Thursday, August 7, 2008

Juwangsan National Park

Jason and I were having dinner with our Aussie friend Dale a few weekends ago. We were talking about going shopping in Seoul and he said, "When I go up to Seoul I no longer feel special". When Dale said this I thought, "I think I'd prefer not being special". In our little area of Ulsan, there are probably ten foreigners living amongst 50,000 Koreans. We're pretty used to people blantanly staring at us, kids saying "hello" and then cracking up laughing if they get a response, a few children following us to or from our school on a daily basis. We also get people giving us fruit while hiking, buying us stuff from the convenience stores, and having sales people be super helpful - always saying, "beautiful, beautiful" no matter what I try on. Oddly enough this gets on your nerves after a while.

It's the same when we travel in Korea to any place other than Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. We went to Juwangsan National Park last week and once again we were more interesting to most people than the beautiful mountains and rock formations there. At the campsite I saw a ranger going around collecting the $3.00 fee (awesome!) from everyone. He skipped over us, but came back a few minutes later with three other rangers. None of them tried to speak to us...they just watched the original ranger ask us for the fee in English. I think they were all very impressed with his language skills.

Then while walking around the little town (pit stop, really) we were met with many people who wanted to talk to us. People would come out of their shops and loiter around us smiling hoping to strike up a conversation. When we first came here we were very accomodating and tried to speak to almost everyone who approached us. Now that we're seasoned veterans of 9 months we're a bit more gun shy. Most people we meet this way don't speak more than 10 words of English and unfortunately Jason and I know 15 Korean words combined. This means we have an uncomfortable, halting psuedo conversation that ends up with both sides feeling confused and a bit frustrated, which unfortunately is the way most of my conversations are with my boss. :)

Since we had 9 days off last week, we went to Seoul for a few days after our Juwangsan trip. I desperately needed something to wear in the hot weather other than jeans. We were told to go to Itaewon in Seoul. It's the foreigner area...and has quite the reputation. Almost everywhere else in South Korea is super safe. I've yet to feel threatened or even uncomfortable. The confucian beliefs still run deep in this country. It's so safe that most people leave their bags on an unoccupied seat in the bus terminals if they have to use the restroom! Anyway, Itaewon is not like this. It has actual crime, a hooker hill, and foreigners from all over the world swarming around the place.

Well, to make a long story short...after three hours of trying to spend my hard earned money on some "largey sizey' clothes I was ready to feel special again. The people on the street bumped into me constantly, the sales clerks were rude and told me they had nothing to fit me even when I knew this was not true, and I almost got into a fight with a bitchy lady in a T-shirt shop. I think if I end up moving to Seoul I'll have to develop a thicker skin. I've gotten quite used to the record scratching when I make my appearance. I like being special after all.

We spent almost an entire day lounging around our campsite. It was too hot to venture out from under the trees.

Praying Mantis!!! I've never seen one up close.

Sorry for the lack of pics of Jason on this trip. This is the only one he approved.

There were dragon flies everywhere there. They reminded me of the mosquitos in the Boundries Waters, but prettier.

After our day of leisure, we woke up the next day at 5:30 in order to get to the top of Juwangsan Mountain before the heat of the day hit. The path to the entrance of the park is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.

These are lotus fowers. They're a symbol of the Buddist faith and also figure into much of Korean folklore. Their 'cinderella' type story involves a young woman being saved after falling off of a cliff by landing on a lotus flower. Yep, Korean ladies are really skinny.

The insides are strange looking in my opinion. I thought they'd be as delicate looking as the outside. But, no...

The park, like most National Parks in Korea, has a few temples and a few pagodas in it.

We hiked a loop - up to Juwangsan Mountain, across a sadle to another peak, down to a river, and through a canyon to the entrace of the park. We were lucky and only saw one person on the entire hike until we got to the canyon. Most of the folks went there to hang out by the water falls.

We reached the peak by 8:30 in the morning and the mist was still heavy in the valley.

I want to say this is a swallow tail butterfly...but that might be due to it's size. We thought we were being dive-bombed by small black birds when we first saw them.

I loved the hike because the trail was so varied. Every turn on the trail revealed a new challenge. This railing kept us safe from the 70 foot drop on the other side.

I have a love/hate relationship with stairs on a trail.

We did a bit of very tame rock climbing.

I definately like the recycled tire cushioned stairs. They make a nice place to rest.

Dirt trails are still my favorite.

The boardwalk through the canyon was really cool. According to Jason, it must have been a b*tch to build.

Pretty view.

There were several types of toads and frogs that we saw. This little guy was the best. His camouflage is so good I almost squashed him...which might not be the best thing if he wants to live near a hiking trail.

Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to swim in the pools. Considering that there are close to 50 million people in a country the size of Virginia this is probably a good thing.