Saturday, May 18, 2013

The littlest hobos

We had big plans for this little overnight trip out of Seoul, we were going to visit the Boseong tea festival, Gwangju massacre monument and museum, the mysteriously abandoned Gonjiam psychiatric hospital and Yulpo beach. Personally, I was most excited and interested in the Gonjiam psychiatric hospital.

Sirena booked bus tickets for us, and the plan was to get a bus early Friday morning. Unfortunately Okrzyki was late. So, our departure was delayed until midday. I discovered there are some pretty good and cheap clothes shopping around the express bus terminal. Whilst we wandered around and got some food, Okrzyki informed me that we were no longer going to see the Gonjiam psychiatric hospital, because it's in a different Gwangju. Apparently it's in Gyeonggi-do province which is actually nearer Seoul. I was disappointed, but it means there's potentially another future trip there sometime.  

Last weekend, I had travelled on the KTX to Busan. This weekend, we tackled the buses, traffic congestion, and delays. Although, I discovered that if you miss your bus it's pretty easy to switch onto another one, provided there are seats available. When I say relatively easy, bear in mind that Sirena speaks way more Korean than I do, and she successfully managed to switch our tickets on more than one occasion. Thank-you!

We got a plush bus to travel to Gwangju, there are only three seats per row which means they are bigger. I sat on one of the individual seats listening to music, sleeping (it makes travel go faster) and absorbing myself in my own thoughts. Travelling out of Seoul, I found myself gazing out of  window and having those periodic thoughts moments of 'oh my gosh, I really live in Korea'. The drive to Gwangju was very slow, stop, slow, stop, slow. It took hours. Note to self, do not travel to other Korean cities during national holidays. From Gwangju we had to get another bus to the city of Boseong, more slow, stop, slow, but with windier country roads. We finally arrived in Boseong around 9pm. We took at taxi to Yulpo beach, hoping to find somewhere to stay, and then have a dip in the morning before heading to the tea festival. The taxi driver asked us about where we were staying, when we told him we hadn't pre-booked he seemed concerned. He parked on the side of the road and began making calls to try and find us somewhere. The area around Yulpo beach was very quiet and dark, it didn't look very populated and there were very few street lights. Amongst the darkness, I could just about figure out where the sea must lie ahead of us. It turned out this was the only time I would see it during our trip, in the dark. The taxi driver wasn't having much luck, so we decided to head back to the city of Boseong and try to find accommodation there. Although, he warned us everywhere was full because of the festival, we figured we'd find somewhere. 

In Boseong we wandered towards the 7-eleven, got some drinks and sat outside to review our plan of action. We noticed there were some other foreigners passing by, so we asked if they had somewhere to stay, but they just confirmed they were looking for somewhere, too. Next, we also decided to walk down the main street to look around. A girl approached us, she said she didn't mean to sound creepy but she wanted to know if we'd found a place for the night. We told her that we hadn't. We all laughed about our little hobo predicament.

She told us a lad in her group was Korean, and that he was calling places and asking people, but there seemed to be nothing. She kindly invited us to join them. We agreed since we figured they might have more chance of success than we did. As is traditional in Korea, we sat outside the 7-eleven making new friends over shots of soju and beer. Some more passing waygook hobo's joined us. I recognised one girl, I told her she looked familiar and asked if she lived in Seoul. It turned out they'd actually been at our orientation last August but were placed in Busan, small world and good memory skills. Our new Korean friend determined that there weren't any jimjilbangs in Boseong that you can sleep at, all the love motels were full, and the only norebang closed at 1am. The only places that seemed be open all night were the 7-eleven and the mini mart. We really were facing an unplanned night of drinking on the streets. Most of us had dressed for the daytime sun. It began to get really cold, the lady from the 7-eleven bought us blankets and jackets. Eventually, we decided to head to the Norebang. Maybe they would take pity on us and let us sleep there?

The norebang in Boseong was pretty basic, but they had a room big enough for all of us. Some of us managed to get some sleep in the Norebang, some of us charged our phones, munched on snacks, drank beer and sang heartily for a couple of hours.

Unfortunately the owners did not take enough pity on us to let us stay all night. We loitered for a long as we felt comfortable without upsetting our hosts too much. 

Next, we headed to a local beer hof. Initially the Korean landlady did not seem to keen to serve us, as she was about to close. Following a conversation I didn't understand, she finally offered to let us stay until 5.30am if we each paid 10000 won. We agreed and paid the money. Her mood dramatically changed, she went into party mode, she proceeded to brings us drinks and make us food. She was very excitable and kept squeezing everyone's cheeks. We enjoyed her hospitality and the warmth of being inside, although in a nice way she did seem a little crazy at times. 

Around 4.30am people began to crash again. There were only small two-seater benches in the hof. I curled up on one as best I could, and used my rucksack as a pillow. When the landlady noticed she rescued a towel and put it under my head, placed a jacket over me and raised my feet onto a stool to make my lying position more comfortable. I think I managed to get about 20mins of broken sleep. When she woke us up at 5.30am, everyone was pretty groggy. Two of the locals from the bar took us back to the bus station. Outside was eerily foggy, which provoked that sense of almost being in some kind of surreal spooky horror movie, we laughed and took some pictures.  

The locals took us back to the bus station. The tea festival didn't open until 9am, so we found ourselves with a few more hours to kill and not much else to do other than sit outside the 7-11 again. Okrzyki suggested a few beers to get us 'slightly buzzed' before heading to the festival. I didn't start drinking quite as early as both of them, sensible, I know. I found it rather reminiscent of being at a music festival, and drinking to help dissipate some of the aches and pains (purely medicinal reasons, obviously). 

On this trip, I had envisioned wearing nice dresses to the tea festival, and having some equally nice pictures taken. These were still in my rucksack, I accepted I wasn't going to get to wear them. Also, there was no psychiatric hosptial exploration, no beach, practically no sleep. I was still wearing the clothes I had travelled in (skank), and now I was going to be 'lightly buzzed' by 9am, in time for the tea festival opening. It was at this point I felt it appropriate to jokingly quote Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon and say 'I'm too old for this sh*t'.

I wasn't particularly looking forward to the tea festival, it wasn't my main reason for coming on this trip. I don't even like tea. I know I'm British and I hate tea, how can that possibly be? I don't know I just do. Although, a few years ago in Japan, I discovered that I can drink green tea, to be fair you can't escape it there. It's generally weaker and more palatable, than normal tea. And, I do quite like green tea ice-cream. 

The tea festival was very busy and bustling with activity, at the entrance there were lots of stalls selling their various interesting, and ingenious green tea wares. Here, we indulged in some ice-cream, which was rather nice-uh.

Then we headed towards the fields. I didn't really have any prior expectations, but the swathes of rounded green tea bushes running over the mountains were a pretty impressive sight. 
We walked around, took in the view, took some silly Korean posed type pictures, and ate some raw leaves.

They are definitely worth seeing. Just make sure you book somewhere to stay in advance, especially if you plan to visit during the Boseong tea festival.
Due to lack of time, we also gave up on visiting the Gwangju massacre memorial monument and museum.
Still we managed to do one out of the four, and surprisingly greatly impressed me. Plus, we all had fun, made new friends, and bonded through adversity in the usual way. 

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