Circumnavigating Chungju in a day!


After a convivial Friday night at Bella Luna with Bao, Pedro and Kevin, all recent arrivals in Chungju, I got up early saturday morning to Weather + telling me that the weekend forecast was a little dire, “overcast with showers”. Experience told me this meant steady rain.  Surprisingly Saturday morning delivered fine weather and after wandering around the local markets I stopped to cringe at the poor little canines on offer to the local kids. Undernourished, taken away from their mothers too soon, and generally comatose,  the poor things needed animal rescue to intervene.  Those not sleeping whimpered, many with ribs protruding from emaciated frames, sad to see but no one seemed irritated. It would have been a good day to plan a camping trip to Woraksan but the 2 day forecast put the disaster sticker on that one and so……

After midday a visit to Chungju Dam and the surrounding parkland prompted a mini tour of the periphery of Chungju. This meant re-visiting some historic sites (of which a few had been previously closed) and adding some new. Most of the history I won’t repeat as it sits elsewhere in this blog but one site visited merits recommendation as a new visitor centre has recently opened.  Jungwon Goguryeo Monument has been afforded its own visitor centre due to its historical significance.

Before that the Dam, it’s great for people watching, bizarre Korean habits such as picnics on the tarmac of the car park. Adjacent to these picnickers are what you would assume were more comfortable grassed areas. Old men were taking constitutional walks with their sons, protected from the hazy sunlight by cavernous umbrella’s.   Tight faced women suffering from the consequences of over zealous plastic surgeons squinted under their parasols. Blacked out limo’s from which emerged nondescript (again surgically enhanced) ladies with too much make-up and who obviously believe they are important or famous.  Cyclists with inappropriate gear for the weather who carry bikes down staircases rather than cycling downhill.  Cyclists with arses padded so much they could be hit from the rear by an articulated truck and not feel anything. Ladies doing lunch, propped against walls, again lounging on concrete paving.  It would be interesting to survey the extent of piles enjoyed by the people of Korea.

From  the Dam we drove towards Imperial Lake lake passing a monument to the Korean Airforce and then stopping at Lee Su-il’s monument and tomb at Chunghunsa Temple, Oseok-ri, which had been previously inaccessible due to water-logging.

From there we climbed the hill past the Imperial Lake Golf & Country Club descending and turning right through the recently added wetlands then stopping at the eccentric fishing centre for a laugh. To remind you, fishermen and women sit on car seats sheltered by individual canopies , and fish to their heart’s content for $30 a day. The fish are contained in a well-stocked pond and when caught are deposited in buckets next to the fishermen. At regular intervals they are collected into the back of a pick-up truck and then dispatched back into the pond to be re-fished presumably very quickly! From here we crossed the Jojeongji dam and turning left followed the uphill path of the cycling trail to Ipseok Village.

Located in Ipseok Village, Yongjeon-ri, Chungju-si the visitor centre for the Goguryeo stone stele is beautifully designed and laid out, it has a textured external copper skin. This Stele is the only existing Goguryeo stone monument on record in the Korean peninsula. The monument was erected to commemorate the occupation of several fortresses along the Namhangang River by Goguryeo troops who had moved their territory South from the Northern regions of the Korean peninsula (map below).

The Stele was discovered in 1979 in the village of Ipseok, the monument had already been severely weathered over time and this along with local residents’ negligence had meant its condition was less than perfect.  It takes the form of a natural stone pillar, and is a smaller version of the monument to Great King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo which is located in Manchuria, China. The Stele is engraved on four sides, but only the letters on the front and one side are legible due to the forces of nature and the human negligence noted above.  From what is legible, it seems the monument dates back to around the late fifth century when King Jangsu of Goguryeo moved the capital to Pyeongyang and extended the Kingdom’s territory southward to the basin of the Han River.  It’s engravings illustrate the relations between Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje cultures, therefore the monument is of great importance in the study of Korean history.

