On Saturday, Nicole and I met up with the rest of my english teacher friends downstairs and we shared a cab to the bus terminal downtown. Cabs in Korea are absurdly cheap and the ride downtown worked out to about $1 each. The cabs also tend to be really nice. Most that I’ve seen are new Hyundai’s or Kia’s with in-dash navigation system and leather seats. The cab drivers dress nicely and there is no glass partition between the front and back seat. [divider_flat]
When you travel in Korea you have four options, although only one is really practical. You can take a plane if you have tons of money and want to go to Busan, Seoul, Gwangju, or outside of Korea. You can take a train if you have a bit less money and you want to get wherever quickly. You can take a bus if you have little money and don’t mind a slightly longer trip, or you can take a car if you have no money and you know someone with a car. We were going to the beach and we had a little bit of money so we took a bus. [divider_flat]
The Gwangju bus terminal is massive. Its about the size of a shopping mall in the states, and it pretty much is a shopping mall. It’s filled with shops and restaurants and has room for a few dozen buses that leave almost constantly (the bus to Seoul leaves every ten minutes). We had about 30 minutes before our bus left so Nicole and I and a few of the other teachers got Isaac Toast. Isaac Toast is a fast food restaurant that makes sandwiches out of any combination of the following ingredients: egg, cheese, sausage, spam, ham, kimchi, and veggies. They were pretty good.[divider_flat]
When the bus arrived, we all piled on and sat towards the back. The buses are a bit nicer than a greyhound or megabus. There are two leather seats on each side of the aisle and no bathroom. So dont drink anything before your bus trip because the bathroom stops are infrequent (2 hours) or nonexistent.
The bus trip was my second opportunity to see the Korean countryside, and my first opportunity to really appreciate it since I was so exhausted following my long flight. The countryside of Korea, or atleast the bits I’ve seen, are filled with rice patties and sloping hills with lush green trees. There were many little villages along the way, some were as small as a few buildings and maybe a temple or two.
We arrived at the Wondo bus terminal, and it pailed in comparison to the giant megaplex that is the Gwangju bus terminal. This terminal was small and dirty with only a little convenience store inside. Outside of the terminal, the 8 of us hailed two cabs with the help of my Korean teacher friend, Peter.
The ride out to Sinji Myeongsasipri Beach was about $4 each. We were dropped off in front of a little 7-11, they’re very popular in Korea. Inside we bought OB beer, water, and various Korean snacks, many of which were chips made to taste like seafood (delicious!). The beach was almost directly behind the convenience store.
Sinji Myeongsasipri beach is beautiful. There is a small boardwalk with several outdoor eateries and a little complex with showers and bathrooms. The sand on the beach is a yellowish tan and very soft. On either side of the beach are rocks and cliffs expanding out into the distance. Several small islands were visible off the coast.
Nicole and I stripped down to our bathing suits and went to join everyone in the water. The water was freezing, like Maine in the summer time. Nicole got goosebumps and kept to the shore. I braved the water up to mid thigh for a bit before coming back to shore. The rest of the teachers that went with us were from Washington state and Oregon, so they were fine with the fridgid water.
Back on shore, Nicole and I tanned, or Nicole tanned and I lay there applying coat after coat of sunscreen to my fragile ivory skin. Peter, one of the Korean teachers from the school upstairs offered Nicole and I Korean convenience store snacks like garlic toast chips and some sort of sweet Bugles like thing. They were pretty delicious.
Around 7, it came time for Nicole and I to return to Gwangju. The rest of the teachers would be staying the night in Wondo, but Nicole and I had to return so she could move into her real apartment on Sunday. Peter called us a cab from his phone and we rode back into town to the Wondo bus terminal.
We had a few minutes so Nicole and I walked around the block in search of Kimbap or anything else to tide us over on the two hour bus ride. Everywhere we saw looked like they would take awhile so Nicole and I had Isaac Toast for the second time that day.
Earlier in the day in Gwangju, we had the benefit of Peter’s fluent Korean to help order, but in Wondo, away from the rest of the group, Nicole and I were on our own. I ordered the picture off the wall. Nicole tried to mime that she wanted an egg and cheese sandwich with no ham, sausage, or cabbage. It went as well as you might expect and Nicole ended up with a sandwich she didnt want.
We left Isaac Toast, sandwiches in hand, and raced to the bus just in time to be the last two to sit down. I ate my sandwich and all the toppings Nicole didnt want off her sandwich.
When we arrived back at the Gwangju bus terminal, Nicole and I did a bit of shopping at the E-Mart, Korea’s Target. The one at the bus terminal is the biggest E-Mart in Gwangju and probably top 5 in Korea. Its several stories and about the size of a Target, which is unfathomably large by Korean standards.
I was able to get all the remaining knick knacks for my apartment, comforter, pillows, cups, bowls, knife cutting board, etc. Since Nicole’s apartment came furnished, she only bought food. As a vegetarian that prefers to buy organic, she was in heaven in E-Mart since then carry quite a few organic vegetarian products.
After we paid, Nicole and I hailed a cab back to my place and settled in for the night. Overall, I had a pretty solid beach day. Its been a week or so since I moved to Korea, and while I’m not totally at home, I am settling in pretty well. I know where the dollar store by my house is for cheap household stuff. I know where the nearest grocery store is for any food I need, and I know how to get to E-mart where I can get anything I can’t find at the first two places.