Posts Tagged ‘Jeonju’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I think I have been consuming tea since at least starting secondary school (aged 11). I don’t recall ever wanting to try it, as you might do with cigarettes or alcohol. I don’t even recall the first taste. I do however, remember graduating from ‘putting the kettle on’ to ‘making a full pot’. Helping my mum make tea for herself was probably the initial stimulus which eventually led to full on regular consumption. I thought that if I go to the trouble of filling up the kettle, waiting for it to boil, warming the teapot, and then brewing, I should just drink some for myself. I started with lots of milk and two sugars; over time this changed into my basic well-brewed, zero sugar, strong, builder’s tea. As I got older and began to learn about new cultures I became interested in all types of tea. I now use tea like a prescription drug as much as a refreshing beverage. Here are the various types I consume and what I use them for.

홍차 Black tea (bags):

I drink ‘Lancashire Tea’ with breakfast or in the morning. It’s a strong black tea which I brew for 3 minutes then add milk. I drink it ‘Northern style’ or ‘Irish style’. I have noticed that tea is brewed very weakly in the South of England. The colour is brick-red and it should taste strong. If you were to drink this without milk it would stain your teeth with tannin. I will also consume this if I feel down or if I have a headache. I have Lancashire Tea sent over to me from England to Korea, it’s the only thing from home that I would desperately struggle to live without. The tea in my local supermarket is quite good (Homeplus is half owned by Tesco). However, they only have the typical types – English Breakfast, Assam etc. If there is no Lancashire Tea then the taste is similar to the more commonly available ‘Yorkshire Tea’, in fact, its taste is almost identical. Otherwise PG Tips or Dilmah would be my choice. I guess this is my recreational tea.

홍차 Black tea (loose leaf):

I now drink one cup of loose leaf ‘Lancaster Blend’. Although I am from Lancaster, I drink this because of the high quality. I’m not particularly patriotic for my red rose city or county but Lancaster is blessed with one of the best Tea & Coffee merchants I’ve ever been to. It was just round the corner from my house in Lancaster and it’s called Atkinson’s This tea is a blend and functions a bit like the tea mentioned above. I usually drink it just before work starts and I use a glass cup with a filter and lid. This was an amazing present from my girlfriend. It means I can enjoy loose leaf tea without having to use a teapot at work. I particularly enjoy watching the water change colour into a deep amber. I also add milk at the end.

녹차 Green Tea:

I think I first tried Green Tea in a Chinese restaurant in England. It’s a great after dinner drink especially after spicy food. I drink Green Tea after my tea time break at 4.30. It helps settle me down and calm my nerves. I often drink Green Tea in coffee shops and restaurants too. Korea has outstanding Green Teas, from the South Jeolla province and from Jeju Island. I get all my Green Tea directly from the Boseong Plantation. I have only been there twice but I bought enough to last me a long, long time. There are an infinite variety of Green Teas in the Far East but for my daily consumption I continue to drink the first pick from the plantation. I drink Green Tea unadulterated but I sometimes drink Green Tea Latte in cafes around Korea. I’m still not convinced about Green Tee Latte, but I’m open-minded.

생강차 Saenggacha (Ginger Tea)

This is a tea made from ginger stored in honey. It looks like a giant jar of fruit preserve you might spread on toast but it works like a gelatinous paste you add hot water to. It’s available in many cafes but I usually just drink it at home before breakfast. The first time I lived in Italy I found the Abruzzo winter was too cold for my humours. I used to make my version of this tea using root ginger, lemon and honey. I took it into work in a thermos and I swear it’s the best cold prevention in existence. My homemade ginger tea was about 4cm of ginger root grated, a full lemon, and two table spoons of honey. You simmer this for about 5 minutes then strain it through a sieve or tea strainer. Sometimes I left some of the grated ginger in for an extra kick. I stopped making it until I felt the same winter chills in Korea. However, infusions such as this are quite prevalent in East Asia so now I can just buy a jar. This tea is an aid to digestion, nausea and a cold or influenza prevention method. I think the best time to drink it would be as the first drink of the day.

유자차 Yujacha (Citron Tea) 

This is another Korean tea which has the same preparation method as the Ginger Tea described above. It has the rinds of the citron fruit which are preserved in honey and sugar. The first time I tried it was actually in the hairdressers in Jeonju. It was a cold quiet morning and I think the hairdresser was bored. She told me that she had picked it up at a discount and made me sample some. It’s pretty intense and medicine like. It’s not a tea I keep in my larder but if I find myself in a café and it’s too late to drink coffee I often opt for this delicious tea. I believe Koreans use it to prevent the common cold, I’m sure it would prevent scurvy too. You will find this in any Korean supermarket next to the preserve teas in the tea and coffee aisle,  most cafés serve it too.

