In this final installment of The Long Weekend, having survived the farmland walk and been rescued by a kind movie producer, our heroes finally meet their happy ending. See the stunning sunlit flowers and marvel at the moonlit fairyland display! Find out what happens when they arrive at the pension they actually reserved, and see what happens when they try to use conventional transportation! And please, don’t forget to visit the Facebook page where you can see all the photos that wouldn’t fit here. 🙂
Tiptoe Through the Tulips
Finally, we arrived at our goal, a mere four and a half hours after we’d left our hotel that morning! The ticket gate had the prices listed, including a foreigner’s discount. When I asked for two tickets (in Korean) she actually asked me if we were foreigners (also in Korean). I managed to keep in my giggles, seeing as how we’re about as Caucasian as it gets and replied that we were. It was fairly obvious from the parking lot and the tents surrounding the park that this festival was a big deal, and we began to get excited again as we passed through the gate. Our ride-givers had evaporated, but I had seen them buy tickets too, so I was glad that they would at least enjoy the festival after having driven us out to it.
Xi’an Botanical Gardens 2012
The last tulip festival I went to was at the botanical gardens in Xi’an, China in 2012 and it was really lovely. I have a small vault of pictures of the tulips, and of the other natural beauty of that park which upon review has made me question my recent camera choices. Phones are really convenient, but not as pretty for taking picures. Sigh. Anyway, under normal circumstances, I expect everything in China to be bigger (it’s like the Texas of Asia). The Jinhae cherry blossom festival had been amazing, but they didn’t have a cherry park that even came close to the one in Beijing. The splendor came from the fact that the whole town was basically converted for the festival. The tulip festival in China had been in a park that had taken us hours to walk around, but the one in Taean was bigger.
I don’t know if it was actually bigger in square meters, but it was definitely a better show. Not only were the paths lined with labeled examples of countless species of tulip, there were also beautiful scenes created by planting the flowers by color to paint a picture on the ground that we could view from a central platform on a hill. Not quite as intense as the Miracle Garden in Dubai, but a close second. There were structures all around us that were composed of wire, and I began to notice that they were covered in strings of lights that were not yet turned on. The website where I had found the festival said that it ran from 9am to 6pm, but I could not fathom why there would be so many strings of lights if they didn’t intend to have a night show.
Our original plan had been to depart before sunset (well, I thought it closed at 6pm after all) making any challenges to get to our (second) hotel slightly easier, but remembering the awesome difference at Jinhae from day to night, I began to lay the groundwork for our staying after dark. Throwing caution to the wind, I carelessly suggested that we didn’t need to worry about transportation yet, and that we would never forgive ourselves if we came all this way and then missed the night light show.
As we walked around the park, we got to see a wide range of flowers, mostly tulips but also plenty of foxgloves, pansies and some kind of very shiny nearly neon daisy-looking flower I’d never seen before. We saw the form of the giant Trojan horse, as well as many more displays of animals, giant plaster mushrooms, hearts, wings, fantasy islands in the lake, a tunnel of love prayers, and a giant Mona Lisa picked out in tulips. I can’t even possibly fit all the amazing pictures here, so please go see the rest on the Facebook album. The whole time the air was a mixture of the heady perfume of the flowers and the mouth-watering scents coming from the cooking tents.
We found an international food tent where we got some doner kebab (which is apparently the Turkish word for Shawarma). They had booths from several different countries, although the food was not always what I consider representative. Italy had some kind of deep fried “pizza” wrap. England was corn dogs and fried potatoes. Argentina had some serious meat kebabs (the kind on skewers), Japan had takoyaki, and I think America had coconuts. We found some ladies making fresh squeezed sugar cane juice at the Vietnam stand and in a fit of childhood nostalgia I got us a couple of these breezy decadent treats.
There were also several areas selling random stuff, not necessarily souvenirs, but just random stuff. The native Americans from Jinhae (or more likely a totally different group of native Americans, since they didn’t really look the same) were there performing. We stopped and listened for a while before I realized they were singing in Spanish, which just about made my head explode from culture clash. They were selling dream catchers, CDs of their performance, and other knickknacks that were a mishmash of native American jewelry styles. There were also some booths from Peru, India, and maybe Senegal with their vendors, clearly as foreign as we were, selling goods that must have seemed exotic to the local Koreans that made up 99.9% of the festival goers.
