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SOUTH KOREA | Tuesday, 14 November 2006 | Views [1073]

October 1 - Sunday

I braced myself against the idea of another long day.  My uncle wanted to take us to some island that he though we would enjoy that was north of Seoul so we trooped out again and met him, my cousin and her two kids at the Anyang station.  We travelled south in order to travel north but it was a system that seemed to be working.  What made today different was that an old school friend on my uncle's was coming along and acting as navigator/pace car for the trip.  Apparently my uncle's friend has family up north too and so he and his wife were joining us for the afternoon before going to visit her family who had a farm somewhere near the coast. 
This was reassuring since we were following someone very familiar with the area.  Because of the holiday weekend traffic was backed up and we found ourselves nearly parked on this two lane road going no where fast.  Turns out there was road construction and once we finally passed it it was smoothe sailing.  First stop was another lookout to North Korea.  In order to get to the parking area at the lookout we had to check in at the Korean Marine entry gate.  By this time we were all ready for a pit stop so we got out of the van to have a stretch.  Parked on the side of the road along a shrubby hillside we just kind of stood around.  My little neice decided to venture out into the shrubs and soon found herself doing a face plant and rolling a little down hill.
"Jon!  Get her!" - S
Jon happened to be standing nearest Ji-un and took one big step into the shrubbery and picked her up and placed her upright with the rest of us before she realized what had happened.  My cousin thanked Jon - that was a little scary, she could have kept rolling and rolling.
Onward to the lookout.  We parked the van and after a trip to the toilets we started the short steep downhill walk before the longer super steep uphill climb.  I was a little worried about my dad making it up there but he did it without any problems other than the shortness of breath which we were all suffering from!  Spotting the venting machine, Ji-un, of course, needed hydrating that could only come from  a coin - operated machine, just like her Eemo Sue and was soon happing with can in hand. 
It was a little clearer today than yesterday and we were a little closer to North Korea than yesterday.  There was a village across the river and Jon put his 500 won coin in the binocular machine and had a look.  We had heard that the North Koreans had a fake village but this one appeared to be real with people of all ages, shapes and sizes present.  There was also the lookouts which Jon said were manned but I didn't get a chance to see.  My Uncle was walking by and he had a look too.  His father was kidnapped by the North Koreans during the Korean War not to be heard from again.
After the viewing of North Korea we all headed back to the van.  We were going to this island that wasn't far away.  After a few minutes we were there.  I guess it's just a pleasant place with things to do, beaches, bike rentals, etc.  A nice place to go to get away from the city for the weekend.  We stopped at a temple and wandered around.  Not many caucasians here so there wasn't much in english but the artifacts were interesting.  We also had a good view of the neighboring rice fields that were near harvesting time.  They were a yellow-gold color, a nice contrast against the green of the surrounding trees.  It was slightly overcast outside but warm, probably just the smog overcast.
We had snacks of giant asian pears - nearly the size of my nephews head.  They are so good and in season along with a variety of cookie and cracker snacks.  That being done we all loaded into the van again.  My uncle's friend invited us to his in-laws farm for dinner which sounded really cool.  It was early afternoon and after snacks we thought we would be more than ready for a good old fashioned korean feast.  We travelled along the coast which was beautiful and like any other coastal area with the same array of shops and food joints.  On we drove, and on, and on, and on...
This was turning into quite the epic journey and no one really knew where we were going, only who we were following.  Finally we stopped but it didn't look like a farm, more of a meeting hall but after two hours of mindless riding we were ready to get out for a stretch. 
Turns out we were only making a stop to pick up some fresh shrimp for the night's feast.
When I say fresh, I mean caught in a net from a collecting pool, dumped into a cooler with a lid slammed and taped down securely to keep the jumping shrimp from escaping.  These puppies were big - I was getting hungry and the sun was starting to set.
"Are we almost there yet?" - S
As adults who are all accostumed to driving or being in charge of direction we were all getting a little antsy and the carefree, let's just go with it attitude was getting a little hard to keep up.  We had been in the car a long time and knew we still had a drive and subway ride to go.
