Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gwe Bang San and Bang Eo San: One of Jinju's Interesting Secrets

Okay so this is going to be a half assed post.  I meant to write it a long time ago but I've been busy.  A few years ago I was riding in my wife's car looking out the window.  We were on the East side of Jinju when I noticed a mountain.  The mountain was far away and it looked tall and wide.  I wanted to know the name of the mountain and if it could be climbed.  Eventually I learned that the mountain's name was Bangeosan 방어산.  Last summer I tried to climb the mountain for the first time.

Getting there from Jinju was painful.  Jinju is a city in Korea that has one of the largest land masses.  People say that the actual area of Jinju is bigger than Seoul.  I don't know how they make those measurements but Jinju is part city and part amber waves of rice.  The Eastern section of the city is serviced by an independent bus system that departs from a terminal in a part of town called banseong.  It takes about 20 minutes to get to banseong by bus and then you have to get on a separate bus to go to some of the other places in East Jinju like 2 banseong, Jisu, or Sabong.  Bangeo mountain happens to span Sabong Myeon and Jisu Myeon. It also serves as the boarder between Jinju and Haman.

I took bus 004 from Banseong terminal to some small village called Cheongwon Ri.  I don't exactly know why I got off the bus at that place, the place looked interesting.  There is a small temple at the far end of the village.  I used the logic that there are usually hiking trails near temples so I walked behind the temple and indeed found a hiking trail.  This particular trail wasn't well kept and I kind of lost my way after a while.  Remember this was June of 2012 so their was a lot of plants and other obstructions.  My hike ended when I found a cave.  It was a bizarre experience.  The cave had some sand bags in it and it looked as if someone had eaten some potato chips on the outside of it.  What was cool about it was that there was cold air coming out of it.   I tried to press on and find a trail but I couldn't, so I just gave up and went home.  I was also somewhat worried about catching a bus so I just left.

At the bottom of the mountain I ran into the people who owned the temple.  They were quite surprised to see me there and they offered me some barley tea and a chance to have a chat with them.  They asked me about my wife and kid and all of the normal Korean interview questions.  I made it back to proper Jinju without much of a hitch.

I waited about six months and that mountain still bothered me.  On the Haman side of the mountain there is a temple that has a large rock with some ancient Buddha carvings.  I wanted to check those out and also to actually make it to the top.  I did some more research on the mountain and learned that Bangeosan was the site of a Korean war battle.  After I learned that I had to go back.

This time around I took the same route and found the cave again.  This time I was aware of some new information.  Bangeosan is actually two mountians: Bangeosan and Gwebangsan.  I don't know why they are two mountains, the two seem be the same thing, but what the hell?  Anyway I had an adventure on Gwebangsan.  This time after I found the cave I lost the trail again, but I climbed in winter and the hill actually isn't that steep and there was no underbrush so I just walked to the top without a trail.  At the top I found the trail at the top of the mountain and followed the trail until I realized that the mountain was actually quite massive so I went down again out of fear that I would miss the bus. 

                                            Bangoesan from Wol ah San

On my way down I had a bit of a religious experience.  While hiking I noticed that there were a few roads carved in the side of the mountain.  Again I departed from the hiking trail and just kind of scooted down the hill until I hit one of the concrete or gravel roads.  While walking on the road I heard a small noise.  It sounded like something walking.  I had a flash of fear for a moment because I had heard of wild boars on Korean mountains attacking people.  I froze and searched the landscape for the sound.  It turned out to be a small deer.  I was quite surprised.  I had never seen any kind of wildlife like that in Korea before.  I counted myself lucky. 
After I saw the deer I remembered something that a student had told me in an adult conversation class.  That particular student was from Jisu.  It turns out that the founder of L.G. was born in Jisu too.  The student told me that people from Jisu think that that mountain has some kind of beneficial spiritual energy.  After seeing the deer I believed it.  I followed the road to the end and ran into the bus stop.  It only took the bus about five minutes to get there.  I expected a one or two hour wait. 

