Sunday, 16 January 2011

"Romantic" City of Chuncheon Part 1

 - Ah, so you can't have coffee with me because you go to Chuncheon. Right. Make sure you take lots of cloths because it will be very cold. Have fun. - my good Russian friend stated philosophically. 

I never care much for weather forecast in Korea, because it is hardly reliable and because in winter supposed to be cold. Frost, snow and blue sky are what makes a good winter.

Sometimes it makes that winter too good. We met at 9 am on a very chilly Saturday morning and bought tickets to Chuncheon which is north-east from Seoul area. The bus was warm and comfortably brought us to the destination, however on the way we passed a lot of smaller and bigger places which the further we went the more they looked like some middle of nowhere. 

 More and more in the middle of nowhere...

After getting off the bus we headed to downtown area which for some reason is called Myeong-Dong. Taxi driver, very happy for the given weather conditions smiled at us and asks:

-  Juoyo? Cold?

-   Aju juoyo... after that Yukti says something I could not understand quite well. Taxi drivers have two different favorite sports here. If I go on taxi with a girl, they ask where we are from and they usually start from guessing that we are from USA.

-  Where are you from?
-  France. - says Yukti with a joking spark in her eyes – and she is from USA.

Our ajoshi seemed to be more than happy that I was from USA and Yukti was from France for the purpose of this short ride to the city center. Another favorite hobby they have is asking a man in the cab if I am his wife or not and if he is going to kiss me or not. This is at least as much as I understood once when I was with a guy on the cab in the evening. But this time I was with Yukti, my amazing Indian friend who always smiles and the hobby version was much less annoying.

Once in downtown we had seen that the center was called Myeong-Dong for a reason. It apparently attempted to be a copy of Myeong-Dong in Seoul even with Myeong-Dong shoes for a tourist who would go to this city for shoes.

Well, we got here for sightseeing, not for shoes. Myeong-Dong shoes can wait, they are available in Seoul. Or not? Maybe not? 

Soon after however we got to the street marked with a very nice chicken on it's pavement. It was Dalgalbi street. We wanted to eat at last and try something new.

One of the attractions in ''romantic city of Chuncheon” is the local food, Dalgalbi. It is chicken on the grill with cabbage and tok – rice cake. However every restaurant was so full that we thought it must be some festival going on. The only empty one happened to be a place reserved for bigger groups. At last we just got to any given restaurant.

Dalgalbi was very nice but very spicy ( yes, I learnt to like spicy food!).
Even Yukti despite being a vegatarian had a bit of Dalgalbi. While we were assisted by a very helpful and elegant ajumma, some ajoshi hooked us asking Korean favorite question:

-  Where are you from?

After few introductions he admitted that he knows parts of India quite well and that he had been to Warsaw. We were very impressed by the gentleman's language skills, the conversation went on smoothly with him repeating every now and then who he is what had he done so far and how is he smart. And that he knows India and Poland and traveled in business there, of which he seemed to be very proud. He seemed to be proud of himself too. But wait, is this just Korean or is it simply male?

His daughter, a fresh lancet beauty, knew him obviously better than us and said:

-  Never mind him, he likes to know everything best.

Culturally shocking attitude here. I have seen some young boys carrying around their girls' handbags after they watched some soap operas, but I had not seen a daughter to be so equal in relations to any father here in Korea so far. Later we learnt that the man works for Hyundai and this is the reason why he knew our countries quite well before. As a modern Korean financial aristocrat seems to be excused from cultural norms and does not care for them much. He, his daughter and her boyfriend had seated for a sophisticated Dalgalbi luncheon on my 1.

-   Look at these individuals over there. - said Yukti.

Meanwhile on my 3 I had a nice picture of guys with black uniforms, longer hair in pony tails, 3 out of whom looked apparently Japanese. They had something on their necks which looked like rosary with a small penis attached. My neighbors looked at us every now and then and I kept looking at them. One moment I was tempted too much and I asked for a photo permission. This is how I have a photo with this gentleman. Obviously I asked what this small penis meant.

- It is religious symbol for first son. First baby – ajumma politically corrected herself.
Was it a baby or was it a penis? I don't know yet. Nevertheless the individuals seemed to be just as interested in us as we had been in them. In the background crowd of people had been patiently waiting for their turn, others were eating and drinking, some were sitting normally, some on the heated floor. The Dalgalbi luncheon fiesta was at it's most! 

 Was it a baby or was it a penis? I don't know. Dalgalbi fiesta went on.

