The beach is dirty, far away, scant on food, and cold.
The theme-park has beer about every fifty meters, a way-cool slide (actually, several), and best of all ... gratuitous Egyptian themeism everywhere you look!
"Whoa." (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix. Totally.)
When we arrived, I could not believe my eyes. I was about to spend my Saturday at one of those cheesy theme parks that I openly mock. Not only that, I had paid near $50 to get in and put another $50 more down in "Ocean World Coin" to buy things on the inside.
This is where being a cynical American is proven wrong, but I'll get to that later.
We took off our shoes just past the entrance and put them in shoe lockers. We were given rubber adjustable wrist-bands that looked like watches to wave by and open our lockers, and we were given UPC-like scannable wrist bands with our dear "Ocean World Coin." We undressed and locked up separately, and met at the threshold of a world of concrete, cash, and current.
Park, showing no signs of slowing down since the ATV excursion, led us at high foot-speed (on wet concrete) to a variety of locales before she sadly informed us (Caroline and I) that there were no beach chairs to be had (rented) and we would have to lie on the shaded concrete. We spread out our Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and sadly blank towels, put on our life jackets (required), and headed for the wave pool.
Before, I had been to wave pools. And the ocean.
This was bigger than wave pools, and, usually, the ocean.
This was less salty than the ocean.
This was more crowded than most subways.
But once I got used to bumping into someone wherever I turned, it was fun.
We swam, hand in hand, for the birthplace of the waves, near the wall, the speakers playing "dun-DUNNNH" (a minor third, I think) every time a wave was to come and the dog-headed god. Past the many fake stone cobras and palm trees we went, ignoring signs of "podu cotu" (food court) and the beach cabanas that destroyed the theme! We were swept up in waves bigger than us, catapulted into strangers as if in a mosh pit, and emerged, nasally clorinated, in time to laugh, rinse (okay maybe not rinse), and repeat.
Then it was snack time. The stands at Ocean World have the usual hot-dog fare, the usual (Korean) ddukbokki fair, and ... churros. Yes, churros. I don't know if I can call it "Konglish" as it is "Kospish" (or Spanglean?) but there were churros. Coincidentally, "cheoreoseu" is also singular, as the Koreans opted to adapt the plural, rather than the single "churro." Funny, considering that the "churros" were sold in packs of ... one. But we had beer (about $3 a pop domestic, $6 for heineken, not bad for a theme park) and churros and went to experience what every theme park promises:
Long f*ing lines.
We took our full beer cans to the line for the tube slide, which was over 90 minutes long. Along the way we watched people try to tactfully remove wedgies as they exited a high-speed slide, and we watched luge-like races on a hill.
It was a long 90 minutes, no doubt, and I had to pee by the top.
And then they put us in an inner tube with handles, two or three stories up, and pushed us down a curvy-bumpy slide.
And it was so totally worth it. Why did I skip Oceans of Fun when I was a child living near Kansas City? How could I doubt that those lines were for majestic pleasures? How wrong could I have been?
But I was.
Anyhoo, we had lunch, and a dip in the hot tub, and then got in line for the BIG slide. The 200 minute line. Two snack-bar trips and restroom trips later (done tag-team in line, of course), and we were sitting with a huge crowd, moving slowly toward an amorphous destination of adrenaline, looking at the 30 minute mark.
Then we got our two-person raft.
Looking at a five-story slide is one thing. Preparing to go down it, as you look out on the tiny people, is another. My companion is plagued with vertigo, and I merely anxiety, so I had to go first. I had the front seat to face the drop that we would be forced down to begin our ride.
Our Korean lifeguards were very polite, making sure we were in proper position and ready before we went. And then we went ... every up-swing, we caught air. We nearly turned around, but the (well-designed) corners narrowed and straightened us out. A few minutes (maybe twenty seconds?) later we were at the bottom.
Seven p.m., time to leave. Sorry for making you wait three hours, Park, but we did too. And coming here was your idea.
There were numerous other notables, too. Coin lockers? No, those are "self-control boxes," which, at about 10 cents, you should get several of. Nevermind they're right next to the smoking area. (Cough, irony, cough, pun, cough, hack, wheeze, done.) Stage shows? We've got 'em, nearly all day, in some of the "most interesting" costumes you'll ever see. http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621992467965/ doesn't do justice; there were flamingo-like rags and puffy balls fit for Vegas glam and burlesque ... indescribable.