오미자차 Omijacha (5 flavours Tea)

After actual tea made from Camellia Sinensis, this is my favourite. I have never seen it in Europe but from what I know it is found in China, Japan, and Russia, in fact the name of the fruit is Schisandra chinensis. The tea is made from the red berries of this plant which can be left in sugar to make a cordial type syrup. The first time I tried it was in a restaurant in Gunsan, Jeolla province. I tried it cold and it was delicious. The name translates to 5 flavour tea; it is said to comprise the five basic flavours i.e sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. My palette isn’t good enough to detect all those flavours but I do enjoy this tea. I bought the berries from the big Lotte food court in Seoul and I sometimes make it on the weekend. I would love to know the best preparation method without having to leave it in sugar. After trial and error I leave about a tablespoon of berries in a litre of cold water for 2 days. I then pour the water into a pan and simmer it for about 7 minutes, the water should turn a deepish red. I was told that it relieves stress amongst other claims. all I know is that I like it.

율무차 Yulmucha Job’s tears tea

This is a fairly common Korean tea made from the grain called Job’s tear. The first time I tried it was in a bus station at a vending machine, it costs almost nothing and I tried it with the perverse curiosity of how bad can something so cheap taste? It didn’t. The nearest taste in the UK would be those malt drinks which help you sleep, such as Horlicks or Ovaltine. However, you don’t add milk to this one, just water. I have spent half my life in Korea waiting for buses so this tea has special significance. I used to wait for my girlfriend to arrive in the morning at a small bus terminal and I walked there each time. The walk was a bout 45 minutes in the morning so the yulmucha was a real reward once I had made it to the bus terminal, I guess for me personally it makes waiting enjoyable. It is particularly good on cold winter mornings. You can buy this in powder form at most Korean shops and you add about 3 teaspoons to a cup then hot water. I keep some in the larder but I mostly drink it whilst waiting for buses.

Wow! It’s taken me over a year to write this one. This is both the easiest and the most difficult post to write, let me explain. It’s easy because I know Jeonju so well and I have spent so much time here, but it’s also difficult because there is so much to write about and in many ways it encompasses so many thoughts about Korea because it’s the only place I have ever lived in Korea. You could say that my thoughts about Jeonju reflect my thoughts about Korea. In this post I don’t want to give the dry facts like I usually do; I will leave that to the  links at the bottom of the page. I would rather talk about my personal experiences of the city. Like most of my posts, I hope this can help if you plan on travelling or living in Jeonju, I also hope it can help those of you who cannot visualise the place which I call home.

 I have what many consider an annoying habit of having to make analogy and comparison on everything. This has never been truer for my love of cities and places. Some places have easy comparisons: Liverpool is the Napoli of England which is the Marseilles of Italy. Manchester is Milan, Miami is Brighton, Blackpool is the Las Vegas of Lancashire. So many places to make sense of, and so many inaccurate analogies. With this jumbled classification and inadequate description  I have tried to find a way to explain Jeonju to those who have never been lucky enough to come here. the Korean tourist board and guidebooks make it easier for me because they are paid to think up tag lines and copy for places in the hope of giving them an ‘identity’. Something that gives me great pleasure is the fact that I don’t actually know the tagline for my home. This is partly because I’m not really a tourist here, I am a resident. However, I do believe that Jeonju defies easy classification, which is why I like it so much.

This is the view of my neighbourhood from Girinbong. It looks far away but it’s a 10 minute walk from my house to the top of this peak. The road to the left of the apartment buildings is where I work.

Once I had accepted my job in this provincial city I did some furious research on the place trying to build some expectations about what life would be like. I heard it described as the Mississippi of Korea. A slow, agricultural kind of place with people who stop and stare at anything out of the ordinary. I also heard it described as the culinary capital of Korea because  it has the famous dish Bibimbap, i.e Jeonju Bibimbap. The image in my head was of a sleepy place with grass growing between the cracks in the roads. For some reason I never expected to see mountains here, just flat agriculture land punctuated by high-rise apartments and drab, grey intersections. I think I was definitely lowering my expectations as far as possible so I wouldn’t be disappointed. I tried to cast aside the glossy neon tinged images of the metropolitan Seoul and prepare myself for Hicksville Koreana.

Wherever you go in Jeonju you seem to find someone tending a vegetable patch. This produce is likely to become one of your panchan (side dishes) in a matter of weeks. This one is next to a major hotel and the main Hanok Village area.

