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:

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