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My new desktop image

My new desktop image

Way back in December, Roboseyo talked about making a weekend trip to Andong when he returned from China.  After a few delays, a date was set for the end of February and was made into a Hub of Sparkle sanctioned outing.  Eleven folks ended up going.

A train was booked for early Saturday morning.  I crashed at Roboseyo’s place on Friday so I could make the train easier.  Friday was my 35th birthday.  Rob suggested we go grab a birthday dinner.  He mentioned a few places, and a Chinese lamb place stood out.  We went there and entered on the second floor.  The staff told us to go to the third floor, which we did and sat at a floor table.

The menu was in Korean and Chinese, but we could read it easily.  We knew what we wanted–lamb galbi.  We got a couple of Tsingtao beers and waited for our food.

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And waited…

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Finally, some teenage boy stopped by and put some grayed charcoal in our brazier.  Six small slices of frozen lamb came out.  Keep in mind that this was supposed to be “fresh” meat, not frozen, and that those six tiny bits were an order for two at 10,000 won a pop.

We waited…

The charcoals were barely putting out any heat.  I held my hand over the grill–one inch above it–and it didn’t feel hot at all.  We called over a waitress and told her it was too cold.

We waited…

Teenage boy came out again and filled it with more coals.  Stuff started to sizzle but died down quickly.  Meat that was supposed to take five minutes to cook was now getting on to thirty minutes.  Six tiny slices.  We called the waitress over again and said it was still cold.

We waited…

It looked like the teenage boy wasn’t returning.  Rob gave them one more minute, and he got up.  I did too.  We went downstairs, and Rob–yelling like a crazed banshee in pidgin Korean–said he would only pay for the beers.  “We didn’t eat the lamb!  Too cold!  Service bad!  Go, look!  Lamb no cook!  Too cold!  Didn’t eat!  Here!  Beer only.  Bye!”

The ajosshis carousing over sojus stopped talking and craned their necks.  It was a very proud moment for Rob.

At his apartment, he made some great home fries to make up for it, and we watched half of “Dark Knight.”

We got up at 6:00, tried to brush off the cobwebs, and headed out the door.  It was a gorgeous crisp morning.  At the train station, we stopped for a quick breakfast at Lotteria and waited outside a convenience store for everyone.  The gang included Danielle, a 32-year-old English teacher and former co-worker of Rob’s; “Lord” Mike, a twenty-five-year-old Danish guy with a northern British accent; Jade, Michael Hurt’s girlfriend; JuHee, a model who was the face on the cover of Mike Hurt’s Feetman Seoul fashion book; Evan, a young Canadian guy who was friends with Rob; Matt, the highly thoughtful writer of the blog Gusts of Popular Feeling; and “Evil” Jennifer Flinn, Fatman Seoul herself.

I know, including Rob and me, that’s nine and not eleven.  Tony Hellman, the communications director for ATEK, and his girlfriend were going to join us in Andong.  They were coming up from near Busan.

We settled in the train, and I sat next to Matt.  We had a good conversation, and then drowsiness took over.  I closed my eyes for a bit and then joined the gang in the cafe car.  It was a lovely conversation–the most I remember from it was Jennifer talking about her former student who is now in the Korean navy, and I was making cheap seaman jokes.  Someone went back to the passenger car for a bit and returned with a picture of Lord Mike and JuHee sleeping on each other’s shoulder.

Aw, how cute!  Are we making a love connection on this trip?

Rob suggested to Evan that he had better get crackin’.

In hindsight, I’m glad we took the train going down there.  The downside of Korean trains is that the passenger cars tend to be hot and smelly.  Really smelly.  But with friends, you can just hang out in the cafe car.

We got to Andong Station and did a quick map grab at the information booth.  Jennifer showed us the first of a few landmarks, one of three brick pagodas.  We debated on what to do for lunch.  Jjim Dalk was the consensus.

Jennifer and Rob led us through downtown Andong, which is a bit like downtown Anyang.  We made a detour to this bakery Jen had been hyping the whole time, Mammoth.  I was a bit skeptical until I walk a few feet inside and noticed that in the cooler that usually holds crappy sandwiches loaded down with mayonnaise, honey mustard, a thin slice of factory ham and some odd ingredient, like strawberries, I saw–BLT??

