This weekend I signed up to do another trip with Adventure Korea. As much as I dislike going on pre-arranged tours, this company seems to be doing a good job of keeping the experiences real and interacting with the local people. We had to get up at 5am to get to the meet up point on time, but it was worth it. Our group was pretty big this time, consisting of Me, Stephanie, Ryan, Leslie, our other friends Maria, Danielle, and Melina and Leslie's cousin Charlsie who had just moved to Korea. The trip was supposed to be about viewing the fall foliage in the south, but the leaves haven't really turned, so the hiking wasn't as spectacular as it could have been.
We started out at Gochangeupseong Fortress in Gochang Province. The fortress is really just a bunch of low buildings surrounded by a huge wall, but the superstition is that each time you walk around the wall, you get something for your troubles. Once is good luck, twice is eternal life and the third time is your ticket into heaven.
Since Leslie seems to have infected me with her picture taking bug, we only made it once around before we had to meet the rest of our group for a military demonstration. The army did these great Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, with people flipping and breaking boards.
But the Air Force cadets topped them by busting into a K-pop dance number in the middle of their drills. Though it didn't exactly match the sense of decorum of the moment, it was definitely pretty awesome.
As they set up for the demonstration of ancient weapons techniques, Stephanie, Ryan and I took the opportunity, with a couple others in our group, to try on some ancient military costumes. They even made me sit in litter.
This is a good time to mention the clouds of cameras that were following us around all weekend. I'm not sure if they were part of our company's staff or if they worked for the fortress and were trying to get lots of pictures of foreigners enjoying the festival. Either way, I suddenly knew how celebrities feel when they get followed around by people with telephoto lenses. As we did anything at the festival, it was documented and cataloged. I could see the labels: way gook, waygook posing with waygook friends, waygook on litter, waygook tripping over costume.
After exploring the fair outside the fortress for a while – lots of traditional crafts and less traditional merchandise stalls – we all piled onto the bus and headed for the hotel. We had a very Korean dinner – rice, with pork strips, fish and a billion side dishes – we were set loose. We tried to go to the night club downstairs but we were kicked out because we were not old enough – something that hasn't happened to anyone there for a good while. The club was filled with ajimas and ajashis rocking out to old school Korean pop. I guess they didn't want us to disturb them. So, after wandering around a little, I went to bed (remember the 5am wake up?) and the rest of our group went out norebang-ing (kareoke-ing) for about an hour and came back to sleep it off. We were all pathetically in bed by 9pm.
The next day we went on an early morning hike in a beautiful forest near the hotel. There were these little piles of rocks that our guide told us were prayer rocks. You make a wish and you stack a rock on top of another. If its still there the next time you come back, you make another wish and you stack another. There were quite a few very impressive rock piles there.
After getting back from the hike, checking out and having a lunch of bibimbop, we headed out to the mudflats were we went clam hunting.
This was definitely a new experience for me but I quickly got a technique going. You find a big air hole, then you use your claw to catch about a three inch slab of mud off the top of the ground. This would usually reveal what you were chasing – whether it was really a clam, a crab of these stupid worm things that were everywhere. At some point, I hit the jackpot and found a hug bed of clams, I ended up with about 21 chestnut sized clams that I carried home in a plastic bag. All the way sub the five hour drive back to Seoul, the 2 hour subway ride back to Suji and the dinner at Dos Tacos, one of the best Mexican restaurants in Seoul. They are now living in my bathroom sink. Waiting for me to gather enough courage to cook and eat them. I ate some on the mud flats – they had clam soup for us all to try – but that's different than putting live creatures into a frying pan. I'm considering buying them an aquarium... or handing them off to an ajima on the street...