Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Southern South Korea!

Ok, a lot has happened since my last update, so let us rewind back to last Wednesday night.  Monica and Carl went to the DMZ all day and learned a lot (and managed not to get left behind by the bus like my idiot brother did in February).  They got home and we did the dinner thing and hung out/watched movies before heading to bed.  We (well, Monica and I...Carl is always up way later than us) finally hit the sheets around 11:30pm.  Around 3:00am I woke up because I thought I heard water running.  Cue a roughly ten minute, half asleep internal dialogue in which I try to convince myself that 1) I'm not actually hearing anything, 2) It is raining outside, or 3) it is just my shower leaking and it would stop.  Finally I figured that Carl must have accidentally left the water running in the bathroom or something, so I got up to turn it off.  As I walk by my door, the automatic light goes on and I see that it is secret answer 4) my ceiling is gushing water.  Water was streaming out of my ceiling via the light, and flooding the area by my door, soaking all of our shoes.  I called my landlord Liz and woke her up and she and Papa Kim came down to try and figure out what the hell was happening.  It consisted mostly of them looking aghast at the ceiling with their hands raised in a shrugging position.  Not helpful.  Papa Kim got a ladder and unscrewed the cover of the light, which was full of water and started to spark and short out.  Lovely.  Eventually they grabbed a bucket and told us to come upstairs to their apartment to sleep.  We finally got back to bed around 4:30am, leaving me to get up in two hours.  Thinking ahead, I brought my phone so I could set the alarm.  Liz asked in my sleepy stupor at 4:30am if I needed to get up around 6:30am and I said "yeah, sometime around then."  Apparently she didn't get the message that I would get myself up, because at 6:30am I got a wake up call and a knock on my door.  I wanted those last thirteen minutes of sleep!  Then she YELLED at me in Korean when I went to wake up Carl and Monica, both of whom had requested that I wake them to go back down to my apartment when I left.  Liz is a sweetheart, but she can over-mother and I was not in the mood to even be talked to after all that, let alone force fed milk in the morning, so we bolted.  The next day I got some sweet/funny/annoying emails with statements like "You did not sleep last night.  You must be tired."  Uh, yeah.  Thankfully they got it fixed relatively quickly.  (Please note that I took pictures of this ordeal specifically for the purpose of blogging, but they somehow got deleted.  Are they on your camera by any chance, Monica?)

Thursday SUUUUCKED because I was falling asleep at school.  Carl and Monica got to sleep in (jealous) and headed down to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon for the day since the weather was gorgeous. Monica wore a tube top and got yelled at by an old Korean man on the metro who pantomimed that women dressed like that should be beaten and possibly stabbed.  Awesome.  They got home later than normal and we basically packed and grabbed some food before heading out to the station where we were catching the bus for Jeollanamdo.  They had originally said that we would leave at 11:30pm and that the bus would be there by 11:10pm.  We arrived between 11:00pm and 11:10pm and I was really surprised by how many people were there already.  Early foreigners?  Unheard of!  It ended up that the bus got stuck behind an accident, so we ended up not even being able to leave until around 12:00am.  We settled in and I was so tired that I fell asleep before we even got out of Seoul.  The ride was fairly uneventful and I really didn't wake up until we arrived in Yeosu, a town way in southern Korea.  

The sun was supposed to rise at 5:24am, and thanks to multiple rest stops and a late start, we missed it by a fairly significant margin. We finally got into town around 6:00am and had the opportunity to hike up a mountain to a little temple there where you had beautiful views.  I felt terrible, like I had been punched in the face, so I opted to skip the temple and go straight to bed in the room we had paid for.  The pictures from the top are beautiful, but I am totally 100% fine with my decision, especially since I felt much better afterwards (and the fact that Monica described some of the hike as pretty treacherous).  I got up around 9:00am with the hope of taking a shower, but there were no towels to be found so that was a no-go.  I ended up going to sit outside in the sun for a while before our bus departed at 10:30am.

View of the already rising sun from where the bus dropped us off.

View from our hotel's porch.

Our next stop was heading out to a ferry to take a boat tour of Yeosu.  We arrived just as the boat was departing and ended up standing outside for a while before finding an area where we could sit comfortably.  By the end of the boat ride we had moved inside and fallen was warm, rocking, etc and I just couldn't keep my eyes open for the life of me.  We saw some pretty scenery and a lot of shipping boats that were anchored without anything in them (should out to Penny, my Modern East Asian Civilization teacher from SAS who taught me how to be a pirate and evaluate the cargo of a ship just by looking at it).

