Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Lunar New Year's Holiday on Gangwha island

Sunrise on Gangwha-do

Sunday was the first day of the Lunar New Year and everything was closed Monday, including hagwans, which meant I got a three day weekend. I started out on Saturday (later than planned) and made it to Incheon in time for lunch in China town. The rest of the weekend was spent on Gangwha and Sokmodo, islands which are off the West coast near Gimpo. Ganghwa island is around 300-square-kilometers and could potentially be navigated entirely by foot quite easily if time allowed.

Saturday night I stayed at a small sauna, at 7,000 Won being the ideal choice for a thrifty solo traveler. Maybe because this was a sauna frequented by more "country folks", but nonetheless, they allowed smoking inside. I can now tell you from experience that naked women who are smoking are not sexy no matter how romantic the idea may sound to some. I went in to the jimjilbang before I went to bed and it was HOT but I stayed for 10 minutes. It was a dark circular room with a concave ceiling, fire pits burning behind 2 doors and pine branches tied in a bundle releasing their fresh, pine scent. I fell asleep early after finishing Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle' and had fleeting dreams of Bokononism before waking with the sun. The next morning I went to step into the jimjilbang once more and and it was insanely hot. I got one foot in and it felt like my skin was melting. I stepped back out and saw stars for a few seconds before deciding painfully hot saunas are not for me.

After leaving the sauna I went to Jeongdeung-sa temple (founded in A.D. 381) and saw the main hall where the ceiling is agonizingly held up by strange indistinguishable human-animal figures. One story says a carpenter carved them to represent his unfaithful wife and to warn other women against infidelity.

I ate breakfast on a small street winding up to the entrance of the fortress at a place that had candles burning on top of huge heaping mounds of wax. They wouldn't accept money for my meal...I have no idea why not though because they couldn't speak any English. Maybe because I was their only customer and it was the first day of the Lunar New Year? I don't know but either way it was very friendly.

I was told that there was not a bus to my next destination on the island so I flagged a car down and got a ride from a nice couple from Suwon. From Oepo-ri harbor I caught a ferry to Seokmodo and met two foreigners who were teaching in Gimpo. We went to Bomunsa temple and then up to the 'Eyebrow rock Buddha', which is a Buddha image carved into the rock on the mountain. Afterwards we caught the ferry back to Ganghwa and took a bus to Hajeom to hike up Mt. Bongcheon. On a clear day from the top of the mountain you can see into North Korea. It wasn't a clear day so we had no chance of spotting the sign that says, "America go home" in hangul but we did see a vague dark outline of the mysterious place.

By the time we got back to the bottom I was rather exhausted from hiking the mountain with my pack on. Almost everything was closed for the holiday but we managed (without too much effort) to find an open bar to spend the majority of the evening at. I heard stories of teaching in Ghana and Shamanism in Ecuador that enticed me add yet more places to my "To Visit" list. (Incidentally, that same list has started to look more like a list of every country in the world) After experiencing the night life in Ghanhwa I slept on the floor of my new friends' yeogwan. Yet another fine weekend in Korea...

Sunset on Gangwha-do

Ferry to Sokmodo island (west of Gangwha-do)