

Our next adventure was to go over and see what this cruise ship resort was all about. We walked up the hill a bit to see if there was any way to cross over, and lo and behold, there was! So we walked into the parking lot of the Sun Cruise Resort (썬크루즈리조트 if you'd like to make a reservation) and headed up to what looked like the ticketing area of a Six Flags park. We realized that we could take an unguided tour of the resort for 5,000won each, and decided that hell yes, this is something worth seeing.

I remember laying in the house before going to work at Border's Books and Music in early 2001 watching some Travel Channel crapfest about Asian megaresorts and thinking, I should see one of those one day. After this, I feel quite okay about crossing that goal off my unofficial mental bucket list, because this resort was most certainly a) over the top in ridiculousness, b) pretty posh, for Korea, and c) in Asia. Check.

Anyhow, here's some pictures from our visit to the Sun Cruise Resort:

Feel the ridiculousness

Great view from the observation deck

These hands appear about to grope the bosom of the sea, or something.

You can't very well hate on this view.

Right next to this ridiculous resort is something that seems a little eerie though. When you live in South Korea, it's quite easy to forget that you live just on the other side of a 3km fortress-wall known as the DMZ. Gangwan-do is the province farthest north, and the very beach we laid on was the scene of a foiled North Korean espionage attempt only about 15 years ago. There are very real guard posts along the coastline, armed with very real machine guns, and manned by very real soldiers. While it's somewhat a reminder that South Korea lives on the edge, it's hard to be at all afraid of any potential conflagration when day to day life just continues no matter what. The North threatens a nuclear test, and we still all go to work the next morning.

Guard post. Eek.

After our visit to the Sun Cruise Resort we were both pretty hungry, and we had brought a couple buckets of ramen up the hill with us. Wouldn't you just know I used my ramen chopsticks for my kimbap earlier in the morning? What's a guy to do? Luckily the hotel had given us some vig for booking the room that made having an afternoon snack quite possible.

I MacGyver'd the shit out of this bucket of ramyeon.
So we headed back down to the beach, this time dressed in jeans and t-shirts because it got a bit cooler at night. We sat down on the edge of a flower box and people watched for a few hours. Night time is when the real action begins on a beach in Korea, and Korean families bring out the roman candles, rockets, and mortar shell fireworks to light up the night.

After taking a quick stroll over to the train station to get some non-seafood we headed back up to the hotel and played a few rounds of Clue: The Card Game, and crashed in bed pretty quickly after that. 

When we awoke the next morning it was almost a completely different beach! The temperature had dropped into the low 60's and high 50's, the sky was overcast, and the winds had picked up, kicking the surf up quite a bit. There would be no speed boat thrill rides today. If we were in the US we would have seen all manner of surfers riding the waves, but it's most certainly not the US. We started the morning with a coffee, and spent a few hours sitting on the beach reading in a great little swing. It was fun to watch the Koreans cut loose a bit. The sun wasn't out, so they were all wearing shorts and had abandoned the space-suit like cover they tend to wear on sunny days.

I left Carolyn on the bench for a bit to go over to the train station and change our tickets from Gangeung-Dongdaegu to Jeongdongjin-Dongdaegu. The ticket booth was pretty busy, and said it would cost more than it's worth for me to make the official change, just show up at the station at 4:01pm.

We hung out some more on the beach until it was too cold, and we found another coffee shop where we enjoyed a coffee and a toast. Toast at home is just plain toast, right? In Daegu "toast" means an egg and bacon sandwich on toasted bread. I was hoping for the latter. Instead I got what looked like 1/4 loaf of bread, unsliced, toasted and served with strawberry jam. Whatever. I ate it. 

As it got closer to 4:01pm we made our way back to the train station, had a sausage and a fried chicken on a stick to give our stomachs something to work with on the way home, and finally got on our train. The scenery was pretty nice on the way back, and I tried to snap a few pictures. I feel like the train takes you 7 hours north and about 50 years back in time. Korea is a beautiful country with gorgeous green mountains, huge temples, and tons of smaller towns. It's really easy to forget about that in your daily life in one of the bigger cities.

Kung Fu Panda temple in front of Kung Fu Panda mountains.

Farm house in coal country

I think a coal mine.
8 hours later we found ourselves back in Daegu, and about an hour after that we fell exhausted into our bed. This was a big trip for a weekend, even a 3 day weekend. I'm certainly happy that we've gotten to reconnect with the idea of adventure inside of Korea, as it's easy to forget that the different regions of the country really do have some notable differences. I for one had no idea how different the mountains would look so far north. While we dream daily of all of the adventures we're going to have all over Asia on our longer vacation periods, it's nice to remember that there's a lot of adventure left to have in Korea too! Our trip to Jeongdongjin was beautiful, and I certainly took more pictures than I could share in a blog post. If you'd like to see more, visit my flickr page.

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At June 16, 2012 at 3:49 AM , Blogger Mom's gone travellin' said...

This blog made me feel like I was right there! You are an excellent words-make-a-situation creator. Korea is an amazing place, isn't it?


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