Monday, 9 April 2012

Mum and Dad Visit Korea - Part 2

My principle is walking through the garden at the front of my school. The sun is shining brighter than it has shone in nearly five months. Spring has arrived. There is water in the streams. The sound of it crashing against the rocks is music to my ears. The flowers are slowly but surly beginning to blossom. My parents are leaving my small rural town today and heading home after two weekends here in Korea. They've experienced a multitude of weather since arriving, from torrential downpours, to thick snow, to bright sunshine and roaring winds.

After arriving and settling into their hotel on Sunday night we went for Sam Gap Sal (barbequed pork) at our favourite pork restaurant in town. This was the first time my parents had been to what I would call a proper Korean restaurant. There were side dishes, kimchi, lettuce leaves, hot sauce, raw garlic and all the rest along with the pork. Their chopstick use was in check and we all had a great time at the restaurant. It was a quiet night after eating and introducing mother to the local hounds. We settled down for an early night and the next day I jetted off to school. Natalie took care of my parents in the week and I’ll only need to give you a brief summary on what they did each day up until this weekend, which is what this blog will mainly cover.

On Monday they stayed in town and hiked to the local Buddhist mountain temple (to read more about this particular temple see my blog ‘Candlestick Rock’.) It’s a reasonably long trek through the mountains to get there with plenty to see on the way. That evening we dined on duck at the local duck restaurant and mother didn’t exactly eat much. However, it was enjoyed by everybody else and we went to the local bakery afterwards so Mum could eat something.

On Tuesday they went to Chuncheon for the first time, however, it was nearly postponed by the snow. We had inches upon inches of snow fall on Monday night which resulted in my not being able to get to school on Tuesday morning. I tried. I even got in a truck with a crazy Korean farmer and swerved across the road fearing for my life before he decided it was too dangerous. Luckily, this meant I spent the morning with Mum and Dad before going to school at midday after the snow had cleared a little. As I went to school they went to explore E Mart and were back in town for A Dak Galbi dinner.

Wednesday was a little more exciting and they visited a big dam, waterfall and temple in Chuncheon and we cooked dinner in the evening. A welcome change from Korean food I suppose. Thursday they stayed around town and checked out some of the other temples and things around and in the evening we all went for Chinese food.

On Friday I suppose the weekend really started. My parents went to Nami Island for the day. I’ve written about that island way back in September, it’s basically a small paradise just outside of Chuncheon. It’s a beautiful little island with much to see around it. When we went we zip lined onto it but I don’t think my parents were up for that. I met my mother and father at Chuncheon bus station at around 6:30. I was lucky enough to score a lift to Chuncheon with my co-teachers as there was a school meal in the city that night. After being informed that the 6:30 bus to Sockcho was sold out we decided to book tickets for the 8:00 bus and go for some Western food at the nearby steakhouse. After filling up we headed to the station picked up some snacks and boarded our bus.

The bus to Sockcho takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes, which went extremely quickly. As soon as we got into town we jumped in a taxi and headed out to our hotel on the border of Searoksan National Park. We checked in and had a few drinks in our rooms before we settled down for the evening. We were staying in the Sorak Park Tourist Hotel which is around 1.8km outside of the park (which makes it easy to walk to), and is just across from the park visitor centre. The view from our balcony was lovely and although the hotel had clearly seen better days it was perfect for what we needed it for.

The next day we got up at 8am and were out of the door by 8:30am. I didn’t know quite how busy the park was going to be, the trees were void of any leaves and snow covered the peaks of the mountains. As we approached the main gate it was quite clear that although there were still many visitors this was going to be nothing like the overcrowded mass onslaught that we had experienced last time we went to the park in September. It costs a mere 2000won to get into the park and we headed straight for the cable cars. The cable cars soar to the top of one of the most breathtaking mountains in the park and we didn’t have to wait long for our ride either. We had breakfast and we were in the cable car by 10am. There were plenty of tourists a top of the mountain all taking ridiculously unnecessary photos of themselves, but we got around these quite quickly and walked to the peak. From the top you can see for miles and miles, the whole of the national park falls away from you and the magnitude of the mountains is quite overwhelming, striking and beautiful. Dad and I made it right to the top and had a photo next to the flag that was waving in the wind. After we’d really soaked up the atmosphere of the place we slid down the snow to the temple just below the peak, and then proceeded to go down the cable cars.

The next stop was Biryong Falls a beautiful waterfall about 2km walk from the cable car station. The walk is a pleasant one and not too strenuous. It is reminiscent of Jurassic Park 3 when the main characters are walking through the aviary. The waterfalls crash down onto the rocks and the river seems to stretch for miles and miles. When we got to the falls we all sat down and had a rest. You could spend hours sat beneath these falls, and the temptation to take off your clothes and go for a swim would have been irresistible had it not been for the snow still noticeable around the edges.

After arriving back from the waterfall we ate lunch and had a short walk around another temple that is quite close to the park entrance. After this we decided that we had better head back to the hotel. We freshened up there and proceeded to Sockcho Beach via taxi. Sockcho Beach is a sandy pretty beach but it was very windy down by the front. We walked all the way along to the harbour (another 2km) and we finally settled down to have dinner at an all you can eat restaraunt which mum wasn’t all that fond of (ya know heads still on the fish and all that).

It had been a pretty successful day but we were all tired from the walking and decided to have another early night. We were up the next day to ascend the park one last time. The plan was to hike to the top of Ulsan Bawi. Ulsan Bawi is a giant rock in the middle of the park and again I have talked about it before. It reminds me of half dome to a certain extent but isn’t nearly as big or as dangerous but it’s still slightly treacherous. Natalie and Mum got ill half way to the rock and turned around but Dad and I trekked on determined. It was a lot warmer on Sunday but the wind was so powerful that the park service had stopped running the cable cars. As we got closer to the top it became apparent that it might be too windy to actually reach the summit of the rock.
We started walking up the thousands of steps that have been carved in and placed upon the rock and the closer we came to the top the windier and more dangerous the climb became. We even got to a point where people coming down were telling us to turn around and go back. Reluctantly, in the end, that’s what ended up happening. We both got blown into a rock and decided enough was enough. We had come far enough. We had come so far in fact that we even caught a glimpse of the final staircase to the top, this staircase however was right up in the middle of the sky with no rocks around it to block any of the wind. That was too dangerous so we decided we had come far enough. We made it back to the bottom and still felt successful, it would have been a mistake to have gone any farther and Dad even said that it was one of the most dangerous walks he’s ever been on. I’ll give it second place.

We got back to the cable car station and had lunch with everyone and then headed home. We boarded the bus, got back into Chuncheon, boarded another bus and we were back in Sachang-ri by 5:30pm. Pizza night proceeded and this morning we said our farewells. It’s strange that I haven’t seen my parents for 7 months and it’ll be another 7 months before I see them again. I hope they had a fantastic time and will cherish the experience of coming all this way. It was wonderful to see them and I had a fantastic time. I really feel like they got a taste of what it’s like to live out here in Korea and they’ll go home with many stories to tell. That’s what it’s all about really.

Kieran and Naoko my two friends from back home arrive today, and I think (going by the board in the staff room) that I have Wednesday off so I can show them around as well. What a busy month April has been!

May the sun keep on shining. May the flowers finally bloom.

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