An inaugral visit to Dogo Spa, incendiary beef ribs and Younginsan “Natural” Recreation Forest


As we continue to endure the topsy-turvy temperatures and limited daylight hours of this typical Korean winter we have three things to prevent us from pressing self destruct. One the hot springs, another the spicy warming food , and finally the snow-clad scenery.

Every weekend at least should include a dose of all three, this weekend visit to Cheonan and Asan had all three criteria and a gallery visit to plump up the culture value.

IMG_3494Friday afternoon I wandered into the Arario Gallery (2006) for an exhibition called “Revolving Doors: Contemporary Video Art In China“. Arriving at the gallery, on the left is an installation of Damien Hirst‘s “Hymn” in a glass box constructed as a part of the building. It’s nothing if not “huge” and “colourful” made of cold painted bronze. The sculpture, inspired by a toy belong to his son, is painted in car paint which allows it to retain the appearance of plastic. Though not initially visible, the bronze is an integral conceptual component to the work. As the artist explains: “It’ll decay. So, eventually, what you’ll be left with is this solid bronze man with bits of paint hanging off it. In a way, it’s like what happens to your body. I liked it for that reason.” There’s another of these 20ft “toys” at the Oceanography Museum in Monaco. The American art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote: “Hirst will go down in history as a particularly cold-blooded pet of millennial excess wealth. That’s not Old Master status, but it’s immortality of a sort.” 🙂 The Chinese video exhibits are interesting from a visual perspective but as for them trying to “comment on the social realism of China today” I’m not so sure I got it! IMG_4942Outside, the plaza is scattered with other sculptures such as “Jurassic” and a grotesque bronze pig. I pottered around another “mural” street and after watching some tennis had a few drinks at Bar Nana.

On Saturday after breakfast we took a visit to the over-priced outlet park on the edge of Cheonan. I was then invited to visit FOBY’s academy where an open day was taking place. Kids are encouraged to bring along their friends as a kind of marketing exercise.  The kids were lovely but unfortunately didn’t bring any friends.

I was in search of new gloves having lost one half of a pair, again! E-mart now have E-mart Traders a competitor for Costco. It’s hardly stylish shopping and not particularly cheap, buying in bulk saves around 8% on normal E-mart prices which are in UK terms awfully high.  Rumour has it that Koreans think if prices are low goods are poor quality, from what I’ve seen its IKEA quality at Harrods prices! Look online Korea! I came away with Merrill gloves for 20K (£12), reasonable but hardly a bargain. If the reader has the opportunity to visit this altar of Korean capitalism be ready for screaming banshees and bruised shins. You can draw your own conclusions about shopping as a family weekend recreational event in SK.

IMG_4970After this we ventured out to Dogo Spa to take the waters. FOBY had been there some 20 years before but this was a new building and judging by the car park, pretty busy. The Paradise Spa offers “Siberian-ginseng filled water that is good for blood circulation”.  I’m not sure why they don’t use the fabled Korean Ginseng which they claim is the world’s best but the water was pleasant with a low-level sulphur aroma. Where this spa excelled over some others was the outdoor “massage” pool which pummelled the aches and pains in all the correct places; particularly the upper and lower back and calves.

After a good 75 minutes we returned to Cheonan for the hottest dinner I’ve ever eaten.  The beef rib stew was so spicy the steam made my nose burn.  Excellent food if you want to blast away a cold. It is often said judge a restaurant by the queues, we waited around 20 minutes and the empty/fill a table continued while we ate.  The hotness scale ranges from 1-10, we had 3, those eating 10 do not originate on this planet, they are spawned from hell and breathe fire!

Sunday after more posh pastries and coffee we headed out to Younginsan Natural Recreational Forest. having previously having failed to explore this place during “fall”.  Last time we were beaten back by the masses this visit the journey to the Forest Office was painless. After parking the FOBYmobile we spotted a well-populated sledging area, deciphered the trail map and headed upwards in a biting cold wind. DSC_1000We passed the usual ninja’s whose gear was of a quality and stature equal to those attempting to scale Everest and K2. FOBY had his less professional version of a ninja equipped as he was in Nike, a sober but muti-coloured muffler, beanie and mafiosi style reactolite specs! I went dressed as a MCFC half-time pie salesman, the photos will explain better than words can.

IMG_4991One piece of advice, if you need to evacuate, do so before starting the climb, for some strange reason in this land of WC legions they were in this park, very thin on the ground. The views across Asan towards Cheonan are pretty spectacular and the paths, for the most, well made. In some of the higher areas where the road gets steeper grips would be advantage. I had my summer walking shoes and had to tread carefully. We passed the beautifully understated modern architecture of the Younginsan Forest Museum, which resembles a hill-top fortress and made a final push to the “Tower of Trial and Glory”, two concrete spikes were pretty ugly in the flesh.

IMG_5028After a few minutes rest we descended the mountain stopping to take a look around the architecture of the Forest Museum. Just beyond the car park we checked-out the phallic shaped hobbit houses which were reasonably priced at 50K won a night. The park would make a splendid spring weekend destination.

IMG_0991We headed to Asan Spa passing a bizarre architectural specimen called Stargate Cafe which was obviously one of those good business ideas that run aground in SK.  half the building was a ship and the other half made up of cylindrical pods that seemed as if they’d been lifted from Moonbase Alpha in Space:1999. After another relaxing recuperation at the spa we returned to Cheonan for traditional Korean fare with its multiplicity of side dishes (Banchan). Later we headed into Cheonan to a venue with a blue prancing horse (name not noted but next door to BarNana, Shinbudong). This place has an arty interior which is trendy and relaxing but the food is over-priced. Art Jazz Cafe is also a lovely homely venue and is situated straight across the road.

Another diverse weekend came to an end, Monday we had a hearty lunch before FOBY headed to work and I back to Chungju.