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Tag: holiday

Sand, Crabs and Broken Toes

 

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Disclaimer: only part of the title is a medical condition.

We’re descending slowly  into a now more-than-fleeting camping fetish. Having successfully survived the arsonists and anally-retentive groundsmen of Sangju, we were eager to accept our friends and fellow colleagues’ offer of a joint-trip to the actually isolated coast of Sungpyeong; a barely-trodden expanse of glinting fool’s-gold sand with nary a soul to be seen nor heard (with the exception of a determined yet mysterious boat whose bi-daily routine seems to consist of throwing things overboard to pass the time).IMG_2091

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Safety-conscious dog check the GPS.

Safety-conscious dog check the GPS.

Being far more practical humans than ourselves, Nathan and Alysha are part of that expat elite who actually own their own car – all the better to fully explore the country, avoid a slightly tedious daily work commute and to accommodate their two beautiful yet affectionately heavy jindogae Fiona and Ingrid. The two Jindos dwarf, chase and are in turn right-hooked by our comparative runt of a dog regularly, made all the more hilarious/repellent by a thick layer of wet sand and salted fur.

The drive to Sungpyeong is reassurance enough that we have the place to ourselves: a little while off the highway and it’s nothing but mountains and mirrorlike, irrigated valleys as far as the horizon. We’re so far out in the sticks that, were we to wander aimlessly into the nearby villages, we’d be less of a mild curiosity and more of an exotic, sweaty fascination. The car pulls into the dusty, empty parking lot and all the signs of off-season are there: the toilets are conveniently-placed albeit not-so-conveniently locked, the bins are noticeably overflowing but sunbaked past the point of offensive and you can’t hear anyone competing for space on the sand.IMG_2163

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Meg cannot possibly contain the gibbon within.

Meg cannot possibly contain the gibbon within.

From the car, we heft our camping gear on foot to Nate and Alysha’s pre-discovered Choice Spot, hidden amongst boulders and alongside a handy water and/or wine-cooling stream. From a distance, however, the beach appear to have a life of its own, with pebbles seeming to erratically rush towards and away from the oncoming waves. On closer inspection, we realise that we’ve simply disturbed hundreds and hundreds of tiny red crabs, all scurrying wildly away to their subterranean dens underfoot. Most succeed, with the exception of the three hapless crustaceans our fascinated dogs managed to seize. True to her nature, Millie totally failed to dominate even a tiny specimen; the Jindos on the other hand managed a grisly, acrobatic display of catch-the-crab before getting at least one leg each.IMG_2126

Following the dogs’ enthusiasm, we promptly hurled ourselves into the sea, quickly discovering that the water was A) emasculatingly chilly and B) a cunning camouflage for the sneakiest bastard rocks known to geography. After a few minutes of soothing drifting and violently spontaneous profanity, I reckoned I would do The Romantic Thing and carry Meg (+her stubbed toe) from the cruel waves. This lasted approximately three seconds before I kicked the rocks’ reigning champion, ultimately lacerating my foot and actually breaking at least one toe while dropping Meg back into the sea. Not a proud moment.IMG_2152

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One of the upshots of camping on a nigh-isolated coast is that one can let one’s imagination run wild vis-a-vis campsite customisation and driftwood furniture. Pooling our combined creativity and DIY skills, we managed to rig up a mostly-successful underground(/sand) cooler box, as well as an elegantly canopied, raft-remnants-and-polystyrene-box dining table, complete with almost-not-wet Styrofoam stools for the discerning diners.

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IMG_2441Evening entertainments included a live concert (playing Mumford & Sons from a mobile phone whilst drinking stream-cooled wine), a private cinema (Meg and Alysha escaped to a tent to watch Pitch Perfect on iPad) and a fully-interactive arts show, ie. Nathan and I scrambling over rocks while waving torches maniacally for the sake of light-trail photos.IMG_2471

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Still sadly un-equipped with a remotely spacious tent, Meg and I pretzelled ourselves into the (quote-unquote) ‘2-person’ tent for another night’s almost-sleep, with Millie’s small canine buttocks firmly clenching my shoulder for much of the duration.IMG_2474

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Luck willing, we’ll actually get our human-sized tent before the next inevitable, obsessively-documented expedition. Until then, I will contend myself with hunting down the elusive dunes of sand hidden in the crevices of every bag, shoe and sock I own.

