The monsoon rains have made my grand weekend plans difficult to maneuver lately. Unfortunately I no longer have three day weekends since I’ve taken on teaching a summer intensive. I now teach three, three-hour classes a day. I missed a “company party” – read the boss gets really drunk and tries to control and humiliate his employees – something I am trying very hard to avoid ever having to go to, but I’m sure there will be ramifications for my not making it.
My original plan had been to go to Gongju for the long weekend, but a series of events made the trip impractical for the amount of time I was going to spend, and at the very last second, another teacher and I hopped a bus to Icheon just as it was leaving. The day displayed perfectly how if you are are willing to be flexible and not hold onto expectations, the greatest travel experiences arise.
Icheon is known as the ceramic city (not to be confused with Incheon, the part of Korea that I live in – Bupyeong to be exact), but except for the kimchi pots along the unbeaten path, we didn’t spend much time looking at the local wares. It was pouring rain, and determined not to let that ruin our day, we got off the bus and headed to a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Tai. It was excellent – we had some noodles similar to pad see ew, and a pork pho soup that was fantastic. The rain let up and we decided to taxi it up to a temple that I was interested in seeing. Of course it started pouring again once we got in the cab, all the way to the temple. The cab driver gave us his number, and even offered to wait a few minutes while we took pictures, but we were determined to make this more than a ten minute trip. Our luck was with us, and it stopped raining soon after he dropped us off in a field full of louts blossoms and white cranes.
After hanging out under the awnings waiting for the rain to stop, we started walking up the hill. The regular road ended in a worn path through the woods and up the mountain. “I’m game if you are game,” we said to each other, and were off into the first place in Korea I have seen where we didn’t encounter a car, another person, or a house constructed from concrete for hours. The hillside had cemeteries, some older, and some quite new, every few hundred meters. Unlike most places in the US, where we write off slope as an improbable place for archaeological finds, all the cemeteries here on sometimes quite steep hillsides, with berms of earth built up around them.
We walked up the mountain for a while and started to see the tell tale signs that there was a temple ahead. Primarily the plastic, painted lanterns strung through the trees.
We came up around the temple, and came into the temple garden from the top. I noticed that one statue seemed out of place and not in keeping with the style or texture of most statues I have seen at temples. When I came around to the front, I could see that it was, indeed, a peeing fountain.
We had a decision to make, keep heading up the mountain, or go back the way we came and call the taxi. We went for up. The weather was holding out, somehow we weren’t suffering from the exhaustion that overtakes me on even short subway rides to Seoul, and the excitement of travelling with someone who is agreeable to taking the unconventional path was too much fun. We took several paths around the mountain that ended in dead ends, waterfalls (unfortunately covered in trash, it seemed society’s mark had found its way onto the mountain), and one precarious river crossing where the road had washed out.
Making our way back down the other side we came to a peculiar coffee shop in the middle of nowhere. Called the Station Cafe, it came complete with the sounds of the proprietor playing jazz saxophone.
After a lovely cup of pine nut tea, we called the taxi to come take us back to the bus stop. When we pulled away from the coffee shop we could see that it was actually right next to the field we had been dropped off at. We had made a perfect circle around the mountain.
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