Visiting the kimchi festival inspired me to make kimchi, for the first time in over three years. After all, who says you can’t make kimchi on the go?
In Gwangju, I was staying at the Namdo Hostel, an as soon as I announced my intention to make kimchi, the hostel owners offered help. And help me they did – they gave me a glass jar, some of their rock salt, and Korean pepper flakes. Overall, they seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of one of their foreign guests engaging in some kimjang.
One of the guests (Korean) who had been watching television decided to watch me instead.
“Is watching a foreigner make kimchi really more interesting than television?”
“Yes” she said.
“But isn’t this something that most Korean women do anyway?”
“The younger generations don’t really know how to make kimchi. It’s so much more convenient to buy it from the store.”
So that is one of the secrets of South Korean society! Even though kimjang is considered one of the essential features of Korean culture, fewer and fewer young people know how to do it.
Gwangju has the most confusing public transit system I encountered in South Korea.
First of all there is the subway system … which doesn’t seem to be useful. Even though there was a subway station not far from the hostel, the subway a) does not go to Gwancheon Bus Terminal (the main intercity transit hub in Gwangju) and b) doesn’t go to any of the major tourist attractions in the city. Granted, subways are built for the people who live there, not tourists, but the one time I did ride the subway, it was during evening rush hour, and there weren’t many people in the station or on the train. It was a far cry from the subways of Busan and Seoul.
So public transit in Gwangju basically means buses. But I kept on being disoriented by the buses in a way I wasn’t anywhere else. I would think a bus was going in one direction … but no, it was going in the other direction. I would look at the signs, and see that the bus I needed was not listed … but it turns out the bus I need does stop there, it’s just that nobody bothered to put that bus line number on the list.
It’s great that Gwangju has a comprehensive bus network which covers the entire city, but as a tourist with only a few days to spend in the city, I found it confusing and overwhelming.
Granted, Gwangju is the only large city I stayed overnight in South Korea other than Busan, Daegu, and Seoul. In Busan, Daegu, and Seoul I managed to make do with just the subway systems for 97% of my intra-city transit, and subways are intrinsically easier for a first-time user to navigate. It’s possible that, if I had to rely on city buses, those cities would have proven to be as confusing (if not more so) than Gwangju. Though I only went through Daejeon for transfers, I did manage to get confused by Daejeon’s bus system as well. The bus systems in smaller cities are easier to figure out because those cities are smaller and therefore the bus networks are simpler.
Here, I should say that I enjoyed my stay at the Namdo Hostel. The owner is friendly, the bed was clean and comfortable, it had a kitchen where I could cook stir-fried-supermarket-veggies-with-tofu-curry-and-noodles (a travel staple of mine), as well as two computers for guests to use and connect to the internet!