A BLT?? And a salami sandwich?

Nice jazz was wafting through the air (not the usual pounding annoying K-pop songs that you hear five times a day).  Amazing cakes were in the cooler.  They had actual macarons–and in some interesting flavors.  Housemade marshmallows.  Caramel-coated walnuts.  Little pastries shaped like pufferfish.  And some really refined goods that tastefully took advantage of Korean tastes and ingredients.

In order to get to the good Jjim Dalk restaurants, we had to weave through street food carts to the central market.  Even the street food smelled different–a little more vinegary.  The open air market was the same as other Korean open air markets–but I still love exploring them.  We picekd a Jjim Dalk place in an area crowded with them.  This again confirms my notion that some of the best restaurants are holes in walls in or near markets.

This place was tiny.  The men’s “restroom” left the urinator partially exposed to diners–and there was no room for the restroom sign except on the beverage cooler.  We were surprised that they were able to make room for all of us to eat.

Nonetheless, we were cramped.

Rob took out a device to pump his iPod tunes out on speakers.  He chose some folksy old Korean guitar music.  I was still groggy and couldn’t decide if I needed coffee or beer.  I chose beer, along with most everyone else.  We got two plates of Jjim Dalk, a spicy and mild one.

They were right.  This Jjim Dalk tasted a bit different.  The vegetables were bigger and stood out more.  The sauce had more of a garlic punch.  And the chicken tasted like it was carefully marinated.  All-in-all it was a deeply rich dish, and I regretted the lack of foresight to bring a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the sauce.  Instead, we just tossed in a few bowls of rice with the leftovers.

Jen then had us hiking again.  Our first stop was a shrine containing relics for three scholars who helped set up the government at the beginning of the Koryo dynasty.  That’s the one that united all the disparate parts after the fall of the Unified Shilla period and a brief second Three Kingdoms period.  It was started by Wang Geon, who was a bit of an asshole.  But the government then mellowed out a bit–possibly with help from these scholars–and the Koryo dynasty got to last a good bit until–like most dynasties–it becamse weak through self insulation and conservatism of institutions long after they had outlived their usefulness.

Oh, yeah, the shrine…

Loved the colors.  Didn’t see any relics.  But I did pop off some nice people shots.

Evan

Evan

Roboseyo and Jade

Roboseyo and Jade

We then walked around a park that was setting up for Korean Independence Day (March 1st).  Saw an 800-year-old tree.

Then more walking.

We saw a cute little Jindo puppy.

A long, long walk later, we got to a set of historic homes.  If I understood correctly, they were moved to this location to protect them when the dam in Andong was being constructed a few decades ago.  Some famous folks lived in these houses, and a person who was instrumental in the Korean provisional government while Japan had occupied it was born in this one house.

When we walked in, a shy old man in a red cap greeted us.  He was thrilled that Jennifer spoke Korean and that there were other Koreans in our group.  He led them around and told them stories.  I would have followed, but exhaustion took over.  I sat down on the porch.  Then I laid down, closed my eyes, and fell asleep for a few minutes.

Jennifer and company returned elated.  The old guy gave them some great history about the houses and continued to tour us around to the other places.  At the bottom of the hill stood a large brick pagoda next to another wealthy traditional house that was currently occupied.  We climbed a hill next to it to get a better view.  I climbed a little higher and noticed the reservoir and dam right behind it.  Man, even though this was a beautiful expensive house, it was in the worst location–next to a dam and adjacent to railroad tracks.

The road led under the tracks and to a busy highway.  We called a taxi to take us to the Andong Folk Museum, but it had to do it in two trips.  I was in the second group.

Jennifer didn’t seem all too thrilled about this place but felt it was a necessary stop.  I’ve been to reconstructed folk villages before, and I’ve kinda liked them.  They’re not really that touristy.  But the difference with this one is that no one actually lives here.  They’re merely set pieces for TV shows.

At the visitors center, we did get some entertainment from a horse riding game.  I wanted to ride it, but I was plagued by a nagging problem through much of the trip–slight constipation.  So riding a horse game didn’t seem like a good idea for me.

The village houses were enjoyable.  As with everywhere outside Seoul city itself, kids were annoyingly curious.  Rob likes talking to the kids when they do their annoying “Hellos.” The rest of us slinked behind the thatched buildings.  I just want one day out of my week to not have to be the dancing bear.

