Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lunch With Brother - Saturday, April 17, 2010

We got the news late yesterday that Ok Hwa's big brother would be visiting today. He was due to arrive on a train from somewhere at 13:45. It would be a short visit because he's very busy. He's the busiest guy I know, and I don't even know him.

We caught the 10:00 bus into town, and made our way over to Gangneung Station. I've never been to the Station before. It's a small, but very nice train station. There is a Tourist Information booth out front, where I picked up some more brochures in English. In 2001, during my first trip to Korea, we stayed in a hotel about one block from this train station. Back then, we arrived by bus, and so never had an opportunity to visit the train station.

Since we had about two and a half hours to wait, I suggested that we find a coffee shop nearby, to have a cup and a comfortable place to rest. Right out front, there was a little street of small hotels, where we found a second story coffee shop overlooking the train station. This was an old place, not one of the trendy new coffee shops. It was very nice, though, with low coffee tables and big upholstered couches. We settled into a couch by the front window so that Ok Hwa could keep an eye out for her brother. The coffee was 2,000 wan a cup, about a dollar-ninety American. We ordered a cup each, and then later I ordered another. The coffee was not bad, although I suspect it was instant.

After we killed as much time in there as we could stand, we hit the streets for a stroll around. We still had about an hour and twenty minutes to wait. We headed down this little street of small hotels, and it all looked familiar to me. When we got to the end of the block, we saw our old hotel that we'd stayed at in 2001. It's a six story building, and now I remembered taking a picture of this little street from the roof of the hotel. I also remember seeing all the trains coming and going over in the switching yard at the station.

This whole area, for blocks around, is filled with small and medium-sized hotels. It's a remnant from the days when most people traveled by train. There are still plenty of people coming and going by train, but the bus system has overtaken most travel nowadays. The inflexible train system can't compete with the speed, number, and versatility of the buses. Plus, the Koreans have been building and re-building their highway system non-stop. The Express Bus Terminal is about a mile to the west of here, and there are a number of nice, new, more expensive hotels over there.

We made our way back over to the Station, and just settled in for the wait. We still had almost an hour to wait. We watched a couple of trains pull in. All the disembarking passengers poured out through the Station to the parking lot out front. There, they were met by waiting friends and relatives, and quite a few of them got onto several tour buses that were waiting for them there. Gangneung, and this whole upper east coast area, are a popular tourist destination. Many people come here in the summer for the beaches, but it's a little cold for that right now. Even this early in the year, though, there are lots of great things to see and do around here. The cherry trees are starting to come into bloom now, there is the whole Gyeongpo area, which is a tourist Mecca, and there are two national parks in the mountains close by. So, it was a beautiful Saturday morning, and many people were out to enjoy it.

The 13:45 train finally arrived, and the passengers began streaming through the station. We were standing just outside the front doors, keeping a lookout for Big Brother. Finally, near the end of the line, here he came. I recognized him before Ok Hwa did. She was still looking past him, towards the last few people when he came right up to her and playfully tapped her on the nose. She was so surprised! She did not recognize him at first. It's been years since she's seen him, and he's gotten older. She was still looking for that thirty year old guy she remembered from her youth. He's fifty-six now, the same age as me, and looks it. His hairline has receded a bit, he's wearing glasses, and the years of smoking have taken a toll on his facial complexion. Still and all, he looks pretty good. He was dressed to perfection, in a nice dark gray suit, a black cashmere sweater in lieu of a dress shirt and tie, and very nice black dress shoes. He looked like he was ready to do some business, but he never did say what kind. To me, he's an International Man of Mystery.

We decided to get some lunch, and began walking over into the downtown area. A few blocks over, we settled on a restaurant, and went on in. This was a traditional, take your shoes off, sit on the raised floor type of restaurant. We sat down, and Brother ordered beef soup for all of us. He and Ok Hwa began catching up then, and I was not able to follow most of the conversation. Brother knows some sign language, of course, having three deaf siblings. As usual, Ok Hwa was talking almost non-stop. She was trying to tell him everything she has done, seen, heard, thought, or felt since she saw him last, all in about five minutes flat. He was laughing, trying to tell her to slow down a bit, but there wasn't much chance of that.

The food came then, giving us a break from her non-stop chatter.The food was quite good. When we were done eating, we lounged there on the floor, talking some more.

Back on the street, Brother led the way, as we continued walking away from the train station. I did not know what time he had to leave, and didn't know how to ask, so I just followed along. The two of them were talking, and Ok Hwa got out of him that he was going in search of his wife's old house. Although the brothers and their spouses all live over in Seoul now, this is their old home town. He must have first met her and dated her here, before moving to the big city. Ok Hwa also found out from him that he and the wife are no longer toghther. I think she just got tired of his International Man of Mystery routine, and gave him the boot. He must be missing her. I would. She's a beautiful, charming, hard working woman. So, a little bit of nostalgia for Brother, since he was in the area. Why not go by the old house and think back on those golden days when they first met, when everything was magic? A few blocks later we found the place, a modest, but nice little house. It's just a couple of blocks off the main drag, tucked in between some office towers and a few medium sized hotels. Gangneung City is like that, with little single family houses, or even blocks of them, scattered throughout the high-rise urban jungle.

We went back out to the main drag, and stopped by the Dragon Pond Monument there. It is a small pond with a monument and house in the middle of it. It honors an old legend of a good man and his horse. The horse supposedly jumped into the pond and became a dragon. It forms a nice small park, giving a break from the urban concrete and steel.

We said our good-byes to Big Brother there by the Dragon Pond Monument. He was headed back over to the train station. International Men of Mystery have tight schedules, apparently. Ok Hwa and I were giong to do a little shopping before heading home.

