This afternoon, after a relaxing morning spent doing nothing in the hotel room, we caught a bus to a Buddhist temple just south of Sokcho. Originally built in the 16th century, it has been successively destroyed by the Mongols, the Japanese, the Manchu, the Korean War and most recently by a huge forest fire in April 2005.
This was a very peaceful afternoon, with highlights including walking along the “Path Where Your Dreams Come True” (the trees above this path were strewn with cobwebs, each containing spiders like Shelob’s big brother), which connected with the “Heart Fluttering Path”. At the end of the latter was the “restroom for untying worries”! The buildings were beautifully rebuilt and the views over the sea were spectacular. If you’re going to build a temple then this is a lovely spot for it.
The trip along to the temple was marked by one other thing that struck me: several of the beaches in this area are fenced off with barbed wire. This is a reminder that Sokcho lies north of the 38th parallel and was, from 1945 until the end of the Korean War, part of North Korea. That country lies only about 50 miles north of here and Gangwan-do province, in which Sokcho lies, saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war, including the landing of NKPA (North Korean People’s Army) troops on the beaches not very far from here.
We finished the day off with a trip to the restaurant where we went last time we were here. It has a picture of a chicken as its logo, which led Claire to think that it might be Nando’s. It wasn’t but our request last time for whatever they recommended saw us eating an excellent meal of dakgalbi: chicken, cabbage and other veg stir fried at the table with a fairly spicy curry paste, served with lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat and veg in
served with a couple of kimchis (one a spiced pickled cabbage that is the ubiquitous dish of Korea, the other spiced cucumber wedges).
And so to bed…
Yes, Asiana Airlines serve Korean food on the flight! Luckily for Claire, whose passion for kimchi is bafflingly low, they also serve Western food. For me, the big bowl of bibimbap (spiced beef mince, finely sliced veg, rice, sesame oil and kuchujang – a distinctive Korean chilli paste) with egg strips and kimchi set me up perfectly for the flight, which was delayed in take off and landing, making it rather closer to 12 hours than 11. As usual, I was unable to sleep. This did mean that I had time to watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower) which would have been excellent even had it not included Emma Watson in Rocky Horror gear) and Iron Man 3 (as with the previous two films, decent enough but not a patch on Avengers Assemble).
My memories of Incheon from two years ago were of overwhelming heat and humidity (it was August last time). This time it was very pleasant and a nice easy coach ride took us to Seoul. Unfortunately the next two coaches to Sokcho were booked up so we spent 2 hours sitting in the bus station and eventually arrived in Sokcho sometime after midnight in pouring rain.
We’ve now had a very fine breakfast (it turns out that bacon, eggs, hash browns and kimchi does work) and are chilling out in the hotel. Our original plan had been to visit the Seorak-San national park but it’s still raining so I think we will probably have a relaxing day (I still have a load of arrows to fletch as well) and try Seorak-San after the Championships.
Tomorrow we head over to the Hwarang-do Experience Complex, where the Championships are held. I’m really looking forward to seeing old friends again and, in the bizarre Facebook world of horseback archery, meeting some old friends for the first time face-to-face. In the meantime, I’m going to sneak out of the room to use the lobby’s wi-fi without waking Claire…
This is picture I took on my walk to the local shop a few minutes ago. It shows a street corner that I remember well from two years ago as being one of the many things I love about Korea.
We are in a not terribly upmarket area in Sokcho, which is predominantly a fishing town. Where we are there’s a main road running past small shops, apartment blocks that could use a lick of paint and a few hotels (plus a huge church). And on the street corner, where in Britain we might find a small patch of grass, we have what you see in the photo. Those plants in the foreground and over the sidestreet in the background are beans. Two years ago they were growing chilis in the same spot. This, as I say, is just at the side of the road. I don’t know whether this is public land or somebody’s displaced garden but the sight of food crops being grown at the side of the road is something I would love to see more of where we live.
Anyway, there it is: it struck me when I first saw it in 2011 and is something that instantly endeared this country to me. Make of it what you will…
The British do many things well: village cricket; real ale in a country pub; Olympic cycling, rowing and sailing, even hosting the Olympics. What we don’t appear to do well is airport lounges. Claire and I are in the Servisair lounge at Heathrow, waiting for our 11 hour flight to Incheon and the 9th World Horseback Archery Championships. This is one of the perks of our bank: free airport lounges.
The first time we availed ourselves of this facility was at Istanbul, where we relaxed with a variety of delicious Turkish food. I was stuffed by the time we got on the plane, after about 8 helpings of a particularly nice dish of beans and chilies. So here we are in London: salt and vinegar crisps, plastic cheddar cheese and crackers, dry pretzels and some almost fizzy pepsi.
On the plus side, in a few hours’ time we’ll be in Sokcho, with all the kimchi, jang and ssam we can eat, washed down with a medium sized bottle of soju. Nom nom. And, since we’re flying Asiana, we just might get Korean food on the flight…
I hope to be updating this blog daily or thereabouts during the holiday. highlights of the trip are listed to include walking in the Seorak-san national park, the Champiopnships themselves, some chap giving an excellent talk on the history of horseback archery in Britain and a guided battlefield tour of the Imjin battlefield from award-winning author Andrew Salmon (whose book “To the Last Round” should be compulsory reading for all). I’m unlikely to stay much on topic, as those who remember my blog from Jordan will remember. On the plus side, I doubt that the Korean hotel will have such massive issues with the pool, so horseback archery might get a mention here and there.
And now I’m going to have one of the extremely bruised apples in this lounge and dream of raw fish and kimchi…