Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
With tickets in hand and not much of a plan, Michelle and I boarded the train to Jeonju with pleasant anticipation and earnest longing to venture away from Seoul for a few days. It was a 3-day Korean Independence weekend and the train was quite packed as it was obvious many others also had the same idea; however, it wasn’t a big deal. Before we knew it, we were stepping off the train and beginning to relish the crisp, chilly breezes that would accompany us during our entire stay. One of Michelle’s good friends from Australia that is now back living in Jeonju would soon rendezvous with us at the train station, and then escort us to a well-known bibimbap restaurant within Hanok Village in Jeonju. Smiles abounded.
For those of you not familiar with Bibimbap, it’s a popular Korean dish that originated in Jeonju and literally means “mixed rice.” Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and chili-pepper sauce/paste. A raw or fried egg and sliced meat are also common additions. All ingredients are then to be thoroughly stirred together before eating. Super yummy! This was best bibimbap I’ve ever had.
A little tired after the train trip combined with eating a scrumptious lunch, Michelle and I then headed to our hostel with rest on our mind. Luckily for us, the hostel was very close.
After getting situated in our separate rooms, we met in the social area to relax for a few moments and discuss a some random ideas we both had for our trip. After talking, we realized we were still quite tired, thus, I mentioned that we lay down for a little while. We went to my dorm room were no one else was present and locked the door to block out any outside noise so we could perhaps take a little, peaceful cat-nap together. Everything was fine until about 5-minutes later when the hostel owner began pounding very loudly on the door and yelling profusely in Korean. Michelle got up and quickly opened the door to be immediately verbally castigated for having been in my dorm. The hostel owner was steaming. An exorbitant amount of blood had rushed to his face and made it as red as a cherry; it was raw anger. The situation slightly cooled once the owner realized that I was a westerner, but the damage had already been done. While Michelle held her composure quite well, I was able to see that it was paper thin. I have no idea what hostel owner yelled at her, but whatever it was, it had made her feel quite terrible. I honestly clenched my fist for a moment, but I let it quickly subside. While I did not show it at the time, I was greatly upset on how the owner had handled the situation. It seriously could have been handled much more professionally and cordially. By locking the door, we had broke the “rules.” However, in our defense, there were not any visible notices around and we were not told anything about it upon checking in. Instead of commencing an argument out of pride and pragmatism, Michelle gestured that we leave, and out we went to explore the city.
What started out with smiles and laughter, quickly turned into disdain and tears. We walked a few blocks and I couldn’t negate that Michelle still looked extremely troubled about what had just happened. I felt her pain. While it bothered me for a few moments, I didn’t let it totally get to me, as I knew that if it did, our trip would be ruined. Why let a jerk like that ruin our trip, I questioned. I needed to hold my cool. Thus, I quickly brushed it off. However, Michelle unfortunately could not. She did in fact take the brunt of the verbal blow, and so it was understandable.
We sat in a quiet place alone just off the main strip within Hanok Village under a wood owning and I did my best to console her. It took some time, but after she realized that it would be best to just ‘brush it off’ and not let it ruin her day, I sensed she felt a little more at ease. Although, her smile had not yet returned.
We then decided to leave the city center and head to Deokjin Park on the other side of town. It was a getting colder by the minute, and by the time the taxi dropped us off outside the park, we both were yearning for a nice hot cup of coffee. Strangely enough, we both had eyed this particular cafe (above) before turning onto the road towards the park, and decided to double-back to it. Upon entering, a subtle aroma of fresh varnish was present, and with tools and pieces of wood everywhere, I instantly realized that the cafe was still being built.
Realizing that we had entered a cafe still under construction, I prompted that perhaps we should search for another cafe nearby, but the young owner quickly approached us and earnestly desired that we stay as his first customers. He kindly brushed off one of the newly constructed tables next to the window and offered to make us Cafe Americanos for 1000won ($0.94) each. We couldn’t resist and absolutely concurred.
It was by far the best Cafe Americano I’ve ever had; it was so good! A few minutes after our drinks arrived, the owner came to our table and set down a plate of three different slices of pie at no charge. What a surprise! The owner was such a generous and gregarious individual; he must have innately known that we also needed an emotional boost. I will never forget his kindness as it supremely aided in helping to bring Michelle’s smile back.
