Friday, October 22: On the bus to Tongyeong, I listen to Glen Hansard’s Falling Slowly on my iPod Nano (which has suddenly come to life after 6 months of silence): I don’t know you but I want you All the more for that….Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time. Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ve made it known…
Little do I know that on this trip, I will be pointing my own “sinking” (or at least on-the-verge of sinking) boat home through the rough seas off Geoje. 🙂
My little collection of music transports me to the world slipping by outside the window, the world filled with fringe-headed grasses & cosmos & trees turning the colors of squash and rhubarb. The songs add flavor & scent to my journey. They inundate everything with meaning, carrying my thoughts along tangled mazes of memory. I simply listen to my songs and gaze absently out the window.
Ornamental grasses wave to me from the side of the highway, beckoning in whispers. They bring the landscape to life with motion. Korea does roadsides right. I find cities in Korea unattractive; they’re not aesthetically pleasing at all, at least not to me. It’s as if the powers-that-be decided long ago not to bother making man-made things beautiful but to devote all their energy to making nature sparkle. Along the roads, out in the middle of nowhere, someone plants pretty little somethings. The swaying grasses make me think of caresses. Gentle soft caresses, which I am seriously lacking in my life. They speak to me in a sensual voice. I imagine someone, someone I might love, holding these fringes of grass and running them over me, gently beckoning. I remember past caresses. I wish.
Recently, someone I know told me she is an asexual person. Another person told me she has been dead to sexual urges for so many years she’s forgotten what it even feels like. She stopped having any desires of that nature. It’s funny. I think I could go without for years and years but I would never forget what it feels like; I would never stop desiring it. I can say without a doubt that I’m a very sexual person. But. I cannot be casual about it; I want the heart stuff to go along with it. I want the passion, the emotion, the commitment, the love. My heart is too sensitive to settle for less.
I cruise along, mesmerized by these elemental earth things, these grasses. I long for the caresses they promise. But. They will not deliver, not on this trip. I journey on, untouched. Before I know it, I’m in Tongyeong, where I am immediately herded into a bus to Geoje. People are crammed in, dangling from rubber handles on the ceiling. What I was told was an hour ride is happily only a half hour. At the Gohyeon Bus Terminal, we pour out, and I find a taxi that takes me a whole two blocks to my motel, the Migeumjang Yeogwan, for 30,000 won a night.
There are these motels in Korea known as “love motels.” Often a love motel has these rubber fringed curtains similar to those found at a car wash; they hang halfway down over the entrance to the motel parking lot. This is so that people driving by cannot see whose cars are in the parking lots ~ to keep sexual liaisons private. Often young Koreans come here to be alone, since they often live in their family homes until they marry. Rooms are also used for extramarital affairs and can even be rented by the hour, or so I’m told. But they are also cheap places to stay for travelers like me. They’re comfortable & clean and they provide shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers, even toothbrushes and toothpaste (used by countless previous customers). In these love motels, several of the T.V. channels feature Korean pornography. When I stay in these motels, which are not always for “love” (as witnessed by my lonely stays in them), and I’m flipping through the channels, sometimes I come upon one of these shows. Maybe I am prudish, in some ways I certainly am, but I have never watched porn. Embarrassed, I switch the channel as quickly as possible. Tonight though, I am curious. I pause for a few minutes to watch and I can’t help but think these people look like robots. Where is the passion, the love? Where is true sensuality? I don’t see the appeal in this and I wonder why so many people in the world watch it. It’s too bizarre. I go back to watching consecutive episodes of CSI until late at night.
Saturday, October 23: In the morning, I get up early because I have to make my way to Jangseungpo-dong to catch the 9:40 boat to Odeo-Botania and Geoje Haegeumgang, two islands off the coast in the Hanryeo National Marine Park. When I arrive, I buy the ticket for 19,000 won. On the ticket they ask me to complete a bunch of information: name, birthdate, address, telephone number, passport number. When I board the boat, they rip off the part of the ticket with all my information and keep it on land. It doesn’t take much of a look at our boat for me to see why they keep all this information. It’s a rickety thing, old and sitting low in the water. Our little vessel doesn’t look very seaworthy for the over 100 passengers who cram onboard.
