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Wondo – Beach Camping in Korea

beach faces This past weekend Nicole and I went back to Wondo for a weekend of beach camping. Our first weekend in Korea Nicole and I went to Wondo with my foreign coworkers for some R and R. When we went the first time, the water was freezing and the beach was practically empty. This time the beach was packed with Koreans in conservative bathing suits and little beach tents and the water was still freezing. I preferred the cold water to the far too warm water of our last beach adventure the day of the Sunflower Festival.

Our Tent

Beach Tent...note the transparency

Beach Tent…note the transparency

Nicole and I inadvertently bought a beach tent several weeks ago at Emart. We were trying to buy a regular tent and found one for a great price…too great of a price in fact. Nicole didn’t find out until her East Coast Trip that the tent only had two sides to it. You read that correctly, our tent that was 50% off was missing 50% of its walls. The two missing walls were made completely of mesh with no way to cover it, just open to the elements and any Koreans that may want to look in.

The view from inside the tent

The view from inside the tent

Nicole and I packed my giant hiking backpack with the tent, sleeping bag, and plenty of other goodies before we hit the road. I’ll spare you the details of the Gwangju bus terminal although it is an interesting read if you’re new to my blog.

Beach Camping

Wondo Beach Map

Wondo Beach Map

The bus let us off in Wondo and Nicole and I took a cab ($10) out to the beach for the weekend. We stocked up on some ice, fireworks, and chips at the convenience store in front of the beach and walked down to the water. Since Nicole and I would be camping on the beach we pitched the tent a little ways back from the shore and set up our campsite. One of the great things about Korea is that you can camp anywhere….anywhere. Just set up your tent and you’re good to go. No pesky permits or campsites, just lots of fun.

Tubes for rent

Tubes for rent

Nicole rented a tube from one of the shops along the boardwalk and floated around while I waded into the water. Nicole has been too afraid to go into the water more than knee deep in Korea on account of the cold. The one exception she made was at the hot beach from a few weekends ago.

Dinner

Beachside Restaurant

Beachside Restaurant

After an afternoon of floating around and napping in our sweet beach tent, we got some dinner at one of the boardwalk restaurants. Nicole and I got a squid pizza. It was delicious. There are two basic kinds of pizza in Korea. There’s western pizza, which Koreans interpret loosely, and there’s traditional Korean pizza, which is probably called something else, but foreigners call it pizza because of its round, flat, and vaguely breadlike. The pizza we got was kind of a doughy bread with various vegetable toppings and of course squid. There’s no tomato sauce or cheese, so calling it pizza maybe entirely misleading. My apologies for not posting a picture, it was too delicious to stop and photograph. In addition to our pizza, we got a glass of beer between the two of us to share as “service”.

Service

Whale shirt I wrote about service briefly towards the end of the Oedaldo Island trip and the day I bought the whale shirt, but I’ll explain it again in short again. If you go to a bar, you’ll get chips or some sort of rice snack “for service”. This means basically because you bought something and you’re at this particular establishment, you’ll get something for your patronage. This happens all the time for little things, like bar snacks, but its scalable. The more you spend the more you get in “service”. It also helps to be friendly and a foreigner. The day I bought the whale shirt, I got a free shirt for “service”, partly because it was kind of expensive and partly because it was a ridiculous shirt that they never expected to sell. For spending a lot of money at the restaurant in Oedaldo, we got a free room at the minbok, hotel, next door.

Fireworks and Beach Yoga

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Earlier in the day we bought fireworks from the convenience store to set off. The sign said (in Korean) cash only. I’m not sure why, possibly because the store was not supposed to be selling them or maybe they were illegal and the store didn’t want a paper trail. Either way, everyone along the beach was setting off fireworks and no one seemed concerned. The store only sold small and large roman candles so Nicole and I bought a handful of each for the beach and set them off over the water.

