4 wonderful solo weeks in South Korea

Jul 10th, 2014, 09:32 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 21,831
I'm so impressed -- and pleased -- that some of you continue to follow this long, drawn-out tale -- thanks so much!

@ SeeHag – sounds like your son and daughter-in-law have a lot of common sense: So many young people squander their money on wedding-related events that aren't even what they really want!

Parts of Jeju Island are absolutely gorgeous – I’m sure you will enjoy your time there. And who knows, maybe something I say will prove of use to one or more of you!

@ MaryW – I agree that it makes sense for you to try to identify a more convenient lodging in Gwangju than the one I found.
kja is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 10:05 PM
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@MaryW - I messaged my son on Facebook, he isn't the best at getting back to me so I will let you know what he says when and if I get a response!
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 10:24 PM
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Wow! He was online and answered me right away! He hasn't heard of the ballad but he said there are tons of love motels in town. He said the love motels in Sangmu tend to be nicer. He mentioned there is now a Best Western and a Hilton there if you want something nicer. Big improvement over six years ago!
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 10th, 2014, 11:09 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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SeeHag. Thank you. I'll look up the new hotels and the Sangmu area. I'm kind of hoping to wing it as we may decide to stay at Gangjin longer
- Depends on who is available to meet up with at the time. Lots of love motels will hopefully give us options at the last minute. Just need somewhere clean with preferably a comfy bed. I know comfy is not always an option in SK at least by my definition.

Kja. A lot of what you say is proving useful. It's very entertaining as well. Look forward to more.
MaryW is offline  
Jul 11th, 2014, 05:19 PM
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Thanks, MaryW!

Day 9: Day trips from Gwangju to Gochang and Soswaewon

My first goal for the day was to visit Gochang. I traveled by train to Jeongeup, where I needed to switch to a bus. A young soldier walked me to the bus station, made sure I got the right ticket, and that I got on the right bus. Mantra-time: How nice! Once in Gochang, I needed to switch from an intercity bus to an intracity bus, and again, people came to my aid. Once I showed one person the directions I had written down in Korean, several people were doing everything they could to help. In this case, they didn’t stop even after I got on a bus that would meet my needs: Someone actually came on the bus to pull me off and onto a different bus! I was to learn that I had initially been (correctly) directed to an intracity bus that would take me close to the museum, but the 2nd bus to which I was taken was a free shuttle that went all the way to the museum and that left at almost the same time. Of course I didn’t realize what had happened until much later. I just knew that the driver didn’t let me pay and that I didn’t face a 15-minute walk to get to the museum, as my planning had led me to expect.

Gochang Goindol. Until I began planning this trip, I had no idea that South Korea has one of the largest arrays of prehistoric megalithic funerary monuments anywhere in the world. Several such areas are covered by the same UNESCO WHS inscription; the Gochang site has the largest and most varied groups.

I bought tickets for the museum and a little train that takes one around the site. The museum was small and had few displays, but there was information to be gleaned there, particularly for those who are not familiar with megaliths. The train went by several areas with large concentrations of dolmen and allowed brief stops at a few of them. The dolmen are scattered over the low reaches of some foothills, with a floodplain at the base. The extent and array of dolmen were impressive. The sounds of glee from the many children who shared my ride were priceless!

After the train returned to the museum, I briefly explored a mock-up of a prehistoric Bronze Age village. I then returned, by foot, to the nearest area with a large concentration of dolmen. I’m sure seeing this place would not be every tourist’s cup of tea, but I found it fascinating! Megaliths awe me – what effort it took to make them! I see in them powerful clues about the communities that were responsible for erecting them, communities that were willing and able to devote so much time and energy of what must have been their strongest and most fit members in the effort to commemorate the death of a leader. That took social organization, and systems for division of labor and wealth, and a commitment to past and future…. (Or at least that’s my take!) Too, there is an enigma about dolmen that intrigues me: Are these megaliths evidence that the memory of the people whose death they marked has, in fact, survived the test of time – that they are not truly and completely forgotten? Or is the message that even the greatest effort cannot preserve their memories, since we generally don’t know anything about the specific individuals involved? Okay, I’ve rambled on enough…

I spent some time roaming around the dolmen and then returned to the museum complex to find my bus. Oh, there was a bus just about to leave! I ran and caught it, but no – it was a chartered bus for a school excursion. I walked around, and then asked, and that’s when I realized that the bus I had taken that morning was a free shuttle, not an intracity bus. There would be a return shuttle later – substantially more than an hour later, as I recall. Or I could walk about 15 minutes to a traffic circle where there was a bus stop. So that’s what changing the bus had been about!

I reached the traffic circle, but didn’t see a sign for a bus stop. I walked around it, went a little way in each direction, and I saw two buses, each of which stopped and – when they saw my destination – shook their heads “no.” And then I saw a taxi and thanked my lucky stars! It was only a few minutes, and cost about $6, to get to the bus station.

Waiting …. Upon my return to the bus station in Gochang, I learned that I needed to go to Gwangju’s intercity bus terminal, and I bought a ticket for the next bus, 50 minutes later. With that long a wait, I decided to see if I could find something to eat, since I the only food I had eaten the day before were some snacks. There was chicken place right at the station, and as I was studying it's picture menu, an English-speaking staff member approached. My brief conversation with this man may have been the most seriously misunderstood, from either side, of my trip. (Heads up, Mara – you asked about communication difficulties!) I thought I confirmed that I could get just a single serving that I could eat at the one inside table and that it would cost about $4 and take about 18 minutes. He apparently thought I confirmed that I wanted take-out for 4 at about $18.

I waited and waited and my bucket ( ) of chicken didn’t arrive until less than 10 minutes before my bus. They kindly let me eat at the sole not-for-the-public’s-use table, where I gobbled just a few pieces of very tasty chicken bites in a slightly sweet (and very sticky ) almond sauce. Apparently, a cola drink was also included – but I don’t drink colas. And I had no time to take advantage of whatever that side dish was – some kind of tofu salad? When I turned it down, they tried to give me even more cola. I tried to assure them that the food was delicious, but that I didn’t have time.... I don’t like wasting either money or food, but I also don’t like making a fuss when there is a good chance that a mistake was mine, and my bus was about to leave, and I just honestly hope that they found some use for the very tasty, and substantial, serving of chicken that I left behind.