Arriving at night did nothing to dispel my fears and reservations, the airport coach pulled up at the back of a hotel and I was treated to the view of a wall and a multi-storey car park. Once I arrived at my temporary accommodation I was quite thrilled to see lots of neon and nightlife. East Asia looks unbelievably glamorous and exciting at night, especially to someone from a northern English city. The blackness seems blacker and everything is shinier. What I soon realised was that all this neon was just signs, not really life. Few people populated the roads between the hulking facades of what they call ‘love motels’, and the gaudy glitter of hostess bars and norebangs (singing rooms). It was unlike the cultural centres of European cities which I am used to, people spilling out of bars drinks in hand, not a car in sight. Occasionally cars did pull into the motels but generally things seemed  sedate. I had a grandstand view as I was staying in a love motel at the time. Seeing the same area in the daytime gave me even more of a fright because after a brief walk around the block I saw no signs of civilization beyond the railway tracks. It looked very much like the grass would be winning its war against paved roads. I spent the first two evenings after work getting my bearings and trying to work out where the heart of the city lay. I found  many fast food places and petrol stations, although I was walking round quite late. I also found it impossible to describe anything other than a rectangle with my walking pattern. Korean infrastructure is very 20th century so it’s designed for the motor car. Like most North American cities the streets are in a grid formation which can make wandering a soul-destroying experience. Luckily these geometric forays into Jeonju were brief and didn’t really scratch the surface of what I have since discovered. I realised that I was only skirting one of the outer neighbourhoods. Since then I have discovered a city of mountains resting their toes in the city, reclaimed rivers with joggers and cyclists on either side,  blue-collar wholesale districts, quiet temples perched among city parks and ordinary houses, shiny retail districts, dingy entertainment districts, and almost directly opposite the city hall.. a well-lit and fully visible red-light district!

Pre school kids dressed in ‘hanbok'(한복) traditional costumes on a trip to the Confucian School in the Hanok area.

Jeonju is small enough to be friendly and charming yet big enough for pockets of urban civilization to develop, sometimes in the least likely of places. Like all Korean cities every neighbourhood (or dong) has a backbone of bland highrise apartments. On first glance these places look like the beige or grey scum blocks you find in the bleakest parts of Manchester or Birmingham. If you’re from the U.S then I expect you would recognise them as looking like the projects. My mind instantly associates such places with depressed single mothers and young kids carrying knives in case someone looks at them funny. I was surprised and relieved to find that most of the phalanxes of apartment complexes are full of hard-working families and kids playing in the park or walking home from schools. Most of these buildings have well planted pine trees lining the roads to separate home life from the noise of the streets. Such buildings are a necessary part of life in a well-ordered Confucian society and a country with way too many mountains. Once you get past these areas you can find the traditional one story dwellings of traditional Korea. To my eyes most things look new and sterile but the small streets of narrow alleyways have a certain character to them. From a distance they can look like shanty towns but on closer inspection they are quite pleasant, if a little crowded. I try to walk down a different street every time I go into the downtown area called Gaeksa. The best thing about Jeonju is that these areas, highrise and low-rise usually have a view of the surrounding mountains. The west of Jeonju spreads out into the Honam plain which is full of rice and plasticulture. Despite this flat fertile area, much of the city is ringed by a chain of scenic mountains. The area where I live, which is called Ajungli, sits flush against the mountains. You can be in a pine forest on the edge of a lake within 10 minutes walk. In a mountainous country this is not unusual but I still love the scenery around Jeonju more than any other city I have seen in Korea. I hike twice a week before work and I never ever get tired of the green hills unfolding into the distance. I often dream about just waking up on a Sunday and setting out at dawn with my back to the city, just walking into the mountains. It rarely happens because I am often drawn to the predictable yet endearing nature of Jeonju city. One of the most endearing things about mountainous Korea is seeing people get on city buses decked out in the most expensive (often tasteless) hiking gear. Koreans are serious hikers from young ten-year old boys in training gear from Man U or AC Milan, through to elderly women in luminous floral blouses and sun visors.

Most of the outlying neighbourhoods are similar to my own, highrises sitting among the odd high street of chain restaurants and convenience stores. A phenomenon of Jeonju which can be seen to a lesser extent in other Korean cities is the number of coffee shops. My previous address had a choice of six different coffee places in about 100m on the main street. Whether such places remain is yet to be seen but for now they are an essential part of urban life. When you carry on along the main highways towards downtown the residential gives way to light industry, lots of tyre fitters and old men selling what look like electrical items from the museum of the recent past. Is there still a market for TVs which are not flat? Roads like this will inevitably lead down-town after a few monolithic schools. The Gaeksa area (named after a portion of a former palace where dignitaries stayed) is the main shopping area. It is easily distinguished by semi roofed pedestrian walkways. If you arrive before 11 in the morning ,as I do, it’s quite calm, but after lunch this place turns into the labyrinth of late capitalist nightmares. Every shop competes in a kind of unofficial tat contest. The biggest winners (or losers if judged from my perspective) are the cosmetics, electronics, and phone shops. Flyers are handed out to anyone who walks within 50 feet, and arches of balloons guide you into the shops just in case the fifteen sets of fairly lights didn’t attract your attention. A particularly nice touch is scantily clad women wearing leg warmers either singing and dancing or talking into headsets at full blast. In the bigger electronic stores they have their own podiums on either side of the entrance. This is East Asian Consumerism at its finest. There seems to be no discomfort or cringing, people just get on with it. The Gaeksa area is pretty typical of Korean cities, you can find much bigger and noisier places in Daejeon, Gwangju or Daegu. However, if you get tired of all the noise and fuss not all cities have the Hanok escape route. Just a few blocks from the madness is the Hanok Village. If any place is deserving of a new paragraph it’s the Hanok Village……so here goes…..

