South South Korea ~ Jeollanamdo Road Trip to Jangheung

For a three day weekend, we loaded up the car and headed south in the brutal Saturday traffic of Korean highways. Weekend traffic in Korea is like Tony Romo in December, Kiss cover bands, or cold McDonald’s fries, i.e. reliably terrible. Nevertheless, hungover and filled with coffee, we put on dark sunglasses and drove.

Hershey was ready to go.

IMG_2616We left before midday, drove about 400 km and arrived at dusk. Stop and go almost the whole way, until we got onto the coastal highway which was moving. Korean landscapes in early fall are fantastically green, fresh and unpopulated. Besides the four or five big cities in Korea, Korea is still just farms resting against mountains.

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IMG_2628Hungry and tired, we met some of Jordyn’s cousins at a fish place in Jangheung (Korea’s warmest city and Asia’s first “slow food city”). We sat on the floor sans mats and tables. The old ladies carried out a completely set table full of raw sea pieces. I’ve been eating more sea things lately, but ammonia doused sting ray was basically inedible, wriggling octopus is never on my menu and the jellyfish was crunchy but not interesting. I tried everything but we’re still far away from me being excited to eat tentacles. (click picture for a close-up)

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IMG_2631Here’s the close-up of jellyfish.

IMG_2633They gave us the softest and tastiest rice cake I’ve ever eaten. We asked for more when we left and they just gave us a plastic bag with about 50 pieces inside.

IMG_2637Having done no research, we found every hotel, motel and pension sold out. We stayed at a friends’ mushroom farm in their work office. Somehow they had a floor mat and two couches. We made it work. The guy took us for a tour and gave us some fresh (shiitake) wood mushrooms. Floor to ceiling mushroom logs. This picture is post harvest, I’d like to see the mass of fungus pre-harvest.

IMG_2642Next day, up early and headed to the little downtown market. We ate some authentic 곰탕 (gomtang) which is oxtail soup. They stew the bones until the broth is white and healthy, then add some fatty beef, scallions and rice and you have magic. The 빈데떡(bindaeddeok) is a Korean pancake full of veggies and sometimes squid. The crunchier the better and this one was crunchtastic.

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I lost my photo, this one is courtesy of koreanbapsang.com

After some shopping with the kimchi creators, we headed to the ocean.

We saw a guy catching fish for my favorite soup, 추어탕 (chuahtang) which is made from ground up mudfish. He just dragged his hook slowly across the mud until one of the mud dwellers, in their feeding/sucking motions, accidentally and unluckily grabbed it.

IMG_2834The Koreans ingeniously use conch snail shells to trap young baby octopus looking for a place to hide, then drag them in and eat them alive or in spicy soups.

Before leaving town, we needed some BBQ. There was a place next to the river where you choose the meat at the downstairs butcher and then walk it upstairs and cook. Great stuff.

It was a quick two days, but we ate well and enjoyed the country air. Seeing stars, a lot of stars, at the mushroom farm was unexpected and completely refreshing.

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La Numero 54 ~ Mexican Food in Sinsa

We went searching in the high fashion area of Sinsa-dong for a burger restaurant. We found it, but too late. Our hunger senses were tingling, and so we stopped in for some cheese and tortilla at La Numero 54. The place has a cool vibe and a good people watching street. Of course, tequila and fun drinks abound. We had a pint of Hofbrau, which I had been craving for awhile. Pictured below are the guacamole, smoky quesadilla, fish tacos and beer (hiding to the side was the queso blanco). The salty chips were such a highlight! They reminded me of the greasy spoon Mexican places in Austin. Everything else was fancy and flavorful.

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IMG_2756The pork tacos were good with a unique homemade corn tortilla. But, some more sauce was needed.

IMG_2753Hershey sat outside, basking in the adoring glances of the passing twenty somethings in their flashy boots, tight pants and perfectly askew hats. He was able to sit outside and chill out comfortably, good place for a pup.

IMG_2757The interior has a big dining table for groups and plenty of dim lighting for dates.

IMG_2760We went for a mango juice dessert at a nearby place, expensive at 6,500 won, but refreshing.

IMG_2761My beautiful Jordyn angel.

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Creeped Out in the Spider Museum of Namyangju, Korea

During Chuseok:

IMG_2542the Korean Thanksgiving, after swimming in the Han River near Gapyeong, we showered off and headed to quite an odd little place. Up a winding mountain road, past elderly hikers and tiny houses, we found it: Spider Museum!

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IMG_5675Yeah, I know. That’s a big dong. But it was in the parking lot and the first thing we saw.

It turned out the man collecting the tickets (7$ per person) was also the doctor, designer, and arachnid loving founder of the place called, Arachnopia. His pictures were all over, prominently displaying his prestigious position in the world of entomology. Hershey dog accompanied us, but had to wait outside as we entered the living spider area. An eager young man immediately placed this beauty upon us.

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IMG_2539We were both scared at first and then his little fuzzy legs started to feel comforting in a way. The man described the spider thusly: “She’s a good girl.” We moved down the line and saw dozens of varieties of tarantulas, bugs, turtles, and assorted weirdlings. He fed the alligator turtle a bit of food and the snap of his mouth sounded like a door caught in a gust of wind. But, check out these caged critters.

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IMG_5684Leaving the poor, sad creatures trapped in the small boxes aside, we moved onto the poor, dead creatures in smaller boxes. It is a training area for budding university students, so expect plenty of formaldehyde.

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IMG_5700It was impressive to see all these skin-crawling nightmares so well contained and preserved. It gave me a perverse pleasure to look upon these eerie symbols of dread. In our early evolution, spider bites could be incapacitating, or at times, a death sentence. We have been “conditioned” to fear them, more than a fly or a needle from mostly a survival instinct. Therefore, if you’re not at least a little scared of them, you’re probably an alien.

We moved outside as a light drizzle began to fall through the dusk. The bugs were hunting us in the warm, humid air. There is a little research bubble to view spider anatomy, a playground park with a haunting abandoned pool and also a cool statue area. We played a little then ran away from the mozzies.

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Dr. Kim Ju-Pil is  immortalized behind this massive spider. We left with goosebumps and a little wiser about our spider “frenemies.”

On the slow drive back to the highway, we caught a glimpse of the golden rice of early autumn, before finishing the day with some grilled eel.

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Swimming in October, Noraebang and Seafood in Boryeong

Scraping the last bits out of summer before the Korean fall arrives with chilly mornings and crunchy leaves underfoot, we dashed down to Boryeong. At Daechon beach, we find (as far as I know) one of the only beaches on the West Sea that isn’t just a large tide-pool. You can actually swim here, albeit with little to no waves. I was in the water and saw some locals with jackets eyeing me suspiciously. It’s only a quick 2-3 hour drive from Seoul. The July Mudfest is held here every year. Also, the pine trees and mountain backdrop is a unique setting.

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IMG_5671 (1)We met some friends and ate a massive seafood feast. There was a wide assortment of shelled organisms, noodle soup, crab and kimchi. Unfortunately, soju made its way onto the menu and I got plastered, ended up running around with Hershey dog and singing Bon Jovi on the beach. We found the karaoke room which gave me a nice venue to continue my drunken shenanigans.

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IMG_2737The next day, we took the dog for a hurting hangover walk discussing the forgotten memories and enjoying the early morning sunshine. It’s a wonderful little spot for a getaway.

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