Once I reached Gwangju, I had another wait of almost an hour before my next bus. But all was not lost -- there was a Tourist Information office just outside the bus station. What a perfect opportunity to get the information I wanted for the rest of my time in Gwang-ju! Not. There was a very nice, very knowledgeable woman at that desk who spoke English very well and who was committed to sharing her knowledge with those who came to her – without any apparent regard for the question those tourists might actually have. ;-) I pulled out my printed directions and asked her to write out the English, when it was missing, or Korean, when it was missing. She took out her pen and, saying “yes, yes!” actually CROSSED OUT the Korean words in several places. I don’t think doing so was, in any way, intentional – she was just marking information exhuberantly as she chattered on. I pulled the paper out from under her hands. I turned to the one question I thought most critical: Where, exactly, could I catch the bus FROM Soswaewon BACK to Gwang-ju – across the street from where I get off? She looked startled, and then said, “Yes, yes!”

Soswaewon Garden. Moments later, I boarded my bus. The driver was very careful to ensure that I got off at the right place and that I knew the direction in which I should walk. It was beginning to drizzle, but just enough to add to the evocative, rather mystical, aura of the forested lane that led uphill past the ticket gate. No problem – after all, that’s why I carry a very lightweight rain jacket with me.

I found Soswaewon -- a cluster of small pavillions set in a copse -- absolutely lovely. It was a very pleasant place to linger for few moments (it isn’t large!), and each viewpoint offered a unique and lovely perspective over carefully (if discretely) landscaped scenes.

As the rain increased in intensity, I made my way back to the main roadway – where I could find no sign for a return bus, only the sign where I had arrived. I reached that stop 5 or 10 minutes before the bus was to stop on its way back to Gwangju, and I watched the roadway in both directions. No bus. To improve my lines of sight, I eventually walked around a bend so I could see, not only in either direction, but also a road that formed a T-intersection with the road I was watching. Oh, finally, a bus! The driver looked at my written destination, shook his head, and waved his hand. I must admit that I didn’t understand -- was he signaling "other way" or "that way" or "no" or...?

I watched those roads for nearly 50 minutes. Thankfully, I have a very good rain jacket, and I never felt the need to pull out my mini-umbrella, which I thought would just mean tiring my arm, with little or no addional protection. During that time, at least 4 different cars stopped so someone could offer me an umbrella. Seriously! And in every case, I actually had to pull my umbrella out of my pack to prove I really didn’t need their incredibly kind offer. Awesome!

The rain intensified. And became colder. My back began to feel the day’s efforts. The little irritations of the last day began running through my head, no matter how much I told myself, “Don’t go there!” I began thinking about which direction I should go to get help.

And then, finally – a taxi! I barely had the heart to bargain. I said Gwangju, he said 30,000 won, I said 20,000, he said 27,000 (about $27), and I accepted. I knew it was a pity offer – I’m sure he knew he had me from the moment I flagged him down, and I knew I wasn’t going to protest too much, and thankfully, he did allow me to save a little “face” by lowering his price a bit. I have no idea what it would actually have cost if I had insisted on a meter, but I have reasonable confidence that his fee was not terribly excessive. Throughout my time in Korea, the taxis I had taken cost about $1 per minute, and this driver brought me to Gwangju in just under ½ hour.

Dinner at Yeongmi Oritang. “Oritang” means “duck soup,” and there is an Oritang Street in Gwangju – a short block with several restaurants that serve no other main dishes. (There were streets – or at least a block or two thereof – devoted to a specific regional specialty in several cities I visited.)

Based on my prior research, I had targeted the restaurant “Yeongmi Oritang,” which I easily found. I was glad that there was a wait because that gave me a chance to see how to eat it: In addition to an awesome array of tasty goodies, the server brings a pot of soup, with half a duck (or a whole one, if that's what you order) that is in pieces, along with seasoning, and sets it on a tabletop burner. The server also brings a basket of fresh herbs, which you add to the pot when you want. Everything is served on a table covered by myriad sheets of plastic, so people put the bones right on the table, and when they leave, bussing the table simply means rolling up the plastic. Brilliant!

By the time I was seated, I thought I had figured it out. Nonetheless, the very nice gentleman sitting next to me decided he would help. Apparently, I wasn't eating or cooking fast enough -- he kept putting more and more stuff in my pot and it was running out of polite ways to suggest he could stop helping until I finally said "No," rather loudly, which is a real no-no in Korea. Oops! I was trying to apologize when my pot nearly boiled over, so I turned to adjust the heat. And then, as I tried to lift a piece of duck, I watched it fly, complete with herbs and thick sauce, right onto my thigh.

Did I mention that Korean napkins are smaller and thinner than cocktail napkins? Or that this food was HOT?

Those who know me might realize that I was prepared -- I had, in my purse, a sealed Ziploc bag holding a Handiwipe-wrapped titanium spork. As I was reaching for it as discretely as I could, my server came up behind me and draped a (bright red) apron around me, startling me so that I only avoided knocking over my beer because the woman to my right had great reflexes; the woman to my left started trying to pat me off; and the man took the opportunity to add more herbs to my soup. Chaos! Thankfully, once I started laughing, everyone joined in. It may not have been my most graceful moment, but OMG that was good soup!

By the time I left, it was raining rather hard. I started out, made a turn or two, and then questioned my decisions. I went into a neaby 24/7 to ask directions. The young man ran out onto the street with me, without any protection against the rain, and escorted me a half-block to a place from which he could point me in the correct direction. How nice!
kja is offline  
Jul 11th, 2014, 07:04 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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lol....takeout for 4 at $18.....pretty serious miscommunication... ;-)
Personally I think you are doing amazingly well...I wouldn't think of traveling up into the wilds of Korea without much understanding of the language....I am so impressed!
I guess you didn't have a phone app for translation......that might have come in handy - I don't have a smart phone either....but I think I would get one for that sort of trip....
Still loving your report!
Mara is offline  
Jul 11th, 2014, 08:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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I'm so glad you could laugh. I'm sorry to say I was having a very good laugh while reading. I do love duck and that dish is on my gwangju list.