On the way back up the main drag toward the Jungang Market, I stopped to take a picture of a large, beautiful Cherry Blossom tree in full bloom. It was in the courtyard of what looked like a school, behind a stone wall. I was shooting the picture from the sidewalk, through the railing at the top of the wall. Some young high school aged girls were just then walking through the gate into the school yard. They were all dressed for school, in matching plaid skirts, white blouses, and sweaters. I thought this was odd, it being a Saturday, and all. It seems that Asian kids take school much more seriously than we do. Anyhow, a group of eight or nine of these girls saw me and asked me, in perfect English, if I liked their tree, and would I like to take a better picture of it from inside the wall. When I asked if it was allowed, they said sure, no problem, come on in. They were very friendly and inviting, so we followed them on in. They were keen to know where I was from and what brought me to Gangneung. I introduced them to Ok Hwa, telling them that she was my wife and that we were here visiting her family. They seemed amazed by that. There were many questions back and forth, and they seemed in no hurry to get into the building. They were clearly enjoying our little visit, as were we. I asked them to pose in front of the Cherry Blossom tree, and they were very happy to do so. When I complimented them on their excellent English, they said that they had a great English teacher here at the school, and he's American! They seemed to take great pride in that. What a great group of young ladies. Gives me hope for the future to have met them. We said our good-byes and Ok Hwa and I headed on down the street.

Over by the Home Plus building, we were stopped at the intersection waiting for the light to change. We spied, across the street, a young American looking couple. As their light changed and they started coming across toward us, we ducked into a little convenience store there on the corner. A moment later, they followed us in, and we struck up a conversation. They looked to be about thirty years old, and were both very attractive and friendly. They said they were from Canada, and that they lived here in Korea, working as English teachers in a private academy. They said it was a pretty lucrative business to be in here. When I asked whether one needed to know much Korean in order to teach English here, they said no, not really. Well, what a deal! If I ever need to start a new career, I'll know what to do. They asked what we were doing here, and I told them about this being Ok Hwa's home town, and all. It turns out that they and I were fans of a lot of the same music artists, and we talked about the music scene in Canada and Texas for a while. We were getting along famously there in the little store, and I would have liked to talk with them a lot more. This was only the second time I've had anyone to talk with since we got here. I should have gotten their name and phone number, but I didn't want to appear too forward. We said so long, and Ok Hwa and I continued on the the Jungang.

In the market, Ok Hwa was still trying to find the perfect hand bag, or back pack or something, for her mom. She never did find anything she liked, though, and eventually gave up the search. Thank goodness.

On the way home, our timing was off again. We had another forty-five minute wait for the bus to come along. This business is getting old. I talked her into going for a stroll around the area, to kill some time until the bus arrived.

Finally done with our day in town, we arrived back at the house to find Ma and Pa waiting for us on the little front porch. It seems that they are looking forward to our arrival each day, now. I guess it's nice to have something, or someone, to break up the normal routine.

Here's the link to today's slide show:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Return Of Mrs. Kim - Friday, April 16, 2010

We had no plans for the day, and so spent a lazy morning around the house. Ok Hwa wasn't going anywhere util her mom got home. I was getting restless, and so at 11:00 I took my cameras and headed out.

I started walking down this new road which cuts across the valley, north to south. I saw on the map that a little ways down it crosses the expressway that leads back to Seoul. Also, the map shows that pretty close to this intersection there is the Tomb of King Myeongjugun. That seemed like it might be interesting. It's not a very detailed map, so I wasn't sure exactly where this place would be. It was uphill all the way to the expressway, about five or six kilometers. I never did see a king's tomb, or a sign indicating one. It turned out to be a pretty boring walk, but good exercise.

I made it back to the house in just about two hours. Mrs. Kim still had not arrived, but Ok Hwa said that she'd called and would be here about 14:00. That gave me time for a nap. A short while later I was awakened by the arrival of Mrs. Kim herself.

It was all talk and excitement when she arrived. The old guy does not talk or do much while she's gone, but when she's here he becomes, at least, partially animated. They talk a lot between themselves, sometimes late into the night. Ok Hwa was, as usual, chattering non-stop. Mrs. Kim returned with her little back pack completely filled with foodstuffs. There was Kimchi, fresh meat, vegetables, and spices. It must have weighed thirty pounds. I do not know how she carried it. Her walking is uncertain, even without a load. She was in great spirits, as usual, always commanding whatever situation she's in.

Lunch was quickly prepared, and we set down to a great meal of spicy noodle soup, fresh Kimchi, and all the usual Korean side dishes. After lunch Mrs. Kim and the old guy retired to the front room to watch TV, talk and take a nap. I wasted no time returning to the futon for my afternoon nap, also. Ok Hwa was left to clean up the dishes, and put away the food. I always ask if I can help, but she's perfectly content to do the kitchen work. It's the same way when we're at home. The kitchen is her domain, and she'd rather I stayed out of her way. What a gal!

After an hour or so, she woke me to say she was bored and wanted to go into town, I got up and got ready, and we waited on the porch for the 15:50 bus to arrive.

In town we got off the bus a few blocks before our usual stop. There is what looks to be a large historical house which occupies about a half a city block just before the intersection with the main drag. This house sits up behind a large ornate wall, and from the bus you can see over the wall into the compound. I've been fascinated with it for a long time, and today I decided we'd try to get a closer look.

The place is called Imnyeonggwan, Historic Site #388. It is not a house, but a series of government buildings from centuries ago. It is, indeed, open for tours at no cost. Most of the buildings have survived intact from their beginning, but a few of them were damaged or destroyed during the Japanese occupation of the early 1900s. These damaged or destroyed buildings have been re-built, and the rest restored.

The buildings are all very beautiful, and the grounds are a peaceful oasis in the center of the city. We strolled around at our leisure, taking pictures and admiring the beautiful architecture and setting.

After leaving Imnyeonggwan, we walked over to the Jungang Market, a few blocks away. We always end up there. It just draws us in. We wandered the many small lanes and alleys, window shopping and making a few purchases. I found a couple of nice small baskets to add to my collection back home. She was searching for a new purse for her mom, but I finally talked her out of that idea. It was turning cold again, and I had not brought my jacket. I wanted to find a coffee shop so we could get in out of the cold, and drink some warm coffee. We ended up at the Dunkin' Donuts out on the main drag. We sat in there warming up, and watching the passers by out on the street. After drinking our coffee, we bought a six-pack (of donuts) to go. We headed over to the bus stop and caught the 18:30 back to Sacheon Valley.

As we arrived home, Mrs. Kim was looking out the front door to see if we got off the bus. This made Ok Hwa so happy, to see that her Mom was waiting by the door, and happy to have her back home. That girl sure loves her Mama.

We had another great Korean dinner, this time featuring beef and Kimchi stew.