But the best part? Ocean World coin is refundable. They scan your bracelet on the way out and give you your money back. It's just an easier way of paying, not a way of predating on your laziness.
And that, my friends, is Korean hospitality. In a theme park. About water. And Egyptians. In the wooded forest.
***Do check out the video at http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621992467965/. Audio's bad but you'll get the idea. Photos, too.
[Photo: Entrance with models/dancers. Russian, we think, by overhearing.]
Well it was fun. Well, not so much fun as tasty. But it was tasty.
Herb Nara (Herb Country) is, as the title implies, a themed-up K-tourist-trap somewhere in the depths of Gangwon-do. How I got there remains a mystery, as I was merely a passenger, but I don't remember the drive taking too long from the ATV place by P'yongchang.
There were herbs.
Lots of herbs.
Herb jam, herb tea, herb bread.
All pleasing to the palate. So much so that I took some home despite the exorbitant prices. (Okay, not that exorbitant for organic produce in Korea, but still.)
Credit my laziness and a touch of business, I didn't manage to get this update in last weekend when it happened. (Last weekend--both a potato festival and four wheeling? I must be mad!) But anyway, here's the scoop:
Four-wheeling (ATV riding) near P'yongchang (still in Gangwon-do, Korea's most rural province, but near Seoul). Great fun. For about $25 per person we got a brief introductory lesson and an hour of guided on- and off- road adventure. The trail started paved and straight, and gradually got more difficult as we progressed. There were beautiful views to be had off the side of the mountain, but they were not as captivating as the task of staying on the path (and thus on the mountain), and so my memory is fuzzy and pictures are not to be had.
A couple in our group wanted to go quite slow, so we did, but eventually, when we were about to turn around, the group split. My Korean friend, Park Gun-yeong, who is a bit of an adventure nut and trainer, basically demanded that we go further, and faster, and then come back to get the rest. Before I knew it (I just reacted to "Darren, come on"), we were going full throttle.
At first, I was glad. It's easier to go fast--you have momentum and not every rut in the trail is a major obstacle. But it's not easier to turn fast, and when you're on a path about twice as wide as your ATV with one side being a guardrail-free drop down a mountain, you really don't want to skid out. Or at least I didn't want to. Park, on the other hand, was no longer to be seen.
Eventually I caught up with her and the disenfranchised guide who did not understand why I had parted ways with the pokees, and we headed back down. Next stop: Herb Nara
An meogsumnida: "Meog" is eat. "An" before it makes it negative, and the "sumnida" afterwards makes it formal. (For those who can read Korean but aren't familiar with the irregular pronunciation rules, piup ("p") is said "m" before niun.)
Meog ji anhayo: A less formal (but still polite) way of saying you don't eat. Again "meog" is eat, "ji" is a connector used with verbs, "an" (like earlier) makes it negative and the "--yo" makes it polite.
(If your phrasebook has "an meogayo," that's basically the same thing but didn't fit the song rhythm as nicely.)
Bbego juseyo: "Take out please" ("bbae" is the stem of remove, "go" is a connector used with verbs, and "juseyo," literally "give me" makes it nice and polite.)
Gogi: Meat (Tweiji: Pig, Soe: Cow, Dalk: Chicken. Yes you have to say all three. "Meat" by itself generally is taken to mean beef. I've seen ham in "vegetable" kim-bap (sushi-like) rolls. See http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-meat-doesnt-mean-no-meat.html.)
Modun chongnyu gogi: ("Modun" means every ("modu" in the adjective form) "chongnyu" is kind, and I think we've covered "gogi" by now. Again for those who can read and are surprised at the spelling: riul ("r") after iung ("ng") becomes "n.")
Haemul: Seafood. (Mulgogi: Fish (which is not seafood sometimes), Seu: shrimp (and lobster but let's not go there), Joge: Shellfish (usually clam). Yes you have to say odang seperately, it's not considered seafood. Again, see http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-meat-doesnt-mean-no-meat.html.)
Tarun keot i. First, you probably noticed I say "kosh-i" that's because shiot (romanized s), when in the padchim (bottom) is said like a "t," but when followed by a vowel (like "i," our dear old topic marker), it usually is said as an "s" and part of the next vowel. That said, "tarun" is another and "keot" is thing. Since Korean usually doesn't distinguish between plural, this could be either "another thing ..." or "other things ..."
