Sunday, May 20, 2012

As Though a Sister Commanded It: Jeonju on Yvonne's Birthday

We left for Jeonju on Saturday morning, catching a cab to the Express Bus terminal with tickets already in hand. At the terminal I made the mistake of going to the bathroom and when I returned Yvonne was pestering^^ some Kyopo grandmother to the point of extinction.

We got on the bus and napped on and off until the rest stop. Korean buses do not have toilets, so instead they stop every so often to offload, well, offloading. These stops are at massive official rest stops on the highway that feature 100s of parking spaces and vendors of every description. It's kind of like a small mall out in the middle of nowhere. We snapped up one bowl of baby potatoes and a couple of bottles of Jeju (the cleanest, you know!) water for the short remainder of the journey.

When we got to the Jeonju Bus Terminal we spent a second at the information booth to get a map, and then hopped a cab to the Jeonju Hanok Village. The village is the coolest "traditional" village I've been to in Korea, partly because it is traditional hanok with traditional crafts practiced inside interleaved with all kinds of businesses (LOL, about 50% coffee shops) for diversion. We stopped off in the information booth to get a map of the hanok village and to find out where the Kojok Hwegwan, a famous bibimbap restaurant, was.

With the map in hand, we set off, with the first stop being a traditional 한지, or Korean paper, shop. This was ultra-cool, as they were creating the paper in a small hanok and we were free to wander in and check it out up close and personal. As the four employees and one grandmother who just kind of walked around the place, worked from creating the paper to stacking and sorting it, we just kind of hung out and watched. The film clip below is of the guy who was, laboriously, washing a bamboo (?) sheet in a vat of water containing paper mulberry inner-bark and then laminating layers of the resulting sediment onto a bit of a birthday cake of hanji.


Once we had our fill of watching, we stepped over to the gift store, which had an amazing number of things that could be made from hanji, including neckties, and too the left of us, two halmoni were bargaining for a number (I think I heard 8?) hanji hanbok for a mixed group of men and women. With my rudimentary Korean I couldn't figure out what the event was. Anyway, we bought a couple of trinkets and then headed to the "traditional wine museum."

Hanji Masks, or Yvonne 오후!

 For an drunkard such as myself, this was a bit of a letdown. I had envisioned fountains of makkeoli, swimming pools of soju, and baekchu-spurting bidet. My active fantasy life was not rewarded in the event, but there was a rather funny diorama (isn't there always?) with little, apparently loaded, chilluns going through the processes necessary to create various kinds of traditional alcohols.

I'll have what the developmentally disabled kid is having!

I left with a bit more knowledge and a monumental thirst.^^

 Then it was around the corner to the Donghak Rebellion Museum, which was all in Korean and featured a young docent who was face down on the books on her table, sleeping. As we rounded the corner she woke up with a start, took one look at the two of us, and slumped back into her dreams, certain that whatever they were they were superior to the idea of trying to talk to two fat foreigners. The pictures and histories were all in Korean, but I already knew a bit about the rebellion which was anti-foreigner (this goes back quite a way in Korean history) and anti-yangban. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the Donghak Rebellion was to realize that the best way to reach its illiterate countrymen was to set the words of the rebellion to music, predating the lame efforts of the Rolling Stones by nearly a century.

Along the way, as a bonus, the Korean government's invitation to Chinese troops to come into Korea and quell the rebellion was also a cause of the Sino-Japanese war, so you have to count the rebellion as at least a partial success. As in the case of most 'democratic' rebellions in Korea, the Donghak Rebellion was stomped like a cockroach, although its grievances were later at least semi-addressed by the government.

Then, it was a merry roundelet as we attempted to use the tourist map to find the Choi Myeonghee Literature House. Myeonghee was previously unknown to me, but is obviously important in Korean literature, as the grounds were pretty big, stuffed with kids, a tour, and Yvonne and I. Anyway, we did find it, and looked around, not understanding much. Apparently the Literature House offers classes in making "Literary Postcards," but at the moment we were there the classes were not in evidence.