Today was the first day since we've been here that it almost felt warm outside. I don't think it's been above 50 degrees Fahrenheit since we got here. Today it got up to maybe 55 degrees. It felt good while I was out on my walk earlier in the day, but once we got in town late in the afternoon, and the wind picked up, I was really feeling the chill. We've been looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms spring out, but they haven't yet. It's been too cold. There are a very few scattered trees around town that are starting to bloom, but most of them are holding back, waiting for warmer weather. We were here last year during this same time, April 6 through about the twentieth. It was much warmer then, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Every flowering plant was in full bloom. It was amazing to see. We've got almost another week before we depart, and we're still hopeful of seeing the cherry blossoms before we leave.

Here is the link to today's pictures:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Expensive Lunch - Thursday, April 15, 2010

Late last night we got a teaser of good news. Mrs. Kim was headed back up to her sister's mountain cottage in the morning, to do some more work. She wanted us to come along for the ride. This is the chance I've been waiting for. First of all, it involves a train ride, second it was something new for me to see, and third it was an old traditional Korean house, very authentic and rustic. It ought to make for some great pictures or video. We were to go in the morning and return that afternoon, a day trip.

This morning when we got up, I was excited about leaving on our little trip, when Ok Hwa informed me that Mrs. Kim had changed her mind. She wanted to make the trip on her own, and she was spending the night, too. Oh, well, maybe next time.

After Mrs. Kim left on the ten o'clock bus, we had a lazy morning here at the house. After a couple of hours boredom set in, and we decided to go into town. We caught the twelve o'clock bus with no clear objective except lunch.

In town, Ok Hwa wanted Bi Bim Bab, of course, but I talked her into having hamburgers instead. We went over to the Home Plus building, and up to the sixth floor Cine Mall. There, we settled on Kraze Burgers, an upscale burger joint. The burgers were seven to ten dollars each, fries for two-fifty, a green salad for seven-fifty, and a couple of Cokes for two-fifty each. I don't know what came over me, ordering all this food, and at these prices, too. The food was good, though. The burgers were very tasty, but had a sauce, "Kraze Sauce", that was a little different. The fries were excellent, and so was the salad, although it had some more of that "Kraze Sauce" on it. The tab was 36,000 wan, about thirty-four dollars American. An expensive experiment in Korean fine dining that we will not be repeating.

Back on the streets we headed over to the Jungang Market to see what we could see. We are always drawn to this place. It's just such a visceral experience to stroll those bustling byways. It's like street culture on steroids.

We ended up over at the D/C dollar store again. The guy at the check-out counter recognizes us by now, and gives a courteous bow and a friendly "Anyasao" greeting as we come in. She needed some laundry soap, or something like that for the house, but always manages to find some pretty little thing for herself, also. This time it was a nice little hair stick, with a pretty little jeweled fob hanging off the end. Very becoming. I was surveying some future purchases I wanted to make, to take home for gifts. They have some pretty cool things there that some young people I know might like.

Heading back through the Jungang Market to our bus stop, we picked up a few vegetables for dinner, and she found a nice pair of those pajama-style house pants like she got for her mom the other day. They have an elastic waist and are gathered at the ankle by more elastic, but are loose and flowing in between. They look like comfy, modern harem pants.

At the bus stop our timing was right. We caught the 308 at 4:08, and were on our way back home. It was a bit crowded, and I had to stand most of the way. About half way out to the valley, an ancient, but elegant woman got on the bus. She looked to be about one hundred years old, but was in excellent shape. She was slender, tall, and strait, without that osteoporosis curved back you see on so many of the older women here. She was simply, but sharply dressed, too. She wore a pretty pink jacket with embroidered design, light colored tweed slacks, and city shoes with flat heels. She topped it off with a nice wool cap with a short brim. A very well put together woman. Her face was beautiful, also. I can imagine she broke many a man's heart in her younger days. When she got on the bus, everyone stepped back to make way for her, and several of the older ladies who were sitting got up out of their seats and offered them to her. I've never seen that happen before. She chose one of the offered seats and alighted with perfect dignity and grace, without any arrogance at all. I was in awe of her, and kept stealing glances toward her as we rode along. She sat perfectly composed, seeming oblivious to all around her. About half way up the Sacheon Valley road, she got off and headed up one of the little lanes toward some houses in the distance, queen of all she beheld.
A short slide show of Kraze Burgers, and the D/C Store:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yongyeon Buddhist Temple - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We had no plans for the day, and nothing came to mind right away, so we were just hanging around waiting for Mrs. Kim to get back from her trip. We didn't expect her 'til late in the afternoon, so we decided to spend the day at home for a change.

I had time to kill, so I decided to head out for a walk. It dawned on me that I could make that hike back up to the temple, and make the video I'd planned.

I got my stuff together and headed out the door at 09:45. I told her that I'd probably be gone about two hours. I started walking, making fifteen to twenty second video segments every now and then. As I went along, I found more and more interesting things along the side of the road to include in the video. I knew I'd have to self edit some as I went along, or else I'd end up with way too much, and the video would run too long. What I do in the editing is string all these little video clips together in Movie Maker. Then I put a fade transition between each clip, fade in from black at the beginning, fade out to black at the end, titles and credits, and it all comes out looking pretty slick. I knew I'd be able to add or delete segments in the final editing to adjust the length, but I didn't want to leave a lot on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

So, the hike went pretty much as I'd imagined it. There was not any traffic, and I make pretty good time up to the temple. Once, a small private bus passed me heading up to somewhere.

Up at the temple I got lucky. The small bus that had passed me was parked over behind one of the buildings, and all the passengers were up in the main temple building chanting. I could hear one of the monks in there with his hollow wooden bell and mallet, keeping time. This would lend a bit of authentic soundtrack to the video. Aside from those people in the temple, I pretty much had the place to myself. I was up by the main temple building filming the large bell in it's separate pagoda when two ladies came out of one of the buildings down in the lower level courtyard. They were carrying what looked like covered rice bowls high above their heads. They came up the stairs to the main temple and carried the bowls inside. I got a few more video segments by the temple building, bell pagoda, and in the courtyard below, and figured my job was done.

I started back down the hill feeling pretty satisfied, and just savoring the walk through this beautiful countryside. The sun had finally come out after several days of overcast. It was a beautiful day, and was really the first day that felt like spring since we'd gotten here. There was a cool breeze coming out of the north-east, but the sun on my shoulders, and the exertion of the hike were keeping me warm.

