Rubbernecking with Seafood Aficionados, Oyster Harvesters and a New Superhero

Leaving Cheonan post Banana Bar, with free “departing American” Jagermeister’s on offer, the centre of my head was a little numb. FOBY and I headed first for Tous Les Jours breakfast and then west via Asan Seawall to Sapgyoho (Sapgyo Lake).

IMG_3527The weather was bitterly cold and the destination, whilst famous, uninviting. At the Tourist Park waterfront: travelers can visit a naval museum and go on board two vintage military ships, we didn’t bother. The thought of clambering around an iron war machine in sub-zero temperatures seemed about as attractive as a night out with David Cameron and The Chancellor. Tourists can then meander through the dismal architecture while ogling the numerous types of seafood on offer; vendors perched on the sidewalks, diligently espousing the quality of their produce.

This place is well-known among Korean people, especially those enamoured by seafood and no doubt its positive impact on libido. The tidal flats around the Sapgyoho area provide astonishing varieties of shellfish and small prawns in abundance. Also titanic tiger prawns are sold along the other seafood products. But they, I was told, are imported from the Philippines and Thailand.

The seawall here was deemed to be a symbol of Korean progress, when built the flood barrier was a landmark construction project. Despite rigorous attempts to find detailed information about the barrier, I, pardon the pun; “hit a wall”. I have deduced that it protects vast areas of rice fields from becoming infertile due to salt invasion. From here we took the road number 32 towards the Taean Coast National Marine Park (TCNMP).

TCNMP comprises around 130 islands near Anmyeondo Island and the Taean Peninsula. The area offers a charming topology of striking beaches, unusual rock formations, accessible mountain peaks and abrupt sea cliffs. The area was elected a national park in October 1978, and now, nearly 250 different species of plants grow within its margins.

DSC_0003It transpires that the name Taean translates to “big comfort,” the weather improved, that was comforting, but there was nothing comforting about Manlipo. Yes a big, wide and essentially clean beach with good quality sand but comforting no!  The intriguing architectural highlight is a Wig-wam shaped (closed) and decaying public convenience. There is a monumental, steel structure at one end that seems to be a viewing platform but could be labeled more accurately as an eyesore. Refer to my earlier post on advice for Korea (Please Korea take heed of the “Vitruvian Triad”)

Public folklore states that Manlipo is loved as a beach resort for family vacationers because the fine sand is of pristine quality, the water is shallow, and the slope is gradual. The differences between the rise and fall of the tides, as well as the changes in the current are relatively severe, so it is suggested visitors avoid swimming during ebb tide. The definition of folklore is enlightening:

“A body of popular myth and beliefs about a particular place, activity, or group of people.”

Folklore apart and it may indeed once have been one of natures prizes, indeed a blended holiness of earth and sky but now, more in the in the mould of Clacton and Southend. This broad sandy beach is now marred by the dozens of hwae jib (raw fish restaurants), motels, and shops that butt up to the sand. I was suitably nonplussed as I surveyed the PC rooms blaring out K-pop on the Saturday afternoon of our visit.

I suspect the bathing advice is correct as the Yellow Sea has an infamous tidal range.  Its name comes from the sand particles from Gobi Desert sand storms that turn the surface of the water golden-yellow. The Chinese also knows it as “Hwang Hai”. Tides are semidiurnal, i.e. rise twice a day. Their amplitude varies between 4 and 8 meters (13 to 26 feet) and reaches the maximum in spring.

Poor FOBY knew nothing of the state of the place just its old status as a beautiful place to visit, unfortunately its no Kate Middleton much more Miss Havisham!