Hanok describes the Korean domestic architecture. It differs from the modern post war architecture in almost every way possible. Many of the hanok structures in Jeonju are reconstructed or actually brand new, but they all keep the same basic elements. They are made from timber, stone and clay. Many have courtyards and small streams running at the front of them. The greatest contain no nails in their construction and the tiling is exquisite. I’ve almost been run over walking through the Hanok Village because I always get transfixed by the amazing angles and designs of the roof. Even the roof on the gates are pretty ornate. I also prefer the plain white and wood colours to the painted temple buildings. The Hanok Village is an area where this traditional style of building has been given a touristy facelift and now most of the buildings are used as museums, cafes and craft shops. What makes this area more interesting is the number of master craftsmen working here. You can find calligraphy, lacquerware, pottery, dolls, wine, tea and a million other things. I admit that the artificial streams and little gazebos can be a bit twee and disneyfied, but I have never grown tired of this part of town. The central area here can get amazingly busy at weekends but I have still been able to find side streets to get lost down and new cafes to sit and sip. There are other Hanok areas in Korea, the one in Seoul is a great place to spend a sleepy afternoon, but I still love the Jeonju Hanok because I often end up there after my hikes. If you cross the road which barricades the old from the new you can be back into the mountains pretty quickly. The Hanok area has saved me on many occasions because when the dust settles and life becomes routine, you can forget where you are. I do live and work in Jeonju so sometimes all you do is go to work and visit the bank. The romantic view of East Asia is like the village from The Last Samurai, and you can get that kind of escape from the Hanok Village. My favourite memory was going on a big hike in the heat of summer and then falling asleep on a bench near the bamboo trees in the park.

The next noteworthy area is Chonbukdae (전북대). This area is named after the University: Chonbukdae Hakyeo (전북대학교). When I first discovered this’entertainment district’ I was quite astonished. I didn’t need to use those inverted commas, I made it sound like a ‘red light district’. It is in fact just entertainment. There are bars, nightclubs, video arcades and a million restaurants and coffee shops. The streets are narrow and filled with glittery lights, music, and fun.  Unlike Europe the entertainment is vertical, by this I mean you can often end up going to drink on a third floor. Many of the best bars are not even visible from street level and need complex Korean style directions to get you lost before you find it again by accident. It’s easy to get lost in a country which has almost no interest in street names or addresses. I think the only people who know their addresses are the postmen, the bus drivers go round in circles and the taxi drivers just follow the sun and hope for the best. I look on the Chonbuk area now with cynicism and  a smug sense of having conquered the novelty. Having said that it is always great fun to go there because nothing ever seems to close, and I also have a habit of ending up eating pigspine stew (감자탕) at 5 in the morning. This area can be found in any major Korean city and the one in Jeonju is not remarkable but it’s good to live in a place where you have access to the neon madness if you choose.

The city is separated by the Jeonju stream which is a tributary of the larger Dongjin River?  South Korea has an environmental plan to convert most city rivers and streams into areas for grasses and wildlife. This policy has had a great effect on Jeonju because you can walk around much of the city without having to cross roads, they also provide stepping-stones so you don’t have to navigate the traffic on the bridges. Unfortunately the river doesn’t really cut into the heart of the city like other places but it’s a great escape. I have spent many Sundays walking as far as I can until thirst, hunger or tiredness sets in. The river widens to such an extent that you can find football pitches if you go downstream from the centre of Jeonju. Other natural escapes include the mountains which I have mentioned and there is also a large park near the University. The park has a pretty forlorn zoo at the centre but the paths and peaks surrounding it are very nice. In the same park there is an Arts Centre and a badminton complex. Sports are well provided with astroturf pitches and basketball nets in most neighbourhoods. The greatest asset in the catalogue of sporting and leisure facilities is the World Cup Stadium. This lies way outside the city but it’s a beautiful stadium, a bit faded since the 2002 World Cup but still a great place. It was a selling point for the city when I discovered that Jeonju had a World Class stadium. Since I have been here I have seen the local team ‘Chonbuk Hyundai Motors’ win a couple of games and win the K-League. They also came second place in the Asian Champion’s League losing to Al Sadd in the final. The stadium is a telling sign that as a city it might be small but it has a lot to offer and it punches above its weight.