We were assured we were almost there and that would have to be enough.  Once we had the shrimp we headed back to the main road from which we came and then made another stop and a fruit stand.  Concord grapes are in season and the sellers came up to the couple we were travelling with and there was lots of greetings and bows exchanged as my uncle and mom were introduced.  I could see why as the woman at theh stand and the wife of my uncle's friend were obviously related.  Turns out they're sisters and we left with a box and sack fulls of grapes!  The smell was amazing, it was sweet and tart and you could just tell from the smell that those grapes were going to be yummy.  The skin is a little tough and there are seeds which in my book makes this a high maintenance fruit.  It turns out that most people spit out the skin but I eat it because  I like the texture and tartness of it along with the sweetness of the grape meat.  So tastey.  Half an hour later we pulled into the driveway of the "farm".  After watching my uncle's friend pull into the driveway and pass through this sprayer that completely hosed down his car as he pulled into park we all wondered aloud what this was all about - some way of really keeping one's car clean every time they came home from a day's driving?  As we pulled forward there were shouts of, "Roll up the windows!!!"  from through the van.  Luckily we did, turns out that the cars are sprayed down with a disinfectant to protect the farm animals from any cooties that might be brought in from the cars.  Hmmm, I wonder how effective this really is.
The farm was amazing.  A perfect example of using every available inch of the space you have.  There were dairy cows and vegetable gardens.  After a brief tour we were shown the house which was the first actual, honest to goodnes, free standing house I had been to in Korea.  It was square in shape with a little open courtyard in the middle that was where clothes were drying and someone had their bonsai garden collection which, by the way, was amazing.  I can imagine how therapeutic it would be after a long day working on the farm, to come home and just immerse yourself in such an incredible hobby.  Lining the courtyard was a walkway where you could walk from different parts of the house from the outside, the masterbedroom, living room and I think another living space.  The kitchen and eating area were at one side of the square, since meals are taken at a low table and people sit on the floor, furniture is pretty simple.  Table's were brought outside since it was a nice night and we bbq'd pork and cooked the shrimp on a bed of salt. The side dishes started coming out of the kitchen and there was a great variety of kimchee.  The smell of the bbq, kimchee and fresh rice surrounded by family and new friends - it was really something special.  I ate a ton.  There was no sign of the rest of the family, they would show up later after the cows had been milked and put in for the night.  The mother of the house who was easily in her eighties was sitting on the floor of the eating area when I poked my head in to see what was going on.  She had eaten already with her son, daughter-in-law and husband and was now shelling the most pretty matte black beans, I have no idea what kinds of beans they were but the pods had dried and there was a bucket full to be shelled that she was working on with my mom so I decided to join in.  My cousin soon joined us while my sister sat outside minding my neice and nephew.  After a cup of the super sugary creamy instant coffee that is the staple of Korean homes it was time to go home.
Not really having any earthly clue of just where we were at this point - north, south, east, west  - it was really anybody's guess.  We all just  mindlessly piled into the van - again.
The ride home wasn't so bad.  There is a definite advantage to driving late at night, less traffic.  And yet, we still found outselves in a back up on a two lane road.  At one point we were able to take a side road with only a little 4x4ing in the borrowed company van but it was for a good cause - after about half a mile we had passed the backed up traffic to the hoots, hollers, and clapping of myself and fellow passengers, much to the amusement of my uncle who was driving.  It was clear sailing back to Anyang and it was to my uncle's friends' credit that he stopped at the first subway stop once leaving the highway so we could get out and head home. 
Wearily we road home on the subway in silence.  What an amazingly long day - even longer than yesterday.  On the other hand, what an amazing day, even better than the day before.  My cousin was clearly exhausted but it was so wonderful to spend two whole days with her and my neice and nephew so we could all get to know each other a little better.
I asked my mom what was on the agenda for tomorrow knowing that her answer wasn't going to be something along the lines of, "Why, nothing, jut kick back with a book and relax." .  No, we were do to meet with one of her buddies to go to a museum and lunch.  At least we would be able to sleep in - a little...

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