I woke up Saturday morning with the astounding realization that on the next teachers’ trip, I hoped we could sleep on the floor. Sharing a floor with co-workers was uncomfortable enough, but sharing a bed with people I work with was taking team building a little too far.
The sunrise from the hotel room was lovely, in spite of all the factories.
Our first stop of the day was breakfast. I love eating, and I love trying new things, but only after 10 a.m., and a strong cup of tea. Even after almost 8 years in Asia, I still have trouble eating non-breakfast foods for breakfast. But the growling of my stomach was starting to become audible so I followed everyone down the street to the restaurant.
Breakfast consisted of several different kinds of kimchi; tiny sticky fish with their heads and tails still attached; something that looked and tasted like grass covered in sesame oil (deliciously disconcerting); spicy raw squid; white rice; and what looked like spicy seafood stew.
Refusing to let even the briefest dream of muffins or pancakes to enter my mind, I picked up my spoon and stirred the burbling red stew. Large grayish-black blobs floated sluggishly to the surface making me feel slightly queasy. It was sundae – a cross between a sausage and haggis. According to my co-T, sundae was made from rice noodles, pig’s blood, various pig organs, and pig (or possibly cow) intestine. None of those were meat, she assured me seriously, so I could eat the stew.
Sigh. Technically, I suppose she was right but I still didn’t want to eat it. Rice, kimchi and grass for breakfast. (And a KitKat from the vending machine in the hotel lobby…)
After breakfast,we boarded the bus and headed out in search of fall foliage. As a Canadian, I felt this was a little absurd. There are trees and leaves everywhere in my old neighbourhood. It seemed unfathomable that anyone would want to spend 5 hours on a bus to see some trees.
I was assured that these were some of the most famous leaves in Korea, and so I sat back and prepared to endure the bus ride. (Sitting still is not one of my strong points.) I suspect the trip would have taken less time had half of Korea not also decided to see the same trees. According to the park warden, 100,000 people had visited the park the day before. They were expecting at least that many today.
Our bus joined an enormous queue of buses to get into the park. We then had to line up to get to the park gates.
I didn’t really understand the fuss; the leaves looked like the same leaves we have in Ulsan. But it was a gorgeous day, and it was a part of Korea I’d never been to before. I decided to enjoy the sun, buy some food and forget about the leaves.
On the way back to the bus, I decided to sample a few things from the many, many food stalls that lined the road.
Deep-fried ginseng was interesting. The roots were spicy and almost delicious. The thick ‘body’ just tasted like an undercooked potato.
I decided to wash it down with apple makkoli – a rice-based alcohol. The region we were visiting was famous for its apples. I didn’t want an actual apple but I thought the alcoholic version might go down a treat.
For lunch, we went to a town in the mountains famous for its medicinal waters. The water was bitter and slightly carbonated, not nice at all. However, something in the composition of the water made it turn green when it was boiled. Any geologists out there know what would make the water do that?
Enterprising locals had begun selling “super healthy” chicken soup to tourists. Not only was the soup made with medicinal waters, but the chicken in the soup had been raised on the medicinal waters. How could anyone say no to a nice steaming bowl of green chicken soup?
As a vegetarian, I thought it looked completely vile but my co-workers seemed enthralled. Every bowl in the place was emptied in record time. I ate ‘healthy’ rice (tinged a pale green from the water), kimchi and the other half of my breakfast KitKat.
It took us almost 6 hours to get back to Ulsan. As we drew near, I tried to be kind by helping to collect everyone’s garbage. Everyone looked startled, then smiled and handed me their garbage. I assumed they were surprised by my fabulous Korean. As we finished collecting garbage, my co-T pulled me aside. Apparently rather than saying “Do you have any garbage?” I had been saying “You are very bad and should spend the rest of your life in jail.” Oops.
At least the trip ended with everyone laughing… 😀