1.3 Winter 2020

Winter Vacation, Gangneung, Day 1

To put it delicately, this day has been an adventure.

People espouse the benefits of the train so I left my trusty cross-country buses behind.

My first mistake.

There was already an issue buying the ticket because the KORAIL website and app don’t match up but I made it through that hurdle, two subway lines and a local bus, and through the tall Cheonyangni station only to be stumped at the display board.

My train wasn’t listed. It was scheduled for 1pm and I was there at 12:40. Okay… I’ll just go to the Gangneung platform and check it out.

There was an empty train idling so I pressed the unlock button and got on. It was disconcerting to be the only person and my mind provided immediate reference to “Train to Busan”.

A janitor spotted me and unceremoniously kicked me off the train. I didn’t understand what was happening and got off in hurt confusion. So with no other choice I trekked back up the escalator to the info desk only for the young man say to me in English “go back to the platform”. I told him I got kicked off but he just repeated the same phrase.

So extra confused and close to tears I went back down to the platform and figured something would happen by 1pm. The same janitor approached my and gestured for my ticket, I assume he probably felt some guilt or consternation at my situation.

He too was confused that it said 1pm when clearly the train in the station was not mine. He disappeared up the escalator and re-emerged a few minutes later only to look at my ticket again and go back upstairs.

He came down this second time, his hunch confirmed, to explain gruffly I needed to wait until 1:20pm and that I would be on train 817, not 859, which was the current train idling at the platform. He seemed like a tough love guy but I was grateful all the same.

After finally getting on the correct train after it’s secret delay, the ride had limited scenery due to the pollution levels today and the woman next to me kept fervently praying to the point I was concerned she knew something about the train I did not.

When I finally made it out of the Gangneung train station, which did have a heat camera to check people for coronavirus induced fevers, I decided to get a taxi.

Well! The adventure didn’t stop there. At first the taxi driver thought my arrival address was my destination and pulled one block over back to the station. Uh. No.

The guesthouse I’m in doesn’t appear on Kakao maps (Korean Google Maps) so I had chosen a destination close by. She typed it in but we missed it by a mile in a very literal sense; she was sure I was wrong then when I showed her the address again and she reentered it and said “Ah. Sorry. I will give you a discount.”

We ended up at a blank faced building by a highway which I think she didn’t want to leave me at and asked for me to call the guesthouse owner. The owner then clarified the booking.com address was wrong and she was actually down this alley.

Thankfully the taxi driver honored the discount as the hostel owner who met us in the street said “she is a good driver.”

The main floor of the hostel looks like a home and birds chipped wildly as the older woman explained highlights around town. I think she cooks Korean breakfast every morning for her guests so I’ll see her again.

In a fit of luxury I booked my own room and it only seems mildly haunted: there’s a lot of lace and stuccoed walls.

After the debacles it was time to get out on the town. I made it to the beach which was at first disappointing because it was crowded with people photographing each other, couples making out, or both.

To get a better view and to escape tonsel hockey, I followed a long concrete dock to a lighthouse for which I’m very glad: a cute Korean family asked me in Korean to take a photo and did not blanch when I turned around and revealed my foreign face. I took several while saying “cheese” and asked them in Korean if the photos were okay. “Oh yes, thank you!”

Sometimes you just need a small moment of being seen and this checked the box. The young son and daughter tugged their dad along while the girl repeated 한번도 해 주세요 “please do it one more time”. Her dad acquiesced and I saw him chase them down the pier.

I didn’t want to be that foreigner that goes to a sea town and eats a hamburger… but I was that foreigner. I deserve it okay??

The cashier talked to me in English and I am FOREVER surprised by the random people who speak English. Not the bank or doctor or post man or my coworkers but this hamburger guy and that Jeju band kid. I turned heads when I walked in though. He offered an English menu and although I could have ordered without, the man seeemd intent to to talk with me in English even if our conversation was “I’ll take this” “where are you from?” “The USA” I’m used to bumbling along in Korean so it always feels like cheating in these instances.

So I ate a large hamburger, mulled over the state of English education, hopped on a bus that drove at such speed I made it back in record time, and am drinking tea while updating you.

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