Cherry blossoms in Korea.
I went to a cherry blossom festival. The drive there was beautiful as the bus wound down tree lined roads weaving through the mountains and overlooking the river. It reminded me of drives through (the republic of) Georgia. We missed the cherry blossom’s peak by a few days and a sudden front had stripped them a bit of flowers but the weather was beautiful and I got to eat some local cuisine. Nature is great.
On a chilly weekend last May we decided to go on an adventure with our three-day weekend. After waiting in line for a bus for over three hours we realized our first adventure was poorly planned and would more than likely be a big pain in the ass. We went home and regrouped. Early the next morning we searched out a bus to the eastern city of Samcheok. Were were soon on our way to the coastal city. Our main goal was to get to the renowned penis sculpture park: Haesindang Park.
It was misty and cool that day. I was feeling terribly sick that day but got by on a steady diet of honey flavored Halls. The park was all but empty until a bus of middle aged men and women arrived. The walked around giggling and posing with the statues so I suddenly didn’t feel like such a 5 year old.
The park is very nice and was wonderful to stroll around in. It had it’s own merits but the 3 meter tall penis statues was definitely a plus. There’s a folk museum inside the park and is worth a visit if only for the simulated speed boat ride in the middle of the museum. It rumbles and moves around like a real boat. Woo! There’s a small aquarium and an exhibit dedicated to the women who diver for octopus off Jeju island too.
The legend surround the park is a little sad. A woman, set to marry her love in only a short time, was washed off a rock while gathering seaweed. Her lover was not able to save her because a sudden storm. Soon after fish stopped coming to the village. Through some interesting logic they assumed she was angry ‘cause the young lady had never been laid. Fair enough. So they erected (heh) some statues to placate her and fish started returning to the village.
Up until a few years ago there were penis carving competitions but the practice was shut down by religious groups. Boo.
Some friends and I decided we would like to spend one of our first nice Sundays and go on a picnic. We decided on Anseong since it was a central location and a few people said they had already hiked up the mountain and that it was nice. We left early in the afternoon, met in Anseong, descended on a kimbop nara and Seven 11 for snacks and then we were off.
It was a very short hike through the city and up the mountain. The first part was the hardest. It was a steep cobbled slope and I’m lazy so I fell behind first thing. Halfway up the mountain is a nice little Buddhist temple. We stopped and admired it for a few moments, listened to the calming chimes then hiked the short way up the rest of the mountain.
Bibong mountain is apparently famous for it’s hot springs. We didn’t try those out, but there is a lovely pavilion at the very top. We sat there in the late afternoon sun and ate our picnic lunch, drank our picnic beer then, once it got chilly we skipped back down the mountain and headed for some bar food.
Last month sometime we spent a Sunday afternoon at a cat cafe in Pyeongtaek. It was a cutely designed cafe; lots of cat trees and cute beds. They had a decent selection of coffee and teas. There were lots of board games and things to do to while away your afternoon while the cats flee from you in terror.
I won’t even try to explain where this place is because it’s not worth going to it. When we walked in it was packed full of teenage girls. The cats were all hunkered in the dark recesses of cat trees, beds, or up high on shelves. Their ears were back, the tails twitching as each one endured a barrage of teenage girls.
I guess the cats were as good-natured as they could be about it, but as a lifelong cat owner I was a little miffed to see the cats in such a state. The one pictured was terrified of people. Kids would chase him around with toys and he would flee into the tiny hole where they most definitely kept the litter box. (The smell was a bit of an issue as well.)
Eventually the gaggle of girls cleared out and the cats had some breathing room. The cafe girls rounded up the toys and piled them on top of the cat who insisted on sleeping in the toy box. One cat had some energy to play, but the rest were quite content to relax now that they had some quiet.
We made peace with the terrified stumpy one and he hung out at our feet, occasionally swiping at a toy or just hanging out. He even let me pet him. One of the girls who worked at the cafe told me that he was afraid of people, but she didn’t know why. It made me wonder if she’d ever spent much time around cats.
All in all, I’d only ever go here again if I were desperate for some fuzzy attention, but that’s pretty much why I went in the first place.
