Monday, May 26, 2008


On my second consecutive 3 day weekend, I headed to the beach. Koreas’s east coast (on the East Sea, or as you may know it, the Sea of Japan) is supposed have some of the most beautiful beaches in the 4 distinct-season enjoying world. At least according to Korea, which also calls its Jeju island (on the same latitude as Oklahoma) “The Hawaii of Korea.” Both claims, of course, are false.

The trip got off to a rocky start. The internets had told me I could catch a bus at 2:20 from a bus station a few miles from my house, but only after buying the ticket did I discover the bus left at 4:20 (dude), so I had 2 hours to kill in the dullest neighborhood in Seoul. The bus was supposed to take 4 hours, but ended up taking 6 due to shitty traffic. I got to Sokcho (the coastal town that would be my home for what turned out to be 36 hours) at 10 p.m.

Due to the late hour of my arrival and the holiday weekend, hotels were charging way more than normal. One, that looked decent, wanted just under one million dollars per night. I checked out a number of love hotels, my bread and butter in Korean travel, as they invariably charge $30 a night. After all, my awesome love hotel in the heart of downtown Gwangju on last week’s holiday weekend was, as always, $30. Annoyingly, every love hotel I went to wanted at least $70 a night, just ridiculous highway robbery. I honestly thought about catching bus back to Seoul, at this time, there wouldn’t be any traffic. Still, I’d come all this way, and I’d always wanted to come to Sokcho, so I did the only thing that made sense. I went back to the expensive hotel. If I was going to get ripped off, I was going to do it in style. When I returned, the price for a night was now $20 more expensive than before. I haggled a bit, and got 2 nights for just over one million dollars complete with a balcony and ocean view. Easily the most I’ve spent on a two-night stay in Korea, and almost certainly anywhere. I had some money in my US account from Christmas and my birthday as well, and I figured this would be the only hotel in town to take US plastic.

Sunrise view from my balcony

The next day, I headed off to Seorksan, one of Korea’s largest national parks. Seoraksan is a mountain range only a couple miles inland from the coast, so the views were pretty stunning. In no mood to repeat last week’s walking uphill challenges, I took the cable car most of the way up one of the peaks. My buddy Don is anti-cable car, saying there’s no challenge in it. Of course, this is a reason I’m pro cable-car. Plus. had I walked to the cable car’s altitudal (a perfectly cromulent word) terminus, it would have been hours of walking uphill with zero views, just trees. The cable car, on the other hand, offers brilliant views and dropped me just below the tree line, right in time for the actual fun part of mountain climbing - the climbing part. The part where I could actually use my hands to negotiate bare rock, with a clear 270 degree view around me the whole time. Plus, instead of running on fumes during the best part of the hike, I was fully rested.

When I got to the top of the mountain, there was one other dude up there - a whitey. We did the head-nod thing, and then I went to the other part of the peak, to sit alone and enjoy the silence. Of course, this lasted about 5 minutes, when a group of loud Koreans invariably arrived, punctuated by this girl’s phone loudly blaring Korean pop for at least a minute before she got around to answering it.

I like this sign. Really, the peak is up?

I went out to the beach. It’s what I went to Sokcho to do, which was good, because there’s nothing else to do at night anyway (downtown Sokcho was beyond dead). I met three Korean girls within 10 seconds of getting to the beach. None spoke particularly good English, and you know about my Korean, yet it was reasonably fun. One of them (the hot one) seemed to dig me. I bought us all some soju. There were toasts, and the hot one kept sort of hugging up on me, and things were going swimmingly. Then, all of the sudden, she said that I had to go. She and her friends were leaving as well (though not with me) but she was insistent that I go home as well. Kicked off of a public beach. Korean girls don’t make a lick of sense, even beyond the language barrier. I got her number (she lives in the Seoul burbs, almost 2 hours by subway from me) and, about 57 times, she made me promise to call her. I won’t, of course, because she lives to fucking far away, but she was hot.

Throughout this weekend, I was reading “The Catcher in the Rye,” for the forth time or so. I hadn’t planned to, but because my original bus fiasco took so long, I ended up finishing the other book I was reading, Catcher was my backup, as it is small and easy to pack (and carry around, for that matter). Anyway, Sokcho beach has all these benches on it, and I sat in one to read before my bus home. Unfortunately, I sat a little too far to the right, as before I knew it, this cheesedick whitey and his girlfiend sat on my bench. The fuck? Find your own bench, buddy. And given that he was actually wearing one of those Izod/Lacoste alligator polo shirts (the kind I used to wear when they were cool, and I was 7) it was clear that the phonies were indeed coming in through the window.

Sokcho - thumbs up? Not so much. Plus, as you can see, cold and windy.

I can truly say, not sarcastically, that the highlight of the trip was the bus ride home. I was glad I didn’t take the midnight bus that I considered on the first night though. The bus ride home really was sweeping, along two lane roads through pristine mountains. Easily the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen in years. Northern California beautiful. Now, I’m honestly considering coming back to Sokcho, lame as it may be, in October just for the sake of seeing that road when the leaves change.

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