Category: Gyeongsangnam-Do


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…

tongyeong and geoje on the south coast of korea

tongyeong and geoje on the south coast of korea

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 add life, sound & motion to landscapes!

ornamental grasses add life, sound & motion to landscapes!

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.

provisions in my "love motel" room in gohyeon

provisions in my “love motel” room in gohyeon

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.

my "love motel" room: Migeumjang Yeogwan

my “love motel” room: Migeumjang Yeogwan

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.

on the not-so-seaworthy boat

on the not-so-seaworthy boat

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.

our little boat

our little 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.

heading out to the deep gray sea

heading out to the deep gray sea

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.

one of many seasick Koreans

one of many seasick Koreans

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.

Haegeumgang ~ "like mountaintops protruding above a sea of clouds"

Haegeumgang ~ “like mountaintops protruding above a sea of clouds”

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.

haegeumgang ~ another view

haegeumgang ~ another view

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.

another island we pass in the boat

another island we pass in the boat

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.  🙂

**********************

topiary near the entrance to oedo-botania

topiary near the entrance to oedo-botania

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!

crazy octopi cacti....

crazy octopi cacti….

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.

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Oedo Botania

Ornamental grasses at Oedo Botania

Gardens at Oedo Botania

gardens at Oedo Botania

gardens at Oedo Botania

textures and colors

textures and colors

topiary at Oedo Botania

topiary at Oedo Botania

the gardens of Oedo Botania

the gardens of Oedo Botania

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.

flower gardens at geoje

flower gardens at geoje

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.

me at Oedo Botania

me at Oedo Botania

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.

a street food stall where I meet the lovely Korean couple

a street food stall at Hakdong Pebble Beach where I meet the lovely Korean couple

Hakdong Pebble Beach

Hakdong Pebble Beach

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.

the lovely Korean couple who gives me rides to and from Windy Hill

the lovely Korean couple who gives me rides to and from Windy Hill

the windmill at Windy Hill

the windmill at Windy Hill

me at Windy Hill

me at Windy Hill

Korean ladies at a little market at Windy Hill

Korean ladies at a little market at Windy Hill

boats in the bay at Windy Hill

boats in the bay at Windy Hill

Boats in the water at Windy Hill

Boats in the water at Windy Hill

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.”

Windy Hill

Windy Hill

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.

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

Sinseondae

walking back up the hill from Sinseondae

walking back up the hill from Sinseondae

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.

jars of roots in the restaurant

jars of roots in the restaurant

Dak KarGukSa ~ chicken noodle soup

Dak KarGukSa ~ chicken noodle soup

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.

Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp

Historic Park of Geojedo P.O.W. Camp

The P.O.W. camp diorama

The P.O.W. camp diorama

another diorama at the POW camp

another diorama at the POW camp

mist over the mountains

mist over the mountains

the POW camp

the POW camp

the POW camp

the POW camp

Leaflets for psychological warfare

Leaflets for psychological warfare

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.

flower garden on oedo

flower garden on oedo

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.

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Saturday, September 4:   This is a story of a girl who, entranced by various articles and books about a “silver sand beach” on the south coast of Korea, determines to get there, come hell or high water or interminable bus rides.  This poor bedazzled (befuddled?) girl has been dreaming about this place since she first read a previously mentioned article put out by the Official Site of Korea Tourism: “Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting in the Summer.”  She even went so far as to find verification of this article in her trusty Moon Handbook which sang the praises of this beach: “Sangju Beach is one of the finest beaches along the southern coast of Korea.”  It goes on to say: “This two-kilometer-long crescent of silky sand nestles into a small cove protected by rocky promontories at each cusp and a diminutive island at its opening.”

sangju "silver" sand beach

sangju “silver” sand beach

Many of her friends thought this girl to be crazy, enamored as she was with the idea of this place.  But, female Don Quixote that she is, she would not let go her fantasy.  Weekend after weekend through the summer of 2010, as her plans were foiled by rain and forecasts of rain and imminent clouds and other untimely inconveniences, she kept that dream in her heart until happy skies were forecast.