As we continued around, I found some shockingly orange tulips. The kind that make you go, “wow, does that color exist in nature?” and as we got closer, the answer turned out to be “no”. They were plastic. I couldn’t, at first, understand why there would be plastic tulips at a tulip festival until I began to notice the thin wires on the ground between them. Looking inside one, my suspicions were confirmed, there was a small light bulb in each one. They were LED tulips. From this point on, I began to notice more and more places that were hiding lights or LED displays until it became apparent that the whole park was set to light up after dark.
On one side of the festival, we came across a small menagerie with goats the kids could feed, an aviary with peacocks, geese and chickens, and a few adorable bunnies that reminded me of my own China-born furball of yore. Next to the animals, there was a tent filled with orchids and antiques. I’m not really sure why these two things went together, but we admired the antique armoirs and old-timey farming equipment alongside the beautiful hothouse orchids, including a room where the orchid pots had been artfully arranged to create a heart shape on one wall.
We’d arrived at the festival around 1:30 in the afternoon, and although we were taking our time, pausing for lots of photos, exploring every nook and cranny and taking regular snack breaks, we just barely felt that our daytime exploration was complete in time to have a short rest before sunset.
Walking in Fairyland
Some few of you have had the good fortune to visit Disneyland at night and you have an inkling of what we were about to witness. For the rest of you, I can only wish that one day you will have the magical experience that is walking through a giant beautiful park that is entirely lit up in colors.
We’d started walking at about 9-9:30 that morning and it was after 6pm when we decided to sit down for more than a quick break and wait for the sunset. It turned out to get chilly rather quickly when we weren’t moving or having the sun shine down on us, and soon we were grateful for the little cafes that popped up around the perimeter. When the first of the lights came on, we fetched ourselves some hot coffee and tried to plot the best path to see everything. Having explored the park by day, we had a pretty good idea where things were and how to get from one end to the other so our night walk didn’t take nearly as long, but it still took several hours.
When we started, the sky was still shades of blue, pink, orange and purple with high stratus clouds reflecting the sunset back at us. The dusky hues made the balance between the flowers bright colors and the lights themselves striking in a way that full dark could not achieve. We oohed and aaahed at the lighted structures set up all around us. We paused every few steps as we walked around the lake, admiring the LED islands and the glowing reflections in the still water.
We walked into a circus tent of light strings and felt as though we’d stepped inside a meteor shower. We watched the glowing swans and flamingos nuzzle their luminescent mates in the lake. We skipped under trees wrapped in lights like giant’s wands branching to the sky. The tunnel that during the day was filled with paper love prayers became a river of lights by night, enchanting us for far longer than the daylight beauty had. A train that had been nothing but a wire frame by day became a full engine with hearts forming a tunnel behind it by night. The boats glowed, the windmill shimmered in rainbows, and the Trojan horse lit the sky like a beacon.
The bridges we had crossed by day were ribbons of light over the water. One was a miniature suspension bridge that the Korean fathers took great delight in shaking and swaying to entertain or pretend frighten their wives and children. The wings we’d seen earlier were now glowing as though they were the very wings of angels and we dutifully took our turn to pose with them. A vast wire structure shaped like a folded paper crane shifted through a whole color spectrum. There was a lighted carriage like the golden pumpkin from Cinderella, pulled by a giant white bird in flight.
Every fresh step brought some new delight and I could not help but feel like I’d somehow slipped through a door in space and time to some Neverland or Fairy Country. The lighted flowers, the shapes of wire and light, the towering structures and the islands of light reflecting in the water, birds of light flying, indistinguishable from their reflections, the tulip Mona Lisa picked out in lights along the ground, and the viewing hill itself glowing as if lit from within from the LED tulips lining it’s sides.
Just as we managed to make our way to the last corner of the park and began to head back to the entrance, we spotted some strange lights off to one side, visible only partially through the trees. Neither one of us could remember having seen anything on that side of the park during the day. We felt sure that we’d explored every part possible, and yet in front of us, near the peacock’s cage, was a giant glowing arrow, pointing our way off to the right and into the woods.