After lunch it was time to decide what to do. Sitting in Cold Stone we had studied a map. Our host whom I found on couchsurfing lived in the eastern part of the city, hence we decided to see what that area offered to us and cover the rest on Sunday.

Not for the first time it had been a real struggle to go out into -17 degrees outside. Blue sky was not helping much anymore. But, Dear Reader, it would be rather pathetic to end up eating only local food, wouldn't it?

Why -17 in Chuncheon? Time to answer this question now. It supposed to be my destination for Chusok, but hell, it wasn't. Don't ask me why, ask the sky. Part of it was weather.

-17 happens to be a number on the termometer outside of the window, and the red liquid inside does not wanna move any bit higher, no matter how hard I pray for that. Now I have time for travelling, so I need to stand merciless – 17.

Yes, but this is not an answer to the question, why was it my destination. Part of it is the city's size. It is small, compact, surrounded with the lakes, settled among mountains rising straight from the water, it is a misty resemblance of Norway to unfamiliar ones. Another reason is that they had pictured South Korean most famous drama here, Winter Sonata. I have not seen any piece of it, but I was curious which surroundings and views Koreans would consider especially good for a romance scenery. 

Therefore we headed to the famous Soyang Dam by the local bus. The ride had taken us very high above the water level. Sceneries were absolutely beautiful. Slightly blue mountains covered here and there with snow and the steel blue lake far down below us which water had not been frozen yet and a blue sky. Absolutely astonishing. 

 Steel blue waters of the lake, blue sky and freezing wind. Winter Sonata.

If it only wasn't so windy! Our ''romantic trip” to Winter Sonata site had started more than chilly and it was my very self who had done this to us. Apparently I have some masochistic traits.
The wind had taken away all our warmth. Resourceful Korean overcommercialized capitalists whom I curse so often this time had been so resourceful and placed a building on top of the dam. It was reasonably warm in there.

After visiting the dam we decided to see the Museum in Chuncheon, but as a nice lady in the tourist info said, it was closed as of today. Therefore we headed to the Ethiopian War Memorial.

-Yuk shi closed. - said the watchdog downstairs with apparent attempt to shut the door in front of our faces.

-  But it is 5:55 – said Yukti, who is more than resourceful when needed.
This was how we made it inside the memorial for the Ethiopian war efforts which also shows a lot of culture. Items presented inside are really taken from Ethiopia or inspired by it's ancient culture remembering King Salomon and Queen Saba. The fresquos on the roofs are worth a glympse. They feature Ethiopian early churches from 3rd and 4th Century A.D. and the daily life of the villagers. Some everyday usage items and other artifacts are on display. It was the quickest sightseeing in my life, in 10' we were done with the Memorial Hall.

It was dark. Temperature fell to 23 in the negative. Hardly ever I could feel my skin being slowly frozen, despite my thickest possible outfit. It happens when it is below -20. 
 Happy masochist who is the owner of this blog.

Nolens volens we went for the Ethiopian Espresso since we were next to this place. Inside the coffee house I had seen many artifacts taken from Africa which were very real, neither of them had been made in China.

We sat by the window slowly defreezing ourselves. We both knew it was enough for today. Last issue to solve was to find our host from couchsurfing. Before that however we enjoyed taste of real African coffee which I know so well. It won't be modest to admit it, but Ethiopian coffee is welcome on my table ever since I know Krzysztof, a fellow traveller, who married a girl from Ethiopia. Twice a year or so he arrives with huge quantities of coffee in Warsaw, some of which gets safely delivered to my address. 

 Sometimes we were only silent...

Among the aroma of the seeds we enjoyed conversation about common female topics, at moments only sitting quietly. Outside of the window moon reflected in the iced water which even from inside seemed to crunch and whisper. What did it want to tell...?

We were on the way out when the owner took a chance to explain us the history of his coffee house. A word ''book” worked magic again. Jung Dae Cha is a second generation of owners who manages this coffee business. He says that it is the oldest coffee house in the entire South Korea. It started as soon as the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie visited Chuncheon in 1968 and had put his tent in the very spot where the coffee house is. The Memorial was opened to keep the memory of Ethiopian troops who participated bravely in the bloody times of Korean Civil War.

One hour later we finally reached the destination. Our host welcomed us with his warm house. Himself being very sick made this effort despite of any circumstances because commitment to a once given word matters. We spent the evening having interesting conversation about ancient medicine and Judaic belief.

Two hours later Yukti was sleeping and I was laying in total darkness wondering what the next day might bring...

To be continued...
Chuncheon, 15th January 2011

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