Having the ability to show up in a foreign country and contact a friend has always been a dream of mine. I remember thinking that if I studied abroad in University I could make friends from around the world and then later go meet them in their hometowns. I did study abroad, but most of the people I met during that time were fellow Americans, a majority of whom were from the Midwest, so much for those global connections I dreamt of. Thankfully though, life doesn’t end at 21 and I still had plenty of time to fulfill those dreams. Today I’ve got friends in many corners of the world all of which have come from connections made during both my time teaching in Korea and also the traveling I’ve done during and after.
I was never very outgoing, I would usually wait for conversations to come my way, rather than seeking them out myself. While I can still be seen as ‘the quiet one’ in a big crowd or new social encounter living abroad has changed me. In the past five years I’ve come out of my shell, realizing that opportunity doesn’t always come knocking and sometimes you just have to seek it out. Which brings me back to the story of how I met my new friend 회원 (Heewon), that night in Chiang Mai when I had the courage to not only approach two strange guys in a bar, but did so in a foreign language. Ultimately though, it’s how I came to have a friend in Suncheon and a reason to go explore a new city upon returning to Korea.
I was enjoying my reunion with my best friend Loudine in Mokpo, but couldn’t pass up Heewon’s invitation to come explore Suncheon. I’d never been yet had heard many good things about the city, it was only an hour and a half bus ride away and he was free to show me around, how could I say no? I almost had to postpone my trip by a day, thanks to a round Sunday morning (birthday party induced) hangover, but I pulled myself together and caught a night bus over to Suncheon. True to his word Heewon was waiting at the terminal for me and my tour started immediately with a visit to Jukdobong Park which is located high on a hill and offers a great view over the entire city. Considering my state of affairs for the day we didn’t bother with much else, Heewon dropped me at my hostel, I checked in and we agreed to meet the next day around lunch.
Our second day began with a drive to 낙안읍성 (Nagan Eupseong Folk Village) which 회원 had told me about when we were in Bangkok after I had shared with him my extensive list of places in Korea I had visited. It was only yesterday, while going through an old blog post, did I realized I'd been there. The last visit was only a rest stop though, and I was distracted by the cameras of my 200+ students, so it was still all new to me. The weather wasn't ideal, dark skies, spitting rain and strong winds, but the village is awesome, and is really a living museum with people living inside these old style homes.
From the village we drove to 선암사 (Seonam Temple) on the Eastern slope of Mount Jogye and as are most temples in Korea it's thousands of years old. I'm slightly desensitized after seeing so many temples in Korea, they're beautiful, but it takes something special to make an impression on me. The highlight here was the stone arch bridge on the walk to the entrance and the lunch we had after. Food in Korea can be categorized into one of three categories: Sea, Land or Mountain, using local ingredients (plants, herbs and spices) and hands down my favorite is Mountain food, so if you ever visit a temple located in or near a Mountain, make sure to stop for lunch.
For the afternoon portion of my Suncheon tour we drove back into the city, made a quick stop for coffee and then on to the 순천만국가졍원 (Suncheon Bay National Garden). The sun was going down and temperatures were dropping, but thankfully g화원 was prepared with extra jackets because the clothes I had on hand were not warm enough, I was still packed for Thailand. The park is much larger than I had expected and consists of various themed gardens, my favorite area tough were the world gardens, where various countries are represented. Most of the gardens were what you'd expect, a windmill and tulips for the Netherlands, Vinyards for Italy and an intricate temple for Thailand, the American garden was pretty pathetic though.
The day was already long and full, but 회원 wasn't done with me yet, since I hadn't yet been he figured a drive to Yeosu was in order. We arrived just as the sun was setting and were able to enjoy the night view 야경 from Dolsan Park, it was pretty, but I was freezing so the visit didn't last too long. I wasn't starving so our seaside 포장마차 dinner of 전 그리고 국스 (Korean pancake and noodles) was plenty for me. I was ready to go home, but was instead, somehow, talked into a few songs at the coin 노래방, which was actually a lot of fun.
After one more coffee stop, 휘원 needed fuel for the drive home I really thought the day was over, but I was once again wrong. We made one brief stop for a unique view of the Yeosu power plants. As we drove by I remarked that it was oddly beautiful which prompted Heewon to pull a U-turn and take me up a viewpoint to enjoy the glowing lights of smokestacks and warehouses, strange but kind of beautiful.
When we got back to Suncheon, for some unknown reason we decided to get 통닭, the latest food trend in Korea, a whole fried chicken which is then pulled apart at your table, actually a resurgence from the past. Neither of us "were very hungry" yet we somehow destroyed the entire chicken and a beer in less than 30 minutes. Even the owner remarked on the speed we polished off that chicken, actually this was becoming a joke with Heewon, it seemed like every meal ended with "Where'd it go?". I was supposed to be leaving for Busan the next morning, but as I tucked in to sleep that night I had a feeling my plans would change.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.