Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Korea Vacation photoblog

I have to admit, I am not a good netizen. From what I understand, bloggers are somewhat of an online community, out to help each other. While a shameless self promoter, I admittedly don't give a whole lot back to the "community."

Here's the thing - I'm always trying to get people to read this space, but I don't like reading blogs myself. My problem with blogs are that they can all, all, be divided into two categories - those that are better than mine and those that are worse. The blogs worse than mine bore me, and the ones that are better generally piss me off or make me jealous.

This blog really doesn't have a "niche," (a prime reason that it also doesn't have an "audience") but it often falls into the somewhat specialized "life in Korea" genre. There are lots of bad "life in Korea" blogs, a few good ones that annoy me in their popularity, and one particularly useful one that I'm out to pimp tonight., particularly this post, clued me into perhaps the coolest place I've ever seen in Korea. I saw this post via a thread on Dave's ESL a couple months ago, and decided then and there that my next Korean roadtrip would be to Samseong-gung.

Without further delay, I give you the longest photo-blog that this particular space has ever seen, based on my longest domestic vacation (presumably) ever. I rolled down to Daegu on a Friday night after work, then continued on to the southern Korean city of Jinju on Saturday afternoon.

Jinju is largely known for its large fortress, used in a sixteenth century war against Japan. The fortress, like most in Korea, is recreated. Jinju is a city of 200,000 or so, which means it feels like a 20 some thousand person American city. The fortress was a beaute.

Here's a view of the Jinju bridge crossing the Nam river from the high side of the fortress wall.

the only way to do it, I supppose...

A view of the riverfront area with the entrance to the fortress in the background. The woman in blue in the foreground was an ever-classy small-town daytime streetwalker, a strange and rare sight indeed. She was trying to get every single-passenger car that drove by to pull over and pick her up.

Come on. At least this is a fitting name for a knockoff Korean hotel, as Korea is known for its four distinct seasons. This would be a fine place to take a daytime streetwalker.

This is along the same 4 Seasons Hotel idealism line for those of you outside Korea. Gangnam-ro is one of the grand boulevards of Seoul. Jinju giving another street the same name is like having a Broadway in Monticello, Indiana. Wait a minute...

Hadong is the city near Samseong-gung. I'm glad I opted to stay overnight in Jinju, as there wasn't much to do in Hadong. Fortunately, I found a BBQ Chicken restaurant to kill time in during my bus layover.

That sign says "Seoul" in Korean. Even here in BFE Hadong, there were nonstop express buses that could whisk me back to the capitol. The Korean bus network is amazing. Almost all of the most remote places in the country can be reached from Seoul via 1 bus transfer or less.

Rafting, Korean style. On the bus from Hadong to the Samseong-gung area, we passed lots of rivers filled with Koreans tubing and having barbecues and camping. Looks fun, eh?

Here is the end of the bus route from Hadong to Cheonghakdong, an area near Samsung-gung.

Here is the same place, though I took this picture later when my bus back to Hadong was waiting. From this middle-of-nowhere bus stop, it's a 20-30 minute walk to Samseong-gung. There is no other way to get there without a private car. No taxis in this neck of the woods.

Now we get to Samseong-gung. Gung, by the way, is palace in Korean. And yes, Samseong is pronounced the same way as Samsung, and in fact is the same word when written in Korean script. Both the company and the palace derive their name from the same ancient Korean myth. This picture is from the outer gate of the palace area.

After walking past several stone structures and up another large foothill, the real entrance to Samseong-gung is here. At this door, the visitor is required to hit the gong on the lower right three times. I happened to get to the door at the same time as several other people, so I didn't get to hit the gong. A man dressed in traditional Korean clothing emerged from the door, addressed the group (in Korean of course. I was the only non-Korean I saw this entire day). We all walked through the door and into a tunnel through the hill.

This is the other side of said tunnel.

This is the view upon arriving on the other side of the tunnel. After passing through various gates, this is Samseong-gung's final form, to put it in videogame-speak. Jirisan, or Jiri Mountain, national park looms everywhere around. In fact, from the bus stop on, I was within Jirisan National Park.

