52 the new 5

A crispy Friday morning in Eomjeong and my birthday weekend began in earnest at 8am, a “coffee and cake” party with my morning class.  They were subjected to a 70’s and 80’s musical feast of Stevie Wonder, Limmie and the Family Cookin’ and Edwyn Star.  I received some fantastic artwork gifts/messages and particularly liked the comment which thanked me for “fun alternative” lessons.  At lunchtime I went for beef & mushroom soup (Yukgaejang) with my co-workers and received a 6 pack of OB beers from Sean and a lovely bone china mug from An. At 7.30pm I headed downstairs for my birthday dinner prepared by the newly anointed Carissa “Ms Jaffrey” Heighway, Angel number 1. The lentils, vegetable curry and tandoori chicken cannot be allocated enough superlatives, thank you! Angel number 2, Sam Bath can always be counted upon to add value to an occasion and brought chapatti’s and put her culinary skills to good use creating (with Ms Jaffrey) a super birthday cake. Angel 3 did not trifle she brought vino rouge and lovely Burberry “style” slippers and a cute little card, most importantly she brought herself.  It’s a privilege to have such kind expat friends on my doorstep here in SK. We had a great evening thank you.

For any man who has led an energetic, full-bodied life, the realities of aging can be overwhelming. But as the author has discovered, coming to terms with that is one of life’s great empowerments. View yourself as a project; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. Maturity brings with it greater empathy as this is a human trait that we learn over time, we have clarity of thought as we put our ideals into practice, we learn to dip our toes in the water to test our thoughts and perceptions rather than charging into the matadors cape and ultimately the sword. We do this to avoid making catastrophic mistakes when we put our ideas into practice; we see pitfalls and meet them head on rather than ignoring them and hoping that they go away. Ask yourself; why employers don’t want to let you go to be replaced by a younger, mostly inferior model?

Are young people trying to copy us oldies? The Daily Telegraph unearthed astounding news from Wales, where the student union bar at Aberystwyth University has closed due to a lack of customers. It appears that the young folk there have a preference for drinking at coffee bars. Says student president Ben Meakin: “More students are drinking coffee during the day while studying; and fewer are going out late into the night (really Ben!!!!!)… so the university has chosen to improve the main union building to make it a more alluring living room on campus during the daytime.” If you are over 50 and preparing to enhance your lifelong learning by taking on further study, bloody well give Aberystwyth a miss! How grown up they are.

And finally one last observation on ageing….a Stanford University study shows there’s a silver lining to the greying of nations. As we grow older, we tend to become more emotionally stable. And that translates into longer, more productive lives that offer more benefits than problems. While teenagers and young adults experience more frustration, anxiety and disappointment over things like test scores, career goals and finding a soul mate, older people typically have made their peace with life’s accomplishments and failures. In other words, they have less ambiguity to stress about.  Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old. Aging isn’t going to turn someone grumpy into someone who’s happy-go-lucky. But the research indicated that most people would gradually feel better as they grow older.

On Saturday my continued “old age” mental euphoria was intact whilst physically speaking my old decrepit knee was embalmed in Ibuprofen Gel supplemented by my Korean cocktail of anti-inflammatory drugs and the emotional crutch of a band of neoprene armour.

Mungyeongsaejae Provincial Park

On the advice of Angel #1 we headed south towards Mungyeongsaejae Provincial Park some 60 minutes drive from Chungju-si on road #3.  The boundary gates and castle walls were raised here after the Japanese Invasion of Korea (between 1592 and 1598). The second boundary gate, Jogokgwan, was raised in 1594, and in 1708 Juheulgwan and Joryeonggwan were raised and were used as fortresses for national defence, the whole walk to the 4th gate takes around 5 hours. The area was designated as a Provincial Park in 1981.

For centuries this pass was a crucial link between North Gyeongsang province and North Chungcheong province. It was on the Great Yeongnam Road linking Seoul with Busan, and the footpath we were now walking is one of the few remnants that remain exactly as it was in the days of foot and hoofed travel.