Jeongdongjin was a small city down the road from Gangneung. We took a 15 minute seaside train and arrived at the drama-famous train station. It was very cold and the wind was biting. We walked down the beach to the giant hourglass. The hourglass is a popular destination for New Years. I didn’t take a picture of it ‘cause I thought it was kind of ugly, but it seemed like a cool bit of machinery none the less. We were going to wander through town back to the train station, but a helpful guy stopped and told us to hop in. He talked with us for a bit and we found out that he worked for a military weapons company and he was a two star general. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. My “Oh cool!” was kind of lame. Haha. I’m awkward at conversation anyway. He drove us to the train station and even gave us a present: a couple of plush towels with his company’s info embroidered on them and a business card with an open invitation to come visit and talk any time.
Once back at the train station we were unsure of what to do. We had only gotten to town a short while ago and we wanted to see the captured North Korean submarine. We got coffee at this excellent and cozy cafe called Sun cafe then took a taxi to the Gangneung Unification Park to see the captured North Korean sub and a decommissioned battle ship. I’d actually toured the inside of the USS Alabama in Mississippi so the battle ship was kind of a fun side quest. The real gem was the terrifying and tiny sub. Tiny might be the wrong word, but I was much too big for the inside with my backpack and generously offered hardhat. There was computers that had been melted to destroy their evidence and word had it that up to 30 people were crammed onto the sub at one time. I can not imagine that. I was relieved to finally climb out of it. We toured the battleship after that. Someone had thoughtfully put a Titanic Jack and Rose cardboard cutout photo-opt on the front of the boat. It was the kind you could stick your head through. It was nice touch. We headed to the bus stop just in time. A helpful lady that knew some English helped us decipher the bus schedule and a man they were with gave us some homemade kimbap. We made it back to Gangneung with a ton of time to spare so we got some soup then ambled over to the bus station. The whole weekend was very relaxing and inexpensive. It was a great place to unwind.
Gangneung was a pleasant town. It’s near the coast of the East Sea and we had heard it had a good reputation for seafood. Seoul’s fun but I needed a weekend that was calm and slow-paced. My husband and I took a bus across the country to the coast, it took about four hours. We got a room at a cute motel then roamed the city. Our first step was to grab the bus downtown. We had a bus number and we were just going to ride around and look at the town but it was the first time we’d had a helpful bus driver in all of Korea and he was very put out that we couldn’t tell him where we wanted to go. We tried to tell him that we were just riding the bus to have a look around but he was insistent that we tell him where we needed to go. We hopped off as soon as we saw a nice sight-seey thing much to our bus driver’s annoyance. Sorry, dude, we generally have no idea what we’re doing but thank you for the help you offered. We wandered into downtown and looked around then we found the market. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen dried manta-ray. I see dried squid and other fishes all the time but this was something new and fun. It looked like alien carcasses drying in the street. We ate dinner at a nice well-being (Korea’s term for health or organic food) sushi place then headed back home to sleep for an early start the next day.
We stayed at a motel named Equus in Gangneun. The room was very nice and comfortable. Clean and classy for such a cheap place to stay- it was only around 50,000원 a night. I got so excited by the chance to take a bath that I totally forgot to photograph the room. The tub could fit two people (more for me!) and was sparkly gold and right as you got off the elevator was a machine to make your evening “exciting”. I did not partake in the cheap goods but it was nice to know I had the option right down the hallway.
One evening in fall we were wandering around Dongdaemun looking for a Russian restaurant. We never found it and it started raining and No one had an umbrella. I ducked under an awning to get warm and turned around and almost peed myself because I thought some creeper was standing behind me, but no. It was just him- the hair dresser of Death.
Last weekend I and a group of friends went to the Hwacheon Sancheoneo (Mount Trout) Ice Festival (얼음나라 화천 산천어축제) I didn’t go fishing but I had mulled wine, rode in an inflatable raft pulled by an over enthusiastic snowmobile driver and drove go-karts on the ice. There were a zillion people out on the frozen river looking bored and fishing or riding around in one of the over decorated horse drawn carriages or ice sledding, or riding ice bikes, or a bunch of other really cool things. There was a ice tunnel and cave under Snow White that lead to the gift shop and there were fake frozen trout in the ice blocks. It was cool to finally get out of the house and the best part was, even though it was an ice festival, the weather was great. I never even got that cold. I played red-rover with Canadians and got stomped and ate mungbean pancakes and had a grand time. I wouldn’t mind going to another one and actually trying ice fishing but with all that other cool stuff to do no one really had the patience to bob a fishing lure up and down trying to catch a yummy looking fish.
