Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Anchovy Hotel

This week, Korean clicked.  I finally began to understand how to conjugate verbs thanks to my awesome tutor Chae Woo and many cups of Cafe Americano.  Let me tell you, being able to do more than just say "noun" plus "yes" or "no" was a big deal.  When I came home and was able to ask Aunt Kim what she was doing tomorrow, she about fell out.  Granted, I couldn't understand her response, but baby steps, right?

This was a three-day week of classes, and on Thursday, the CLS group headed out on a cultural excursion to the southern coast of Korea on the East China Sea.  I was really excited to get out of Jeonju for a bit and do some exploring rather than sitting cooped up studying the language all week.  The bus pulled out at 8:30 on Thursday morning, and we were off to Tongyeong (map).  The bus ride itself was incredible as we drove into deep green valleys, right into the heart of giant mountain tunnels, and over miles and miles of rice patty fields.  We arrived within a couple hours and visited a traditional Korean military pavilion from the 17th century that was used to house guests and host lavish parties for Korea's military elite.  We didn't find any leftover soju, so we went on our way.

We toured a couple literature houses which are basically house-sized buildings that act as memorials to Korea's treasured artists.  We also toured a fishery museum and walked through an outdoor modern sculpture park which was every bit as strange but twice as risque as UAB's exhibits.  When we finished there, it was time to check into the much-anticipated Anchovy Hotel.  With a name like that, I was expecting a Korean version of Motel 8.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  The hotel was incredible with huge rooms and comfortable beds.  The shower even had a curtain and shower head which, I'm sure you know by now, is a big deal.  My only reservation about the hotel was its food.  I was slightly alarmed when I went to dinner and breakfast the following morning and had, you guessed it, anchovies.  Though the taste was rather disconcerting, there was something about eating anchovies at a place called The Anchovy Hotel that was oddly satisfying.  The view at the hotel was incredible, overlooking an off-the-beaten-path fishing town, and definitely made up for the distinct lack of night life in the town where I believe the average age was somewhere around 70.

The following day, we headed out for a day at the sea.  First, we visited an old POW camp at Geoje.  It was set up as a memorial to the South Korean camp for enemies during the Korean War and emphasized the good treatment of its prisoners while demonizing the North.  Though the whole place was wrought with propaganda (I somehow doubt that the Communist prisoners spontaneously decided to put on a musical for the cultural betterment of themselves and the camp as a whole), it was a really interesting experience.  You could get lost in thought walking through the lines of tents with Cold-War era nationalistic music blasting through the speakers and forget entirely when you were.  Walking around the mock POW camp and listening to the stories of war and imprisonment really caused us to reassess our own worldviews (how important was it really that we couldn't find a suitable karaoke joint the night before???).

After a tour of a major ship-building plant called DSME, we finally set off for the South Sea.  After driving through secluded hanok villages and coastal enclaves, we stopped at the most beautiful place in the world.  Jutting into the sea next to a smooth rock beach was a rock cliff peninsula overlooking mountains softly protruding from the foggy water.  It was an incredibly spiritual place and carried a power all its own.  Though it sounds crazy, the scene seemed to tell of the age of the nation itself and emote a sense of eternity.

Note - Not my picture.  Taken from Yuri.

Despite a rather intense morning of inner reflection, we were ready to hit the beach!!  None of us seemed to care that the water was freezing or teeming with jellies and instead dove right in.  After all, how many chances do you get to swim in the Korean Straight??  After capturing a couple jellies, building a sand castle, and walking around another ridiculously quaint village, we headed to dinner.  At some point over the past several days, I discovered that Korean food isn't quite my thing and hence didn't eat much on the trip.  I think the discovery was made when I mistakenly ate an obnoxiously hot pepper that was just meant as a soup flavoring and not to eat.  I honestly thought I was going to die.  This night, however, we had what I can best describe as thick cut bacon fried at the table with 25 side dishes.  It was incredible.  I probably took about three years off my life from all the arteries that are clogging as we speak, but it was worth it.  I was hungry.

We returned to the Anchovy Hotel and decided to give Tongyeong night life one more go.  There wasn't anything going on within walking distance (how much karaoke can you take?!), so we settled for going to a restaurant for some late night snacks.  When we got the menu, we sounded out the Korean characters and realized that we had entered Uncle Tom's Cabin - The Restaurant.  I'm not quite sure what the owners were going for with the name, but the food was pretty good...

We awoke the next morning and packed our bags to head back home.  I reluctantly went down to breakfast, wondering how I was going to choke down anchovy stew, and carrying a pack of Korean-version Oreos as backup.  The elevator doors opened, the clouds parted, and choir of angels began to sing.  It was an American breakfast bar.  I'm pretty sure I ate 4,000 calories that morning of eggs, toast, fruit, french fries, Frosted Flakes, and OJ.  I have never in my life been that excited for breakfast.  We loaded the bus and headed back for Jeonju, taking a two-hour side trip to a butterfly house and museum which was literally 90 miles from the nearest grocery store.  I have no idea how we ended up there, but the butterflies were cool.  We got back home on Saturday afternoon just in time for monsoon season to start.  I feel like I am living the line in Forest Gump when he is in Vietnam and says "One day it started raining..."  I don't think it's going to quit for the next several weeks.  At this point, everyone in the group stopped making fun of me for paying for extra baggage when they realized that I have a giant rain jacket and full-sized steel-toed galoshes.  I am so ready for this.

Crazy Korean Discoveries of the Week:

1. I found a traditional Korean toilet in a back alley.  This is one of those times when only a picture will do (see right).

2. I don't know why so many of my Crazy Korean Discoveries center around the bathroom, but here's another.  Many toilets operate on a BYOP (bring your own paper) system where only a bidet is used, so I decided that I needed to learn how to use one.  They say the best way of learning is doing, and of course the Anchovy Hotel had bidets in every room (would a place like the Anchovy Hotel be complete without crazy toilets and night-club style lighting in the hallways??).  So on night two, I sat down and gave it a whirl.  There is no way to describe that experience that is appropriate for public.  Let it suffice to say that I have never felt cleaner.

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