Friday morning we had to meet in the lobby of our dorm by 7:30 in order to get on a bus to travel to the middle of the country. Granted, it only took us three hours and we made it from basically as far north as you can get to the very center of the country. I knew Korea was small, but wow.
Anyway, on our way there we stopped at a “rest stop” that is not like anything you would find in America–it truly is a place for rest and recharging. Besides ginormous bathroom areas and a parking lot full of busses and cars that might just run you over as you attempt to traverse the parking lot, there were convenient stores, restaurants, gift stores and seating areas. Personally I was a little bit overwhelmed by all the options and people, so I didn’t explore as much as I should of, and rather I just followed a pack of people who knew what they were doing.
We rode the bus another hour after the rest stop and ended up at a clay museum, as this area of the country is known for its clay pottery. The day went in a really strange order, because we went to the clay museum, drove down the street for lunch, then came right back to the museum to make some clay bowls before driving back to the area we ate lunch at in order to go to the Juheulgwan Gateway.
Everything we did this day was in a city called Mungyeong, and before we get much farther I want to clarify the pronunciation. In Korean it is obvious how it is pronounced, because the syllables are already separated–문경–but for those of you who don’t read Korean, it is separated Mun-Gyeong…NOT “mung-yeong.”
The clay museum was small and incredibly underwhelming–but that could have been the one-tour-guide-to-70-hungry-American-students ratio. But when we actually got to make clay bowls things got more exciting. After one of the clay masters explained the process to us, we set to work rolling out our clay, flattening it around one of the molds and pressing in our designs. It was both incredibly simple and quite difficult, and we won’t know the results until mid-October when they ship all of our bowls to us. For now I just have to wish happy thoughts to my clay bowl so that it doesn’t crack in half during the outdoor firing process!
For lunch we went to a restaurant with an abnormally high number of attractive male serving staff, where we were fed bulgogi with a smattering of side dishes. Lunch was good and filled with laughter as we all bonded and added more and more inside jokes to our repertoire. There was a fantastic misunderstanding within the squad at one point in the meal, and now we all say ‘bulgogi’ instead of ‘thank you for the food.’
Anyway, after the clay things and lunch were all done, the bus dropped us off basically on the side of the road, and left us to blindly follow our tour guides to what ended up being Juheulgwan Gate and Mungyeongsaejae Open Set Studio (and for the adventurous people also the Jogokgwan Gate, though I was definitely not one of those people).
If you know me you probably know that I am not a huge history person unless there is a very specific part of history being looked at. I like old buildings and language and people, but I am not one to care about or remember details pertaining to war and specific dates. It just doesn’t happen. So I was happy that the history we learned about in this area was so fascinating to me.
The Juheulgwan Gate is a gate marking the path that leads through the mountains, and in olden days was really the only good path from southern Korea up north to Seoul. In the past, young and hopeful men would come through this very gate on their way north to the capital in order to take the government exam–and would return through this gate in triumph or disgrace. Because so many scholars took this path to take the government exam, there are commemorative statues of scholars outside the gates of such scholars.
Once you pass through Juheulgwan Gate you can go in several different directions. I chose to go with the group to the KBS Mungyeongsaejae filming set–because who doesn’t want to stumble upon a chance filming or at least see where your favorite dramas were filmed? …and I guess also see acurate representations of houses and palaces from the Joseon and Goryo dynasties… 😛 Another group continued on to the second and even the third gates–several kilometers from the first gate through the mountain pass. Someday I would love to go along this path as well…but definitely not in summer. I nearly died from the heat as it was T_T
At the end though we did go on an accupressure walk, and after that my feet felt absolutely amazing ^_^
After wandering around for several hours, we went to another restaurant (and by “went” I really mean “descended” because we are such a group) and had samgyupsal for dinner. Samgyupsal, like many Korean meals, are semi-self cooked and interactive. Each table of four people had a grill in the middle of their table and were given a plate of slices of meat, which was then grilled, cut into small pieces, and eaten with other things in a lettuce wrap. Our table knew what we were doing, but that didn’t stop the ajummas from coming over and telling us what to do and how to eat our food. #obviouslyforeigners
When we were all full and smelling like meat, we waddled back to our bus and went a very short distance away to our hotel for the night. The entrance to the hotel was quite nice and western looking, but as soon as we got to our rooms we found a huge open floor with nothing but a small table and a TV. For the most part it was 4-5 people to a room, and all of our bedding was stored in the closet–and ended up being pallets to lay out on the floor.
My room was lazy and after taking turns showering we all snuggled up in our pjs, chatting and watching SuperStarK (an American Idol type singing contest) on TV until we fell asleep. You may think that sleeping on the floor would be uncomfortable, but I think it was actually more comfortable than the bed I have in my dorm room–at the very least the pillow was 10x better.
Well, that was the first day of our 3 day travel outside of Seoul! The next two days I traveled to Yeongju, so look out for that post *and videos* soon! Thanks for reading!