A lot has happened in the past three days. Originally I was going to write about how funny old men are here and fucked the school system is but I’m just going to get into it.
A really good four days:
I mentioned in an earlier post that I had intended to ride a strenuously mountainous 92km on this day but I become overcome by other priorities. My enthusiasm for the day’s climb, which was surprisingly bright, was quickly scythed to bits when Nicole and were offered some of this:
Bits of crab bobbing around in a sea of oniony miso and shards of raw crab belly doused in rich gochujang and a sweet soy/sesame oil. A kingly feast.
We had offered to shout Gun and Becca because they had so hospitably rescued us from the toilet of Gwanju food tourism but Gun refused and paid for everything. After lunch he drove us to a local road heading North where Nicole could stick her thumb up and I could ride highway free.
Most of the ride looked like this:
The rest was rather beautiful as well but far too strenuous for photographing. You can’t stop on a hill. You just wanna get it over with you know?
The idea was to meet Nicole in Jeonju. I pedalled fast and hard but crab had eaten too much into my day so I only had enough time to make it half way – a small city called Jeong-eup. There’s not really much to say about Jeongeup besides that I ate a delicious mushroom stew* and watched South Korea loose to Tunisia with some old naked dudes in a jimjilbang. It was my first experience seeing highly emotional faces with bare penises underneath.
Nicole was waiting to have lunch with me the next day in Jeonju, the historical home of bibimbap. I didn’t have time to bother with all the fiddly navigation that comes with seeking a beautiful route – inappropriately fat and fast trucks, incomprehensible horn tooting and the threat of tunnels but it’s mindlessly straight and highly efficient – straight to the highway for me.
Nicole is a loyal and understanding friend. When I arrived she had already sussed out a few promising eateries. I settled on option two, a restaurant serving up the local speciality, raw beef bibimbap. All of my considerable excitement (amply supported by my post-hill hunger) was shredded and forgotten when we got there. 11,000-12,000 for a bibimbap?! Get fucked, usually it’s half that. I told the lady who looked most in charge what I thought. She offered to give it to us for 9,000 but Nicole and I were too aggrieved. We probably would have only said yes if it was free.
We went back on the street to consult some locals. A young guy on a bike with a large forehead and a happy nod seemed the best candidate.
Translated from Korean:
“Hey is this place any good?”
“Hhaha no, only old people eat there.”
“What do you like?”
“Do you ever eat bibimbap?”
“Nobody in Jeonju eats bibimbap it’s for tourists.”
Well that settles it. He took us to his favourite restaurant and showed me where to get a good coffee*. The cafe had a nice view, free wifi and some powerpoints so we ordered a cheese cake and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.
Nicole and I hadn’t expected to be together for this long so we had both organised different things for the evening. I had found a warmshowers host and she had been asked to dinner by the daughter of a concerned man who picked her up on the highway. I’m all about group love-ins, especially when it comes to eating, so I suggested we all meet together and have a feast.
Nicole: see the last ten posts.
Shin: my host. Handsome, wide eyed and youthful. How I would imagine one of those aliens from Toy Story would act if suddenly given a shot of intelligence and a convincing make-over.
Mimi: Nicole’s hitchhiking connection. Looks and sounds soft – I wouldn’t be surprised if she modelled for make up brands. She likes designing clothes and wishes she had a Chris Hemsworth pillow to hug at night.
Jung: Shin’s mum, a completely unexpected appearance. Talents include sculpting, painting and talking. Treats giving like breathing.
Jung’s connections got us a free meal at a relatively fancy bibimbap restaurant in the old town*. She didn’t get to eat anything though – Shin thought his Mum was incapable of not embarrassing him or herself so he kicked her out.
When Jung returned she had gifts for each of Nicole, Mimi and I. This was to to be the second (the first being dinner) in a long line of unexpected and needlessly generous gifts from Shin’s family.
The Shin family gifts part 2: Paper bags with gift wrapped sport shirts.
The Shin family gifts part 3: Accommodation.
Nicole had organised us to meet a university teacher called Brandy later that night. We were supposed to hang out after her work then crash at her’s but Jung said she would be honoured to have us stay at her place. Shin translated that to mean she had already prepared the house for our arrival. Sorry Brandy.