Walking down from the ridge the gate was on, a view of Samseong-gung from a lower vantage point.

One of the better pictures I took of the palace from closer range. In the foreground, we have a near-perfect representative of Ajumma culture. Ajummas are Korean middle-aged women. Technically, any married Korean below Social Security age is an ajumma. This woman, however, sports the full-on ajumma look. Notice the loose floral pants, the visor, and the short haircut. She has no umbrella, which is surprising as Korean women, particularly those in the ajumma age group, are notoriously fearful of the sun. However, her lack of parasol is made up for the fact that she is actually rocking Allan Iverson-style arm guards. OK , I'll shut up and let you enjoy pictures of this amazing palace.

I would just like to point out here how worthless the Korea Lonely Planet is. Samseong-gung is unlike anything else in the country, and actually unlike anything else I'd seen in the world. Samseong-gung is the type of attraction that could easily make the cover of a Lonely Planet. Instead, do you know how many words LP dedicates to it? If you guessed "one," you're infinitely too high. Samseong-gung was also totally unknown to all of the Koreans that I talked to about it in Jinju or Namhae, each 50 or so miles away. Again, thanks to I would have never known about it without this blog.

Here stands the,um, modern bathroom.

Amazingly, the place doesn't photograph well. You should click on these pics to enlarge them, they look better that way, but still don't look a fraction as good as the palace looks in real life.

Yes, it really was Saudi Arabia hot out.

Rare Korean wildlife. This is like seeing a wild zebra in Iowa.

This goofy guy is the entrance/exit to the Samseong-gung area. The whole Samseong-gung complex is amazingly adept at suspending disbelief. Disney couldn't do a better job. There are no views of anything modern looking anywhere in the palace. As shown above, even the bathroom fits into the theme. There aren't even any signs in English anywhere on the temple grounds. This blue crane head makes for a local landmark, but is the one cheesy visible thing from parts of the outer palace. However, once through the "gong" door, there are no views of this blue crane head.

My awesome motel in Jinju. Flat screen TV, computer, surround sound, jacuzzi tub, and a killer remote that controlled the TV, the lights, and the A/C. Centrally located, 40 bucks a night. Korean motels absolutely rule.

On to San Fr..wha? This is the Namhae bridge, connecting Namhae Island to the mainland.

Namhae town seemed a little weak. This sign (Harvard English Academy) reminds me that there's at least one poor whitey that has to live in this town. Taco Bell finally comes to Korea, and this poor bastard is still a 6 hour bus ride away.

Konglish is best when it *almost* gets it right.

Peak season at Sangju Beach in Southern Namhae means I was stuck with this room. This is the whole room. It featured an air conditioner and these hooks. The woman who ran this guest house was awesome though. She looked to be at least 120 years old, and she spoke to me only via pantomime.

Here is Namhae/Sangju beach. Peak season. Lame. Tons of umbrellas (again, the Korean fear of the sun), zero lounge chairs, and yellow tubes. Koreans swim with their clothes on, and they are really into tubes. Everything around was massively overpriced. My answer? Booze, of course.

I'm on a boat.

Here are some of the "couple shirt" types that I ran into on the boat.

The craggy shoreline of southern Korea. I took 50 some pictures on the boat ride. I'll spare you, as many looked much like this.

The next day, I went home. I planned on going to Busan for a day, but I was too hungover after my beach-side bender. Also, I kind of hated Namhae beach, and I think it was because of the peak season. I love the Busan beaches, so I don't want to ruin them by seeing then at peak time.


Jan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan said...

Amazing pictures Todd! I think that palace is more interesting and beautiful than any they have in England. And to think you never would have found it without the help of a blogger.

eric said...

do arm guards make up for the lack of parasol? i dunno does the addition of bacon make a pepperoni pizza without cheese into 'near-perfect' representation of pizza? the parasol is essential

we should kick out an excursion when i have some money. to busan to see chris perhaps?

Brian said...

Thanks a lot for the kind words and for pimping me out. I'm glad you had a great time! I know I was surprised to learn such a place existed in Korea without getting much publicity.