I had several phone apps. I just use an iPod touch which is like an iPhone without the phone bit! You can use it on wifi. Some of these translations are often worse than miming. They are okay for nouns sort of and some very short phrases but many of the translations can be odd indeed.

I'd translate anything back and forth in the apps before I risked using them. I can't repeat some of the results for what I thought quite straight forward things.

I also printed out a few carefully vetted cards for things like taxis and buses which did help. Not that I was on my own all the time on any of my trips My Korea host wouldn't let me go off alone too much. He'd come looking for me if I was gone longer than he thought I should take.
MaryW is offline  
Jul 11th, 2014, 09:33 PM
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@ Mara -- Thanks for the words of encouragement! To be clear: I didn't mind that the chicken cost $18 -- I minded that it took more than 40 minutes to cook when I had less than 50 minutes to spare! LOL, it seems that I continue to miscommunicate about that order! ;-)

Honestly, I didn't find communication to be that difficult; this was about as "bad" as it got -- and that isn't too bad! It was easier than some parts of China that I visited, and easier (or at least no more difficult) than Russia in 1994 or Poland in 1995.

i didn't carry a phone of any sort. There was a section in the books I had with me (hard copy and Kindle) with some key words and phrases, but I never consulted them. And I had an iPad that I could have used to google things, but I didn't take the iPad with me most days and didn't have any travel apps on it. (Thanks, MaryW, for confirming that translating apps don't provide a guaranteed solution!)

@ MaryW -- yes indeed, a sense of humor is, and always has been, firmly on my "must-take" list for travel! There have been more than a few moments over the years when it seemed the most valuable thing I had with me.

I thought the oritang truly delicious (even in the context of some outstanding meals) and hope you enjoy, too!
kja is offline  
Jul 12th, 2014, 12:38 PM
Join Date: Jul 2013
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I'm relishing your report kja. South Korea is a destination I'm unlikely to get to (so many places, so little time) barring that big lotto win

Enjoying the journey through your eyes, and now I want to go to the nearest Asian grocer for a big tub of kimchee !

Please continue....
sartoric is offline  
Jul 13th, 2014, 12:38 PM
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@ sartoric – Thanks so much for letting me know that you are enjoying my report! I, too, love vicarious travels – there’s something about “seeing” the world without sore feet that can be quite wonderful.

Day 10: Day trip from Gwangju to Songgwangsa

This morning was not the best of my trip. I walked by inexplicably open hotel room doors that provided glimpses of things I honestly had NO interest in seeing (WHY do some people leave their hotel doors open?!?); decided to skip the overpriced breakfast in my hotel, discovered that the nearby coffee shop wouldn’t open for several more hours, had difficulty finding my bus stop, couldn’t figure out how much to pay for the bus ride, and inadvertently upset my driver by holding out a handful of coins to him. (Apparently, bus drivers do NOT touch the money.) Nonetheless, that driver was also very careful to make sure I knew where to get off – the intercity bus station, where I soon bought my ticket for, and boarded, a bus to....

Songgwangsa. Once I got off the bus, an old man made sure that I found my way to the temple by signaling to me, and then signaling to others that they should watch out for me. I passed a long row of restaurants and souvenier shops, and at every step, there was someone watching and waving me on. As I turned onto a wooded lane beside a little stream, I saw the last of those who had waved me on return my greeting, and then she turned to signal to the person before her…. I felt like the bucket in a fire brigade!

A row of widely spaced paper lanterns marked the road to the temple, which soon led me to a lovely pavillion that stradded the stream. I shared greetings with several others who were enjoying this special refuge before continuing my walk up a gently sloped path. And as in Busosan, it seemed that at least one person in every passing group said hello and paused to exchange a few words when I responded. If there was any place I went outside a city – any temple or park or whatever -- where that was not the case, I don’t remember it. If I see it in my notes as I continue writing, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, assume it was part of the welcoming “landscape” I experienced in South Korea.

Songgwangsa is is one of the “Three Jewel Temples of Korea,” representing the Buddhist Community. (I visited the other two “jewels” later in my trip – Tongdosa, representing the Buddha, because of its relics; and Haeinsa, representing Buddhist teachings, because of its woodblocks. All three are working temples with monks in residence.)

The main entryway to Songgwangsa is among the most striking of the temple entrances I saw: A well-proportioned, open-sided pavilion straddles the top of an arched bridge across the stream. On the down-stream side, a channel led to a waterfall. One side was lined by leafy trees, the other by temple buildings. In honor of Buddha’s birthday, the area between the pavillion/bridge and waterfall was covered with a “ceiling” of variously colored lanterns, which were beautifully reflected in the water. The upper side of the stream also separated temple buildings from the woods; here the stream flowed more naturally. The bridge-paviliion itself had some wonderful ornamentation and much-appreciated benches (attached to the walls) on either side. Wonderful! This pavillion led to an impressive gate, where one passes the four temple guardian statues and ascends a set of stairs to emerge in a large, lantern-covered plaza. Wow!

I began to approach temple buildings, but kept noticing that the doors were shut and so moved on, trying – unsuccessfully -- to find either an open building or a sign that indicated hours. There were a few places where clear signage indicated that one was not to enter – this is, after all, a functioning temple, and the monks’ living quarters and certain study halls were off limits. But weren’t there any open buildings?

And then I heard a woman say, “Hello!” and so met Ansu: Korean-born, she lives in California and was at Songgwangsa for a templestay. (South Korea’s templestay program allows people to spend a bit of time at a Buddhist temple. More on templestays elsewhere.) She assured me that the temple buildings were open – all I needed to do was to open one of the doors. OK, I know that sounds pretty simple – but I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a temple building in Japan or China or thus far in South Korea that one could visit that didn’t have a door (or two) already open. But we went together and she tried a door and it opened and we went in. (BTW, I don’t remember buildings at any other temples in South Korea that one could enter that didn’t have an open door, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.)

