On Saturday Alan invited me to meet up in Gumi to go cycling and hiking. Alan had been laid low with sickness early after his arrival to work for EPIK in South Korea and was keen to travel from his town Ocheon which is quite isolated.
The city is an industrial center of the country with many companies, including Samsung Electronics and LG Display. The primary industries are electronics and textiles. In 2009, the city exported the largest amount in the country and accounted for 96.9% of trade surplus of Korea in 2000 to 2009.
I left home at 6.15am for the 6.45am bus anticipating the 2 hr 30 minute journey to Gumi and the fact I had to store my bike in the hold. My co-teacher had called to check it was possible to take bikes and to see if there was any extra charge. The two answers were yes and no.
I bought my ticket for 10 quid, you can only buy singles, and queued at station 9 for the bus. The driver arrived, he either had terrible wind, piles or his face had frozen after meeting Griselda of the Terrahawks at the altar! He was the most miserable person I have encountered in SK, really grumpy and awkward. He appeared to be complaining about the bike being stored in the hold. The other bus drivers laughed at him and seemed to be gesturing for me to ignore him, store the bike and get on the bus. I followed their advice as he waved his fist at me in disgust. He did not stop coughing and spitting for at least an hour after we left the station. Victor bloody Meldrew……my arse!
As we approached Suanbo I asked to stop for a piddle at the station, he made another Nazi style chant in darkest Korean. My thoughts were, may a lightening bolt strike him dead, or then perhaps not as I needed to get to Gumi! I was occupying my mind with the thoughts of MCFC’s impending title decider when a line from an Emerson Lake & Palmer song came into my head via the Ipod app.
“When the apple blossoms bloom in the windmills of his mind, one day, perhaps, he will be some poor dears valentine?”. As I have stated before I believe senility is settling in early. The iPod then threw up ELO, “Sun is shining in the sky, there ain’t no cloud in sight……..”. Next it shuffled Bjork, I’d forgotten how fantastically different Bjork is! SK had given me space and time to remember.
At the next stop, masked but not caped crusaders joined the happiest bus on the planet. Why do they wear masks? The Washington Post thinks it is because they fear the radiation from Japan’s knackered nuclear reactors. I prefer hypochondria, and the irrational hope that a mask will stop a pandemic virus. Speaking of irrationality, at this juncture I remembered that A Whelan and C Mitchell are probably the most distasteful women in the world! Maybe the masks made me think this? They both do indeed wear masks of professionalism and respectability hiding their calculating and manipulative ways. They cannot hide the aura of incompetence and deceit. Rant over!
I arrived in Gumi on time, the driver wouldn’t open the hold so I did myself, left it open and set about trying to decipher the GPS as the maps are in Korean. I needed to ascertain where the train station was as Alan was arriving by train. Alan’s co-worker had also advised him of a reasonably priced hotel, The Metro. I could not find signage to Gumi train station and had to call Alan to arrange a meeting spot, he suggested City Hall. I had seen signs to City Hall so that’s where I headed. As is the case in Korea street signs are for the automobile and take no account of cyclists and pedestrians, I therefore ended up at Gumi Stadium where the 50th Gyeongbuk Sports Festival was in full flow. Realising I was lost again I headed back to the last incarnation of a road sign which had sent me the wrong way and decided to go straight ahead. 5 minutes later I came across a huge red bricked complex with YES GUMI splattered all over it, this I took, as is the case in Chungju, to be the City Hall. After flaneuring around the complex I deduced it was the Gumi Cultural and Arts Centre NOT the City Hall. Returning to the saddle I came across the next set of YES GUMI signs and this time the pot of gold was delivered to my terribly frustrated rainbow. Alan of course was not there, he was still on the train, so I therefore settled in a little garden with a fountain and imitation piddling boy of Brussels, Le Manneken Pis! Alan was a further 45mins and announced his arrival at the station, he would cycle to City Hall. A short while later he proclaimed he had landed at City Hall! My phone by this time was in need of resurrection. How could he be there, I was? I had mistakenly thought he said a red bricked building with balloons flying over it; assuming he made my mistake I headed for the Arts Centre………no Alan! One last call, I had to find the balloons. I set off again to find a higher vantage point, seeing the balloons were exactly over Le Manneken Pis, I headed back deducing he was at the other side of City Hall, he was!
