Monday, January 17, 2022

Long Weekend in Yeosu on the Korean Coast

We made a last-minute decision to travel with some friends to Yeosu, a city on the south coast of Korea. I'm so glad we did, too, because I had an extremely stressful week at work and needed the vacation. We already had Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (did I mention we get local and U.S. holidays when we serve overseas?), and I had already taken Friday off as well so I could attend a virtual launch party for one of my recently accepted publications (my first-ever historical fiction short story). The Korean poem above sums up my feelings of this trip. My translation: "Since I came to travel, I am so joyful. Being together with you makes it even more so."

We left Friday afternoon and took the KTX train from Yongsan Station to Yeosu Expo Station. We hoped to take the bullet train (about 3 hours), but by the time we got to Yongsan Station to book our tickets we were told that train was standing room only. So we ended up waiting a bit and taking a 4-hour train instead. Even on that train, there were no seats left together so we sat across the aisle from each other instead. (No wonder most people book online or via app in advance!) Thankfully, the trains are spacious, clean, and comfortable so we didn't have any issues.

By the time we arrived in Yeosu it was already dark outside, but we were greeted with a beautiful display of fireworks. We couldn't figure out why there were fireworks at all, but we weren't complaining. It was a relatively short (20-minute) walk from the station to our hotel: Utop Marina. When we checked in, we were pleasantly surprised to discover our room was on the corner of one of the highest floors with two walls of windows overlooking the bay. On top of that, we got a handful of guest tickets for everything from the hotel's breakfast buffet to a 30-minute yacht ride. I was too hungry to venture far in search of food, so we tried the hotel pub and enjoyed it. M got grilled sausage and assorted fried potatoes, while I ate fresh octopus jajangmyeon (문어자장면, noodles with black bean sauce and a whole octopus on top). Let's just say we were each happy with our order.

The next day, M and I grabbed hotel breakfast, which we loved because it had everything from Froot Loops for him and rice and banchan (반찬) side dishes for me. Then, we went on a hiking date to Odongdo Island (오동도), which was a lovely walk we could do from the hotel. Since I'm in my third trimester of pregnancy, I walked slowly and took plenty of breaks but found Odongdo totally manageable. Although we didn't see a lot of the island's famous camellia blooms given the season, we enjoyed trekking down to a cave where legend has it a dragon used to live, looking out over the ocean, and breathing the rejuvenating fresh air of the forest path. The air quality in Seoul has been rough recently, which made us appreciate the clear skies in the south even more.

We met up with friends for dinner where I had naengmyeon (냉면, buckwheat noodles in cold broth) and M had three servings (!) of huge dumplings. We walked around a bit after dinner, got tasty gelato, and checked out a replica of a traditional Korean armored ship called a geobukseon, or turtle ship (거북선). Then, we went back to the hotel and watched a Korean movie in our room called The Admiral: Roaring Currents (which we rented to stream from Amazon Prime). The 2014 movie was about Admiral Yi Sun Shin, one of Korea's greatest military heroes, and the Battle of Myeongnyang where he famously defended Korea's Myeongnyang Strait against the Japanese navy despite being outnumbered by more than ten-to-one. The movie was full of drama and action, and I can easily see why it was such a commercial hit in Korea.

On Sunday, we took our yacht tour in the morning, and it was a delightful ride. It was a little chilly outside but they provided us with warm blankets and played an eclectic mix of music as we bobbed out to the sea. I always feel so calm whenever I'm out on the water (and it's not a storm, of course). After that, we split off from our friends since they wanted to find a raw, fermented crab restaurant and that is not on the menu for me (due to pregnancy) and M (due to general life preferences). So M and I found a delicious samgyeopsal (삼겹살, grilled pork belly) restaurant and ate our fill.

We met up again with our friends later for the Yeosu Maritime Cable Car. Reviews online debate over whether it's worth it to pay extra for a cable car with a glass bottom, but we did not spring for it and were grateful we didn't. We didn't feel like we missed anything in terms of the view and the line moved a lot faster.

We did take advice from a blog to take the cable car closer to the end of the day so you can ride up during sunset and ride back when it's dark, as Yeosu is lit up at night. That was a fantastic tip, as we got the best of both worlds in terms of the view and it wasn't too crowded at that time.

On Monday morning, M and I slept in and didn't want to leave our hotel and return to our normal life in Seoul! But alas, all good things must come to end so we checked out and met up with one of our friends to grab a bite to eat before taking the train back. We decided to try a "baguette burger" from a place called Yeosudang (여수당) and strawberry mochi from Yeosu Strawberry Mochi (여수딸기모찌) because we'd passed them multiple times and there were always huge lines down the street. Our friend S loved the baguette burger, which I considered much more baguette than burger. It kind of tasted like someone stuffed a baguette with coleslaw and barbecue sauce, so I didn't hate it but didn't love it. The strawberry mochi, on the other hand, was delicious and so flavorful.

We headed back to Yeosu Expo Station and grabbed the next bullet train heading back to Yongsan Station. This time, M and I booked online that morning so we could reserve seats next to each other. And we'll honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day when we get home by watching a movie (this time we're watching Amend: The Fight for America, but we also recommend 13th, Coded Bias, Dear White People, Loving, or When They See Us if you're looking to learn and feel something. We're also working on our own social justice advocacy efforts in our home state of Virginia (which has a long, long way to go to realize even a fraction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision).

Although the weekend flew by much too fast, I still feel like I needed every second of it to recover and reset for this next week. I want to end this post on a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote I love: "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice." Today I'm carrying a prayer in my heart for true justice and true peace. And I wish those things for every reader of the blog, too.

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