Surprised in Jeonju

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August 29th 2012
Published: August 29th 2012
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I'll try and get some photo's up this weekend. At the moment they're uploaded on my Facebook Page.

When we went to leave Langkawi we found out that we still had an extra day. We packed our bags, did the last minute things we wanted to such as parasailing, eating fantastic food, swimming in the ocean, watchinghte sunsets and made peace with the fact that our vacation was over. The morning we intended to check out the desk clerk informed us that we didn't check out until the next day. Great, I thought, I've reserved the room an extra night and we'll have to pay for it even though we'll be on a flight to Seoul in a few hours. I went and double checked my booking and much to my surprise saw that our hotel room was booked to the next day but also our flight wasn't until the next day as well. It was one of the best mistakes I've ever made. We had one more day in paradise.

When we finally made it back to Korea the vacation blues had set in. I'll be honest and saying that we both feel
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This is a very old Hanok building in the Jeonju Hanok Village
our time here has come to an end. In fact I think it came to an end sometime last year but we just never left. From day to day we go about our business but after four years the negative aspects of living here are starting to surpass the positives and we really are ready to leave. Coming back from an amazing vacation doesn't make it all that much easier to deal with the frustrations of everyday life in the ROK either.

That's why we were both relived to find that our schools had canceled the first week of school and extended summer vacation because the weather was just too hot. And it was. Trying to teach a room full of 6th graders in 95 degree weather with 90% humidity when your Principal is too cheap to turn on the A/C has to be one of Dante's level of Hell, I just don't remember which. Nonetheless we were off for an extra week and this was just what we needed, to transition back into home life instead of being thrust infront of a group 6th graders foaming at the mouth.

Did it matter that we had to use
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This VW Bus was parked out front. It had Washington plates.
a week of our winter vacation? Did it matter that this decision wasn't really made until the last second and therefore prevented us from extending our stay in Malaysia? Did it matter that we still had a while to go until our payday so wouldn't be able to do to much on our vacation? Well, actually, yea, a little. We were mostly annoyed that they hadn't told us this and sent an email so we could stay in Malaysia but what the heck, we had an extra week of summer vacation and that was good enough. We toyed with the idea of heading over to the Philippines to swim with whale sharks and get back to the island life but the morning of our decision we saw a news report about heavy flooding in Manilla and wondered if it would be a headache to get around the country. Eventually we decided to stay in our own backyard, to find something new and exciting and give us a reason to feel good about being back in Korea.

On an night bus we headed for the west coast. Somewhere around Jeonju, the bus driver pulled up and told us
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The sun goes down on Jeonju
this was as far as we were going to get. As we were looking for a hotel room for the night he dropped us off in Jeonju's Hanok Village assuring us that we'd find a place to stay. Neither of us knew that Jeonju had a Hanok Village and were a bit surprised to be walking down old brick streets and alley's lined with traditional Korean houses. A hanok is a wooden structure that people all over the country used to live in until they were burned through various wars and torn down to make way for modernization once the people here got a lust for skyrises and neon.

Jeonju's Hanok Village is what I'd hoped to find myself living near when I came to Korea. Before I left America in 2008 I did a little bit of research and looked at enough photo's to know that Seoul was a sea of concrete and smog but in my mind I thought, if only I can find a place like this, a place with old buildings and older streets to get lost and explore then everything will be okay. Well, sadly when I arrived I quickly learned that these places don't really exist anymore and if they do they're just really for tourists. Still, I loved it. It's hard to find a place here that's really scenic and nice but Jeonju was the real deal. We decided to stay over night and explore the next day rather than head on for the islands.

We woke and found a blue sky waiting for us. It was hot and we both felt glad not to be in a classroom. Winding our way down the cobbled streets we felt at ease to not be surrounded by grey monolithic apartments and bombarded with neon advertisements. Jeonju was just quite, and clean, colorful, and....exactely the place I wished Korea would have been when I left home. Seoul for the most part is fun and exciting. There is always something going on and no matter what time of night or day things are always open but it is in no way beautiful. In fact Seoul is an ugly city. It's dirty, it's loud, the smell reminds me of the outhouses at a music festival and the architecture looks like it was modeled after prisons and the Communist Latvia. The neon is to a
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We stopped at a roof top cafe to take a break from the heat.
degree that would make Vegas stand up and say, "Hey, uh, guys, you think you might want to tone it down a bit? It's just a little, uh,.....tacky, you know>" It's a city built around the idea of conveience and it is certainly that. You can get anything you want before you even know that you want it, you just don't really want to look around on your way out. But Jeonju was great, it had personality, there were actual trees not just ones that they put in the ground for the summer and then load up for the cold harsh winter and store in a warehouse.