I don’t know if Jeonju will ever grow to the extent of needing a rapid transit system, its own post code or its own telephone number. It’s definitely still a provincial capital with a provincial nature. The new high-speed train line (KTX) puts it within easy reach of Seoul but it still feels very far away. Food delivery scooters are faster and more urgent than the emergency services. Within a few blocks you can see high-end retail therapy in a multi storey department store, then an old woman shuffling dirt  from an old cabbage patch. Incredible traffic jams on an eight lane roads, but on the same road in quiet times you’ll see a man leaving his car running at the lights to nip out and buy some ciggies. I’ve been racially abused by taxi drivers, ignored by bus drivers, hugged by strangers, and cheered by school kids. I’ve sipped hand drip Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee in a swanky café (15,000won) but gulped dirty instant coffee from bus station vending machines (300 won). Waiting for a movie to start I was once surprised when a taxi pulled up and a Buddhist monk got out and asked me where the nearest PC Bang (Internet café) was in a thick German accent, he was actually German I think. I could drown in a list of clichés to describe the place as I’m sure many travel writers have done. There is graffiti in the toilet of the ex-pat bar which reads ‘Lonely Planet woz ere.’ Underneath is written ‘Rough Guides are better.

In one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, where it seems everyone is called Kim and drives a Hyundai, where every city has a conference centre and a slogan, where almost everyone lives in a stacked grey apartment building, where the three beers taste identical and where every city has a carbon copy Tesco Homeplus, I can safely say that Jeonju is at least unique. The things I listed are only the superficial veneer of an endlessly fascinating country, and Jeonju is an endlessly fascinating city (for me). It can be infuriating at times like any foreign experience but on the whole Jeonju offers me everything I need to be happy, and that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it? Jeonju is the Jeonju of Korea.

Further Information:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mt. Maisan Provincial Park is located in Jinan-gun, Jeollabuk-do. It contains some good hiking trails and various temple complexes, the most interesting of which is Tapsa. If you are well organised you could do a day trip from Seoul, but it would be much easier from an overnight stay in Jeonju. For anyone who lives in Jeonju I think it is a ‘must see’ destination, for anyone who lives in Korea I’d say it’s a ‘should see’ destination.

Many landmarks and mountains are named after what they are supposed to look like. In the Far East everything seems to look like a dragon, in the Andes everything seems to look like a puma or a jaguar, and Indian landmarks usually look like elephants. The sceptic would say that natural features look like whatever their inhabitants deem sacred or familiar. This doesn’t just apply to distant exotic places. Manchester takes its name from Mam or Mammary, because seen from a distance the moors to the east look like mammary glands, add the word for castle and you have Manchester.

I expected Maisan not to look anything, especially a  horse’s ears, but the geology is so strange that the two gigantic outcrops of rock really do look like a horse’s ears. How did these huge rocky ears come into being? I guess you can believe the Geologists, or the people who passed their stories on through the passage of time. The people forced to sit together round a fire in the cold dry Korean winters after successful hunting trips. As you would expect, I’m going to ignore the geological explanation on this occasion. So, here goes:

…two gods came down from heaven, had a child and lived on Earth for an unspecified amount of time, when they eventually returned to their heavenly home a village woman saw them ascending, and they were subsequently trapped on Earth and  transformed in to a rock mountain.You can see the father peak and the child peak, and the mother peak on the other side. The two peaks are seperated into male and female horse ears with only 6 metres difference in altitude. The female peak to the west  is 673m, and the male  peak is 667m. I wonder if they knew the female peak was higher when they named them?

The most interesting thing aside from the ear shaped peaks is the Tapsa temple (actually -sa 사 means temple). This temple is nestled next to a vertical rockface which  sits eerily amongst the otherwise ordinary rocks and forests. Within the narrow complex of rock gardens and steps are around 80 dry-stone  pagodas. These are of varying height and reach right round  the back of the main temple building. It is said that they are impervious to the elements, although it is also said that there used to be 120 pagodas. I suspect 40 or so pagodas may have fallen victim to the very same elements they are impervious to.  The water is also supposed to freeze upwards into inverted icicles or stalagmites during the winter, the shape would suggest the water (or elements) are mimicking the pagodas. Why are the pagodas there? A hermit arrived in the late 19th century, although he was probably a proto-hermit* on arrival. His name was Yi Gap Yong (1860–1957) and he spent the next 30 years building his stone pagodas without the use of mortar. The highest reach about 9m and they are pretty impressive to look at, not because of the construction but because of the sheer strangeness. Yi Gap Yong was not even a monk, he was just a man who wanted to get closer to enlightenment through spiritual cultivation. His picture adorns much of the publicity around the Tapsa temple, he looks like a typical mystic with a long white beard and shiny spiritual eyes.

