Of Sunset, Seafood and a General in Tongyeong

[2018.11.05-06]

When in Tongyeong 통영, one most certainly must visit Yi Sun-Shin Park 이순신공원, named after Korea’s favourite hero. Although a little out of the way, this coastal park was our destination after exploring around the harbour.

1. Yi Sun-Shin Park

Not unlike Gwanghwamun Square, there was a large statue of the admiral at the entrance of the park so there is no mistaking where you are. We brushed shoulders with just a handful of visitors, in fact we were probably the biggest group there. In this respect, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the less-trodden trails of South Korea, compared to the usual Seoul, Busan and Jeju Island.

Previously named Hansan Battle Memorial Park in commemoration of the naval battle where Admiral Yi managed to destroy about a hundred of Japanese’s fleet and halted their advancement plan, it was later on renamed after the brilliant mastermind behind the historical naval engagement between Japan and Korea. Apt and more appropriate – it is perhaps less painful to remember the heroic deeds of the admiral rather than be constantly reminded of the hardships endured and lives lost during the battle.

It seems that in August every year, a scene of the Great Hansan Battle is reenacted in the waters surrounding Hansan island during a festival, and this has been the tradition and key event drawing numerous visitors to Tongyeong. I would love to participate in the festival one day; it must be quite a sight!

With the sun setting soon, we were reminded of our next schedule, watching the sunset at Dal-a Park which is apparently the best place to see it in the whole of Tongyeong.

2. Sunset Watching at Dal-a Park

Because we were a little late in getting to the bus (many of us had to answer nature’s call after visiting the park), our poor driver had the unenviable task of getting us to Dal-a Park 달아공원 in time to catch the sunset. But all was good in the end, we managed to arrive at the observation platform of the park in good time and then some.

There are generally two types of people: those who like sunrises, and those who like sunsets. I belong to the latter group, in part because I don’t usually wake up early enough for sunrises, and largely because I like the peace and quiet following nightfall. Yes, I am aware that certain activities taking place at night for example clubbing and drinking sessions don’t exactly qualify as being ‘quiet’; I’m referring to how people tend to wind down after sunset. To put it simply, the calmer state of mind after a hard day’s worth of work or study. It’s ironic that I’m married to a man who cannot afford to tell the difference between day and night, being a shift worker. It’s a beautiful and precious privilege, to be able to enjoy this consistency of day followed by night, and the cycle repeating itself the next day, one that I only came to embrace after I myself left my role as a shift worker. Do I make sense?

Quietly, my company of friends and I watched as the sun gradually set and disappeared from the horizon. We were really lucky that it was not a cloudless day (the sun’s rays illuminating the cotton candy-like clouds was gorgeous), yet the cloud cover not dense enough to deter us from seeing the setting sun. Nature is so beautiful and it is by God’s grace that I can witness such beautiful sights over and over again.

3. Sumptous Seafood Dinner Feast

I have always wanted to have a seafood feast in S. Korea. Blame it on the Korean dramas that I watch. Yet, in spite of numerous visits to this country I’ve come to term as my ‘third home’, I’ve never had the opportunity to try it out. I was elated when I found out that the teachers had planned for one such feast on this study trip.

Fresh raw fish slices served up on a platter, for four persons. All tasted great. Just don’t ask me which is which. I can’t tell, unlike Japanese sashimi.

This was the platter requiring me to muster quite a bit of courage to try. I’m sure one of the dishes was Meonggye 멍게 (aka sea pineapple), possibly the orange-reddish one on the right. Strangely enough, it wasn’t the weirdest-tasting one although I was certainly bracing for it. In fact I found it acceptable. Now, the one on the left soaked in reddish liquid… that was weird, and I wouldn’t try it again even if you paid me to.

Different courses were served up, one after another, irrespective of how fast we were clearing out our plates. The four of us that usually sat together for meals… I’ll say we all have hearty appetites and even so, we struggled to finish the food. Towards the end, I was actually picking at my food so I could avoid eating more. I loved the meal, given how much of a fish and seafood lover I am, but I think the portion was way too huge for any of us to handle. I wonder which course was served to us. Will check with the teachers when they conduct a post-trip dinner gathering.

4. Muju Deokyusan 

The next morning, we left Tongyeong for Maju, where a popular mountain ski resort Maju Deokyusan 무주덕유산 is situated at. It wasn’t winter yet, so the ski resort was not covered in a sheet of white.

Yes, another bout of hard climbing.

Fortunately again, we could take the cable car up to a height before climbing to the peak on foot. The chair lifts for skiers and snowboarders ran on a parallel line but was not in operation, for obvious reasons.

It was considerably colder up on the summit and we were duly warned, so most of us donned our winter coats. Especially when our teachers told us it could even be snowing at the top.

It wasn’t, to our disappointment. Nevertheless this was possibly the hardest ascent for me, out of the various climbs of the entire trip – I wasn’t feeling well what with the cramps, and as also fatigued by then. Mighty glad when I finally made it to the top, and couldn’t wait to descend. Definitely did not linger around.

By popular request, we had Samgyeopsal 삼겹살 (aka grilled pork belly) as our lunch and final meal with the group before we parted ways. I’m not a huge fan of pork belly, and was happy to watch as my table mates took my portion. Unfortunately B, too, was down and didn’t eat much despite this meal being his request. I reckon a combination of the seafood feast and nightly drinking sessions had finally taken a toll on him.

We enjoyed the walk to and from the bus to the restaurant where we had lunch since there were stretches of trees donning their autumn leaves. Certainly enough for all of us to each take a tree and take a crazy amount of pictures with it because that was basically what happened. 😆

It was a nice wrap to the study trip for the three of us, who bade the group farewell midway since we were making our way to Jeonju separately instead of returning to Seoul. Having quit tour groups since 2008, this was probably my first in a decade where I travelled with a large group over several days. It was pleasant enough, but I wouldn’t go as far to say that I miss it. I still prefer travelling in a small group, on our own: we get to see more, we determine our schedules. But would I do this again, with the school? A resounding yes, considering this is probably the only way to explore outskirts of the country.

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