We had a little wander on the beach, passed by Soju-laden day- trippers and couples taking in air before exploring other aspects of nature in one of the adjacent love motels. It wasn’t busy and I may be uber-critical but a return is not on the cards. As we prepared to continue our journey a boy band reject minced past and a middle-aged man ran amok slicing through the air doing figures of eight on a child’s motorbike. A local monument records an environmental disaster that happened in 1997 when the area was decimated by on oil spill from a capsized oil tanker. When the authorities decree planning permission in this faded resort they should consider their own environmental legacy.  Catalytic resorts do not work; I suggest a raising to the ground, replace the concrete with a camping/nature retreat for families, schools, guides and scout groups.

DSC_0009We skirted the coastline and reached Dohwang-ri and Yeonpo Beach, which is with the area designated as Taeanhaean National Park. This area is less developed than Malipo and the beach area itself is pleasant with a couple of hotels and restaurants. The beach smaller and cosier had starfish washing up along the edge of the sea. The resort itself is protected by a shelter belt consisting of groves of tall Korean pine trees. It is not a well-developed water sport’s area and seems a more weekend destination for couples. The main hotel turned out to be more of a condo place and was staffed by an eccentric old woman whose reception was a cornucopia of plants and the aroma was of damp soil.  She had done her best to spice up the area with Christmas decorations but the smell overpowered the industry. She also had no business sense offering the condo room for a discounted 100,000 won; discount my arse!

IMG_3583Returning inland to follow the coast road to highway 77 we discovered Mongsan a fishing harbour with a small beach and rocky outcrops, it was a beautiful setting.  As it was late afternoon we needed to find somewhere to stay over and this place was a more reasonable 70,000 won plus there were a couple of restaurants on the harbour-side.

We wanted to find a place for a good sunset and this place fitted the bill but we drove down past Chungcheongnamdo Beach to see if any places had a better location.  After around 45 mins we realised that the harbour pension was good value as other were asking twice the price, we got back in time for a pretty good sunset which illuminated the fishing boats bobbing in the bay. In the evening we had spicy fish broth (Mae Un Tang), delicious.  Even the accompanying side dishes were tasty.  The proprietor also served us two grilled Mackerel, why would anyone eat Sushi when cooked fish tastes this good?

IMG_0828The morning saw misty veil hanging over the promontory, the air was placidly still and an expanse of bedrock has appeared from beneath the receding tide. The silence was broken by the sound of a digger creating a new harbour wall and a single speck of humanity appeared isolated on the edge of the mudflats, animated but quiet. We treaded softly across the beach after the disappearing tide and inspected the newly delivered rock formations. It looks like lava to me but I’m not an expert on the geology of the area, though I know the south of Korea has volcanic formations. The trees looked craggy in the mist, we could see the outline of an Island, eerie and quite mysterious, standing solemnly in the distance, hanging in the milky grey ocean. Everything seemed peaceful despite the occasional roar from the digger.  There were no raised voices (unusual for Korea). A single boat sat isolated, beached around a half mile away, I noticed two new Lowryesque figures squatting on their haunches and a chipping sound now punctuated the air.

We straddled the rocks and stopped to view a Heron taking a morning feed and then trod in an ungainly manner across the mud towards an old woman who was chipping away at the rocks and placing her pickings in a plastic bucket. FOBY went over to speak to her in Korean, she was harvesting baby oyster and offered him a morsel, he declined and I enquired if it was rude to do so. Frank said he thought not I suggested he claimed he had a seafood allergy as Angel Bath, is fibbing worse than being rude? The woman explained that the tide would continue to recede until around 1.00pm when it would start its journey back to habitation.

DSC_0078Further along the promontory a small fishing hamlet appeared to the right as we reach the beached fishing boat, it was tethered with huge ropes caked in thick grey mud. Just beyond this two more ladies cowered over their buckets, their harvest larger oysters.  FOBY chatted again they offered him their fruits and this time he accepted. He was not enamoured, so very salty. We now clambered over some fabulous rock formations, a surreal landscape quite alien to any I’d traversed before, beautiful and quite pre-historic.  This whole area had been relegated to sub-mariner status the evening before.

