Last weekend was Korea’s independence day (March 1, 1945–from the Japanese), and it’s a national holiday–which means that I had a very exciting day off.
To pass the time, I went to a soccer game with Tom, Kristen, and Kristen’s friend from Suwon. Daejeon was playing FC Seoul, and we lost terribly–a whopping 5/2. But the first goal of the game was scored by a Weiguk, so I was a little bit excited about that.
Soccer fans are pretty nutty, which is good for some quality entertainment. I think maybe the reason Daejeon lost is because our side didn’t look like THIS. (This is FC Seoul.) They were dancing and throwing these banners around the entire game. And there were Weiguks in their traveling crowd! Whaaat? Our team’s supporters looked a little dismal. Sad.
The next day, I headed out to Mokpo, feeling a little frazzled by the idea of traveling alone. So far I haven’t actually done it–I went to Seoul alone a couple times, but Mokpo is DEFINITELY not Seoul. It’s a whole different world, and for that I was quite grateful–when I finally arrived.
When I got to the Daejeon Station, I was promptly told that I was at the wrong place, as the Daejeon Station does not sit on the Mokpo line, and thus I needed to go to the SeoDaejeon Station. (Which prior to this day I did not even know existed–but a quick check in the guidebook could have fixed that.) On the way to SeoDaejeon station, my cabbie almost got in an accident, but I wasn’t paying attention (because I was NOW reading the aforementioned guidebook.)
I arrived at around 1:30, which was quite late for a day trip, so I had already decided that I was staying the night, regardless of whether or not there would be anything to do in Mokpo, which was described as having “coastal grimy charm”. (Just my kind of city.) However upon arrival at the station, I misinterpreted the posted times and thought that the ‘arrival’ time for the train was actually the ‘departure’ time from Daejeon, so I thought that the next train to Mokpo ran at 4:30. So instead of waiting around for three hours, I bought a ticket to Gwangju, which seemed interesting.
And then I sat down to wait for the train, and I was flipping through the guidebook, and realized that there was nothing to see in Gwangju, and at that time I also realized that I had read the sign wrong, and so I waited in line AGAIN behind this adorable baby so that I could switch out the tickets. The whole time I kept thinking “everybody is watching me be an idiot right now.”
But I exchanged my ticket and ended up getting on the MOKPO train as planned (at 2:10, not 4:30, which was actually sooner than the Gwangju train. Haha.)
The train ride was fantastic. Once we passed a certain point, the Korean countryside just changed. It became something else. Square rice fields lay flat and then mountains just exploded out of the earth for miles and miles–they piled up on each other forever. And the farther south we went, the farther away from Seoul we got, and I felt like I was farther away from whatever it is that makes this place look all the same.
Once in Mokpo, I was also in love with the difference that seemed to be prevalent in the city. Mokpo was at one time the seat of the main opposition party in Korea. Development funding was deliberately cut to stifle the political activity here–but the result was that Mokpo looks distinct from other Korean cities. It has ‘grimy coastal charm’ and a kind of liveliness that other cities didn’t have. I smiled at people, and they smiled back.
Actually, within five minutes of my arriving at the Mokpo train station, I was invited to drink with the best native-Korean English speaker I have ever met. And although I didn’t take him up on the offer, I was pretty excited, and I felt welcomed.
Other than being an intriguing place, Mokpo is on the ocean, and it is on the mainland overlooking a spectacular cluster of islands. I was planning on taking a cruise around some of them, but the rain on Monday prevented me. How sad. However, Sunday evening was sunny and I headed straight from the train station to Yudalsan, a park in the middle of the city, from which there are spectacular views.
(Note the lack of identical high rise apartments in this photograph.) Yudal park was spectacular, and I climbed higher and higher, even as the sun was getting lower and lower. (Though I took note of the street lamps, placed even on the most precarious of stone steps.)
(Also possibly someone’s grave.) Anyway as I climbed higher up the mountain, the path began to snake up around the large rocks that sat at the top of the mountain–a kind of rock formation that seems to me to be quite Asian–bare, white slabs with almost no features. Like enormous boulders that just happened to fall from the sky.
I sneakily took a picture of two young gentlemen sitting on one such outcropping, but this is not the one at the top of the mountain. As I moved farther up the mountain, the stairs became more precarious, and the path more like a real trail, and below me I kept seeing more and more of Mokpo–and farther out into the ocean. It was simply a photography paradise, so I took all the pictures I could.
As you see, just because Mokpo was once undercut for development funding, it is not so now. A number of large projects are under works, like this strange diamond shaped land bridge. Who knows what it is designed for. One of the ‘nicer’ sides of town is built on ‘reclaimed’ land (who decided “building” land where there was ocean before should be termed “reclaiming”–that makes it sound like it was ours to begin with!). It is an odd metaphor for how I see most of Korea these days. The ‘nice’ things, the new Korean ‘good life’ is built on a fake foundation. A man made, tangible–earthy, real, yet fake foundation. The grimy, swarthy, saline world is the undesirable world, but it is the world that is built on real soil.
Anyway I reached the very peak of the mountain, a perch on top of some enormous bald boulders, and sat with about twenty Koreans who were just minding their own business. The sun ducked behind a cloud and refused to give a good sunset, but I was content with being at the top of the world for a little while.
On my way down I captured this spectacular shot of the city lights starting to come on. I am not sure who the statue is of, but I am assuming that it is Admiral Yi, man of the naval hour, who saved the Koreans from the Japanese with Turtle Ships.
Heading back around the city, I got something to eat, and then I sat in a coffee shop and drew for a couple of hours–something that felt good to do, even if I could do it at home. It felt nice to do it somewhere else. Then I searched for a super cheap motel and found one. I paid 15,000 for a room–with it’s own bathroom facilities, which is something like 12/13$. However, when you pay that little for a room, you should expect facilities of about the same quality. Please, examine the photographs….
The room seemed alright–not too dirty, not too clean, with a working television (and CNN in English!) and a heated bed (since the ondol didn’t appear to function.) However it was the bathroom that really did a number on me. Something had melted the bathtub. Like actually corroded the plastic enough to melt it. The shower barely worked and I was actually afraid to flush the toilet because of plumbing reparations. But it wasn’t a problem at all. Everything worked out. Until I woke up in the middle of the night to a sound that sounded quite like someone attempting to force my door.
Now this is probably one of the reasons that I know I have been in Korea for WAY TOO LONG. Instead of assuming that someone was breaking into my room in order to steal things from me, I was convinced that the landlady had seen that I had left my bathroom light on, and was attempting to break into my (indoor locking only) room so that she could turn off the light and thus not waste her precious electric bill.
After a few moments of horrible fear passed, I realized that in fact no one was attempting to break into my room, and that the sound was coming from the opposite end of the room, and above me, so the only logical conclusion was that someone was having a VERY good time in the room above mine.
I woke up the next morning, departed the yeogwon (guesthouse, not even a motel) and went on my way–only to find that there wasn’t much to do, because it was raining. So I explored, took pictures, ate some delicious bibimbap, and then went on my way. It was a wonderfully relaxing trip, and I got some great photographs and some great stories, and even better, I spent some quality time with my pens and markers.