Kyeran: Egg. In a dictionary there are a ton of words for egg. This one works in restaurants. I have no idea what the rest are.
Meog ji anhaso: Same as "meog ji anhayo," but changing the -yo to -so makes it a reason for doing something else. Here, "because I don't eat these things ,... " (followed by "please take them out," "bbego juseyo").
Hope you enjoyed it. Veggies in Seoul have some resources, like this one: http://seoulveggieclub.wordpress.com/.
The rest of you, though (like us Wonju-ites), best get to singin'
The other day, my yoga instructor told me she was pregnant. Well, not in those exact words. "Me -- baby," was what she said. I said "Congratulations" in English (I don't know it in Korean) and then "Choayo" (that's good).
Normally at this point the polite thing would be for me to ask how far along she was. She definitely wasn't showing. But how do I do that? "Onje yo?" Literally, when, could mean when it would be due or when it was conceived, and I probably cound guess from context (in the future or the past) what she meant, but it'd be better if I could ask "When + [due date or conception date]?"
Sadly I don't know any even polite terms for intercourse, much less conception, and that wouldn't be the most polite approach, anyway. I could ask when she was due maybe by saying "Onje ai sargesseoyo?" (Literally, when will it intend to live, because I don't know a proper future tense yet.) Maybe "Onje ai sarolkeoeyo?" (When will it probably live?) But neither of those are terribly polite.
Being fluent in the universal lecture of gestures, my next thought was to try to communicate by hand movement either (1) a baby being born or (2) a baby being conceived. The latter is easy, but again, impolite, and the former ... well the best I could do was either (a) make a circle with my hands and gesture, using a forearm, something large coming out, or (b) make a basketball hoop with with my hands/arms and poke my head through.
Then I thought, "Perhaps I could even combine the gestures and completely humiliate myself."
This left me with only the typical stranded foreigner option: Wait for someone else to relay the information to you, if you're lucky. This approach beats offending everyone in eyeshot and earshot, though.
(Of course, by the time I had figured all this out four other people had entered the room and we had already begun yoga class.)
This weekend was the first (am told) Gangwon-do Big Potato Festival! Three days were dedicated to the root vegetable (which I do love), marked by food, crafts, booze (of course), and even a bit of singing and dancing. Four hours was enough for me (as there were only 20 or so booths), but that's not to say I didn't enjoy myself.
A bit of background: Gangwon-do is home to, supposedly, Korea's most delicious potatoes. Gangwonites (?) themselves are sometimes referred to as "potatoes" ("kamja") due to the fact that, when Korea was much poorer, Gangwon's soil could not produce rice and thus Gangwon produced (and consumed) potatoes.
Back to the festival: On display courtesy of the Forestry Research Institute were several ... interesting ... arrangements of beautiful moths. There was also animal taxidermy which, as a veg, somewhat bothers me but I must confess it was tastefully done (other than the moths) and the specimens were beautiful and well-preserved. We (I went with a coworker) saw quite a variety of flowers, onions, mushrooms, and (of course) potatoes.
Outside that very large tent were (1) the nicest port-a-potties I've ever seen and (2) the rest of the festival. It included display booths with several nice products that were ... not for sale. I left with namecards and maps to places I'll probably never go instead of honey-coated dried mushrooms.
The potato sales were handled similarly. Although red and purple (yum!) potato samples were available and promoted, only if I order online and get delivery will I cook their deliciousness in my very own kitchen. Thankfully, shipping is cheap here.
Another booth was make your own kamja-jeon (potato pancake)! For a measly thousand won (less than $1 US), I was provided with a large potato and a grater. When my labor was finished, the ajumma on the other side added minced vegetables and fried up my finely grated treat. Lunch? No longer needed.
But there was more food to be had, and it was had. Potato dduk (rice cake)--all the starch you need in a week ... in a single serving. Croquettes so creamy they looked cheese filled, but were only potato (and actually a bit too creamy, if tasty nonetheless). Potato booze with your meal? Sure, but it's not vodka--it's a kinda smelly, if mellow to drink, sweet wine, weighing in at, am told, about seven to ten percent.
