Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dragons and tigers and chili peppers, oh my!

We set off on another little road trip during the four day weekend, this time to a little lake in the more mountainous area of Cheongyang county. It was about an hour away from where we lived, country roads surrounded on both sides by rice fields and looming green mountains. The whole way there I kept thinking about anyone who found themselves stationed in Korea before the age of GPS. How in the world did they go anywhere, find anything? And that wasn't even all that long ago! I still remember having to go on to mapquest in college and print off directions before setting off anywhere, and before that there were worn spiral bound books of road maps tucked into the back seats of the our family's station wagon. But even with a map I'd be lost in Korea because... umm... yeah I can't read hangul. While most of the road signs around us, on the interstates and in metropolitan areas, have both the hangul characters and the romantization, that is not the case once you head into more rural areas with less foreigners.

All that to say we are one hundred percent, completely and utterly dependent on our gps directions and thank goodness for technology or we would miss out on some neat places like the Cheonjangho Suspension Bridge. Our trusty gps led us blindly to a large parking lot, which was nearly empty since we were visiting on an overcast Monday and had arrived before 11am (Korea in general seems to get moving a little later in the day and stay up later at night- aka the opposite of our life right now).
The Cheongjangho Suspension Bridge crosses Cheongyang Lake and is the largest suspension bridge in Korea. A smooth easy trail lead us down to the lake, passing just the beginning of the chili peppers- the theme of the day. A quick google search once we got home informed us that the Cheongyang county is known for Cheongyang chili peppers which are like a spicier version of the traditional Korean chili peppers. Hence, chili pepper mascots, all the chili pepper photo ops, and giant chili pepper towers at the start of the bridge. Because why the heck not!
It was so nice to have the place mostly to ourselves as I've seen pictures of it looking more crowded (I think fall is particularly popular with all the changing colors in the mountains), and even though it's not all that high, the bridge was wobbly enough for my liking.

At the other end of the bridge you are greeted by a giant dragon in front of you and an equally large tiger to your left. Plus a painted recreation of both for your photo backdrops. Korea is reliable like that. They literally build things that serve no other purpose than to look cute for the 'gram.
Apparently, though, the dragon and the tiger have significance to this lake beyond looking cool in photos. A translated sign told us the following story:

"Chonjangho, a small lake below Mt. Chilgab, is known for the legend of the dragon and the tiger. A yellow dragon who was waiting a thousand years to ascend to heaven, saved a child by making a bridge over the water. A tiger, watching this, protected the mountain as a spiritual being. Climbing the mountain over the bridge, you can have luck and a healthy baby through miraculous energy from the dragon and the tiger."
We headed up another path towards a wishing rock but didn't have scrap of paper on us to add our own to the chain of wishes. Then, winding further around the lake was yet another chili pepper. 
Back up by the car park were little souvenir stands and umbrellas and dining tables outside of several little restaurants serving traditional korean foods. We had packed a picnic so we just purchased a bottled water and sat outside to have our lunch before getting back in the car. We had intentions of visiting a nearby temple but both boys promptly fell asleep the second we got back in the car. We'll have to plan another trip back down there soon to see what all we missed.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Adventuring Again: Hwaseong Fortress

Where oh where  to begin. We are all relearning how to socialize in public again. Relearning how to go places and do things and it's a bit awkward. Do we wear the masks do we not? Do we shake hands or bump elbows? Am I standing too close? Do you think they'll be open?

Now that the Army has given us the green light we are getting back to exploring Korea. While the country as a whole has been open for a little bit now (and in fact never fully locked down like they did back in the States), the Army finally lifted the restrictions for active duty soldiers and their families just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Everyone quickly scrambled to get out and go go go, enjoying our new freedom!

Thursday night we had dinner. In a restaurant! For the first time in thirteen weeks!! We walked to our favorite local Korean BBQ joint and went all out! We took our time meandering home, stopping for hot donuts and then popping in to the GS25 convenience store near our house to pick up a beer for T.J. and a soju for me. We enjoyed them al fresco on the picnic tables outside the shop, just like the locals, and it felt so dang normal!
I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the sudden possibilities for a 4 day weekend. Where should we go? Should we stay overnight, take the train, book a hotel? We decided not to go too crazy and just planned a couple of little day adventures instead.

On Friday we headed to Suwon a city about 45 minutes north of us but still south of Seoul, to explore the Hwaseong Fortress. GPS took us to a parking lot near the Haenggung or "temporary palace." Apparently this palace is where the royal family would retreat in times of war.  We didn't venture in this time and instead made our way up a steep set of stairs to the high Western Command Post. From there we had sweeping views of the city laid out before us. The Fortress is a walled structure almost 6km around surrounding the center of Suwon. Over the many years since its construction the city has grown up around the walls, both inside and outside of the gates. Because of that, the gates and walled paths are open 24/7 since businesses, restaurants, cafes, hotels and homes are all just a part of the fortress now.

We walked around the fortress passing gun towers and sentry posts, all the while keep trying to keep a certain strong-willed toddler from running too far ahead and tumbling head over foot down a hill or off some tower. We crossed over the Hwaseomun gate and carried around the wall a little further before descending the stairs at the Janganmun gate in search of lunch. We'd heard about Suwon's famous "chicken street" but were all still feeling quite full from the BBQ the night before so we settled for something a bit lighter before heading back to the car. Both boys quickly crashed on the ride home.

(entrance to the palace)

(Western Command Post)

(Hwaseomun Gate)
(Janganmun Gate)
*A few notes for families considering a visit: Parking was super easy- we got there earlier in the morning and had no problem finding a spot. We paid 10,000KRW (credit card only) for the day.  The fortress is NOT stroller friendly. Lots of stairs and uneven steps and cobblestones and steep hills. It was a work out for my husband who ended up carrying our toddler a good bit of the way (carrying was also required for previously mentioned feisty toddler's sudden urge to bolt). 
I feel like before this whole COVID mess we were just starting to find our groove. I was no longer pregnant, Will was getting a bit older and we were more comfortable going out with two kids. And then BAM! Hello 13 weeks of going no where but downstairs to our apartment's playground (thank God for that playground and our little community here), or for our weekly adventure to see what was new at the PX.  Now stepping out in to the local community or driving further than the mile to base feels exotic and slightly overwhelming, kind of how I felt when we first touched down in Korea.  But now that we've had successful first outing back in the real world, outside of our little military family bubble, I'm sure it wont take long to readjust. The running list of places to go and things to see during our time stationed here was temporarily paused but has taken off again. I'm excited to see where we go next and to share more posts and make more little videos of our adventures in Korea!