Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teachers Overnight Trip to Gangwon Province (강 원 도)

The Teachers :)
After the last class at school on Friday afternoon, all the kids scurried out of school and all the teachers collected their belongings, locked things up and headed on to the big coach bus waiting outside. It took a little while for everyone to board and get the motor running, so before the bus even pulled away from the school the bottles of soju had been opened and poured (not for everyone, just a select few of keeners).
We spent a good few hours traveling from Gyeongi-do 걍 기 도, the province I live in, to Gangwon-do 강 원 도. The weather for the past few weeks has been a varying few shades of rain, thunder storms, torrential rain, and the odd times light rain, and last weekend was no exception. We drove through awful conditions with a driver who I think would match the skills of a Japanese kamikaze pilot.
Upon entering Gangwon-do, the scenery changed to big mountains and valleys with rivers running through. I was told Gangwon province is at a higher elevation than the rest of South Korea and therefore was the last to be inhabited by people and the last to be touched by modern day living. To this day, Gangwon is a farming area, with no big cities and a thriving rural life. For this reason, it is a vacation destination for the rest of Korea. Everything was green and lush and beautiful (and soaking wet).
We originally were headed to Gangwon-do to go white water rafting, which would have been amazing. BUT, it has been raining for a month in Korea so the rivers were overflowing and unsafe to ride down. Our next plan was caving, but again, that was canceled due to the rain. One of the activites we did get to enjoy was rail biking. I had no idea what this was and was actually pleasantly surprised by how fun it was.

Two by two, we hopped on little pedal carts (in the drizzling rain, kitted out in stylish rain gear). The carts ran on old railroad tracks and off we went. Most of it was downhill so not too strenuous, but still fun. The scenery was lovely. We ducked through huge dark tunnels, across rice fields, and between big green mountains. We only biked for maybe an hour, but by then we were sufficiently wet and ready for food.

Back on the bus we drove for what seemed like an eternity before we made it to the mushroom restaurant we had plans for dinner at. Before I came to Korea, mushrooms were not one of my favorite vegetables, but here they are a staple in most meals here, so I have now developed a taste for them. And as I have mentioned before in other posts, most Korean restaurants have some sort of theme or dish they specialize in, and this one was mushrooms. The big group of us sat down to a huge meal of grill your own meats (some of these meats were actually a mystery to me), plenty of fresh and tasty mushrooms, the normal slew of Korean side dishes, and free flowing soju.

We bused to our accommodation and were all put into different rooms of a really quaint motel/guesthouse, called a pension in Korea. I was roomed with Mrs.Kim and 2 other teachers. We were in the Rose Room and everything was pink and it was humongous.

Aside from all the private rooms there was a main guest house. Within minutes of putting our pajamas on and getting ready for bed, we were summoned to the main house (and by summoned I mean FORCED!) These Koreans sure no how to do it up. We had only just finished dinner and as we all congregated, more food and snacks and beer and soju were coming out. There was no shortage in site of food or drink. Everyone started out sitting on the floor in a circle, and as there was no karaoke in the house (to many a disappointed teacher), people started to get up and sing and dance one by one in the middle of the circle. Thankfully my turn to sing never came, though I did have a quick turn on the dance floor with my VP, who oddly kept calling me Dancing Queen (someone pointed out that it had nothing to actually do with my dancing ability or lack there of, but more it's just one of the few english words he knows).

Bit by bit people settled down and formed their own little chatty circles on the ground. It was so amazing to watch. All the people that I see on a professional level on a day to day basis, were now hanging in their jammies getting trashed and bonding. I felt like it was a weekend away up north at the cottage with my friends, not something I could ever picture happening with coworkers at home. And apparently, this kind of work trip is not unique to teachers or schools, it happens all the time with businesses across the board as team building, bonding excursions.  The west could learn from this. Although it was difficult for me to blend into the crowd because of the language barriers, it was really nice to watch how everyone else was so easily able to let their hair down and have fun together.

The next morning, it was raining, for a change. The events of the day ended up starting out with a group breakfast meal. This is one thing I don't think I will ever get used to in Korea. Breakfast is like lunch and dinner, soups, rice, kimchi.... you name it. Such is life though, to each their own. After breakfast (where I must note, I did see a small tray with 2 bottles of soju being served to another table), we waited out the rain a little and then packed back on the bus.

Muddy feet.

Our next 2 destination points were nice, but nothing spectacular. We hiked up a muddy slippery icky gross mountain to see the view of a bend in a river that makes the piece of land look the exact same shape as the Korean peninsula. Hmmm, the view was beautiful from there, but I didn't get the peninsula thing. Next was another pretty look out point we hiked to, this place made popular by the filming of some Korean movie, again, lost on me.

Korean cuteness at its best
(she bit her rice cake into a heart shape ;)
From there we headed into the town of Jeongson for lunch. Lunch was delicious and quick and by this point I think most people were ready to head home and savour the rest of their weekend, I know I was. Little did I know what lay in store...

All the teachers piled back on the bus, and Koreans LOOOOOOOOVe to sleep on subways and buses, so after some exercise and fresh air and good food I was getting snuggled in for a nice nap for the 4 or 5 hour journey home, and, to my ultimate dismay, out comes the karaoke.  I have something VERY un-Korean to admit to the world. And it wasn't until I sat on that bus for those 5 hours that I actually fully admitted it to myself. I DON'T LIKE KARAOKE! There are times in Korea, where I have gone, and I will admit it has been entertaining, but on the whole it's just not my thing. In a room, with lots of alcohol as a buffer, at night, with friends, I can do it no problem. But, on a bus, in the middle of the day, with music at decibels unhealthy for the average persons hearing, and with a sound system that makes that horrible high pitched microphone/speaker noise about every minute and a half, and to top it off with music that is in another language? Ok and not to be really horrible, but the state of the Korean music scene is pretty rough as well, so the calibre of songs coming out was awful. I HATE KARAOKE, and Koreans LOVE it. There I said it. So for 5 long hours my ears bled from the pain of listening to karaoke in a very small enclosed space.
After a long and painful journey we finally arrived back in Osan, hours and hours later. Karaoke aside, the trip was really fun. I love going to new places in this country and seeing new things and that's exactly what we did.

P.S. I forgot to mention, we drove through Pyeongchang, which is where the 2018 winter Olympics will be held, so I can say I have been there.

P.P.S. I haven't actually downloaded photos from the trip yet, so when I do I will update this post.

(UPDATE: photos now added)

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