The past weekend was Chuseok here in Korea. Chuseok is usually translated as Korean Thanksgiving – it’s a harvest festival and probably the main holiday of the year. Although Korea seems to use the western solar calendar for all normal purposes, Chuseok and Seolnal (Korean New Year) are calculated using the traditional lunar calendar, so they take place on different dates every year. (In a typical lack of Korean imagination the names of the months in both the lunar and solar calendars in Korea are nothing more than numbers: 일월 – Irwol – Month One; 이월 – Iwol – Month Two etc.)
Chuseok is a three-day holiday, but if it any of those days fall on a weekend, Korean workers don’t get extra days off the following. This year, Chuseok was Saturday to Monday. At English Castle we luckily enough had Tuesday off as well.
Botond invited me join him on a jaunt to some islands west of Seoul – in fact, where Incheon Airport, Korea’s main airport, is. He originally proposed staying two nights – from Sunday to Tuesday – but I suggested staying only one night because I wanted some genuine time off (which is to say some time without having to do anything at all). So we went on Monday and came back on Tuesday.
The fact that we travelled out while it was still Chuseok probably caused us some problems. We got the subway out to Incheon and then caught a taxi to a ferry port in the city which, it seemed to be indicated in Bo’s Lonely Planet Seoul, ran a service to island of Muui (Muuido). When we got there, of course, we found there wasn’t a service and we had to retrace our steps almost right back to the subway station to another ferry terminal.
The ferry took us to Yongjeongdo, the island on which the airport is built (on reclaimed land, I think). This island is largely countryside; here and there there are a few buildings, and closer to the airport there are some of the ubiquitous apartment blocks under construction amid the grass and trees. The bus we took stopped at the airport, causing us some confusion, but Bo asked one of the Korean passengers if it was going to Jamjindo, and it seemed that it was.
Jamjindo is a small island connected to Yongjeongdo by a causeway. The bus slowly made its way to Jamjindo through the holiday traffic. From there we got another ferry to Muuido – our destination. Once on the island we took another bus – without really knowing where it was heading, but I think it pretty much circles the island stopping at each of the resorts. Eventually we reached Hanagae beach – and decided this was where we were going to get off.
Huts on the beach were ₩30,000 each; huts set a little further back among the trees were ₩40,000 and came with a fridge and a shower – we rented one of these latter. With this done we went down to the beach and wandered through past a number of idyllic homes of the sort that (as far as I know – which probably isn’t very far) simply don’t exist in Korea – they were built for a TV programme called Stairway to Heaven.
Down at the beach itself I took some photos of a tiny mudskipper – it was about an inch and a half long (they always look bigger on TV). We watched a naval or coastguard hovercraft power up and struggle across the bay. When the tide started to come in we went for lunch.
The menu in the restaurant we settled on listed a number of things we didn’t know – and they all seemed to be ₩60,000 to ₩80,000. The cheapest thing was ₩10,000 so we got that. It turned out to be a big bowl of small, cockle-like shellfish in water (or a watery soup) heated over a burner. It was OK, but not that great. Not knowing what the dish was, we’d ordered two, so, on the way out, the ajuma who served tried to charge us for two, but then the other women working there corrected her.
Later we watched an awkward, black and white, surreally realistic film of Bo’s on my laptop. And after a walk along the beach at sunset (very romantic) we went to bed early.
Twelve hours later we got up went for a walk up one of the hills on the island. The lower part of the woods blanketing the island was crawling with crabs. These crabs were two or three inches across and had bright red-orange-yellow claws that they held up pugilistically when we disturbed them. They were the most obvious of a range of wildlife we encountered on the walk; there were also bright green caterpillars, big beetles, small snakes, and at one point I was checked out by a wasp approximately the size of an A380.
We left our resort once we got back and had a wash. There was some confusion as we tried to wait for a bus. Thinking we had missed it and had no idea when it might be back, we decided to walk along the coast, past a headland to the island Silmi. Then, as we set off, we were called back and invited into a people-carrier which was the next bus.
As we paid our entrance fee for the resort opposite Silmido we were told we should come back at 2pm when the tide came in. There isn’t really anything on Silmido – it’s far too small – but a film had been shot there about some soldiers who had been trained to assassinate Kim Il-sung; when their mission had been cancelled they all committed suicide. As you do.
At low tide the two facing beaches are connected by a little causeway of barnacle-encrusted boulders. This path is lined with barnacle-encrusted ropes held up by barnacle-encrusted poles. As there had been at Hanagae, there were a number of people poking about among the rocks and in the sand – presumably looking for shellfish. Whether this was their job or just holiday amusement can only be guessed at (some of these people were in work clothes, but by no means all).
We had lunch at a beach restaurant – galbi tang, which is to say, meat soup (not shellfish). There was a juvenile tom cat with a bit of plastic rope for a collar hanging around yowling. I fed him a few titbits of beef – he looked like he needed it.
On the way back home we decided to go via the airport – its anodyne modernity and cleanliness made a pleasant and somewhat bizarre contrast to the basic facilities of the beach resorts (in fact, they’d reminded me very much of the beaches I’d visited in India). Then we got the brand new train link to Gimpo Airport (it felt like travelling on an aeroplane – even down to the stewardesses) where we transferred to the subway and went home.
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