This weekend I went down to Mokpo, mostly to try out the KTX. 'Tis old news, I know, but I happen to like trains a great deal, and the higher speed the better. In general I found the Korean version to be quite satisfactory, though it seemed a mite smaller than the train I recall riding in France. (There, too, I rode it soon after it first opened; though open in this case means to Montpellier rather than nationally.) Trains are wonderfully civilized. All Koreans need to do now is learn how to eat a slow dinner, set that dinner on the train, and the journey will be unadultered bliss. That or utterly Koreanize it and put a sauna on board. Complicated, yes, but can anyone think of a better way to arrive at one's destination than refreshed from a good soak?
Mokpo was largely uninteresting (my apologies to her inhabitants), but not without its amusements. People were friendlier, even though I saw a lot more pale faces than I usually do. When I got of the train and was poking about for the taxi stop, a rather entertaining morning drunk took a shine to me and railed at me in broken English about his ballpoint pen calligraphy. (I am now the rather confused possessor of some such.) I think he might have wanted some money off me, but his English wasn't good enough to ask; that or the soju bottle kept distracting him. If only I had a liver that could handle soju at 10:00 AM.
I went to the National Maritime Museum first, which was one of the most fascinating museums I've been to in Korea. Koreans, living on a peninsula that may as well be an island, are a people obsessed with the sea. The museum is rather new, and covers a vast amount of history as well as the anthropology of fishing villages. Unfortunately, they didn't conver much in the way of poetry; the way I understand it, the fishman is the symbol par excellence of the poet-sage. Happily, although most of the documentation wasn't in English, I had the place and the guides mostly to myself (except for a brief invasion of school children), so I walked away with most of my curiosity sated.
The Museum's pride and joy are two recovered ships: the first a small Korean trader from the Goryeo period (11th cen. approx.); the second a quite large Chinese international trading vessel from the Yuan Dynasty. The Korean one had been as fully reconstructed as possible, but the Chinese one was still in progress. In one of the best museum displays I've seen, you can watch the work from a railing above the workshop. Enthralling work. So many pieces, all looking the same. Like a jigsaw puzzle, yes, but with half the pieces missing and the ones left are broken or chipped. There were scale models of both.
What was most interesting about the Chinese ship was its cargo. Presumably they were on their way to Japan, carrying a hold of celadon, tin ingots, and spices. Many personal effects had been rescued - a Buddha, a spoon, a pair of dice, bronze locks, ceramic water droppers, coils and coils of coins. Thankfully, they left some of the coins and ceramics uncleaned, still decorated with their barnicle tumors. Beautiful. The crew was also equipped with a medicine chest full of croton seeds, litchi nuts, and quisqualis indica nuts.
After the museum, I headed to a restaurant recommended by the Planet of Loneliness call Hemingway's. It was bizarre enough to appeal to me. It wasn't that specatcular a place, but I did feel the need to read poetry, drink whiskey, and distain the wretched music they played. I climbed Yudalsan next. Not a difficult mountain, but it had some nice views and was pleasantly rocky, with lots of crags and boulders. There was also an interesting sculpture garden with weirdly sacreligious Buddhistic pieces.
The next day, after church (we had a deacon this week; liturgy is always better with a deacon) I head with a friend to Jongno to check out the Lantern Festival. It was as though I were paying my dues, along with every other individual lacking sufficent melanin. Disconserting all the furinurs. The parade itself was okay, although the people walked way too fast - it was as though they were just trying to get it done with. And I'm not sure if they Enlightened One would have approved of half-naked teenagers gyrating on a stage to bad music in his honor. He was an ascetic after all.
The weekend ended with Guinness at Murphy's in Jongno. If the stuff weren't so bloody expensive, I could live off it. Pictures of all the above can be found on the left. Tomorrow I'll probly poke around some temples, so I might have some updates then.