Pretty bridge on a beautiful day.

Awesome natural caves and inlets.

Pretty temple, all decked out for Buddha's birthday, on a cliff-side.

After the boat ride we were off to lunch.  We had the choice of eating raw crab, marinated in soy sauce, or going to Lotte Mart and eating in the food court.  Lotte Mart it was, for a delicious bulgogi burger from Lotteria, and some super tasty sour cream and onion fries. Our bus then picked up the people who ate at the other restaurant before heading over to Odongdo, one of the many islands off the southern coast.  We were dropped off on a main street and walked down a causeway to get to the island.  When we got here we had kind of grouped together with a guy named Ben and a girl named Melissa.  We walked around to a fountain, and Monica and Melissa walked up a barefoot path, which has special stones that are supposed to help with reflexology.  Then we sat and talked for a while before heading back to the bus.

Melissa and Monica walking up the reflexology foot path.

Our last stop of the evening was at Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting.  It is known for its huge reed bed, and was really beautiful.  When we got there it was quite overcast, so the other people on the bus discussed only staying a little bit and leaving before 7:30pm (sunset).  We fought for it and I am so glad we did.  We walked through the reed beds and the clouds started breaking up, and by the time we climbed up to the observation area, there was a really beautiful sunset.  Monica and Tina ran ahead and went to a higher viewpoint, but Carl, Dana and I were happy where we were.  It was really pretty.  Once the sun had mostly finished setting we walked back through the reed bed, listening to the sounds of the frogs, crabs and mudskippers as night fell.  Another major positive to this evening is that Monica and I (who have the same camera in different colors) discovered how to access all of the other settings panels.  My single complaint about this camera was that my old one had so many more options for settings: fireworks, museum, etc.  I also couldn't figure out how to access the color accent, which I had REALLY wanted to use in Cambodia and Laos.  We found it all!  (Sadly, just a few months too late for my SE Asia trip.) 

Fun trellis tunnel at Suncheon Bay Ecological Park.

Blooming flowers along the marsh and reed bed.

Pretty green reeds.

Group pic where Carl looks like a giant.

Walkway through the reed bed.

Sunset gearing up.

Suspension bridge you had to cross to climb the mountains to the look outs.


Aaaaah, my head is on fire!

 I love the natural framing of the trees.

Very pretty, even though the clouds obscured the end of the sunset.

Got a liiiittle sunburned that day.

Last rays of light.

Night beginning to fall on the marsh.

We got back to the bus (the only time we were late!) and headed off to get a late dinner and head to our minbak (Korean hotel where you sleep on the heated floors).  Dinner was delicious, even if our legs fell asleep multiple times as we ate on the floor! The hotel was just a short drive away, and Dana ran ahead to stake out a good room.  Rather than sharing with strangers, we crammed five of us into a four-person room, which was interesting, haha.  Barely any room to breathe, but we made it work.  

Our teensie tiny sleeping area.

The next morning we woke up, ate some of the AMAZING Costco muffins William (tour leader) had brought, and headed out to a green tea farm for a green tea making experience.  It was POURING and windy all Saturday, not the best time to be out on a field picking green tea.  As soon as we arrived on the farm we were greeted by a VERY cute, tiny, white dog.  She was all wet and shivery, but very excited to see everyone.  We scooped her up and she helped us pick our tea leaves.  For a while she rode around in my arms, then when it got too tough to pick we zipped her into Monica's hoodie.

Adorable.  I wanted to steal her and spirit her away to Seoul.

First we were instructed about the specific type of leaves we were looking for (a certain size, color, and configuration on the stem) and then we were set loose on the field with baskets.  We were probably only out there for like a half an hour, but it felt MUCH longer, haha. Not only was it pouring, but the area between the rows of tea bushes was very muddy and we kept sinking in/slipping.  Not too pleasant.  

Rows upon rows of tea leaves.

Carl hard at work, despite the rain.

Primo green tea leaves.  Or something like that.

Looking busy!


Can you tell it was pouring?