At the top of the hill was a fortress wall with an ample concrete molded “stone” courtyard.  We climbed to the top of the fortress, spent a few moments and left.  Meh.

Rob led the group back towards the visitors center.  Jennifer couldn’t understand why he did so.  She and I were way behind, and she took me the opposite way to look at a kiln for making roof tiles (pretty interesting) and to a bridge.   On the way to the bridge, we noticed a classic structure of Korean architecture–the bench placed in front of a tree.

The bridge itself is supposedly the largest wooden footbridge in Korea.  This is made so by snaking the bridge in different angles and by adding observation decks to technically increase the meterage.  It was a good relaxing time.  One by one, members of the group found us, and we watched the sunset.

The road on the other side of the river contained a series of restaurants serving Heot Jaesa Bap ????, which literally means “fake ceremonial food.” It’s an everyday version of the food made on Chuseok or days to honor deceased ancestors.  Kinda like having Thanksgiving in July.

At the restaurant, Tony Hellman from ATEK joined us with is girlfriend.  He was sporting a cool green jacket he had gotten in China.  His girlfriend is from Tsingtao.  Jen and I consulted, and we basically ordered the entire menu.  The food was dripping off the sides of the table!  Thankfully, most folks were patient with our food blogging photography.

The hands down favorite was the salted fish.  I know, it’s salty fish.  But it’s just really good.  Great texture.  The rest of the food was great, too.  Yet it sort of suffered from the same handicap that we experienced with SamBap in Gyeongju all those years ago–there were so many small dishes and little things that I finished eating not because I was full but because I was just tired of eating.  Overwhelmed, you could say.  You know, you’d think a feast like this would be super, and it is.  But the process of having to choose from so many choices for every single bite subtly wears you down mentally.  I just wanted to pile everything in to a sandwich and get it over with.

We took three taxis to the Hahoe Folk Village, where we were going to spend the night.  It took a good while, but we found it in the dark.  It was pretty scary.  The place was dark, dark, dark.  We got out of the taxis and found our little minbak–a quaint traditional home wrapped around a courtyard, run by a little old lady.  A few in the group were not aware of the change in atmosphere here.  It was quiet–eerily so.  Some of us were still at Seoul level volumes in conversation and laughing.  The lady pulled a little fast one by raising the rate for the rooms after we arrived, using the current economy as an excuse.  But it still wasn’t that big of a fee when we split it all out.  I was in a room with three other guys next to the kitchen.  I loved it there.  Very classic country look.

Now, I’ve learned that being in the country doesn’t mean it’s all wooden and natural.  It’s whatever cheap materials you can use.  So, yeah, the room was covered in linoleum and cheap wallpaper, but I felt it was part of the charm.  We got out loads of blankets and pillows and put them on the toasty floor.  Some of the guys were not looking forward to sleeping on the floor.  I was excited.  I regularly sleep on the floor at home and have grown to love it.

We left the minbak and hunted for a place to do some drinking.  We still had not had any famous Andong soju.  Unfortunately, everything had closed early that evening.  There were no restaurants or drinking spots open.  The only place we found was another minbak that had a drinking menu.  That was fine except that we had to keep the volume down for the people who were actually trying to sleep around us.

Jen, JuHee and I went around to see if we could find another spot.  In our search I told them to stop.

“Listen.  You hear that?  Silence.”

We absorbed the silence for a bit before moving on in our fruitless quest.  We returned to the group, who had already gone through a bowl of makkoli and some pajeon.  Tony was telling us a bunch of stories about his adventures in getting ATEK off the ground–the stuff the Anti-English Spectrum guy said that didn’t make it to print in the LA Times piece–the self-hating foreigner who was actually trying to file a complaint against the organization.  Amusing stuff.  And proof that we really have a hill to climb to get any decent visa rights in Korea.

I was getting tired, and I started the trickle back to home base.  The group wanted to continue drinking at the minbak.  Considering that we were in a quiet folk village staying at a minbak that translated as the “Quiet Minbak,” I felt that it was a recipe for trouble.  I was not in the mood to drink anymore, and I wanted to read the new book Tony gave all of us–an ATEK-published guide for English teachers in Korea that will be released officially this weekend.

