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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.

beach firework

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.

 

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.

 

Day of Rest – Indian Food

Last weekend Nicole and I went to Oedaldo island off the coast of Mokpo on the West coast of Korea. It was part of my two days off for summer break before summer intensives started up. Since Nicole works for a different school she had a different two days off. For her vacation, she took a trip along the East coast of Korea. Since I had a different break I couldn’t travel with her so I hung out in Gwangju. Saturday I caught up with some cleaning and errands around town. Since I’d arrived in Korea I’ve been traveling all over the place, everywhere from Wondo to Seoul to Oedaldo. However, all the traveling was starting to wear me down so I gave myself a well deserved day off. I got my bike tire fixed, bought groceries, and watched tons of Netflix.

Lunch at First Nepal

That night Kayla, my neighbor, co-teacher, and friend went out for Indian food at a restaurant downtown called First Nepal. If you know anything about me, it’s that I love Indian food and it had been awhile since I last had Indian food. Kayla and I both got cards for the Indian place the last time we went that entitled us to free naan, delicious Indian pitas, this time around.

Bunnies for Sale

Bunnies for Sale

We had a rousing dinner of Indian food then wandered downtown. Downtown Gwangju is interesting. There are so many sights and smells. There are food trucks that actually drive, sometimes while they are making food. There are old men selling bunnies on the street for only a few dollars.  I bought a whale shirt from a little store and got a shirt for “service” (free).

Whale Shirt Selfie

Whale Shirt Selfie

 

 

Second Weekend in Seoul: Color Me Rad II

Continued from Second Week in Seoul: Color Me Rad I

Breakfast

Nicole and I packed our bags at the hostel and got some breakfast at a local brunch place. Brunch isn’t too common in Korea, so most brunch places are in the foreign parts of town such as Itaewon. I got real buttermilk pancakes with thick cut bacon, and I mean thick, like bacon steak if that was a thing. This place had real delicious coffee as well, a welcome change from yesterday’s McDonalds. Coffee in Korea, and in most places outside of the US does not exist the way it does in the states. Most places have lattes, cappuccinos, and espresso, but rarely do they have traditional American coffee. I often order an Americano (espresso plus hot water).

Sunday in Itaewon is an immensely peaceful place if you’re up early enough anytime before noon. In the afternoon shoppers wander its streets eating international food and shopping in various boutiques. At night Itaewon becomes a crazy club district and its packed with people, Korean and foreign alike. 

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Bongeunsa Temple

After breakfast, Nicole and I caught a cab toBongeunsa Temple, a place even more tranquil than Itaewon on a sleepy Sunday morning. Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple dating back to 794. Its located close to the center of Seoul, ironically surrounded by shopping malls and some of the most expensive apartment buildings in Korea. We spent the afternoon wandering around the temple, observing its majestic beauty and instagraming its secrets.

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

I got the impression not many tourists westerners visit the temple. Nicole and I got a lot of curious looks as we wandered the temple and one gentleman stopped and spoke with us for about 15 minutes telling us about the temple’s history.

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Convention Center

After leaving the temple, Nicole and I walked across the street to the convention center on the off chance something fun was happening. Indeed it was, there was a Korean children’s character licensing convention. I’m not 100% on what that means, but there were tons of children’s characters in costumes handing out autographs and taking photos. It was a madhouse. Nicole and I wanted to go into the convention and take photos, but there was an admission fee and it didn’t seem worth it since neither of us knew who any of the characters were.

Seven Luck Casino

The convention center is massive and it connects to a hotel & casino next door. That’s right, a Korean casino. Nicole and I had to go, and we were not disappointed. We had both expected a casino similar to one in the states where you can wander in off the Las Vegas strip in shorts and a t-shirt and gamble to your heart’s content, that was not quite the case here.

Nicole and I stroll in off the streets in Seoul in our shorts and t-shirts, because it’s 90 degrees with 100% humidity. Immediately we’re greeted by a staff of 5 or 6 Koreans in full suits. The small lobby is immaculate with crystal chandeliers and fountains. Clearly, we are underdressed, but we decided not to let that dissuade us from seeing this Korean casino. I greet the first gentleman in a suit and he asks for our passports. In Korea, you cannot go into a casino unless you are a foreigner. I believe Koreans are not allowed to gamble. After we get our passports back, we walk around the corner of the lobby and take an escalator up to a small gambling floor with maybe 50 slot machines and a few tables for poker and roulette. Everyone gambling in the casino looks Korean, which is odd since this should be foreigners only. I suspect that there is some way around this passport check or maybe they bribed the doorman.

Nicole and I aren’t gamblers so we mostly just look around until we spy in the corner, past the flashing lights and slot machines, a juice bar. That’s right, this casino has free juice, and by that I mean there are several pitchers of airplane-quality juice available to drink out of tiny paper cups. Nicole and I go over and start slamming back shots of juice with reckless abandonment. The fact that its cold and free almost makes up for how bad it is. I feel like whoever made this juice had never had real juice. Someone probably described juice to him and he said “oh yeah, I know what you mean” but really had no idea.

Juice Bar

Juice Bar

Nicole took a picture of me drinking free juice and several casino security guards came by and told us not to take photos. At that point, we’d seen everything we wanted to at the casino and decided to head back to Itaewon and gather our bags for the bus back.

4D Movie Experience

Nicole and I took the bus back to Gwangju and made it back early enough in the evening to see a 4D movie at the bus station. The Gwangju bus station has everything, tons of shops, restaurants, a department store, and a 4D movie theater. It’s awesome. In the 4D movie theater you get sprayed with smells, your seat shakes, you might get wet, and you occasionally get air blown on you. It’s just like a 4D ride at Disney but it’s a full-length movie in a theater.

4D Movie

4D Movie

Nicole and I saw Pacific Rim, a movie about giant transformer robots fighting giant monsters from an alternate universe. It’s probably the perfect movie to see in 4D because its so over the top. The movie itself wasn’t too bad. The action was massively epic, but the character development was nonexistent and I didn’t really care what happened to any of the people in the film.

If you think there are a lot of previews before movies in the states, don’t see movies in Korea. There were easily twice as many previews and general advertisements before the movie along with several warning screens about motion sickness. Overall the 4D experience was a lot of fun, but after the first hour or so I started to get tired of the 4D part and just wanted to watch the movie without being shaken or having air blown on me, but the gimmick was a fun one-time thing.