Jeonju Style

Since I’m leaving in, oh, about two weeks, I thought it was high time I told you guys a little bit about the town I live in. The city is called Jeonju, the capital of the North Jeolla province. It’s located in the south western part of South Korea. It is famed for it’s cuisine, and for good reason. I’ve had food all over Korea, and it’s by far the best (And the cheapest, hurrah!). It is known for its bibimbap in particular. If you don’t know what bibimbap is, this is it. Actually, that picture doesn’t do it much justice. Check this one out. Alright, it turns out bibimbap doesn’t look that appealing. But trust me, it’s totally delicious. And Jeonju makes it better than anyone else. Word on the street is that when Michael Jackson had concerts in Seoul, he had his people bring him Jeonju bibimbap. That is a six hour round trip drive. For rice. At least that’s what I heard, anyway… There is a restaurant just around the corner from my place that makes the best bibimbap I’ve had. I frequently order take out from there. Unfortunately, I have no idea what my actual address is, so I have to go to the restaurant, order my food there and show them the slip of paper that has my address written in Korean. Then I go home and they bring the food to me. The ridiculousness of the situation does not escape me.

Jeonju is also known for it’s Hanok Village – a traditional Korean village. Many cities have these, but Jeonju’s is one of the best. It has over 800 hanok style buildings, tea shops, restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s a great way to spend a weekend afternoon, and I swear, I’m totally going to do a post on it soon. They often hold festivals there, which are always a good time. But the best thing about the Hanok Village is, far and away, the magkeolli man. Known to the foreigner community as Casanova, he plies us with alcohol whenever we pass by. Literally, if foreigners walk by he starts shouting, “Hey, foreigners, come here! Free magkeolli!” He lures you over and you think you’ll just stay for a minute. But four hours later, you’re still there and the group of foreigners has tripled. How he does this and manages to make a profit, I’ll never know. There are many rumors that have spread amongst the foreigners, each more far fetched than the last. But, this is Korea, so really, anything is possible.

That’s about all that distinguishes my town from any other town in Korea. They really do kind of all look the same. Any decent sized town is going to have an Emart, which is kind of like Walmart, and a Homeplus, which is kind of like Target. Most people do their grocery shopping there or at the street vendors. It’s kind of like a small scale farmer’s market that’s open every day. I prefer to get my veggies from there, because it’s insanely more cost effective. Every town also has street vendors selling chicken and pork skewers, deep fried tteok noodles (one of my personal faves), tteokbokkki, and deep fried corn dogs (Which are totally a heart attack waiting to happen. And for some reason, they just call them hotdogs.), amongst other tasty treats. These are great for eating on the cheap, on the run, or just for a quick snack. Cities here also have parks left and right, I imagine because most people live in apartments and therefor have no yard. It’s really awesome, but their parks are a bit different than ours. They still have the requisite swing sets, but they also have these giant, raised gazebos that old people just hang out on. Like all day. And well into the night. I’m not really sure what they do there. I think just wait until foreigners pass by so they can judge them. Also, the parks are pretty devoid of grass. There’s, like, shrubbery, and stuff. So there’s some greenery. But if you want to do cartwheels or somersaults or whatnot, you’re shit out of luck. Interestingly, all parks also have workout equipment. I mean, it’s cool that they’re all health conscious and stuff, but it’s still a little weird to see. Almost as weird as the ajumma’s doing aerobics to Kpop in the parks at night.

We’ve also got a zoo, a river that runs through town with a walking/biking path, an amazing park called Doekjin Park and, like any good Korean town, coffee shops and noreabangs on every corner. And dare I forget to mention the 7 story department store?! Sounds like heaven, right? Not so much. It’s crazy over priced and it’s really only good if you’re into Great Depression Chic. So, that’s my town in a nutshell. It’s a great starter town (not too big, not too small), but I’m ready for bigger and better things next year!

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…

A few weeks ago, I was duped into going hiking. Well, not the hiking so much as the climbing to the top of a freaking mountain.  “It’s not that hard,” they said. “It will only take a couple of hours,” they said. If someone says this to you, do not believe them. I repeat: DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. We began our journey at about 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Moak Mountain is a 15-20 minute bus ride out of the city. We arrived at the base of the mountain and it was time to decide which trail to take: easy or hard. As one of our group has a heart condition and I am exercisally challenged, we opted for the easy route. We started up the path, taking in the stunning scenery and the occasional, obligatory facebook photo. As it turns out, easy trail is a misnomer. Several times during our trek to the tip of Mt. Hell I wanted to keel over and die. Or at least be at the base where I could catch a ride home. It took us 4 hours to get to the top because between me and Heart Problems, there was a LOT of resting. Fortunately, some older Korean women took pity on us and shared their food with us, because after a couple of hours we were starving. There were tons of people on the trail, and many of them wanted to talk to us and find out where we were from. Although not all Koreans are so friendly. There was also a group of women that told us to go to the next rest area because they didn’t want dirty foreigners to sit near them. They didn’t actually call us dirty foreigners, but there is a sizable portion of the population that believes foreigners are terrible, disease ridden people and should be avoided at all cost. Also, I’m pretty sure the Koreans have some super-human hiking DNA. Even the old folks were flying past us. It was a little embarrassing. Once we got to the top we went to the viewing deck where you could look down the mountain on the town below, and for a split second that awful climb up is more than worth it.  Then your legs start shaking and you remember that you still have to get down. It took us another hour and a half to get to the bottom. The entire way down is stairs which, one the one had, is nice because you’re not worried about losing your footing on some crazy boulder. But it’s also kind of a bitch to walk down stairs for an hour and a half. By the time we got to the bottom, I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly and wanted nothing more than to go home and take a shower and sleep for a week. But we missed the next bus out and had to wait around for another 30 minutes for the next one. I fell asleep at 8pm that night and slept for 17 hours straight. And my legs didn’t stop hurting for 3 days. Just in time for us to take the kids there for a field trip. Thankfully we only walked up for about 5 minutes, then walked back to the base and just let the kids run around for a bit. It really is a breathtaking place, and it makes me feel like a badass be able to say I climbed a mountain, but I really don’t feel the need to do it again for quite some time.

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