Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shotgun Party

On Friday, June 18 I arrived to the studio on KNON Community Radio's "Texas Renegade Radio" show to find my friend and the show's host Mark Mundy spinning his opening tune, "The William Tell Overture" (theme song of "The Lone Ranger" TV Show). It was a fun surprise to find a band in there also, tuning up. The three piece band was Shotgun Party from Austin, Texas. The band members are Jenny Parrott on guitar and vocals, Andrew Austin Petersen on bass fiddle, and Katy Rose Cox on fiddle and vocals. Jenny Parrott also writes all the band's original songs. What a cool group of very good musicians they are. They were in town to play at the Allgood Cafe on Main St. in Deep Elum that night, and had stopped by the station to give our audience a little taste of the live performance.

After the introductions, they launched into Jenny's song "Touched His Heart":

Now, that was fun, but the next song will knock your socks off. It's the classic Harry Woods penned "What A Little Moonlight Can Do", made famous by Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, and others:

Man, that was some wicked fiddling by Katy and Andrew!

They finished up the in-studio set with another song by Jenny, "Paints A Yates":

We went out to the Allgood Cafe later that night to see the full version of the live show. What a fun night of music, along with some great food from the kitchen of the Allgood.

So, there you have it, a handsome and charming group of very talented young musicians, who write good songs, pick great songs to cover, and put on a killer live show - what's not to love?

We also bought a copy of one of their Cd's at the show, "Mean Old Way", pictured above, and it's equally good.

Great, fun music live or via recording, you wont be disappointed. Listen and enjoy!

Here's the links:




Friday, June 11, 2010

The Journey Home - Wednesday & Thursday, April 21 & 22, 2010

On the day we left for home, we were up and ready to go early. Mrs Kim was leaving again, also, heading back to her sister's house for some more work in shutting it down. We were going to catch the 12:00 bus together for the ride into town. As we were heading out, Pa was all smiles and friendly, shaking my hand and bowing. I got the impression that he liked me, or was just happy to see us go. Anyhow, it's always sad leaving and saying good-bye. I was genuinely sad to be leaving. I like these folks a lot, and the valley is a great place to live. I could be comfortable here.

The ride into town was a bit crowded, and Ok Hwa and I, with our suitcases next to us, got a lot of stares. Mrs. Kim sat in the seat in front of me, and as we approached our stop, I leaned up and gave her a hug, saying a parting "Anyhasao" and "Kamshamnida", Hello and Thank You, about the only Korean words I know. She understood, and gave me a smile and a squeeze of the hand in return. Mrs. Kim and I are pals.

So that was it. We hopped off the bus, waving good-bye from the curb, and she was gone.

We were able to flag a taxi pretty quickly. We put our bags into the trunk and climbed inside for the short ride over to the bus terminal. At the terminal we got lucky. The bus to Seoul was just about to depart as we bought our tickets. Within ten minutes we were pulling out, heading up the broad boulevard towards the freeway.

The Koreans have the best roads I've seen anywhere, and the freeways are especially nice. The trip over to Seoul is a comfortable ride through a beautiful countryside. The big mountain range of the Korean peninsula hugs the east coast, so it is a quick, steep ascent as we head out of Gangneung up to the pass, then a long, gradual descent down to the west coast and Seoul. The trip takes about three and a half hours, and is broken in the middle by a fifteen minute stop at a service plaza. There are restaurants, a convenience store, and various food and gift vendors there, and a chance to get out and stretch your legs a bit, and use the restroom.

Pulling into the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal in Seoul, we had two objectives: Check on the Airport Bus for in the morning, and find a hotel. It took us a while to find the Airport Bus. They had moved it from where it was last year. Adjacent to Gangnam Bus Terminal is the sprawling complex called Central City. It is a shopping mall attached to another bus terminal attached to the Hyatt Hotel attached to a subway station. A lot of stuff in one location. Last year we caught the Airport Bus from here, after buying our tickets from a ticket counter here the night before. We tried to do the same now, but were directed out to the street to where the local city buses stop. That seemed odd, but we went on out there and were met by a helpful man on the curb there. He had a small covered bus stop there, and helped co-ordinate people coming and going via the Airport Bus. Speaking very good English, he informed us that the Airport Bus stopped here every fifteen minutes from about six A.M. onward. We were to show up here with fifteen thousand wan each, in correct change, and buy the tickets from the bus driver. This guy was even further helpful by getting us a taxi, and telling the taxi driver where we were going, directing him to the same district of good, medium priced hotels that we stayed in last year. They called it Hotel City last year, and we recognized it when we got over there. It's only about a ten minute ride from the bus stop.

