Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wherever next?

It has not been a successful day so far, though I'm doing my best, battling the odds!

Woke up early, planned to go to Jeju Island. This would involve a flight from the delightfully-named Yangyang Airport, which is a bus-ride away, and a change of planes at Seoul. I'd checked it all out on the web. Bus to the airport at 8:15am, leaving from the bus station right next to my hotel, as opposed to the one the other side of town. Availability on the flight to Seoul, and on one of the flights to Jejudo. I would have booked the tickets online but their ridiculous booking system insisted on trying to book the next connecting flight after my Yangyang - Seoul sector, which was full (the flight 20 mins after that one had seats) - booking separately would cost a fair bit more. So I'd just turn up at the airport. Worst case, if it didn't work out, I'd hop on the next bus from the airport to Gangneung and onwards by train with my 10-day rail pass which has been paid for but not used, grrrr. Don't buy a Rail Pass when coming to Korea, it's not worth it, the trains, even the high-speed KTX, are cheap anyway.

I really stayed here!

So, at the bus station 20 minutes early, i.e. before 8am (!), to buy ticket. Girl says with very limited English, no, airport bus from the other bus station. I don't believe you. The airport information website explicitly stated this one. No. Okay, does it go from the other station but stop here, as this is on the way? No, other station. Alright, can I take a local bus to Yangyang and change there? Other bus terminal. I just don't believe you! This conversation took a few minutes, as each time I'd nod, thank her, walk out then think "hang on a minute". But all was in vain. I had to go to the other station, of course arriving a couple of minutes after quarter past, i.e. when the bus was potentially leaving.

Here I'm told the next airport bus is 9:25, which as it's supposed to take an hour (turned out to be untrue), would get be there dangerously close to departure time of 11:15 given that I didn't have a ticket and no doubt it would be a palava to get one. So I suggest (to her!) going to Yangyang and changing there. Yes, that's a good idea, she concurs, though it would be a taxi from Yangyang. 3-4,000won. Turns out to be 5,000, but anyway, I get to the airport. It's deathly quiet. In to the building. Two flights today. JejuAir at 11:15am. Cancelled. Korean Air to Pyeongsomething at 6pm, still on. Marvellous.

So plan B then. Bus to Gangneung from the airport, as listed on the website. Oh no, says information desk, no buses. You have to go back to Yangyang. Another taxi then. Guess how many taxis there are at an airport with two flights a day, one cancelled and the next one in 8 hours? Anyway, I find one (perhaps he wanted peace and quiet and came here for a snooze?). And a bus. Stiflingly hot, just as the Korean like it. We arrive not in the train station but in the bus station, the other side of town. How to get to trains? Taxi. What about bus? Yes, number 202 or 303. I try to take one of them and am told this is the wrong 202 bus. I give up and walk. It's half an hour or so, and I rock up to the station. Time to try to get my Korean Rail Pass in a regional station, oh yes I love a challenge!

I am armed with a voucher, and know that this will probably be painful, as the vast majority of people will only exchange these in Busan or Seoul. I present the voucher to the girl, who after looking quizzically at it, including looking more than once at the blank other side of the printed piece of paper, tells me that it's not possible to do this here, only big stations, like Seoul. Okay, says I, what is the nearest station I can do this at? Blank. Can I change it at Daegu? Oh yes, she cries, Daegu okay! Right, what about Jegeon? No, only big stations. So what is the closest big station? Blank. Busan? Busan okay!! she yells in delight. I begin to think I'm going to have to read out every station on my LP country map and see if I get a grimace or a yelp for joy in response. I suggest she telephones someone who knows what they're doing. She agrees this is a good idea. I speak, she suggests. No, I reply, you speak!

Errr.. well at least I know they're all hot

So after a brief conversation, she manages to bring up the computer screen which I've seen before in Busan, the one for issuing the rail pass. Progress! By this stage two other station staff are involved, and they're poring over an obviously none-too-often used chapter of their large paper operating manuals. She taps about, choosing various options, and occasionally asking me curious questions. "You tourism name?". Best of all was when she asked nationality. This question was posed thus "American?". No, I replied, English. Blank. England. UK. London? Nope. I had a thought.. Given the subject of most idle questioning here.. It might just work… Beckham? Ahhhhh Beckham!!! She chooses the correct menu option. Never before have I had to express my nationality as Beckham, and I certainly hope never again!


