Wednesday, September 23, 2009

3. Krazed Korean and the Chamber of Secrets….

Bright, bright, bright, sunshining day!
Arrived in Korea on the 12th of September, tired, hungry and not knowing what to expect. I had heard bits and pieces from Benji (Krazed Korean), however most of the stories were centered around Soju and I purposely refrained from reading his blog to maintain the “journey into the unknown” effect. As the plane was landing we were both popping are heads up eagerly trying to see what awaited us. For a split second I thought... mmm maybe I should have read his blog and googled a bit…oh well too late now. Our bags took forever to arrive and once they did the only thing I was concerned with was getting my care package of tin mutton, aachar, tim tams, fish masala etc through customs.

After relaxingly walking through customs we met up with Benj. Yay!! Just like old times! My first comment was wow it’s so clean! Benj chuckled and said, “wait til ya see the rest of it.” Nav’s first comment was “wow they have Starbucks”!? I then noticed Kraze burgers, pointing with excitement, then pointing at Benj…”hehe its you”.

We had some dinner in Incheon, which was this Cajun chicken dish. It was so yummy and so fresh. Also had our first shot of Soju. Nav loved it and took to it like mother’s milk. I thought it tasted like Panadol elixir. (sorry soju lovers….guess I’m not a refined ethanol kinda girl).

The next morning we hopped on a bus and headed for Benji’s home town.. Yeongwol. We were so excited by everything we were seeing and busy snapping away like hungry paparazzi. I was really surprised with the sight I was seeing….the clearest blue sky reflecting on endless mountain terrain lined with dense dark green pine trees.. aligning to a base of yellowish green, systematic rice paddies... “Wow this place is beautiful” I said in disbelief of what I was experiencing…..again Benj chuckled and said “wait till you see the rest of it”.

We arrived in Yeongwol and did some shopping. We also went to the market, which again was so clean. (very different from Flemo..flemington market for non Sydney-siders). The produce here is so fresh. Very natural and rustic.. unlike the genetically modified crap we were accustomed to. We picked up some freshly made Korean savoury pancakes filled with Kimchi and another with Wombuk and noodles.

We hopped in the car, which Cassie had kindly let Benji use while we are here (thanks Cassie..I don’t think I could have stomached the 110km round the bend turns on the bus). It was weird seeing Benj drive on the “wrong side” of the road (left hand side drive).
We drove along the winding roads, stereo blasting UB40, with cool fresh clean crisp air blowing in through the windows. The scenery was indescribably beautiful and the fresh air I was trying to describe above is amazingly fresh. Snippets of Autumn were visible along the mountain side as some of the dense dark green trees displayed light gold, amber and warm red leaves. We could also hear the sounds of the river flowing alongside us and see an endless hedge of huge bright canary yellow sunflowers lining the road. Words cannot describe the true beauty of this place.

We arrived at Benji’s house, chucked our bags down and headed for the river. The river was
so clear that it reflected the beautiful mountain terrain and displayed a bed of smooth white and sand stone coloured pebbles. As we dabbed our feet in the river, tiny little silvery fish slowly nicked at our feet. People pay anything around $35-$50 bucks a pop for fish reflexology….here it was freely available to us.

We sat alongside the river bed eating fresh pancakes and taking in our surroundings totally in awe of what we were experiencing. I looked at Benj and was so proud of him…this was the Krazed Korean’s best kept secret by far…….

By Guest Blogger: MousMous & Mousa.

Monday, September 21, 2009

2. More Relo's!

Another amazing weekend just flew by. But first, I have news! Pritika Mousi and Navin Mousa arrived last week on Saturday night (12th)!! I went to pick them up and after the astonished comments relating to how clean everything was and how they never expected Korea to have a Starbucks in the airport, we went to Incheon city to stay the night. On Sunday we travelled back to my place and then after staying there Monday and Tuesday they left for Japan early Wednesday morning.

Anyway, now I’m alone again until tomorrow (Tuesday) when they come back. The plan after that is to leave for Chuncheon for some Ddalkgalbi on Thursday night and then Seoul all day Friday.

Now back to last weekend. Since I have the car now (Cassie gave it to me for a couple of weeks while the Mous’s is here) I drove to Yanggu on Friday afternoon after Korean class. On Saturday we decided to go for a road-trip to the east coast of our province. We’ve seen everything else there is to see on the east coast so we decided to go up north to see what we could find. We had our camping gear packed so there was no need to worry about accommodation or anything like that. Another great aspect of owning a car over here is that we could stop anywhere we’d like. Like the many reststops along the way..

.. and this great little retreat by the highway. One of the most relaxing picnics I've been on!

Then after plain after plain of rice paddy's and a lot of twisties..

.. we discovered Hwajinpo Beach..

..and Aquarium!

Now you might be wondering about the barbed wire and the little bunker and look-out; see, being just 12km away from the DMZ means that all the beaches are secured by the military. Not only that, as far as I know South Korea has barbed wire and posted lookouts all the way across the east coast! It didn’t stop us from setting up camp on the beach though! I remember lying on the beach realizing how far I’ve come from just a year ago.. listening to the waves endlessly crashing, the crackling of the multi-hued driftwood fire, the scent of the salty ocean breeze, and Cassie’s warmth as she lay beside me.. all this under a blanket of a thousands stars. Something that also surprised me was the smell that the fire was giving off.. there were many pine trees around and so we used pine cones and fallen pine needles as fuel.. the aroma was better than any incense stick I’ve ever smelled.

