Trip to Gyeongju

Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
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Trip End Sep 01, 2007


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

On Sunday night and Monday morning I tried to figure out what trip I could take from Iksan. I settled on Gyeonju www.gyeongju.gyeongbuk.kr in the southeast, as it has a National Park and was the capital of the Silla Kingdom for 1,000 years and the valley in which it is situated has a great concentration of historical buildings, temples and artifacts.  After SIlla unifed the peninsuala in  676, the city developed into one of the world's major cultural centres and in fact is called a 'museum without walls' because of the historial buildings and treasures such as Tumuli Park, Cheonmseoingdae Observatory, Anapji Pond, Gyeongju National Museum, Bunwangsaji Temple and Bulguksa Temple, which is on UNESCO's WOrld CUltural Heritage List.  Because Gyeonju is on the other side of the country I determined to stay 2 nights there with maybe one night at Daejeon, on the way back to Iksan.  Rona found out the logistics for me on how to get there and as it was already noon by the time I made up my mind, the only real option was the train, which I had to change in Daejeon from Sae Daejeon to Daejeon main train station. Both stations are very modern.  The trip to Daejeon was about an hour with the taxi ride etc. taking 1/2 hour and then the train to Gyeongju about 3 hours.  I took a taxi to the Han-Jin Jang Yeogwan, www.hanjinkorea.wo.to  which I had found on the net through various people's recommendations, and also I learned it is in the Lonely Planet guide as well. I had called Mr. Kwon and then very well spoken older man said they had lots of room, so come. As soon as I got there, he said I should say hello to his son, who spoke English and was upstairs teaching at student English. So I did, and he asked me if I would be interested in being in conversation with some of his students, who needed to practice English. Turns out he just moved back from New York City, where he was a Senior Executive with Daewoo for 20 years, and he was now retired and going to take over for his dad, who was soon to retire, at 80, from running the hostel!  Anyway, by this time, at 7:30 p.m. I was hungry so ventured out with a small map but couldn't find any of the  restaurants mentioned on it (par for the course for me), and found a restaurant/brew pub in the basement of a nearby hotel.  I was trying to get through to the waitress that I wanted a dish with lots of  vegetables, and this woman sitting at a nearby table, came over and asked if she could help me. Turns out her name is Chieko Ikeda, she is an artist from Japan (www.nihonbijutsu-cclub.com/ikeda and her  husband plays ping pong as a hobby and they were in Japan for a ping pong tournament. Anyway, she could speak English but not Korean, but her husband could speak Korean but not English, and the two men at the table were locals who could speak neither English or Japanese! So she told her husband, in  Japanese, what I wanted to know, he translated to the waitress, who answered back in Korean to him, he translated into Japanese to Chieko and she in turn to me, in English!  I got what I wanted, extra vegetables on a seafood pasta dish!  We laughed and laughed and it  got  particularly humorous when I was planning my adventure the next day and wanted to go on the city tour.  After I finished my meal I was looking at my map and Chieko came over and asked me what I had planned for the next day. I said I wanted a city tour but wasn't sure where to get on it, and so her husband came over, along with the Koreans, and they were all looking at my map. One of hte Koreans got out his cell phone and phoned the number in my guidebook, got info, told Chieko's husband who told her, who told me, etc. They were having a hard time see my map int he low lighting, so I got out my little flashlight and we were all poring over my map and it was so funny, I took a picture, see attached.  Life is full of surprises! They were leaving for Japan the next day and were such a gracious couple.
Anyway, gotta get the days in Gyeongju (pronounced Kongju) finished!  I got on the 8:30 a.m. tour the next day which was an excellent overview, except it was all in Korean! A retired ex schoolteacher, Mr. Lee, became my interpreter and friend, as like many Koreans, knew English and likes to practice. His wife didn't know English at all, unfortunately.  He told me things about the historic sights, and about life in Korea and I sat with them for lunch. He shared his bottle of Seju wine with me,  which he doctored up with whiskey and his wife carried it in her purse!  In mid afternoon, it was hot, and he bought me a beer when we stopped at the Observatory.  I wanted to take their photo, but he said he didn't like to be in pictures. When I got back to Hostel about 5 p.m., Mr Kwon's son asked me if I would join him  when he taught his next students, and then he would buy me dinner. I thought that was a fair trade, so I spoke to 3 of his students. It was very hard to get them to speak English as they are quite shy and very limited in speaking, and relied on him to coach them but it was fun.  