In the Hotel City district, we found our way back to the same hotel we stayed at last year, the Hotel New York. Checking with the desk clerk, we discovered that they had raised the rates by fifty per cent. The same room that cost us fifty last year was now seventy five. I told her "No, Thanks" and we left. There were plenty more hotels nearby. Just down the block we came to the "Luxury, Designer, Boutique" Hotel FL. We got a room here for fifty. This was really a nice hotel. The room was super clean, modern and sleek, with a new desktop computer with broadband Internet, 42" wide screen flat panel HD TV, mood lighting, towels, robes, slippers, etc. Most of these hotels are "Love Hotels", set up for trysts between young lovers. Upon checking in, we were given a small shopping bag filled with stuff, including disposable toothbrushes, tooth paste, razors, body oils, and enough condoms to last us a month. The bathroom was super nice, but still had no shower curtain. The space age toilet had a control panel to operate it. It was all in Korean, so it took me about twenty minutes to figure out how to flush it.

After getting settled in and resting a bit, it was time to go get some dinner. I was very keen on finding that same Chicken & Hoff restaurant from last year. It wasn't hard to find, either, just a block over, and a block up from our hotel. We went in and everything seemed the same, but slightly different. I guessed that maybe it had changed hands, and the new owners had changed the name. It was now called Chicken Biangi. The food was just as good as I remembered. We had two platters of that fantastic honey infused chicken, and went away stuffed.

Exactly as last year, the afternoon and evening we spent in Seoul before our departure for home was a cool and wet one. And also exactly as last year, it was the only time during our trip that we saw any rain. We took our umbrellas with us to dinner, as there were intermittent light showers. I found it to be rather refreshing.

On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at one of the many little convenience stores nearby for drinks and snacks. I picked up a couple of Heineken beers for a nightcap, and some canned coffee and some cookies for breakfast.

Since our hotel had a fast Internet connection, I was able to plug into it and check my e-mail. It's the first time I had been able to get on-line since we got here. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on e-mail, and balancing my check book.

We were up the next morning at six, and showered, packed and out on the street by seven. One block down, and one block over brought us to the main avenue and a taxi ride back over to catch the airport bus. When we got to the bus stop, that same helpful man from the afternoon before was there, helping to make sure that everything went smoothly. He helped us stow our bags in the baggage compartment below, and we got aboard. We purchased our tickets from the driver, as instructed, and got into our seats. The trip out to the airport takes about an hour. It was an overcast and rainy morning, and traffic was heavy on the road out to Incheon.

At the airport everything went smoothly. The line to check in at the Korean Air counter was very long, though. That was the only tough part. We made it through security easily, and on the secure side we made our way down the long corridor to the departure gate. We had about an hour to wait, so I left her there and went in search of a gift shop. There was a very fancy one, featuring exquisite products of Korean arts and culture, but they were somewhat expensive. Around the corner from that one, however, I found a more down to earth shop with some very nice, reasonably priced items. I spent about forty-five dollars in there and came away with three very nice gifts.

I hurried back down that long corridor again, to our departure gate. I knew she would be getting anxious for me to return. There was an excellent snack and coffee shop right at our gate, where I was able to get good fresh coffee and a sandwich for breakfast.

A short while later the call for boarding began. As we headed out the walkway to the aircraft, there was one final security check just before stepping aboard. This one was quite thorough. They wanted to actually look inside every one's carry on bags. Finally aboard, there was one final hurdle, the jostling for space in the overhead bins. We settled into our seats, and could relax at last for the long thirteen hour flight back home.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chillin' In Gangneung - Monday & Tuesday, April 19 & 20, 2010

Our trip is winding down, and we are thinking about preparing for the journey home. We spent these two days not doing much. Both days we went into town on the 12:15 bus, just to get out of the house, and do a little light shopping.

Actually, on Monday I did a bit more than light shopping. We went over to the D/C Dollar Store, where I spent about fifty-five dollars on some gifts for folks back home. They were bulky and heavy, so we had the bright idea to go to the Post Office and mail them home. A friendly and helpful young man there helped me get everything packaged up. He had to do some custom work on one of the packages, but eventually he had everything ready to go. The young lady behind the counter figured it all up. It was over one hundred dollars to mail this stuff back home. I wasn't surprised, but I was hoping it would be less expensive.

With the heavy lifting out of the way, we were now free to take it easy. The rest of Monday, we just strolled the market area, picking up a few food items for back at the house.