I found Songgwangsa well worth visiting. In addition to its magnificent entryway, I particularly enjoyed its impressive main hall; a pair of very small, very old shrines; a huge serving “bowl” carved from a tree trunk that could apparently hold enough rice to feed thousands; a steep stairway to a stupa and some stunning views; and the many blooming and wonderfully redolent peonies edging the buildings.

As I often do, before leaving the temple, I checked my guidebooks to determine whether there was anything I missed or that I want to look at again with better-informed eyes. Oh, I had missed a building that is considered particularly special! As I approached the small, open wooden gate that led to a walkway to that hall, I remembered why I hadn’t gone in: There was a sign on the gate, but not in English, and since I hadn’t seen anyone else go through that gate, I had thought that maybe it was closed to the public. But the sign didn’t look at all like any of the other “do not enter” signs (I checked); the building was listed in the brochure I had gotten when I paid my entrance fee; and, from the gate, I could see that there was an information stand below the set of stairs that led to the building … so in I went and climbed the very steep stone stairs to this hall.

The first door I saw – the one facing me – had a padlock. There was a rather narrow ledge between the building and the edge of the wall, so I carefully walked along it, checking the other doors. The first two were locked. As I reached the third door along that wall and stretched my hand to test it, a monk came out. After a stunned few seconds, he said, “No! No!” in Korean. I tried to say, “I’m sorry!” while trying to back up. The monk switched to very clear English: “Please leave. PLEASE leave!” I did my best to turn quickly on that narrow ledge, and nearly lost my balance, while hearing him say, “PLEASE -- LEAVE THIS PLACE! PLEASE leave NOW!,” I did my best to move as fast as I could, even though it was obviously not rapidly enough.

I truly regret that I disturbed this monk and that I had apparently entered forbidden space. I found the experience quite upsetting – particularly because I make a sincere effort to respect limits and norms and cultural nuances. As I left, I again checked the Korean lettering on the sign that was there, and compared it to two other “do not enter” signs – it was not the same set of words. With thoughts like that, I eventually calmed down.

I was still a bit shaken when, on my way back to that lovely open-sided bridge-topping pavillion, a woman stepped out of a little shop just inside the grounds and nearly forced a set of postcards into my hand. I had not encountered that kind of aggressive salesmanship anywhere along my travels in South Korea, and I was still just too distressed at that point to come up with an appropriate response. I looked at the packet, realized it was only about $3, and thought – just buy them, I need some postcards anyways. I started to hand the woman the money. No, no, no -- it was a gift! Wow! (And BTW, I did not encounter aggressive vendors anywhere in South Korea.)

I had a few hours before my return bus, and there were several hermitages scattered in the wooded hills above Songgwangsa, so I consulted a map and selected a path that seemed to fit my time frame. A relatively gentle uphill lane led to a public exercise area where a group of partially robed monks were doing chin-ups and leg lifts and otherwise doing their workouts. I must admit that I had never thought about what monks do to maintain their fitness!

Then the path became steeper. At every section that was particularly steep and every section that would be prone to becoming muddy, the path was defined by cross-sections of log that had been driven into the ground and so provided “steps” – perfect! (And BTW, I was to find these “steps” in similar places throughout South Korea. )

The path led beside a stream that became smaller and smaller. It sometimes splashed over a set of rocks, and sometimes leapt over a little ledge, and always sounded lovely. There were a few blooming things and bamboo sprouting among the trees and birdcalls and insects – including lots of mosquitoes. I was beginning to find the mosquitoes really irritating when I remembered that I had Picaridin with me. (I admit it -- I sometimes forget about things that I carry more-or-less every day, but only rarely need.) I splashed some on and set off again without further irritation.

Unfortunately, I am not the nimble, sure-footed goat that I once was, and I have come close to some dangerous moments while hiking alone in recent years. So, after a pleasnt hour-or-so-long uphill hike, when I came to a point when I needed to climb some slick, moss-covered boulders to move further up the path, I surprised myself by stopping and assessing how I would get back down. I don’t know if it was wisdom or weariness that won the day – all I can say is that I chose to turn back. I slowly said my farewells to Songgwangsa, stopping at both stream-straddling halls as I left.

I think I’ve noted that I found the scenery throughout South Korea quite lovely. My ride back to Gwangju was no exception: Almost immediately, the bus passed a large series of lovely lotus ponds. And then a reservoir, with sunlight glinting off ripples and inlets that disappeared behind the hills that edged it. And then various expanses of farmland, backed by series of dragon-backed ridges that held more shades of blue shading to violet than any Crayola box I’ve ever seen. VERY pretty!

Around Gwangju. It took almost 2 hours to return to the Gwangju bus station. I stopped at an information desk there to get information about a local dinner specialty that had sounded tasty to me -- tteok galbi. Unfortunately, it was a TRANSIT information desk, not a TOURIST information desk. A very kind passerby stopped to help, and with his help, I learned that this specialty is actually from a town about 1’20” away.

I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to “Art Street,” which one of my guidebooks led me to believe would be a lively stretch of art galleries and public art. Not when I was there! A few galleries were open; most of them were nearly deserted. There was some public art, but less than I saw in many other streets in South Korea. And “lively” was not an adjective that I would apply to the area – I saw just a handful of other people in the two blocks I walked.

As I walked back to my hotel, I came across a bonus: another traditional market! Some of the vendors had already closed up for the day, but there was still an enjoyable array of fishmongers and grocers and purveyors of socks and herbs. Many of the vendors who were still there were in the back of their shops, watching TV.

Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel Restaurant. I finally went to my hotel, where I hoped to experience “royal” cuisine. I freshened up and went to the restaurant and was seated in a pleasant private room – and then realized that they serve “royal” cuisine only for two or more. So instead, I ordered grilled beef with vegetables. It was very tasty and was accompanied (of course) by a vast array of banchan. This meal may not have been the very best of my trip, but it was definitely quite good; it may not have been the least expensive, but it wasn’t outrageous (about $28, including a large beer). OK!
kja is offline  
Jul 13th, 2014, 10:18 PM
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Day 11: Gwangju and day-trip to Boseong & Yulpo

Once again, my morning didn’t begin very well. I found the bus stop I needed rather easily, but the bus was VERY crowded and the bus driver didn’t have time to look at my printed destination. A nice young man who was on the bus offered to help: He looked up my destination (the Gwangju Folk Museum) on his smartphone and signalled to me that I should get off with him at a particular intersection. He then walked with me for a block or two, pointed in the direction I was to go, and headed off. But I was pretty sure something was mistaken, because I expected a bus stop right in front of the museum. So I walked until I was sure the young man could no longer see me and then hailed a taxi. I showed the driver my written destination, and he said he knew it. And then a rare experience: He drove SLOWLY, looking along every corner…. Did he really know? And then, there it was!

Gwangju Folk Museum. I thought the Gwangju Folk Museum very interesting and well laid out, and it had good English signage. In addition to displays of artifacts, it makes extensive – and I thought effective -- use of dioramas. It focused on regional traditions, and so didn’t provide the range of coverage that the Korean Folk Village did, but it covered THIS region in some depth. I enjoyed it and spent about 1.5 hours there.

One of my guidebooks mentioned a shortcut from the Folk Museum to the National Museum and it worked. As you leave the Folk Museum, turn to your right. There is a small roadway to the side of the museum (so another right, if coming from the museum), which leads to an underpass. Go through the underpass, walk through the parking lot, stay to the left, then cross the road. There you are!

Gwangju National Museum. The Gwangju National Museum is another large, relatively new facility showing a small array of objects spanning the history of the region. I thought the entry way was pleasant: It held a path along a man-made curving water channel with occasional pools, some of which held lotus that were just coming into bloom, that allowed an alternative to the low flights of stairs to either side.

IMO, this museum held some wonderful pieces, but it didn’t have any Korean pieces with the same WOW factor that at least some pieces had for me in each of the other national museums that I visited. One unique, and very impressive, display held items that had been recovered from a 14th century Chinese ship that sank in the area, including some very special examples of Chinese celadon. (MaryW, you will love this exhibit!)

Travel to Boseong & Yolpo. There was a bus stop right in front of the museum, where I caught a city bus to the main intercity bus station. Traffic was heavy, so the ride took more than ½ hour, not the 15” I had expected. But no problem – I had plenty of time before my bus. Once that bus was boarding, I showed the bus driver that I wanted to go to Boseong; he tried to tell me something that I couldn’t understand. He signalled for me to stay put, then left the bus, and then came back with a small piece of paper showing the times of the return buses from Boseong. How nice!

In Boseong, I changed to a local bus. Once on board, a friendly Korean woman – Hueng -- came to chat with me. She recommended that I go beyond Boseong to Yulpo to see the ocean, and she said that the bus would go there and then return, so it would be easy. She offered to ask the bus driver if he would let me do that, and she did – despite my protests that I would be happy to pay the extra fare. The bus driver not only said yes, he said that she should come along.

So, off to Yulpo we went! It was a lovely bus ride that didn’t take very long, but offered enticing views over tea plantations and fingers of the sea intertwined with ridges of land and a vast tidal flat where people were digging for clams....

Because it is the end of the bus line, and the place where the driver takes a 10- or 15-minute break, Hueng and I had a few moments to walk around just a bit and look out over the beach and the sea. When we returned to the bus, the driver spoke again to Hueng and pointed to a tree: He was from Yulpo, and he wanted her to show me that tree – it was the village tree and he said it was 820 years old. In the past, the entrance to every Korean village was “protected” by a tree and this tree was regarded with the reverence accorded an animistic entity. I had read about such trees at the Korean Folk Village, so I was delighted when Hueng translated, and they were both pleased that I knew what they meant. What a special treat!

We then reboarded the bus. Hueng got off just before my stop; the bus driver pointed me in the right direction at Boseong and waved as I walked away.

Boseong’s Daehan Dawon (a tea plantation). A quick walk through a lovely shaded area brought me to the ticket gate of the Daehan Dawon, a tea plantation.

After passing a pleasant fountain by a café and a shop or two, I came to the main part of the plantation that is accessible to tourists: A slope covered in tea bushes – a large, very steep, and very sunny slope. Probably NOT best seen on a REALLY hot day ... but there I was and I wasn't about to turn back! It was lovely, with the meticulously groomed tea bushes forming vuluptuously-curved bands that wound, in parallel, across the undulating slope. I had to stop more than once to catch my breath as I made my way up that hillside, and when I reached the last flight of stairs, and saw that it had a thick rope rather than a handrail (so one can get a good grip and pull oneself up), I knew I was in for trouble! Thankfully, that stretch was rather short, and the views from the top were impressive. (Thanks, SeeHag, for letting me know when I was planning my trip that you had enjoyed your day here!) I will say, though, that this hill was better suited to those much younger and fitter than I. (I came back from this trip a little older, and much fitter, than when I started, so I guess I shouldn't complain! ;-) )

The descent, on the other side of the hill, was through a pleasantly shaded wooded area near – and in one part, quite literally through -- a stream.

The scenery on the way back to Gwangju was (again) very pleasant. There was one long-ish stretch were a shallow, sluggish stream meandered between very lush green banks; elsewhere, a small lake that seemed to be a mirror reflecting the sun and clouds, and (of course) ridges disappearing behind each other in the distance.

Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel Restaurant, 2nd dinner. Gwangju is known for its food, and I was looking forward to experimenting with another restaurant, but I realized – once at my hotel to freshen up – that I simply did not have the energy to go out again when a decent option existed “in house.” So I once again ate in the hotel’s restaurant.

This evening, I ordered fried shrimp, which were not unlike shrimp tempura, but with a sauce that was just a tad sweeter and decidely lighter than I normally encounter with tempura. The array of banchan included some of the ones I had liked best on the previous evening, and a large number of others that were at least as good, if not better. Very tasty! With a large beer, it came to less than $25.
kja is offline  
Jul 13th, 2014, 11:58 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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I'll definitely check the museum. I've been to the Maritime museum in Mokpo that has a great collection of Chinese and goryeo from wrecks. The biennale is on when I'm planning on going so those museums as well will be a good days worth all in the same complex.