I think about this for a minute, but then I toss my worry overboard. The boat starts up eventually and we pull out of the little harbor. I am excited because I love being on boats. I grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, near the York River, and our neighborhood, Marlbank, sat on a hand of land reaching into the waters of Wormley Creek. We spent countless summer days crabbing off docks, sailing on my friend Louise’s sailboat, water-skiing, or just swimming. Sometimes we went out on boats with friends and motored around the York River, drinking beer and listening to 1970s rock. Other times, we rode bikes to the end of Wormley Creek Drive, walked through a field and some woods and then swam across the creek, holding our towels over our heads, to the other side where there was a sandy beach. M*****, my best friend in middle school, had a little aluminum boat with a motor on the back, and she would often bring it to the creek, where we took turns driving and riding in the boat.
While we are boating out on the ocean toward these islands off Geoje, I think about water and how comfortable I am with it. I have to admit I’m feeling a little smug as the captain of the boat starts selling some kind of liquid in bottles for seasickness and handing out little plastic vomit bags. The water is a little choppy on this overcast day and people are getting seasick right and left. It seems everyone but me is gripping a plastic bag, poised for the moment when they’ll lose it.
Meanwhile, I’m having a grand time and think of this as an adventure. I think about my swim team days and how I’m a fairly strong swimmer and how I could conceivably float on my back indefinitely. I don’t feel at all afraid. Even though the boat is bouncing along and waves are coming over the bow and we have to close our windows, I’m having fun. I’m not at all worried. If the boat goes down, I can swim. I can float. I’ll be fine.
The boat continues on until we reach Geoje Haegeumgang, two steep craggy islands only a half-kilometer offshore from a more southern point of Geoje than where we departed from Jangseungpo-dong. We cruise around the islands and pull up for a close-up view of the sheer cliffs. It’s quite beautiful with the white stone rocky faces of the islands rising before us.
A memory comes to me as we bounce over the sea. One day we were at Wormley Creek and M***** was pulling 3 or 4 of us on a rope behind her little boat. I was closest to the boat and several friends were behind me on the rope. Suddenly, M***** lost control of the boat. I don’t know what happened, but the boat turned around and was bearing down on us. Everyone behind me swam off to the sides, but I had no time to do anything; the boat was going to be on top of me in a second. So, I held my breath and dove underwater. In front of me, with the boat over my head, I could see and hear the motor roaring and churning. I thought, this is it! I’m going to die! I’m going to be chopped up by this motor! But M***** had her wits about her and, in a sweep, she shut off the motor. Sacred silence. I emerged from under the boat, shaken, but fine.
I think about this water incident, and I think about M*****. My mind wanders to the 2nd time she could have killed me. We were teenagers and had been drinking heavily at a party near the Amoco oil refinery. Driving home from the party in her father’s new car, we were talking and laughing and not really paying attention to the road. We didn’t wear seat belts in those days. Suddenly, in front of us, I saw a line of cars at a standstill. I looked at her and it hit me much too late that she didn’t see these cars; her foot never even hit the brake. We crashed into the cars, totaling the car in front of us, which got hit from behind and in turn hit the car in front. I stuck out my hands and stopped myself by bracing against the dashboard. Luckily, neither of us were hurt, but her father’s new car was seriously damaged.
I’ve known M***** a long time. She’s one of my oldest friends. I think about what makes a friend, what are the criteria for friendship? Can someone be a friend who almost kills you twice? She and I have a long history; we’ve been through so many things I can’t even remember them all. I know her family; she knows mine. To this day, she is one of my strongest supporters. We share a love of travel and different cultures. She reads all my blogs religiously. She even subscribes to them! It’s hard for me to believe that anyone can care that much about what I have to say. But she must. She reads them. It shows me she cares.