Anyway, one thing leads to another and she manages to issue the pass and tickets. To be fair to the girl, it is her first time. It does also show you to persist when people tell you things aren't possible - with a smile and some coaxing you can usually make some progress. So now I'm on the somewhat amusingly named Mu gung hwa train, pronounced how it looks, or on the train intercom in a shockingly cheesy verging-on-the-sarcastic enthuiastic American accent! We pass Jeongdongjin where there is an enormous cruise ship up on a hill above the ocean, a surreal sight!

Noah would have got one of the luxury suites no doubt

In Andong, I stay at the (love) hotel Motel Q. It's nothing to get excited about, but will do. It has broadband in the room, I'm happy! I head out into town looking for a restaurant to eat at. Proves to be a challenge, and I have to confess that I end up eating at Mr Pizza, although only after being seated I notice the small strapline under their logo which declares "Specially for women". What does that mean? Should I be here? I try to take advantage of local customs by ordering something Korean, so I go for a New York Pizza with Puff Pastry base. Sounds weird but it works. The "specially for women" thing comes home when I ask for a beer to accompany my pizza. Turns out they only have hot chocolate or diet coke. It's a pizza, how can you have pizza without beer! Women!!

Andong Dam

Andong is famous for mackerel, strong soju and the traditional Korean masks, none of which I manage to experience. Next day, I walk out to a traditional Korean village, Hahoe. It's supposed to be 2.4km out of town. I walk along the busy road for about an hour, then think "I'll just check what the book said.." and just as well.. I'd miss-read - it was 24km out! I turn around and head out the opposite way to another village which is closer to town, via a seven-story Shilla period brick pagoda, the oldest and largest in Korea.


A bunch of Korean youngsters are admiring it at the same time. Seeing me, they laugh, then one yells out "Do you like pizza?" and immediately answers her own question with a "Yes! I do like pizza". Has someone been taking English classes perchance?! Funnily enough, it's not the only time this is said to me. Clearly the equivalent of our "Wie comme ich am bestum zum bahnhof" that I parrot irritatingly every time I've had a few beers with my German friends.

Village guardians

The village itself is relatively uninteresting - it was created when they dammed the valley and had to move the traditional houses out of the way, there's a folk museum with some mildly interesting displays, including one explaining Gija, or the traditional prayers for birth of a son, and Hwehon, the celebration of 60 years of marriage. The best bit was after buying the ticket, when the girl behind the counter handed it through the window to me then as soon as I turned away sprinted out of the office at the back so she would be sitting at the "ticket checking desk" just inside the door, where she seriously examined the ticket she had just sold me then tore off the stub. I laughed, and so did she.

After… I do find a nice restaurant nearby. The girl running it seems puzzled that I would ask for lunch at about 1pm, but eventually brings me some kimchi and rice which is delicious, and I enjoy sitting in some deep comfy sofas in my own private area, curtained off. Nice spot for a date, very discrete.

Simple but nice

Taken just after I dropped the poor Lumix from a great height. Ouch

I hop on the last train to Gyeongju. The 5pm train (!) - we're out in the regions at the moment, no KTX whizzo stuff here. I sit next to a nice chap, Kyung-Soo, an Electronics Engineering Lecturer at two Universities in the area. He's Christian, as are many Koreans, and mildly appraises me of all Jesus has done for me. It's interesting how Christianity took off in Korea. The explanation for this in Jina's Unmasked book is that Christianity largely fits with traditional Korean beliefs, i.e. of a single God etc, so when they were introduced to it, it just worked. Plus Koreans never do things by halves!


Anonymous said...

Hi there Sam!

Quite a nice blogg you've got going. Seems like you've been busy. Not that I'm insanely jealous or anything... Will recommended I'd see it and I just thought I'd drop you a quick line to say 'hi'. Hope that you're having fun and get in touch when you return to England.

Anonymous said...

-serendipity is a fave movie of yours?!!??