A question re bus fares. I've only got on at terminals so far so have paid at the booth. What and how do you pay if you get on part way on the route? Do you put the money in a tray or what? I understand the card system where its available and you swipe it but not the actual cash bit!

I liked boseong too but it was so hot - 2 August trips. Not a time I'd particularly choose to go really.
MaryW is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 04:54 AM
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kja, I am glad you enjoyed the tea plantation. I think when we visited there were the steep stairs up to the top and then another path that may not have gone all the way to the top hill but it was much less challenging! That was the path I took!

Since you did such thorough research for your trip and visited the history museum I am wondering if you heard of the Gwangju massacre? When my son lived in Gwangju he worked at an English-language radio station and he did a segment about it on the anniversary of the tragedy. Does the museum cover modern history? Sorry to hijack!
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 06:28 AM
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Still reading, still impressed. I think the reason you may not be seeing more artifacts in the museums is because so much was destroyed during assorted wars and invasions.

You seem to be getting by on fewer meals than I could! I noticed elsewhere in Asia that meals are not really designed for solo travelers. Like mezes in Greece and the Middle East.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 04:52 PM
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I am impressed than any of you are still reading this tome! Many thanks for your interest and encouragement!

@ MaryW – The Gwangju National Museum also has some wonderful Korean ceramics, so I’m sure you will see some special things there.

Paying city bus fares with cash is actually quite simple: There is a fare box to the driver’s right; you put money (coin or bills) in the top, which is see-through; the driver then operates a change box to give you any change you are due. As I recall, fares for city buses ranged from about 100 won to about 150 won – so reasonable! In some places – and Gwangju may have been one of them, I don’t remember – there is a “flat” fare for any ride; in other places, the fare depended on the distance. It was really quite easy. I don’t remember why I tried giving the money to the bus driver that day – generally, if I didn’t see a sign, I just put in what I was pretty sure was enough and then waited for change. BTW, when using a card to pay, don’t forget to swipe it both when you enter AND exit.

I can’t imagine trying to climb even the lower part of Boseong in August! You are brave, MaryW!

@ SeeHag – there was a lovely observation deck part way up the hill of the tea plantation; I stopped there on my way down. Had I only known when I started up…!

I had, indeed, heard of the Gwangju massacre, aka the Gwangju uprising, and had planned to visit the May 18 National Cemetery, which honors that event with a burial ground, monuments, and a hall in which one can learn more about it. As it turns out, I decided that I didn’t have sufficient time to go there. I believe there is also a memorial at the site of the uprising – May 18 Democracy Square.

None of the National Museums of Korea that I visited, including the one in Gwangju, covered history except to provide context for the objects on display.

(And BTW, I don’t consider your remarks “hijacking” – I am pleased that you are sufficiently interested to pose questions. )

@ thursdaysd -- Your hypothesis about the reason that museums showed relatively few items has great merit. For example, the audio-guide for the National Palace Museum in Seoul specifically mentioned that some of the items on display (e.g., royal garb) were the only ones to have survived. But I wonder if it might be more than that? By way of contrast, archeological museums in southern Italy are often full of partially reconstructed vases or bowls, even though they also show the best preserved items. The quality of the artifacts on display in the National Museums was generally so high that I came away with the impression that there was a curatorial decision at play. But I could easily be wrong!

I am not an eater of lunch, even in my life outside travel, so you have observed correctly that I generally only ate breakfast (which I skipped a few days ) and dinner. With the exception of a few local specialties that were served for 2 or more (e.g., those made from a whole chicken), I didn’t find it difficult to order for one. And while the servings were certainly generous – even if one didn’t count the banchan -- I didn't find myself with a platter designed for a family, as I sometimes did in China. Unlike tapas or mezes, the banchan came without ordering them and without extra charge. So tasty!
kja is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 05:05 PM
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I'm still reading too. Waiting until you get to the bits I've been to then I can make some kind of intelligent comment
gertie3751 is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 06:58 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Thanks for the bus fare info. It's so much nicer to know how it works.

Boseong in August. I took the leisurely path which was still a challenge in the heat. My husband took your way. He is a bit of a mountain goat Second visit I was on my own -well husband left at home and me with a mob of other potters. I only went part way and found a lovely cool spot to rest, admire the landscape and people watch. That was nice.
MaryW is offline  
Jul 14th, 2014, 07:40 PM
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@ gertie – thanks for letting me know that you, too, are traveling with me! For a solo traveler, I sure seem to have a lot of companions – and delightful ones at that.

@ MaryW – Glad to be of assistance! Sometimes, it really is the little things that contribute to the stress of a journey. (That, and climbing really steep hills in the heat when one is no longer a mountain goat. Kudos to your husband. Kudos to your wisdom. )

@ Mara, whitecloudorillia, and SeeHag: Heads up: Sections on Jeju are about to begin!

Day 12: Move on to Jeju-Do

Transit to Jeju-Do (Jeju Island). Despite the horrible and tragic sinking of a Korean ferry to Jeju on April 16 of this year, my plan was to take a ferry from Mokpo to Jeju-Do. The ferry I planned to take was run by a different company; it left from Mokpo, not Incheon; it was a passenger-only ferry, unlike the car ferry that sank; and with so much attention on human errors that may have contributed to the sinking, I believed that everyone with any degree of responsibility would be bending over backwards to be as safe as possible. There was an argument to be made that ferries in South Korea had never been safer. Still, I will admit that I was a bit unsettled, and I checked the internet several times in the days and hours leading up to my anticipated departure to see if any further news about possible causes had emerged.

Despite this mild trepadition, I was looking forward to the experience: I have had some very pleasant ferry rides over the years, and this one was (I believe) to take me through parts of Dadohaehaesang National Park, a maritime park that I believe includes some spectacular scenery. I had actually spent a considerable amount of my time while planning this trip identifying my ferry options, and had originally hoped to not only go to Jeju-Do by ferry, but to also go by ferry from Jeju-Do to Busan using a route that would take me through other islands. In the end, I concluded that leaving Jeju-Do by ferry would not meet my needs, and so I had booked a flight for that leg.

