Mingyu is now working at the wine shop of a department store and doesn’t often have two days off in a row, so when he told me that he’d have both the 14th and 15th off in April I suggested we take a trip somewhere. After some quick research I bought us bus tickets to Boseong, Korea’s Green Tea capital.
Truth be told, I don’t really like green tea-flavored things. But I was still excited to try all of them in Boseong, a countryside province in Jeollanam-do, which I had only ever heard of for all of ten minutes before deciding to go there. Popular green tea-flavored dishes include green-tea ddeokgalbi (rib patties), green-tea samgyeopsal (thick-cut bacon), and of course, green-tea soft serve ice cream. While I of course can’t revel in the meat-eating activities, I was ready to try as many things as possible.
And to see the green tea plantation. Apparently the big Daehandaewon Green Tea Plantation is the only commercial green tea plantation open to tourists in the whole country. While I was doing research I also discovered it had been a filming location for some famous K-dramas, though I didn’t find out which ones. I’m reasonably certain that fact has a lot to do with the domestic tourism to that site, though.
We got on the express bus just after 8AM on that Saturday morning. It was raining. Although our estimated time of arrival was about 1PM, because of the rainy-day traffic, we didn’t arrive until after 2PM.
We then were able to catch a bus that took us almost all the way to the pension I’d found, called 장원펜션 (Garden Pension). We were surrounded by potato fields (apparently the region has special potatoes that are ready to harvest about a month earlier than other, less special potatoes) and hills and mountains and it had stopped raining. The sun was barely peeking out through some picturesque clouds.
We made our way up the path to the pension without getting stuck in the mud, and to our surprise and delight, a barking dog greeted us at the top of the hill. After barking a few times, Mingyu cast some kind of spell on her and she came running over to us to say hi. The pension owner emerged, and expressed her surprise that we had managed to find our way from the bus terminal. Mingyu explained we’d been able to take a bus and she’d said we should have called her, she could have picked us up. That was the first of many hospitality shocks I would receive over the course of the weekend. This was truly not Seoul, I thought suddenly, as though the thoroughly country views around me didn’t even exist.
And then–what could be better than finding out the pension has a dog? Finding out she has puppies… that almost pushed me over the edge. I held back tears of happiness as the first puppy emerged from its plastic igloo to say hello and tried to pretend like I was listening to what the owner was saying about where to eat and what to see in the area.
We decided to take a nap (may have been my idea, maybe not) before heading out to the nearby Yulpo Beach to eat dinner. When we emerged refreshed, the owner surprised me yet again by offering to drive us to the beach, pointing out all of the places to eat or see along the way there. Among her recommendations were a restaurant where we could eat 매운탕 (spicy-stew, usually made with the leftovers of 회, Korean-style raw fish) and a cafe that made its own bread. We decided to walk along the beach for a bit, but it was too cold to stay there long. Just long enough for Min-model to have his photoshoot and to try to dig up sandcrabs even though the holes they’d left were clearly hours old.
I found out it was Mingyu’s first time to see a mudflat even though Korea is loaded with them. His hometown is on the East Sea, which is famous in Korea as the location of “pretty” beaches, with bright blue waters and light-colored, soft sand. However, the West Sea is full of more muted waters and the famed mudflats, which appear at the day-long low-tide and disappear when tide comes in for the night. After asking him several times to confirm that it was the first time that he, a born-and-raised Korean citizen, had never seen a mudflat in the twenty-four years of his life, I proudly announced that I had seen several over the course of my travels in the three years that I’d been here. This did nothing to move him, however. As we walked along the shore, he kept kicking over shells after announcing he had the feeling something would be inside, and in my opinion, for someone from a beach-town, he was pretty bad at guessing (a 100% rate of failure, actually).
We eventually made our way to the building where we’d been told we could eat Maeun-tang (spicy soup), and I was shocked yet again to discover there was a fish market on the first floor. As we were walking into the building, a man selling green-tea flavored snacks gave me one for free, telling me it was a green-tea flavored cake. As we entered the market, both Mingyu and I came to the realization that we were going to have to buy our fish here and take them up to the restaurant on the second floor.
As a vegetarian turned pescatarian by Korea’s culturally-encouraged, ferocious love of all things meat and determined cluelessness as to the appeal behind a meat-free diet, I was surprised to find that I did not run out of the place screaming. Have I been so desensitized to the thoughtless attitude towards animals, particularly sea animals, that pervades this country’s attitude, that I now no longer care? I thought about this as Mingyu and I strolled the aisles and I ate my green-tea flavored cake.