The Shin family gifts part 4: Dessert feast
We didn’t get back to Shin’s house until midnight or so but that meant nothing to Jung. She started unloading treats like a woman possessed. Wave after wave of delicious Korean snacks coming crashing into us like a pair of hapless surfers – all we could do was glutinously drown in the onslaught.
Some time around 1:30am I was polishing off the tropical wing of the fruit platter when Shin and Nicole decided it was time for bed.
The Shin family gifts number 4: Pyjamas.
Jung, now wearing a saggy exhaustion mask, had bought us matching pyjamas. Nicole’s matched jung’s and mine matched Shin’s. Aren’t we cute?
Shin loves football, video games and bike touring. Our attempts to sleep were regularly interrupted.
“Hey Shin, maybe we should go to sleep?”
“What time is it?”
I turn to check.
“It’s almost 4m.”
“Yes, let’s go to sleep.”
. . .
“Hey Shin . . . who do you think is going to win the World Cup?”
And so on.
The Shin family gifts number 5: Variety of homemade traditional Korean drinks and more snacks.
As soon as we woke up the gravy train was up and running. Jung told us that we were due for a bulgogi appointment at her sister’s house. As we were packing our bags we were presented with homemade bottles of pumpkin and rice milk, blackberry wine, iced coffee and a selection of snacks for our travels.
The Shin family gifts part 6: Bulgogi feast
Shin’s aunt is a chef by trade. The beef bulgogi, the steamed egg pot, the kimchi and all the sides were home made and fucking good. The beef bulgogi the best I’ve had so far.
The Shin family gifts part 7: Beauty products.
The last and strangest of all the gifts. When we left Shin’s house we were given bags of skin lotion and hair products. I guess I’ve been looking pretty ratty lately.
Our next stop was to meet Brandy, the woman we were originally going to meet the previous night before Jung stepped in. She’s Alabamian, keen to laugh and, like me, embroiled in a long love affair with comic book films and chicken. Poor Nicole was subjected to storm of esoteric comic-book nonsense until Brandy and I finally decided the rest of our afternoon was going to be better spent actually watching a comic book film. We excitedly toddled off to see X-men while Nicole, of her own wishing, stayed behind to do laundry and organisation.
We met Shin and Mimi again that night. We met Mimi for chicken and Shin later for booze. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. Not a swirly alcohol induced blur but a fuzzy lots-of-things-happened kind of blur. I remember we were boozing up playing pool at a draft beer house when a Canadian-Mexican arrived. I can’t remember who he was or where he came from but he was loud and funny and his head seemed too small. Maybe he works out. Sometime after his arrival a Korean heart surgeon and his social worker friend turned up. Then we were at a bar drinking vodka and eating fruit platters. I tried to get the dj to play Big Freeida because I wanted to dance but only the beach boys and some sappy ballads came out. Shin and I bonded talking about girls and school and then it was suddenly 4am again. The doctor stood up and announced he needed to sleep. ‘What a reasonable decision’ and ‘wow you’re really well dressed’ were my two main thoughts. I can’t remember paying for any of the fruit, beer or vodka I drank. I think the surgeon covered it.
I had a heartfelt goodbye with Shin and an terrible hug with Mimi. I think I waved at the others. Then my body spasmed, something misfired and I was suddenly hungry again. Brandy, Nicole and I bought some ramyeon and kimbap from a convenience store under her house and stayed up until sunrise snacking and watching the Avengers dubbed in Korea, why does everyone sound so angry? Then England were playing football on tv, that was rather boring so I fell asleep.
I woke up feeling rather villainous – deep voiced, eyes that look like coal mines and an inability to feel emotions from the Toy Story side of the spectrum. I thought about getting the train but I didn’t.
The ride was highway-y, hilly and punctuated with two tunnels, one of which was down hill*. I spent most of the day sweating like an alcoholic buffalo wearing seven polar fleeces.
That brings me to now:
Pork backbone soup with mountain greens and buckwheat glass noodles. Spicy, mustardy and slightly bitter with some of the juiciest and softest hunks of pork I’ve ever had.
Tomorrow I’m getting a bus to Seoul to meet Bop Jo at a music festival.
Cheers life, you done good.
*Like the Rock’s in Sydney but less trashy
*Why would you build a tunnel with any other gradient than straight?!