Sunday, March 1, 2015

road trip, the Korean edition!

The day after my bad fall, Jay (our tour guide from Ski Korea) kindly brought me to the hospital. Since Matty wanted to swap his snowboard with skis, we made a pit stop at the rental shop before dropping him off at Yongpyong Ski Resort and driving to the city.

I was taking lots of pictures using my mobile phone while Jay drove and he was puzzled because he didn't see anything worth the fuss. Everything's ordinary, he said. (But not to me... tropical country mouse landed in the wintry city, see?)


Hoenggye, where Matty and I stayed for the week, is a village in Pyeongchang. The hospital where Jay took me was in Gangneung, a city on the east coast of the Korean peninsula. For a probinsyana who's been to Korea for five days and has stayed only in a quiet village, I found my trip to the city quite a jar to my senses. 

On our way to the city, Jay initially drove on the scenic route, which is quite comparable to California's coast-hugging Pacific Highway (the sections I've been on, at least)... but the road we were on in Korea didn't have a coastal view. We saw, however, mountains, mountains, and mountains. On the left, mountains were brown and barren, almost as if they're ready for spring; on the right, the mountains were still covered in snow. It was just a sight to behold! Somehow, I remembered Ate Maddie's route when we went to Muir Woods, with all the bends on the road in this scenic Korean highway.


As we approached the city, I thought to myself: Rochie, you're not in the Philippines anymore... As if all that snow didn't convince me yet, right? In Gangneung, the buildings didn't scrape the sky, unlike in San Francisco, but they were definitely taller than buildings in Hoenggye! The bridges criss-crossing the freeway, on the other hand, were so high up in the sky! I've never seen those from a low angle before!


At the hospital, Jay explained that the doctor would see me after lunch, so we opted to eat by the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan). I was actually in winter attire (complete with boots, three layers of thermals, and a beanie) strolling on the beach! This was something I never imagined I'd be doing. The first time I was on a beach in winter was as a graduate student, ill-prepared and inappropriately dressed (I only had a jacket, I think... no layering at all) for the cold winds of Gold Coast in July 2009.

The set up along the beach was quite different from what's normal in the places I've seen in the Philippines. First, vehicles were not allowed on the sand in the beach. Along the beach were parking spots beside the road. Second, on the opposite side of the road were restaurants. In the beaches I've been to in the Philippines, hawkers and food vendors would be on the beach. There'd even be a sari-sari store on occasion. Therefore, there's a tendency for the beach to be rowdy and dirty (with left-over trash). Third, the restaurants on this beach had a lot of live fish in aquaria outside the establishments. In the Philippines, I've seen freshly caught fish (already dead) being sold... or live ones in buckets or basins. The aquaria? I've seen those in Manila seafood restaurants... and in some of these restaurants, the fish were pets for good luck, not being sold as food.

As the sun set, it was time to go back to Yongpyong to fetch Matty and to eat dinner back in Hoenggye. On the drive back, I thought that this field trip to Gangneung allowed me to get a glimpse of what Korea's east coast is like, although I didn't have the time to really experience what this fascinating part of the country has to offer.

I therefore conclude that I will definitely make a second visit to Korea... someday.