Friendship is beyond definition. Friends bring such a variety of blessings into your life; you can’t possibly list the things that make a friend a friend. Some people make you laugh, bring a lightheartedness into your life. Some people are great listeners; others great sharers. Some you can talk to about anything. There is no single definition of friendship but I know it when I see it. M***** is one of those rare people, a blessing in my life. This I know with certainty. This despite her almost killing me twice. 🙂
We motor off toward Oedo Botania. This is an island that’s been cultivated since 1963 by Korean couple Lee Changho and Choi Hosook; it’s the first island in Korea ever to be owned and developed by an individual. Every inch of this island is abloom with gardens and punctuated by statues. I walk along the pathways with hundreds of other Koreans who have taken boats from other locations in Geoje. I check out the cactus garden, the Venus garden, the flower garden, the bamboo road, the Hope of the World garden, the Dreaming Heights, the Stairway to Heaven, and the Eden Garden. It’s like a fairy-tale land bursting with beauty. The island itself is gorgeous with gardens, but the view of the surrounding ocean doesn’t hurt it one bit. Most definitely, Korea does nature right!
I love the cactus garden full of its spiky succulents, its pale jade tear-drop-shaped cacti. Everything is prickly and untouchable, covered in porcupine-like needles or spiked bark. Some of the cacti look like hundred-armed octopi. Even the normal trees have spiked vine-like appendages.
Statues of naked women, naked men & Venuses abound. A whole “Venus Garden” full of well-trimmed hedges, white iron gates and fuchsia flowers sits on a hilltop with a semi-circle of marble columns and Venus statues at one end. I enjoy the view from the garden out through the columns and statues to the sea. So many Koreans are here it’s hard to get photos; since they love to take pictures, they are hogging all the good photo ops. At the Venus garden I have to wait a good long time before I can snap a shot not inundated with the entire Korean populace.
The flower garden is a profusion of colorful flowers and topiary and smooth-barked trees. It seems odd that all these flowers are still blooming at the end of October. I walk up the hill and also discover the Eden Garden with a lovely statue sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.
After exploring this awesome island for an hour and a half, we board the boat again and head back to Geoje. The ride was fairly choppy on the way out, but on the way back it is more than choppy. The waves are quite big, creating deep troughs between; the boat is banging up and down on this angry & frothy sea; it tosses foam and waves overboard onto the windows of the boat. It seems every Korean on board has a vomit bag and both children and adults are using them in large numbers. For the first time I am worried. The boat is rickety so I can hear it straining and creaking as it bounces and twists roughly over the waves. I remember my thoughts on the way out: how I’m not afraid of water and how I’m a strong swimmer and how I could float indefinitely. Now, I am thinking that this is how people drown, in rough seas where it would impossible to keep your head above water no matter how strong a swimmer you are. And now that it’s getting colder, I am thinking about hypothermia and how easy it would be to succumb to such in this weather.
So. Coming back, I’m not so brave as I was going out. I’m not really afraid, but I am wary and vaguely nervous. The sick people on board aren’t making me feel any better. After an hour of this bouncing along, we finally arrive back at Jangseungpo-dong. Whew! Safely on land. I catch the next bus to try to go to Windy Hill and Sinseondae, but I’m told I have to switch buses at Hakdong Pebble Beach. The black Pebble Beach is honestly not much to look at, so I don’t want to stay long. I try to ask a lady selling street food about how to catch the bus to Windy Hill. She doesn’t understand, but a Korean man around my age comes to the rescue and asks where I’m going. His English is good; he works at the Korean Central Bank. He says he and his wife are going to Windy Hill and they’d be happy to give me a ride. They are so kind and save me much headache trying to make my way down the coast.
When we get to Windy Hill, I thank them profusely after taking a picture of them, and we part ways. I walk down to Windy Hill which is a quite lovely promontory topped with a windmill and ornamental grasses blowing in the strong wind. The view of the water and the other islands and fishing boats is beautiful. I walk down the hill and explore the cove where numerous fishing boats are anchored and then walk back uphill by another route to cross the street and go to Sinseondae.
I love the description in the Geoje Tour Map of these places. Obviously written by a Korean in flowery language and translated into English by an English-speaking Korean, I find it quite quaint:
“When we come down to the north at a corner going to Haegeumgang after passing Hammok, we can see a fishing village Dojangpo like a picture and can see ‘Windy Hill’ as a watercolor when we raise our head. When we stand by an observatory in the south of a road after going up the hill, there is where we become a wizard who looks out over the sea. Its name is ‘Sinseondae.’ ‘Windy Hill’… is where sea wind always meets visitors since there is a long extended clean sea around there. It comes to the spotlight as a drama photographing place since sea is well-harmonized with the hill. In ‘Sinseondae,’ we can look out over [see]. It has a shape playing a wizard game with harmonious landscapes around it since a large rock secures its position on the seashore. There is a small Mongdol Swimming Beach at the lower edge, which makes its landscape more tasteful.”
