As the Chuseok holiday (the Korean version of thanksgiving) drew nearer, the dream gift we had all been waiting for arrived. An email from the CEO giving us all the whole week off of work. Including the weekends, one of which I would have otherwise had to have worked, it was an amazing ten days of freedom. As the new top dog of Wall Street, he had shown everyone he meant business with some brutal firings of the majority of people in Head Office and some centre managers, including the one at Gangnam. So we all breathed a sigh of relief upon opening our inboxes, reassured that in fact he was human after all…
Unfortunately, the timing of this fabulous email was merely a few weeks before the holiday itself, meaning all flights were extortionately priced if not already sold out as all of Korea was on holiday and determined to make the most of it. Sadly, I also found myself travel buddy-less as I had previously told Ramsey I had to work the latter half of the week while he was off, and so he had booked to go to Japan with a friend from home. I decided it was about time I travelled on my own for once and so set about planning a trip to the south-west of Korea. With everything booked, I was mentally prepared for a bit of solo adventuring. Thus, I ended up going through a stage of mental un- and re-preparation when I found Yirak taking me up on the offer of coming with me the day before I was due to leave!
On Wednesday morning I woke up early to the sound of a mosquito bussing around my ear, after it had feasted the night away on my arm. After such a rude awakening, he soon found himself unable to buzz or bite for much longer and I was unable to get a last few minutes before my alarm went off. A brief and long overdue Skype with mum at 6am and I was on my way to the train station. The wrong train station, I should say. As I looked up at the board at Yongsan station I found my 07:40 train heading to Gwangju, although strangely the train numbers didn’t match. A kind worker informed me that I my ticket was from Seoul station, and so I frantically jumped back on the metro for a couple more stops. My knack for allowing myself a ridiculous amount of time when I travel meant that even with this slight hiccup in my plans, I still found myself of the correct platform with twenty minutes to spare. PHEW! However, to add salt into my minor wound, my train still went via Yongsan station!! Meaning I could have simply hopped on there anyway! Still, I was on my way!
I made it to my guesthouse in Gwangju in one piece, although had to phone the owner to be let in as he gave me instructions to open the door and then told me to wait for him for one hour. ONE HOUR! Needless to say I was soon helping myself to breakfast and a book from the bookshelf…coincidentally one I had been looking for at a bookshop the day before- water for elephants. I set myself the unachievable challenge of trying to finish before I left, which would have been possible had I been staying for more than two nights, as I was hooked after just the prologue! The owners finally arrived just as I was getting into chapter one. They treated me to some food and traditional songpyeon (a sweet rice cake with filling), before I was off on my way. I followed the river downtown to the centre, only to find everything closed for Chuseok!
I sat for a while in a cafe, watched the world go by and catching up on some much needed blog writing. Across the road from me was a shop, unfortunately named “Isis”, with the slogan underneath saying “we don’t make clothes, we make dreams.” Nightmares, more like. It’s a blessing the shop doesn’t exist in Europe, as I’m sure it would have either gone out of business, been vandalised or taken over by the real deal themselves.
Poor Yirak was stuck in traffic for a painful five hours and wasn’t going to make it until the late afternoon. I headed to the Asia Culture Centre and learnt about the painful history of Gwangju in the 70’s before listening to some Cambodian 90’s pop music. By the time Yirak called to say she was oh-so-nearly here, I was about to drift off to la-la-land back at the guesthouse. After dinner we couldn’t even find an open bar to chill before bed, so a GS25 tinny on the terrace of the guesthouse would have to do. Due to the last minute nature of Yirak’s plans she wasn’t even staying at my guesthouse the first night! And so after her long journey down she was soon off again on another bus to find her hostel!
On Thursday she came back to the hostel to drop her bags before we set off for (a second) breakfast of Korean style porridge and take the bus to Damyang, to visit the bamboo forest there. Despite the girls in the hostel saying it had been busy the day before, I was still pretty surprised by the amount of people! It started spitting as we headed for lunch at a local restaurant to taste the speciality of bamboo rice, which was served in a piece of bamboo itself with a variety of beans. The said they just throw the bamboo away after one use, so I decided to salvage it in the hope it will make a nice pen pot!
We returned to Gwangju with full stomaches and headed into the town centre in the hope it would be slightly more lively than the night before. We weren’t disappointed! There was a buzz amongst the streets as neon signs flashed and friends and couples wandered in and out of shops and bars. We had researched a few good spots to go but still found many were still closed for the holidays, including the one salsa bar in town! We ended up in a Mexican with another plate of food each. I could have exploded! We washed down dinner with a cocktail in a jazz bar down the road. Bye bye holiday budget!