The girl embarks on this odyssey one Saturday morning in early September.  A day forecast to be sunny and 90 degrees. She leaves her tiny dust-filled apartment at 6:20 am.  She walks 5 blocks to metro, takes the metro to Dongdaegu, where she then takes a bus to Masan, where she takes a bus to Namhae, where she takes a bus to Sangju Beach. All told, this journey takes her 7 hours for what should be a 3-hour drive in a car.

waiting for the daegu metro

waiting for the daegu metro

Her plan is to spend the last weekend of summer lounging on this mythical beach, sleeping and swimming and reading a book she’s brought along, The Black Book by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.  She’s already much of the way through this book, and though it’s a deep and dense book, not really your typical light beach read, she is into it enough now that it will keep her from being bored or lonely in her journey.

on the bus at namhae ~ a half hour from the mythical beach

on the bus at namhae ~ a half hour from the mythical beach

On the bus, she waits with the anticipation of a child to catch a glimpse of, and drive across (oh, unbelief),  the Namhae suspension bridge over the Noryangjin Strait between the mainland and the island of Namhae.  She is surprisingly unimpressed by this bridge that is supposed to be Korea’s version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.  But crosses over it she does until she’s on Namhae-do, land of mountain bulges, highly cultivated farmland and ocean waters.

the namhae suspension bridge ~ Korea's version of The Golden Gate Bridge

the namhae suspension bridge ~ Korea’s version of The Golden Gate Bridge

After being tossed off the bus at a spot where no beach of any sort is visible, she schleps along with her bag into the speck of a town, looking for a hotel, and finds a Korean-style room for 30,000 won.

Welcome to Sangju Beach

Welcome to Sangju Beach

Korean-style means no bed, no furniture, and in this case, no sink.  Only a red plastic washtub for a “sink”, a bunch of quilts for a bed, a nice TV with all Korean-language stations, and a small refrigerator that is not cold. The hotel proprietor also generously gives her two small hand towels, the norm in Korea.  Koreans apparently don’t believe in or have never been introduced to large bath towels.

my korean-style room in Sangju

my korean-style room in Sangju

After dropping her bag and changing into her bathing suit, she ventures out to her treasured destination.  On the road, she is accosted by two older Korean men, one of whom rolls down the window of his car and, spewing food out of his mouth that clings stubbornly to his cheek, asks where she is from.  She says America, and he asks where she is going and then motions for her to get into the back seat which is piled high with stuff as if he’s a homeless person who lives in his car.  She waves him off and says, I’m going to the beach!  And turns on her heel and walks away.

the pine grove that borders the beach

the pine grove that borders the beach

The season is over at this beach; it’s sparsely populated but quite lovely.  The girl is a little mystified as she is unable to find any “silver” sand.   She realizes, much too late, that she has been duped.  But, determined to enjoy this place she has fought so hard for, she settles in on a Korean aluminum foil-type mat, applies her sunscreen in a sad attempt to save her already sun-damaged skin, and lies down to nap.

Under shade on Sangju Beach

Under shade on Sangju Beach

After getting thoroughly bored with the napping, she gets up and goes for a swim after struggling through tangles of seaweed at the shoreline.  The water is refreshing and kids are squealing and people are walking around with hats and long sleeves and umbrellas over their heads.  She floats, she swims, she lingers.  She goes back to her mat and pulls out her book.

Sangju Beach after a nap

Sangju Beach after a nap

She is in the midst of The Black Book; a dense novel about a Turkish man whose detective novel-reading wife left him.  The book has layers and layers of stories about Istanbul, a blending of ancient history and contemporary (1980s) life. There is a famous newspaper columnist, Celal, whose columns make up every other chapter of the book.  Galip suspects his wife may have run off with this columnist, who is actually related to both him and his wife (!).  Galip slowly starts to take on Celal’s identity. It’s a difficult book, but this girl, our heroine, our wanna-be Don Quixote, has just been to Turkey and fell in love with it and the book takes her back.