Back down by the lake I was admiring the set of monuments by the side of the road, when I noticed that there were not any burial mounds with them. There are usually burial mounds nearby the monuments. Then I noticed again the small, steep, winding, but paved road heading up the hillside. I'd noticed this road when I'd come up here before, and wondered where it lead. All the other roads leading to hillside burial sites were unpaved, so this one intrigued me. I know I'd promised her two hours, but I just could not resist.

This little concrete road was steep! It had those grooves in the concrete to give added traction to car tires, too. Well, I huffed and puffed up this little gut buster for about a quarter mile, 'til it leveled off at a little parking area. There were stone staircases leading up each of the two hills flanking this parking area.

Looking up the staircase to the right I saw stone monuments and earthen mounds, and realized that I had found another burial site. I headed up there to check it out, and discovered the most elaborate burial site I've seen. This was a two level site with stone retaining walls and lots of granite statuary. There was rectangular stonework around each of the mounds, one on each level. This is the first time I'd seen human figures represented in the stonework. At the bottom level there was a stone statue of a woman on each side of the mound. I climbed up to the uphill mound and there was a stone statue of a man on each side of the mound, as well as other statuary. It occurred to me then that these must me husband and wife burial sites, with the wife in the subservient, downhill position, and the husband in the dominant, uphill position. It all made perfect sense now. These people must have had some money. At most of the other burial sites I've seen, there are several mounds on each level. At this one there were just the two levels, and one mound each, with lots of expensive granite statuary. The stone monuments down by the lake, and the paved concrete road all added up now. These must have been important people indeed.

I went back down to the parking lot and up the staircase on the other side. It was pretty much the same over there. Something about this second site was more comfortable to me, though. The setting was more pleasing somehow, something to do with the landscape, the trees, and the rocks. As a place to spend eternity, you couldn't ask for much more. There was the same two level layout, with the female statues on the lower level, and the male statues on the upper level. There were stone lions by the upper burial mound also, giving it a regal touch. I had never seen stone lions at a Korean burial site before.

After making pictures from every angle I could imagine, I headed on back down the hill. I was hiking for home in earnest now, as I knew I'd been gone longer than two hours. Back at the house I pulled off my shoes and went in and checked the time. It was 12:30. I'd been gone for two hours and forty-five minutes. A mighty fine outing.

Mrs. Kim arrived about twenty minutes later, and all was chatter and activity. She was tired from her trip, but set about working in the kitchen right away. Ok Hwa was right by her side, helping her and talking non-stop. That woman loves her mother and enjoys being around her more than any woman I've ever seen. Ok Hwa can be as hard as nails to the world at large, and to me sometimes, but around her mother she's still the loving, obedient little girl she must have been years ago. It's pretty heart-warming to see it.

I took a nap while they prepared lunch, and then after lunch, Ok Hwa and I headed into town. We went back over to the Jungang Market browsing for veggies, then hit the D/C dollar store for a couple of items. Last on the shopping list was the Home Plus store. I wanted to see if they sell alcoholic beverages, and they do. They had a pretty good Scotch section, but, alas, no single malt. I settled for a 50 cl. bottle of Chivas for 28,000 wan, about what you'd pay for it in the States. They also had a good selection of beer. Along with all the Korean beers, there were four or five Australian beers I've never seen before, plus Heineken, Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, and Corona. Back over in the liquor section, they stock Jose' Cuervo Gold Tequila, and Kahlua coffee liqueur. Not bad.

We'd had the presence of mind to check the bus schedule before going into the Home Plus store. This way we knew to stay in the warm store 'til five minutes before the bus was due. Outside, the clouds had rolled back in, the temperature had dropped, and the wind had picked back up out of the north-east, making it feel like winter again.

Here's the slide show of pics from the burial sites:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gangneung Unification Park and New Friends - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We finally found the battleship, and boy, is it something.

We met the bus here by the house at 08:50, and he sure doesn't wait around for anything at that time of morning. He just turns around, picks up what passengers that are waiting, and immediately heads back to town.

I made a short video of the ride back down the valley and into town. It turned out better than I expected. We got off where we did yesterday, and waited for the 111,112, or 113 bus to come along. After about twenty minutes the 113 came along around 09:40, and we climbed aboard.

The 113 only takes a couple of neighborhood detours before heading out of town. After turning south of the main drag, it's only about three blocks 'til we cross the Namdaecheon River. This is the largest river in the region, and flows right through town. I've never been across the river into South Gangneung before. There's not much of the city south of the river, though. After a couple of kilometers we were out in the country. It's about twenty kilometers down to Gangneung Unification Park. That's the official name of the place where the battleship is. The whole way down there, and the park itself, are within the city limits of Gangneung City. We passed a lot of pretty countryside and farms along the way. The further south you go from town, the closer the mountains come down to the coast.

The sun had come out this morning, lifting our spirits, but it was cold, and very windy. When we exited the bus at the battleship, it was downright uncomfortable. The wind was coming hard out of the north-northwest off the sea, and it was hard to stand outside for very long. The battleship was an awesome sight, though, sitting there huge as can be, completely out of the water on dry land. The submarine was about a hundred yards north of the battleship, looking very small by comparison.

We were having a very hard time of it out in the cold wind, so we ducked into a little snack bar there, for a coffee and a break from the wind. After our coffee, we put on a brave face and headed back out. I was dying to get on that ship, but I figured I'd tour the sub right quick, and get that out of the way. Then I could really savor the big ship, taking it all in at my own pace.