Goguryeo was an ancient Korean empire which flourished on a vast expanse of land in East Asia. Goguryeo thrived for 705 years from 37 B.C., when it was founded, to A.D. 668, when it collapsed. Like most nations at that time, Goguryeo started out from modest beginnings in the Zolbon area in the Yalu River valley. It was a typical class driven society. The social hierarchy consisted of four classes, the King, aristocrats, commoners and slaves. Individual lives were uniformly regulated in terms of class. Goguryeo kings were drawn from a blood lineage called “gherubu” and, in time, the royal family was clearly distinguished from other aristocratic families. Goguryeo constituted five tribes altogether. One being the royal family, the leadership of the other four tribes (Biryu-nabu, Yon-nabu, Hwan-nabu and Gwan-nabu) was absorbed into the Goguryeo establishment as they began to take up government posts. Eventually, they came to form the Goguryeo aristocracy. Aristocrats were allowed to bequeath titles and wealth to their descendants, but they were also responsible to take part in battles during times of war. By the end of third century, the former tribal distinctions had mostly disappeared and power was centralised.

Even though Goguryeo had many slaves, the mainstays responsible for production were commoners. They had to cultivate plots of land, pay taxes to the state and provide the labour force; they constituted the backbone of the state. Even though Goguryeo seized war prisoners and compelled them to serve as slaves, competent prisoners were given equitable positions to positively utilise their talents. With regard to people’s that submitted en mass to their rule, Goguryeo would impose taxes on them and would grant autonomy and rights in terms of their lifestyles. Sometimes, Goguryeo would try to hold them within its sphere of influence, even at hefty costs, in order to maximise the military potential of these groups.  The dynasty promulgated a systematic set of codes in 372 by combining existing customary rules and other laws. Traitors were put to death and individuals who committed larceny had to repay ten times the value of goods stolen. Goguryeo people would not even pick up things on the streets, and social discipline was so firmly established that prisons were usually empty.

The visitor centre is so new it’s not even mentioned in The “Chungju Tour” guide or on the Visit Korea Tourism website.  It has interactive exhibits and is only 5 minutes drive from Jungangtap Pagoda and Park, the site for the 2013 World Rowing Championships.

Temple under construction, Temple with no name, whatever you wish to call it, is also only 5 minutes drive from the Stele and whoever finances it is building Templestay accommodation on the site.  The complex is so new mechanical diggers sit alongside the Buddhist statues and shrines. The view from high up behind the golden seated Buddha over the Imperial Lake is stellar.

The Chungnyeolsa Shrine to Lim Chung-min should have been a short 10 minute drive away but my impeccable navigation skills suffered a temporary malfunction and we were at one stage heading for Suanbo. Captain Oats I am not, the portion of my grey matter that functions as Sat Nav recovered quickly enough to retrieve the situation and General Lim would have been proud…….unfortunately the Shrine was shut!

Saturday night saw another Gorgonzola Pasta at Bella Luna and some Merlot to wash it down.  Surprising the Le Piat D’or transported from Cheonan was of a much higher quality than the previous incarnation of the brand enjoyed at Abigails Party! The restaurant was surprisingly quiet but as usual the patronage was mixed Korean and Western, the proprietors as always attentive and courteous. We finished the vin rouge in the garden and  then walked up to Jazz and Sandro for a couple of beers. My favourite, though most expensive bar, was busy and a great laid back venue to close the evening and another busy day.

Paris Baguette was tempting the following morning, the cheesy almond bread and coffee a good start to a very wet day.  A visit to the mountain temple of Seokjongsa (dating from 1384) on the far side of the apple laden Namsan mountain was the only activity of a drizzly Sunday.

Monday brought excellent news but also a little sadness, the principle had heeded good sense and decided the Tuesday of Chuseok (Hangawo), Korean Thanksgiving Day, could be another holiday.  Unfortunately for me this decision was 72 hours too late.  The “Angels” had booked transport etc to the South West of Korea for a camping trip, I had rescinded my invite because we had Sports Day! Plan B is 4 days in Seoul (29th Sept to 3rd Oct) but visiting places on the outskirts such as Heyri Arts Village, the National Museum of Contemporary art, Silleuksa Temple, Namhansanseong Fortress and Buam-dong.

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