Drinking beers at a beach overlooking a nuclear power plant, with a whale meat restaurant at our backs…How did we get here, you ask?
Saturday. A perfect day to begin the weekend. Haha. But seriously, these days we live for the weekends as little Deoksin-town is a bit too far away from anything for us get much outside the village achieved during the week. Sleep in (I know, poor us), hit Power Gym, muck around doing errands and getting ready, go to school to be terrorized by brats with fancy phones, come home – repeat Monday to Friday.
Last Saturday we had arranged to meet up with a friend for dinner. While a chain steakhouse is not usually our idea of great dining, the lure of ANY kind of steak had become so great that we keenly agreed to a date at the Outback Steakhouse. Somehow, this arrangement morphed into meeting at Ulsan Grand Park at 2pm…for a 7.30pm dinner date. Hmm…an interesting turn of events but we’d been meaning to check out the park for ages anyway. Really. We’ve been saying pretty much every weekend since arriving in Korea, “oh, we must check out Ulsan Grand Park.” It had become a standing joke that we would probably leave Korea never having seen it. Randomly, it looked like it was actually going to happen.
We turned up in Ulsan bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – however, this became quickly moany and sullen, as often happens in this city for some strange reason. Again, we had a list of things we needed to buy but lack of street names (Korean streets are kind of numbered and its bloody confusing to find stuff sometimes) and a lack of will to really try that hard led us to quickly giving up, eating a bowl of sub-standard Japanese-Korean fusion noodles (udong, anyone?) and then making our way over to the park.
So our friend turns up…with another friend and between them SIX KIDS. They each have a couple of their own and had borrowed a couple more for the day, it appeared. One of them even turned out to be a student from Dan’s hagwon. Oh Joy. Our day off and we’re surrounded by a posse of knee highs. At this stage, five and a half hours until the actual plan – i.e. DINNER – seems like a long damn way off.
Pretty much instantly we are ushered onto a small bus, covered in cartoons. We figure out fairly quickly that it can’t be a sightseeing bus as they are cramming people in sardine-style so there must be some kind of destination.
When it becomes super-squishy, the bus driver waves us up to sit beside him at the front so we get the supreme view right out the front window.
We wind our way through a pretty impressively big park. There’s fountains, wicked play areas for the kids, a butterfly house, a petting zoo, all sorts of wholesome family entertainment. At the top of the hill, we disembark wondering what’s in store. Our friend asks if we’d like to visit the zoo…however, a quick glance at the brochure has us declining as in New Zealand we don’t have to pay to look at goats, horses and sheep…your typical ‘zoo’ fare, of course! The kids are making a bee-line for the myriad bouncy/jumpy things but Dan, whose bottom lip has dropped at the age restriction on those enticing attractions suggests that we hit the butterfly house instead.
We pay our two bucks and enter expecting huge colourful butterflies to be dancing around our heads in a tropical paradise. There are butterflies, but they are all white and kind of…well, boring. But they dance and its pretty enough for the whole 5 minutes that we spend in there.
Walking outside we discover that there is a bug house in the complex. We take a token a nosey in there but again are pretty underwhelmed. The coolest thing about it is the statue outside.
The coolest stuff we see in the butterfly place is a big, fat, hairy tarantula, a leopard-print tortoise, and a snake that plays peekaboo with Dan. And eyes up babies for the eatin’…
Re-joining The Posse, the kids are happily jumping and bouncing while the adults recline on a picnic mat. We sit here for aaaaaaages, watching squirrels and waiting for delivery chicken to arrive (yes, you can order fried chicken ANYWHERE in Korea). A pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours but we’re kinda bored and counting down the hours until Steak Time.
Somehow enough hours pass that its time to start moving and we begin the walk back through the park. Hyped up on coffee, Dan suddenly morphs into a Robin-Williams-bundle of hyperactivity inciting the kids to embark on the most passionate and theatrical zombie-infused epic battle of rock, scissor, paper that man has ever known. The passers by were enjoying the spectacle almost as much as the kids. It went on for approximately two kilometres…
Dinner was eventually upon us (via a short stop on the Lotte Wheel and a quick game of tag in the square) and we ate our fill of steak and free bread. Good times! We made it!