The summit of Joryeong-san is 1026m high, tallest of the peaks in this central sector of the Baekdu-
daegan Mountain-system.  Jo-ryeong Pass, also known as the Mungyeong-Saejae, is 642m high.  Both “Jo-ryeong” (based on 
Chinese characters) and “Sae-jae” (pure Korean) mean “Bird Pass”, and are the result of people commentating that “this pass is so high that even birds can’t cross it without taking a 
rest”.  The “Yeongnam Great-Road” was constructed through here during 
the Joseon Dynasty around 500 years ago.  Records state that its original name was Cho-jeom, meaning a grassy pass.  
”Saejae” can also be understood to mean “New Pass”, as this became the most popular route to cross the central Baekdu-daegan Range. This was the main road between Gyeongsang Province (Yeongdong 
Region, originally the Shilla Kingdom) and Chungcheong Province 
(originally a Baekje Kingdom region) and onwards towards Gyeonggi Province.

In addition to the mission of national defence many Seonbi scholars traveled this route on their way 
to take the official examinations and/or assume government posts so this pass and its three great gates came to have special resonant meaning for Koreans, it could 
be called a sacred area for Korean Neo-Confucian culture.

On arrival an army of attendants armed with light sabres attempt to guide you into car park oblivion but eventually after around 15 minutes we found a spot.  As we entered the park we passed a monument to old scholars and “old” road users and then I noticed a museum on the right (I had read it leaves one disappointed, so we walked on) and to left a huge queue for the ladies loo, the mens was less time consuming.  Insignificantly the Mungyeong Saejae Public Bathroom (MSPB or BOG to you and me) was chosen as the recipient of the gold prize at the 11th beautiful bathroom contest co-sponsored by the Ministry of Administration and Safety and the National Council for the Cultural Civil Rights Movement (say that after Soju). “The new bathroom was equipped with advanced features such as a solar sensor, a knob (what sort of knob is unclear) provided with silver antibacterial treatment, the adoption of LED lighting and so on.“

We plodded on towards the first gate, passing through an eco-park to avoid the massed lemmings striding purposely forward (complete with protective masks and over the top mountain gear). Incidentally the Mungyeong Saejae Barefoot Walk (MSBW or Masochism to you and me) takes place here every year at on or around June 13th. Apparently every year the number of participants increases, according the official documentation this is due in no great part to the “era of healthy living”. This year, over 50,000 people participated, which made for a great success.  At 2 P.M. there was a public performance headlined by the popular singer Yongim Kim. Visitors could sample the taste of Mungyeong Schisandra. This is a traditional red Korean liquor with the usual fabled health benefits (not proven); most relating to the effect on male libido.

The scenery was awesome and the air clear (then why the masks) and whilst really busy it did not feel over crowded. One has to pose a question if women wear the masks for health or air pollution reasons then why do they not also deck their kids out in the same way. We walked slowly as I could still feel my knee. Passing the film set of a Korean period soap opera we continued up the gentle incline  stopping to take pictures of the glorious scenery.  I made a loo stop but squatting with my knee is a minor impossibility, we passed an unusual rock in the shape of a turtles head and continued up the valley following the course of the stream. We were passed by armies of masked marauders and boy scouts, loving couples and manic kids and their ignorant parents and girls glued to mobile phones until we reached a giant rock were visitors picnicked. We stopped for a rest before continuing to an open area with giant rocks and beautiful waterfalls, again we rested and recorded the views. Just before we reached gate 2 (our final destination) we stopped to admire a tasty waterfall and then passed an arched bridge where families took on fuel for the push to gate 3; others imbibed huge quantities of Makeoli before staggering well-cut back down the trail.

We spent time on the 2nd gate but aching limbs meant we decided to follow the inebriated masses back down the hill. We were sagging and made a slow descent noticing the increasingly vibrant foliage as the sun lowered in the sky, we saw hikers practicing for the barefoot walk, more masked maidens and teams of blokes dressed in the same outfits (weird). Of particular note were hundreds of folk wearing the same padded jackets in rainbow colours, I later found out they were on sale at a well-known high street branded store. As we reached the lower reaches of the park the opportunities for food and the level of noise increased.