Finally we were issues a reprieve and went inside to dry off and warm up a little with some fresh tea. It would have been nicer were I not asked to sit cross legged in jeans that were soaked up to my knees!  We had fresh green tea and fermented green tea (which tasted even better to me) as well as some little green tea crackers that tasted like stale, salt free wheat thins. They showed us how to do a traditional Korean tea ceremony and told us about their plantation.  It has been in the same family for something like seven generations and they have been inspected by various organizations that allow them to sell all over the world (ie- they are USDA approved, so they can sell in the US). They also told us that they use a very fine gold dust when watering the tea, which helps increase the benefits of green tea.  Um...ok.  The two environmental science majors I was sitting with had a hard time believing that spraying a plant with gold would do anything at all.  Who knows.  What I do know is that saying they spray the plants with gold allows them to charge an insane amount more.  The prices were crazytown.

I really need to get one of these beautiful glass tea sets before I leave.

Next we had the opportunity to begin the process of preparing the tea leaves that had been collected.  Sadly all of our leaves were too wet to use, so we had baskets of picked leaves that we used.  We were split into groups of seven and had to put on aprons, double layered gloves, and sleeve arm protectors.  These precautions were necessary because the giant wok we were heating the leaves in was over 300 degrees Celsius.  All of the leaves were dumped into these woks and two people at a time would flip them over, in a synchronized dance of sorts, making sure that none stayed still or they would burn.  As soon as it got too hot (every minute or two) a new pair would step up and keep the process going.  After doing this for a while (maybe 10-15 minutes?) the wok was removed and we were lead to a large woven rice stalk mat, covered with a piece of white fabric.  The hot leaves were divided up and we spent about 15-20 minutes rolling them in a clockwise ball on the mat.  This step was designed to remove the waxy cover from the leaves that is left behind as they begin to cook.  The texture of the mat helped to strip the wax off as you rubbed the leaves across it.  After rubbing, it went back in the wok, and the back to the mat for more rubbing.  We only did it twice, but they said when making their tea they do it up to 12 times!  Thankfully we didn't do all that.  The tea was super fragrant, but still very far from being dry tea leaves.

Ready to go with our aprons, arm protectors, and gloves.

Dana and Tina moving with lightning speed!

Carl has on his serious face.

Dana and I flipping and patting.

Passing out the green tea on the mat so we could rub off the waxy coating.

Getting down to work.

Everyone rubbing their green tea.  But only clockwise!

My green tea pile/ball.

Color recognition makes it look like zombie hands are making green tea.

After the second round of cooking and rubbing, we took a break.  The woman who runs the farm judged all of our leaves, trying to figure out who had done the best job picking.  Then she judged all of the cooked leaves to see who had done the best job with that.  We didn't win either, haha.  Oh well.  Then it was time for a tasty bibimbap lunch, complete with green tea leaves mixed into it.  It was tasty (as bibimbap almost always is).  After lunch it was time for another bus ride (read: nap) on the way to the celadon museum and pottery studio.  This time they had already made the cups and we were just there to decorate them.  It was a much harder clay and it was black instead of brown like last week.  We had a good time basically engraving our cups.  After a while Carl went off to the museum to look around with a big chunk of our group, but Monica and I stayed to finish our cups.  Mine is an undersea theme with a fish and a squid, while hers is a really pretty garden.  The cups will be put in the kiln and then glazed with the light green glaze that Korea is famous for.  I'm excited.   

Team 1's finished product.

Team picture (minus one girl who disappeared).

Engraving my cup.  Ignore rain-crazed hair.

Monica the artist.

Squid side of my cup.

Fish side (he's saying my name in Korean).

On the way back to the bus it was so rainy and windy that my crappy Korean umbrella turned inside out.  Twice.  On the bus William told us all about the museum.  I think the funniest part was when someone asked who was first to invent this type of strong, beautiful pottery: Korea, China or Japan.  The tour guide said that TECHNICALLY, China invented it first, but at that time the Korean kingdom spread through the whole peninsula, and the seat of Korean power was in present day North Korea.  The potters in southern Korea developed the process for making celadon after China, but they didn't use any Chinese technology or anything- their kilns, method, etc was completely different.  Plus it was "superior" to any celadon manufactured in China.  And Japan?  Pssh.  They stole it from Korea.  Once again...nationalism at work!  There was time for another short nap before we reached the beach condo where we would be staying.

