Friday, April 24, 2009

New Frontier

Things are never quite boring in the twists and turns that make up my experience here in Korea. I have failed to update recently due to a sudden onslaught of trouble from nearly all corners of my life. This has also driven me to find new escapes-including taking long bike rides to places I don't quite know how to get to. My American comrade has also left, leaving me as a solitary soldier on this front.

I am now the only American exchange student here.

This in itself, is providing quite the learning experience, but it shouldn't be the focus of what I write. Instead, I want to share my experiences biking. I have been biking all around the Gyeongsan 경산, which is a place no one probably knows. So, I'll show you were that is first:

View Larger Map

To the right of the "A" is my school. This is a general enough location to know where we started our travels. So, we took 3 trips when we first starting biking (we took a break and have started biking again recently). The first one was just biking with no real direction, and we happened to stumble upon two different universities in the area. Then, we visited Daegu University 대구대학교 the day after, and then we visited Gyeongbuk University 경북대학교.

The first trip was the day of a Cherry blossom festival at Yeungnam. I first went with Susan and walked around campus looking at the flowers. It was nice and one of the first time's I have ever seen the campus alive on the weekend. After we had finished enjoying the afternoon, I came back and found my friend Kinh didn't even know there was a festival! So, I told him to quickly get on his bike and we left to see what was there... and then, we just decided to explore a bit. We rode our bikes through a small forest and to my old dormitory. When we hit a familar major road, I suggested taking it South, and just see where it goes. So we did.

Leaving the direction of the developed part of the city, both of us were not sure how far we should go as things got more and more rural. Until we noticed a sign for Daegu Mirae University 대구미래대학교 and decided that was our goal. We found it, and were surprised that there was another university so close! It was also a bit surprising because it was built pretty much into the side of a hill. However, the view was absolutely wonderful and it really felt like we were somewhere. It was at this point I realized that at Yeungnam, I don't really feel like I'm in a rural place, but I don't feel like I'm in a city. It feels like nowhere.

We explored the small campus a bit, and wondered why there was no one there. It was the weekend, and it's not a very big college at all, but it was still kind of strange to have it be so ghostly. We made our way up the hill of the school and looked out over the countryside. In the distance, up in a different hill, I noticed a building that just seemed out of place.

"You want to see what it is?"


And it was decided. We headed South again without a clear idea of where we were going.

It turns out, what we saw was Daegu Haany University 대구한의대학교, and it was a much bigger more beautiful school than the previous. It was much more in the mountain and much more in the countryside, but there was much more activity inside the campus as well. We explored the campus a bit and were really just surprised that all these schools were so close. So, we decided to go to one of the big universities in the area the following day, Daegu University 대구대학교.

View 대구대학교 in a larger map

On the next day, a Sunday, we took off for Daegu University (after breifly studying some maps.) The university, contrary to what the name would imply, is farther away from Daegu than Yeungnam. So, we were going to have to travel East. It was a really nice day though, and after leaving the area of the campus, things become rural very quickly. The ride was especially beautiful because the Cherry Blossoms were still blooming, and all the way to the university, they provided beautiful scenery. Along the way, we passed countless fruit stands, barnyards, fields, and even (seemingly random) slightly urban areas. After getting lost and asking gas station attendents for directions a few times, we arrived at the university.

It was again, a very nice university, and it got me thinking more about how I feel about Yeungnam. Yeungnam may have some beautiful spots, and have it's big building, but it doesn't have any feeling of it being together. It doesn't really feel like there is any school spirit or strong connection with the students. Now, going to a school on Sunday doesn't provide quite that feeling either, but you can still feel that there the actual school is more prominent than it feels here at Yeungnam.

We explored the campus found a rather large International Building and enjoyed the nice Sunday afternoon.

The ride back was nice and I decided to try a different route with my ever-willing travel partner, and it ended up working out perfectly (I had ridden a bus in the direction once before, so I had a foggy idea it would work.) When we were back at our school, I realized I'd never really explored the area in front of Yeungnam. So,

"You want to see what's back there?"


And we went off into the backstreets of the backstreets, winding through what seemed like centuries of architecture. In this journey, we stumbled upon two rather remarkable things. A Buddhist Temple that appeared to either be being built or renivated, and some ancient graves of apparnelty important people from Gyeongsan. All this right in front of us and we'd never known!

After coming back and resting, we wanted to go somewhere farther. So, we decided going to downtown Daegu, and seeing a university near downtown would be a good place to go. After a few days working between class schedules, we were off!