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Ceremonial Lights and Local Conflagrations

IMG_1911The hectic Korean lifestyle is an odd one to adjust to for a weygook. The sparing 10 days’ holiday offered by most hagwons seems a pittance to anyone from Europe (although I’m told it’s generous enough by American standards), and woe betide if you actually use any of your sick days – ie. you’d better be comatose or dead.IMG_1816

Domo-kun, just hanging out.

Domo-kun, just hanging out.

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That’s not to say that 10 days are your lot: as with all countries, there are National Holidays to lust after during the more arduous weeks, and Korea traditionally celebrates about 15 of them a year.

However, if the holiday happens to fall on either a Saturday or a Sunday, tough. It’s fairly common in the West for employers to throw in an extra day either side of the holiday for goodwill, but in Korea you have to hope that the weekend doesn’t eat up too much of your precious midday-wake-up-bacon-breakfast-back-to-bed days.IMG_1845

The most recent holiday, Buddha’s Birthday (seokga tansinil, 석가탄신일) luckily occupied a Monday, allowing us to get away with our previously-mentioned camping trip. While we were away, Gwangju dolled up for the occasion.

A popular form of cultural celebration in Korea is via the medium of lantern displays – illuminated, paper-framed models lining the city’s roads and rivers. This Buddha’s Birthday, historic and traditional figures hover above the rushing water, not to mention such antiquities as Pikachu (despite him/her/it being Japanese) and Korea’s favourite infant’s TV show Pororo. The riverside is especially spectacular towards midnight; while it’s not 100% that the lights will stay on (they indecisively flicked on and off as the hours went on for us), you’ll have the river to yourself.IMG_1920

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Festive soju with our newfound, coincidentally fellow Lancaster Uni alumni mate Si.

Festive soju with our newfound, coincidentally fellow Lancaster Uni alumni mate Si.

On this particularly scenic night, however, a less peaceful, slightly more alarming light display lit the sky; as we walked through the city, we were immediately walled off by a number of fire-engines and police cordons battling with a towering inferno of a building.IMG_1828

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Si, bravely striding past the barrier to have a look.

Si, bravely striding past the barrier to have a look.

The strangest part for me: in the West, social media-ites would be climbing over each other, eager to be the first heroic photographer to earn him/herself an award for capturing this dynamic event, tweeting and posting about the fire as it progressed (and losing interest when it went out). Try as I might, however, I can’t find a single mention of the fire online, despite a significant portion of downtown Gwangju being blocked off to fight it as smoke and embers drifted high above the tallest buildings.IMG_1867

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Maybe they’re just less dramatic here.

The Road to Sangju

Since my last post, Spring sprung over the course of three days and then descended violently into Summer. To summarise: I’m no longer wearing coats as a mortal necessity, I actually spurn full-length trousers until I need to hide my sexy-yet-hirsute shins for professional purposes, and I’ve been sunburnt. Twice.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

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Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

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In the gap since January, a few changes have occurred: due to one of our colleagues having to leave his position, Meg and I now work at separate campuses (somewhat lonely but conducive to my nesting habits in my new bachelor-pad at work), and we’ve successfully embarked on and returned from an expedition to the Philippines. Why is this blog post not *that* blog post, I hear you cry ? I’m writing a travel piece for an Australian magazine and don’t have the faintest bloody clue if I’m allowed to put it on here first. I could re-write the thing more personably for blogging purposes, but that sounds like a lot of work.

In place of that particular adventure, I think I’ll re-enter the foray of public diary-writing via a more recent and local story; our first (mostly) successful Korean campout of the year (and, indeed, our first Korean campout. Actually, our first campout together, full stop).

