Aha! I am back posting to the blog and STILL living in Korea. Since Karena had big news about her new job and move out west, I decided to hold off on posting so not to steal her thunder. But, now that she’s in San Fran and settled, I can continue describing my adventures in the ROK.
When I left off, my buddy and I were wandering around Jeonju. We took a quick diversion down Nambu Market, which rambles along a side-street adjacent to the river. At one point, before we turned into the market, we passed what had to be 75-100 old-timers who were all out playing some sort of Korean board game. Nothing like Candy Land or Chutes & Ladders here. Buddy and I stood around and watched and they watched us back…obviously not used to being surveyed by a couple of foreigners. We left the old folks and turned down into Nambu, which wasn’t very busy. It was afternoon and the shopping rush was over. We walked down the aisles of fruits, veggies, plastic containers, shoes, clothes, fish, sticks, twigs, and herbs. All of the stalls seemed to sell variations of the same thing unless they specialized in a particular item…say plastic bins…in which case the store would be overflowing with enough stock to equip a country the size of Brasil. Getting hungry, Buddy and I turned into some of the covered stalls. Here we started to see restaurants with one or two stools outside. The food smelled pretty good, but the vibe we were getting from the gruff, seedy, and unusually well-dressed gentlemen was not too good. Nothing better than being looked at like a handful of walking Won!! We decided to head out of the market to see what else we could stumble across. After about 20 minutes of walking down Korean streets without sidewalks (surprised we made it out alive) we passed what we knew was a restaurant. This place wasn’t in any guidebook and it wasn’t on any map distributed by the Jeonju City Government. You may ask yourself “Jamie, you don’t read Hangul, how did you know it was a restaurant?” Lucky for us there was a small, round sign posted outside that read “Number 1 Jeonju Restaurant.” At this point we were just happy to find a place we could sit down and eat in…didn’t matter what cuisine it was, we couldn’t understand anyways.
Buddy and I have adopted an interesting strategy for ordering food in Korean restaurants. I know general Korean symbols for noodles, rice, kimchi, various soups, and other common items. A lot of times, however, there are additional characters which describe the name of the dish or the way a dish is prepared. I can only look at a menu or board and say “Okay, those seven have rice in them, those three are cold noodle dishes, and those 12 are stews or soups.” Buddy and I like to sit down like royalty of the old-days and motion for the wait staff to bring us food.
They say something in Korean and we nod back…”Yes, that is exactly what we want!” Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, at one restaurant we ordered two set-meals designed to feed two people each. So for the two of us we ordered enough food for four. Using this technique, wait staff may also try to give you the most spendy menu options. This has happened to us on a few occasions. By all common sense, if an item is the most expensive thing on the menu, it must be the best thing the restaurant offers! The wait staff assumes that we must have it immediately. This also adds to the regal dining experience but can cause some shock to the wallet when the bill comes ($145 for two people, wha???). If we know the name of something the restaurant serves we will say it, but this is not a common occurrence. It only happens at places we frequent…like my favorite gamjatang restaurant in Gunsan. I may devote an entire blog post to my love of gamjatang soon. This is a dish I never tried or heard of back home. Now I can’t get enough of it. Anyways, another subject for another time. We used our “bring us food” line and were presented with Hanjeongsik, a mind blowing 30-dish banquet for two. It was a good thing we arrived hungry. I’m not going to pretend like I knew what I was eating. Yea, there were some identifiable participants: bulgogi, kimchi, steamed rice, acorn jelly, pickled radishes, and mackerel to name a few. This is when I really wished I had a Korean with me to describe what the heck I was eating. Here is someone’s nice “before” picture so yall can get an idea of some of the dishes:
I really had problems standing up, walking, and functioning after that meal. Can you tell? In all honesty, we crushed most of the food in front of us along with two containers of barley tea and a bottle of Hite (ah, sweet sweet Hite). We thought everything was brought out at once, but the nice waitresses kept piling things on our table. Buddy and I had to eat as if our lives depended on it in order to make table space for all of the food. It was all very delicious but we were worried that it was going to set us back 20000 to 30000KRW per person. When we left our bill was only 9000KRW per person. HAHA. GLORIOUS.