..that, was until 10pm. They chose that time to come and tell us that we couldn't camp on the beach. They didn't speak English too well, so when we played dumb, they pulled out their machine guns pointing and saying "North, South, fighting, HERE". We had to pack everything up and relocate to a grassy area in the carpark. I thought it would be a huge pain, but only 30mins later we were set up at our new location!
The lights you see on the horizon are actually squid fishermen. Hundreds of megawatts of light is used up each night, attached along the trawlers to lure the squid to the surface of the ocean. These lights are so bright that they can be seen clearly from space. In fact, when seen from space during peak squidding season; the sea of Japan is almost as bright as Japan itself!

The next morning we woke early to see the sunrise. We were still really drowsy and bloody freezing, so we got up and sat in the car with the heater on full blast to watch the sun come up. Finally at around 6:30am, it showed up. Here are some pictures I took after I worked up the courage to get out of the car..

We had nothing at all planned for the day so after waiting for the sun to dry out the tent, we packed up and went for a little drive. We saw a brown sign with the words Unific Ovserv. on it.. as in Oz, brown sign’s usually mean tourist attractions.

After finding the place we acquired permission (10,000won) to go up to the North/South Unification Observatory.

Once we got there we saw these gigantic statues. One of Bhudda and the other of Mother Mary.

North Korea itself really just looked like the rest of Korea. Except for one thing.. the mountains we saw looked dry and desolate. I have a theory that before the Southerners agreed to the unification observatory, they bombed the living hell out of those mountains to make it look as though North Korea is really a third world country full of nothing beautiful. That’s just my own mini conspiracy.. If you would to read more like more, such as: North and South Korea: allies against the world! Please subscribe to my newsletter.

Here is the view into North Korea..

To top it all off, we went to war memorial type place at the foot of the observatory. After guiding us through the many faceless people who had died in wars and how many nations united together for the Korean War.. we found this solemn room.. It made our day!

That's all for now.. Hope all is well with you, where ever you are!

Monday, September 7, 2009

1. Camping!

Overcast, still, and muggy. Feel’s hotter than twenty.

It’s safe to say that last weekend was the second best weekend I’ve had in Korea. I went camping for the first time in my life! I’ve been before but that was with school where we’d go out to the bush, light a bon fire and tell stories of who kissed who during the night. But I mean roughing it, like we did this weekend.. it was quite refreshing!

Since this was the first time camping in Korea, we really didn’t know what to expect so we ended up going to a camping ground 10 minutes away from my house. It’s in a beautiful valley with a river of fresh mountain water running through it. We got there at around 11am and started unpacking. There was so much stuff to carry, we had: one eski for the cold foods, one for the cold drinks, one bag for the dry foods, one full of sleeping bags and my tripod, and another full of utensils, one tent with air-mattresses, two backpacks full of clothes, the night lantern with gas included, a blanket from my place, and the BBQ with coals and grilling stuff. That was all the stuff we had, but we had to go back for the BBQ and blanket later on.

Once we got unpacked and set up the tent (which apparently needs to be staked taut), we tested it out and made sure that we’d fit in there with some of our other stuff that we didn’t want the animals getting to (‘cos you know Korea is full of huge bears and tigers that love to forage through food packs). After that we decided that we should go and explore the riverbed and wore away the afternoon sleepiness by taking an invigorating dip in the icy cold water. We felt quite hungry after splashing around and though that we’d go and have some duck at a place down-river. The teachers once went out to a restaurant where the specialty is duck and you eat it on Korean style tables right by the river, it was a stunning place, though alas, it was closed. So we went to good ole 맛 동산 (Mak-dongsan which the restaurant opposite to my apartment) and had some duck there. The dish, as Taji would tell you, was magnificent!

Belly filled and ever-so slightly tipsy, we returned to our camp just as the full moon was rising above the mountain peaks. It was such a beautiful sight that I almost regret not taking some pictures of it. The whole valley was draped in the moons’ light as though someone had shone a giant torch at us. We were the only ones in the valley that night and while listening to the river splashing to our right, the rustling of leaves on our left, and the numerous insects chirping here and there, we could only stand in awe, forgetting where we were and why.

The next morning we woke at 7am and had a bite to eat on one of the giant rocks by the river. We went for a morning swim where the water was even colder than the previous afternoon and then we sat in the sun doing nothing much but working on out tans. A fisherman walked by and told us that the valley is famous throughout our province for fly-fishing, we had a nice little chat and he was on his way. It was only then that we realised that the poor guy mustn't have been catching anything down-stream because of us. See, we were bathing in the river with soap and shampoo.. I'm sure he was wondering why such a famous place has no fish! Made hungry again by the swim, we lit the BBQ and grilled some chicken and potatoes for lunch. By this time it was getting a little hot so after lunch we ‘tested’ the tent one last time and fell asleep. We woke just before 4pm and started packing up. Arriving home from one of the most relaxing and care-free weekends in Korea, just before 5pm.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like camping very much; I thought I’d need my creature-comforts like a hot shower and a toilet. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed camping in the Korean mountains, I found that there is something liberating about it.

Here are the pictures:
This thing was HUGE! It was about the size of my thumb!!

Cassie's fire..

My gas lamp!

Saturday afternoon..
Sunday Morning..
We had to cross this flimsy little bridge to get to and from the camping grounds.

Getting to Seoul: 20,000won
Hotel for the night: 40,000won
Aqua Reflexology at a boutique: 80,000won
Walking in a river down the road: Priceless!

I made some of Baldy's Banana Cake, which turned out quite well.. and some greek style lamb which I made in my new Earthernware pot. It was so good I think I'll make it a K-series!