Despite my flippant tone I find the whole area extremely spiritual and otherworldly. It’s sometimes hard to appreciate such spiritual tranquillity with the legions of ajummas* marching up and down the path to find the best picnic spots. The place is very touristy and the two car parks have the usual trinkets and snacks on sale like all the temples and mountains in Korea. I would love to visit Maisan and Tapsa when there is nobody around because although I am no buddhist I believe there is something special in this place, something I have felt very rarely in other parts of the World. It’s also a beautiful setting with small streams and steep wooded hills. I have been on a damp spring day and a clear autumn day, the colours are spectacular. From the various trails I would recommend going from a totally different angle, that is not the North or South car park. You would be rewarded with a more vigorous hike and less crowded paths, although some of the signage is not great on these outer paths.

How to get there:

From Jeonju you can get an intercity bus to Jinan which is a short distance from the park. From Jinan Bus Terminal take a bus heading North Maisan. First bus runs at 7:30a.m., and from 8 a.m. arrives at 40 minute intervals. Last bus arrives at 6p.m.(5 minute ride), Get off at Maisan. Five minute ride by taxi. Taxis from the bus terminal at Maisan should be around 5000 won.

Directions to the Maisan bus from Jeonju train station.

Directions to the Maisan bus from Jeonju train station.

Although there is not much publicity, I took a city bus from opposite Jeonju Train Station. The bus stop is a city bus stop over the main road from the station. Bus number 105 runs from the same stop. If you are unsure go to the tourist desk inside the station as there is a map and timetable. This local bus takes a more scenic route through the mountains and costs 3,600 won (pay on the bus). I would recommend this service because it goes directly to the South Car Park where you can walk the 20 mins to Tapsa or start one of the trails. I took the 09.35 a.m bus and returned on the 14.20 bus. Within that time frame I was able to do a decent hike, have a good look round the temples and get something to eat.

* Proto Hermit = a person who looks like they need to spend a long time in a cave to recover from the insanity of the ‘real’ world.

*Ajumma = the most noticeable demographic in Korea. Older ladies wearing colourful and often floral hiking gear, visors, surgical masks and anything else that prevents the elements aging them. Looking at the amount of exercise they do I imagine they will outlive everyone. They can be found squatting over vegetables during the week and fighting for picnic space on the weekend.

금 = Gold 산 = Mountain 사 = Temple                 … I love it when Korean is this easy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went to Geumsansa today after a gruelling 2 hour hike up Moaksan and back down on the Geumsansa side. It was gruelling because I don’t think you are supposed to do it in that short amount of time. Actually, walking time may have been even less than that because I took in the view for a while at the top. I read somewhere that if you are athletic you can do it in one hour; I did it in 51 minutes so I must be an athlete. That makes me sound pretty vain but I am genuinely competitive when it comes to hiking times. On a quiet morning with fewer people I believe it could be scaled in 45 minutes without stopping for a break, but you would miss all the fun if you just race to the top.

You can take a 970 city bus from opposite Starbucks in Gaeksa directly to Moaksan Car Park. If you don’t get buses much, the bus stop has all the numbers on and the electronic screen displays the ETA.  There are two distinct sides to Mt Moak, the Moaksan side and the Geumsansa side. It’s quicker and easier from the Moak side but there are many people on the paths who may drive you nuts after a while. As Moak is so close to Jeonju city there are more casual day trippers than serious hikers, I even saw a guy in a suit half way up the peak. I tried to get up as quickly as possible in the hope of escaping from the crowds, easy signage and limited trails make it quite simple to get up. The crowds continue all the way to the top.  The peak affords great views of Jeonju and all the surrounding mountains, even though it was hazy I could have stayed up there all day looking at the view. I guess I am a view collector though, view collecting is a great hobby because it’s virtually free and if you keep your mind reasonably clear from pointless information like phone numbers, story lines to boring tv shows and lyrics to poorly crafted pop songs, you should have plenty of memory to store views. The peak of Moaksan itself is a bit of an anticlimax because it’s basically a military looking antennae place. However, there are a few smaller peaks spiralling out from the real one, so you could still find a place for a picnic of makgeolri and beondegi.