Mask making was crammed into the same week as sundaes because of a scheduling error (also known as my one day off for winter holiday, but I digress…) and this time I was allowed to buy the supplies for it. The kids came in early, saw the paper and the glue and scissors then went and found their head teachers to complain. They wanted to cook. Spiffing start to things as always, but the kids took off with it. The TV didn’t work so my powerpoint was just a bunch of ones and zeros sitting on a distant server useless to me. They moved another boy into my class who was getting steam rolled in his grammar class. He sits there and does nothing in his regular class so it was absolutely unsurprising that he sat that and did nothing in this class. I made him make a mask. At the end of class all the students had a mask except I mostly made two of them so this class gets a 5/7.
Note: Just the point out, I’m not going to make a habit of posting pictures of my students. I only posted this one because she’s wearing a mask. Her identity is secret, just like Batman.
The kids are on Winter vacation so that can only mean one thing: more school. Just as in the summer the school told me at the last minute that I had to prepare another 5 weeks of cooking and art classes, heavy emphasis on the cooking. I wracked my brains until my husband mentioned ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream so I created a lesson on the questionable history and consumption of ice cream sundaes and bonus discussion of desserts complete with sundae coloring sheet. I put together a list of easy ingredients I had seen in the grocery and gave them to my boss for purchase.
Monday morning rolls around and I get there an hour early. There is a box of cookies and some sprinkles. I sigh, crush up the cookies, peel a mandarin to use as a cherry substitute and start to prepare my class. My boss then rushes in with this huge box of pretty glass bowls. Be careful, she cries as she hands them too me, upping the stress of my already hectic morning to suddenly unreasonable levels. I’m several minutes late to my class because I’m washing the pretty bowls. A few minutes later the ice cream magically appears via grocery run. Okay, I start class with my pretty pink PowerPoint presentation full of sundaes and desserts. The class is silent. Only one student will talk and that’s only in a constant stream of Korean. I sit there, staring them down one by one. They only answer no to questions like, “Do you like cake?” or I don’t know to questions like, “What is your favorite dessert?” Class is going terribly, but I persevere. Finally, it’s time for the final project. The sundae bar. The students come up one by one to make the sundaes, I make them speak English and everyone is happy until the last boy, the one who won’t speak English. He won’t make a sundae, he just stands there, makes a mess then sits down and watches it melt. I guess 4/5 satisfied customers is good enough. At least we have nice pictures of the kids eating ice cream to show the parents.
Last Saturday we went to Suwon’s Toilet Museum. Or, Mr. Toilet House. Mr. Toilet was a man dedicated to sanitation and toilet culture. He first declared that the public toilets of Suwon would be the finest in the world for the 2002 World Cup then he took his act global improving public toilet facilities all around the world and started the World Toilet Association.
He built his toilet shaped house to show off his philosophy and after his death the city made it into a cool museum. It’s a really cool house and a neat insight into the life of a truly dedicated person.
It was snowing in Pyeongtaek and I, being contrary, hate having any contact with snow so we ducked inside this obnoxiously cute cupcake shop called Pink Cupcake. Strangely enough there were only men inside haggling over a cell-phone which they also sold in a small case off to the side. The interior was pretty sparse and bright white and soft pinks. There were fuzzy pink chair cushions cute cat knickknacks on the tables and a large display case full of pretty cupcakes in semi-unusual flavors. I got tiramisu and Cody got pink velvet. They had mint chocolate, lemon, blueberry, and a few others. They served our coffee in cupcake cups with ceramic frosting lids and the cupcakes with cute wooden forks. We sat and watched the snow and ate our cupcakes.
It’s a crying shame that the cupcakes were just absolutely awful.