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While looking for suitable campgrounds, we were split between two choices, in the anagrammatic quandary of Namhae versus Haenam. Haenam is closer, but less beach-y whereas Namhae is a rolling, mountainous archipelago of beaches and forests, but is a hefty 6-hour total bus journey from Gwangju. Given that we were exploiting a precious three-day weekend for Buddha’s Birthday, it seemed prudent to get as far away from home as possible, so Namhae and the nearby Sangju ‘Silver Sands’ beach won.IMG_1583

Being the environmentally-conscious (/incapable) people we are, driving is not an option. We rely wholly on the mostly-fantastic Korean public transport to get us everywhere; unfortunately, due to the three buses required for us to get from Gwangju to Sangju Beach it actually took us roughly as long to get there as the same journey would from Seoul. Regardless, we’re pretty bloody-minded when it comes to these things and did it anyway. A quick breakdown of the journey from Gwangju to Sangju Beach:

– From Gwangju’s Gwangcheon Bus Terminal, take an express bus to Jinju (₩10,250, about 2hrs)

– At Jinju, make sure to wait until the bus stops at the Intercity Bus Terminal, not the Express Bus Terminal: we got off too early (at the Express Terminal, the stop before our destination) and had to get a short taxi to the Intercity station. Not a great tragedy, but a pain in the backside when carrying a big ol’ bag. When at the *correct* terminal, get a bus to Namhae from Gates 15-17 (₩5,700, 1.5 hrs)

– Once in Namhae, just go back into the station and get a bus ticket to Sangju (₩2,500, 30 mins)

– From Sangju, head towards the big wet sandy thing you can probably see on your right and you’ll find the beach.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if you were interested.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if that sort of thing interests you.

Word of warning: if your bags are under the bus, be as theatrical as possible to the driver in getting them out; we dragged ours from the bus and got the doors almost-shut with seconds to spare before it sped away, apparently oblivious to the still-slightly-open side panel.

Sangju is a tiny, coastal town with one convenience store, one chicken takeaway and a handful of Korean seafood restaurants with obligatory tanks of live cephalopod victims. The beach is surprisingly pristine – while our experience gave us the impression that it was regularly crammed with waders, volleyballers and daydrinkers, we were reassured by a local Canadian teacher that it’s usually peacefully deserted. For the campers among you: there is a dictated camping area, which is apparently emptier on a regular basis; due to the holiday weekend, the campsite we saw was turned into an impromptu shanty-town of claustrophobic tents and canopies, so we chose instead to camp slightly illegally on the beach and, later, in the nearby woods edging the beach.

Namhae is known for its garlic, and is locally known as the kissing county

Namhae is famous for its garlic, and is locally known as the ‘kissing county’ (half of this information is true)

Good points: the beach is spectacular, and was our very portable pup’s first introduction to both sand and the sea. Millie, for all her wonderful traits, has never quite got the hang of swimming or, in fact, anything to do with water – as such, her first introduction to the beach involved a lot of barking at waves and sprinting away from the approaching tide, followed by eating and promptly vomiting a large quantity of sand. She quickly learned the undrinkable qualities of seawater, which did nothing to either her regurgitating or the state of our tent as she took shelter shortly afterwards.

what is this place

what is this place

what the hells this

what the hells this

what smells funny

what smells funny

gonna taste this

gonna taste this

what the bloody hell is this

what the bloody hell is this

why is this wet

why is this wet

where are you going

where are you going

seriously, screw this

seriously, screw this

True to Korea, you’re never far from convenient facilities; clean bathrooms and food stalls dot the coastline, and judging by the displays throughout the night it must be fairly convenient to purchase fireworks from somewhere nearby. While we foraged for food on our newly-second-hand-bought camping stove, bonfires and hand-held fireworks displays illuminated the night – and continued to do so throughout much of the early morning.

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

well I for one am inspired

well I for one am inspired and feel like I’m possible

Less good points: in the eventuality of Shanty Town campsite conditions, a particularly keen professional jobsworth may come and jab at your tent in the early morning/evening if it’s a few inches off ‘correct’ placement. By our sociophobic British nature, we tried to avoid any other humans while camping, but this resulted in our tent being placed in an unauthorised spot under the treeline. Word of advice for fellow renegade campers: keep your tent packed up until after about 8pm, then go rogue and camp wherever the hell you like, keeping in mind that your breakfast may be interrupted by an accusing pointed finger aimed at your tent.