Alan being a sensible character had made bacon and egg butties so I gladly accepted and we chatted about our experiences in dysfunctional SK education. I had assumed that the Great White Shark from SA would have an itinerary ready, he said not, as it transpired he was a poor fibber because he sort of had. The itinerary involved heading towards Geumo Mountain and whatever that threw at us, so armed with Alan’s functioning GPS that’s where we headed. We came across a buddhist temple next to the station, I can’t remember its name but it was well-preserved and actively in use, it was decorated in preparation for Buddha’s birthday. We cycled on until we came to the Geumo Reservoir Dam and climbed the steep side to the top. The dam is used for recreational purposes and was full of Carp and Terrapins. We cycled around the park stopping at Tourist Information of which there was none. Further on we came to Geumo Mountain (Geumo San) Provincial Park which is a popular hiking destination. The peak at 976 m above sea level is one of the eight famous spots in the Yeongman area and was the location of the start of the nature preservation campaign in Korea. The park has an amusement area called Geumo Land and the Geumo reservoir that we had just cycled around.. There are several interesting sites on the mountain but first we decided to take the fork in the road to the left after the “brown sign” which indicated a temple. The road climbed steeply passing a loaded campsite and some fine examples of SK parking. It’s bizarre how they park on both sides of the road when car parks are provided and empty! The climb continued to Daedun-sa temple signs indicated it was twinned with an orphanage in Cambodia. The Joseon period temple again had active worshippers and we caught site of monks who live there. The entrance was well-preserved with a beautiful bell tower. Originally constructed by Adowhasang in 446 on Mt. Yeonak, it burned down when Mongolians invaded Goryeo under the rule of King Gojong. It was later re-constructed by Wangso, Prince of King Chungryeol. We rested and took on some isotonic and then headed further up the mountain. We realised after a steep climb, which afforded fantastic views, that we had hit a bit of a white herring. After Alan consulted with a Korean we realised we would have to freewheel down from Mt. Yeonsak to the foot of Geumo mountain and move on from there.
At the foot of Geumo, after securing the bikes, we visited Chaemi-jeong Pavillion. Chaemi-jeong (designated Monument No. 55) was built in 1768 in illustrious memory to the loyalty, learning, and virtue of Yaeun Gil Jae, a loyal subject and a great scholar in the Goryeo Dynasty. This open air pavilion has 16 pillars and a wooden floor. A five-letter poem written by King Sukjong (1671-1720) to cherish his loyalty is preserved in Gyeongmo-gak. The name of the pavilion was picked from the fables and phrases of Baek-I and Suk-je who gathered bracken in China. (So bloody what!) The importance of being Korean!!!!!!
Yaeun Gil Jae was born in 1353 and passed the civil service examination in 1386. He became the doctor of Seonggyun-gwan and the Munhajuso. After the Goryeo Dynasty ended, he was appointed as Taesang’s doctor. He resigned the position because he thought a loyal subject should not serve a second lord. He returned to his hometown to support his old mother. We then met a Korean swimming instructor who had lived in Australia for a while, he spoke good English whilst his wife and daughter hung around dutifully to one side. He commented on the irrational Korean education system confirming our own views.
HaeUn Buddhist Temple is situated near the top of the cable car station but the Doesan Cave and Daehye Waterfall are reached by a hike further on. We took the cable car and headed to the temple which once again was beautifully decorated in preparation for Buddha’s birthday. The trees that surrounded the Temple made for such a peaceful cool environment.
Further on Daehye Waterfall is 27 m high and is especially beautiful during the rainy season when there is a lot of water flowing over it. It can be completely dry during periods without rain and is frozen in winter. From here we hit the stairway to heaven………..the longest, steepest staircase I have ever climbed, we thought it would never end. The signs explaining how to phone for help were less than comforting. We eventually reached the top which gave us the prize of spectacular views. This though was not the summit which was 2km vertically ahead; with no sign of structured pathways to follow and due to incapacity we decided to leave that for another visit or be flown in by air ambulance!
We do know what we missed, the YakSa Temple and the Ma Ae cliff Buddha statue are both near the summit of Geumo Mountain and need about 1 – 2 hours of hiking to reach them. I believe from the spot we ascended to. The YakSa Temple is an active Buddhist temple and is said to have been created to commemorate Saint Ulsang’s attainment of nirvana. It sits near the peak of the mountain and it has a unique bell that sits on a separate spike of rock connected by a suspension bridge. The nearby Ma Ae Cliff Buddha (National Treasure #490) is carved into the corner of a cliff face thought to have been carved during the Goryeo dynasty.