On offer was and open air disco with a mash-up of Korean music and people danced fuelled by pink Makeoli. Judging by the paralytic pensioners cavorting around the dance floor it is unlikely any Makeoli fuelled procreation would be taking place that afternoon.  Bow legged men were chasing even more bow-legged women down the street, but generally in the direction of the famous lavatories rather than the boudoir.  After reneging on the pink liquor we settled for an excellent mushroom and vegetable soup before heading of to rest our weary limbs (FOBY’s back and my left knee) at the spa.

Mungyeong Spa

The longer the cold spell continues to grip this country, the more people will long for the hot springs where all their worries can to dissolve in the steaming hot water. The Mungyeong Spa is a large hot spring complex that first opened in March 2001 and is able to accommodate up to 2,500 visitors at one time. 

The Spa offers two types of hot spring water. The yellow earth-colored hot spring water comes from 900 meters underground and is deemed effective in treating skin irritations and heart disease. The other hot spring water comes from 750 meters below the ground and is promoted as beneficial in healing wounds and respiratory organs.

It has to be said it was a pretty sorted place; which was the usual 6000 won. The only negative aspect was the return of juvenile hooligans. Needless to say the male parenting of these annoying he-devils was less than exemplary. Not only were they cavorting and splashing, this time they attempted low-level dives and endeavoured to remove unguarded testicles with their interpretation of underwater martial arts.

Returning home for 8pm we were too knackered to join the Angels fireworks extravaganza at the park. I tried to join FOBY in watching “Source Code” but fell asleep.  I knew we were to head out to the Woraksan area on Sunday but Frank hatched a plan to go further afield.

Sunday morning’s meanderings led us first to an eccentric “closed” resort to the South side of Suanbo tunnel off-road #3. Suokjeong Water Park near Suok Waterfalls is a good outdoor family swimming pool that is open in the summer season. Its facilities include an adult pool, kid’s pool, diving pool, sliders, and various convenience facilities.  Next to the swimming pool is a boating park on Suokjeong Reservoir and strangely, I know not why, a Mongolian Folk Village. Further up the hill was a temple who’s name the all-conquering Internet does not hold.

We passed the temple and emerged adjacent to a hotel and a packed “coach park”.  Of course it wasn’t the coach park as that was at the bottom of the hill, it was a car park, which deranged Korean coach drivers, had adopted as “theirs”.  Horns blew out to destroy the calm as there wasn’t sufficient room for vehicles to pass.  We edged onto the car park and a kind attendant informed us that our desired first destination was 2km back in the opposite direction. We tried to leave the car park but as usual common sense, manners and spatial awareness (not Korean fortes) had evaporated into thin air. Even the eloquent Mr. FOBY screamed “stupid mother******”; it didn’t generate a quiver of a reaction.  Eventually we squeezed out and parked up at some pensions where 3 small dogs (nearer puppies) cowered chained to wheelbarrows! One can only think being an ingredient in Bosintang would be more preferable to this sorry life. We crossed over to the temple, there appeared to be temple stay facilities and recorded music blared out from a tannoy.  The temple had an unusual octagonal prayer room and was in many ways a construction site. One can only imagine prior to the hotel, “coach park”, water-park, pensions and other buildings, this would have been an awesome setting. It was so mad we did not even realise that a beautiful waterfall existed in the locality, only home research found this out. The tree colours were beautiful and covered the full Autumn Korean spectrum.

We descended the hill as instructed and took a left to seek out the duo of Buddha’s we has seen yesterday from the #3 road. On arrival the twin Buddha’s seemed a smaller than expected. They date from the 12th Century Goryeo Dynasty and had remnants of red and blue pigment still visible on their well-weathered surface. The location is Wonpung-ri Yeonpung-myeon Goesan-gun, the carved rock is recorded as National Treasure No. 97. A 3.6m high square-shape niche was made into a 12m high rock wall, they are said to be the only examples of a twin Buddha relief in Korea. It was from here that the mystery tour began as the uncommunicative FOBY drove south. I had deciphered out destination well before we got there but I let him sustain the secretive stance until we stopped for lunch. Andong is famous for its Hahoe Folk Village and the fact we had been following Andong signs for an hour pretty much confirmed to this Sherlock our eventual destination.

