So I haven’t posted much about my city yet, just about the heaps of food that you can find in it. This is mostly because I don’t know much about my city and though I’m scoping it out bit by bit, it’s slow. (I’m working myself up to trying the public transit system).
My city is Cheongju (not to be confused with Chungju, where they have a giant martial arts festival in October). It’s the capital of the province of Chungbuk and so it’s also the biggest city in the province, clocking in with over 650, 000 people. Small compared to Seoul, but very manageable for living. Its downtown feels like a St. Catherine’s street meets chinatown (not to be racist by comparison, but the jam-packed, narrow streets with brimming shops juxtaposed with flashy, clean name brand chains gives it that very distinct ambience).
Anyway, if you want any other interesting and technical stats, Wikipedia will help you out.
I live in the Northeast sector of the city in a district called Uam-dong.
This photo’s taken right outside my door, looking up at Uam mountain.
Right behind me is Uam mountain where there’s a temple and – to my recent discovery – an old town that’s been decorated with beautiful murals. It was these murals that attracted film crews to use it as a location site, and since then some well-known TV shows have been filmed there. I’ll go into more details in a second. Right across from me is my school, Uam Elementary.
It’s always misty in the mornings. Taken on the grounds of Uam Elementary before starting work.
Anyway so I’m writing this post because one of my co-teachers, JH,was super sweet and took me out on the town this Sunday. I was a little groggy from the mere four hours sleep I’d got (the Ginseng Festival being the day before and there being a long night following…but that’s another post), so she came to pick me up at my apartment in the late afternoon in her car.
I’d told her that I hadn’t had a chance to explore much, and had been asking during the week about what was up the mountain so she said she’d tour me around.
From what I was picturing, it was going to be just an average part of the city with a geographic incline ending in a lookout. False! Suamgol (수암골) turned out to be an old pituresque town with steep cobblestone streets just wider than three people standing shoulder to shoulder.
The buildings had grown together over time into nature, like watching an inverse situation of roots growing around concrete. The houses themselves were built into each other and around each other; some had open doors and windows so you could see bowls they’d filled with crushed red peppers and jars of pickled garlic.
Hands down, the thing that stole the show was the murals. JH had told me that a group of artists and students got together and donned the walls with paintings in 2008. Prior to that, it had been a war refugee camp in the 50’s, and even though it was rebuilt in the 70’s it stayed pretty ghetto and rundown.
The first time she was talking about it, I was imagining like in Montreal a few large scale murals in a controlled space. Not so here – almost every surface was covered, recovered, merging into each other. Some looked like they’d been added on by children, some definitely by skilled painters.
I’ll have to do a separate post for all of them to do it justice, but JH took a picture of me in front of this one:
Anyway because of these gorgeous paintings, TV crews location scouting came across Suamgol and decided that they had to take advantage of the site. Not one, not two, but three different well known shows have been filmed here – and they’ve put up commemorative signs and character cutouts for the fans who come to visit:
카인과 아벨 – translated “Cain and Abel”, a biblical reference of course in a romantic drama.
제빵왕 김탁구 – translated as “Baking King Kim Tak Goo” or “King of Baking, Kim Takgu” or “Bread, Love and Dreams”, which according to Wikipedia is a slice of life romance and melodrama. Quite the combination with bread in the mix.
옝광의 재인 – translated as “Glory Jane” or “Young Love Jane”, but most popularly known as “Man of Honor”. Possibly the best known of all three shows – probably because it’s a romantic comedy. With action. And sports. (Thank you Wikipedia). Also apologies for the atrocious framing of this photo…clearly the contrast on my phone was too low and I couldn’t see what I was doing.
Around Suamgol are also all the sets, most of which have been turned into restaurants and/or souvenir shops where you can buy memorabilia from the shows. I feel like I really need to watch these while I’m here, and I’ll post about them specifically later.
Despite all these shows though – and some were quite popular – and the fact that it’s designed primarily as a tourist town, the area was surprisingly empty (keep in mind I went on a gorgeous, temperate, sunny Sunday afternoon). I was also the only foreigner – everyone else was Korean. Which is really nice – it’s the first truly beautiful thing I’ve seen abroad that seems to have been kept a local secret. (Not that I’m keeping it of course by writing this…ah guilt…).
Before leaving, I took an over-the-city shot of what Cheongju looks like from above.
But it couldn’t quite capture the scope and span of it, so I took a video. Unfortunately I’m having some trouble posting it here, so I might update this soon. Check back!
After that, JH helped me explore shinae a bit more – showed me where the post office is (yay! I can send postcards as soon as I find them!), the photo shop, what certain things are in the market, and some of her favourite street food. She also showed me pumpkin taffy – very strange and hard and sticky on the teeth at first; you have to work at it to make it soft enough to swallow. The pumpkin taste was also very faint and strange at first – but I’ve concluded it’s awesome.
We were also on the hunt for vanilla (still) and superglue (my glasses broke), but all the major department stores were closed for their once-in-a-fortnight day off. So vanilla was out, but we went to a stationary/art supply shop nearby and it was SO FABULOUS. We found superglue for $1, and then wandered the artist haven that was upstairs. I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
Eventually we wandered around enough to have dinner and had dak galbi – the name of what DL and I had had the other night!
(Sorry…this is turning into a food post again)
She also had me try “Korean pizza” – which they call pizza, but which actually resembles something between an omelette and a pancake much more. Batter’s made of egg and flour, and they put shallots inside along with onion and squid.
Supa delicious! Couldn’t eat it all though so it made a wonderful dinner the next night. I was happy to hear from JH though that this restaurant is a chain and that there are dozens in the town, so I’ll be frequenting them often I think.
After that our tour of Cheongju ended. The last thing JH helped me out with was grocery shopping/laundry detergent deciphering. I hadn’t done any laundry yet, despite having a laundry machine in my apartment; the plethora of various settings in Korean were very intimidating.
When she dropped me off at my place, she decoded it – and my unnecessarily complicated rice cooker – for me.
In all, a productive day – I feel for the first time that I could show someone around my city!