I skipped the crafts made of silk and potato flower face painting, but another booth intrigued me--some sort of potato glop and mesh cloths were sitting out. I approached, curious, and was told to extend my hand. The glop was placed on a cloth, and then on my arm. I was told I would be exfoliated and whitened in ten minutes. To date, I can't tell the difference, but Korean women (who are more aware of such things) have consistently guessed correctly to which arm the mystic potato cosmetic was applied.
So to the cosmopolitans in their big cities I say: Sure, you have a variety of restaurants, live entertainment, and such, but ... do you have potatoes?
Photo link on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621861869041/
At Golgulsa, one of my roommates highly recommended the Yangdong Folk Village outside of Gyeongju.
The folk village previously had not made my radar as it was (1) a half hour bus ride plus a half hour walk outside of Gyeongju and (2) a folk village, which could not, to my mind, guarantee much more than the shopping of the folk craft village.
I was wrong.
Yangdong folk village, though not readily accessible, is a stunning collection of Joseon dynasty homes, lecture halls, and other buildings. Its noteworthiness comes in its scope (taking hours to walk through), its preservation of commoners' hut-like dwelling homes, and the fact that some of the homes are even still occupied. Occasionally a halmoni will glance up from her television while you photograph her house.
We arrived and were greeted by a bilingual volunteer guide who directed us to the four national treasures contained in the village and gave us English guidemaps. We mentioned we were hungry and she walked us to the restaurants. (There are only two restaurants in the village to preserve its character.)
On our way into the restaurant, a man offered us slices of peach (not cheap), and we sat down. We had a very nice doenchangcchige (like miso soup but thicker and with more veg and tofu) and p'ajeon (spring onion pancake with soy dipping sauce) and side dishes for ... the same price those things would have been in Wonju. The two allowed restaurants in Yangdong serve great food and don't gouge you!
This naturally put us in a good and we headed out to explore the village to be greeted by ... the bilingual volunteer! She had walked back up to the restaurant area to offer to give us a personal guided tour, in our native language, of the village!
(Perhaps now I should mention there is no entry fee for the village, so this was all "gratis.")
She took us to the varied historical treasures in the village, and explained the very human history of the village. Though a Confucian village, Yangdong is known as the son-in-law village because it is where men would go live with their wives' families. The two founding families were competitive, each building up successive pavilions and lecture halls such that the village has about seven times as many as would be expected.
We toured traditional humble restrooms (mud hut, straw roof, hole), luxurious houses with separate male and female quarters, and the hillside and valleys along the way. Our guide told us how to make a stomach-soothing drink from maeshil (plums) and sugar.
About three hours later, we had seen the national treasures and most of the village. Our guide politely disembarked, and we headed back to the restaurants to try the recommended cheongju (filtered rice wine). We went to the other of our two options, and had a significant quantity of wine as well as very, very nice kim chi and tofu for a mere 12k won.
From there, we walked back down the highway parallel to the railroad tracks to our bus stop, snapped a few photos and went home.
But to reiterate: 24k won (under $20 US) spent, four hours entertainment, food, history, and a guided tour. Definitely on the "recommended" list.
Before I return to blogging about Gyeongju, I must mention something that, for no apparent reason, I forgot to address before:
Ch'alborippang. My new favorite food.
What is it?
Two small barley pancakes (about the size of your palm) with sweet red bean paste in the middle.
I think I ate about 30 of these in my time in Gyeongju. The perfection is hard to describe. They are pancake-house quality pancakes, yet prepackaged. The ratio of sweet bean paste to pancake varies by venue (from very little, like a stingy jelly sandwich, to a noticeable amount with extra pancake to hold the extra spread) but they are always super-mega-yum. Breakfast with coffee ... snack on the go ... IS THERE ANYTHING THEY CAN'T DO? I don't know.
For travelers with the Lonely Planet (Korea) in tow, note: ch'alborippang is the pancake sandwich mentioned in the Gyeongju chapter, not gyeonjuppang. Gyongjuppang is more bean paste (a lot of bean paste) in a cylindrical bread shell. Better for those who like bean paste but lacking the beautiful texture of the ch'alborippang.
And for family and friends: I'd bring you some, but unless I bought a suitcase full on the way to the airport, you'd never see them after a 14-hour flight. Guess you just have to come visit.