My boyfriend and I hopped a bus down to the port of Mokpo in Western Korea for the holiday weekend. We hoped to hike and explore the Western islands a bit. Because he is thoughtful, my boyfriend downloaded several episodes of my currrent obsession, HBO's "The Wire" to watch on our bus rides. (Beyond the fact that it is in English, hooray,the contrast between the gritty realism of "The Wire" and the games shows, talent contests, and melodramtic evening soap operas on Korean TV make it seem like a miracle in broadcasting! Plus, Lester Freamon just rocks!) We arrived in Mokpo and easily caught the local bus to our harbor-side motel. The older woman working at the many fish markets and restaurants all smiled up as Steve, tall and pale, walked past. Skate fish is the local speciality. Ew! Dried skate carcasses and skate skins, in the process of drying, surrounded us on all sides. Marine product twon, as one street billed itself, smelled suspiciously of fish guts! Can you say pungent?!
On Lunar New Year day, we hiked Yudal mountain. It is a Korean tradition to awake very early and climb the mountain in the dark to see the first sunrise of the new year from the summit (or some pragmatists, and drunks, just stay up all night drinking soju, and use the climb to sober up! :) ).
As we hiked that afternoon, we reached a lovely view of the bay beyond. Many mountains in Korea offer outside gyms, and this time we actually stopped to try a few of the excercise machines. We reached a rocky peak and saw the carvings of Buddha in the mountain side. Smart officials hung lights below the carvings and imposing peak, to give the mountain a special glow in the night sky. We also found a pretty botanical garden with winding paths of various types of matked plants. There were two latge green houses, public, open and ungaurded. That would never last in the USA-sadly-a pretty greenhouse left open for families to enjoy would surely be vandalised! One greenhouse boasted many orchid plants, a local specialty. In the springtime they will look gorgeous.
The next day we took the ferry out to the island of Heuksando to explorea and hike. At least, we thought we we'd boarded a ferry, when actually we'd stepped onto the HMS Vommit! At first I was very proud, thinking my Coastie father would be excited by all the nautocal terms I was exchanging with my beau, the naval afficianado. I even learned the "Six Degrees of Freedon" pitch, roll, etc....But pitch was the on ethat stuck in my head. Why, you ask? Because, boy, did that ferry start to pitch one we hit opne water. The boat shifted in a crazy-up-down cycle-updown-updown-and we were among the many to fall vistime to the vertical motion. The ride bore a strange resemblance to the pie-eating contest scene in the film Stand By Me.
After we landed, and eventually recovered, we did take a nice hike up a peak on the a spur branching off to one side of the island. I let Steve, with his boyscout skills, leadthe way and just enjoyed the sunshine and the views of the rocky coast. We did veer of course at one point and met up with some mellow cows, but they didn't mind us so we didn't mind them! Later, as we'd lost some time,we took a taxi to a stone pagoda promoted in the tourist materials. Near it there was a small stone peak adorned with some arrangements of shamanist stones. We climbed to the top and saw striking views of the other side of the island. Unfortunatley, they had piped in a looped CD playing the folk song "Heuksando Lady" over and over gain. While certainly appropriate for the location, the song grates on you after a while! I prefer to enjoy my nature without the soundtrack, thanks! By that point we didn't really have time to take a tour of some of the isalnds other scenic spots before sundown, but that was ok by me. The tours were expensive and I prefer not to be rushed from sight to sight and told where to take pictures! Saturday night on the island was quiet except for the one Hoff, whioch reminded me a bit of Cape Ann, Mass. bars. There were a few nice groups in there behaving fine, but there was also a young guy, dressed in casual clothes, looking of the right age and behvaior to be a local fisherman. He drank so much soju he couldn't find the stairs to go outside and throw up! Maybe a sleepy fishing town in the winter is a sleepy fishing town in the winter, no matter where you are! :)
The next day we returned to the mainland via the scary ferry. Luckily we'd taken some medicine and prepared. The trip was much better, a sleepy one, on allergy medicine! :) After a filling lunch we visited the National Maritime Museum of Korea.
(www.seamuse.go.kr). It was interesting to see the example of the Goreyo ship, found off Wando. This Wando Ship is one of the oldest Korean ships ever found. Traditional ceramics and ancient artifacts like bone dice were found on board. The shipwreck of a large Chinese trading ship was also particulary impressive. It is dubbed the Shinan ship due to the location of it's wreck. They even found a crate of black pepper on board that was mostly intact. It is a small museum but worth a visit. Steve and I were a big hit there and many people said hellow. One man stopped me to ask me several questions about myself and "your husband" (meaning Steve), and what we thought about Mokpo and Korean ships. he was very friendly in his own exceedingly direct way. In general, I found Mokpo and the islands a nice change of pace.
The bus ride home at the end of a holiday weekend wasn't as as I'd feared. Seoul traffic didn't live up to the hype, for once. Plus Steve and I were happy and did get to share one more episode of my favorite tv show on his Ipod.
I returned home to a bit of a problem, though. The electric lock on my door finally died. It has been sticking on and off for a month now, but when I told my rental office staff it was broken they just said it needed new batteries on the isnide of the lock. So, I bought all new batteries, and it still stuck, and STILL they said, "batteries" as ifd the silly foreign girl just didn't understand. Well, finally it stuck so hard the building door man couldn't open it after many tries, and we were forced to bring in a locksmith. I almost feel vindicated, I tried and tried to tell them it was broken. I almost feel vindicated. Then I feel concerned. The next question is: who is going to PAY THE BILL for the expensive new lock-me or the school?
We shall see...
p.s.-To check out my obsession, The Wire, check HBO show times or go to http://www.hbo.com/thewire.