Another interesting fact that I learned about the mountain is that some legendary general named Mook Shin Woo 묵신우apparently built a fortress on top of the mountain, in the 1300's.  Legend has it that the man had wings and that helped him to build the fortress.  I have yet to make it over to the Bangeo san side of the mountain, but the Korean mountain tour website says that you can see traces of the fortress.  Also the Korean 방어 and Chinese 防禦 mean defense, so if there ever was a fortress maybe it was to protect Jinju or Haman at some point.

I intend to make another trip sometime.  This mountain just bothers me that way.  Also from the top of this particular mountain you can see Seobuk san.  Seobuk san in English is called "Battle Mountain."  The Americans and North Koreans had it out at that place for a month in a bloody struggle that ended in the deaths of about 8000 people.  I'll save that post for the future when I climb that mountain.  Until then I want to explore this whole thing.  Another nice thing about this mountain was the fact that nobody climbs it.  So when I climbed it I only saw one guy walking a dog.  Usually when you climb a mountain you can see at least ten people, hundreds if you climb a popular mountain like Jiri.  Anyhow Bangeo san and Gwe Bang San are some of Jinju's best kept secrets. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's a Bigger Insult to People's Intellegence?

2012 may be the signal for the end of the world.  According to the Mayans it isn't really, it is just the beginning of the 13th Baktun, I think.  On the winter solstice the Mayan calendar will restart. 

2012 was an important year for shifting world powers.  South Korea is set to elect a new president.  Also the Americans re-elected Barack Obama.  I would like to examine which countries' government thinks that their citizens are bigger rubes.

Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama spent 2 billion dollars trying to become president.  U.S.A., U.S.A.

Rather than spend money on attack ads, pollsters, statisticians, door knockers, direct mails, robot-calls, or even bumper stickers, Korean politicians develop choreography and buy old women matching hats and jackets so that they can dance on sidewalks near intersections.  Score one for Korea.

Tea party - need I say more.

South Koreans have a front row seat to see how keeping it in the family leads to shitty government.  Three generations of crazy Kims has left their brothers and sisters to the north in starving and on the brink of war.  South Koreans also hated George W. Bush (Son of George H.W. Bush) so much that during his presidency Korea's number one popstar to wish for the deaths of innocent American women and children.  And yet they think that this lady is going to do a good job: 

 Prior to the U.S. election a crazy gunman shot a U.S. Senator and killed numerous other people at a political rally. On August sixth, seven people were killed in a shooting at a Sheik temple. On July 20th a crazy gun man killed twelve people at the release of "Dark Knight Rises." These were the some of the most famous shooting during the election. Mass shootings were never discussed during the U.S. presidential election. In fact candidates got street cred for talking about how much they supported guns.

South Koreans passed on Ahn Cheol-Soo as their candidate. The polls showed that Mr. Sleepy Mcironmypants was beating him so he dropped out. The problem with Moon Jae In is that nobody really gives a shit about him. Ahn Cheol-Soo captured the imaginations of the young people, and they were excited about his candidacy. Moon Jae in is boring. ACS also has the advantage of being an internet security expert. North Korea frequently uses computer viruses to attack the south. I think president Ahnlab could have helped bolster the cyber defenses of the country, or at least he could have dropped a crazy stuxnet onto the North to set back their nuclear program.
Exciting isn't he?