My original plan was to spend just a little more time exploring Gwangju that morning (specifically, SeeHag, to see the May 18 Cemetery), but I slept in a little longer than I had planned and I didn’t yet have a ticket for that ferry and so wanted to be sure to reach Mokpo as early as I could. I paid for a 2nd overpriced breakfast in my hotel and then quickly checked out. It didn’t take long to hail a taxi to the train station.

It did take a while to figure out what to do, because once at the train station, I was told that they had no trains to Mokpo. ??? Maybe I could take a bus? Wow, I thought, I was sure my information indicated a train station – I could even see the letters, “KTX” (the name of the high-speek train in South Korea) in the Korean name! But if there’s no train, there’s no train. Thank goodness I had plenty of time!

I caught another taxi to the intercity bus terminal, where I was able to buy a ticket for a bus that would leave fairly soon. It was raining by then, and the trip was uneventful. The bus took longer than I expected, and I remained quite confused by how discrepant the information I had obtained in advance was from my experience on the ground – most of my advance plans had proven remarkably accurate! But my route planning info didn't have the English names for all the stops (something I had relied on hotel staff to translate in other locations), so I could only assume that something had been very much in error.

Once in Mokpo, I hailed a taxi and showed him the name for the ferry port. Off we went! While on our way, he asked a few questions, but his English was limited (although better than my Korean!), and I didn’t understand. He finally stopped the taxi at a corner and pointed ahead. Ah, I thought, there’s the ferry terminal; why did he stop? Surely he doesn’t want me to walk a block or two in the rain?!? And then he pointed right – uh oh, another terminal! We established that I was going to Jeju-Do. He communicated that the port I had named is not the one used for Jeju-Do. I figured he probably knew, but if not, I still had about 3 hours to walk those few blocks. On to the port of his choosing!

I entered a huge, empty space. Well, not EMPTY empty – just devoid of life. I saw a ticket counter and moved to it; there was a sign that I think said that the counter would open again at 1 p.m. It was just after 11 a.m.; the ferry I hoped to take was to leave at 2 p.m. I sat down and turned on my Kindle.

Not long afterwards, I heard footsteps and turned to see a young woman approaching the counter. She read the sign, and as she turned to leave, I asked if she spoke English? A little…. Is the the station for ferries to Jeju-Do? Yes. (The taxi driver was right, of course.) Does that sign say…? Yes, but it also says that you can go upstairs – oh! but the escalator is broken and you have luggage and do, please, let me run up for you! Which she did -- how nice! She soon returned to tell me that the ticket counter would re-open at 1 p.m. and I shouldn’t have any problem buying a ticket at that time.

There was free wifi, so I sent some messages, and I read.

At about 11:45, a man came up to me and asked if I was waiting for the ferry to Jeju-Do? Yes! It had been cancelled due to the weather. I thanked him for letting me know and asked if there was any other way to get to Jeju-Do that day. There was! Following his directions, I:
• Left the terminal. No taxis in sight. Walked a couple of blocks, came to a main street, hailed a taxi to Mokpo’s train station, which is on the KTX (high speed) line.
• Almost immediately boarded a high-speed train to Gwangju’s KTX station. What? Gwangju had a KTX station? No wonder all my plans for the morning had been so at variance with my expectations! I had gone to its “regular” train station; the KTX station is some distance out of town.
• Took a taxi ride of about 10 minutes from Gwangju’s KTX station to Gwangju’s airport, reaching it by about 1 p.m.
• Went to the Korean Air counter and asked for a ticket on the next flight. Passport, please. OMG! It never occurred to me that I would need a passport that day, so it was in a security pouch underneath my clothes in a place that could be reached in public. I offered her a copy. No. I asked where the WC was, and she pointed across the lobby. And then, as I started moving toward it, she said, “Please hurry. The flight is in less than 15 minutes.” LOL! I’ve always wondered who, in their right mind, would EVER show up at an airport and think they could jump on a plane leaving less than an hour or two from when they got there. A train maybe, a bus maybe, even maybe a passenger ferry, but a plane?!?
• Reminded myself that the worse that would happen would be taking a later flight -- no great hardship, since I hadn't even known there would be one at that hour!
• Reached the WC and retrieved my passport.
• Returned to the counter, bought my ticket, and checked my suitcase.
• Turned to go to the boarding gate. Stopped to figure out where I was going. My ticket agent came to steer me there, every step of the way to the security gates, smiling graciously, despite the worry line on her brow.
• Went through various passport checks and security and got wanded (very politely), too.
• And with a last ticket check, I was welcomed on board. I actually had time to reach my seat and strap in before I heard the announcement to do so -- I had AT LEAST two minutes to spare!!! What a The Amazing Race moment! Except that I wasn’t in a race and taking the next flight would have been fine…. LOL, that was an unexpected adventure!

So, to recap, I spent about 3 hours getting from Gwangju to Mokpo so that I could take a ferry to Jeju-Do. It took a bit under 1.5 hours to get from Mokpo to Gwangju and board a flight for Jeju-Do. The flight left ¾ hour before the ferry I had planned to take would have departed. I arrived in Jeju-Do nearly 3 hours before the ferry would have arrived. Life is strange.

There was cloud cover for almost the entire way, so I didn’t get to see the maritime park that I had hoped to see, from sky or sea. Next time!

Because I was SO early, I went straight to the TI desk and asked a very nice woman there to call my B&B – it’s a very small place, and I wasn’t sure anyone would be there if I arrived at such an unexpectedly early time. I got a map, some answers to a few questions, and soon boarded the airport bus. And because I was SO much earlier than I expected, I reviewed my plans for my time for the island to see if there is anything that I had decided to skip that I might be able to squeeze in.

The bus took something over an hour to reach my stop, and was a bit less scenic than I had hoped – but it got me there, and it did so with announcements in several languages, including English. My inn, the Tae Gong Gak, was in the city of Seogwipo and was just steps from the bus stop.

Tae Gong Gak, Seogwipo. Here’s my TA review:

“I spent 3 nights in a Western double for single use at the Tae Gong Gak Inn and Guesthouse and found it delightful! 

