Thursday, December 19, 2002

This past weekend, Amy and I ventured out of Ulsan and onto a cross-country bus to go and visit my sister Joanna in Jeonju. It was about a 5 hour bus ride that took us through some beautiful scenery and up into and through the mountains that run the length of the Korean pennisula. The bus ride was very comfortable, we took one of the large express city buses and they are equipped with large chairs that you can almost fully recline. The one downside, no bathrooms. This meant a mad dash off the bus to one of the many roadside rest areas along the way.

Joanna met us at the bus terminal and we went on to her apartment. Jeonju is a midsized Korean city, and slightly smaller than Ulsan. We came to the realization though, having travelled through Gyeongju and Daegu on our way to Jeonju, that every Korean city looks exactly the same. Let's just say, that as beautiful as parts of Korea are, the cities are not exactly reknowned for their architecture. Massive concrete apartment towers and tons of neon lighting seem to dominate the urban landscapes of most of the cities and towns.

Saturday night we went out on the town and sampled some of the local cuisine. Jeonju is regarded as one of the cultural centers of Korean cooking. We tried Jeonju bimbimbap (rice and vegetables cooked in a hot pot) and kimchi stew, both of which were very delicious. Dining out is very much part of the Korean culture and the restaurants are often packed in the evenings. At most places you have the choice of either sitting at a table or on the heated floors on a small padded mat.

After dinner we met up with a bunch of other foreign teachers and hit the bars. First stop was to the foreigner bar to prime ourselves with several pitchers of cheap Korean beer. Next, off to the soju bar. Soju is a distilled rice spirit and is wicked strong! Most of the time it is drunk straight in small shooter glasses, but luckily (or unluckily) you can also get it mixed with fruit juice. We consumed many pitchers of peach and kiwi flavoured soju and we all left the place at about 2am well and truly pissed out of our collective minds.

From there the evening culminated in a visit to the Jukebox, a small club that played western music intermingled with Korean tunes (which for the most part are ripoffs of western pop music sung in Korean - it's well fun trying to play 'Name that Tune').

As a side note, Koreans are rabidly patriotic and are still riding the high from the recent World Cup (where the Korean squad placed fourth). It's quite a sight to see a room full of Koreans, who are usually good-natured and reserved, jumping up and down on the tables and punching their fists in the air and acting decidedly un-Korean when the Korean soccer songs were played.

From that point the evening took a turn towards the weird. At about 3:30am the lights came on in the club (early for Korea, where the partying often continues until 5 or 6 in the morning) and all the foreigners were told to leave the bar immediately. We could only surmise that the bar was feeling overwhelmed by the numbers of Westerners, as there were about 30 of us there drinking and enjoying ourselves. There was mass confusion as to what was happening, but we were all physically ushered out of the place. Understandably, there was a great deal of resentment at being singled out as a group and asked to leave.

Unfortunately, as we left, several groups of drunk Korean males began to angrily shout "Miguk" (literally translated - "American") at us and gesture threateningly towards us. There is a large and growing degree of resentment of the US military presence in the Koreas and many Koreans automatically assume if you are white you are part of the US military. To be fair, much of the resentment of the US military is well-deserved, as there is a long history of US soldiers acting unpleasantly while stationed here.

The situation, fuelled by too much alcohol on both sides, boiled over as many of the group with us (largely Canadian) took exception to the insult and resented its derogatory inference. Luckily, apart from some shoving and shouting, the issue was resolved and in typical Korean-fashion was settled with promises to go drinking soju together the next night. It was a sour note to end the evening.

I spent much of the next day nursing a debilitating huge hangover. That evening Amy and I jumped on the bus and headed back to Ulsan. Thanks to some massive traffic jams on the freeways we did not arrive home until about 11:30pm and we're very thankful just to roll into bed.

Anyways, that's it for now. More adventures to come!

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