There is a sign by the ship with this information:
"Unification Park
"First of all, thank you for visiting this Unification Park in Gangneung. We want to inform you about the Unification Park.
"The Purpose - The center was made so that people may understand about the infiltration of the North Korean submarine on September 18, 1996. It also helps to foster a desire for the unifying of the North and South, so the submarine and the retired warship are on display at the original infiltration spot.
"Jeon Buk Ham (Dark Destroyer 916) - Length: 118 m, Width: 12.5 m, Weight: 3471 tons, Speed: 32 knots, The Full Capacity: 280 people. The ship was made in the USA in 1944. The ROK Navy used this ship for 27 years, from 1972 until 1999. The ship was retired in 1999. The ship was used in the Second World War, The Korean War, and The Gulf War. The ship is the only warship in the world which is displayed on land. The ship was pulled out of the water by a 1500 ton and a 1800 ton floating crane. The ship is the height of a three story building with a one story basement. There are seventeen of the twenty-nine rooms available to be seen.
"North Korean Submarine Exhibition - In September 1996, twenty-five Red guerrilla infiltrated into the land of South Korea by means of the submarine, which was soon found. The incident was a great shock to us, and incurred our wrath. The submarine was salvaged by the Navy, and is now on display at the original infiltration spot. Size: Length: 35 m, Width: 3.5 m, Height (tower included): 6.7 m, Weight: 325 tons (shark shaped submarine), Speed: 8.8 knots (the maximum speed under the sea), The Full Capacity: 30 people.
"The Curcumstances Of The Case - About 05:00 on September 14, 1996: The Red guerrilla left the submarine base in North Korea for the purpose of spying on South Korean military facilities. At about 20:00 on September 15, 1996: They arrived at the sea right in front of the Anin region of South Korea, and three of them infiltrated into the land while the others were on standby in the submarine. At about 21:00 on September 17, 1996: The leader of the three gave a signal to the colleagues in the submarine, and then ordered them to come closer to the seashore because the waves were so strong. While approaching the seashore it was washed away by the waves, and driven onto the rocks. Eventually they abandoned any attempt to find their way back. At about 23:50 on September 17, 1996: The armed Red bandits set fire to the inside of the submarine in order for destruction of evidence such as confidential information and documents. They escaped from it and fled to Gwaebangsan Mountain. From September 18 to November 5, 1996: Counterespionage operation was in progress for 49 days, and the Red guerrillas were mopped out completely. Counterespionage operation's military achievements and victims: Of the 25 spies, one was captured alive. 13 spies were shot by South Korean soldiers. 11 were murdered by their colleagues. 11 South Korean soldiers died a glorious death. 22 South Korean soldiers were injured. Six South Korean civilians were killed."
A pretty dramatic incident by any one's reckoning.

After reading this account of North Korean treachery, I was anxious to see the inside of the sub. Maybe it would shed some light on their mental state, and on their level of technical expertise. I pulled out my video cam, then crouched and ducked my way through the sub, from one end to the other. Pretty fascinating stuff. Lots of dials, levers, cranks, pipes, conduit, and other mysterious mechanical, electrical, and plumbing apparatus.

Emerging from the other end, the wind hit me hard again as I made my way down the staircase. Spray from the surf crashing on the rocks nearby was giving me a wet, salty sprinkling. At the aft end of the sub is the caved in section of the bottom that hit the rocks. Looking at it, and the rocky coast, it's hard to see how any of them made it out of there alive.

Ok Hwa was back in the snack bar waiting for me, and I was making my way back in that direction from the sub, when an American guy emerged from around another exhibit and said "Hello". I greeted him back enthusiastically, welcoming any chance to have a conversation with someone. It's been a week now since I've really talked with anyone. We hit it off right away, and were exchanging basic information, when Ok Hwa came up. This fellow's name is Jay, and he and his Thai girlfriend were on holiday, also. He is retired from the Navy, and still works for the Defense Department as a teacher on one of the bases down in Daegu. That's in the south-east of the country, about 60 kilometers north of Busan.

They had a car, and invited us to ride along with them. I told him that we had not seen the warship yet. He said not to worry, take as long as you want, and they'd be waiting in the car for us. He also said that it's a destroyer, not a battleship. We spent about twenty minutes touring the ship, then joined them at their car. We ended up spending the rest of the morning and the afternoon with them. They were a great, friendly couple. They were on an excursion up the east coast, and had spent the last two nights up at Gyeongpo, our favorite beach. We headed down the coast road, enjoying the dramatic scenery. After a few kilometers we stopped at Deungmyeongrakgasa Temple, a beautiful Buddhist Temple set in a wooded hollow by the sea. We spent about a half an hour there, looking at everything and taking pictures.

Back on the road, we continued south to the next little town, Jeongdongjin. This is a quaint little seaside village with a beautiful park and an impressive huge hotel on top of one of the hills surrounding the town. It looks like they've somehow managed to pick up a large cruise ship and set it down on top of the hill. Very dramatic. I know it was probably built up there out of concrete and steel like any other building, but it sure looks like a cruise ship, down to the last detail. We got out here and strolled around the park for awhile, then decided to get some lunch. Over in the older part of town, we found a promising looking restaurant, and went in. It was one of the sit-on-the-floor varieties. The food was excellent, though, and only thirty-six thousand for the four of us. That's about thirty-three dollars American.

After lunch we continued south down the coast for a ways, admiring the fantastic scenery. The mountains really do come right down to the sea along through here. We stopped for more pictures by a beautiful cove, then made our way inland, back to the big highway.

We were headed back up to Gangneung via the expressway, and Jay asked where he could drop us. At first we were going to have him take us right out to Mrs. Kim's house, then remembered that we were planning to pick up some Honey Chicken on the way home. We had them drop us off in town, where we said our good-byes. We were reluctant to part, but we had our separate ways to go. Jay was an intelligent conversationalist and a really friendly guy. He and I could have spent a lot of time talking about everything. I've got his card, and will get in touch with him when I get home.

We finally scored the Honey Chicken, but it was not the honey infused chicken like we'd had in Seoul last year. This chicken was good though, real American-style fried chicken. The only problem was that we had to wait about thirty minutes for the 308 to come around to take us home. When we got there, Pop was waiting for our return, lonely without Mrs. Kim. The three of us dove into the chicken, and finished off the ten piece box in one sitting. A little while later Ok Hwa prepared us a regular Korean-style dinner as well. We were all feeling pretty fat and happy as we laid it down for the night.

Click this link for a slide show of today's pictures:

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Search for Honey Chicken and The Battleship - Monday, April 12, 2010

We finally slept in 'till 06:30 this morning. We must be getting acclimated. Mrs. Kim was up and about right away, also. I found out this morning that she will be gone for the next two days. She's going back to her recently deceased sister's house to do some cleaning and organizing. We offered to go along, but she said that it's very rustic, has only one room, and no indoor plumbing or electricity. I can take a hint.

She was dressed and ready to go, with her little back pack by the door, waiting on the bus to come by at 09:00. She heard the bus arrive, and headed out the door to meet it, but the driver did not wait like usual. He quickly turned around and headed back down the road, leaving Mrs. Kim standing in the doorway waiving her arms and yelling. How rude. She had to wait an hour for the next bus to come along.