Myoneghee wrote 혼불 (Ghost Fire), which is apparently a Korean epic in both length and importance. Then it was on to the Joseon This was fun to walk through, but primarily along the lines of most palaces in Korea, with the various buildings that you come to expect. The main selling point was the "portrait gallery" which featured various pictures of the royal family which I can't be arsed to explain, so I steal from the intarwebs:

This is the place where the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye is enshrined. It was built in 1410 shortly after the death of Yi Seong-gye, the founder of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Originally, 5 sites throughout Korea were selected to enshrine portraits of the dynastic founder: one each in Gaeseong, Yeongheung, Jeonju, Gyeongju, and Pyeongyang. However, all but the one in Jeonju was destroyed by Japanese armies during the 1592-98 invasions. Gyeonggijeon itself was burned down shortly thereafter (it is not clear to the author if this was the result of the Japanese) but was rebuilt in 1614.

Attached to Gyeonggijeon are other historical buildings of interest including the Jeonju Sago (historical archives) and Jogyeongmyo Shrine, which honors Yi Han, the progenitor of the Gyeongju Yi family.

 At that point, tired of walking, we decided to head to toe tge bibimbap restaurant, where I managed to compose two entirely understandable sentences in Korean explaining that Yvonne would not want her bibimbap with a raw egg on top. The restaurant is obviously a kind of cafeteria/mass production joint, but in that Korean way, because it focuses only on one food, it is rather brilliant at it. The banchan was also excellent and although the bibimbap was a bit pricey at 12,000 won (about 11 bucks, Empire money) it was delicious.

Suprisingly, the "best thing ever" was actually the banchan dish of boiled scrambled eggs, which had no water at the bottom, was solid like cake, tasty, and covered in sesame seeds.

Then it was a walk past the Jeondong Catholic Church church, notable for being the location of the early beheadings of two Korean believers. Of such slaughter is belief cemented.

We were kind of backtracking, but it was to go to the calligraphy museum, which turned out to be worth it. It really wasn't a calligraphy musem so much as a calligraphy shrine to a great Korean calligrapher whose name is escaping me at the moment. His story is interesting, as he was a kind of rebel against the Japanese colonialists, refusing to give up his topknot, and eventually lived to nearly 100 years old. Interestingly,  most of his calligraphy was Hanja (Chinese characters) and not Hangeul, but I have long ago given up the attempt to parse what Koreans believe is Minjok and what is Waegukin.

Only one of the pieces had any hangeul in it. A couple of the pieces also had watercolor (often waterblackandwhite) illustrations attached and it is pretty clear that the guy was a talented painter as well as calligrapher.

Then, we headed back to find the "Road of Culture" which supposedly had some bookstores with English books. We overshot about two blocks and had to head back to a road which was torn up for sidewalk reconstruction. Stopping for a cola and a beer, Yvonne was felt-up by the Korean proprietess who was, apparently, impressed by Yvonne's cup size. LOL.. or lesbian? Who knows? In any case, with Yvonne's breasts sufficiently explored, we had drinks and peanuts and the woman told us where the bookstores were, even helpfully adding, since we were on the second floor, that we would have to go down (밑) the stairs to the ground level before attempting to walk to the bookstores. I wondered how many foreigners had previously perished at this very spot, by forgetting to go downstairs, before entirely leaving the hoff? Looking around, I saw that the windows were well secured, so the threat of unwary foreigners plummeting to the sidewalk was now doubly ameliorated.

The bookstores were a bit disappointing, with only one having any used books in English, three of which Yvonne absconded with. Then it was a cab ride to the hotel. This was kind of amusing, because the cabbie did not know where the hotel was and we had the name slightly wrong in any case. The website called the hotel the "Good Stay Lanuit" hotel, but as it later turned out, "Good Stay" is only a kind of appellation that the government applies to tourist hotels that meet certain standards. So the place was the "Lanuit Hotel," although that name later turned out to be worthless as well.

Anyway, after pointing to maps, repeating the name of the dong, etc., the cabbie figured out roughly where we were going and, not knowing we had reservations, dropped us off in the middle of a rich hotel area, from which I could see the LaNuit. So, we wandered over to it and checked in to a nice-ish room with an excellent flat-screen and computer. Not the best hotel in the world, but certainly adequate.

