Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To Less Than Ideal

Saturday night 4 lovely ladies and I raised our glasses. Here’s to “less than ideal!” I sit here, Monday morning, reflecting on the weekend, thinking about when it all started, and I can’t help but chuckle. It all started when we arrived.

That’s never a good start.

Thanks to the birth of Buddha, Korea celebrates May 21st as a national holiday. Every calendar marks that day with a lovely shade of red. For teachers like me, it’s a hue of excitement. You see, though neither Korean nor Buddhist, I’ll be celebrating right alongside the best of them! A national holiday for the common “waygookin” means no work. No work on a friday means a nice long weekend. And a long weekend means time for adventure. Adventure is what we did.

Friday afternoon we caught a train south to the beautiful city of Gyeongju, capital of the ancient Silla kingdom. Many folks harold Gyeongju as a “museum with no walls”. Hard to argue with that. The timeworn treasures of ancient Korea find themselves kindly fused with the ways of a modern city. It’s rather impressive, subtly beautiful and well worth a visit.

We arrived with hopes of a relaxing vacation. A weekend out of Seoul. visiting the sights it’s so well known for, and of course, our full fixings of delicious Korean food. We also wanted beds. Yo, we’ll pass. We were determined! We rushed off the train, gathered a map, and decided to mosey our way to our hostel. The weather was beautiful, we were ambitious and curious, and the world, correction Gyeongju, was ours for the taking.

Ready to take on Gyeongju!

Well Gyeongju got the best of us. We’re going to blame it on the map. After walking well past our destination, possibly by a few miles, we wayfarers found a nice old man who could help. He kindly walked us all the way to our hostel, turned down a juicebox offering, and disappeared. He was awesome. Surprisingly, on our walk back to our hostel the following day, we walked past him working in a bakery. What he must have thought: “These girls! They have no bloody idea where they are!” Our adventure to the hostel, and really all street outings of the weekend were filled with the gawks of countless men, the bulging eyes of fear stricken children, and the horrendous sounds of Korean local elections. Campaigning tactics unfathomable: absurdly loud speaker systems, shoot-yourself-in-the-face children’s jingles with platform altered lyrics, and foam fingered, dancing ajimas aboard a open air truck making its sweet way through the city. They’re everywhere I tell you, unfortunately. But, i digress. We arrived at our hostel and were sadly greeted with horribly dampening words: “Why are there so many of you?”

Again, that’s never a good start.

We thought he was joking. Negative. He was serious. In kindness I’ll leave the name of our hostel unmentioned. I’d hate to ruin their reputation. But it rhymes with Ban Kim. First word: starts with a H. Last word: starts with a J. Famous for its “Martiol Arts Show”. No corrections needed. This unmentioned hostel gave our rooms away on the “busiest weekend” of the year. Oh, we know! Hence the reservation my friend!

Starving, sweaty, and pretty stranded, we settled for a “guest house” in “need of cleaning”, and headed to dinner to wait it out. No beds. No hot water. And a host of bugs. Awesome.

On the way to dinner we met a group of delightful Europeans looking for a place of their own to stay. Folks who quickly became friends, with whom we met up for a “laugh” later that night. And laugh we did.

All I can say about Saturday is that we woke up to rain, and it never really stopped. With a tasty breakfast and two shallow cups of coffee we were on our way. It was Buddha’s birthday, and we were determined to visit the famous Seokguram grotto to see him in massive golden proportions before the hordes made their way. When the the taxi meter on the way up turned over 30 bucks, we rounded ten too many outside turns up an unprotected mountain road, and halted in parked traffic four kilometers from our final destination, we realized we were behind the truly zealous. In sad surrender we decided flipping around and heading back down the mountain to the main temple was best.

Again, that’s never good. One beautiful, painfully expensive trip up... and back down the mountain. For Buddha’s sake!

Bulguksa is a beautiful temple, however the scene upon arrival was pure madness. Truthfully. Crowds in Korea are always close quarters and I’ve grown rather used to it, but add the surprise element of overzealous umbrella using, in the hands of folks who have yet to master the unwritten walking direction and photo op-ing laws and you’ve leveled up in ranks of madness. In a short time I was ready to leave.

Bulguksa Temple.

It's really beautiful!