After she left at 10:00, Ok Hwa and I started getting our stuff ready to go. We had an hour 'till the next bus. I was determined to find that battleship today. We caught the 11:00 bus and headed towards town. We got off a couple kilometers from our usual stop up on the main drag. There is a spot near a big intersection on the north road where I'd seen the elusive Honey Chicken restaurant. The plan was to eat lunch at Honey Chicken, then go in search of the battleship. I'd spotted the Honey Chicken yesterday on the way home. We were stopped at a traffic light where we always have to wait a couple of minutes. The landmark for me was the Robin's Pizza restaurant. The bus always ends up right in front of Robin's while waiting at that red light. The Honey Chicken is just a few doors up.

It was still a bit early for lunch, so we looked into a few shops, then went over to the Family Mart convenience store for coffee. As we stepped out of the store with coffee in hand, we looked up to see that billboard advertising the battleship. It's called the Gangneung Unification Park. The idea of re-unification with North Korea has a lot of currency with a many South Koreans, especially on a government level. The fact that the Gangneung City municipal government has a city park dedicated to it comes as no surprise. Not only is there a battleship, but also a submarine! It was right there in the picture on the billboard. I was hot on the trail again.

We ducked into the Red Cap travel agency, which was right there on the corner. I thought maybe they would know something about it. We were met by the cutest, nicest, most helpful young lady you could imagine. She was not personally familiar with the place, but she set right about trying to find it for us. She looked on her computer, and made a couple of calls, but still could not come up with anything. She apologized profusely, and suggested that we check in with the tourist information people. We thanked her and headed out to have lunch at the Honey Chicken.

When we got to where I'd seen the Honey Chicken, it was closed, with the security door rolled down. It looked different and didn't say Honey Chicken either. I must have been mistaken. Since we were right by Robin's Pizza, we decided to eat there instead. It was noon by now, so we went on in and got a table. Another very cute, nice, helpful young lady met us, and showed us to a table and brought us a menu. She knew a little English, also, and helped us place our order. We got a Robin's Combination and a couple of Cokes. When the pizza came it was beautiful, and very tasty. Really it was and excellent pizza, much better than I had expected. Robin's has a small fleet of distinctive bright green delivery scooters parked out front. The scooters have big matching green pizza carrying boxes on the back to keep the pizzas warm in transit. I bet they do a hell of a business.
Just before our pizza came, that nice young lady from the Red Cap travel agency came in, talking on a cell phone. I figured she was here to pick up some lunch. To my surprise she came over to me, smiled and handed me the phone. I took it and said "Hello" and an English speaking woman answered, and proceeded to tell me exactly how to get to that battleship. She told me to cross the street, find the bus stop there, look on the schedule, and find the 111, 112, or 113 bus. Either one of them would take us to the Unification Park, she said, but the ride would take about an hour. Now, that's just excellent customer service, and I was not even a paying customer of these people. For this young lady to go out of her way to help with our little adventure was simply amazing. She did not expect anything in return, either. It's just the Korean way. Also, this is not a tipping country. If you try to tip someone in a restaurant or coffee shop here, they are really embarrassed and try to give it back. I've given up trying. Refreshingly, anyone involved in customer service in this country actually gives great service. I love this country!
After our lunch, we went over to the bus stop to check on the 111 bus. There is a schedule posted on the wall there showing the times that all the buses stop there. We'd just missed the 111, and the 112 would not be along 'till 14:00. The 113 would not be along 'till 15:30. We were out of luck. We weren't going to take a taxi out there, and we weren't going to wait an hour and a half for a bus, either. I guess we'll try again tomorrow. So early in a day that held such promise, and we'd already struck out on both of our objectives.
We could still go exploring, though, so we started strolling down the street towards the center of town. Right away we came upon a large steep hill on the right, with a beautiful new set of wooden steps leading up to the top. There was a large building up there, and reading the sign, Ok Hwa informed me that it was a library. I always look for a chance to get up to a higher vantage point to take pictures, so up we went. The view from up there was great, and I got some good pictures of the city. Descending down the curved driveway on the other side of the building, we made our way back down to street level.
We continued along the street for a while, taking pictures. Pretty soon we came upon a sign for the Gangneung Art Museum. It was up another high, steep hill to the right. When we got up there, the museum was closed. I should have known. Almost every museum I've ever seen has been closed on Mondays.
Back down on the street, we made it to the next bus stop, and caught the 202 over to the Express Bus Terminal. We hoped that they might have a bus going out to the Unification Park, but they didn't. One of the good things about the Express Bus Terminal, though, is that there is a Tourist Information Office there. There is also a huge 15 x 15 foot Tourist Map of Gangneung City set up by the taxi stand there, and the place names are printed in Korean and in English. How's that for catering to the international traveler? Over at the Tourist Information office, there was a rack outside with a fold up, pocket sized version of that tourist map of Gangneung. This one is in Korean only, but when I inquired inside they gave me the same map in the English version. They were a free hand out, so I picked up a couple of them, and thanked them. We headed into the bus terminal, which is like a mini mall. There are a lot of interesting shops and restaurants in there. I was browsing a book and magazine kiosk, looking for anything in English, when the nice lady working there handed me a beautiful picture book, with English captions. It was the companion book to the free, English version of the tourist information map I'd just picked up. Published by the Gangneung municipal government, it has beautiful photos and excellent descriptions of everything you'd want to see or know about Gangneung City and the surrounding area. I asked how much it cost, and she indicated that it was no charge. Did I say yet that I love this country? Well, I love this city, also!
I was fascinated by this book, and started reading it right away. Ok Hwa interrupted me, reminding me that we should keep moving. We went out and hopped aboard the 202 again, headed for I know not where. I was too busy to care much, reading my new book. After a short distance, Ok Hwa realized that we were headed away from the main drag, so we got off. We were a few blocks away, in an area we'd never been on foot before. We started walking over through unfamiliar territory, towards our comfort zone. I took an immediate liking to this new neighborhood we were in. The little streets held lots of interesting shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and bars. Every now and then, through an opening in the buildings, we could catch a glimpse of the Home Plus building, or our familiar rail overpass, so we knew where we were and where to go. After a few blocks we emerged on the main drag, one block from our Dunkin' Donuts. I made a note of the street we'd come down, for future exploration.
For me the day went downhill fast from this point. Ok Hwa decided that she was done exploring, and wanted to head back over to the Home Plus store to do some shopping, then head home. My mind had been expanding, looking forward to exploring more new territory. She was not to be dissuaded, however, so I was in a funk from this point onward. We got our shopping done without much talking.
One thing I was glad about was that I found what I hope is some decent dark black instant coffee at the Home Plus store. Mrs. Kim keeps on hand what she calls coffee, but it's really an instant coffee-like substance with lots of milk and sugar. Not much for a guy who drinks strong dark roasted black coffee. Short of getting a percolator and ground coffee, this is probably the best I can hope for.
The weather turned colder today, overcast with a cold northwest wind coming off the sea. Our time here this year has been a lot colder than when we were here at the same time last year. I brought a light jacket, but I wish I'd brought something a little heavier. We spent a chilly thirty minutes waiting for the 308 to come around.
The plan for tomorrow is to get up early (easily done), and find that battleship. We spotted the Honey Chicken shop again today on the way home, while stopped at that light. It's just a couple of doors over from where I thought it was. This morning we just didn't go far enough down the block, and missed it. We figure we'll pick up a ten piece box tomorrow on the way home. I hope the old man likes it. I think he needs some cheering up now that Mrs. Kim is away. We all miss her.
Here's the slide show of today's pictures:

