Days 562-563 Jeonju Revisited – Back to the Beginning

IMG_5483This weekend six of my friends and myself took a 4-hour bus ride to Jeonju and stayed overnight.

IMG_5473Jeonju is almost due west of Ulsan (it’s a little bit north of due west) and if you remember is the place where my Korean adventure began. Jeonju is where orientation took place one and a half years ago.

IMG_5486We decided it would be nostalgic to revisit Jeonju by going back to the beginning.

IMG_5468We arrived around 3pm and immediately checked into our accommodation, which was called a Yeogwan and is a traditional guesthouse. Luckily one of our close friends is a Korean woman who spent 35 years in America, and being fluent in both languages and cultures helped a great deal. She is our Korean mother and took charge of everything beautifully, making the trip a breeze for us, so we are eternally grateful to her. Thanks Young!

The Yeogwan is the cheapest type of accommodation in Korea, I would say it is a step below the iconic love motel. Not that I’m complaining, but a hotel this wasn’t! The corridors were dark and dingy and my room was like a prison cell (it was even fitted with a metal door).

Although, to its credit, it seemed clean enough to me, and the bed was even fitted with a heated blanket (which took hours to cool down after I turned it off, turning my room into a sauna for a while!).

The proprietor of the yeogwan was an ajumma who appeared to be in her seventies. She slept on a small bed inside the reception booth and could be woken at any point of the day if a new guest arrived. Seems like a very hard life for her.

IMG_5489In reality the feeling of nostalgia was absent because many of the places we visited this weekend were new places, and we did not revisit the university area where most of our orientation took place. The only place we revisited was the Hanok Village, the place where I lost my camera case eighteen months ago (I used a sock as its replacement until I arrived in Ulsan).

IMG_5514Jeonju, like many parts of Korea, is an old city with roots going back to the Silla Dynasty. The first thing I noticed as we took our first stroll around was all the wood. There are so many buildings with a wooden decor, ranging from temples to cafes and restaurants to shops.

IMG_5481The streets are small and narrow and many establishments have been packed into the small areas. The streets were lined with people and the restaurants were crammed with as many people as was physically possible and felt a little claustrophobic. It seemed like they had taken the ‘How many people can you fit in a Mini’ competition and applied it to their eateries. It had a quaint feel about it, and almost reminded me of a European city in parts.

IMG_5518As you walk around, gazing at these wooden shacks and temples, you can almost put yourself back in medieval times and imagine samurai warriors marching around.

IMG_5511In the late afternoon on Saturday we found a museum of embroidery work (although the sign read ‘Museum of Embrodery Fork’ – oops) and I bought myself a souvenir – a traditional embroidered painting sewn into paper materials that had been collected and recycled over several decades.

Young and I attempted to barter for a price reduction but the ajumma proprietor didn’t seem willing to budge. In the end we managed to negotiate 30000 when the original price was 40000, not bad I suppose.

IMG_5523Jeonju is famous for bibimbap and it is supposed to be the best bibimbap in Korea. Ironically we didn’t eat much of it this weekend (although we were taken to a gourmet bibimbap restaurant during orientation back in August 2011). We did eat a great deal of other delicious food however, such as the kalguksu pictured above.

IMG_5519There was also some not-so-delicious food on offer, such as this fish (pictured above) which carried with it a putrid smell of ammonia. Suffice to say, I wasn’t brave enough to try it!

On Sunday we returned to Hanok Village, one of the places EPIK brought us to during orientation. The village is a cultural heritage site, with a temple ground, a traditional market and streets lined with trinket shops, cafes and makeoli bars.

IMG_5500We visited a makeoli museum, makeoli being the rice wine beverage popular with people of all ages in Korea. The museum explained in Korean the fermentation processes, with Young acting as translator for the rest of the group.

IMG_5503We then found an arts and crafts museum and I saw decorative fans with many different designs on them (it reminded me of orientation when we were invited to design our own fans in a fan-making class).

IMG_5501Quite bizarrely, enclosed in a cabinet next to the fans was a sample of paper currency from many different countries of the world. I’m not sure where the connection lies between fans and money, however I was surprised to discover that Zimbabwe had this: a one hundred trillion dollar note!!! Fake or real? You decide! But don’t phone in, it’s just for fun.

As late afternoon approached we had some final time to kill before boarding the bus back to Ulsan. We stumbled upon this fascinating little place.

IMG_5542It’s a cafe designed in the most curiously artistic and interesting way I have ever seen. The owner of the cafe appears to have collected a large amount of memorabilia from a bygone era, perhaps the 1970’s or 1980’s, we couldn’t quite tell, and arranged these items in such a way as to decorate the cafe, a tiny wooden shack that can only accommodate a handful of people at a time.

IMG_5537There were old personal computers, books, comics, magazines, toys, trinkets and ornaments. It looked a little like somebody’s loft, minus any dust! Children were attracted to the Spiderman figure hanging beside the window.

IMG_5531So while the trip to Jeonju didn’t provide much of a feeling of nostalgia, it was certainly an enjoyable weekend away. A big thank you to Young for organising the trip, booking the bus and accommodation and acting as tour guide and translator the whole weekend. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Oh, and I didn’t find my camera case. That’s too bad.

For the full set of photos from the weekend in Jeonju, please visit my Flickr page.

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About michaelhollin

Originally from Leeds, England, I am now an English teacher in Ulsan, South Korea. I am a graduate of the University of Huddersfield’s Business School and The College of Law Chester. I self-published my novel A Cause for Concern in September 2010.
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