My hope for the 13th Baktun is for our leaders to start acting like adults and try to help people. I don't really care who wins the South Korean presidential election. Both Moon Jae In and Park Geun Hye seem better than Lee Jeong Hee. (Really? You are going to talk shit about a woman's dead father on national T.V. Have you no decency? Sure the guy was a scumbag, but if you expect to beat Park Geun Hye, beat her on policy, don't let people sympathize with her by acting like an idiot. Oh yeah, I saw the rally that you had in front of Gyeongsang Univeristy, all thirty people that showed up seemed slightly amused. I was watching from Starbucks, you didn't even have the decency to say something to the three cops who were shaking down that poor kimbab delivery man. Oh wait let's look at it another way. The three cops didn't give enough of a shit about you to not hassle the poor kimbab delivery man. They were fucking bored. Someone could have probably thrown a sledgehammer at you without them batting an eye. ) So I really don't know who treats it's citizens like bigger idiots.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gangnam Style

Finally, I'll write something about Gangnam Style.   A lot of white people who live in Korea tend to hate K-pop.   In the venn diagram of things, the usual male English teacher in Korea hails from musical interests that tends to scorn anything top ten.  The constant bitch from people like us it that K-pop is just mass produced fake bullshit.  To some extent that argument is sound, but it is also a cliche and predictable refrain.  You can pre-empt any conversation about K-pop with a straight white guy in Korea by saying key words like: plastic, fake, crap, mass produced, corporate, and you can even test your opponent's sanity by dropping the i-bomb as in Illuminati. (Shit, I bet I'm going to get people who googled "Illuminati," dropping by now.)

Many people have already noted that Psy's success must be the utmost shit sandwich for anybody from the big Korean record companies who thought that one of their mini-skirt squads would make it big in the states.   Delusional thinking by S.M. entertainment prompted them to send over nine girls to get leered at by Dave Letterman, Regis Philban, and Bill Murray. 

My personal favorite case of schadenfreude is the one that Park Jin Young must be feeling.   He sent The Wondergirls over to America to become the next big thing, without understanding that girl groups are about fifteen years late in places that aren't Asia.  Besides that, there have never really been too many successful girl groups in America.  Sure there was Ace of Base and the Spice Girls.  En Vogue was pretty awesome but they only had three big songs.  (They also showed more skin in 1996 than the Wonder Girls will ever be willing to do.)  

Also what must be extraordinarily bitter for everyone on the the Wonder Girls and Girls Generation band wagons is the crazy positioning of Hyun-ah.   Hyun-ah, the former Wonder Girl.  Hyuna-ah, the girl who at 17 years old made the song "Change,"  the song that made the puritanical "Brian In Jeollanamdo," loose his shit and empty his lube tube.  Hyun-ah, who lit up the blogosophere again earlier this year with people calling her a stripper, for her role in the song "Trouble Maker."  (I have to admit to being a fan of "Trouble Maker," that whistle beat is pretty cool.)   I called it too.  Sure she has that whole sexy thing working for her, but the girl can spot an opportunity and follow through, and there she was in the "Gangnam Style," video, in the subway looking all hot and doing the horse dance next to Psy.   Where were the other Wonder Girls?  Where was Jessica and Taeyeon?  They weren't anywhere.  And now Hyuna, is the it girl in the number #2 billboard song.  Let me rephrase that - the Kpop song that isn't translated into English - that is also the number #2 billboard song.  Take that S.M. and J.Y.P. entertainment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Six or seven years ago, I used to complain about the situation of coffee shops in Korea.  Jinju didn't have too many proper coffee shops.  There were a few espresso bars that served the usual espresso drink without much love.  Americanos came with sugar syrup in them.  Brewed coffee couldn't be found anywhere except for McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts.  I always had to fight with the workers at Dunkin donuts, they had to be told not to add sugar to the coffee.  They also had to be told not to water it down.   There was also a period when McDonalds had some really great coffee for 1000 won.  It was a nice brewed coffee that had a balance of acid and bitterness.  That coffee lasted for only a few months.  Sometime in 2006 they changed to the Lavazza pod coffee that wasn't good at all.

