17 August 2008

Tongyeong and Hansando Island and Jindo Town

I had one hour to get from work to the train station downtown so I bolted out the door and caught a cab to the subways station, figuring that the subway would be faster than taking a cab all the way at rush hour. I got there in time for a quick bite (bulgogi MVP grilled cheese at Isaac Toast: yum!) and walked in just as they popped the gate. I got a forward facing window seat but I was in an even numbered row so I was between windows. Remember this for next time. Everything runs right on time here and the train was no exception: we left the station on the second.

We stopped at Gupo station in northwest Busan on the way out and the unoccupied seat next to me was taken by a girl whose boyfriend brought in her luggage, kissed her goodbye and took off. She immediately started crying and did so until I got off in Daegu an hour later. Every once in a while it would wane and then she would get a text message and start up again. I felt the same way last night on the subway after I took Yoo Jin to the train station but I held it together.

She has changed everything about this. Just when things were starting to become bland she showed up and made everything vivid again. I have said it before but it is incredible how cool she is. She moves through the world with a sense of grace and appreciation of beauty and innate wisdom that is beyond her years. She is also far too humble. She can't see how special she is. I have never met anyone else like her. She's a keeper.

She was waiting for me at the station and we found a motel nearby (from the Lonely Planet, god love it) that was clean and well appointed and at 30000W a great value. We went out and found a fried chicken joint that was delicious but a little overpriced. We ate outside on a maru, the little low platforms everywhere that are like outdoor living rooms). We got some maekju (beer) and ate slow and talked and laughed. After a while a guy came up and started talking to us. His name was Kim Tae Moon and he and I ended up hanging out late into the night. (Yoo Jin had to go home to mama.) He said he could sing and started out with "Take Me Home Country Road." I joined in with some harmonies and we were instant buddies. We ended up going to a nearby karaoke bar and singing until neither of us had any voice left. By the end of the night we were walking down the street in the rain holding hands, which is totally cool for grown men to do in Korea, especially if they are drunk off their asses (we also shared a love of soju it turned out). I bid him adieu at the door to my hotel and went in and passed out I don't know when. Yoo Jin came and woke me up at 7AM and I was really feeling it then. But I had so much fun the night before that I didn't care.

We walked through the train station the next morning on the way to the bus terminal and here come Tae Moon, wearing the same clothes and the same big smile. I gave him a big hug and he pointed us to the shortcut. At the bus terminal we went got a ticket and had a half hour till our bus left so we went and got some Dunkin Donuts. On the way we found the Blue Jean hat at a street vendor (see pics). Onto the bus and off. BTW: I took three busses, two taxis, two ferries, one subway and a train on this trip and I added up the total transportation cost and it was less than 40000W ($40). Not bad.

Ate lunch in Masan and transferred to Tongyeong bus. Got a little cranky about then. Got to town and took a cab directly to the ferry terminal where we caught a ferry that was just leaving for Hansando Island. The island had a bus but it pulled out before we realized we should have got on it and had to wait an hour for it to come back. It was ok though. Yoo Jin drew a cool picture of the view (she is quite an artist) and I wrote in my journal and we had ice cream. When the bus got back we hopped in and while we were waiting to leave a guy got on and started screaming at the driver. You have to understand: this simply does not occur in Korea. Korean culture has no place for conflict. They do anything they can to dispel disagreements without resorting to raised voices. I will probably never see anything like this again. It was incredible. The whole bus turned on the guy and then he started screaming at everyone in general. Yoo Gin was literally shaking, and we were in the very back of the bus. I thought it was hilarious. A guy with a lifeguard shirt went up immediately went up and separated the guy from the bus driver who was kind of in a bad position as he was sitting down and couldn't get up without bumping the guy. I felt bad for him. I would have killed this guy. A few seconds later a constable showed up out of nowhere and got in the guys face and ended up physically removing him from the bus and wrestling him down the wharf. I never did figure out why the guy was angry. It was something to see. There is a great picture of Yoo Jin's reaction.

We went around the island, not really knowing where to get off, but Yoo Jin had talked to the driver and told him that we wanted to go to the beach and he said that we couldn't go there on the bus but he could get us close. We got to a little fishing village called Jindo and he yelled back to us to get off. There were maybe twenty buildings in the little town. We walked down to the waterfront to inquire about lodging. Yoo Jin asked a lady peeling garlic on the breakwater if her minbak had any rooms. She said we needed to make reservations. We went to all of the other minbak in the little town and they all said they were full. We were looking pretty screwed. The last bus was coming soon and there wasn't another ferry until the next day and it looked like rain. We went back to the first lady and asked if we could make reservations. She said yes. We made reservations for that night (!) and she gave us a room. (I am still not sure what happened here.) It was 40000W, but she wanted us to get two rooms. Yoo Jin said no, one room. They talked for a minute and came to some kind of understanding.

She showed us to out room and get this: maybe 8x12 and a "bathroom" shared by the six rooms on the floor and no AC and no BED! Now to be fair, this is typical accommodation for a minbak, or pension. But I had a few rules when I got here and I had already broken most of them. No slit toilets (this turned out to be a good prohibition that I still break only under great duress), no eating at sit on the floor restaurants (this turned out to be a stupid prohibition than I now completely disregard), and no sleeping on the floor. The real blow was the lack of AC because the humidity on the sea is brutal. I know I sound like a baby and I am. It's just that I am a very troubled sleeper to start with. I don't sleep well under idea conditions. We were without any other options and I was with Yoo Jin which makes the worst possible outcome pleasant so we made ourselves cozy.

After a brief nappy we went downstairs and had a wonderful dinner. The restaurant (operated by our hosts) was a hoe place, but we were not in a position to spend 70000W for that so we had samgyopsal. I have become something of an expert on this presentation and this was great (we had it again the next night and it was great, too, but for completely different reasons). You cook it yourself on a domed cast iron plate, usually fired from below by gas but sometimes charcoal. Samgyopsal is basically uncured bacon. I usually throw on a few pieces to grease it up for the garlic. There are also usually other veggies to cook up, like onion, cabbage, mushrooms, or peppers. A lot of times seaside places give you whole (head on) fresh shrimp or prawn as starters to cook up. Some people throw on some kimchi. The idea is to slowly feed on the meat and eat it as it is ready. The meat comes in strips and they give you scissors to cut it up into bite size pieces as it cooks. I like to wait till it is almost done but Koreans cut it up earlier. You take a piece or two of meat and wrap it up in lettuce or sesame leaf (or, like Yoo Jin, bless her pretty heart, both) and put in a piece of roasted garlic and some red bean sauce and some veggies and pop it in the mouth. Yoo Jin and I mostly make them and feed them to each other. She likes them a little spicier and I like more garlic. I can't make them for myself as good as she can for me. Soju is the perfect accompaniment and you drink it out of shot glasses and say "kombai!" and then turn the shot glass upside down on you head to show it is empty.

After dinner we went for a walk down by the sea. There was a party going on out there. Ten parties actually. People had been fishing all day and they were eating the catch, either raw or cooking it on grills or both. The festivities were well lubricated and went on late into the night.

After a bit we went upstairs and tried to sleep. This is the end of Friday.