Tuesday morning before we went into town, I was bored enough to watch one of the movies I brought with me. It was "Stagecoach", with John Wayne, Andy Devine, and John Caradine. What an excellent movie.

In town, we had coffee and a donut in one of the nice coffee shops, then wandered the Jungang Market for a while. I followed one of the little lanes all the way south 'til we came to the river. It was only three blocks away. At the river there is a levee with a street running along the top. There is a passageway through the levee at ground level, to allow people and cars to go from one side to the other. Through the passageway on the river side, there is a parking lot, and a walkway along the riverbank. Looking back at the passageway from the river side, I saw a large metal door elevated up above the passageway opening on this side. I guess that if the river reaches flood stage, they can lower this door to save the Jungang Market from flooding. The river at this spot is wide, but not very deep.

After a little more browsing, we headed over to the bus stop. There we had one of the dollar hamburgers from the little stand there. They were small, but quite good, and definitely worth the dollar. We were just in time for the 15:00 bus back to Sacheon Valley.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

KORAIL Seaside Train - Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'd been interested in the idea of the Seaside Train since seeing it in a brochure the other day. The brochure was in Korean only, so I wasn't positive about all the particulars. Basically, it's a sightseeing excursion, by train, down the coast from Gangneung to Samcheok, and back. The distance is roughly sixty kilometers each way, and the transit time is about eighty minutes each way. There was a schedule included in the brochure, showing departure times of 08:40, 10:30, 12:00, 14:15, 16:10, and 17:40.

We got to the station just before 11:00, planning to get aboard that 12:00 train. The friendly, helpful ticket agent told us that the 12:00 departure was from the other end, in Samcheok. The next departure from Gangneung would be at 14:15.

We had over two hours to kill, so we started walking back through town towards the Home Plus store. We were taking our time, following an indirect route, just exploring the neighborhood. The day was overcast, with that north-east wind coming off the sea, cooling things down again.

As it was a Sunday morning, there were not many people out on the streets. We made it back to the Home Plus building in about thirty minutes, after doing some window shipping along the way. Inside the Home Plus, we wandered the isles on several floors looking at things, trying to kill some more time. This is a big store, and has pretty much anything you'd need.

A little after noon we went up to the sixth floor restaurant mall to get some lunch. Most of the small restaurants up there were doing a brisk business. We browsed through them for a while, trying to decide, and finally went with the Bob House again. Ok Hwa loves her some Bi Bim Bob. Inside, she surprised me by ordering the Bulgogi instead. I went with the Beef Soup. This place prepares exquisite meals. They are beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat. Our lunches cost 5,500 wan each, a little over five dollars American. A bargain in either country. If you're ever in the area, I recommend them highly.

We made it back to the station by 13:30, and bought our tickets. Our first class seats cost us 30,000 wan each for the round trip. There were a lot of people in the station now, and more were arriving by the minute. They were all here for the Seaside Train.

The boarding call was at 14:05, and we all streamed out to the waiting train. There were a lot of families with young children, and young couples, and the atmosphere was friendly and lively. There were assigned seats, and we found ours quickly. This train has a unique seating arrangement. All the seats face the port, or left, side of the train. That's the sea side of the train on the way down and back. There are two rows of seats. The one in back is slightly elevated, making it easier to see over the backs of the seats in front. There is a clear walkway along the right, starboard, side of the cabin, behind the two rows of seats, and there are big windows along each side, giving great views in either direction.

All those people who were at the station when we got back had evidently snapped up all the front row seats. Our seats were in the back row. The view was not as good from back there, but it was still very nice.

So, off we went, easing out of Gangneung. It was a smooth and comfortable ride. We were seeing the city from an unfamiliar vantage point, elevated from the streets along the raised railway. We passed over our everyday bus stop there on the main drag, and by the Jungang Market, then crossed the river into south Gangneung. Pretty soon we were out in the country, and then rolling along down the coast.

The tracks do not run right along the coast the entire way. Occasionally the line has to go around a mountain, or some seaside development, but most of the way it runs as close as possible to the beach. There are numerous tunnels along the line, also. One, in particular, seemed like it was about two miles long.

About ten minutes into the trip, we emerged from a tunnel to find ourselves right in front of the Unification Park we'd seen the other day, with the Warship and the Submarine. The driver paused here for a couple of minutes, to give everyone a chance to get a picture, then we were off again, running down the coast. A short while later we pulled into the beautiful seaside park at Jeongdongjin, where we had spent some time with our newly met friends the other day. There is a landing here, where the train stopped for about ten minutes, allowing everyone to get off and stretch their legs. Supposedly, this is the closest train station to a beach and ocean anywhere in the world. Everyone who had a camera was out making pictures of the train, the beach, and their loved ones. I joined in, getting some nice photos.