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Nicole recently started teaching Yoga in Gwangju at the Gwangju International Center (GIC). As part of her class prep, she creates yoga routines, and I usually end up as the guinea pig in these yoga experiments. After the fireworks, we spent a few minutes on the beach doing some yoga. It felt really peaceful to do yoga with fireworks going off over the water and the lights from the boardwalk behind us. The sand was really comfortable for yoga as well. It was better than yoga on a thin mat on a wooden floor.

Karaoke

After dinner, Nicole and I walked along the beach when we were invited into a beachside Karaoke bar to sing karaoke with a bunch of random Koreans. The Korean who beckoned us inside, named DJ, we had met earlier that day. He was working the jet ski rental place further up the shore and offered us a ride on the jetskis the next morning. He told us that he was from Gwangju, the same town as us and that he’d recognized us from seeing us downtown a few times. His English was impeccable, later he told me he’d studied in Philadelphia for 8 months and occasionally tutored English on the side. DJ waved us into the bar. I use the term “bar” loosely, like everything else along the boardwalk, the building meant lots of plastic tables and chairs and a few umbrellas or an aluminum shed with less than 4 walls, like our tent.

“Inside” we meant a bunch of very drunk older Korean gentlemen who offered us beer and Soju and chanted things like “one-shot” meaning down your drink in one swig. Nicole and I obliged them…once. DJ explained to us that we didn’t need to go nuts with them and that they were “super creepy”. Aside from being drunk, they didn’t seem too bad. DJ also told us one of the guys was a gangster and pointed to a gentleman covered in tattoos. The claim seemed believable considering the fact that almost no one in Korea has tattoos. I have yet to see a single tattoo on a Korean.  DJ explained that everyone there worked at the beach for the season and this was there last night before they closed up shop for Fall. We danced to some absurd Korean Karaoke with DJ for a bit, then politely returned to our tent on the beach to call it a night.

Sunflower Festival and Beach day

After our busy day of tea fields, baseball games, and nightclubs, Nicole and I could only follow it up with an equally busy Sunday of sunflowers and beaches.

Bus Terminal

Last Friday my Korean co-worker, Jade invited me to a sunflower festival with her and some of the other foreign teachers. Nicole and I met Ted, Patrick, Alyssa, and Jade at the bus terminal and caught a bus to Gochang, about an hour away from Gwangju. The ride was uneventful and the destination was even less eventful. This was perhaps the least interesting town in Korea, luckily we weren’t here for the town, we were here for the sunflowers.

The Cab Ride

Jade spoke to two cab drivers and asked them to drive all of us out to the sunflower field several miles away. By Korean standards, this was the most expensive cab ride we’d taken so far. Split 3 ways it was roughly $7 a piece. The ride was insane. Korean cabbies in Gwangju drive uncomfortably fast for being in heavy traffic but get them out in the countryside away from traffic and they really floor it. We were whizzing around turns and speeding past green blurs which I assume were farms. There were a few turns where I was shocked the tires were able to hold traction and keep us on the road. I thought for sure we would slide off the road and bounce down a mountainside like dice on a craps table, but we survived and made it to the sunflower field.

Sunflower Festival

In Korea, the term festival is loosely applied to all events, things, ideas, and concepts. You’re never really certain what a “festival” will entail, but it almost never involves a Ferris wheel.

Sunflowers

This sunflower festival happened to be a field of sunflowers many of which were dead. This was partly our fault for visiting the field on the very last day of sunflower season. Jade told us the pictures she saw from earlier in the season were beautiful. I was able to get a few good shots of sunflowers and the field was still mostly green so the pictures came out well.

Sunflower

Us walking

We spent the next hour or so walking through the field taking photos and observing the majestic beauty of the partially decomposing sunflowers. I saw it as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the ever-looming specter that is death, but mostly I just took pictures. Many Korean couples wandered through the field in their hiking gear or high heels, some wearing a combination of the two.