Parents came with them which was good.  Then Kwon Jr took me for a Korean barbeque, my first, and maybe my last as although it was tasty, the meat was very fatter pork which is cooked at your table (bbq set into your table) and then wrapped in lettuce/spinach leaves, with condiments on topand the invariable kimchi as well.  see photo   Then we walked along the river, met another of his students, Anhwang,  who was joining in the free aerobics which he suggested I do too, which I did (see photo - i am in turquoise).  THe next day I was leaving on the bus at 2 p.m. but he guided me around, he on his bike and me on a bike of one of his students from the day before. her parents own a flower shop, we stopped by, he asked if I could borrow a bicycle and the mother said of course and got it out as daughter was in school. So very kind! Anyway we cycled to Anhwang's barley bread shop which she and her husband own, and I tutored her from her textbook, then Kwon led me on our bikes to the Oriental Medicine Hospital which I wanted to see, and I got an appt right away. doctor took my pulse and may a diagnosis of my 'consititution' and suggested some herbal medicine. The whole episode is of course, interpreted by Kwon, a little embarrassing actually!  He was very professional, I got some herbal medicine and have been taking it.  The hospital was immaculate, very bright and traditional made out of wood in the old pagoda style www.conmaulkj.co.kr. We cycled back to Anhwang's store to meet for lunch and lo and behold, she made a traditional lunch for us and we ate right there, see photo.  Again, so kind!  Cycled back to the hostel, got my bag and walked to the Bus Station just down the street.  Wanted to overnight in Daejeon, on the way back to Iksan but didn't have a place to stay.  Got off at the bus station, saw the Korean Times available at a kiosk in the station, bought it and heard a couple behind me speaking English and asking me where I was from.  Turns out Frank is Thai, Mila is Korean, they live in Houston and were there visiting her parents.  They asked me if they could help me find my way around, or get anything! and I said, well I didn't have a place to stay and she said no problem, her mother's friend just opened a hotel and maybe it was suitable! She also went to find out when my bus to Iksan was the next day, and found out I had to go to a different bus terminal.  She and her husband led me to the terminal, we found out the times to Iksan, she took me to the hotel just down an alley across from the station, she spoke to the lady who knew her, I got a beautiful room, with bathroom, sat tv etc for $25 (less than I paid for a hostel room in Gjeonju!).  They then took me to the mall where I could find a restaurant - complete strangers!  As usual, they asked if I wasn't scared to travel alone, did I not find it hard to find my way around etc. and I said that whenever I needed help of any kind, someone pops up out of the blue, just like they did, and I truly believe in angels!   We said our goodbyes, she gave me her phone number there in case I needed anything. The hotel staff didn't speak any English at all so am so glad she helped me get a room.  The next day I was trying to get a phone card so I could let Steve and Rona know when I was coming and the shop clerk couldn't understand what I wanted, and a young man in the lineup behind me helped me get a card and find a phone. He was all dressed up in a suit, it was Buddha's birthday (Thursda) and I asked him if he was at work that day. He said, no, he was from Seoul and was in town on his way to a wedding. When he found out I was Canadian, he told me he spent a few weeks in Montreal, gave me a photo of a painting taken in Montreal, and his business card, and told me to call him when I got to Seoul!  Another angel.
Got back to Iksan, Rona and Steve had gone to a temple for Buddha's birthday but Rona came home while I was getting packed to lleave the next day for Seoul. Steve was in Gunsan finishing  his recording so she and I went out for dinner to the little place that I thought was a coffee place when I made myself at home in Youmgmin's carpentry shop!  The restaurant played jazz, and served home made Italian pasta. The owner came over and spoke a little English to me.   While I was out for walk and before we went for dinner, Rona's mom came and brought some food for me to take the next day when I left and a beautiful crocheted top.  
THe next day I went to an internet cafe (called PC Bang) and tried to get a hostel room in Seoul.  Thought I did, but will update when I do the Seoul log as that's where I am now!  Got back to S and R's place and Steve is outside their building walking around and it turns out Felix the cat had apparently escaped and he was looking for her.  It was very traumatic as Koreans eat cats and dogs... and snakes... It was very sad, they were making posters, including the pic I took of Steve holding Felix.   I got my things together, got a cab and got on my 10:30 am train to Seoul,
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