Yesterday (Sunday), I decided that I wanted to explore Gwangju a bit more than I have so far. I thought that Mr. Kang was going to take John and me out to Naju to help his wife campaign for a position in the local government, but he never showed up. So, I walked to the bus stop, and on the way, I decided to play a new travel game that I made up. The name is in flux, but for now, we'll call it "The Bus Game."
Basically, you walk to the local bus stop, and take the first bus that comes by. It doesn't matter if you know where that bus goes, or not. Then, you ride said bus as far as the outside remains interesting. When it gets boring, or you just want to hop off for some reason, hop off. Explore where you are for a while and then catch a different bus going the other way. Get off when it gets interesting. Continue until you're too tired to keep going.
So, the best thing about this game here in Gwangju is that, if you have a Hanpay card, transfering buses within an hour is free. This means I get to hop off one bus, go take some pictures of whatever I find interesting in this area, and then hop on a different bus for free. I'm not sure if you have this ability where you live, but if you do, I recommend playing this game. I played all day for less than $3USD. I did hop on the subway for a while, which cost me an extra $1. I thought the transfer rate would apply, but it did not. Oh wells...
So, today I didn't follow strict rules, I was making them up as I went along. The first bus I took was apparently a work bus, the #92. It zig-zagged its way through factories and plants. Interestingly, because it was Sunday, I was the only person on the bus. That's the first time this has happened to me in Gwangju where public transit is used by a great number of people. Take any express bus during the weekend and you will not get a seat. Anyway, after the 15th factory/chemical plant I decided that it was time to exit the bus. I happened to be next to a construction site, and that was the most interesting thing in the area, so, aside from the ground, that's what I took pictures of.
Once another bus finally pulled up, a #20, I hopped on it, and it took me back to central Gwangju, and through some areas I actually recognized. Recognized areas are boring. I know the #98 bus can take me to these places because I've passed them before. I ended up riding until I saw a stop for Sangmu Subway Station. Oh! The Subway! I haven't ridden that yet! I hop off at the Sangmu Subway Station stop and take a couple pictures that were halfway interesting, but honestly, at this point I'm out past the airport and the only things I see are an outlet mall and apartments.
Quick point: all the apartments in Gwangju look the same. No, seriously. There's about three different designs for apartments. I'm pretty sure this means that there's three companies building them and they just use the same design over and over because it's cheaper. Wouldn't you?
Anyway, so I'm in this terribly dull area of Gwangju. There's nearly nothing to photograph. I walk around a few blocks and everything is less than ten years old. I'm bored. Okay, maybe newer buildings are interesting to you, but they aren't to me. I hate new buildings. I'm so, so bored by most modern architecture.
Quick side note. We just finished the winter semester at the academy where I teach, and the last unit in one of the books I teach is about architecture. Specifically, it's about modern architecture. So, the first class I teach this unit to, I don't really explain architecture. Rookie mistake. I don't show them what I mean when I say "Modern Architecture." And the essays I get back from the kids are along the lines of "I like modern architecture because it has modern conveniences, like elevators." Oh, you lazy shits. "I like modern architecture because it lasts longer because it isn't built of dirt and grass." Wait, seriously? You want to compare modern architecture to buildings made 1,000 years ago? (Little did I know, traditional Korean architecture is insulated with dirt... more on that in another post.) "Modern architecture is better than older architecture because it is more colorful." Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Have you NOT been out to the places I have? Have you not seen the wonderful, beautiful colors painted on the undersides of the traditional roofs at temples? Their idea of colorful is colorful windows, or a building painted entirely pink.
So, for the other class using the same book I begin to describe architecture in more detail. I draw examples of older architecture and modern architecture on the board. I open the window of the classroom and I say, "What do you see? What is out there?" I explain how nothing in modern architecture is superfluous. There are no additions to the buildings that are unnecessary. The area around the structures is designed to make people want to live there. The playgrounds and parks are designed to entice parents. The exercise machines are designed to entice older couples. Everything is there for a reason! And this time, despite the fact that these students are at a lower lever than the other class, I still got better essays out of them. "I think modern architecture is simple in design." Yes. "I think modern architecture has useful features, like air conditioning." Oh, god, yes. I even got one student who wrote "I think modern architecture has very useful features like air conditioning, but I would still like to try to live in [traditional] Korean-style housing." I got through to him. He understood what I was trying to teach, and I got through to him. Sometimes I love my job.
That wasn't very quick, was it? Anyway, end tangent, back to the main story!
So, I'm in a boring area of Gwangju. But I'm near a subway station! I walk around, see what I can see, yawn, and go down to the subway. My Hanpay works for the subway! Score, and thank you, information desk! I head down multiple flights of stairs and magically pick the side that is headed towards the area of town I am familiar with.
At this point, I get off the train, basically conceding the game because I know where I am. How dull is that? But, I have to stop by my bank to pick up some cash, so I'm not too worried about that. There's only one location for my bank here in Gwangju, so unless I want to pay money to access my money, I really want to stop by the location. Granted, ATM fees here usually fall between 50 and 90 cents USD. Are you jealous of me yet? I'm still too much of a penny-pincher to want to spend that, so I do try to stop by my bank when I want to make a withdrawal.
So, I'm in old downtown at this point, which I know far too well. I go and look for a shot that didn't quite make it yesterday, but it's blocked by a car. I decide to walk around and find a dead fish in the river, which I feel is worth a shot, despite my lack of tripod.
After the dead fish, I'm feeling hungry, so I head to my friend HY's crepe shop, which is closed. This is bad news for me, but good for him. He closes when he sells all of his crepe batter, so I know he made money, but it means that I don't get to eat delicious crepes. Win-lose situation here. I keep walking toward the bus that I know will take me home (game over, remember?). Near the bus stop I decide to stop for what has become one of my favorite cold-weather street foods. It's called Odeng (오뎅). It's basically fish-meal mixed with flour cooked in a broth of fishy juice. It's super cheap, and the great thing is that you can drink as much fishy-juice broth as you want while you're there. The funny thing about eating odaeng on the street is the weird looks you get from the other people eating there. I interpret the looks as "Does this white-guy know what he's eating?" "Why is this white person eating at my favorite food-stall?" and the one that is actually voiced: "Where are you from?"
This time was nice, because I walked up and started eating just before another woman walked up and ordered the exact same thing I did. By the time she was pretty much done eating she offered me most of what was left of her topokki (톡폭키?)(rice cakes in a spicy sauce). It was awesome, and a good end to my game.
As a final move in the game, I did decide to take a bus that would take me almost home, but not quite, just so I would have the chance to walk home, and see some sights along the way.
So, long story longer, that's my new travel game! It's an opportunity to purposefully misadventure, which I love, and an opportunity to see some stuff I've never seen before, which I love even more. I hope some of you keep the new travel game in mind and play again by yourselves, and even more-so, I hope you share your misadventure with me!