I remembered the time that my good friend and fellow vegetarian Chris messaged me when we were both staying in England to tell me that he’d collapsed one day and how it had made him decide to start eating fish in an effort to regain his health. He was feeling terribly guilty about it and although he hadn’t messaged me for advice (I wasn’t eating seafood at that time), I remember telling him that his health was the most important thing and that if it were necessary for him to eat seafood in order to be able to do what he had come to England to do (to study and to engage actively in the country’s culture), I thought it was completely acceptable. Of course he would never be able to completely erase the guilt he was facing, but he wasn’t either a mindless consumer. A thoughtful consumer, engaged with the world around him, striving for a meaningful life–I told him I thought that with the energy he would gain from animal sacrifice he would put back into the world in multiples. He was on an industrial design course at the time and it required long hours in workshop and extreme concentration. He was full of dreams and ambitions and was actively working towards them and in the course of that he was creating what he (and I) believed to be a better world. To me, it simply made sense. Of course, eat the fish.
I’m not on any kind of course now and I’m not even actively creating anything to share with the world these days, but remembering that conversation with Chris helped me to rationalize my lack of horror at the sight of countless fish and sea animals just waiting to be eaten, in tanks too small and dirty to be comfortable. I tell everyone who will listen to me that were I in California, I would not be eating seafood, but since I’m in Korea, where there are limited options, and where partaking in communal meals is a huge part of the culture, I’ve found it worthwhile to eat seafood and participate in a part of a culture that I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to participate in. I’m still never going to be 100% okay with what goes on at fish markets, but for many people, this is a way of life. For the woman who sold us our pitiful rockfish and then cut it up in front of our eyes (I covered mine), and who very kindly explained to us everything we were supposed to do, this was her livelihood. Thinking like this doesn’t erase my way of thinking, but I know not everyone can or should live like I live. So in this way, I’ve been able to find some peace about eating seafood while I’m here.
As we were waiting for our fish to be butchered, I was looking all around me as I usually do; there were only other Koreans there (often the case in countryside in off-season), it was bustling and busy, a mom with a small child in tow was shuddering at the goings-on around her (me too, lady, me too), and her baby also had a free green-tea-flavored cake in his hand. I began to look around more closely. I found another baby with the cake. I searched the crowds. Adults were all acting like normal for a fish-market–buying fish, talking and laughing as they waited to receive their purchases. All of them were also cake-less. Hmm. Me and the babies… hmmmmmm….
We received the fish and headed up to the second floor where we enjoyed fresh Maeun-tang. Mingyu carefully picked out the bones and hand-served me. He also taught me how to make a lettuce wrap with some of the fish, rice, raw garlic (I was afraid of this but for some reason it wasn’t spicy), and some kind of bean paste. I covered my eyes as he fished for edible parts. I asked him to eat the cheek-meat because whenever I watched a foodnetwork show in the past people always talked about how delicious it is and how premium. He said he could see why people would say it was the best part but didn’t give more detail and I wasn’t about to eat anything that came out of a place so close to the eyeball.
After eating we headed over to the cafe that made its own bread. We were the only customers there. It was a very cute cafe, called Cafe Modern.
I was dangerously close to crashing at this time, so although Mingyu would have probably explored more were I even close to having similar amounts of energy, we decided to go back to the pension and sleep early before waking up somewhat early and going to the tea plantation the next day. I ended up falling asleep while Mingyu was watching an animated movie.
The next day we regretfully packed up, said bye to the dogs, and the pension owner gave us a ride to the Daewondaehan Green Tea Plantation (대원대한녹차밭). We started off by eating green-tea bibimbap, which was surprisingly delicious.
We entered the park feeling happy. The weather was great and we were pleasantly full. What was left of the season’s cherry blossoms was raining down from the trees above, shaken loose by a light breeze.
I had seen pictures before but for some reason didn’t connect that I would have to do some hiking. I’d worn Doc Martens because of the rain the day before, but it wasn’t raining anymore and they weighed two pounds each. So it was good times for both of us as Mingyu dragged me up the cliffside and I made him stop a hundred times and asked every time just exactly how far do we have to go????? But the photos that we got out of that trauma were worth it, even for me.
By the way, you can probably see that I’ve put on some weight since last winter. Mingyu keeps telling me that people gain weight when they’re happy, and I keep saying yeah but I want to wear my blue jeans again… Not like that’s gonna stop me from enthusiastically agreeing when he asks if I want to eat pizza or ddeokbokki for the third time in a week.
After making it to the top of the mountain, I needed some time to stop being dizzy and prepare for the descent. While we were on the way down I mentioned that Mingyu was going too fast because of his long legs and he burst out laughing and said that he was actually going extremely slow and if it had just been him he would have flown down the mountain. So I took the opportunity to remind him he was probably still alive because of me.
We stopped for a photoshoot on the way down.
We ended up eating green-tea soft serve but before I could take a photo Mingyu forced me to take a bite by shoving it into my mouth while I was getting my phone out, so no pics available at this time.
We had to catch the 1:45 bus back to the terminal to take the 3:10 bus back to Seoul, so unfortunately, our Boseong trip then came to an end. We ate a light lunch at the convenience store close to the bus terminal and, after sitting through another 6 hours of Sunday night traffic, made it back to civilization and reality, where we have been living since.