Vacation has officially ended and I have completed another week teaching English. Tonight I am going the relive for you the second leg of my crazy holiday week. I came back from Jeongdongjin on Tuesday morning. I slept most of the day after I got back and then made a trip to Seoul the next day. I am going to save my day in Itaewon for another post as I feel it definitely deserves its own space as it is an eclectic area of Seoul. So, on to Thursday. I met my friend Norma at Seoul station so that we could take the KTX into Pohang. It was a bit of a mess at the train station because I accidentally bought us the wrong tickets. KTX offers a certain type of ticket only for foreignors who are vacationing in Korea, which was the one I bought. Norma and I both live in Korea and have residency cards, so…we were told, ever so kindly, that we could not use those tickets. Long story short, we were able to get tickets on the train but we weren’t able to sit together on the way to Pohang.
Riding the KTX versus riding the ITX. The KTX is way better. It is newer, more modern, and best of all, it has plug ins to charge your electronics. The interiors are light and bright. The ITX isn’t bad, it is just old, dark, and a little bit dingy. It was still clean and fairly well maintained. Both are great options for traveling.
On to Pohang. This is one of the cities I did an extensive amount of research on before coming to Korea because it is one of the cities that I was interested in living in. Pohang is a coastal city that lies about 70 kilometers north of Busan, which is the second largest city in Korea with a population of about 3.5 million. Pohang seemed like a fairly large city but the population is only about 500,000-525,000 people. There are two main districts of Pohang, the north district Buk-gu and the south district Nam-gu. We reserved an Air B&B in the Buk-gu district. This area is known for its shopping and Yeongildae Beach. Other things you can find are rows and rows of fresh seafood restaurants, a pier that has a lovely two storied pagoda, and an amazing view of the famous POSCO steel factory. During the day the factory is a definite eye sore but at night it is lit up like Disneyland and is actually beautiful to see. The first day we mainly walked about this area and took tons of pictures. This is a popular swimming area, but to be honest, I didn’t feel like it was all that nice or clean of a beach to swim in. So we decided to forgo taking a swim there.
For lunch we ate a chicken restaurant. It was my first time having what Koreans call chumek-which is chicken and beer. I am not a beer connoisseur by any means, but that restaurant had the best beer and the best chicken. It was delicious.
For dinner, we stopped at this amazing family owned seafood restaurant. It was hard to choose a seafood place to eat as they all look about the same, and are priced about the same. As we walked, checking out the fresh seafood tanks and commenting on the strange looking prawns, humongous shell fish, and other weird looking seafood, we walked by a restaurant that caught my eye. Something about this place gave me the warm fuzzies and I knew that we would not be disappointed with our dining experience should we eat here. Luckily it didn’t take much to convince Norma to agree. This place had character. It sported a lively outdoor area that gave an unobstructed view of the people walking by. It also faced the ocean, and most importantly was the amazing looking food that the other patrons were eating. A kind gentleman ushered us in and welcomed us with his broken English and his pleasant smile. He helped us maneuver the menu and choose what we would eat for the night, which was a variety of shellfish grilled right in front of us.
I think I have mentioned before that one of my favorite things about Korea is all the free side dishes you get with your order. This particular restaurant had about six different side dishes it gave us; one of them being a large bowl of steamed black shelled clams. There were also quail eggs and beondegi (silkworm pupae). Yes, I tried it. It was OK. I am not in a hurry, however, to eat it again. The flavor is kind of nutty and the texture was strange. Thank God it did not explode in my mouth like I had heard other people say it would otherwise I might have heaved. I give it a 4 out of 10 mainly because it is just plain weird. All the other side dishes were delicious.
As the food began to come out, we realized that maybe, just maybe, we ordered way too much for the two of us. I mean, the food kept coming out and we barely had enough room for our plates. Our waitress, whom we decided was the daughter or daughter in law, took great care of us. She stayed at the table and cooked the food for us and made sure that everything we ate was properly cooked, despite having tons of other customers to wait on. They were amazing hosts and Norma and I had such a fantastic time eating and drinking to our heart’s content. We watched the people walk by and listened to the music. Before we left, we asked to take a picture with our waitress just because she was so AMAZING to us. And, although tipping is a no no in Korea, we tipped her because she treated us so well despite being so busy.
After dinner we noticed people lighting fireworks on the beach. Norma and I decided to buy and few and join in. It was a beautiful night. There were people enjoying the cool night air and sitting on the beach having their own personal picnics. A small boat was giving night tours of the bay. People were just being people, socializing and having a good time. All in all, day 1 in Pohang was AWESOME.
I will end this post here with a small cultural observation. The people in Pohang are super friendly. Every single person we came into contact with, from the two adjumas (older women) at the information desk at the train station to the family who owned the restaurant, treated us with nothing but kindness. Keep in mind, that Pohang is not a mecca for westerners. There are foreigners who live there but not like what you see in Seoul or Busan, which are the two most desired areas to live for many westerners and foreignors. Pohang reminds me of other southern cities that I have lived in because of its laid back feel. Yet, the way they talk, and I am mainly referring to their dialect, they sound like they are highly peeved. They have a brash way of speaking and I totally fell in love with it. I would find myself listening to the conversations around me then try and mimic the dialect. It’s hard and I sucked at it.
The other thing I noticed about Pohang is that because it is acoastal city, the people are darker complected. Not to say they still don’t walk around in big floppy hats and parasols, but in general, they are a little tanner than what you see in Seoul. Which makes my question why the heck you can’t find darker toned makeup here?! I mean really, there is a good portion of the Korean population who are tan and I know they do not wear #21 in bb cream. So please, Korea, make darker toned makeup more easily accessible and share you cosmetic awesomeness with us darker skinned people!
My final observation is the tattoos here in Pohang. Tattoos in Korea are still pretty taboo and are often associated with an affiliation to the mob. I have heard that the mob has thus stopped having their men get tattoos for this reason. However, this little cultural association of tattoos and mobsters has stayed with me, and with the rough manner in which the people talk in Pohang, I could easily envision that the mob is still alive and kicking a** and asking questions later here in Pohang. In fact, it reminded me of Italy, or specifically Sicily, a place I lived when I was young. Although I don’t remember much about it, I remember my parents talking about the how strong the mob was there during the 80’s. I got a similar vibe. Now, I am not saying that the mob is big in Korea or even in Pohang, because honestly, I don’t know if that is true. But, if I were to film a Korean mob movie, I would definitely choose Pohang as the back drop.
(disclaimer-I do not think that people with tattoos are associated with the mob. I have a tattoo,and am in no way affiliated, this is just a cultural observation based on information that I had heard about Korea, albeit mainly through dramas ;))
Look forward to day two of my Pohang trip, coming soon.