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:


  1. Via Bing Translator, the above reads:
    "Tree unless bloom in the Spring, energetic in Autumn knot" (not?)