Beautiful and sadly insane!

After another long, quite pricey taxi ride, we found ourselves outside headed to more outdoor adventures. And while it was still raining, we had escaped the damp mugginess that is a overstuffed taxi car of wet travelers. Thank heavens! We headed to the Gyeongju National Museum, and the mugginess followed. Except this time I had no window to roll down and the stagnate air of weariness, crowding, and indifference for the bronze pottery and noseless Buddha collection was a bit funky. In an increasingly short time, I was ready to leave.

Leave we did. Thankfully so.

It continued to rain, but we were outside and that’s all that mattered. No more taxis. No more crowds. No more mugginess. Some would prefer otherwise, but at this point in the trip I was ready to be out of confined quarters and ready to see something beautiful in the fresh air. That is just what we did. We stumbled upon Tumuli Park, home of royalty tombs that look more like buried giant size bowling balls, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest standing astronomy tower in Asia. They were impressive. The rain coated the recent spring greenery to add a layer of vibrancy that was truly beautiful-- our walk was much needed.

Tumuli Park

Oldest Astronomical Observation Tower in Asia

We continued to walk. For a long time. Along the way we enjoyed a delicious, Gyeongju famous ssambap lunch, a hot cup of coffee in the quaint Coffee and Cookie shop, and many laughs. Though still raining rather hard, we continued to walk. Mostly in exploration of the city and all Gyeongju had to offer. We found and took a short browse through a local covered market and were met, again, with many a stare. Ajimas (old Korean women). Hung octopi. And ajusis (old Korean men). We met out match, however, in the face, the literal face, of a pig, a literal pig. Lined up on the floor with 5 of his friends, waiting, quietly, to be purchased. For what you ask? I haven’t the slightest idea. Shock factor possibly? I sure hope so.

“Anayaghasaeyo! Dwaejiui eolgul hanna jusayo!” (Hello there! One pig face please!)
“Jigeum god!” (Coming right up!)

Nothing good, or faintly delicious could ever come of that!

The look happy.

Yea, I’ll pass. And we kept walking. This time in route to our hostel, ultimately headed to a jimjilbang. With no hot water, or adequate showering accommodations at our hostel, we needed to take matters into our our hands. Grunginess, fatigue, and slap-happiness were climaxing, and all we needed was a shower. We needed to get “home”. Friends, all I can say about this is that we’re good at getting lost. Horribly lost.

Walking around, in the pouring rain was nice for a while. When you know where the hell you are! Being lost, however, unable to find your hostel while walking in the pouring rain is a different story. At this point we were in desperate need of a clean body, dry jeans and good nap. Praise God for Lotte Coffee. Not for their coffee, or really anything other than their signage. A source of hope, if you will. We were close. Our stay was short and we were off again.

We walked to a less than impressive bathing facility in a pretty shady hotel and again were met with stares. Longing, overdrawn, borderline inappropriate stares. This time not purely as foreigners, but as naked foreigners. I’ll withhold the details, but they got a free viewing and they milked it for all it was worth. After a little relaxation and a much needed shower, energies were filled and we were dinner and nightlife bound.

Hope deferred makes the newly clean and dry heart sick. A little rain had turned to downpour and we were blocks away. I, again, rolled up my recently hair-dyer dried jeans for another go around, stepped into my last fresh pair of shoes, be it regrettably flip flops, flung open my umbrella and made a go for it. I didn’t make it very far before I was once again drenched, cold, and borderline pissed. We trudged on.

By the time we made it to dinner, we were soaked--spirits dampened and starving. It would make sense they’d forget to put your order in. But, considering the weekends events, it was of the least.

Later that night we found ourselves sitting in the classy establishment that is WaBar. Spirits and toes warmed, memories and laughter flowing, and my friends, it was perfect. Drinks in hand, friends around, KPop ringing, we toasted to our weekend. To “less than ideal!” For a moment, it seemed like all of it was kind of worth it. Though chronically less than ideal in so many ways, it was a great weekend.

Thanks for the love Gyeongju!

Our delicious ssambap lunch!

We had a great time!

Dancing ajimas: a NEW powerful campaigning tactic.

1 comment:

  1. That was so long, but so good! You are a great storyteller Sarah! Way to turn the miserable into the hysterical. :)