DSC_0119Two more fishermen chipped away and their dogs competed with the noise from the digger, not brave enough to accost us but lungs fit to bust. The Island opposite was like the land time forgot, I considered the Arthur Ransome novel “Swallows and Amazons” which I had read as a child. I can imagine growing up here and chancing isolation and subsequently termination by camping out over there. What would you imagine as a kid, what would you find on the mysterious island maybe dreamers, schemers, conquerors, patriots, pirates, scientists, teachers and even kids ☺. You might even discover a penis like creature!

Reality bites in Korea, we came to a beach laced with the omnipresent debris and waste, yes we are in a National Park and yes Koreans like to leave mess! A fellow blogger, Eugene has commented on this before.

“Everland and Caribbean Bay have trash cans everywhere, but people would still throw their empty soda cans, cotton candy sticks, and other garbage in the bushes, on the ground, and everywhere else convenient.  And rather than kids being scolded by their parents for littering, it was the parents telling their kids to litter.

Researchers have also commented that

“Marine litter and debris is now recognised as a major part of marine pollution that destroys the ecological, economic, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of the marine ecosystem and its components. In Korea, marine litter has also become one of the serious environmental, economical (especially fisheries) and social problems.”

In my experience Koreans are not good tourists and this is a domestic tourism area, victimised by its own people. It’s interesting how there is well-documented media on the way westerners behave in the hot spots of Seoul but little self-consciousness of Korean behaviour.  Yes it’s their country but they are in danger of becoming “The land that time forgot”, xenophobia and bad manners whilst not ubiquitous are a blight.

We past along the dirt track, passing two well-secured hounds and found ourselves back in the main beach area.  The tide had drifted out even further and as we arrived back at the main beach we could make out the appearance of a causeway in the distance. FOBY made some tasty noodles and we watched locals crossing the newly exposed land bridge and onto the previously uninhabited mysterious island. It was a great place to visit and well worth a return in warmer weather, the minor downside being the impact of those effluvia loving Wombles and the casting of their detritus.

DSC_0211Traveling towards Deoksan Spa we came to Sudeoksa Temple, which has played an important role in the history of Korean Buddhism, it is located in the Deoksungsan Mountains. Sudeoksa is the head temple of the 7th district of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and the focal point of the Korean Seon tradition. Presently, many Seon monks practice at the temple’s ecumenical centre (chongnim) known as Deoksung Chongnim, where monks are trained and educated in the three crucial areas of Seon (meditation), sutras, and vinaya (precepts).

The eminent monk Jimyeong is said to have founded the temple in the latter half of the 6th century in Baekje Kingdom, one of the three kingdoms that took control of the peninsula at the time. Around the middle of the 7th century, some of the more significant events of the temple included Master Sungje serving as head of the temple and Hyehyeon Seunim lecturing on the Lotus Sutra.

DSC_0196On arrival falling temperature and a biting cold mist greeted us. From the car park we walked through the shopping village at the bottom of the mountain where we saw how Korean wheat puffs are made. FOBY commented that they were a staple of his diet when a youth. We emerged from this shrine to the capitalisation of Buddhist culture and entered the main complex.  We passed Korea’s new superhero KoreanHikerMan, another man whose head had been Tangoed in a loose-fitting balaclava and a monk in traditional Korean attire. It was a leisurely stroll to the complex where the temple is located. The main hall of the temple, the Daeunjeon, is one of Korea’s oldest wooden buildings, constructed during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1308. The Goryeo Dynasty is the dynasty from which modern Korea derived its name (Goryeo) became Korea). The temple owns many cultural treasures, many of which are contained in the modern museum next to the ticket hall.

IMG_0857Except for the main hall, the temple is rather unremarkable, laid out along a more-or-less central axis with the standard entry sequence of multiple gates placed on land that slopes up toward the main courtyard. Another piece of architecture worthy of note is the 14th century Goryeo-era stone gold topped pagoda standing in the main courtyard. The architectural style of the complex is known as the “Tapo” style, this was imported from Fujian province in the southern Sung dynasty.

