This past weekend Nicole and I hung out in Gwangju, the town we live in. Its the 6th largest city in South Korea and it had 1.5 million people. The city is divided up into 5 districts, called Gu’s. There’s Buk, Nam, Dong, Seo, and Gwangsan. I live in Nam-Gu and Nicole lives in the next district over called Dong-Gu.
Each of the Gu’s is divided up into smaller neighborhoods called Dongs. I live in Bongseon-dong and Nicole lives in Hak-dong. My neighborhood is a smaller working-class neighborhood with some Kimbap shops, chicken and beer places, and small marts. There are no trees along the street. However, every now and again there are lovely parks with pagodas and walking paths. For a detailed description of my odd little Korean apartment go here.
Nicole’s neighborhood, Hak-dong, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Gwangju. Its home to lovely tree-lined streets, several medical clinics, and a bunch of brothels. Aside from the prostitutes selling their wares, the neighborhood is a pretty nice place. She lives next door to her school. In an apartment above a music school and a math academy. Its ungodly hot in her apartment at all times, like portal-to-hell hot, like feverish dreams while you sleep hot, but outside of Summer, I’m sure the apartment will be nice. It’s a studio so everything is in one big room, but the room is pretty big. Her apartment came completely stocked and furnished. She has a TV and speakers, a couch, some shelves, and a bed. The kitchen is pretty well stocked with spices, herbs, sauces, and various other kitchen staples.
This weekend we stayed at Nicole’s place and spent the weekend just bumming around Gwangju. Our first stop was getting bikes. Bikes are the ideal form of transportation for environmentally conscious people, those living in crippling poverty, and anyone with too many DUIs to be legally allowed behind the wheel. Nicole and I are some form of the first two, just kidding, we’re paid well.
A few days prior, I’d spotted a little bike shop along the side of the road. It’s a real hole-in-the-wall place that most people, Nicole included, wouldn’t even notice. The shopkeep/sole proprietor/employee was a very old man with skin like an old leather couch and arms like Popeye. I assume a life of bike repair had tanned his skin like old leather (see couch comparison above) and had whittled his arms into industrial tools of bike assembly and repair. Anyway, he sold us some bikes and locks for $120 total. It was a pretty good deal for two bikes and two locks. Nicole and I both got used single speed city bikes with Porteur handlebars. They’re fun to ride and the brakes kind of work.
Following our successful bike purchase, Nicole and I went downtown with her neighbor and fellow teacher, Will. The three of us took the subway from Nicole’s place to downtown, about 4 stops away. The subway is about $1.30 and if you don’t have a subway card you get a neat cardboard coin with the subway logo on it to use.
The subway in Gwangju has one line and 20 stops, none of which are near my apartment so I never use it. Just like the Seoul subway system there are gasmasks at ever stop should North Korea, or anyone else ever decide to attack. I haven’t used one and I hope the occasion to use them never presents itself. Probably my favorite part of the subway is how cool it is down there. The temperature is at least 15 degrees cooler than at street level, so if you’re ever hot and near the subway, I encourage you to take a few minutes to check it out and cool yourself off.
When the three of us reached downtown, we stopped into the GIC, the Gwangju International Club, or something. They have an office downtown that helps foreigners organize trips, learn English, buy TVs, or anything else under the sun. We bought some postcards (family: look out for sweet postcards headed your way) and picked up some brochures.
Our next stop downtown was getting food. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know many words in Korean, and I know almost no Korean words for food, so going downtown is great. Many of the restaurants have pictures or bilingual menus. This is great for foreigners because you can figure out what you like based on the photo/English description then make a note of the Korean word and order it the next time you’re out for dinner and not downtown.
The food we had was amazing. See pictures below.
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Barket, the Beer Market
After dinner, Will took Nicole and me to Barket, a bar whose title combines both Bar and Market. The bar is like a convenience store but instead of snacks in the middle there are seats and along the walls, there are coolers with beers that you can pick out and drink at your table. At the end of the night, you collect all of your bottles and place them in the red bucket on your table and bring them up to the cashier to pay.
Overall, great day, lots of fun. Now on to Part II of the weekend!