After a bit of settling in, we decided to head over to one of the "Makgeolli Towns" on the tourist map. Makgeolli and pajeon sounded just about right to me, and we piled into a cab. Who immediately drove up next to another cab and asked where the Sinseong Makgeolli town was. LOL, he got us close to it, I guess, dropping us in front of a Makgeolli and pajeon place that was already full.

We walked around as Yvonne, far braver than I about this kind of thing, popped into store after store with the map, and asked where the places were. It was clear we were close, but we could never exactly find the restaurants on the map. The map was singularly unhelpful in the sense that it had restaurant names on it, but not street names. With makgeolli and pajeon off the menu, we decided to get some beef and ended up in a really nice restaurant in which we got five pieces of hanoo, three of which Yvonne ate (this part of the story 'returns' in a way).

Then it was back to the hotel, which turned into another bit of a joke as the cabbie had no idea of the name of the hotel and asked me to "spell it."  Having no idea how the name reverse-Romanized, I just mentioned the name of the famous pond next to the hotel, Deokjin Pond, and this got the job done.

 Originally, we were going to just sit there, but it turned into a bit more, and one of those cool moments on the road. A Korean dad and his two kids approached us (cute photo right there) and started talking. The dad knew a bit of English and so we switched between languages as he tried to get his shy son to talk to us in either English or Korean. We chatted for a while and they headed off. A few minutes later we decided to walk across the rickety bridge (really, E-ticket material, if you are old enough to remember what "E-ticket" used to mean). Halfway across, we ran into them as they came back across the bridge with ice-cream for us! So, we continued across the bridge and chatted more, separating at the parking lot. Yvonne and I stayed on the path around the pond and came to a spot where that path was close to the road and, Lo and Behold, there the family was again. We all laughed at the coincidence, walked another 300 meters or so, and then finally parted for real. Unless they are waiting for us at home?

Then it was back to the hotel, some shitty US TV and an early bed.

The next morning we woke up at about 8:25 and were surprised at 9 when the continental breakfast was served to our room.

Yvonne was busy at the computer, accepting birthday wishes, and said she didn't want to eat as she was "still full from last night." Having eaten exactly no vegetables except Kimchi and having eaten the vast majority of the meat, she was a bit, er.. ill.

We headed back to the pond, to discover something we had guessed during the evening, that the (Korean equivalent of kudzu) which covered much of it made it much more attractive in the dark. Something like picking someone up in a bar, I guess. The shoreline was quite nice, dotted with pagodas, statues, and little gardens. We then walked through Chonbuk University, which was apparently built after someone got an awesome deal on pale red bricks, and entirely empty as it was Sunday.

As we walked, we saw signs pointing to the Honbul Literary Garden and headed towards it. This garden is dedicated to the memory of Choi Myeonghee and it looked like, also contained her burial mound.

The Garden is in the middle of an extensive and extremely beautiful park which is laced with easy and beautiful trails. As we approached the Sori Cultural Center, the contents of Yvonne's stomach began to long for a touching re-union with their bovine companions, so we ducked in so I could take pictures and Yvonne could.. well.. you know.

There was a piece of artwork about which you can draw your own conclusions.

 Once through, we grabbed a quick cab to the train station where Yvonne sat on a bench within 10 steps of the women's room while I explored the pedestrian area around the station.

Train came, the might Mugunghwa with its onboard computer, and it is hear that I sit typing this stuff, drinking a Hite (The Hite factory is adjacent to Jeonju, so Hite is THE beer of the area and no restaurant we were at served anything else).

Being childish, we were impressed by the big water tower on the way into town that said, in proud red letters, "FAG," as well as by the advert for the WonkWang Digital College, which was just one changed vowel away from being totally awesome^^ as well as the "Bong Dong" arrow on the map.

Childish pleasures for certain, but pleasures nonetheless.

A nice time in a nice town, and now Yvonne has her Kindle and, perhaps, I will have a bit more quiet about the house?^^

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