Looking out on the little bay

Looking out on the little bay

Funny, she thinks, how various books have become intertwined with places or times in her life.  For instance, at one point in this girl’s life, she went on her honeymoon to Islamorada, one of the Florida Keys, with her first husband.  She spent the entire honeymoon reading The Thorn Birds; while reading this book,  it became evident to her that she would never find in her marriage the passionate love that was so palpable (yet doomed) between Ralph De Briccassart and Meggie Cleary.  Ah, the destructive power of books, as her first marriage fell apart seven years later in a fizzle of non-passion.

my view, looking eastward

my view, looking eastward

This book, The Black Book, fills her mind here at Sangju Beach with questions about her own identity, questions that can only be answered by stories in her own life. It gets her mind working, probing about in too many dark alleys & dusty corners.  She begins to think about her physical identity.  For one thing, how can she really see herself?  She can never see herself, not really.  She can look in a mirror, but the instant she finds herself in a mirror, she immediately puts on her best face; she corrects her slouch, she smiles to bring her hangdog face to life.  So is she really the person she sees in the mirror, this 2-dimensional person with the fake smile and upright posture?  Or is she the uncorrected slouchy version of herself who goes about her daily routines looking neither happy nor sad, neither here nor there?  She can see herself in a camera, but once she knows she’s in front of a camera, she immediately smiles, or puts on her best face, showcases her best angle.  In front of the camera, she becomes a star, someone who steps out of her own under-dazzling skin.  Heaven forbid the photo turns out badly, showing her at an unflattering angle or with an ugly expression.  She always deletes these pictures, which no human eye will ever see.  Of course she is fooling only herself, as everyone else in her world sees her all the time in these unflattering poses.

the "dimunitive island"

the “dimunitive island”

Upon thinking these thoughts, she attempts to take some pictures of herself by setting the 10-second self-timer.  But, in this blazing sun, the 10-second-timer lets in too much light and the picture turns out to be a burst of whiteness with an albino person it in.  She tries a couple of times with the same result and finally gives up, resorting to taking a picture of her feet beside her sand-covered flip-flops.

a sad attempt at a self-portrait

a sad attempt at a self-portrait

She goes back to reading her book.  A shadow of a person falls over her mat and when she glances up, she sees a stick-thin white guy with a reddish-blond beard and mustache and a bandana around his head.  He is standing right beside her mat gazing out at the water.  He stands there for quite a long time without looking at her.  When he turns around for just an instant, she smiles at him, but he doesn’t smile.  With absolutely no expression, he turns around and walks away on the beach, disappearing like an erased pencil mark on the horizon.

and he disappears down the beach....

and he disappears down the beach….

Weird.  She’s taken aback and thinks more about her physical self, this self that she can never really see.  The only other way she can see herself, she thinks, is in other people’s eyes.  So, she wonders, what did he see?  Did he see just an older woman, which is what our “girl” heroine really is, despite the fact that she still thinks of herself as simply a “girl?”  Did he immediately discount her because she is older, as many people do?  Or did he find her horribly scary and unattractive?  She wonders if she terrified him, although he didn’t look frightened.  Or maybe he didn’t see her at all, just looked right through her as if she were invisible.  She is baffled.  Especially as there are so few Westerners in this part of the world she would think that when they find one another, they should at least smile, if nothing else.

the beach at an angle

the beach at an angle

shadows on the beach

shadows on the beach

While reading her book, which probes questions of identity quite extensively, she thinks about how difficult it is to truly be herself.  Who is she anyway?  Is she the person who, when she is in the company of her best friend Rosie or her crazy friend Lisa, becomes a suddenly hilarious person?  She and these friends play off each other and she is brought to life as a comedian.  To these people, her identity is crazy and fun.  Or is she the person who, in other people’s company, becomes quiet and boring?  Is she the person who in yet different people’s company, becomes defensive and irritable?  How can she really even be herself when herself varies with each person she encounters?  Sometimes she likes herself a lot, enjoys her own company, but other times, she hates who she is.  Which one is she?  The one she loves or the one she hates?