I mooched round the peak, then laughed at the woefully inadequate safety measures of the steeple jacks who were  repairing a tv mast. After this I began the descent down the other side of the ridge to Geumsansa. The contrast between the two sides could not have been sharper. The crowds of multicolored hikers jostling for surefooting was soon replaced by genuine tranquility. I don’t know why there were so few people on the other side, after all, it’s downhill and only about 4.5 km from the peak. I’m guessing most people come in cars so they go back the same way they came up. Anyway, I wasn’t complaining, I was happy to have the rubber matted descent stairs to myself for most of the way down. I only came across about 5 people before I got to the temple. There was a woman looking intently at a tree, a couple having a picnic, a man and his son, then a buddhist monk who clasped his hands and greeted me in English as we passed one another. After a small cable car building the path widens out into a concrete lane suitable for vehicles. It’s impossible to get lost because you follow the course of the small stream which meanders down to the foot of the temple and beyond. The water in the stream was pleasant company for me on a fairly mundane trail. Without the company of birds, chipmunks and trees I was happy to have the constant noise of the water as it raced down the hill to find the temple.

As I neared the temple there were more and more people milling about. The end of the path fans out into parkland and some institutional buddhist places. I arrived at the side gate of the temple and an old man gesticulated to me to get some food. There was lots of activity and beyond the old women washing pots and cooking were an army of coaches and an actual army. There must have been hundreds of military personnel. Something was going on at the temple and there were thousands of paper lanterns crisscrossing the large courtyard, there were also countless garden chairs and a growing number of people taking seats. I heard the chanting and wooden clicks typical of buddhist worship. Nothing sounds more alien to me than the strange chants, especially when you are so used to church bells and hymns. I circumnavigated the crowd of worshippers to have a look and take some pictures. I spent quite a long time looking round the temple. I have been before but this time was totally different. Autumn was moving in with a nice breeze, the same breeze was blowing all the lanterns and sounding the small bells which hang on the corners of some of the temple roof tops.

Geumsansa is an important temple by all accounts, it’s a head temple of the Jogye Order which goes way back. The order came about in the unified Shilla dynasty who were into their buddhism much more than the later Joseon dynsasty. If you’re making parallels, the Shilla were like the Anglo Saxons of Wessex who unified the English into one group. They also came about at a similar time, about 1,200 years ago. Geumsansa itself is definitely ancient, despite some of the recent restoration work. Some people believe it was founded in 600 AD when King Beop was on the scene. The scale and the buildings are very impressive. I think it’s the only 3 story pre modern structure in Korea and they also have the tallest indoor Buddha in the World, sorry, the biggest ‘standing’ buddha. I have seen the reclining Buddha in Bangkok and that was bigger than the Geumsansa Buddha. After seeing all the cultural assets and taking things in I realised something quite striking – I know almost nothing about Buddhism. I have read things about the Buddha and Zen but in terms of the everyday realities of Buddhism I have no clue. It seems mysterious and alien, but sometimes it seems shallow and commercial. I think I will write another post when I actually know something, for the moment I will hide my ignorance under the numerous photographs I took.

If anyone is interested in getting back from Geumsansa (something I wouldn’t recommend) you can take the 79 bus from the entrance to the car park, they leave sporadically but you’ll be back in Jeonju within 40 minutes.

For people who want to avoid Moak all together the 79 bus leaves from Jeonju station so it’s an easy trip if you come early from Seoul. If there are 3 or 4 people you could probably get the taxi, but that’s no fun is it?

“The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.” – “On Christmas,” Generally Speaking G.K Chesterton


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Many people have asked me about Christmas in Korea, and also about religion. I can talk about Christmas but the religion question I will leave for later, it’s too complicated and I don’t fully understand it myself yet. However, I can say that about 20 to 30 percent of Koreans are Christian, usually Presbyterian. I live in the city were the first Catholic Martyrs were executed, as a result there is a small but unique and impressive Cathedral and a larger Catholic community than other places in Korea.


I woke up feeling pretty sprightly on Christmas morn, it was just before 8 when I got my breakfast and checked on Cricket news. Unfortunately my Internet was being fickle and didn’t want me to know about how England would destroy the Baggy Greens in Melbourne, I eventually gave up and looked out of the window to gage the weather. It was bright and sunny with that nice crisp freshness you get here. I figured that my Internet breaking down was an omen to venture into Jeonju and see what happens at Christmas. I was a bit worried that everywhere would be dead as it is a public holiday, it was definitely quieter than usual on the roads but most shops seemed to be open and people were milling about like normal. I cut through one of the neighbourhoods to avoid waiting at the numerous traffic lights on the main road. It’s always funny going through the blue collar type neighbourhoods because I always catch people by surprise, they don’t expect to see Westerners in such places. I suppose if you mostly get taxis and buses then you may miss some of the smaller neighbourhoods in between the main streets. These places seemed a little strange and intimidating at first but as I have ventured into them I feel more at home on each visit. I descended the hill and instead of carrying on into the down town area like usual, I took a left and headed for the traditional area of Jeonju, this place is called the Hanok Village as the traditional type of architecture is the Hanok house.


