Well folks, I am back with some updates from Korea. Work has settled to the point where I do not find myself working seven days a week. It is definitely a great change and now I’ll be able to explore some since I have rarely left Gunsan since November. The weather has some part to play here. It is cold, rainy, snowy, and windy here during December and January. People in the DC area have complained to me about snow, BUT, we have received over 70 inches this winter…AND there is no sand, salt, or snowplows to be found in Korea-land. At least I know when I come back to DC I will be a winter driving expert. So, the past few weeks the weather has gotten quite better…days in the mid 50s to mid 40s. It makes exploring much easier now that I don’t have to come home and defrost after spending eight hours in sub-zero temperatures and howling wind.
I have enlisted the help of another contractor on-base who is here on a year-long contract. Together, we have explored Jeonju and Seonunsan Provincial Park in the last two weekends. Next weekend we will probably go off somewhere else. Right now I’m focusing my efforts on scenic tourism and visiting all of the parks I can. K-land has some beautiful scenery that is a mix of forested mountains with fun rock formations, varying coast lines, and endless farm vistas.
The hiking in Seonunsan was very nice and added a different element of danger to my life. Instead of worrying about airliners and military jets smooshing me, I had to worry about scurrying up and down slick rock-faces that were slick with water trickling downhill. I’ll touch more on that later.
So first up last week was Jeonju. I can’t believe that I hadn’t made it here sooner. The city is only about an hour bus ride east of Gunsan. I think the fare is somewhere between $2-$4. Buddy and I decided to head out on a Sunday morning. It was beautiful and sunny with not a hint of rain or fog or smoke or snow or any other pesky atmospheric nuisance. We arrived at the Jeonju bus terminal and stepped out to grab a taxi. Our destination: Jeonju Hanok Village. The cab dropped us off in front of the main square; one one side you have a Jeondong Catholic Church and on the other side you have Gyeonggijeon. When describing cultural assets, I’m going to try and quote the local pamphlets instead of trying to paraphrase stuff I have read. I find the Konglish (Korean English) descriptions are sometimes funnier than straight English:
“the site consists of Gyeonggi Hall built up in 1410(10th year of king Taejong) to enshrine the royal portrait of Taejo Seonggae Lee, the king that found Joseon dynasty: Jogyeong Shrine built up in 1771(47th year of the king Youngjo) to enshrine the memorial tablet of Han Lee, the originator of the family name, Lee based in Jeonju and that of the originator’s wife: Jeonju historic minutes archive storage that stores Joseon dynasty kings’ minutes: and amnion monument of the king Yejong which was moved from Gui amnion section. With its surpassing scenic beauty nearby, the place is utilized as shooting siteof dramas.” *all text is taken from the Jeonju Tourist Map*
I mean, reading that back to myself, I could hardly do any better. Actually now that I think about it, someone was shooting a film or TV show while we were visiting…there was a HUGE crowd surrounding the film location. It worked out for us though. As most of the Koreans were oogling the actors, the rest of the stores/museums were relatively empty. That is unheard of in Asia! So we wandered around the traditional Korean homes and small alleyways. We stopped to buy a bag of hot pastries filled with sweet bean paste. The pastries were hot off the grill, and the dough was a bit sticky and chewy. They were a pretty good snack since we were holding out for some delicious Jeonju cuisine. Jeonju crafts and artwork are centered around the production of hanji, or paper made from the bark of the Mulberry Tree.
You can find all sorts of stuff made from this paper…wallets, clothes, ties, cards, notebooks, dolls, etc. You can also find traditional Korean hand fans made from hanji. Jeonju is especially recognized for these paper fans and dolls.
Wandering around the small alleyways and winding courtyards reminds me of when Karena and I were lost in the crowded hutongs of Beijing. The Hanok village is very similar and the Chinese should probably take note as they are continually tearing down traditional old-style neighborhoods for large apartment blocks and skyscrapers.