This time, William said there were only 4 people to a room.  Hoping to keep our group together, we agreed to "squeeze" into a four person room again.  Yeah, turns out that wouldn't be an issue.  This room was definitely bigger than my apartment.  We had plenty of space to lounge around, and there was even a couch.  We dropped off our stuff and watched a little TV before heading out to dinner.

A group of about 15 of us went to a local restaurant (by this time Monica had gotten her fill of sitting on floors to eat...something I warned her got old quick, haha) and had a really tasty dinner of jeon and a spicy pork stir fry dish.  We also had some very interesting conversation with people from the trip, including a girl who had some hellish experiences just after moving to Korea that I'm not sure I would have survived (almost being assaulted by a guy who would watch her through her window and stole her bra/underwear off her porch drying rack, and getting attacked my a dog so viciously that she required multiple surgeries on her leg). 

After dinner we headed back to the hotel where Monica and I had our tarot cards read by another woman on the trip and then hung out for a while.  Carl and Tina came down and eventually we attracted enough people to play some games, so we got a couple pitchers of Cass and played A to Z, Buzz and Uno, alternately.  It was a lot of fun and pretty soon it was pretty late.  Monica and I turned in while Carl and Tina checked out the noraebang.  Dana hadn't been feeling well so she had gone to bed before everyone else.  When Monica and I got upstairs the room was incredibly hot, even though the door was open, so we decided to put on the air conditioner.  Dana gets cold a lot easier than us, however, so we wanted to move her out from directly under the air conditioner.  We ended up dragging her sleeping body across the room, taking breaks to run away and laugh uncontrollably.  It was hilarious.  Then we put on the tv sleep timer and called it a night.

Somehow 6:00am came REALLY fast and we got up to shower and board the bus for a 7:30am departure to the Boseong Tea Plantation's green tea hills.  I had briefly entertained the notion of not going as I was still exhausted, but I am SO glad that I did.  It turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the whole trip.  There were less than 15 of us who took the short ride out to the tea plantation.  It was misting and kind of foggy, which sounds obnoxious, but really gave us awesome light to take pictures in.  I think I liked seeing the plantation in this weather more than I would have liked sunlight.  We had around 45 minutes to explore the rolling hills covered with rows and rows of green tea bushes.  It was really beautiful and quiet since the weather and time made it less attractive to other tourists.  I took a TON of photos, and then we hopped back on the bus for a short ride over to another plantation where we snapped some pictures and had a Korean brunch (bibimbap, soup, naemgyeon, etc) before going back to get everyone else at the hotel at 10:30am. 

Carl, Me, and Monica amongst the green tea bushes.
So pretty with the mist.


Climbing the hills.

Love that lone tree by the burial mounds.

It's like where's Waldo, only Waldo is dressed in a pink raincoat.

Look at how small those people are.  They give you a good idea how big this plantation really is.

Everything looked so bright and beautiful in the rain.

A couple strolling through the tea rows.

I could have stayed here a lot longer.  It was so quiet and beautiful.

Looking up the hill.

The other plantation we stopped at.

Also beautiful.

Once our whole group was finally packed up and ready to go we headed out to the bamboo forest.  If the Boseong tea fields were one of my favorite parts, the bamboo forest was definitely amongst my least favorite.  It was...bamboo.  As Carl said "people would pay a lot of money to have this cut down in the states."  Bamboo is pretty and all, but not that exciting.  We walked on some crazy, hilly, muddy paths and by the time we had to head back to the bus we were more than ready to go.  We picked up a few souvenirs from the store there (THEY were cool) and boarded the bus.  It drove us about 5 minutes down to this meta-sequoia street where William said he wanted to get a group picture of everyone.  We thought this was a hop-off-hop-back-on situation, but it turned out to be a 30+ minute walk down a long tree lined street.  It was far from thrilling, but hopefully we got a good group picture out of it.

People engraved their names and messages on the bamboo.

There were a lot of people and it just wasn't THAT pretty.

Nice little pagoda amongst the bamboo.

Tiny, man made waterfall with creepy panda statues was one of the highlights.

Can you tell it was muddy?

We were originally scheduled to leave Jeollanamdo around 4:00pm, but since another group had run into hideous traffic when leaving Seoul for the three day weekend on Friday, we figured it would be smart to leave earlier.  We ended up departing from the south around 2:30pm and arriving home around 8:00pm (thanks to a million and one bathroom breaks...).  We trekked home and had some (always) delicious Pizza School for dinner before going to bed.

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