I used to complain all of the time about the substandard coffee.   I compared it to the places back home where they roasted their own beans.   I compared it to my favorite college hangout the rocketstar cafe, a place that brewed great coffee, had a pool table, a pacman machine, a stained glass window that some local dude made, live bands, and to top it all off, local artist would hang their work on the walls for a few weeks.   That place was awesome.  It was owned by this one dude who was really into mopeds and coffee.  He used to work at another place that was run cooperative style called "The Space."  The Space got shut down because it had live music that pissed off a local urology clinic.  And of course you can't forget Kalamazoo's "Water Street Coffee Joint."  This was Kalamazoo's original hoity toity coffee place.  Located across the street from "Bells Brewery," "Waterstreet," eventually started roasting their own coffee and selling their brand in grocery stores.   Water street has been very successful in keeping Starbucks at bay.

Oh how I would bitch and moan about how terrible the coffee was. 

But these days coffee in Jinju has swung the opposite direction.  Around 2008 people really started to give a shit about coffee.   A place called the coffee flower opened.  Coffee Flower is a place where they roast their own beans.   My wife was interested in the place because they had a panini press.  We went there and ordered some coffee and paninis on time.  The coffee was okay, but we got a ham, cheese, strawberry, and kiwi panini.   Another place called August square opened.  They roast their own coffee too.  They had a prime spot in front of Gyeongsang University, but they moved over by MBCine.

These days in Jinju, coffee shops can be seen everywhere.  There are at least 4 barista training academies.  There is even a place that councils people on how to open a coffee shop.  I really don't think that the market can bear much more coffee.   I've been to a few places that somewhat angered me by how pretentious the lead barista has been.  Last Thursday I visited a coffee shop that had gotten some pretty high praise on the local facebook group.  

This place, the "Lee Dong Woo," coffee shop is for people who are absolutely serious about wanting to be seen as a coffee intellectual.  This is something that I have been absolutely guilty of in the past.  I wrote an 18 page research paper in college about the history of globalization and coffee.  I used to drink coffee from each country and continent and remark on the strengths and weaknesses of the brews.  Lee Dong Woo took it a step farther. 

I took a special trip to visit this place.  I took a 20 minute bus ride.  I walked for about ten minutes from the bus stop, and when I ordered a drip coffee to go I was told that I can't have one because the paper cup hurt the flavor or the coffee.  Eventually I convinced them that I was in a hurry, and had no time to sit thoughtfully and contemplate the unique flavor profile of my Guatemala Antigua.  I cared little that hints of apricot and black pepper could be detected in the aroma.  I took an hour out of my day to come and give them some money, the least they could do was pour some goddam hot water over some coffee grounds into a cup. 

At the end of that experience I found that the coffee was pretty good.  I don't know if I would go out of my way for it again, but the caffeine buzz I got off of it was pretty unique.   

I've had similar experiences other places as well.   Near by my house in Hadaedong, there is a place called the Advertist.  The head barista here has some certificates on the wall about him winning barista awards up in Seoul.  The interior of the place is nice.  There is a mural painting of some wings on the wall that you can get your picture taken in front of so that you can look like an angel.  But some aspects of the interior look a little cluttered.  A samurai action figure sits on top of a piano holds empty wine bottles. The espresso coffees are pretty good, while the prices are a little high. 

I went there one time last March to have some hand drip coffee.  The guy brought out some whole beans and a hand grinder.  I had to grind the beans myself. When it came time to make the coffee, I was forbidden to simply pour the water over the grounds...I had to do the little hand drip dance where you have to pour the water in a circle and lightly moisten the coffee.   Again, I don't like having to follow nit picky rules just to get a cup of coffee.