After the banquet we stumbled back into the street and made our way back toward Pungnam-mun, the Hanok Village, and Gyeonggi-jeon. Pungnam-mun is National Treasure 308-ho and is the only remaining city gate (I believe) in Jeonju:
“Pungnam-mun, the symbol of Jeonju, is the south gate of the four gates of Jeonju-Buseong. It was built by King Gongyang 1 (1389) in the Goryeo stage by Jeolla provincial governor, Choe Yugyeong. It has been well maintained as a gatehouse which is representative of a gatehouse from the end of the Joseon Dynasty. Jeonju Pungnam-mun is a symbol which represents jeonju for Jeonju citizens. Significantly, the name of the main ceremony of jeonju is the Pungnam ceremony.”*
Wandering around Gyeonggi-jeon was pretty interesting. It is Historic Site 339-ho. Different from a National Treasure, but enjoyable nonetheless.
“Gyeonggi-jeon, the symbol of the Jeonju Hanok Villiage, was built during the 10th year of King Taejong’s reign (1410) to show honor to King Taejo’s portrait after the founding of Joseon. It had been destroyed during the 30th year of King Seonjo’s reign (1597) and was renovated in 1614.
There are two secrets in Gyeonggi-jeon. One is Hamabi, right by the entrance on the road, and the other one is the story of Jinjeon’s turtle. “Jichagaehama Japinmudukip” which is written on Hamabi. That means “You must get off from your horse no matter what your class is when you get here and no stranger is allowed in” because of King Taejo’s portrait. In Jinjeon there is a turtle attached to Jinjeon. It is told that the carpenter who built Gyeonggi-jeon put a couple of turtles on the roof to wish that Gyeonggi-jeon will last for eternity. It is a popular place for filming Korean movies and dramas because of its beautiful landscape, especially in autumn.”*
The main hall was undergoing some work, so the kind folks of Jeonju had this nice picture up to show us what the hall looked like. Remarkable considering the last renovation was in 1614!
The place was actually a very large complex. There were storage buildings for provincial and royal texts, a garden and small park, and rooms / houses for storage of all the servants, horses, food, weapons and tools. This may also be the secret turtle from the above quote:
After we finished at the shrine, Buddy and I decided to take one last walk up and down the village for trinket patrol. I needed to buy some stuff for peeps back home…I couldn’t just leave with booze for myself! Walking up and down the streets we soon found ourselves caught in a type of traditional dance and procession. People were all dressed in white and colors with facny streamer hats. They were banging on drums, tooting on horns, and waving the streamers attached to their hats. The folks in charge of streamers had to tilt their heads from side to side to whip the streamers around in a circular pattern.
After the parade we walked further up the street and you know what…there was a film crew and some people making some sort of TV show or commercial. People were ALL AROUND the set trying to catch a glimpse of the actresses. I don’t know if someone famous was filming or what, but people were all taking their pictures to show friends and family they were near the set. Buddy and I stood around long enough to watch one take. The two women walked down the street for about 25 feet. That was enough for us.
As we got back on the main street, we noticed a long line of people stopped at a corner stall getting this thick, grainy, somewhat purple-pinkish drink. I walked by without giving it a second though, but Buddy decided that he wanted to try it. I think he had read about it somewhere and he asked the vendor “Moju?” Apparently, moju is some sort of slightly akaholic elixir. It is given to people of all ages and we even saw babies and children drinking it. Buddy asked for two servings but the vendor didn’t agree with that. I think he thought we wouldn’t like it and he didn’t want to waste his livelihood on two foreigners who were gonna toss his moju away if they didn’t like it. We split one serving. It was okay. I wasn’t hooked after half a serving, but at least I tried it. The liquid did have an warm ginger-earthy taste. It helped to fill the small pocket of emptiness left over from lunch, haha.
So with that we walked to the main street in hopes of finding a taxi to the bus station and a ride back to Gunsan. Next up for you guys: Seonunsan Provincial Park. Enjoy!
*All descriptions of local Jeonju monuments is taken from the Jeonju City Tour pamphlet, published by the Jeonju City Government*