As predicted, the group got very loud at points.  I learned later that they were playing the drinking game Asshole.  Not a good idea at the “Quiet Minbak.” The old lady came out to scold the group.  They quieted a little, then a certain distinctive laugh penetrated the night, and the volume level increased.  I could hear stirrings in the room next to me and a door sliding open.  A man got out and yelled at the group, saying “shippal” this and “shippal” that.

I think the party started dying after that because people started trickling into the room to go to sleep.

Another reason I went to bed early was that I was nervous about my loud snoring.  I’ve never been able to to get a good night’s sleep on these types of trips because my snoring prevents other people from getting a good night’s sleep.  I thought I’d get a head start before the others.  I was only awoken once that night.

Our room

Our room

I woke up around six.  It was still dark.  I didn’t feel like I could sleep anymore.  The floor was getting too hot, and I really had to pee.  This was a traditional house, so the bathroom was outside.  I got dressed, put on my coat and slung my bag over my shoulder.  Time to take some pictures.

This was the highlight of the trip for me.  For a few hours, I had the entire village to myself.  And the breaking dawn gave amazing light.  It was crisp, cool and quiet.  I never got too cold.

By eight o’clock, people were milling about.  I found Matt back in the village.  He had hurt is foot badly the night before while stargazing in a field.  He walked with a pronounced painful limp.  I had already taken all the pictures I was going to take, so I walked with him as he took photos of his own.  We gradually met with more and more people.  When we found Rob, I asked what the plan was.  He said Jennifer planned for us to get on a bus around 10.  I told him that I looked at a sign, and it said the bus left at 9:50.  We walked to the village center, and I showed him the sign.  It was 9:30.  We had better start booking.

We got to the minbak, and I helped Matt deflate his “sleeping raft.” I informed everyone that we were going to miss the bus.  It was already there waiting by the time we had left the village center.

Matt getting on his shoes

We missed it.

The next bus wouldn’t come until noon.  We were hungry and antsy and didn’t want to wait another two hours when we had a limited weekend to see things.  We started walking outside the village to find another bus back.  On the way, we passed a shop advertising Hobak Yeot ???.  Yeot is a traditional candy similar to taffy, and this one was made out of pumpkin.  We needed some way to break the large bills we had, so Rob bought a good stack of yeot.  It was really, really good.  I never liked it until then.  It’s very hard, so you let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds, and it quickly softens to chewing consistency and almost disappears like cotton candy.

JuHee amazingly convinced some guys from the village to take us to town in their vans for 30,000 won per van.  That was much cheaper than getting taxis.  They dropped us off at the edge of town, and we waited for a bus there.  We basically took over the bus when it came by, and it was amusing looking at people’s faces when they boarded later on at the gaggle of foreigners.  I guess some of them wondered if they were in the right country.

We got off in downtown Anyang and started discussing what to do with the rest of the day.  I personally wanted to leave early.  I got all the food pics I needed, and I got the rest that I so desired.  And really, I wanted to go home and poop.

Others wanted to go home early, too, including Jennifer.  We went back to Mammoth Bakery.  A few branched off for a non-pastry breakfast.  I got a couple of sandwiches, which were pretty good for a Korean bakery.  The coffee was great.  And I finally had a decent bowel movement in the bathroom.  I fet much, much better and more like myself again.

I stocked up on macarons, nougat, caramel-coated walnuts and these little sweet potato cinnamon infused pastry nuggets that were really good.  I really wanted to buy up half the store.  I took a few last pictures of our group, and we headed to the train station.

JuHee

Lork Mike and Evan

Lord Mike and Evan

The group, by then, had already split into those who were staying and those who were going.  The staying group were going to go to a legendary Confucian adacemy.  On our way to the train station, we ran back into them a few times.  Jen was wondering if they were lost.  As predicted, all the trains that day were booked, so we walked to the bus station.  I was able to get a bus directly to Anyang, so I wished everyone goodbye and boarded my bus.

It was an easy ride back, even though the bus took an hour longer than scheduled to return.  I slept half the way and listened to my iPod.

When I got home, Eun Jeong gave me a new shirt and jacket for my birthday.  She was a bit sick herself.  We ordered some Jokbal (steamed pigs feet) for dinner, and I took a good long shower.  Curled up with my woman and soaked in the last drops of the weekend.

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