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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.

 

Bamboo Forest

Following Kayla and my day of rest and errands, we decided to go to the Jungnokwon bamboo forest in Damyang. It’s about 45 minutes outside of Gwangju, the city we live in. We cabbed to the bus terminal and bought our tickets. Going to Damyang is only $2 and our bus never even got on the highway. We basically drove through Gwangju until we got to the next town over, Damyang. Unlike larger cities like Gwangju, Mokpo, and Seoul, the bus terminal here was basically a shed and comparable to the Wondo bus terminal.

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We got off and waited for a transfer bus to the Jungnokwon bamboo forest. This bus ride was only $1 and the ride was about 5 minutes up the road. Unlike the buses that take you between major cities in Korea this local Damyang bus was ancient and it appeared handmade, complete with rusted metal panels welded to the floor, possibly to cover places that were even more rusted underneath.

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The bus stop for the bamboo forest was next to a beautiful riverside park and a little stone footbridge connecting the two banks. Kayla and I walked along the riverbank watching Koreans escaping the summer heat under large shady trees. There was a fountain along the way with kids running through it getting wet and cooling off. The whole area felt very peaceful and not at all like the hustle and bustle of the big cities like Gwangju and Seoul that we were used to.

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Kayla and I crossed the stepping stone footbridge and entered the Bamboo forest.

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There were tons of Korean families enjoying the bamboo forest and taking photos. Several Korean TV shows had been filmed in the Bamboo forest and occasionally there were placards referencing various scenes and shows.

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A bit deeper into the bamboo forest, Kayla and I came across a model traditional Korean village with a few little stores and houses.

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I got the impression that certain times of the year re-enactors would demonstrate various traditional Korean trades, but no one was there when we visited so we were left to make our own assumptions.

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This village was really beautiful even if it was fake. There was a wooden bridge along the water where Koreans were feeding Koi and taking more photos. It was one of the most peaceful places I’ve been to in Korea so far.

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Further along our explorations of the Bamboo forest we came across a Buddhist temple. No one was there and all the doors were locked so Kayla and I wandered around the outside. I took some photos and we sat by a different pond and listened to the fountain before making our way back to the bus.

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Just before the footpath we’d taken to the bamboo forest we came across several outdoor food stands. Kayla and I stopped for some sweet pancakes stuffed with honey. They were incredibly delicious and only a dollar.

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Overall I had a really good time at the forest. I feel so at home in Korea. Occasionally I have to remind myself that I’m living in Korea. While everything around me is different so many things are also the same. Kids still love legos and playing in fountains. Families go on vacations. Everyone eats delicious pancakes. There are still grocery stores, coffee shops, and apartment buildings. In downtown Gwangju there are most of the same stores found in the states.

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

 

 

Weekend in Gwangju Part II

Continued from Part I

Nicole and I got up and went downtown to eat brunch at a place called Alleyway. There are a few foreign bars in Gwangju, all of them are downtown. The Alleyway is one of them and they serve a delicious brunch on Sunday mornings. Most Koreans don’t eat brunch or much of a breakfast really, so brunch establishments are few and far between. I ordered french toast stuffed with poutine and a coffee. It was delicious.

French Toast stuffed with Poutine

French Toast stuffed with Poutine

Nicole and I spent the rest of the day walking around downtown and recouping from week of teaching.

Gwangju at Night

Gwangju at Night

That night Nicole and I went for a hike up a little mountain behind Nicole’s apartment. At the top of the mountain you can see almost all of Gwangju below. It was an incredible view. Nicole and I experimented with light-painting as well and got some cool photos out of it.

Gwangju at Night II

Gwangju at Night II

Hiking Path at Night

Hiking Path at Night

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Weekend in Gwangju: Part I

Gwangju

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.

Map of Gwangju

Map of Gwangju

Our Neighborhoods

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.

Buying Bikes

Nicole and I and our sweet new bikes

Nicole and I and our sweet new bikes

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.

Gwangju Subway

Gwangju Subway

Gwangju Subway

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.

Subway Token

Subway Token

 

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.

 

Subway with Nicole

Subway with Nicole

The GIC

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.

Food Downtown

Food Truck that moves...while its open

Food Truck that moves…while its open

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!