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Less of a comment on the beach, more on our preparedness: our professional predecessors generously left the tent we brought with us, which I had set up at home to confirm its usefulness. In practice, however, it turned out that the size of it meant that I’m actually incapable of lying down horizontally: non-conducive to overnight camping, in hindsight. Gmarket will surely help us with replacement future camping equipment.IMG_1603

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Nothing like sandy Moscato in a plastic cup

 

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The lifelong loyalty of a dog who just heard the word ‘treat’

 

Sandy dog-vomit and crack-of-dawn social fireworks aside, this was a profoundly successful first attempt at Korea Camping. Future blogs – if ever they come – will surely tell tales of our upcoming rogue-adventures-to-be.IMG_1677

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Jeju (2): Divine Sex Ed

Halla TreesOur third and fourth days held the promise of either/or climbing Hallasan, swimming at Jungmun or daring the erotically artistic Loveland, and we had company – the bafflingly inexhaustive Pete, whose Wednesday plans we completely ruined by coercing him into joining us instead.Loveland I

Loveland is a miracle of Korea; in a country where sex and sexuality are pretty taboo subjects, it’s only a little baffling to be presented with an ‘art sculpture park’ completely devoted to vivid displays of every conceivable sexual position. As mentioned before, Jeju-do was and is the traditional honeymoon spot for Korean couples – and also used to serve as the Sex Education Island. The ancestral dol hareubang (‘grandfather stones’) dotting the island aren’t accidentally phallic, apparently. Loveland is basically an opportunity to act as obscene as possible, and does in fact encourage such acts by making the statues interactive. My apologies for any/all of the following images.

Loveland IV     Loveland II   Loveland III

Seogwipo BeachJungmun Beach demonstrates much of the essence of Korean tourism: it’s beautiful, exciting and completely crowded. The waves (for an Englishman of tame seas) are clothes-destroyingly strong (as certain people found out – but Meg would kill me for mentioning it) and the weather is fine – but, for the sake of the lifeguards’ ability to maintain order, the entirety of swimmers are restricted to a 100m stretch of the beach, meaning that personal space is a purely theoretical concept.

Above The CloudsFor the gamely traveller, challenges are always a plus when it comes to exploring hitherto unknown lands. The volcanic island currently in question has one, very obvious, geographic challenge – the volcano itself. Hallasan (‘Halla Mountain’) is the tallest mountain in Korea at 1950 metres, and – spoiler alert! – we went ahead and climbed it, along with mad Australian Pete.

CHAMPIONI say ‘mad’, as the walk was a tough one. Around 30-35 degrees, on a humid island, walking up another bastard hill, the travel guide predicted a walking time of 9 hours. We were very proud of ourselves – we made it in around 5-6 hours (Meg reaching the top slightly before me, because she’s a machine)…but Pete spent a little under two hours in total waiting either at the top or bottom of the mountain for us to arrive. I don’t understand how a human being can manage the whole thing in 3-4 hours, and have yet to determine his actual species.Halla Caldera

Crowded DonnaekoOur final day, while sad, promised relaxation at Donnaeko Waterfall – in contrast to Cheongjiyeon, an actual swimmable watering hole and river. Admittedly, our first impression was less than positive – the narrow river was hugely overcrowded and the rocky crannies and nooks were stuffed with rubbish and nappies – but, in a fairly sizeable river plateau between the bottom and the waterfall itself (as the river ran in large, wet steps), we could claim for our very own a peaceful 50-metre stretch of aquamarine water, forested sunlight and actual cold water. After a spectacular few hours of not doing much other than appreciating the environment, we dove into the waterfall, admired the mountain-goat ajummas clambering in their visors over and under the falls and – sadly – embarked for the airport.

