After our honeymoon night of fun we drug ourselves out of bed in the morning and went up to the restaurant for the best hotel brunch I have ever eaten; maybe the best brunch I have ever eaten.
We checked out of the Sheridan and set out for Sokcho, a city along the northeast coast of Korea that is known for its beauty in the mountains as well as position on the east ocean. Sokcho is home to many fishermen and a good place to get fresh sushi cut right of off a live fish. I have to admit I like sushi however, I am bit too American on this issue, fresh sushi is a bit chewy for me however, Ilsu loves it.
Before we made it to Sokcho we decided to stop at Yang Yang, another coastal city known for great seafood and its beautiful temple. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures of the new temple. I say new temple, because a fire just recently destroyed the old temple. It is very unfortunately for I understand it was a beautiful temple. I must say even though the new temple is still under construction it is extremely beautiful and quite impressive in its expression of Buddhist art. The space in the temple is almost a city with layers of partially painted deities distributed in little neighborhoods. The main Buddha statue in the middle of the temple majestically expands with many arms that remind me of the Hindu God Shiva as well as reminding me of the painting of Buddha in the hall of Avalokitesvara at Poolgooksa Temple in Kyongju.
When we arrived at the temple we parked the car and walked up a steep hill to find the gate to the temple at Yang Yang. (see picture below)
The temple is shown in the picture below. For some reason it looks much smaller in this picture which could be due to the new landscaping not being finished.
Above the entrance to the temple you will find two little dragons and the inscription “house of irreplaceable value”
As we walked further up another hill I could see a giant Buddha’s upper torso sticking up high into the air. When we arrived at the top I could see the entire Buddha in an expression of peace looking out over the ocean as if she were blessing the thousands of square miles in her visibility. To get an idea of its size you may want to notice the man standing next to the tope on the right.
Here is a shot of the two topes at sunset.
Notice the photos above and below ---
When Ilsu and I were walking on the rocky path back toward the temple we noticed these small cairns used to aid someone in meditation. I would imagine they were constructed by the monks of the temple however; they could have been made by anyone. The bottom picture was taken while the sun was setting.
One thing I found fascinating about downtown Sokcho were the neon signs distributed up and down the streets. They were wonderful because they reminded me of when I was a child in America however, the electronic switching were much more sophisticated than the ones I have seen in the states. On the right side of the picture below you can see a pink one in mid stage of its cycle. Obviously this still digital photo does nothing for the rich colors and animation expressed by this sign.
This next picture shows a beautifully illuminated bridge in the background of this working class dockyard of disarray. You can tell the boat in the foreground is a squid boat by the string of powerful lights arranged from bow to stern. You will see a picture later showing what these boats look like out on the horizon of the ocean.
Also close to the docks are many fine seafood restaurants that have live fish tanks in order to preserve your tasty meal. The picture above is one such tank. The picture below shows a lovely young lady performing maintenance on the tanks that are possessed by the restaurant that employs her.
I told Ilsu that I would like to go to a place where I could see the squid boats out on the ocean. She took me to a place she remembered that sported a lookout pavilion perched high on a hill with a great eastern view of the cold black late-night ocean. This pavilion was very interesting because it was illuminated with different colored lights that slowly changed colors. The picture below shows the green lights but it cycled through blue, purple (Picture above) and red as well. From there we would be able to see the fishermen hard at work under the stars bringing home the bacon … uh … I mean squid. (Picture below)
When we got back to the condo we wasted no time in getting to sleep and when we awoke in the morning I stepped out on the deck to the southern vista below. (Use the scroll bar when looking at the panoramic photos)
We decided to have lunch in downtown Sokcho and Ilsu wanted to treat me to some western food. As we walked around town I noticed some fish hanging out to dry in the cold dry winter air. Korea is a peninsula and it seems to me that the national food of choice would be seafood. This reminds me of the transition I made fifteen years ago when I moved to the west coast (the first time) and saw the ocean for the first time. Being from Oklahoma I had no idea normal people ate things like squid, sushi and octopus. It was quite a shock for me to watch one of my California friends order and eat a pile of tiny squid tentacles. People that are near the ocean eat from it and people on the prairie eat from it as well. A Korean generally would have much difficulty eating squirrel, deer or turkey but have no problem with sushi, squid or octopus. Furthermore people from the midwest of America generally have much difficulty with sushi squid or octopus yet they may have no problem eating a squirrel, deer or turkey. It is all good!