I also don't like all of the pretentiousness that goes into everything.  I know that coffee is great, and I know that it tastes different from different places, I just don't like it when people have to get all weird about things.  Jinju had some similar creepiness when it came to wine.  Back when I first got here, wine was hard to find.  Now it is quite easy and cheap to get.  Back in the day, I would get my wine fix from a local bar that served Franzia.  You know, box wine.  One day this Canadian dude walked in and ordered a glass of the stuff.  He saw the bartender walk over to the box and pour it into his glass, he new that that he wasn't getting any kind of high end stuff, but the dude still insisted on sticking his nose down the glass and then doing the whole wine guy slurp to find out how many "tannins," were in it.   This was completely unnecessary.  I really hoped for his sake that he got some kind of satisfaction out of being such a jackass.  My feeling towards wine people is that they are just alcoholics who like to say that everything tastes like black currents and chocolate.  But the same is true for pretentious coffee people as well.  You just have to say that something tastes like a fruit that nobody has ever tried, and people will think you know what you are talking about. 

A:  What do you think of this Ethiopian Sidamo? 
B:  Well it is obvious that the roaster was able to essentialize the choke cherry blossom arroma and marry it to the tart creamyness of ... of .. I want say paw paw, but then there is also that sweet service berry texture.
A: That is exactly what I was thinking.
B: I'm glad I found someone like you that I can share my coffee with.  I was just thinking about doing a piece for "Coffee and Edible Midwest Monthly."
A: Really that's amazing.  I loved their dandelion leaf salad and organic Timor pea berry vinaigrette. 
B: Don't make me salivate!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Aztec Blog

I haven't written on this thing in a long time.  I'm in a slump of not really being interested in anything.  Wait, the whole Detroit Tigers in the World Series is pretty awesome.  To bad for Kalamazoo native Derek Jeter though.  That guy is true class.  He's a bright spot on the Yankees, I sold his dad newspapers a few times when I was working at the Michigan News.

Really, I spend my time thinking about this one mountain in Jinju that I want to climb to the top of.  I tried climbing it one time but I lost the trail when I found this creepy looking cave.  That was back in June, and I got a big rash from caterpillar fur.  I want to go back into the cave and see if there is any gold, Buddha statues, or bodies.

As far as blogging is concerned, it seems to be a dead art.  A lot of the big blogs aren't really publishing anything anymore.  

I was reading one of my other blogs: Three Stripes of Meat in Teotiuacan.  I should focus on that one.  It is much better than this one.    Here is the link:


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Other Jinju Bloggers Need to Step it up a Bit

Fun Times in South East Korea is the largest and least important blog about Jinju. That is why it is so important for the other Jinju bloggers to step it up. I have found two other blogs about Jinju. One is by my friend, called Indie Jinju. He hasn't posted anything in about a month. The other is a new one called Yo Jinju. Yo Jinju looks like it aspires to have important information on it. Meanwhile, if you read five posts on this blog your I.Q. will drop five points. If you fix yourself a nice drink, and read the whole damn thing, you will need to be committed. The alternative would be to get your Jinju information from a foreigner church website. I've been in many conversations with Korean Christians who try to get me to go to their church. They mentinon that there are other foreigners there. Saying that there are other foreigners in a church means that I actually have to understand what all of the god stuff. That is why I still have a small affinity for the Catholic church. Sure the leaders might be rape apologists, but Catholics never bother you to join up. In fact I briefly wanted to go to a Catholic church in Korea when one of my students, an elegant elderly woman, mentioned that the church bazaars at her church frequently sell wine. I suppose I could transform this piece of garbage into something useful, but that would take some commitment that I don't have.

New Rules

New Rule: If you have the courage to leave your house in a pink dress shirt and lime green pants, don't get all shy in English class.

New Rule: Let's have some more appropriate amounts of French fries. Fries and beer are great. I just want to stop hating myself. New Rule: Korea bloggers need to find something new to write about. Here is a basic summary of what the past few years have been like. Contracts don't mean anything. I'm lonely. Here are some pictures of a temple. Racism. I ate some weird food. I saw something about foreigners on T.V. that I didn't like. My Korean boyfriend. My Korean girlfriend. My students are so........ I don't like this blogger. I'm the most serious Korea blogger, others are losers. Human rights.