We descended to the waterfall and ascended to the Doesan Cave named after the Buddhist monk Doesan who attained a state of nirvana in the cave. He was a master of the theory of “divination based on topography” in the later Shilla dynasty. The climb consisted of a winding narrow rocky trail on the side of a cliff. There was an iron railing with chains along one side of the trail. On the other side of that railing was a big drop off down the side of the mountain. At one point there is a rope to help pull yourself up a small rocky incline. The views from the trail were simply exhilarating. The cave itself houses a shine to Buddha, the view of Gumi through the valley was worth every step. There were active worshippers in the cave and after Alan conquering his fear of heights I believe Alan came near to his own religious experience. As for me, my knee was in semi-crisis, my groin throbbed like an Ibiza rave and I cracked my elbow on the descent, thankfully my lungs have benefited from all those years of cycling. Unfortunately all those years of soccer have left me aching like a Tory counsellor after the recent local elections. I can take pain killers to make the pain go away unfortunately the Tories will be harder to dislodge.
We decided to hike down the mountain and not take the cable car, it was a cool walk through lush vegetation and a series of buddhist stupa’s similar to those I had seen in Ladakh India but the scale was much larger. We also passed the remains of a walled fortress. Geumosan Mountain Fortress was built in the 13th century. It’s like a mini Great Wall of China…a really mini one. At one time it surrounded the mountain. It was destroyed during Japanese and Chinese invasions during the 16th and 17th centuries and was since re-built, but not to it’s original expanse. Arriving at the bottom of the mountain we returned to the cable car station and down the hill to our bikes via the hotel which was holding a bikers convention, all Harleys and Gullwings. Knackered, exhausted, tatered, kaput whatever adjective you can think of is applicable. We managed to mount our bikes with aching limbs and throbbing bum cheeks and headed back into town, as yet we had no hotel. We had contemplated the idea of camping al fresco but the tiredness suggested a shower and a proper mattress for the night. It took a while and a number of futile attempts before we found The Metro Hotel. They had no twins so we paid for two rooms, very reasonable and both with excellent facilities. The hotel kindly facilitated the storing of the bikes in its garage and we headed up to shower. We decided Pizza was on the menu, Alan would have eaten that urine fest that is Sushi, but not for me after the work experience. All I can think of is it would be like sucking a nappy! Alan had potato pizza whilst I had spicy chicken, neither of us finished and had a doggie bag take away. We picked up a couple of beers on the way back, it was 10.30pm, we had cycled for the best part of 9hrs and our bodies were neither willing or able to stay compus mentis so we went to bed.
After an excellent sleep I swung my aching limbs out of bed and decided that a bath was in order, after a 30 minute soak I felt ready to take on the world. We had Blueberry Bagel and Cream Cheese for breakfast and headed out-of-town to see a complex which included the Daeseongjeon Confucian Academy and an old school but both we would find would be locked up. On the way we saw around 12 teams playing baseball and the huge expanse of LG factories that dominate the outskirts of the city, employing some 80,000 workers. Once again knackered we eventually got back to the us station and more confusion for me! Confucius Confusion in Korea, why am I not surprised. Alan headed off for his train and I attempted to sort out my journey back to Chungju, by this time MCFC were dominating my thoughts. I showed the ticket operative my destination and she charged me half the fare I had paid to come to Gumi, alarm bells started to ring. I had been told departure point 3 and then I double checked….departure point 6. At departure point 6 a bus arrived, even this incapable Hangul scholar could ascertain that the ticket did not match the name on the bus. I went back to the ticket office, they were sending me to Cheongju NOT Chungju which explained the reduced price. I quickly changed my ticket, got sent to departure gate 9 this time, the bus and ticket matched. I loaded the bike (without driver dissent) and settled in my seat for the journey home. I gorged on my cold spicy pizza which was excellent and downed a Ginseng elixir as my nan used to. Halfway home the bus driver asked for my ticket (he had already seen it in Gumi), the porter at this bus station had removed my bike! I quickly reinforced that my destination was Chungju and reloaded my bike…phew!!!!!
On arriving in Chungju I met Michelle and Carissa who were searching for a Shepherds Pie dish and Mc D milk shake, we found both, headed home and later enjoyed a fab dinner. What happened later is legend and has a new page on my blog. Blue Moon de de de de…..
Blue moon, you saw me standin’ alone
Without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own
Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me sayin’ a prayer for
Someone I really could care for
And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will hold
I heard somebody whisper “please adore me”
And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold
Blue moon, now I’m no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own