As we followed the path, we found ourselves walking through a tunnel of lights that began to make me feel like I’d entered a psychedelic Alice style Wonderland. Islands and palm trees made of light stood out against the dark forest, pillars of light that swayed as we moved among them made me feel as though we were floating, or at very least, riding along the tracks of a semi-spooky ride in Fantasy Land. At the end of the path we encountered what had to be, at one point in the year, a giant Christmas tree, but it was not lit. Instead, we contended with a small menagerie of glowing and somewhat gruesome animals including a star turtle, some kind of death bunny (or maybe kangaroo), and a couple of who knows what’s trying to be a part of Kiss. Much like the daytime flowers, there are too many beautiful pictures to include here, so hop on over to Facebook to see them all.
The Only Taxi Ride
The final part of the mind-blowing spectacle having revealed itself to us, we noticed it was nearly 10pm and that most of the food stands had closed up and many of the other patrons had left. The parking lot had emptied quickly, and there was no line of taxis or buses waiting to take people away. This reliance on cars was another strange part of rural Korea. I’d become so impressed with and dependent on the excellent public transportation in Busan, it really hadn’t occurred to me that we could be stranded in Taean, especially when the Korean tourism branch of the government gave bus instructions on it’s website.
But, I was simply in too overwhelmingly good a mood for this to worry me any longer. I approached the security guard at the gate and asked her where we could find a taxi. She informed us that taxis had to be called, and with a little more help from Google, I managed to ask if she could call one for us and she agreed. It took about 3 minutes for a taxi to arrive, which was astounding considering how long it had taken us to find the place that afternoon. The driver dutifully plugged the address of our pension into his map app and drove us there. About halfway through the drive, I wondered why we weren’t having another awkward not quite bilingual conversation before I realized it was because we were paying him to drive. Blissful ease. It cost about 15$ and was worth every cent.
Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people, and the Koreans we’d met were all exceptionally kind folks. Plus, we’d been chauffeured around free of charge since we’d arrived the previous afternoon, but it’s HARD to have a conversation when neither of you really speaks the other’s language, and at this point in the night it was a relief just to sit back and relax.
Mong and Mong
When we arrived at the pension that I’d booked (for the first time), we realized it too was pretty far off the beaten track. I couldn’t see anything that looked like an office or front desk area, so I called the pension lady on the phone number provided in my booking confirmation email. I used my very limited Korean to ask if this was the correct pension, and to say we were the foreigners and that we were here. They weren’t artful sentences, but they got the point across and she came out to greet us quite quickly.
She expressed massive surprise that I could speak Korean (because we’d been using a translator the day before, aka Mr. Awesome) and I tried to reasure her that we had now exhausted all my Korean. She showed us to our room, which was totally adorable and had a lovely comfy bed. It looked quite like the pictures from the website, which was a relief, and there was even a cute little balcony that was all set up to barbecue on.
Another thing I’ve learned about pensions this weekend, aside from their apartment-like qualities, they are not particularly aimed at car-less people. The nearest place to buy food was not a comfortable walking distance, and it was clear that people here were having great family meals and not bringing in restaurant food. Had we known, we could have done some shopping in Daejeon, or even in Taean before we left the main bus terminal, but I’m so used to holiday resort areas being flooded with restaurants it just didn’t occur to me that we were basically renting a fancy cabin in the woods.
However, pension lady and Mr. Awesome had talked at some length about meals being provided if we needed them, which we did. And the duplex host (or more accurately his wife) had fed us the day before. So I asked rather timidly about the possibility of dinner as she led us out to her car where she’d been storing our luggage during the day. I felt bad because it was really a great deal later than we’d meant to be coming back, but the food stands at the park had all closed and I’d been unable to find any restaurants online that I could direct the taxi driver to. And we’d been walking all day on some ramen, kebabs, and coffee. We were hungry.
She seemed a little taken aback, but recovered quickly and asked if we’d like to come to her home where they were making samgyeopsal. Her small apartment was filled with her friends and two tiny dogs. They’d obviously been enjoying a relaxing dinner and some drinks just before we’d arrived, but they cleaned up the space and set the grill back out to cook a few more pork strips for us. The kimchi she served was cut on the spot from a whole head of cabbage stored in a glass container. I wondered if it was homemade and not store-bought. She filled up a bowl and I thought, there’s no way the two of us can eat that much kimchi, but we did. I tried really hard to use the lettuce wraps to eat the pork, but the lettuce was so huge and crunchy, I couldn’t take bites without it spilling out one end and I finally gave up and just ate the pork with rice and kimchi.
