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Mountains and Islands of Korea
November 9th, 2003

Perhaps, the best time to visit Koreas most picturesque mountain, Naejangsan is at the break of dawn.  At a distance of just over 250km from home, we arrived at Naejangsan carpark just past 9.00am after a 3 hour journey, inclusive of a 40 minute rest break for meals.  The drive took us to the south western part of South Korea .

One could say that the mountain was burning in full bloom, painted with bright reds, yellows and greens in the trees and as the day developed and the sunshine came through, the sky turned blue.  This was truly a day for photographers and nature lovers.  When the wind blew, the leaves that fell reminded everyone that winter is on its way.

With great weather like this, the hawkers are also out in the numbers.  Persimmons, called KAKI in Hangul (Korean language) are sold by the box loads (about A$24 for a 10kg box) and as pictured to the right, in great abundance.  Note the Persimmon tree to the right of the image, completely bald but loaded with the sun ripened fruits.

The regionalisation of produce here is quite amazing.  Drive another 50km away from this region and you would be hard pressed looking for persimmons... or if you did find them, they would be much more expensive than ones found in Naejangsan.

The locals also sell a local wheat/barley based brew called "Dong Dong Chu"... a very sweet smelling liqueur with a strong grainy taste.

Ganghwado ( Gang Hwa Island ) is South Korea 's most northerly island, a reminder that every island seen north of here belongs to communist North Korea .  We used Ganghwado as a port to visit Seokmodo, a small island west of Ganghwa do.  Although we did not witness this, Seokmodo is supposed to have the prettiest sunset in South Korea ... probably because it's the most westerly land of South Korea .

Being in the west, the was a place where the last monarch of Korea would be protected against invaders.  The remnants of these were forts and garrisons built out of stone with cannons to defend against the French, British and American invaders.

In examining the forts, we realize the (poor) quality of  the workmanship - in comparison with the kind of architectural and engineering feat of the Egyptians and ancient Incans.. these people were not geniuses, they just simply had to get the job done.  The image above (right) show that in modern times, the inhabitants of lands now to dry up food (in this case, chilies) for the winter.

Seokmodo was not only well known for their sunsets but also as a very picturesque place frequented by the empress in former times.  By our standards however, this has proven to be quite disappointing. 

As is seen above, there are a number of palaces and forts and there's the Bomunsa ( Bomun Temple ), where the image of Buddha was carved into the mountain wall.  Actually, according to their information it was supposed to be "Kuan Yin" - the Goddess of mercy, but it looked a lot like Buddha!  Jeanette made the journey to the carving with 2 of her friends and confirmed with me that yes, it was truly a waste of time.  See, experience counts for a lot in Korea.

The image shown on the left is preserved octopus (left), preserved shrimp (middle) and preserved fish. A bit unsightly but remember the word "Chinchaluk" from Malacca?  Well, this is not much different to any of that, probably less saltier, I'm told.

Here,  you can see bottles of the famous "Dong dong Chu " in South Korea with more in a tub just for visitors and passers by to test.  Korean hygiene at its best.  I wouldn't be surprised if there'll suddenly be 5,000 deaths reported from DDJ but knowing the Koreans, it'll all be covered up and nobody will hear of it!.

We came across this hawker, that simply had a medicinal potion boiling away to the right of himself, yelling out at people of the stuff he was selling.

He had peanuts, some red stuff and some root thing he said was from the spine of a golden tiger!  Later, we realized he meant golden grass ("Kum Chou" in Cantonese and "Kim Chau" in Hokkien).  Here he is chopping up little bits of golden grass off strands off the less familiar golden grass branch.

He mixed a handful of golden grass, the red nuts, peanuts, some other yellow stuff, boiled them and then served them to the passers buy.  The amazing thing is that in the hour I saw him serving the passers by, he didn't sell anything!

Fishes looks somewhat uglier here than in Australia and is quite expensive to purchase.  Here, Bernard is choosing his fish which I understand is going to be used for making fish soup later in the week.

Only 25%- 33% at the most of the first can be eaten.  With a rather large, and ugly head, only fillets either side of the fish is to be separated and then boiled in stock to make the desired soup.

Note that clamshells, crabs and various kinds of cockle shells for sale in the tubs adjacent.  Oh yes, the size of the cockle shells are about 5-10 times that of the ones we're used to in Malaysia (or Australia for that matter!).  As most things are seasonal, the summer vegetables are out - most of them are different kinds of beetroot, turnips and radishes.  Two months ago, Ganghwado was teaming with the selling of purple grapes.. today, its all beetroot, turnip, sweet potatoes and pumpkin!  Variety is not their strongest point in this country!!  Of course, the seafood is abundant all year round.  

A year ago, I wouldn't touch most of these things with a ten foot pole.  Today, we've managed to appreciate more of the diversity in the Korean culture.  The strange thing we realized is that as much as they are a rich people, the people are still very much in the early stages of development, as the latter pictures will show.  Even as BMW sells more 7-series per capita here than another other country on the planet, much of the nation is still living and behaving below "acceptable" standards.  This expatriate-ship is one not to be missed, for the experience.

Door rings at a Ganghwa-Do fort

Dong Dong Chu

Persimmons for sale

Dried Shrimp

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