Koreans in Sunflowers

There was a little pagoda in the center of the field and from all sides of it, you could see endless green and yellow sunflower plants. We hung out in the pagoda for a while just talking and recovering from the soul-crushing heat. In case I forgot to mention the temperature in previous posts, assume that it’s been at least 90 degrees outside in all of my posts.

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Lunch

After our well-deserved escape from the heat, we left the pagoda and ate lunch at a café/visitor center on the outskirts of the sunflower field. Nicole and I shared a squid pizza (more like an open-faced squid omelet) and bibimbap (rice, egg, and veggies in a bowl). It was delicious. Across from the restaurant was a sunflower gift shop selling various sunflower-related products such as a tea-like drink mix and some sunflower seeds in different size bags. Nicole and the other ladies on the trip got soft serve ice cream, vanilla since the swirl option was broken.

After lunch, we returned to where the cab drivers had dropped us off. The two drivers were milling around the parking lot doing cab driver things, probably discussing beaded seat cushions, awful car fragrances, or the best way to drift around turns and scare your passengers.

The Ride to the Beach

We all piled into the two cabs and drove to the beach. The drive was about 20 minutes and the cab drivers didn’t take their foot off the gas once. It was exhilarating and terrifying, but the fare was low so I can’t complain. About halfway through the ride the cab driver turned to Nicole in the backseat and handed her his business card and a paper fan sponsored by the police department condemning domestic violence. I don’t really know what to make of that gesture. Either Nicole happened to say something in English that sounded like Korean for “please give me a business card and information on domestic violence” or I still have lots to learn about Korean culture.

Beach

The Beach

We arrived at a little town on the coast, I use the term town loosely, there were four to five buildings and a beach. We walked through town, all of it, and out to the beach. A concrete wall surrounded the beach on the coast side, immediately on the other side of it was a rocky outcropping where Koreans were sunbathing. We laid our towels out on the hot rocks and basked like lizards beneath a heat lamp. Once we were sufficiently heated on both sides, like lightly toasted English muffins, we walked down to the water. It was low tide so the water was about a half mile away. I expected to be cooled down by the water on such a hot day. However, I was in for a surprise. The water was hot, not just warm but hot. It was not refreshing.

Rocks

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The time in the water was relatively uneventful so I’ll take this time to tell you about Korean beach attire. Koreans fear the sun like vampires and cherish whiteness like Aryans. Consequently, it’s not unusual to see Koreans in either incredibly modest swimsuits or completely covered up head to toe with long sleeves, pants, and a hat. As a foreigner, I have been repeatedly warned to check for “whitening” in my sunscreen, because some sunscreen not only blocks the sun but also makes your skin whiter than when you left for the beach.

Koreans at Beach

After our swim, we returned to Gwangju via a bus to a bus.

 

Club Night

After the tea fields and baseball game, Nicole, Will, Kayla, and I went downtown to paint the town red. The game ended early by Korean standards, around 10 so we found ourselves downtown well before Korea dance hour, which may or may not exist.

Fanny packs on ready to dance

Fanny packs on ready to dance

The first club we went to was called Mix…I think. There was a cover, but the doorman just waved us in. Something being a group of foreigners in Korea seems to open doors for you, in this case literally. We walked into the dimly lit and darkly painted stairwell and walked upstairs to a small club on the second floor. Once inside we got some drinks and danced for a while. I would say with the exception of Nicole, none of us are amazing dancers, but that didn’t stop us. That did, however, stop everyone else. Koreans don’t seem to be big dancers. They prefer to sit at tables around the periphery of the dance floor, smoking cigarettes, wearing white pants, and contemplating their next move, or something, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Free Drinks

Apparently, our dancing caught someone’s eye though. We were all given a free round of drinks from some Korea gentlemen, possibly someone that works at the bar. Nicole and I tried to get others to join us on the dance floor, but the Koreans were having none of it. After a bit, we decided to explore more clubs in downtown Gwangju. Gwangju, like most downtowns anywhere, loves fliers. Fliers are everywhere. New stores, new restaurants, theme nights at clubs, you name it there’s a flyer for it. One such flier caught our eye BASS ATTACK. How do you say no to something called bass attack? I don’t know because we didn’t. Luckily it was nearby or we might have given up.

