Monday, October 14, 2019

Lanterns and Oktoberfest in South Korea

Everything I do these days I wonder if it will be the last time before baby brother makes his arrival. Will this be my last trip to the grocery store? Our last Sunday in church without a newborn? My last time tucking Tommy in to bed as my only son? So far I've had to make additional trips for more groceries, and another Sunday has come and gone. But I can safely say that we have taken our last vacation as a family of three. The other weekend we journeyed south to explore Namhae Island. Our drive down took us pass stair stepped tea fields, green mountains with tunnels cut through them and eventually brought us to the ocean.

In case you're curious the Korean word for ocean is "bada" which I only know because of Tommy's "My First Book of Korean Words" which informs me that B is for bada, the sea deep and wide, Korea sticks out and has one on each side. Yeah...we've read it a time or two.

Anywho... I had heard about Namhae Island because they curiously host an Oktoberfest in a German village on the island. Huh? A German village in South Korea sounded too quirky to miss. Using google translate I managed to find an Airbnb that appeared to meet all our needs. The listing described it as a "pension" with waterfront views, just a quick drive to the German village, and the perfect home-base for exploring the rest of Namhae. Plus it specified a real bed not a floor mat which this very pregnant mama was not about. I wasn't entirely sure what was meant by "pension" but have decided it's like a mix between Bed and Breakfast (without the breakfast), a condo and a hostel.

We left Friday afternoon and on our way down we stopped in Jinju to check out their annual Lantern Festival along the Namgang River. The festival is in honor of the lantern lighting custom used to warn and prevent a Japanese invasion back in 1592. Giant lantern displays float up and down the river and line the banks. Floating bridges are erected to cross from side to side, there are tons of food stalls and vendors selling kits to make your own lantern wishes.
Obviously since we arrived in the late afternoon the lanterns weren't lit up yet but the displays were impressive nonetheless.  Since we had our stroller with us we weren't able to easily get down to the riverside walkways but we were able to enter the Jinjuseong Fortress set up high overlooking the river and full of its unique scenes and characters. The fortress was open for free during the festival (at least at the time we arrived, not sure if there is a fee to enter the festival once nighttime arrives) and we were happy to discover a lush and peaceful oasis in the middle of this bustling city. The battlements were shaded with trees just beginning to show the hint of fall and lined with lantern archers and soldiers, tigers and other animals, Korean folk scenes and of course Baby Shark characters... 
I would have loved to see it once the sun set but we decided to get out before it got more congested and continue making our way South to Namhae Island. We crossed the bridge onto the island and then fully dependent on our gps made our way to the German village in search of dinner and a gander at what Oktoberfest translates to in South Korea.
There is a historical reason for the existence of a German town in this least likely location. In the 60's and 70's South Korea sent thousands of workers (mainly nurses and miners) to Germany in exchange for funds. The homes and village were built to honor and reward the workers who returned to home to South Korea. It's a quaint little part of the island with fantastic seaside views. We parked and began winding our way up the hilly streets following the sounds of KPop to where the main Oktoberfest festivities seemed to be taking place. Once there we grabbed a bite to eat from a couple different food stalls and then made our way back down and finally on to our Airbnb.
 
Since we arrived after dark we got to take in the full view from our pension's little porch in the morning. Tommy excitedly explored the shared deck which had a converted school bus where at some point during the day you can fix yourself a cup of coffee. (Just not in the morning. For some reason it seems this country prefers to drink its coffee towards the end of day.)
We then got back in the car and set off on a little scenic coastal drive winding our way around the island until we came to Sangju Silver Sands Beach. Tommy promptly fell flat on his bottom soaking his shorts but happily buried his toys in the sand, splashed in the surf, and kept a close eye on a little crab. We had pretty much the whole beach to ourselves for a good chunk of the morning and enjoyed the sunshine and salty air.
Since we hadn't really brought the gear for a full beach day we determined to find a good seafood restaurant for lunch near the ocean. Much easier said than done.  There were dozens of restaurants tucked along the streets near the beach but none appeared to be open at noon on a Saturday except for one that was full of Korean woman who were apparently having a private luncheon which we discovered after the owner waved us out. This is is maybe one of the strangest parts of living here. Shops and restaurants just do not keep predictable hours, you cannot expect a coffee shop to be open before 9AM or a restaurant to serve lunch at lunchtime. And even if you find a place open one day there's no guarantee it will be open at the same time the next day. Oh well... we are learning to roll with it. 

We drove back towards our Airbnb and pulled in to a parking lot where we could see actual people eating inside the restaurant. Of course this restaurant had zero English which is fine, but also zero pictures to point at so we pointed at another table's spread and after some more gesturing we were brought lunch some sort bulgogi bbq with vegetables that we grilled at the table. We left full and satisfied that we successfully managed to feed ourselves and our toddler, no small feat here. 

Tommy took his afternoon nap and T.J. and I also rested since trying to navigate and communicate and eat in a foreign country is sometimes just plain exhausting. Later in the day we headed back into the German village to explore some more and grab dinner. The village is situated up high overlooking the ports and many of the cafes and restaurants have wide open air patios for enjoying the views like we did. We had an easier time getting dinner than we did lunch that day as I can read German a lot better than I can read Hangul. Plus, T.J. was pleased that Ayinger beer is the same in any language.

Although the German village and the island's seascapes attract tourists (both Korean and Westerners) I can count the number of foreigners I saw the entire weekend on one hand. The farther we venture from Seoul (and the Army base) the more we stand out and the farther from anything familiar we feel. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, humbling, and daunting but at the same time I am reminded what a privilege it is to see a piece of South Korea and a piece of the world, that I never even knew existed and that few have the chance to experience. Namhae Island, while quirky in its charm, was a fun little getaway for our last adventure without baby brother in tow.


***Here's a link to our Airbnb which I would highly recommend, though I would also recommend you bring your own bath towels so you're not drying off with the provided hand towels like we were... and if you are new to Airbnb sign up using this link and you can get a credit towards your first stay.

2 comments :

  1. So pretty! I love the videos and getting a peek at this part of the world! Can’t wait for baby boy to join the party!

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  2. Always interesting, Shannon, and thank you for sharing your adventures with us!! Waiting anxiously to hear that baby boy has been born and to see Tommy's reaction to being a big brother. You all remain in my prayers!!

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