The sunshine faded and night quickly fell without much warning. Perhaps we didn’t quite notice it due to spending close to 2 1/2 hours having a good time amid relaxing, chatting, and laughing inside this completely random cafe. When we decided to leave, it was clearly quite cold and windy outside, but we didn’t want to the ditch the idea of visiting Deokjin Park, even if it was dark. Again, it was quite cold, but we had a wonderful view.
From Deokjin Park, we continued on a random stroll through Chonbuk National University and were pleasantly reminded of our college days in different parts of the world. From Chonbuk, we hailed a taxi and then were dropped off at the edge of Gosa-dong, which is Jeonju’s premiere outdoor mall. There were a few neat shops, nothing entirely impressive, but perhaps because it was late and chilly. In addition, this outdoor mall looked almost identical to many I’ve seen and experienced while traveling in Japan.
The following morning we woke up early and got a lift over to Geumsansa Temple, which was about 15-20 kilometers south of Jeonju. Except for a few folks meandering around the temples, we essentially owned the place. It was a very peaceful experience.
Geumsansa’s initial construction began in 600 A.D and was expanded various times over the next several centuries. During the first Japanese military campaign to overtake Korea in 1592, Geumsansa played a defensive role. Led by Master Noemuk, the Buddhist volunteer corps comprised of over a thousand monks, used Geumsansa as a training ground. Later during the 2nd Japanese military campaign, the Buddhist volunteer corps established their headquarters at Geumsansa. However, like many of Korea’s ancient temples, Geumsansa suffered a tragic fate when the main pavilion and outlying hermitages were burned to the ground by invading Japanese forces. The present buildings were rebuilt in 1635 and the temple currently serves as one of the principle Buddhist centers in the region and is one of the largest temples in South Korea.
The morning sunshine became so crisp, warm, and bright, that Michelle’s eyes were a light amber-color. It was beautiful!
After Geumsansa, we took the bus back to to town and decided to relax at the hostel for awhile. It was definitely time to get a little goofy.
Later that evening, with a gigantic craving for Korean galbi, the hostel owner, who seemingly didn’t recognize us at all as he honestly thought it was our first night staying there, kindly recommended a place a few blocks away called “Myeong Ga.” It was fabulous. We then headed to what I facetiously called the “Che Guevara Cafe” after having eyed a large poster of him on the front window while accidently going the wrong way to the galbi restaurant. I’ve always had a particular fascination with Che Guevara and I essentially encouraged Michelle that we make a simple visit there. This random cafe also had all these hats hanging from the ceiling and a few awesome lamps next door, which I thought were a bit bizarre.
The next morning we took a stroll around Hanok village when there wasn’t a crowd and stopped by the Jeondong Cathedral, which was built in 1908 by French Father Xavier Baudont in a Romanesque western-style cathedral design on the site of the first Korean martyrs in 1781, and the martyrdom of Bishop Yu Hang-gom in 1801. Jeondong Cathedral is largest western-style structure in Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do provinces of South Korea.
From the church, Michelle and I walked deeper into Hanok Village and came across a sizable plot of tall bamboo trees and couldn’t resist to stop and enjoy them for a moment.
After this, Michelle hinted at getting some “Bean Sprout Soup” and I had her ask our friendly taxi driver to drive us to a really good place in order to get some. At first I was a bit reluctant to try, but after trying it, I couldn’t get enough. I wish my stomach had enough room for seconds, it was that good! It doesn’t look like much, but ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’
The remainder of our trip consisted of relaxing, visiting random curry places, drinking Jeonju Makkoli, and just enjoying each other.
During this trip, I learned a lot about Michelle and she also learned a lot about me, which essentially can’t be put into specific words, but is something that we both can and have recognized. Day by day we have been growing closer and closer, and this Jeonju trip, while it had its rough bumps at first, we were able to persevere through it and then have a wonderful time together that we can remember forever. This trip was as random as it could be, and thanks must be given to the random places and people we came across for having provided the optimal ambiance for us to grow in our relationship even further.
Overall, Jeonju was a decent place to spend a weekend away from Seoul, and I’d return if the opportunity presented itself again. However, will our random finds still be there years from now? Who knows, but what’s even more enjoyable, is the opportunity to commence a new adventure and randomly find new ones together…
May there be many more random adventures!