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Day At The Beach - Sunday, April 11, 2010

I don't guess jet lag is ever going to be done with us. We awoke at 05:00 again today, but lounged in bed until 06:00. Ma and Pa woke up early, also, just after us, and began their day. I spent a good part of my morning uploading and tagging all the pictures I've been taking over the past few days. We all had an early breakfast, and Ok Hwa and I met the bus at 10:00.

The ride into town was crowded, and I gave up my seat to one of the elderly ladies early on. In town, we stopped by Dunkin' Donuts first for some real coffee and a donut. Next, we went over to this new building building we've been wanting to check out. This place is called "Home Plus" and "Anytime Cine Mall". It's six stories tall, and houses the Home Plus multi-level department store and American style grocery store on the first five floors. The top floor holds the Anytime Cine Mall complex. This is a mini-mall of nice, small restaurants, and a multi-plex movie theatre. This place is all slick and modern, and is very popular with teens and twenty-somethings, and with young families. A large portion of the front wall of the building is taken up by multi-story windows, and just inside these windows are escalators, cris-crossed back and forth, from street level up to the sixth floor. From the street you can see everyone going up and down the escalators, and from inside the building, the view gets loftier as you ascend. These are the most unique escalators I've ever seen. They have no steps, but instead are just long moving ramps, made out of the same type of metal construction as regular escalators. They are longer and less steep than regular escalators, but, they're very cool and functional.

After we'd gotten the lay of the land inside the Home Plus building, we decided to head east through Gangneung 'till we hit the waterfront. Neither of us had ever been over there before, but I was determined to check it out. I had seen a billboard advertising what seemed to be a static battleship display hereabouts somewhere. I figured it would be over at the harbor. Since we were already on the main east-west drag, we got aboard the next east bound bus that came by. It took us straight to the beach, called Anmok Beach. Funny thing is, though, that the city thinned out as we got closer to the beach. The buildings got lower, then fewer, and pretty soon we were in farm fields. This only lasted for a mile or so, 'till we started seeing tall apartment buildings, then the unmistakable sight of beach front high-rise hotel buildings. The last stop on the line was a block from the beach. The driver let us off here, then turned around and headed back into town. At least we knew how to get back, the 503 bus.

We walked over to the beach, and it was pretty much like the Gyeongpo Beach front - the surf, a beautiful beach, and a front street lined with hotels, seafood shops, coffee shops, and bars. There were not any pine trees by the beach here, like up at Gyeongpo. There was not a harbor full of Navy vessels, container shops, and oil tankers either. There was only a small harbor full of small fishing boats. It was formed by two jetties, one going out from the left and curving to the right, and another going out from the right to almost meet the first one. There was a small opening about one hundred yards wide, running perpendicular to the beach, where boats could enter and leave.

This is a nice beach, and you could tell the city had been investing some money into the infrastructure lately. There was a sparkling new public restroom building right by the beach. It had a spiral staircase leading up to an observation deck on the roof. Very nice. There was a new drive down to the small harbor, and the jetties which formed it looked almost new, also. The row of hotels, etc. just behind the beach ended about this point, where there was a beautiful, steep natural hill covered in pine trees just behind the harbor. There was a stone staircase leading up to a park at the top of the hill. We went up and discovered a nice new observation deck and gazebo, lots of benches, and a boardwalk through the trees. We followed the boardwalk to the south end of the hill, where we found an old anti-aircraft gun emplacement, flanked by concrete bunkers. The immobilized gun was still in place, and you could sit in the seat imagining you were defending the homeland from invaders. The view from up there was excellent in all directions. Just south from this hill is where the main river which flows through the town empties into the sea. There is a nice pedestrian bridge over the river at this point, and another beach with hotels, cafes, bars, and seafood restaurants on the other side. The day was cool and windy, and there were a number of windsurfers out in the surf. In the distance we saw a ship of some sort making it's way towards the harbor.

We descended the hill from one of the two other staircases on the south end, and made our way out onto the wide jetty which formed the south end of the harbor. There was a police station by the boat docks on this end of the harbor, and a white lighthouse on the end of the jetty. A red lighthouse was on the end of the other jetty coming around from the north side. We walked out to the end and made some pictures by the lighthouse. Just about this time, that ship we'd seen earlier made it's way into the harbor. It was a large tourist excursion ship, heading back in after a sightseeing tour. We thought we'd go over to the dock and try to get aboard if it went back out. Once we got over there, though, we saw that there were about ten or twelve tour buses parked by where the ship was docked. All the people getting off the ship were climbing into the tour buses. It looked like a package tour, and probably wouldn't be going back out again today. No loss, though. We were ready to move on.

We walked along the front street for a ways, scoping out the restaurants. We weren't in the mood for seafood, though, and that's pretty much all that was there. We decided to head back into town and eat at one of those cute little restaurants we'd seen in the Home Plus building. The wait for the bus was about twenty chilly minutes, but he finally came along.