Like I mentioned before, Ilsu felt as though I needed some western food so we ending up going to Mr. Pizza in Sokcho. I ordered what I thought would be a close facsimile to American style combination pizza with extra jalapeños. The pizza came out not tasting anything like I had hoped and I tasted no jalapeños to speak of. I ate it anyway and grumbled like a fool to the point that Ilsu spoke with the man who made the pizza. It is true that I should never have grumbled and should not expect any country to make food to my specific tastes. So it was no surprise that when the chef came out to visit us he said that if he would have put jalapeños in it to the degree that I requested then it would have spoiled the taste of the pizza.
This whole discussion is really a no-brainer even though my stomach wants to make a big deal out of it. I believe every country tampers with the tastes of its food in order to match the tastes of the local cuisine. I can not see this any other way except as a law of nature. America is really the closest thing to an exception of this rule only because we have such a huge immigration base to provide us with near authentic food from all over the world. Although I have never seen dog and cat on the menu, there are groceries stores providing all sorts of snakes frogs and insects, which are packaged and ready to take home to eat --- right here in America and even in Kansas.
While I am in the mood to make a fool of myself I thought I would mention that I like the way Vietnamese, Korea, and even the chefs at PF Chang in America have tampered with the Chinese menu to make it more palatable for their people (us yanks). (My Chinese friends please forgive me)
Oh check out the Korean pizza below: “Secret Garden and Shrimp Gold” spelled out in English for you however, I doubt you will find it in America.
Ilsu wanted me to see a sliver of North Korea so we headed up the coast to Kan Sung at the border. This is a place where North Korea and South Korea sit on the border and peer through binoculars at each other. Each side accuses each other of creating impressive façades for each other to ponder. I saw very little real estate on the Southern side and even less of North Korea so I can’t make much comment on this issue. I did however see a beautiful giant Buddhist statue facing the north in a gesture of peace and friendship. This reminds me --- While I was there at the border peering across at the north a television crew interviewed me as to what I felt as I experienced the situation. I basically mentioned that it was a tragedy to see Korea split by the factions at the end of WWII but I was happy to see that South Korea is holding out its hand in friendship of unification for both sides of the country.
The picture below show how the roads to the north have booby-trapped barricades that will explode and block the main roads to aid in slowing down anyone from the north.
At the border there is a pavilion that has display cases explaining the story of the situation as well as a tour guide who explains what items are of importance when looking out at the northern vista. The picture below is a display case showing what items North Korea imports to the south.
The following picture shows the previously mentioned beautiful giant Buddhist statue that faces the north. Also in the picture one can see a garden with minor deities and an altar at the base of the Buddha for peace rituals.
The next picture is a panoramic view that I shot of North Korea. There is a barricade on the street below that signifies the boundary between north and south. The first hill you see is in the south but everything else including the islands that you see on the right belong to North Korea. (Use the scroll bar when looking at the panoramic photos)
On our way back to Sokcho we stopped at a (long past) summer home of the infamous Kim Jong Ill. Evidently he had visited this place alot when he was a kid. Unfortunately, I have no good excuse for not getting any good pictures of the structure. The structure I saw was a western design made in a Germanic style. I do have a picture that I shot (of a picture) of Kim Jong Ill when he was a kid visiting the house. You can see him sitting (under the arrow) with other children on the steps of this summer home. You also can get a rough idea of north part of the structure by this extremely poor photo.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about being in Korea was experiencing those things different than my past experiences in North America and Europe. This simple and lovely yet powerful tree is a wonderful example of that oriental quality that you find in the natural setting of the Korean countryside.
It was a bit cold while we were there and this frozen lake gives you the proper indication of just how cold it was. In this picture there is a bird standing on the ice in the reflection of the sun near the middle of this lake however, in this picture it shows up only as a black speck.
Ilsu took me to an old cabin (picture below) that served as a retreat for Yi Seung Man the first president of Korea after WWII. He also was the first Korean to earn a PhD at Princeton. It is also interesting to note that his wife, the first ‘first lady’ of the Republic of Korea was an American.
He was actually president during the Japanese occupation even though he was elected in 1919 by a provisional government in exile outside of the country. He was shuffled into power by the Americans as soon as Japan fell. However, he won the election of the people in 1948 and continued to rule until corruption forced him out of office and out of the country.
Here is a view directly outside of President Yi’s office retreat. This lake is actually part of the same lake as the one I showed you two pictures ago.
If you have any questions or comments I would be happy to answer them. You can contact me by the link below.