Nuclear Bunker Nightclub

Fast forward, there’s bass pumping out of a poured concrete hallway, this is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I’m walking into a nuclear bunker, sans bass. Once again there may have been cover, but it didn’t apply to us apparently. Inside the whole club was industrial poured concrete and black booths, it was bananas, and it was all empty. It’s as if the club planned an awesome night and hired great DJs then forgot to tell anyone about it. Nicole, Will, Kayla, and I had the place to ourselves with the exception of about 10 Koreans, several of whom were dancing.

After a while, we all caught a cab back to our apartments and called it a night. Between the Boseong Tea Fields, baseball game, and our night of clubbing, it had been a pretty solid day. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where I can do all of these things in a single day. I got to see a traditional Korean trade, a fantastic piece of modern Korean culture, and a very futuristic view of Korean nightlife, all in one day.

Korean Baseball

Since this weekend was so adventurous, I had to break it up into a few posts keep from writing one epically long post. This installment of my awesome weekend picks up right after the Boseong Tea Fields post. So if you haven’t had a chance to read that, I encourage you to check that out first. Anyway, on with the show!

After we returned to Gwangju, Nicole and I went to my place to change and get ready for the baseball game. Nicole and I were going with Will and Kayla to see Gwangju’s Kia Tigers play against Daegu’s Samsung Lions. The Kia Tigers colors are red, so the two of us wore all the red we could, including our DMZ fanny packs that Nicole picked up on her east coast trip. Long story short, we looked pretty cool.

Nicole and I picked up some Chamchi Kimbap (tuna sushi) for the road and met Will and Kayla at the corner to hail a cab to the stadium. Split four ways, the cab worked out to a few dollars each. Having been to MLB games in the states, I foolishly expected something along the lines of an MLB game in the states. This experience was wildly different and waaay better.

Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Tiny Stadium

First off, the stadium, Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium, was tiny. It was comparable to a minor league stadium in the states and held 12,000 people. I much preferred this. It had much more of a community spirit and felt a lot less like attending a corporate franchise.

Sunset at Gwangju Mudeung Baseball Stadium

Cheap Tickets

Second, tickets are dirt cheap. We bought our tickets 30 minutes before the game and they were only $9. I spent more than that on movie tickets back in the states. The seats we got were decent too. We were about halfway up the stands along the third baseline.

Booze and baseball

Booze

In the states if you go to a baseball game, expect to spend $8-10 on a plastic cup of beer and wait in a long line to get it. In Korea, they have convenience stores in the stadium. That’s right, convenience stores in the stadium. We went in and bought a six-pack of beer for the same price as we would pay outside at any other convenience store.  It was fantastic.

Traitors

Top Athletes

Kidding, Korean baseball is awful, hilariously so. I love Korea, I think the Korean people are great, but they are not baseball players. Now, I’m no expert on baseball, nor do I claim to be, but I could recognize skill or lack thereof. Half the players couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield, and when they did, it was a guaranteed two bases for the batter because the outfielders weren’t used to having to catch the ball and often could not catch the ball. We say two outfielders both run for a ball that was easily catchable only to have both miss it. I expected to hate watching the game for the low-level of play, but I ended up enjoying it much more. It was refreshing to see players struggle and occasionally mess up. I feel like watching an extremely high level of sportsmanship becomes boring after a while. It’s less like watching sports and more like watching robots. The team that wins is the team that messes up least, not the team that dominates over the other one. It’s similar to watching professional bowling, where the bowler that loses is the one that misses by a single strike against his opponent’s perfect game.