Hahoe Folk Village

For those yearning to see what Korea looked like before skyscrapers, wall to wall mirrors, Korean Wave and the misspent direction of Gangnam Style, look no further than spending a day at Hahoe Folk Village, about 25 km east of Andong. Although the residents have telephones, electricity, and probably even cable TV, for the most part they have preserved the traditions handed down through generations and kept the village in the same state, as it was in the Joseon Period. The picturesque village is popular among producers filming historical dramas and documentaries. On weekends and holidays, it gets overrun with tourists and it loses its charm, so try to go during the week, or at least first thing in the morning before the droves of tourists arrive. 
Many of the houses are now converted to guest accommodation. There are 112 male and 120 female inhabitants living in both straw-roofed (63) and tiled (50) houses.

Hahoe’s history actually dates back beyond the Joseon period to the late Koryo period (918-1392). Unlike other villages, both upper class and commoners lived in the same village, with the upper class houses located in the village centre and the lower class ones along the outside. Another distinguishing feature is that the houses face in all directions from the centre. (Most houses in other villages all face south.)

The village is home to descendants of the Ryu clan of Pungsan and is the birthplace of two renowned Korean’s of the Joseon Period, Gyeomam Ryu Un-ryong (a Confucian scholar) and Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (a prime minister during the 1592-1598 Japanese invasion); the village became even more famous after Queen Elizabeth II of England visited on April 21, 1999.

Hahoe Village (translating to “Village Enveloped by Water”) gets its name from the Nakdong River, which flows around the town’s boundary. The village is situated at the foothills of Hwasan Mountain, a subsidiary of Taebaek Mountain that rises up to the east. The Village hosts superb scenic views: the elegant Nakdong River  flowing around the village, the magnificent Buyongdae Cliffs, broad sandy beaches, and verdant primeval pine trees. Across the river from Hahoe, Buyongdae (reached by local ferry-boat) offers a picturesque setting with forested cliffs overlooking the river. Apparently the sandy beach usually has fewer tourists than the rest of the village and can be a good place for a picnic away from the rest of humanity.
In addition to the awe-inspiring backdrop, Hahoe Village offers scrumptious local food and beverages. It may be suggested that you try the Andong Soju (at your peril), Heotjesabap (a type of Bibimbap eaten by nobles in ancient times, worthwhile), Andong Gangodeungeo (salted mackerel, a good oily fish with Omega 3), and Andong Guksu (a kind of noodle dish). We skipped the array of delicacies mentioned above having eaten before we arrived. We had stopped at a local restaurant  settling  on Andong Jjimdak (Chicken and Vegetables Steamed in Soy Sauce Seasoning). This dish is incredibly tasty with a good kick of Chili at the back end, well recommended.

In order to access the village and to preserve the UNESCO status, park and ride is adopted.  Buses ferry tourists from the commercial area of restaurants and shops the 1.2km to the village entrance. At the bus stop is a museum dedicated to “Our Liz”, it contains the actual chair she sat on, plastic replicas of the feast prepared for her, an array of spades she actually held (and probably dug Diana’s grave with!) and numerous photographs of her, various dignitaries and the array of James Bonds protecting her. Obviously being a fierce Royalist I had to take in the photo opportunity.  I actually like Queenie if not all her hangers-on and offspring but quite why she was doing this in Korea? I have no idea. Bong Bang Dong Liz has been to Andong……now…so have I. We stopped to admire a host of totems guarded by a frightening Staffie who was following the suggestive (phallic) totems and mounting FOBY at every opportunity. Leaving our new best friend we headed for the village entrance on the right was the old public clinic and on the left the shop mobility trikes and another souvenir shop selling mainly Hahoedong Masks. These wooden masks used in the Hahoe Pyolshin-Gut T’al-nori (Hahoe Mask Dance Drama) are made from the alder tree. They were first made in the middle period of the Korea dynasty (c.12 C) by Huh doryong. The Masks convey expressions of joy and of angry and grievous emotions.

We circumnavigated the village stopping to view the important houses that were well signposted but also described on an Englishy Language map. We noticed little signs of human activity but it was clear the buildings were inhabited, smoke billowed and washing was left out to dry, persimmon were also left hanging outside. Emerging at the far end of the village at the head of the ox-bow lake we could see the Sabgbong Pavilion across the river. We saw the bunt out remains of a very old tree and then turned right and doubled-back into the village passing an old couple harvesting persimmon and a lady tending her cabbages in preparation for the formation of Kimchi. Turning left we came across the children’s play-yard, kids enjoyed the traditional swings in the shadow of the ancient pine forest. Crossing over the road we went through the Mansongjeong Pine Tree Forest and landed on the wide expanse of beach opposite the Gyeomam Pavilion and the Buyongdae Cliff.

