At the weekend, I went on my first group trip in a while – to Jindo, primarily. Jindo is an island off the south coast of Korea where, twice a year, the tide lowers to reveal a land pass to a much smaller island. The second part of the trip involved going to a butterfly festival.
After returning to Korea, I had a period of going on lots of trips (well, a few, anyway), but in the last couple months I haven’t attended many – or any. I’ve been concentrating on spending time with the people I’ve met and haven’t felt the need to meet new people. I still don’t really, but I saw that one of my new friends had signed up for this trip, so I did, too; she later told me she wasn’t going to go. It was also the longest trip I’ve been on since I’ve been back in the country – a full weekend.
I got the first bus out of Cheonan on Saturday morning – six o’clock. It should have arrived at the terminal a short distance from the meeting point at about seven, but there was a crash on the motorway that made me a little late. As soon as I boarded the second coach, the organiser, Harry, gave me a microphone and wanted me to introduce myself. I said, ‘I’m Sean. I’m from the UK. Sorry I’m late.’ Fortunately for my self-esteem, I wasn’t the last person arriving, so we didn’t actually set off until eight.
It was a long ride down to the south-west corner of the country. I sat next to a Korean guy who had lived in the States for a long time and we chatted about Korea and Korean. We stopped for lunch in Mokpo – where Harry announced to our smaller lunch group that they should all go to my birthday party. We made another stop to cross Jindo bridge on foot; the bridge is actually two very similar bridges side by side. The bridges had statues of Yi Sun-sin (pronounced ‘ee soon sheen’) – the Korean equivalent of Nelson or Raleigh; he fought against the Japanese invasion in the sixteenth century.
The continuing ride from the bridge to the beach we were visiting seemed inordinately long, but we eventually got there. On this leg, most of us put on the cheap rubber and plastic waders we’d bought from a man at the bridge; mine – and most people’s – were bright green. We walked to the festival site, where Harry bought tickets, and made our way towards the seasonal causeway that we’d come all this way to see. We were early, so there was lots of milling around, photograph-taking and so on. I didn’t have much cash, so I didn’t buy anything, although there were stalls selling food and drink. The group pretty much dissolved at this stage.
We all got together again as the tide continued to go down and stretches of the land pass were revealed; some people started making the crossing early through what looked like a couple of feet of water. We clambered over the rocks on the coast and on to the pebbly seabed and followed the crowds heading across the sea towards a small island in the distance. It didn’t look that far away, but the information I’ve read says that the land pass is nearly three kilometres long.
Having agglomerated into a single group once more to commence the crossing, we quickly dissipated into smaller clusters. I talked to a Moroccan woman on the way over and back about life and work. We bumped into one of my other new friends, Erica (we’d been in contact about meeting while we were there, but it didn’t look like we would actually make it happen. I saw a couple of other people I’d met on trips – it seemed like every foreigner-friendly tour/Meetup group was there in force; the expats almost outnumbered the Koreans). We didn’t actually make it all the way to the smaller island; our group leader told us we had to start heading back; a coast guard ship started sounding a loud horn and men in a dinghy blew their whistles at us.
The walk back was a little bit frantic. The tidal flow evidently crosses the the causeway instead of being parallel to it, so water was rushing from left to right as we headed back to the main island, at depths of up to a foot – maybe more.
We stayed at a pension near the bridge(s) overnight. In the morning, as most people were breakfasting, I took a short walk across the road to the park by the giant statue of Yi Sun-sin that faces Jindo Bridge.
We packed up and boarded the coach and headed back to Mokpo. An American woman sat next to me and we talked about fantasy books; she kindly gave me a couple of ibuprofen for my headache. In Mokpo, we had a short hike up a mountain close to the middle of the city called Yudalsan. On the way down, I talked to a different American woman who was also into fantasy and who had lived in Manchester (the British one) for several years. We found a cash machine, went to a coffee shop where we met another member of our group – a Canadian guy – and took our coffees back to the bus.
Then it was off to the butterfly festival at Hampyeong Expo Park. The weather was bright and warm and the place was full of flowers so the atmosphere was cheerful and friendly. It was a very family-friendly place; there various places to buy ice cream and toys and there were giant fibreglass models of insects. Out among fields of oil seed rape there were pools and rice paddies where you could try your hand at catching fish, planting rice or operating a waterwheel.
The side of a nearby small mountain had a huge flowerbed in the shape of a butterfly. The butterfly hall was a little less impressive than similar places I’ve visited in the Philippines and Malaysia – at least in terms of the species it contained: I only made out two kinds of butterfly – white ones and black and white ones. It also had some live giant beetle grubs that you could pick up.
I tagged along with a few people; later, it looked like we’d get a group together to have lunch, but it didn’t really happen. I ended up having some rather expensive (₩8,000) chicken tandoori from an Indian food stall (which, for some reason, had a large picture of the Hagia Sofia at the back); then I got a kebab from the Turkish stand (which also had a Hagia Sofia picture).
Then we all got back on the coach and we headed back home. Well, nearly all; both the Korean man and the American woman (and her friend) that I’d sat next to left at this point to go their own way. I chatted to a Frenchman on the way back – he’s in the country working on RAM, apparently.
I had told Harry that I’d like to be dropped off near Cheonan, but, as I had no idea how I’d get from the service station to the city and my boss couldn’t give me any advice, I changed my mind and headed up to Seoul, where I met Zach and Matthew for dinner and a game of Munchkin. I’m pretty sure I got the last possible coach back to Cheonan on Sunday night.
All in all it was a very good, if exhausting, weekend. I met some very nice people that I’d like to keep in touch with, but, given the often fluid nature of friendships in Korea, I’m not sure if we will. One or two of them might come to my birthday this weekend.
Having stayed up all night on Friday, I came to the event tired and the length and quality of sleep that I was able to get wasn’t great. I think this showed on Sunday, as my desire to socialise dwindled and I was happy to be alone with my thoughts and the view out of the window as we returned to Seoul. I’m not sure I want to do another overnight trip again soon, but another day trip would be good.