58 – Once Upon a Time in the East

October 1-2

There is a reason to put these two days in a single entry. You’ll see. After the morning visit to Yangdong village and last lunch with Noelia, I continue to Tongyeong on a bus. I learned about the existence of the place from a young Korean man I had met in Krasnoyarsk, and he recommended staying here. Tongyeong is an unpretentious little seaside town, famous for art and oysters.

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Beat this selfie

I arrive to my hostel around 9 pm and tell to the owner that “I just leave my backpack here for an hour or so and go out for dinner”. Yeah, he’s not to see me until the afternoon of the next day. It’s a bit borderline time to go our for dinner in Korea, but I manage to find a restaurant where people are still eating. Most likely, it’s the staff of the place having dinner at the end of the service, but they tell me I can still eat. English doesn’t really work, but one of the girls approaches me with “fish, very spicy”, to which I excitedly agree (truth be told, I am so hungry I’d agree to most things right now, but fish is always a welcome option). What follows is a seafood feast, with some kind of cold spicy soup with raw fish, oyster pancakes (I mean, OYSTER PANCAKES!!!!!!), grilled fish and octopus salad as a side, and many other things. I am tired enough to be ready for bed, but first call in a bar right next to my hotel to “have a couple of drinks while I finish my book”. Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, or something similar. I start talking to two girls, Amber (an american expat in Korea) and her korean friend Young Hwa, later on two Belgian boys join in, and the night turns into a full-immersion korean experience. What do the locals love the most? Karaoke, of course. Which strangely does seem like a good enough idea at 1 am. I feel reasonably sober, but after offending the memory of George Harrison, Janis Joplin and David Bowie, I finally decide I can sing like Whitney Houston, and let’s face it, that is never a sober decision. So, ladies and gents: screaming (wailing?) “I have nothing if I don’t have yoooouuuu” in a random bar in a korean seaside town at 4 in the morning: check. Thank Heaven there is no digital memory of this low point of my existence. When we finally get out, it’s almost 6 am and we are starving, so we take a cab to a restaurant that’s open round the clock, where I at last experience what this “hangover soup” means. It’s a spicy spare ribs noodle soup that would indeed make a dead man walk. And we in fact are a bunch of zombies by now. So when Young Hwa suggests to continue the night (day) with a visit to a korean spa and sleep off the incumbent hangover, I am all for it.

Now, jjimjilbang is quintessential Korea. If you google it, you will find many mostly american articles about dos and don’ts, about how much of a cultural shock it is and whatnot. It’s not. Just most Americans are prudes. Yes, you have to be naked, but the bathing establishment is separated by sex, and no one actually gives you a second glance, so calm down. We do sauna in Czech Republic naked and it’s almost never separated (and no one gives you a second glance either). Anyway. No one should leave Korea without paying a visit to the korean spa first. The establishments are on every corner, they are open 24 hours, you can walk in any time, pay the entrance (between 6 and 15 USD, standard is somewhere around 8-10) and in theory never leave, should you wish so. You will be provided with a towel and cotton pj, everything else (toiletries, shaving stuff, etc) is available on site, too. You get undressed, take a shower, and relax in bathtubs with different temperatures, dry and wet saunas, you can get a massage or a scrub (the Koreans take scrubbing very seriously, so don’t get scared if a stranger asks you to scrub his back and when he/she does the same thing for you in return). When you’ve had enough, you proceed to the communal area, where people picnic, watch baseball, gossip, or in the quieter rooms sleep off their hangovers (blankets and pillows are provided). Which is exactly what we did. Apparently it’s quite common that the locals after a heavy night out prefer going to the spa before turning up in the office rather than paying for a hotel. It’s way cheaper, too. We leave around 2 pm and grab a quick lunch in a place Young Hwa’s family always goes to. The restaurant only does a the local speciality – plain rice roll with spicy squid on the side. There are many places like that around the marina, but apparently this one is the best (though I would not be able to remember the name, unfortunately). Only few hours later I meet Amber again, and we join forces for an oyster feast in one of the best restaurants in town.

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I don’t look to bad considering I haven’t slept since 48 hours

October 3

I feel like I should finally do something sensible. So I very sensibly turn up at the ferry terminal, take the first ferry that leaves (to Hansando Island, by chance), there I board a public transport bus and take it until its final stop on the other side of the island and then hike back along the coast. Everyone is super nice. The driver does not speak any english, but makes sure that I understand what time is the last bus to take me to the last ferry back to mainland, and then gives me his phone number in case I’m in trouble. I am not sure how this would work if I actually was in trouble, as we certainly cannot communicate over the phone, but it is a cute thing to do from his side. Or maybe he just wanted to give me his phone number and any excuse was good. The walk back is very peaceful, very deserted and there are praying mantis everywhere. There are also very dodgy looking roaches on the beach (which may be the reason why the beach is empty), and ibexes flying around. At least I think they are ibexes. Or maybe cranes. I am no expert in ornithology, my knowledge does not go further than the common yard species.

October 4

Last day in Tongyeong. I should probably move my arse and go see the town with daylight. The art village above the marina is supposed to be cool, and if kind of is, just don’t expect any Banksy-style street art. It looks more like a primary school project to embellish the town. Except for something that clearly is a penis, albeit a tiny one. I mean, check the following photos and then tell me if I have a one track mind or not. (I do, but this thing can hardly be mistaken or anything else).

October 5

Morning bus to Busan, where I meet Ally, an English girl I had previously met in Guilin. We hit the beach, watching the local kids playing in the water and drinking horribly sweet fruit flavoured beer. Kind of a slightly alcoholic Fanta. We end up in a tiny local place for dinner, where we get steamed mussels, seafood pancakes and silkworm larvae as a side dish (they taste like meaty peanuts). And because we decided not to book any hotel, we instead hit a jjimjilbang just few steps from the station, which is an appropriate way to spend the last night in Korea.

Some korean wildlife:

October 6

Superfast morning train directly into Incheon airport. When I approach the information desk in the Busan train station, asking about where to pick up my ticket, the girl just smiles at me and says: “I can help you with this, I will print it out here, so that you don’t need to go anywhere else”. Imagine that in Europe (or China). I am so going to miss this country.

And now, off to Kathmandu!


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