Another little beach shack

Another little beach shack

In the book, she reads about a Crown Prince who, in an effort to truly become himself, decides that too many books have filled his head with other people’s ideas.  He is dismayed to realize that the thoughts in his head are really these writers’ thoughts and not his own.  So he burns all of his books and goes for years without reading.  These writers’ thoughts continue to permeate his being.  It takes him a long time, a strong effort, to remove the thoughts from his mind.  He is never really able to get rid of them.  And when at times he feels he can clear his head of these thoughts, he realizes he has no thoughts of his own.

the beach shack

the beach shack

The Crown Prince even shuns women because when he finds one he likes, thoughts of her take over his mind.  So, he deserts his wife and children and goes to live alone in a hunting lodge for 22 years.  All in a quest to “be himself.”

So, this girl wonders, after reading and reading hundreds of pages all weekend long, on the bus, on the beach, in her bedless room, and on the bus again, after being totally engrossed in this book and Orhan Pamuk’s thoughts, if she is losing her own identity and becoming Orhan Pamuk himself.  Who is she, this girl who fancies herself a Passionate Nomad, a Don Quixote?  It is all terribly confusing.

a self portrait of a nomad ~ Who is she, anyway?

a self portrait of a nomad ~ Who is she, anyway?

After all this contemplating, the girl leaves the beach and showers in her little hotel room.  She is unable to wash her hair, because after hauling along her hair dryer on every single trip she’s ever taken — only to find a hair dryer provided by the hotel — she didn’t bring her hair dryer this time.  This hotel doesn’t have one.  Oh well, she’s on a beach vacation; what the heck if she’s dirty?  This can be her identity this weekend, a dirty, ruminating, well-read vagabond.

reading The Black Book

reading The Black Book

After showering, she takes a nap in the hotel, reads some more, and then goes in search of a restaurant because, snap, she forgot to eat anything all day.  She walks to the west part of the beach where she finds one restaurant with funny-shaped fish in tanks.  She’s told any meal with the fresh fish will cost her 30,000 won!! She leaves to wander to the east side of town, where she veers left into a narrow alley and finds a restaurant that has a picture of a delicious-looking dish on the window.  She asks how much and they tell her 6,500 won.   The restaurant is a cozy mom-and-pop place painted in aqua and a baseball game is on TV and it’s cool because the “air-con” is on and she is sitting right in front of it.

the chinese mom-&-pop restaurant

the chinese mom-&-pop restaurant

She settles in for the meal along with a giant-sized Hite beer.  The whole thing, egg drop soup, shrimp with noodles, rice & black bean sauce, and the beer are 9,000 won.

shrimp with black bean sauce & noodles

shrimp with black bean sauce & noodles

Dinner in Sangju

Dinner in Sangju

Before dinner and before her nap, an Egyptian friend she recently met from Seoul, an Egyptian with a 6-letter name, calls her to see how she is.  Later at night, after going to sleep at 9:00 (sad!), her phone rings again at 11:00.  Not having her glasses on, she picks it up.  When she hears his foreign accent, she thinks it is her Egyptian friend again because the caller ID looks like a short 6-letter word.  He asks if he woke her up. She says, yes, but it’s okay, she’s happy to hear from him, how is he doing?  It takes her a while before she realizes she is talking to someone else, an Indian guy with a 6-letter name who originally contacted her through couchsurfing.com.  The girl is so befuddled and amused by this confusion about identity, especially after reading The Black Book and reflecting endlessly all day about this issue.

