Sunday morning rolled around and Nicole headed over to her temporary apartment to move her things into her real apartment. The teacher she was replacing overlapped her contract with Nicole by a week so Nicole was placed in the temporary apartment until the other teacher moved out. Fortunately for Nicole, the previous teacher left a ton of stuff so Nicole’s apartment is fully furnished.
While Nicole busied herself with moving into her new apartment, I updated the blog and edited some photos from our most recent trip.
Around three I walked from my apartment over to Nicole’s place. Gwangju is divided into 5 areas (Gu’s). North, South, East, West, and New West. I’m in Namgu, which is South I believe. Gwangju is further divided into neighborhoods called Dongs, yes Dongs. My school is in Bongsun Dong and Nicole’s school is in Hak Dong. Walking, we’re about 30 minutes away, or a $3 cab ride. Anyway, I made it to Nicole’s place and we set out on our adventure for the day.
Our first stop was to Nicole’s favorite restaurant in Gwangju, a Buddhist buffet with a name I don’t remember. The restaurant is on the outskirts of Gwangju towards the Southeast and surrounded by mountains. The seating at the restaurant is really neat. All the chairs are really comfortable Baroquesque chairs with intricate wood carvings surrounding soft padded backs in various vibrant colors.
The buffet is 6000KRW or about $6 and it’s all vegetarian. There are two massive buffet tables with tons of different dishes. The buffet starts with several giant stacks of plates that are about my height, then every variety of white rice you can imagine (so 1, but there were actually 3), then several soups and veggie dishes. The other buffet table had salad stuff, I didn’t go over there, but I’m told its good. My favorite food was this really dense bread that was spongy and delicious, and definitely the best bread product I’ve had since I’ve been in Korea.
Climbing a Mountain
After our meal, Nicole and I started our trek up the mountain immediately behind the restaurant. The road up to the hiking paths is packed with various outdoor supply stores like Northface and Redface (the Korean knockoff) and I mean literally packed, like 15 stored in two or three blocks. The shops are all in the alpine ski lodge style of architecture and it really felt like Vail or Aspen in Summertime, aside from all the Korean obviously. So how can such a small area support so many stores? Koreans are obsessed with outdoor gear, and I mean obsessed. On our walk up the mountain, we passed numerous Koreans wearing every possible piece of gear one could imagine: hiking jackets, pants, hats, backpacks, hiking poles, boots, everything you could think of and more. Also, keep in mind it’s about 90 degrees outside.
I stopped into one such shop with Nicole and bought myself a Redface quick dry shirt. The shopkeeper was really nice and let me try on the shirt and helped me find various sizes. The fitting rooms had bags that you put over your head before you put clothes, presumably so your face doesn’t touch the clothes. They were really odd, but I tried one.
With my sweet new shirt, I was now ready to conquer Mudeungsan mountain. Nicole and I spent the rest of the day walking uphill towards one of the lower peaks. The peak we climbed to was about 460m, while the highest one is about 900m. Along our walk, we passed numerous Koreans in their full gear. Many of them gave us bewildered looks because we had no gear and we were climbing the same mountain as them.
The path we took wasn’t just for hiking, we passed a very modern looking contemporary art museum, an old wooden waterwheel, and several Buddhist temples. I was captivated by the level of intricacy in the temples. The woodworking along the base of the roofs was incredible. I made Nicole hang out for a few minutes while I took a ton of pictures.
The temples and occasional buildings began to fade away as we climbed higher and higher. Eventually, it was just nature and the occasional wooden stairwell. The forest of Mudeungsan mountain was dense, but none of the trees were particularly large, just plentiful. After another half hour or so, we reached a ridgeline where we could see for miles.
The view was incredible, mountains seemed to go on forever in every direction. Looking back towards Gwangju I was reminded of the dichotomy between man and nature. As big of a city as Gwangju seemed when I was inside it, once I got outside the city, I realized how small it was in comparison to the nature around it. Towering buildings that seemed so large when I stood beside them were easily dwarfed by the mountains surrounding them. The city seemed constricted by the mountains, confined to the scraps of flat land that nature discarded for man to inhabit. I was humbled by the experience and pleased that in the rivalry between man and nature, nature was still winning.
Nicole and I made our descent back down Mudeungsan mountain and into the city. That night we watched Netflix, ate Ramen, and prepared for our first day of teaching the next day.