Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Gwangju

Our weekend away didn't start as smoothly as I'd hoped. As I was packing my bag I decided to check the tickets one last time and realised that I'd got the bus times mixed up. Meaning we had an hour less than we thought we had, and 20 minutes until the bus left from a bus station that's half an hour away on the metro. Not good. The roads were gridlocked and I had a horrible feeling that our adventure had ended before it had even started. We got to the bus station though and the lovely girl there told us that we could get a percentage of our ticket refunded, and the next bus had 2 free spots. Disaster averted!

Following the initial problems, the ride there was smooth and took just over three and a half hours, which was pretty good considering the roads were really busy as everyone was escaping because of Chuseok. From the bus station in Gwangju we picked up a couple of maps, decided where we would most likely find a motel to stay in and jumped in a taxi.

The motels are hilarious over here, and are specifically tailored for Koreans that are probably only popping in and out, or Waygooks that are looking for a cheap place to stay. I love that there's usually a menu of the different rooms that the motel has to offer, and you can pick what you want. My two criteria was to have a bath (which i haven't done without being naked in public and surrounded by strangers in over 6 months) and a novelty shaped bed. After checking out a few we settled on the Windmill Motel, which not only had a revolving windmill attached to the side of the building, but also had round beds, a bath and was just a few seconds away from everything. Perfect.

The first things I noticed about Gwangju was how much colder it was here compared to Busan, and how all the shops had a much more boutique feel to them, compared to the ones that I'm used to in Busan which tend to have the same clothes in every shop. There were also lots of lovely rustic looking coffee shops and restaurants that I was looking forward to exploring.

The first night we just wandered around, it was eerily quiet in the shopping section, which i presume was to do with the holiday, but you just crossed the road into the bar area and it was much more lively. We found a samgyupsal restaurant, had a bottle of soju and rooted out a bar with a pool table that played relatively good music called Soul Trane.
The novelty shaped bed I'd been searching for.

Hopping across the river

Just seconds before I'd nearly toppled into the river

Having a well needed rest in the heat of the cemetery

Lantern tunnel in Gwangju

Showing off my Roman nose and my bird nest hair

Gwangju is best known in Korea for standing upto the military government in 1980. They fought against the military, a rebel group ensured peace was kept through the streets when the police deserted them and the whole community came together to make sure no one went hungry. The people were cut off from the rest of the country, were greeted with brutality and finally open fire. I don't think I could ever do the history of the place justice so it would be best to read up on it.
One of the most shocking things I found about looking back into its past is how obedient, quiet and peaceful I find the people of Korea now, so it just goes to show how desperate they were with the situation in the country at that time to respond so courageously and with such dignity.

Because of this we decided to visit the May 18th memorial, where all of those that were killed in that time are now buried. It was a beautiful and peaceful day that we went. The sun was shining, everything was still and there was a bronze pot of incense burning infront of the cemetery. It was sad to think that the few families that were milling around the white marble were probably remembering an ancestor they lost through the riots. It was also fascinating to think that some of those people could have given us first hand accounts of what it was like to be there at the time.

The museum really helped to put everything into context and it was haunting to see the pictures of everyone that had died for something they really shouldn't have had to be fighting for.

The cemetery entrance


These are pictures of all those killed in the riots


Adding to the incense



Although it was a relatively short bus ride, maybe an hour, from Gwangju, it was pretty late when we got back. We'd read that Gwangju was well known for its duck stew so headed down a small road by the side of the Hyundai department store that's well known for it's duck restaurants.

We picked one at random that seemed pretty busy and the lady there totally took us under her wing, showing us how to prepare the sides and what to do with the stew that bubbled away on a gas ring on our table. I don't really know what it was, apart from duck meat, with lots of fresh greens we added in to suit our taste, in a sauce that was terracotta colour and creamy. Whatever it was, it was delicious.

After food we headed to the German Bar, which i'd read was a good place to drink. We had a couple of supposedly European beers and chatted on the cosy sofas. The old Korean guy who worked behind the bar very endearingly offered to have a surprise waiting for me if I visited again the next night. Unfortunately I never got to find out what it was.

The next day we got up early and headed out to Boseong, which is a town about an hour and a half away from Gwangju which is known for its green tea plantations. We caught a taxi from the bus station which had a meter that seemed to jump up incredibly fast, but as we didn't have much time we decided that it was worth it.

As soon as we got to the tea field I loved it, it was surrounded by huge thick trees that smelled exactly of pine. It was really cool and quiet, even though there were plenty of people around. The tea was all grown in immaculate rows that hugged the contours of a massive hill. I imagined the queen of hearts chasing a pack of cards up and down the rows of hedges, and the mad hatter having a tea party at the top of the hill. We climbed all the way upto the top, and the view was amazing. We even made a friend in the form of a small boy, who was just about as tall as the steps were high. I think he was having a tough job of getting up them, and would stop to rest, panting, whenever we stopped. He would half respond to us if we said anything to him in English, but I think all his energy was spent on crawling up the steps to event think about talking in English.

On the way down we passed a waterfall, and treated ourselves to some green tea ice cream, which our little friend also seemed to be enjoying.

At the bottom of the tea fields



View from the top of the hill

Can you spot the sea?



The forest surrounding the fields

Delicious green tea ice cream


To carry on the green tea theme we caught a bus to Yulpo beach, which has a green tea jimjilbang. I think our experiences were completely different. On the woman's floor the women natter, scrub each others backs and let their kids dive bomb into the quieter pools. The green tea bath smelled amazing but was a rather unsavoury brown colour. The sea water one was incredibly hot but alot more relaxing. However, I had to leave after 20 minutes as I was just too hot. I left very red in the face and ready to go. Nick however came out the vision of zen and serenity, said there wasn't a kid in there(because they were all canon balling into my pool!) and had even managed to have a nap! Brilliant.
We got back and went for the most amazing Indian food that I've had in Korea at a place called the First Nepal. We stuffed ourselves while we critiqued the drama of the Bollywood film that was showing on the TV.

The next morning we had a few hours to have a look around Gwangju, at Art Street and some of the Street art it's well known for before it was time to catch the bus. I was sad to say goodbye to the Windmill motel, to Gwangju and the few precious days of no school!
The police even graffiti in Gwangju





More police graffiti featuring Jacko

Face off against Iron Man