We got back into town, and went into the Home Plus/Cine Mall building. Up on the sixth floor there was a lot to choose from. Ok Hwa really wanted Bi Bim Bob, and we found a nice little place specializing in just that. I ordered the Bulgogi, a favorite Korean dish for Americans. It's Korean style Bar-B-Q. Bi Bim Bob is a big bowl with a handful each of several kinds of chopped vegetables, a handful of BBQ beef, and a fried egg on top. You add the Korean hot pepper paste, a bowl of rice, mix it all up, and dig in.

After our lunch we headed back over to the Jungang Market to pick up some fresh fruits and a few other things to take back home. Then it was another long, chilly wait for the 308. On the ride home I was on the lookout for some interesting things to do tomorrow. There are a number of places along the route that look worth checking out. Today we got off the beaten path and did a little exploring, and it paid off. I'll try to convince her to go exploring again tomorrow.

A slide show of today's pictures:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Day In Town - Saturday, April 10, 2010

We awoke at 05:30 this morning, hearing the cocks crowing as the window began to lighten up the room. We didn't linger trying to get back to sleep, but got up straight away.

Even though we got up early, we didn't do much with our morning except get breakfast and take our showers. We are on vacation, after all. I had big plans to hike back up to Yongyeon Temple today, making a video of the trip. That plan fell by the wayside. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow. Yesterday evening I found another trail up the mountainside leading to a more extensive system of burial sites. I halfway thought I might make a video of the hike up this trail, also, time permitting. That one will have to wait, too.

We headed out the door to catch the bus at 10:00, and he was waiting for us there at the stop. Being Saturday, the ride into town was a little different than before. There were more young school aged children aboard because they weren't in school. When we got to our usual stop in town, the streets were more crowded than usual, with lots of young people out of school and out on the town.

We had no plan for the day, so we wandered far and wide through the central shopping district. There are a great number of very trendy clothing boutiques there which we'd never seen before. Lots of great clothes, shoes, and accessories at reasonable prices. We also ran across many tailor shops of many sizes, from full size shops to small stalls in the crowded shopping alleyways. One tailor shop we found was a small hut down what looked like a service alley. There was nothing else down this alley except this hut, and when we looked inside there were two women working, and two customers waiting.

One of our best finds was the D/C Store, the Korean equivalent of the dollar store. There was most everything you'd need for your household at super low prices. We picked up a few small essentials for the toiletry kit, and I found a great set of beautiful ceramic sake cups, which will be a gift. I also found some different, more rustic ceramic sake cups that I liked a lot. Those will be coming home with me. Ok Hwa found a beautiful red leather wallet for her mom, as well as a few other small things for herself. We'll probably find our way back to this store a few more times in the near future.

We headed back over to the Jungang Market next. There are more things than food there. There are stalls selling house wares, luggage, hats, socks, scarves, hair clips, and many other things. I picked up several pairs of beautiful multi-colored woven and embroidered house slippers for another gift. Ok Hwa found a great pair of casual pants for her mom for only ten dollars.

We were getting hungry, and went looking for something to eat. There were many little lunch counter stalls in the food market area, selling Korean food. I had in mind something a little more upscale, though. Maybe a nice sit down Korean restaurant, or one of those fried chicken specialty restaurants. What we ended up with, though, was the trendy Lotteria fast food burger chain out on the main avenue. This is similar to, but nicer than the McDonald's that we ate at yesterday. The food was a bit better than the McDonald's, also. The burgers at all these chain burger places in Korea are pretty puny by American standards, though. If someone were to open up a Whataburger over here, and show these folks what a real hamburger is, they'd make a killing. Then again, the obesity rates in America from eating this kind of rich diet are pretty high. I've seen exactly five overweight Koreans on this trip, and out of the many thousands of people we've seen, that is an extremely small percentage. Even for all these trendy western style restaurants in town, I suspect that most Koreans eat a pretty traditional rice and vegetable based diet at home. Also, they lead a more active lifestyle than most Americans do. Not every family here owns a car. There is a lot more walking and bicycling, and even those who ride the bus end up walking a ways on either end of the bus ride. Up here in Sacheon Valley where we're staying, I see a tremendous amount of good old fashioned manual labor being done out in the fields every day. None of it is being done by a lower paid, lower class, immigrant workforce either, but by ordinary home grown Koreans. I'll get off my soap box now.

After lunch and some more window shopping, we headed back towards the bus stop by the railroad overpass. Along the way, we picked up some apples and some strawberries from street vendors. Street vendors are conveniently located almost everywhere along the main avenues downtown. We got lucky at the bus stop, only waiting about five minutes 'till the 308 came along. The ride back home was a bit busy, as there was a lot of traffic out for a Saturday afternoon.

Back at the house, the front door was locked. This meant that both Ma and Pa were out. Mrs. Kim had a doctor's appointment today, and I guess Pa was out visiting friends in the neighborhood. Ok Hwa had a key that Mrs. Kim had given her yesterday, figuring that we might need it. We let ourselves in and started putting away our packages.

A short while later Mrs. Kim showed up. Ok Hwa gave her the gifts she'd bought, and they were well received. Mrs. Kim really liked the pants, and put them right on and wore them the rest of the day. At first she thought the red wallet was too much, and gave it back to Ok Hwa. Ok Hwa was fine with this, because she'd told me earlier that she really wanted the wallet for herself, and would keep it in case her mom didn't like it. She gave it one more try with Mrs. Kim, though, showing her all the many compartments and cool features. Mrs. Kim decided that she really liked it, and would take it after all. Ok Hwa was very happy about this. She has a good heart, and really enjoys doing for others, especially her mom.

A little while later Pa showed up from where ever he'd been. The ladies started making dinner then, and I took a nap 'till dinner was ready. A neighbor had stopped by earlier, dropping off some kimchi, which was on the dinner table when I was called to eat. This kimchi was quite a bit different from Mrs. Kim's. I took one bite and realized that it was not for me. There is a wide variety of styles in the world of kimchi, and lots of individual preferences. I could well imagine that almost every family here has a slightly different way to prepare it. There must be regional differences, also. I like Ok Hwa's best, followed closely by Mrs. Kim's. Is there any wonder?

Click the image below to start a slide show of todays pictures:

A Day In Town