First week in South-Korea

In South Korea, Travel by Cassie & Cédric4 Comments

Bonjour à tous,

So, this post is only from Cedric – from Sacheon in (southern-)South-Korea. For a work related trip I have had the chance to be contracted for a 3 week assignment in South Korea at a supplier for a large inspection.

Things have gone pretty quickly as I booked the flight 5 days before departure implying a rush to find a hotel / car / international driving license / and particularly a flight that would be neither 3 days-4 continents-5 stopovers nor in the 5 digit range… I managed it through Istanbul, arriving in Seoul and crossing the entire country by night after landing. Tough start the next day (Wednesday 22nd), especially as Korean tend to do some very-(very)-long workdays (could be also called half weeks by some other western countries standards 🙂 ). I finished that day invited by the company in a Korean BBQ restaurant: people are very friendly, but the communication in English not very fluent, and the limited vocabulary : the solution is to drink a rice/potato/whatever-available based liquor called Soju instead of talking. The soju essentially tastes like alcohol and not much more, younger people add some fruit juice in it, and it is cheap. And Korean drink a lot of preferably strong alcohol.
Luckily, knowing my passion for anything stronger than beer and cider – especially after 10h sleep over 3 days, a German based in Korea was here to participate in the shot tournament and a Korean part of a specific Buddhist congregation was not drinking.
Result: “- You all can drink together and forget us!
– Yeaaah, we all be drunken!”

Next day I was fit and almost recovered from jetlag, started the day jogging on the coast, while some managers of the company (+ the German) all had a good hangover. Plus bonus: several employees had seen me running from their car on the way to the factory… almost a celebrity after the second day!

June until August are the warmest months of the year, but the south of South-Korea has a sub-tropical weather. This means that summers can be hot, but are also very humid and rainy. A typhoon also usually comes by once a year. Thursday was sunny, but the Friday “il a plu comme une vache qui pisse” (Cassie? 🙂 ) the whole day.

First plan for the week-end: climbing the Cheonhwangbong (지리산 천왕봉 / the highest summit of continental South-Korea – 1915m) and visiting the Ssanggyesa temple (an almost random pick among the larger older temples). The hike was more or less ill-prepared: almost no gear, no map except google maps, no topo in English… but I almost found the start immediately in the morning, to get lost by 2km at the first intersection of the hike (literally the first!). Needless to say signs are useless, apart from the kilometers, it just lets me know that something with funny letters is located in x-kilometers! No idea about the length either, except that the summit is the highest!
After 4h, 14km and 2200m of altitude elevation… I managed to reach a sub-summit at 1708m called the Daecheongbong (설악 대청봉). And the actual summit is still 8km and 800mD+ away!
But the views were pretty, the Jirisan national park gorgeous with rivers and multiple steep small hills, rice fields and a mix of tropical and mountain forest at the same time. The funniest part was probably hiking with Koreans: super prepared, top gears and equipment, clothes from the 23nd century (I am guessing that is how we will all look like then), all possible electronics, etc. The way of walking seems interesting too: one hour full-speed, one hour coffee break (with portable espresso maker), one hour full speed, one hour nap, one hour full-speed, one hour warm lunch with stove, etc. Slightly more professional than my crackers and bottle of water. I got to drink a shot of mysterious liquor on top of the Daecheongbong when someone I had talked for about 20s about Provence gave me a full glass of it: “For good Buddhists!”.
Descent the same way and visit of the temple in my stinky muddy clothes afterwards – it’s ok I was a good Buddhist 🙂

Sunday the sore legs brought me to easier directions with first the fortified village of Nagan, some sort of Hobbit-Tolkien village where the Germanic mythology would have been replaced by hordes of Japanese, very pretty and charming, especially as most of the houses are still occupied. Korea seems to be good at mixing old culture and tradition with ultra-modern. Then one the “three jewel temple of Korean Buddhism” – Songgwangsa – a large complex of temples on a side of a river. I headed to the Boseong Daehan Dawon tea plantation later with picturesque fields of the largest tea plantation of Korea (green tea).
By the way, Koreans do not drink tea – it is in Asia stuck between Russia, Japan and China but tea is not common to drink and the production is relatively recent: on average French drink three times as much tea as Koreans, i.e. not much – and countries not at all famous for their tea like Rwanda and Mozambique produce 3 times more than Korea… they also don’t drink coffee… no instead they really prefer to stick to their liquor: the Soju is the most produced alcohol in the world, a volume twice larger (and almost not exported) than the second – the Smirnoff vodka from Russia, and exported!
Last stop of this sunny week-end: the Suncheonman natural reserve with beautiful views over the Dadohaehaesang marine national park and its numerous birds and sea life.

Monday, back to work for a second week – just finished to wreck the bathroom by doing my laundry with the pressure jet nozzle of the shower!

Cheers, à bientôt!

Cédric

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Comments

  1. Cassie

    Finally I get to see some pictures! It’s nice to see some more technicolored temples =)

  2. Author

    Yes, temples are very well maintained and are very pleasant in Korea: a lot nicer and taken more seriously than in China (the forbidden city under a layer of dust and its fast-foods inside…), no kitschy girafe and ape statues like in Vietnam, and a lot richer than in Nepal or Bali…
    Actually more like the temples in Phnom-Penh (that Cassie missed…) but without the crowd!
    (and yes I know, I’m mixing Buddhism and Hinduism, sorry :-))

  3. What a great opportunity, to be able to visit Korea for work. Looking forward to reading your next update! Thanks for including us.

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