"The owner – Sylvia – and her staff could not have been more helpful, either before my trip (by responding promptly and clearly to quite a few e-mails) or during my visit. Sylvia seems genuinely committed to helping her guests enjoy their time in Jeju and she uses her knowledge of the island, and the information she gains through talking to her guests, to provide individually tailored suggestions. She and her staff have photographed key points along the route that visitors are likely to take to get to any number of destinations, and they have posted those photographs on a computer at the desk, so when someone is planning to visit X, they can walk them through the photos, pointing out key things to watch for along the route. In all my travels, I’ve never known a hotel to do that, and it was very helpful -- kudos!

“Guests prepare there own breakfasts in a well-stocked kitchen (no need to purchase anything unless you want to), and OMG, I enjoyed these breakfasts! Bagels and cream cheese; eggs the way I like them; coffee brewed to the strength I prefer and with the option of adding milk; yogurt; a variety of fresh fruits…. 

“My room was spotless, very comfortable, and nicely appointed – it even included pillows in two different sizes. It was just steps from the bus stops for the airport and Jungman Resort and an easy walk to the stop for most (all?) other buses that serve Seogwipo, it was close to several very tasty restaurants (which Sylvia was happy to recommend), and it provided easy access by foot to the harbor and its sites. The guesthouse also has a back yard (most of the fruit trees were, unfortunately, removed recently), a seating area outside the front office, and a roof deck offering a pleasant view over the harbor. Nice!

“If I ever return to Jeju-do, I would happily stay at the Tae Gong Gak again.”

Upon checking in, Sylvia assured me that I did not have time to see any of the places I had flagged while on the bus. I wasn’t surprised, because I knew they were all some distance from Seogwipo. But, she told me, I had reached town on one of the days of its traditional “5-day” markets: As I had learned during my time in South Korea, markets were traditionally held every 5 days. Although many cities – including Seogwipo – have traditional markets that are open daily, this would be a much larger market with a much wider and more extensive array of options. I was game! Sylvia called a taxi and off I went.

Seogwipo Five-Day Market. What a great market! Large, filled with interesting (and, of course, oddly juxtaposed) stuff, lots of bright colors (Jeju-Do is known for its tangerines), and vendors who almost always made me feel welcome to take pictures of their wares.

I think I’ve mentioned that I don’t like to shop – I like to take pictures of markets, which is quite a different thing. I do plan some shopping on each trip I take – I buy gifts for friends and families and (lesson learned long ago) I ONLY do that toward the end of my trip – no need to trek things around for weeks! So I was very surprised that, while taking a picture of some tangerines, a handmade silk shawl caught me eye. Definitely a winner! I even considered buying several, but that would have meant finding a WC to reach my money pouch, and the market was about to close…. To this day, I think I should have gotten at least two more, but I did get one, and sorry, dear friends and family – this one’s for me!

Seafood Restaurant. Oh no, I can’t find the name! Sylvia recommended this restaurant, which was only about a half-block from Tae Gong Gak going downhill and on one’s left. I ordered the “special” abalone stew, and OMG, who knew that I would like, let alone love, abalone! The stew had abalone and mussels and a huge shrimp-like thing and various other shellfish and herbs and WOW that was REALLY good. Add in a jaw-dropping assortment of banchan and a large beer and count me among the happy!

Seogwipo Harbor and Bird Island. Back at Tae Gong Gak, the evening staff suggested that I might like to take a walk, since it was still early. That’s when I first saw the hotel’s series of photos showing what one will see at key points – cool!

I walked to the harbor from the B&B using a paved footpath that is quite a short-cut in comparison to the roads; walked along the harbor filled with boats bobbing in that delicate, soft light that sometimes precedes a sunset; and crossed the Seogwipo Harbor Bridge as twilight took over and the bridge lights – a sequence of colors outlining the “sail” that forms its central and highest point – came on. Wow!

Bird Island is a very small nature reserve on the far side of the Seogwipo Bridge, with walkways that were often wooden boardwalks to protect the island (from people) and people (from falling when slippery). This little islet was not on my list of priorities, but I was really glad that it had been recommended: There were some very pleasant views out over the sea and to just a few distant shores where lights were coming on; there was a stretch where I could appreciate (or not) the activity of the main port of the island, with its derricks and bright lights and barges; and there were stretches where it was just me walking through a darkening wood with some glimpses of flowers and a few bird calls and reflections of lights off the water behind the trees…. Not a bad way to spend an hour!

By the time I completed my circuit of this islet, the sun had set and the lighting of the Harbor Bridge took center stage. After some admiring gazes, I turned away and retraced my steps through the harbor area to…

Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls. The Cheonjiyeon Falls of Seogwipo (not to be confused with the Cheonjeyeon Falls – note that the letter J is followed by I in one and by E in the other) is in a small park below my B&B and to the side of the harbor. I bought my entry ticket and then followed a lighted path along a quiet stream to the falls. VERY nice! I readily admit that I have a thing for waterfalls. These were by NO means the tallest I’ve seen, or the broadest, or most powerful, or most dramatic, or most beautiful, or most … anything. But they were pleasant and nicely lit for post-sunset viewing and I can think of I lot worse ways to spend a bit of time.

I climbed back up the hill to my inn, spent a brief moment or two on its roof deck for another glimpse of the still-lit Harbor Bridge – and then went to sleep.
kja is offline  
Jul 15th, 2014, 07:12 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 1,896
kja, just found this. Some of the places you mentioned and some of the ones I went to. Some lovely pictures, you will enjoy them.
gertie3751 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2014, 07:24 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 1,896
And I have to say your account of getting to Jejudo brought back memories of the early 80s. This was during the military dictatorship. We were living in Kojedo for about 6 months then and every day there were challenges like you describe getting from A to B!! I had thought things had improved a lot by now, but I have only been to Seoul recently so it looks like there are still challenges outside the big cities.
I have heard that Kojedo is now connected by bridge to the mainland, has 6 lane highways and highrise buildings. In those days there were no paved roads, little wooden shacks, and I did my shopping by negotiating with local ladies who were selling their home-grown produce by the side of the road!
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