Hanoks are perhaps what you would expect from East Asia, small solid structures with sloping roofs and elaborate tiles which protrude from the corners, think village in Last Samurai or royal chambers in Crouching Tiger and you’re nearly there. In the Western imagination all Oriental people live in places like this, crouching down eating rice and practising ancient Martial Arts. In reality most people, at least in Korea live in High Rise apartment complexes. Although the Hanok village is a wonderful place with many quaint touristy things to do, I have already seen the place and my detour was not for tourism. The reason I chose to go through this area was to visit the Cathedral, Jeondong Catholic Cathedral to give it it’s full name. My intention was simply to nip in and out to soak up the Christmas spirit and remember that this festival does have a reason other than buying things and over eating. I am the kind of person who would simply ignore Christmas if I was an atheist. I celebrate Christmas in the same way I don’t celebrate Eid or Rosh Hashana, pretty logical, pretty simple. For this simple reason I felt it necessary to visit the church if only for 5 minutes or so; this was not to be the case.




I was sitting outside the Cathedral to see whether or not it might be wiser to wait for the mass to finish, it was about 11 ‘o clock at the time. I noticed that the car park was full and I heard some quite angelic singing from within. Some of the tourists were going in and out with their cameras so with some trepidation I decided to go in, I wasn’t intending on staying for very long because I cannot speak Korean so the mass would be lost on me. As I got into the church I shuffled around at the back unable to get a clear view of proceedings because there were tourists jostling about. For some reason, perhaps my Roman face or the halo round my head, a nun homed in on me and grabbed me (in the nicest possible way), in the language of gesturing  I understood that she wanted to ascertain whether I wanted a seat in the stalls. Caught up in the moment and not wanting to run away from the kindly nun I let her lead me about halfway down the aisle on the left and she shuffled some old lady further down and gave me a place behind a rather solid looking column. After a pause and a deep breath I settled into my seat and tried to correlate the responses and Amens with my memories of Church. I realised that we were leading up to the readings. I think that this experience was my first ‘culture shock’, this is ironic in the extreme as I am more familiar with the Catholic Church than anything else in my Korean surroundings. I think it was this very familiarity which made things appear so strange. The clothes, intonation of the priest, stations of the cross, hymns and countless other things were familiar enough to give me a heavy case of déjà vu but these familiar things were simply a veneer over something completely alien. As I looked around I realised that there were only 4 other ‘Westerners’, a family actually. Everybody else in the church was Korean. About 99% of the women were wearing the white lace headscarf, I have seen this a couple of times in Italy, but on this occasion it was pretty much every woman in the church. I had a look for evidence about why women should cover their heads and men should remove hats, I found this:


1 Corinthians 11:1-17:
Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you. But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ: and the head of the woman is the man: and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head. The man indeed ought not to cover his head: because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man [c.f. Genesis 2-3]. For the man was not created for the woman: but the woman for the man. Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels. But yet neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God. You yourselves judge. Doth it become a woman to pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you that a man indeed, if he nourish his hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the Church of God [i.e., if anyone want to complain about this, we have no other way of doing things, this is our practice; all the churches believe the same way]. Now this I ordain: not praising you, that you come together, not for the better, but for the worse.



That clears it up for me.

I was sitting in an area of mostly older woman and I felt conspicuously tall. In general Koreans are not particularly short in stature, I believe they may be on average the tallest nation in Asia, but I think the older generation may be shorter on account of diet and living conditions. In their youth Korea was a developing nation and the hardship of war and famine played its part on diet and nutrition. It’s only the last 20 years that have seen Korea progress steadily through the quality of life index and thus have the money to afford a high protein diet .


The mass itself was starting to feel more familiar and most things seemed the same, the biggest shock came when the priest offered the sign of peace, I could have worked out that they may bow instead of shaking hands but it caught me off-guard. I did a full 360 degrees round of bowing until a woman in the next row did a double check and upon realising I wasn’t Korean she grabbed my hand and gave me an extremely sincere handshake and smile. The only other strange thing was the people giving out the Eucharist wore white gloves like traffic police. Upon receiving the holy wafer each member of the congregation bows instead of making the sign of the cross. There was a small presentation at the end for some reason, a few medals were given out and then as things drew to a close the headscarf went into pockets and people started leaving. When I got back outside the kindly nun who had ushered me into the service saw me readying myself to leave but she quickly got me by the elbow and took me to where they were serving tea. I had some tea with her and she asked me a couple of questions, her English was good enough for basic questioning, this is rare as older Koreans don’t usually speak any English. I suppose with Catholicism in an Eastern country, the door opens up many other aspects of Western Civilisation, such as speaking English. The whole experience was very positive and I will always remember my Christmas in Korea.