Sunday, September 5: The next morning, she lounges in bed a long while, reading and reading.  She thinks that being engrossed in a good book is one of the most enjoyable things in life.

glued to the final pages of The Black Book

glued to the final pages of The Black Book

Then she heads out for a walk; since she doesn’t like Korean breakfasts, she buys a pastry in plastic wrap, an orange juice and a can of cold coffee at a convenience mart.  She sits on a bench under the pine trees and eats her breakfast.  Then she decides to wander to the top of the hill at the east of the beach and take some photos.

views from the east hill

views from the east hill

view of the Sangju Beach surroundings

view of the Sangju Beach surroundings

She goes back to her room, puts back on her bathing suit,  checks out of the hotel, and goes back to the beach to lounge.  It is more overcast today. There she basks in the clouds and thinks that this beach sounds like beaches everywhere: the steady rhythm of soft waves, laughter, children’s voices and their squeals of delight, the whir of cicadas, the muffled roar of the cars on the road.  When she closes her eyes she thinks of all the beaches she’s been in her life from Hilton Head in South Carolina to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, to Virginia Beach, to the beach on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, to the beach in Phuket, Thailand and to the Paradise Island beach in the Bahamas.  She thinks she could be anywhere and for a moment she is a little convinced she is back at her long-lost home in America.

the little cove

the little cove

morning view of boats in the bay

morning view of boats in the bay

After a while, she is beached out, so she tries to use one of the public showers.  She can’t believe that the showers are padlocked, closed for the season.  Whereas in America this would be Labor Day weekend, the last-hurrah beach weekend of the year, it is already past beach season in Korea.  So she rinses off her sandy feet in the sink and heads back out to the town to catch the 1:50 bus back to Namhae.  She’s a block or so away from the main road at 1:20 and she sees the bus; realizing she’s been misinformed once again about the bus times, she waves frantically at the bus.  Normally bus drivers in Korea will totally ignore anyone trying to flag them down, but this time, the bus driver sees her and pulls over and waits patiently till she is aboard.  Ah, kindness.

sangju beach from the road above

sangju beach from the road above

Despite this excellent stroke of luck at catching this bus in the middle of nowhere, the trip home takes even longer than the trip there.  Because of a huge traffic jam between Namhae and Masan, this leg of the trip, which was 2 hours coming down, becomes 3 1/2 hours going back.  So, all told, the entire trip back to Daegu takes 8 hours.  She arrives home at 9:20, totally exhausted yet wound up because on the entire bus ride home she was so obsessed by finishing her book that she didn’t “take a rest.”

the view of Sangju Beach from the hill

the view of Sangju Beach from the hill

So, what is the upshot?  About identity, our heroine doesn’t know the answer.  She only believes that her own identity is still in flux, constantly evolving, ever-changing.  It is a composite of all the books she has ever read, all the interactions she has ever had, all the people she has ever loved and hated, all the places she has ever been, all the hobbies she has ever pursued, all the aches and pains and heartbreak she has ever felt, all the happiness and sadness and anger…. as well as that blob of gray matter that is in her rather large head.  Plus. Many more things known and unknown, things remembered and forgotten, things experienced and only dreamed about.  Who is she?  She wonders if she will ever really know.

For the intrepid traveler’s reading pleasure, here is the article about 12 beaches worth visiting.

Official Site of Korea Tourism: Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting This Summer

This girl does not recommend making this beach a destination as it’s too much of a trek for too little.  The town isn’t much and the beach is just a beach, like any other.  But, if one wants to get there from Daegu, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Dongdaegu to the bus station directly across from the subway stop, immediately to the left of the Senior Center.  Buy a ticket to Masan for 8,000 won.  The trip to Masan is about 1 hour 40 minutes.

2. In Masan, you must take a taxi to the Express Bus Terminal (about 2,700 won) and buy a ticket to Namhae for 8,400 won.  This took less than 2 hours on the way down and 3 1/2 hours on the way home Sunday.

3. In Namhae, take the bus to Sangju Beach for 2,400 won.  This takes 30 minutes.

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