We soaked up this beautiful scenic spot taking some panoramic shots whilst also noticing the old ferryboat moving passengers across the less than torrential river.  The weather was turning, the skies overcast and we could feel rain droplets as we walked back across the beach and through the forest.  The change in weather meant we were unable to explore the other side of the river.  We noticed a beautiful old tree behind the Yangjin Residence and adjacent to the Wonji Pavilion, whose branches looked precarious and were supported from collapse. After a photo opportunity we entered the Pavilion and from the raised pagoda we were rewarded with fantastic views across the river and whole village.

We left the Pavilion turning right and following a narrow passage to the Bukchon Residence opposite, which the autumn leaves, had matured to their great splendour.  Following the passage and turning right at a “gift shop” we took a sharp right along another narrow passage to reach the centre of the village. This is the highest spot and to mark this there sits a 600-year-old Zelkova Tree.  It is said that the goddess Samsin resides in the tree, it is known as Samsindang.

The rain had held of but conscious of the fact we had another place to visit we decided to take the undulating walk from the centre of the village, along the river (physically interrogated by hoards of uncontrollable screaming hooligans), past the return bus stop and through a peaceful lovely forested track (in order to avoid further man handling and aural discomfort) back to the car park.

Hahoe Village, along with Yangdong Village in Gyeongju, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List under the category of “Historic Villages in Korea” on July 31, 2010.

Leaving here we also had time to visit Gosan Seowon (Confucian Academy). Gosan Seowon Academy – 고산서원 (高山書院) was built-in 1789 and renovated in the1920s.

Located 3km from Hahoe the isolated village of Gwangeum-ri, Namhu-myeon, is home to Gosan Seowon one of the best-preserved private academies in South Korea. Founded in 1789 by disciples of the renowned Confucian scholar Yi Sangjong (1719-81), Gosan Seowon was anticipated as an enduring memorial to his legacy and teachings. The academy’s architectural features are archetypal of most academies in SK. The spaces are separated into courtyards, with the front courtyard intended for studying, and the rear one for ceremonial use. Though the founders of Gosan Seowon were indisputably concerned in preserving the memory of Yi Sangjong, they in all probability also hoped that the academy would become a centre of local authority, as indeed, many private academies became in the late Joseon (Chosön) dynasty. Right through the 18th century and later, many academies like Gosan Seowon came to be in possession of immense tracts of land and owned numerous slaves, they held colossal local power.

On our visit the shy was overcast and the rain clouds gathering but this location is awesome and it is easy to appreciate how stimulating it would have been to the scholars living here.  I reflected on the manic place Korea is now and the dichotomy between this time and its erudite Confucian past. The cliffs soar above the academy as it sits perched on a raised area, they are clad in the rainbow colours of autumn, which shine through despite the inclement weather. This is a superb setting for a traditional Korean wedding, eat your heart out London Eye.

The buildings here are beautifully preserved, it’s easy to imagine spending a beautiful spring or summers day in these surroundings, picnicking by the river in the shadow of those beautiful cliffs and with the backdrop of the 327m Hwa Mountain. I can recommend a visit to this area, spend a couple of hours in the village, take the ferry over to see the pavilions and spending further time in the majestic surroundings of the Academy. Thank you FOBY for thinking of this place for my birthday weekend Sunday.

We took the 90-minute drive back on #3 stopping at the Chosun Tourist Hotel in Suanbo for yet another Hot Spring Spa for 6000 won.  The hotel was deserted, the spa inhabited by around 3 people at any one time.  It’s a dark basement spa but very luxurious with granite pools and modern showers and lighting.  On our visit the hot pool was HOT but the steam room wasn’t working, no explanation. This spa is recommended for a winters evening but at other times I would recommend the spa at the Park hotel (see previous posts).  I was dropped off by FOBY’s taxi and after some light refreshment he headed back to Cheonan for his first full weeks teaching at his new academy.

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