Daegu is the closet big city near Gyeongsan. It's the third largest city in Korea, and it is considred a fashion city. After going into rural areas for two days, this was going to be quite a different bike ride.

There were deffinitely many cars this way, going towars the city will do that, but there was this stretch inbetween the two cities where there were almsot no people, and just a seemingly endless incline. After that small rough spot, it was all stopping at major intersections from there. Dodging people and traffic and things and kids and empty Soju bottles and crazed Ajjumas 아줌마 (a uniquely Korean cultural entity. It literally translates to "aunt" but it means much more than I could explain in this parenthetical) we slowly made our way to Gyeongbuk University 경북대학교-only after taking a stop at McDonalds and getting lost along the way.

A funnier incident along the way, my friend's name is Kinh. He's Vietnamese, but was born in France, and all the Koreans think he is Korean. To add to this, his name, "Kinh," sounds very similar the common Korean name, "Kim." So, when Kinh missed a turn we should make and I shouted, "Hey Kinh!!" This old man turned around extremly startled and didn't quite know what to do. It took me a second to even understand why he would react!

When we go to the university, it was wonderful. It was very beautiful, pretty huge, and seemed to have a bit of activity on campus as well. We got lost trying to find our way around this university, but we weren't in a big rush so it wasn't an issue. We were enjoying seeing what these other schools looked like, and enjoying the journey to get there too.

So, before long, we started traveling back, and... it was surprisingly shorter. Much easier and more downhill coming back to Gyeongsan as oppose to going to Daegu.

View Gyeongsan-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do in a larger map

That was the big week of bike traveling. Although, just recently, we started biking again. Exploring the city of Gyeongsan a bit some days, and just going in directions we haven't been before in others. We went South of Gyeongsan until we hit another city (finding two smaller campuses of Yeungnam and Daegu along the way), found a huge Bugghist Temple next to a mountain, and a good bar in the city.

Our trip going South started as trying to go up a mountain, but we couldn't find a path, so we just followed a road and before long we were seeing cows and fields and following the train towards Busan. In one of the small rural establishments we explored, there was this path lined with really old traditionally style houses on both sides, and when we went to the end of the road.... There was a huge Western style house! It was the most out of place thing I have seen, and to this moment, I don't understand why it was there. The Foreign Language Campus for Yeungnam 영남외어대학교 was in the mountain, and at the time we went, you could see the lights of Gyeongsan shining brightly against the dim lit real rural that was where we were. When we got to Namchon, in the dark, we thought it'd be good to turn around... and take a path we didn't take before. When we were in the middle of some random field, I stopped for a moment.

"Kinh, look up."

In the dark rural area, the sky was filled with stars. we stood there for a minute or two pointing out whatever constilations we could think of. Then, continued back, getting lost a few times along the way.

On another day, we were exploring through different areas of the city, looking for a Mexican restaurant I heard existed. When we found it, it was "closed until further notice." So, we decided to just keep going around the area. Somehow, we eventually ended up at a small Buddhist Temple, and going down some more random roads, we found ourselves in front of a huge Buddhist Temple! There were Korean monks and everything, in the middle of Gyeongsan (or I guess it was more outskirts.) It was a nice treat. In Korea, you see many churches with big crosses, many of them ablazen with Neon lights at night. This was ever present when from the temple steps, if you look straight, you see a huge cross atop a church.

The last travel for this post, will be the one where we found "The Snow Bar." Kinh and I use our bikes to travel most places now, including the grocery store. Along the way one time, I noticed what looked like a nice bar. So, one night after traveling a bit, I asked Kinh if he wanted to go, and away we went. The theme of the bar was to be international so they had beer from around the world at the bar, and per the name, there was a small place where snow continually fell on bottles. We ordered two cocktails, a gin and tonic for myself, and for Kinh... an Orgasm. The Orgasm is the first drink I've seen Kinh follow enjoy in Korea. Being French, he highly values taste, and this drink was a mix of 3 very chocolately liquors. It was a little expensive, but had a nice atmosphere and better drinks than Soju. It was also worth seeing the strartled bar teender when a foreigner walked in.

We plan to continue our journeys, and are not sure how far we will go. Our next journey is planned to go to West Daegu and visit the famous GyehMyeong University 계명대학교 (famours for having a currently popular Television show filmed there.)

This is a long overdue writing, and I have more things to write about, but I'll leave it at this for now.

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