Looking at the map, I saw something that jumped out and said “I am an essential Jamie experience!” It was the Traditional Wine Museum. We walked in the door and everything was closed. I saw the tools to make traditional Korean homebrew…but I didn’t see anyone making anything. I guess they don’t brew on the Lord’s day. The description in the guide lured me in by saying that I could partake in the akahol-making experience. I wanted to make my own hooch and drink it too. I saw some water, some stills, and some tubs, but that is about it. So we decided to peruse the gift shop. Haha. Bad idea. I ended up walking out with three different bottles of Korean liquor. The first is a type of rice wine, Jingyangju:
“Jingyangju is a kind of famous
Korean liquor which was made of 100%
of pure rice soft taste and fragrance.
You can enjoy the real taste of
Jingyangju of its special
flavour when you taste it at freezing temperature.”
The second is a type of wild field-berry wine, Bok bun ja ju:
“Korean wild field berry wine(Bok bun ja ju)is extracted from the native wild berries, growing spontaneously on the foot of MT.Nae jang-a mountain well known for its autumn maples and beautiful valleys. Korean wild field berry wine original taste and aroma, due to the mysterious method of brewing, handed down from generation to generation. This deep red wine is made within high standard, and of excellent quality.”
Here is a bonus, the story of Bok bun ja:
“Once upon a time, an old man ate the wild berries he had pickad from the mountains. Then he happily urinated, but his chamber pot cracked open immediately. From this time, these wild berries were named “Bok bun ja”.
The third is my pine pollen wine, Song Wha-Baekiljoo:
“Transmission-A manufacturing technique-
The wine made from the pine pollen is brewed from glutinous rice, white rice and malted wheat mixed with the powder of the pine pollen. Then the three ingredients are distilled and proceeded with pine needles, mixed with honey. Finally, the wine is kept underground for 100days. The wine is the great one which has been made by a secret method for 1,000years.”
This stuff is great. I don’t even want to taint the words above with my own descriptions. Maybe I’ll report back on the taste in the future. So after we were fully loaded with akahol in our bags, we began our search for some traditional Jeonju Bibimbap. Now, readers of this blog should know that one of my favorite dishes in the world is bibimbap. A very good friend introduced me to the crispy goodness a long time ago and I have been in love with the dish ever since. Imagine my level of excitement now that I was in the home of bibimbap!!! Budy and I wandered around in some of the less trafficked areas of the Hanok Village until we came across Jeonju Hyanggyo, a Confucian shrine and school:
“Though legend has it that Jeonju Confucianism Temple was built up in Goryo dynasty, it is said that the current building was built up during the reign of Seonjo, a king of Joseon dynasty. The Temple enshrines totally 51 individuals: 7 Chinese Confucianism scholars including the disciples of Confucius, and 18 Korean wise men just as they do in Seongyungwan in Seoul.”
I think there was maybe only one other person here, so buddy and I wandered the grounds and lingered for a while. There wasn’t much to look at aside from the complex’s buildings. The architectural details were amazing. All the structures were constructed of wood and had tile roofs. I looked at several close up, and did not see any nails. Maybe they are cleverly hidden, but all I saw were either wooden dowels or wood resting on wood. The painting and decoration of the eaves was especially fantastic. I mean, I have seen structures like this in China and Japan, but I don’t remember the painting being so elaborate on the outside.
Then we walked outside of the shrine…and ay kamote…was an entire, unpainted, 100% traditional wooden building. It looked like they were adding some more structures to the shrine. WOW. It was impressive to see everything in its natural, unfinished and unpainted state.
So after a 45 minute diversion to wander around the temple and view the wooden buildings, buddy and I made it to where we thought we were going to eat lunch: The Jeonju Traditional Culture Center. We walked up to the door and saw the place was packed with a western tour group. Ahhhh, Lonely Planet is great for herding tourists together. Buddy and I decided to skip the “traditional center” and find lunch on our own.
Now I will leave you readers wondering what happened during our quest for lunch and what happened during the rest of the afternoon. Yall will have to check in for another post soon!