The next morning, the sun was shining brightly over Deoksin. After our Saturday of steak eating and rock, scissor, paper it was looking like Sunday would be a boring day at home watching streamed Anthony Bourdain shows and catching up on NZ Masterchef while we pinched our pennies. Its not the most fulfilling way to spend the last day of the weekend before heading back to the jungle that is the Korean hagwon especially when you’ve already spent the first day of your weekend with a bunch of kids (albeit actually really great kids, it turned out).
After eating an excellent breakfast bun (with compliments from the Outback Steakhouse, Ulsan – brilliant touch, they give you bread to takeaway!) we sat and started watching the Simpsons. Now you can always tell when H-J isn’t happy. She stops interacting in her normal manner, gets bored at anything happening around her and and gets a bit stroppy… making Dan feel uncomfortable… While this could be looked at as a bad thing, often it is the thing that causes us to randomly do really cool things – how do you think we decided to move to the Cayman Islands?! Today, it turned out, was one of those days.
For the last couple of weeks Dan has been raving about a small cafe that has started trading just down the road from his work offering lattes and ice cream waffle sandwiches for less than 4 bucks (4000₩). H-J suggested that maybe instead of spending our day watching Cougartown it might be cool to go for a mission to Namchang to check out what all the fuss was about.
We got our gears on, packed a bag and walked down the road where most Namchang buses go past (being Sunday and not having any way to locate a bus timetable we thought it was the best move).
Right on cue, the number 17 bus rolled up and we started on our journey. As we approached Namchang, H-J came up with a brilliant idea, “lets stay on the bus and find out where it goes!”
Awesome. We went over a hill and all of a sudden the buildings went away and actual farmland appeared. It smelled like fresh, beautiful countryside, something that really strikes us these days thanks to living in a chemical wasteland. The bus rambled up and down hills, through picturesque Korean landscapes of rice paddies and small villages.
Eventually the bus stopped and the driver politely communicated (we think) that we were at the end of the line. We disembarked, looked around and thought, “where the hell are we?”. But we didn’t really care. It was shaping up to be a great day. The sun was shining. We could glimpse the sea up ahead and we had no idea where we were. Now that’s travelling. Project Runway was a but a blip in the past…
With our amazing knowledge of the Korean language, we figured out we were in Wollae. We don’t really know anything about this town other than (a) the train that we catch to Busan stops there and (b)…nope, there is no (b). So its time to find out!
Heading toward the water we see kids swimming and people everywhere fishing. The water is glistening and blue and even the sight of the nuclear power plant on the other side of the bay can’t deter from the fact we’re beside the seaside on a beautiful day!
Its about this time that Dan plants a simple seed…”wouldn’t a beer be great?”. Indeed, its just the sort of day that evokes thoughts of sitting by the shore, soaking up rays while downing a cold brew. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Dan is allergic to beer. Having it made it through most of his uni days able to indulge in this fine beverage, out of the blue he started developing hives on his biffkin (and other unfortunate areas) after drinking beer about six years ago. Now while that sounds extremely funny, and it actually is, the 5am trips to the emergency room are a bit tiring. For some reason though, this seemed like the time and place to give beer drinking a try for the first time in six years.
Time and place? You betcha!
Korea makes $2 Pints Nights in Dunedin seem like a rip off. Drinking here is seriously cheap and convenient. A quick stop into a particularly dusty and shitty looking store, $3 of our cash and we were loaded up with a half litre of outstanding Korean beer, Hite, two paper cups and a Coke (just in case Dan drops nuts).
We find ourselves the perfect position, overlooking the nuclear plant, the waves lapping not far below us and a whale meat restaurant at our backs. While joking about how this setting is as absolutely opposite to New Zealand as you can get, we pour paper cups of Hite and sip…”Ahhh”, says Dan, “this beer is awesome.” Clearly, its been way too long between beers, because as any foreigner that has drunk Korean beer will tell you, its really NOT awesome. Its cold, cheap and beer flavoured but sometimes that all you need.
Over the course of the afternoon, we giggle, refill our beers, shuffle positions a couple of times and even visit the local GS 25 for a stock up of beer. We go for the fancy shit this time round. The sun is hot, the beer is going down a treat and Dan’s not itchy. Just pasty.
You can watch Home and Away anywhere, anytime. But how often do you get to risk hives, while overlooking a nuclear power plant and drinking beers in the middle of god-knows-where?!