DSC_0246To the left of the main hall is a rather beautiful statue with a green patination and embellished with gold stood atop a tortoise. Beyond this a footpath leads to a mountain trail, which passes another Buddha statue with 3 facets. They say the next part of the trail takes 15 minutes, after taking illegal substances of becoming an Avenger maybe, but for lesser mortals not. I suspect KorenHikerMan could do it but not FOBY and I.  It took around 40 minutes to reach the stone Buddha that sits in the shadow of Chonghye-sa, a small temple above Sudeoksa. The Buddha is ten-meter granite statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. It has a double Korean cylindrical hat, a coat reaching down to the ankles and the expression carved on its face is quite stern.

The Monk Mangong erected the statue. Nearby is the stupa, erected by the disciples of Mangong, in memory of their master. It is considered unusual because it has a large spherical stone on the top. There is an inscription on the stupa, which reads, “The whole world is a single flower.”

DSC_0272Besides the spectacular view, there is another treat to reward you for defeating the 305m to the Buddha: perched up further on the mountain lies the sacred hermitage (Chonghye-sa) of some of Korea’s greatest Zen masters. This 16th century hermitage has a serene courtyard with pagodas, decorative pine trees, and even a small creek to drink from; the aura of place is extremely powerful. Unfortunately we could not gain access and peering through cracks in the gates and over the shallow walls suggested some re-modeling was taking place.

We then retraced our steps on the descent back to the main temple. Aching limbs suggested a recuperating visit to Deoksan Spa was in order.

If you’re looking to explore the longstanding traditions of biguni (monks and nuns), Sudeoksa is a very good option for a temple stay.

Resom Spa Castle (Chunchunhyang) was our next port of call. Time for some more folklore.  The spring can be traced back to around 600 years ago. Chungbo, written by Joseon’s Confucianist Lee, Yul-gok, has an anecdote describing Deoksan Oncheon’s origin.

A crane stood in the middle of a rice field for a long time without flying away. When the residents approached and took a closer look, they noticed it was constantly applying the field’s water onto its damaged wing and leg. After three days the crane completely recovered and flew away, later the residents inspected the site and found warm water emerging form a spring. The residents tapped the mineral spring and used the water to heal skin diseases and neuralgia, the village was hence called Oncheongol (hot spring village). Another legend describes a diligent farmer who lived in Sadong-ri, Deoksan long ago. Although poor and of a single mother, he was a devoted and took care of his children as well. Years of famine devastated his crops causing a lot of misery for him. Rice plants became parched in the field. When looking at the unhealthy plants, he suddenly remembered the field’s centre had always contained healthy grass. Later he worked the spot with a hoe, and water came into sight. Surprisingly, it was warm water. Heaven did not neglect an industrious man, so he lived happily ever after as the owner of this hot spring.

These stories are old and in true Korean tradition creative but the reality is the Japanese first opened Deoksan as a tub-operated Oncheon in 1917. Deoksan is a natural bicarbonate oncheon, and contains germanium, a carbon metalloid, and a miraculous treatment material, in Konglish, which has been known to have an efficacy of relieving myalgia, arthritis, neuralgia, and subcutaneous fat as well as of promoting blood circulation and cell reproduction.

I don’t know if my weary limbs benefitted in any of these ways but it was damn relaxing and enjoyable. We returned to Cheonan where I picked up my bus for the journey back to Chungju.

One thought on “Rubbernecking with Seafood Aficionados, Oyster Harvesters and a New Superhero

  1. Oncheongol … I love reading about how a place is named after a supernatural incident. We got lots of stories like that in Indonesia. I should have written some of them in my blog. 😀
    Thanx for the inspiration!
    By the way, you always have many interesting stories to tell in you travels. Life according to Gary Hayes must be very fun! 😀

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