I had a few days off work for Childrens Day so Ji and I took the chance to head south and visit her grandma. Usually it’s possible to just show up at the train station at the time you hope to leave and purchase a ticket for a train departing sometime fairly soon. Korea has three classes of train apart from it’s metro or subway system; there are the Mugunghwa trains, the slowest and cheapest class. The name derives from Korea’s National Flower, the hibiscus. The second is the ITX and the crown jewel is the KTX which travels up to 350kmph. Our train for the ride down is of the first class reminiscent of a freight train back in the USA. Our seats were “open”, meaning we had none. we took refuge in the snack car with all the other cheapskates.
Gunsan Turned out to be a pretty cool place. It used to be filled with US Military people but I guess activity on the air force base has calmed down. There is a traditional village, which due to the holiday, was overrun with people. We wanted to stay a night in Gunsan before continuing south to grandma’s but the holiday also meant that all of the hotels and guest houses were full.
After some research, Ji found a guest house about a 30 minute walk from the buzz of the tourist trap. ZZambbong Guest house was at the top of a hill, a few minutes more and there was a great view of the city.
The guest house itself should be more accurately called a Hostal and should also have some website in English or at least searchable in English, but I give them some slack. Two friends bought the two story house only a couple months ago and turned it into a place for travelers. the two take turns every two weeks living there and attending to guests. Our stay was quiet and enjoyable though the beads were unconventionally firm. check out Zzambbong Guest house’s Blog
Gunsan is home to the last standing Japanese style Buddhist temple. Architecturally I prefer the simplicity of the Japanese style over the Korean style. I actually spend more time watching two guys construct a new traditional style building; I always wondered how they put together those sweeping, curved roofs.
Gunsan Harbor’s low tide leaves all the boats stuck in the mud. I wonder if they move at all, some of the boats look extremely old and corroded. I only saw two men who looked like they might be there working, The only other people besides us was a couple also just meandering about. Right next to the harbor is a sort of military park where you can get up close to military vehicles and some aircraft; during the day I think you can also enter a retired ship.
This town seems to be suffering economically; there are signs everywhere. There are shops full of dusty old things everywhere and they all look like they haven’t been touched in years. Despite this you can still find some beautiful homes, usually sat right beside a dilapidated one. Ji and I daydreamed about buying one and fixing it. The life here seems quite a bit more relaxed in Seoul; random strangers even told her hello in a non creepy way.
This two story with a pond in front and a third floor terrace was really cool. We especially liked the primitive artworks on the retaining wall. I was so tempted to go up the stair case and have a look but I noticed the reason why the house was abandoned. Near the front left corner there is a huge crack where the house has shifted. An old guy was standing around taking to his grand kid so we asked him what was up with the house. He told us that some rich guy from Seoul bought it and wont won’t do anything with it and refuses to sell it. I speculate that he is waiting for gravity to take its toll instead of having a crew knock it down.
That story reminds me of a great book I read called, Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. In his book he talks about many points of American urban design and history and proposes some ideas about how we can fix America (granted not many people will acknowledge there is even a problem with our auto dominated landscape where humans feel out of place and threatened by contaminants and heavy, fast moving machines). He suggests that property tax should NOT be tied to the value of the property since that encourages people to buy land, turn it into a parking lot or let it get rundown, while holding it, speculating that its value will later rise and they can then sell it. He instead proposes a site-value system…look it up if you’re interested.
Eunpa Lake Park isn’t actually built around a lake but an old, manmade agricultural reservoir. After reading the name I couldn’t stop singing, “Umpa, Lumpa, Dupa-dee-du…” Now the park is a gathering point for many people in Gunsan. There is a walkway that circles the whole lake and a bridge that cuts across the lake at about the halfway point. It was here that I decided last minute to plant a letterbox. We are always out and about and I think, “man this would be a great place to hide a letterbox” but I never have my supplies so I recently put together a few small boxes with blank carving rubber and keep a carving tool in my backpack.
From the park we caught a bus to Buan, a small town with around 60,000 people. Its population is shrinking each year due to people moving to the big cities but i’m not sure why. It’s situated about 20-30 minutes from the coast, seems like a little paradise, maybe if I lived there I would think otherwise. Getting off the bus I talked to a an American girl from Arizona. She had moved to Buan about 2 months ago to teach with the EPIK program, The same program I am doing.
We caught a taxi out to Ji’s grandma’s house. Our visit was unannounced but Ji said he grandma is always home just working in the garden. We stood around for an hour or so with groceries, being eaten by mosquitoes, waiting for her to come home from a neighbors house, its the only place she could have been since she doesn’t drive. Finally after the sun set and we had heard no word, we walked to a neighbors house. A little hunched over, elderly woman, wearing a visor and scarf over her head,met us at the driveway startled, in not sure but I have a feeling it was the sight of a “foreigner”.
Eventually she figured out who Ji was and told us that Ji’s Grandma went to the hospital the previous afternoon; something about working in the garden and hurting her hip. The Sun Withered woman offered to call a cab for us, then decided she too would go for a visit.
It wasn’t so much a hospital as a patient care facility. Her grandma turned out to be OK but needed some bed rest. Ji has an aunt that lives in Buan, near that hospital. She came to the hospital to visit also and offered to let us stay the night with her and her family and headed back to Seoul the following morning.