Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gyeongju and Mok'po

This weekend we took a road trip with Father and SangKwun to Gyeongju and Mok'po. As you can tell from the map below, Seoul is at the northern part of South Korea and Gyeongju and Mok'po are at the south-western part of the country. It's about a 5 hour drive from Seoul to Gyeongju.

As we began driving south, we were surprised to see snow... there hasn't been any snow in Seoul yet.

Here we are arriving in Gyeongju. There are a bunch of ways to spell the various cities and areas in Korea in English letters. Just kind of depends how the person spelling it thinks it sounds phonetically.

Gyeongju is a city, but nowhere near as big as Seoul.

In Gyeongju, we stopped at a hospital to visit (and so I could meet) my aunt. Father had 8 brothers and sisters growing up and she is Father's oldest sister. This is the outside of the hospital.

Here I am in the parking lot. I didn't take any pictures of the inside of the hospital since it didn't seem appropriate. It was similar to the hospitals in the states, except there are 8 people per room. It was pretty crowded and puts a whole new spin on not liking your roommate in the hospital!

When I met my aunt, she seemed very nice (sorry, again no pics). I was told that one side of her body is paralyzed, though I didn't really notice it. She shook my hand very warmly and smiled at me a lot. SangKwun said she told him that my face still looks a bit like it did when I was a baby.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet any other family members. I think most of the live in the country, south of Gyeongju. SangKwun tells me that Father doesn't get along with his 2 brothers, and doesn't like going home. I'm hoping we get to meet them at the Korean New Year (Jan 26 and 27). 

Our next stop was up a small mountain to visit my grandparents' grave. The mound in the picture below is actually a gravesite.

Once we found the grave, Father and SangKwun began arranging the soju, Coke, and chips on the marble slab in front of the grave. Here I am completely confused but trying to help.

We then set up newspapers on the ground and each of us got down on our knees and put our hands and head to the ground twice.  Then we took small bites and sips of the food and drink and threw the rest over the graves. It felt kind of strange pouring Coca Cola on the grave of my dead grandparents.

Then we went and repeated the rituals on the graves of two of Father's brothers who also died.

Then we hit the road again. This was how the view was for most of the trip. Quite a difference from the road trips across the flat and boring Midwest!

After a bit more driving, we stopped at a restaurant that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. We sat on mats on the floor and two ladies brought this table loaded with food. (And they refilled the table with new dishes about 3 times.) I'm told this is traditional Korean food, which Father and SangKwun  prefer. There aren't many places that serve this type of traditional meal in Seoul. This meal was one of the biggest leaps of faith I've ever had to take eating. Dishes such as octopus, entire fish with heads attached, squid, oysters, random pieces of raw fish, raw beef, and sea urchin were among the things we ate. The entire meal, SangKwun and Father would plop things on my plate and tell me to "try it." Some things I was brave enough to try, and others (like the octopus and raw beef) were not happening. Of course, Mark, tried absolutely everything. I'm not really sure when I became the picky eater in this relationship!

My favorite part was at the end when they brought a warm drink that tasted like cinnamon and pears. YUM!

Here are a couple shots of the front of the restaurant!

Then Father checked us into the Benikea Shinan Beach Hotel. The hotel was pretty average, but the view in the morning was incredible, as it was right on the water.

After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the Mok'po tourist area. Mok'po is a small fishing town with a ton of mountains.

We climbed a couple mountains with SangKwun (really they were just hiking paths with bathrooms, rest areas, and sights along the way).

Here's a huge gong at the top of one of the mountains. I think they ring them at the New Year.

We took a ton of pictures of the views from the mountains. They were absolutely breathtaking and our photography skills don't even come close to capturing how magnificent the scenery is.

There were tons of steps like this. When we were leaving, we saw students from David Beckham's soccer school, Manchester United, sprinting up and down these stairs.

If my memory serves correctly, this location is important to Korea because they say a Korean general saw Japanese invaders coming across the sea and defended Korea.

This is the brave warrior himself.

Here is SangKwun defending Korea from a large white man, otherwise known as Mark.

We took tons of windy steps like this up the mountain. Many of them were covered in snow and ice. Coming down was most definitely scarier than going up.

When we reached the top of the peak, we would yell YoBAAAA or something like that.

This was one of my favorite pictures. Don't the mountains jutting out of the sea look so cool?!?

Our next stop was the Yudalsan International Sculpture Park. Usually artsy stuff like this is lost on me, but the environment was neat.

Here are some examples of a few of the sculptures.

This little hut is an example of what Koreans lived in many, many years ago! Cozy, huh!

This rock had water in it with little cups to drink from. SangKwun drank out of it... Mark and I declined!

Someone built this little snowman. I think it was my favorite sculpture in the park! We added a little nose, eyes, and a smile. :)

It's crazy how you can see the city stretching on forever!

Then we headed back to Seoul. Along the way, we stopped at a rest station. Korean rest stations are nothing like American rest stations. Korean rest stations remind me of a mall food court, only there's actual meals and not just fast food. Everything, including the bathrooms, are very clean. There are are also massaging back chairs and batting cages.

Here's one of the food displays.

After two very busy days (with a lot of driving), we arrived back in Seoul. While traveling around the country was fun, we're excited to do more exploring in the city. More soon!


Julia said...

Wow, what a trip! So many awesome pictures, Kim. I, of course, am most enthralled by the Korean hospital.....8 people in a room? Holy cow! I cannot imagine. I wonder if your Aunt had a stroke with her paralyzed face? Hmmm....

Great post, Kim!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kim for all the pictures of your weekend trip into the countryside. We are sorry we did not get to talk to you over the weekend but we know now where you were. Mom is having trouble e-mailing you since she is getting a number of failed e-mails back. We need from you an e-mail address that works!! Hello also to that large white man in your photos!!

Mom said...

Kim, the photos were great and love your comments. We had a story in our 3rd. grade reader about a little girl from N.Y. who visited her grandparents in Seoul. While there they went to the cemetery and had a picnic lunch much like you did. How wonderful that you got to visit your Aunt. She must have been thrilled. What a great week-end. I think Anonymous is Dad!!

Erin Folwarski said...

The picture of your bro defending the city from Mark is hilarious. I am so happy that your trip (so far) is amazing and full of family and good adventures. I know you said your bro speaks a little bit of English, are you able to communicate with him well? And are you picking up mad Korean language skills?

Maggie said...

You are completely C-Squared in those pics! So glad you guys are having so much fun already. Mark really blends in well there;)


Carol said...

Kim and Mark, I am loving your stories and your pictures! Your maps help! I am amazed at your reports of cleanliness, friendliness,silence, etc. in all these public places -- perhaps you could bring some of that environment back home to us! I'm not so sure about the marble bed -- think that would take some getting used to. Perhaps you will learn to eat raw seafood over the course of the year. I can't do that, but Tim loves it! Enjoy every minute!!!

Anonymous said...

Mark and Kim..I just learned of your blog and spent the entire afternoon reading everything. I laughed, I cried, and am filled with so much emotion and excitement for you both. So many interesting things....the food, the bed (my aching back!) and....well, Mark! (Are you sure you are only 6'7???? :-) You are doing such a great job of capturing the moment. It really does feel like I am there! Anyway, keep it coming and most of in the moment and enjoy! Love, Aunt Dee Dee