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Jun 02 2012

Bathing Buddha

Suanbo was the only town on my trip through South Korea in which I did not find a host.

Buddha statue in Mireuk-ri

Buddha statue in Mireuk-ri

When reaching the town I quickly realized why it is this way. It’s a town which economic sources seem to be focused 100 % on

Buddha statue in Mireuk-ri

Buddha statue in Mireuk-ri

tourism. The city is flooded by hotels and motels each and every with it’s own Spa. Suanbo is well known for its hot springs. During the winter season it also provides a little winter sports area. If you come outside the tourist season plenty of rooms are available for prices more than a bargain. For only 30.000 Won (26 AUD, 26 CAD, 16,50 GBP, 33,80 NZD, 30 USD) I get a very clean and comfy room including a bathroom with bath tub, mini bar, TV-Set of course, king size bed, air conditioner and – most important for me – my own computer with high speed internet without extra charges. (Even though I just used the network-cable to hook up my laptop to it). Even the Motels in Suanbo have their own hot spring. Rooms at the more luxury hotels are available from 80.000 Won (69,90 AUD, 70 CAD, 44 GBP, 90 NZD 67,70 USD) onwards.

 

 

Five storied stone pagoda in Mireuk-ri

Five storied stone pagoda in Mireuk-ri

But even for those interested in history the town is worth a stay. About 7.5 miles east of Suanbo in Mireuk-ri, Jungwon, a historic Buddha statue and several other ancient artefacts expected to originate from the time of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C – 935 A.D.) can be admired. As this location does not lie on the route of my bicycle trip I decide to get there by bus which is only 1200 Won(way) (sorry for the pun). It is fortunate that I’m here close to Buddha’s birthday. I saw more than enough lanterns within the last week but it still wows me with how many of them they adorn their temples, streets and houses. The bus ride to the temple can be recommended but not the time table. Depending on which time you get there it can take up to four hours until you can catch a bus back to Suanbo again. So I decide to hitch-hike back and get a lift straight away! It’s kind of sad as the driver is so friendly, I would like ask plenty of questions to him, he also looks curious about me, but except for geum-ah-wa-yo (thank you) I don’t speak any Korean and neither does he speak any English.

Stoned turtle (well because of the smoke from the temple)

Stoned turtle (well because of the smoke from the temple)

Rest area on the way to Ihrwaryeong Pass

Rest area on the way to Ihrwaryeong Pass

Back at my hotel I grab my bicycle to set forth to my next destination Mungyeon. Today I will pass the highest point of my South Korean bicycle trip. The 529 m high Ihrwaryeong pass. All this is part of the Seoul – Busan bicycle road South Korea introduced some years ago. It provides safe, well surfaced and well signed bicycle roads so far. As so the one leading on top of the Ihrwaryeong pass. It’s almost a bit disappointing because it is too safe :) The five km long way to the pass is a constant climb, however at no point really steep. I am amazed on how many places they set up rest areas with toilets. By the way, I can really recommend South Korea in May. It’s not too hot and today is my first rainy day. Couldn’t have been timed any better as I’d rather cycle a pass on a rainy day than make my way up to the top in clothes drenched with sweat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green hill zone

Green hill zone

No weather for beautiful shots but for chilled cycling

No weather for beautiful shots but for chilled cycling

My next host in Mungyeon is another English teacher again. Jonathan is from the States and had lived here for two years already. As I text him at about 5 p.m. explaining that I am at the bus stop described on his CS Pofile we both quickly realize that it is the wrong bus stop. Unfortunately it’s dark already, I can’t read any of those street signs thus can’t really tell Jonathan where I am. An old Korean man – about 60 – passes by on his bicycle so I stop him to gesture if he would take the phone call from Jonathan. As the Korean has not the slightest clue about what I am trying to explain to him he seems to be more than confused and almost refuses to take my cell phone until I hold it to his ears and say: “Jonathan you can talk now!” Jonathan does not know the village I am in right now but the next big town however it seems to be more than 12 miles away from Jonathan’s place.

“Oh Simon I’m sorry about this,” Jonathan says, “hey er, there are actually good bus connections so if you get your bicycle…”

“Sorry Jonathan no way,” I’m interrupting him, “my trunk is simply too big!”

“Oh wait a minute a friend of mine has a van…”

Jonathan calls his friend and he agrees to pick me up. Still I can’t tell my exact position. I am cycling back to the last bigger town and am passing a huge artificial and lit climbing wall. Climbing seems to be a big thing in South Korea (amongst other sports like Golf – there are thousands of Golf courses here – and bicycling of course). Luckily Jonathan’s friend is a Climber and knows this climbing wall: “Holy crap that’s more than 30 minutes by car!”

“Are you really sure we are talking about the same climbing wall?” I want to double check.

“Totally sure!”

At least it stopped to rain about two hours ago already. As I sit down below a little hut next to the wall to watch the climbers, a Korean girl, about 16 (my guess sorry if I am wrong Abby) comes towards me: “Excuse me are you a teacher?…”

Abby

Abby

I’m impressed with her good English skills. And about the fact that she opened the conversation. After I have lived in Japan for more than a year and travelled through South Korea for a week now I can say that there are way more South Koreans who speak English to me compared to Japanese people in Japan. Even if many South Koreans speak English in a very broken style. At least they try! Except for four or five people in Tokyo, who offered me help in English even though I did not ask for it, nobody (except cs hosts and at work) spoke English to me there. All the cyclists here in South Korea who spotted the Seoul – Busan sign on my bicycle trailer succeeded in the simple question: “Where are you from?” Most Japanese people did not even dare to just to try to ask this question in English but rather ask: “Amerika Jin desu ka?”

Abby is amazed about my story and wants to write down my webpage address. As I knew QR codes are very popular here in South Korea and Japan I printed one for my bicycle trailer. She runs to it, scans the code, visits my web side with her smart phone and watches some of my interviews. “I want to be interviewed as well!”, she says.

“Perfect”, is my reply but right in that moment Jonathan and his friend are showing up with the van.

“I’m really sorry Abby but I will write about you,” I’m promising her. Jonathan’s friend gets out of the van and I greet him. Abby also does and they start a conversation. It turns out that she is one of his students. Then Jonathans friend walks on towards the climbers and asks around: “Hey did anybody see my sandals here? I must have forgotten them here three days ago.”

I did not see who gave them to him, I don’t know where they took it from but in less than a minute he’s holding his new 100 USD sandals in his hands again. The climbers knew right from the beginning about the sandals and brought them to him.

“That’s what I find amazing about South Korea”, Jonathan says, “such things rarely get stolen here.”

Special thanks to: Aly Woolliams (text revision), Paul Sharman, Jonathan D Whitsett, Hubertus Neidhart from Webspace Provider Network for excellent web page hosting services; Christoph Flossmann, Lilith Pendzich

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