Fans

Atmosphere

The stadium was electric with energy, despite the small stadium and poor playing, the fans were just as excited, if not more so. It was nice to see baseball at its roots. The game was much simpler in so many ways.

In the states, at least in Tampa Bay, baseball seems catered towards those with ADHD. There’s music constantly, random videos and commercials on the jumbotron, contests, dancers, people giving speeches on the field. It’s like the MLB is trying to distract people from the fact that they’re watching baseball, rather than embracing the fact that they’re watching baseball.

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Watching baseball in Korea was different. There was an old school jumbotron that displayed the score and one beer chugging competition about halfway through the game. Other than that there were no festivities or distractions, just people watching baseball. The crowd provided the rest of the fanfare. When the Kia Tigers scored, someone in the crowd played a drum and the fans sang songs and cheered with their inflatable sticks.

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Nicole and I showed our hometown pride by rooting for the Kia Tigers, even though they lost in the end by more than 8 points. Kayla and Will were less devoted fans and switched over to Samsung Lions fans about halfway through the game. Nicole and I had planned to leave early but ended up having such a great time that we stayed for the whole game.

Boseong Tea Fields

First off, what a weekend. The past two weekends were slow and I want to apologize to everyone out there for not having more to write about. I just needed some time to recoup and reorganize before hitting the ground running this past weekend.

The weekend started out, as usual, at the bus terminal. Nicole, Kayla, and I met up with Will and Ted at the ticket booth. If the ticket booth attendants didn’t see so many people everyday, I’d be convinced they knew me. After all, I am there every saturday.

Boseong Tea Fields

Boseong Tea Fields

This weekend’s first adventure was the Boseong Tea Fields. The ride there was a little over an hour and only a few dollars. If you aren’t traveling between major cities in Korea the bus rates tend to be inexpensive.

Once we reached the Boseong bus terminal, we caught a cab for another few dollars and 5 minutes later we were at the tea fields. The Boseong Dawon Tea Plantation is on the southwest coast of South Korea. Its temperate climate is ideal for growing green tea. The plantation we visited was established in 1957, and it is a sight to behold. The plantation spans across several rolling hills reaching heights of 350 meters and comprising several million tea plants. The best times to visit are in the summer, May through August so we were there just at the end of their season.

The entrance to the plantation is lined with trees and a small brook. Once inside, you’re greeted by a giant fountain surrounded by benches and rocks to sit and relax on. There’s a small shop selling iced green tea and a few other snacks and a larger shop and restaurant on the other side of the fountain. Behind the shop/restaurant is a set of steps that seems to go on forever leading you up to the top of the tea fields and a beautiful view of the plantation.

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From the top we could see seemingly endless rows of identical green tea bushes, snaking around the hills and valleys below us. It was like standing on a topographical map, with each row of tea bushes representing a change in elevation. I imagine from a high enough altitude the plantation would look like a giant fingerprint with each row of bushes comprising a different line or ridge in said fingerprint.

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From the top we took several pictures and walked back down the backside of the hill. The backside of the mountain was covered in shaded forest and there were no tea plants, just a winding path and another small brook. The plantation was as beautiful as it was hot. I’m sure you’ll notice from the pictures we all got gradually sweatier and sweatier. It was about 95 degrees that day and so humid so the shaded path back down was a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat.

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Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we stopped in at the restaurant/café for tea snacks and beverages. I bought a grapefruitade, which is lemonade but with grapefruit. I don’t know it if was just the heat and dehydration speaking, but that beverage was one of the tastiest and most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had in my life. Nicole got another iced green tea and a green tea ice cream.

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In the gift shop they had all kinds of green tea snacks: green tea chocolate, cookies, granola-like bars, crackers, and of course green tea. After our little shopping experience we hailed a cab back to the bus terminal and eventually Gwangju.

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The tea fields were one of my favorite trips so far. I was in the company of good people having good experiences. The trip was relatively inexpensive as well.