Friday, January 18, 2013

Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival Pt. 1: Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere

I had a fantastic time in Hwacheon last week at the world-famous Ice Fishing Festival. However, before any of that happened, I had to travel to Hwacheon, and that was a day's worth of adventure in and of itself.

Even though I was only going to be at the festival for a day, I had with me all that I would need for a month of travel, since I was going to be (or am currently) living out of a suitcase until February. My trusty gadget-backpack and my little gray suitcase and I made the four-hour bus ride up to Seoul on the 9th, where I crashed for the night with a Swattie friend (more on that later). The next day, I met up with Tracey and Ammy, two Fulbrighters, as well as Tracey's mother, for lunch, and then accompanied Ammy to a dental clinic for a check-up. The dental clinic turned out to be also a plastic surgery clinic, and while I waited in the posh, five-star-hotel-esque lobby, I glanced through pamphlets and advertisements for the dozens of procedures offered. It was weird. Then, finally, Ammy and I got on the road.
Ammy and the snow-covered train tracks. Both real trains and metro trains use these.
The Seoul Metro system is more extensive than I'd imagined. It's possible to take the turquoise line from the center of the city all the way out to Chuncheon, 45 miles northeast. This is roughly equivalent to riding the BART from San Francisco to Union City or Concord. It takes about two hours and costs less than 3,000₩ (super-cheap!). You could also take the ITX (real trains that run north-south) for a faster and more comfortable ride. Ammy and I went for the metro. It was an odd feeling, being inside a subway car, watching the sun set over a starkly rural scene: mountains, old, crumbly buildings, fields of rice.

Around 6:30pm, we arrived in Chucheon, the capital and largest city of Gangwon Province. I saw about five minutes' worth of the city before we had to hop on a bus headed even farther north (and that five minutes was spent running from the train station to the bus terminal). This bus made its way through  windy, completely darkened roads. I dozed off for a bit, and an hour later, I had absolutely no idea where we were. I checked the GPS on my phone, and it showed that we were on a road with nothing but blank white space on either side. I looked outside and saw one building. Behind it, a field. There were no lights.

Sure enough, we were in Yuchon.
A photo of Yuchon (유촌리) that I took on a different day. Let's see... 파로호느릅마을: Paroho (Lake) Elm Village. 농촌관광일번지: Rural Tourism #1 (?). And I can't figure out the right-hand post at all.
Yuchon is the name of the small village where we would be spending the night. A fellow Fulbrighter, Maggie, lives and teaches in this remote location; hers is by far the most rural placement among us. It's all farms, hills, a handful of buildings, and only one street. Fortunately for us, however, Maggie's host family rents out a dormitory (more like cabin) that they built for the seasonal farming students, and we were encouraged to stay there.

When Ammy and I arrived at Yuchon's only bus stop, we got out and found Maggie, as well as our other Fulbright friends Adam and Katelyn, waiting for us. We had dinner and then spent the rest of the evening playing Contact, eating junk food, talking about movies, and getting psyched for all the fun we were going to have at the Ice Fishing festival the next day.
Looks like college! Snacks, computers, lounging.
I'm going to end this post with a fun fact about Yuchon (and Hwacheon and this entire region in general): there are more soldiers than civilians. Yes, Gangwon Province shares a huge border with North Korea, and more than half of the DMZ is in it. Maggie says that she sees soldiers every day, and that sometimes tanks rumble slowly down the road she walks down to get to school. During the harvest season, the tanks are replaced with tractors. In any case, when real tanks aren't around, the village is still given a sense of a security with fake tanks -- made of concrete -- that overlook it from a hill. When I first passed by them, it was dark, and I didn't even realize that they were fake. But the next morning, we saw them in a new light, and it was just so absurd that we had to take a photo.
Katelyn, Ammy, and Adam with a fake tank. A fank.
That's all! In the next post: ice fishing!

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