I find this description amusing and cute. Yet, it captures the essence of these two places which are right across the street from each other.
Beautiful cosmos cover the hillside looking out to Sinseondae. It is another rocky promontory that also juts out into the sea and has quite a distinctive rounded chimney shape. I spend quite some time wandering here and taking photos with my new camera. As I walk down to Sinseondae, who do I run into but the nice Korean couple again. They have finished at Sinseondae, but I haven’t gone yet.
The husband says he & his wife want to drive me back to my hotel in Gohyeon, so they will wait for me. I am surprised, but I’m happy to take them up on their offer. So when we are done, we drive back all together and they drop me at the Gohyeon Intercity bus terminal.
I go to an internet cafe for a while to check my emails, then eat a good chicken, noodle and vegetable soup (Dak KarGukSu) for dinner at a lovely little Korean restaurant that is decorated with a bunch of jars filled with roots. Later I relax and read and watch TV for the evening.
Sunday, October 24: In the morning, I have a plan to go to Camellia Island, but when I wake up it is raining quite steadily. Instead, I go to the Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp. This prisoner of war camp was built in November, 1950, and was used to keep the increasing numbers of P.O.W.s isolated from the rest of the country. About 170,000 P.O.W.s, whether communists or anti-communists, were accommodated in this camp during the war. The prisoners consisted of 150,000 North Koreans and 20,000 Chinese. The camp is an impressive array of historical war facts, dioramas, war vehicles and weapons, actual tents and a kitchen and latrine area.
After the P.O.W. camp, I take my 2 buses to Tongyeong and then home to Daegu while listening more to my iPod. I hear a funny song about memory called “Eid Ma Clackshaw” by Bill Callahan. The lyrics go something like this:
Last night I swear I felt your touch / Gentle and warm / the hair stood on my arms / How, how, how? Show me the way, show me the way, show me the way / To shake a memory….. I fell back asleep sometime later on / And I dreamed the perfect song / It held all the answers, like hands laid on / I woke halfway and scribbled it down / And in the morning what I wrote I read / It was hard to read at first but here’s what it said: Eid ma clackshaw / Zupoven del ba / Mertepy ven seinur / Cofally ragdah.
I find this song so amusing. The way I understand it, he is thinking about someone who left him, either due to death or just leaving. At one point in the song, he uses imagery of a horse flipping his forelock and twitching his withers to shake these memories. Finally, he dreams about a song that gives the answer, but it’s nonsensical. I feel that he’s saying there’s no way to shake a memory; it’s with you and no amount of magic can rid your mind of it.
I think about my memories of love, of caresses, of intimacy ~ those memories that crept into my consciousness as I traveled to Geoje. Memories. Sometimes they can bring pain & misery, sometimes joy and serenity. Sometimes they make me yearn to have the experience again, to feel what I felt. Sometimes I can bask in a memory, if it’s a long ago one and any pain associated with it has faded away. Other times a memory can still be painful. But memory is part of who I am; all the memories I hold in my heart shape the person I am today. When a memory comes to me, I must honor it, give it due space and time, but not dwell too deeply in it. After all, I am a composite of all past experiences that dwell in the recesses of my mind. Eid ma clackshaw.
If you want to go to Geoje from west Daegu, here’s what you do:
1) Take the 805 bus to the Seobu Bus Terminal and get on the bus to Tongyeong for 12,800 won. I was told the trip would take 2 hours and 2 minutes. It actually took just a little over 1 hour.
2) In Tongyeong, take the bus to Geoje-Do for 3,300 won. I was told it would take 1 hour, but it actually took 1/2 hour.
3) The boat cruise to Oedo Botania and Geoje Haegeumgang left at 9:40 a.m. and cost 19,000 won. It took about 3- 3 1/2 hours. This boat left from Jangseungpo-dong but I think there are boats from other parts of Geoje as well.