Under way again, we next rolled through the town of Okgye, with it's busy port, then by the beautiful seaside campground called Mangsang Auto Camping Resort. In addition to it's cabins and campsites, they have a section that looks like a mini trailer park. This is a bunch of nice, small travel trailers, permanently situated. I guess you rent these like motel rooms. The idea is to back your car up to the trailer hitch and park it there. This gives the illusion that you've pulled your own private travel trailer out here from the city. A fun, and clever idea.

The next town down the line was Mukho. This is where Ok Hwa was born, and spent her young childhood. She was pretty excited, and made sure to point out a couple of beaches where she used to swim and hunt for clams. Many of the beaches along through here are framed by rugged, rocky outcroppings, which extend out into the water. Lots of these jagged rocks stick up from under the water for many yards out. Swimming amongst this stuff must be tricky, at best, with the waves trying to push you against the rocks. She said her little brother got his head smashed pretty badly like this once, when they were very young.

An interesting feature of the coast here is that any undeveloped waterfront, away from towns, public beaches, ports, industrial complexes, etc., is fenced with heavy chain link fencing, topped by barbed wire and coiled razor wire. Every few hundred yards or so, there is also a small, concrete, camouflage painted military look-out post, bunker, or sometimes a gun emplacement. All this is to guard against infiltration by North Korean spies, or even worse, invasion troops. These people live with the ever present threat of North Korean aggression. It's a strange sort of relationship, because they also consider the Northerners to be their brothers, and long for re-unification. All this armed preparedness over here makes our lives in the States seem pretty relaxed by comparison.

Continuing our excursion, we next rolled through the busy town of Donghae, with it's industrial area and port. This town is about the same size as Gangneung, but not nearly as nice, from what I could see.

A few kilometers south of Donghae, we came to the charming seaside village of Ch'uam. There is a big, beautiful park here, right by the tracks, with a landing for passengers. The village is nestled between two small, steep mountains that frame a beautiful view of the sea. About half or more of the passengers on our train disembarked here. This was a mystery to me, but it became clear why later in the day. They all waved good-bye to us on the departing train, and began descending a long wooden stairway into the village below.

About ten minutes later we rounded a mountain that was between us and the sea, crossed a wide river, and came into the city of Samcheok. This is where the trip ended, and the train headed back to Gangneung. This was a pretty dismal looking little city, in my opinion. We pulled into the tiny station, and everyone got off and went inside. There was nothing in there except a ticket window , and a small waiting room. The restrooms were in another small building next door. Out front of the station, there was a broad avenue with cars whizzing by, and not much on the other side except the river. Our side of the avenue was taken up by the station and rail yard. Not much of a destination. There was more to the city than this, but it was on the other side of the river, with no way to get there except by taxi or bus. The only interesting feature to this place was that mountain. The townspeople must have been busy planting, because a large portion of it was planted in cherry trees, which were just now coming into bloom. Also, both sides of the river were planted in cherry trees. Aside from this, there was nothing of interest here. All of us passengers just sat around the little waiting room looking at each other.

After twenty-five minutes or so, the boarding call was given, and we all headed back out to the train. It was sitting right where they had left it earlier. It was only four cars long, and the car on each end, in addition to being a passenger car, had a driver's cab on the end. They never had to turn the train around. The driver just walked to the other end of the train, climbed into the cab there, and drove it back in the other direction. Pretty ingenious.

For some reason we were assigned different seats in a different car on the way back. They were still first class seats, no different than the ones we'd ridden down in. Anyhow, we were headed back now, and after about ten minutes we came back to that nice little village, Ch'uam. All those people who had gotten off the train earlier, now got back on again. They were the smart ones. They had spent the last hour in a charming little village with a park, a beach, shops, restaurants, and so forth. We had to tough it out in that boring little waiting room. Someone should have said something about this to us. Oh, well, we'll know better next time, if there is one.

So, we did the trip in reverse now. It's not as interesting on the way back, because you've seen it all before, very recently.

On the way home from Gangneung Station, we hit our usual shopping spots in town, picking up a few essentials for back home. And, again, Ma and Pa were waiting for us on the little front porch as we pulled in. We're starting to get real settled in here. It's a shame we have to leave in a few days.

The official website of KORAIL (English Version): http://info.korail.com/2007/eng/eng_index.jsp