Again, there was no end to the surprise that we liked Korean food, and I’m optimistic that my messy lettuce wrap eating was just put down to ‘cute foreigner trying her best’. I didn’t even realize how hungry I was until we started eating, but a full bowl of rice, half a bowl of kimchi and a couple rashers of samgyeopsal later, I finally felt like a human again. Somewhere in the middle of eating, our hosts seemed to notice that we were a wee bit ravenous, and asked if we had not eaten lunch. This was mostly accurate, we’d only had a snack by Korean standards and they seemed more comfortable once they realized why we were so famished.
Part of the reason that we’d had so many linguistically challenging conversations along with our meals and rides is the deep cultural idea of company in Korea. In America (and I suspect in Canada too) if we were staying in a B&B or something like a pension, our hosts might feed us, but would not be likely to eat with us. In Korea, eating is very communal. At school, I can’t ever eat as fast as my co-teachers and I have to reassure them it’s ok to leave before me if they have stuff to do. If I forget to do this, they will just stay, making conversation with me so I don’t feel like I have to eat alone. So our hosts at the duplex and the Mong and Mong pension wanted to stay with us while we ate and tried their best to stimulate conversation.
I think in general, a lot of people I met were slightly disappointed my Korean wasn’t better until we got to the part of the conversation where they asked me how long I’d been in Korea and I said 2 months. I mean, I feel guilty I don’t do a lesson or review every day, but this trip sure made me aware of how much Korean I’ve really picked up in such a short time while not being enrolled in a class of any sort. And of course, how much more I really need to learn, like all the question words, a few more direction words, and the second set of numbers (cause you know, a language needs two ways to count).
After dinner, we discovered our sunburns in the bathroom mirror and added hats and sunscreen to the list of things to bring on our next rural Korean adventure. The bed was quite comfortable with an excess of pillows (a hallmark of luxury in my book), and our array of ersatz neighbors kept the noise down until around 9am, which is really late in my experiences here. As we were getting dressed and packed, our hostess came around with some ramen and kimchi which she cooked for us in the next room’s kitchen then served us and sat down to eat with us again. During our fumbled breakfast conversation, she indicated that we should return and spend some time with her during the summer vacations, so at least I know she didn’t totally resent our presence?
Home Again, Home Again Jigitty Jog
After breakfast, we packed up our things and tidied up after ourselves then headed outside where our hostess was prepared to drive us back to the bus station. I’m still of two minds on how to leave a review of this place. Double booking our room was a major customer service no-no, but she picked us up from the bus station, would have driven us back from the tulip festival if I’d called her, fed us dinner and breakfast, and drove us back to the bus station. All of which are well above and beyond the customer service I would have expected from a place I booked online. Calling us a taxi or helping us order some takeout would be about what I would have been satisfied with if I found myself too far from the bus stops or restaurants to deal with it on my own. So, yeah, she messed up pretty bad, but then did a tidy bundle of cool things too. I guess I’d recommend the place, with the caveat that you get someone who speaks Korean to call as soon as you make the reservation and double confirm it.
Once we reached the bus terminal, it was a straight shot home reversing our path to get there. We took the very lux bus back to Daejeon where we spent about 15 agonizing minutes outside trying to figure out how someplace so close could be so insanely hot and humid while the coast was still cool and pleasant light jacket weather. I am never moving inland. We’re going to Seoul in June and I’m already trying to figure out how to pack the lightest weight clothes I own for that nonsense. Then we stopped for lunch in the train station and found out everyone was out of ice cream. Seriously, that place was super hot. It’s early May and I can’t even begin to imagine what the inland cities will be like in the real summer. The final leg of our journey was a superfast train that brought us right back to cool coastal Busan and the familiar sights of my newest nest. There’s nothing quite like a crazy rural lost and found adventure to make your new digs feel like home sweet home.
I’m starting to feel like Korea is one giant festival season. I know it’s spring, and basically every new growth plant flower festival is happening, but the summer is full of summer flower festivals and fireworks festivals and beach festivals, and the fall has floating lantern festivals and harvest festivals, and I’m sure the winter has things I’ve yet to learn about too. Even on the odd weekend I didn’t expect to go to a festival, they’ve just turned up where I happened to be.
I’d be more apologetic that it takes me so long between posts, or that they are floods of events when they do happen, but the reality is there’s just too much! Talk about first world problems, oh no! Too many festivals! But seriously, any culture that takes their fun this, well, seriously has got to be doing something right. So here’s to you Korea, 건배! May we never grow weary of your charms.