We spent the day getting lost, finding the wine museum, resting in the shade with shaved ice, snapping photo's and feeling good about being back. It was just what we needed. We even met an amazing couple who had just moved back to Korea after living for eight years in India. They had opened a women's only guesthouse but invited us there for tea. We met up with them, drank some tea and shared stories about ourselves and just got to know these wonderful people. It was fantastic and it
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If Korea had more of these traditional buildings it would make it a much more beautiful place.
really made me feel good about being back. Jen and I both agreed, this was what Korea should be about. If everyone was as open and friendly as the people we met in Jeonju we would have very little qualms about living here for the rest of the year. We left Jeonju with our spirts restored.

The next day we made our way to Sunyudo from a ferry port. According to our weathered Lonely Planet book, which I intend to burn once we leave this place due to all of the incorrect information and exaggerated write ups about places, as we were about to find, Sunyudo was Korea's own Polynesia. That sounds nice we said to each other, Polynesia. I've never been to Polynesia and neither has Jen but I know that many people do go there and it's renowned for it's beauty but if I'm going on my experience of Korea's answer to Polynesia the lonely South Pacific islands must be loaded with trash, drab hotels, abandoned homes, broken bicycles and the smell of dead sealife. Not exactly the type of place you go out of your way to visit.

By now the weather had turned bad. The ferry ride out to the island was choppy and we sat on the top drinking beers and getting sprayed with the salty sea. It was possibly the highlight of our island trip. When we arrived we found a place to stay, really easy since nobody else seemed to be visiting the island. Stupidly, I paid for two nights, our original plan, and then we headed out to find the beach.

Just down the road from our hotel sat Sunyudo's beach, I'm not sure of the name of it but it wasn't what I'd think of as a vacation hotspot. Plastic bags and soju bottles flecked the grainy sand like sand dollars and conch shells. We had better beaches in Yeosu, why did we make the trip all they way out here? The rain was really coming down now and we needed a way to get out of it. We went back to our hotel and asked if there was a DVD Bang (Room) on the island. We were told that there was not. We asked if there was a sauna, a PC Bang, a Noraebang (Karaoke Room) or anywhere to sit out the rain. Again we were told there was nothing of the sort. No coffee shops, no shops, nothing other than a dirty wet beach and scrubby hotels. We would spend the rest of the afternoon outside a minimart drinking skunky beers and eating potato chips. What a vacation this was turning out to be.

That night, after dinner we were treated to a thunderstorm. This was actually pretty fun. We bought some local rice wine, sat out under a covered area and played cards as the rain, lightning, and thunder provided the soundtrack for the evening. We were still clinging on to the hope that the storm would pass by morning and we could trade sitting at our hotel restaurant for at least sitting on the beach.

When we woke, I made a dash for the window and saw that the storm was still hovering over the island. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the wind kicked the rain sideways. I couldn't take it. I couldn't spend another day here. After giving up my argument with the hotel keeper about leaving a day early and being refunded for the second night I decided to just cut my loses and take off. The hotel was clearly not losing out on a reservation because we wanted to cancel and we hadn't really made a reservation anyway. I tried telling her that I've been refunded by several hotels in Korea when our plans had changed but she wasn't having it.

Two hours later we were back on the sea and glad to be leaving Sunyudo behind. As we made our way back to the mainland I thought of a new write up for Sunyudo in the next edition of Lonely Planet Korea.

Sunyudo, come to this quaint little island for some reflection. Take a sunset walk down the beach and cut your feet on the various soju and beer bottles that provide a radiant glow in the sunlight. Wake to the sounds of the island locals starting up loud farm equipment. Sunyudo, you'll never need to visit Polynesia after spending a weekend on our sands...nor will you want to.


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