Donnaeko Sunlight     Donnaeko

Jeju-do is well-deserved of its popularity; it feels like a completely different country, rather than simply a separate province. Having never been to Hawaii, I can’t comment on the accuracy of ‘Hawaii of the Orients’ – but I can see where they’re coming from.Leaving Sunlight

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Jeju (1): Visiting the Island of the Gods

Cheonjiyeon FallsBlowing the dust off the blog…

It’s been [INSERT QUANTITY OF MONTHS] since the last update, for which I blame (if not my own mutant ability to procrastinate) the unbelievable cooking-temperature summer which Koreans deal with so casually – while I spend most of my day peeling myself off chairs and pavements.Seogwipo Bridge

I am the unconventional proud owner of a coveted smartphone courtesy of the stupefyingly generous Hailey, which means that I can join the masses in zombified silence in public spaces. I’ve already unlocked the secret characters in Temple Run – don’t pretend you’re not jealous.

An upside of having such an unnecessarily advance device is that now I can surprise myself on a daily basis with my Big Day countdown app, which currently reads 28 days. That makes exactly three weeks before I’m back in the greenish-grey sanity of England, and ‘conflicted’ is the word of the day. I would be lying to say that I’m anything less than hyperactive at the thought of going home – but I’m starting to notice the things which won’t actually be there when I leave Korea. But sadness can wait for a later blog! It’s taken me long enough to post this bugger.

Woven HorsesFor the majority of Koreans, holidays are often spent within Korea itself; when you’re surrounded by either ocean or possibly-psychotic Communists your options are, alas, limited. Either families visit each other in Busan/Seoul/Gwangju/Gyeongju etc. etc., or visit the beaches in the neighbouring province of Gangwon-do – but the sought-after holiday spot (and, according to my classes, ‘abroad’ destination) is Jeju Island, a small-ish dot on the Korean map stranded in the southern sea.

Grandfather StonesHistorically a traditional honeymoon spot, ‘the Hawaii of the Orients’ (so I have been told) is chocka with exciting geography, history, exhibits, weather and food. Unfortunately our holiday coincided with the single most popular time of year to visit, so much of this was seen between shoulderblades.

You know what? I retract that last passive-aggressive statement: what we expected was to only see sights over the tops of crowds. In fact, we (mostly) had ample room to travel.

Jeju CoastJeju Island (roughly translated as ‘Island of the Gods’) is predominately divided between two places-to-be: Jeju City, next door to the airport and bustling with hustle and shops and nightclubs and other familiar things – the alternative being Seogwipo, a substantially smaller harbour-town with more countryside than cityscape to offer. We chose the latter in an optimistic attempt to minimise forced human interaction for a few days.Seogwipo Market

Seogwipo was a good bet. The city is thriving with markets, vegetation and a staggering number of restaurants of all different flavours. Typically, we managed to repeat-visit two places in the five days we had, but hell – it was a holiday.

Part of our reasoning for picking Seogwipo lay in the options to explore the area – while Jeju City has plenty of museums and hilarious sculpture parks (which I shall address momentarily), we wanted to see the actual, breathing volcanicity of the island itself. Our choices were:

(Days 1/2)

Meggit & BeanCheonjiyeon Waterfall – a very pretty spot, but ill-chosen for the first visit; the peak season was particularly self-evident as coaches spilled multitudes into the small canyon hiding the waterfall itself. Never have I wished to join ducks swimming so much; Jeju is even more equilateral than Seoul or even Daegu and the heat can be awesome. As in, the actual definition.

Seogwipo Bridge ThingSeogwipo – the city itself, although built on a bastard hill, has something to see at each level. On top of the hill (ie. our hotel) you can gorge yourself on any kind of conceivable food (we had the best Dak Galbi thus far tasted in Korea. Twice.) Further down, you can find arts & crafts, music venues, and street sellers such as a fantastically bohemian Nepalese couple we met at a street-stall; I am now the thoroughly proud owner of a hand-made bansuri flute which, while distinctly un-Korean, is possibly my favourite souvenir thus far purchased here.

Dak Galbi Mashita!

Meg Eats     Ben Drinks

Mr. KimOn our very first night there, we encountered a lovely, if initially odd, gentleman by the name of Mr. Kim. We went on a merry adventure about the city with him as our guide, clambering over coastal rocks in the dying light and drinking into merriment; apparently just having friends for the evening made him ‘very, very happy’, which was only a little heartbreaking for us when we couldn’t find him afterwards…Bright Trees

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