Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exploring Korea: Wando-gun and the Yeosu Expo

Last weekend was a wonderful three-day weekend for both Seung Hyun and myself due to Buddha's Birthday on Monday being a national holiday. Seung Hyun decided he wanted us to go on a trip, just the two of us. I had no idea where we were going for a while and he refused to tell me. I have to say, he did an amazing job choosing where we should go.

Wando-gun (완도군)

Wando-gun (Wando County) is a group of islands off the southern coast of Korea. In order to get there we had to take a bus from Seoul to Gwangju and then from Gwangju to Wando. Seung Hyun had made arrangements for us to stay in the pension-style housing owned by Korea University (his current employer and my future employer). On the main island and the secondary island (where we were staying) there was a good number of places to stay, many of them pension-style (hotel rooms ranging from mini-apartment size to being like renting a house or condo). The island was not very crowded, it's still early in the travel season, but I could tell right away that the 외극인 (foreigner) community has not yet discovered this place; I got the "Korean Stare" more times than I have in a long time and many shop owners were not shy about asking Seung Hyun how he wound up dating a white chick.

Xenophobia aside, this county is GORGEOUS. Wando and Shinsido islands were both extremely picturesque. However, nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful Cheongsando Island was going to be. Easily reached by ferry from Wando's central ferry terminal this island is an internationally recognized "slow city," which means it has a population of under 50,000, uses a minimum amount of machinery for agricultural and artisan products, and has a well preserve cultural heritage. The farmers on Cheongsando still plant rice the old-fashioned way: one sprout at a time. The walking trails around the island are extensive, well-marked, and lead you to some beautiful and secluded areas. However, the walking trails have very little tree-cover, so I highly recommend wearing sunblock and bringing a fan (learn from my mistake). There are no taxis on this island, so either try to catch one of the buses (which run infrequently) or just do what we did and walk the entire way, you wont be sorry you did.
Wando Harbor

Yeosu Expo

The World Expo for 2012 is in the small city of Yeosu on Korea's southern coast. Every year they choose one city for the world expo (think of it like the World's Fair). The expo has one theme and the theme for the Yeosu Expo is environmentalism and conservation. The Expo had a few large buildings dedicated to this theme as well as buildings sponsored by the major Korean businesses (Hyundai, Samsung, LG, etc.) and two massive buildings containing individual pavilions representing countries.

We went to the Yeosu Expo on the busiest day it has had since opening a month ago (the expo runs all summer, until August 12th). There were 100,000 people in attendance on the day we went, so that made things slightly more complicated. I had heard that we needed to reserve space for the main theme pavilions, one of which is an aquarium, but the expo website was a huge pain in the ass to navigate. If you are thinking about going I would suggest picking up your tickets at the expo one day before you go. You can easily reserve space in the theme pavilions via a smart phone app, "Yeosu Expo Reservations," and the QR code on your tickets. You could possibly also call the customer service line, I'm sure they have plenty of assistance in English. All in all the expo did a pretty good job with crowd control. The city of Yeosu, however, pretty much broke down after the expo closed for the night. There were not enough buses, not enough taxis, and about 6x as many people as the city was prepared to deal with. Learn from out mistake: make your hotel reservations WAY in advance and try to stay within walking-distance of the expo grounds.

On the expo itself I have to say I was very impressed. The grounds are kept to a Japanese-level of cleanliness (Japanese-level being the ability to, without a second though, eat off the sidewalk). The overall design concept is decently executed (the only real eye-sore was the Expo Tower). There were an acceptable amount of bathrooms, vending machines, and food stalls. The highlight of the expo, for me, were the individual country pavilions. We only had time to go to a handful (the lines were long, though acceptably fast, and each pavilion had a good deal of things to see), but we were impressed by what we saw. We went to the Russia, Denmark, Pacific Islands, Australia, USA, and Singapore pavilions. I can say, without a doubt, that you can skip Australia unless you are dying for certain Australian food treats (the store focused on these items). Seung Hyun's favorites were Russia and the USA. My favorites were Denmark and Singapore. 

My biggest tip for the expo is to get there as soon as it opens just so you'll have time to do as much as you would like to. There are a LOT of country pavilions and some of the ones we missed looked super cool. Special thanks go out to Alexander Kim, a friend of ours from Seoul who is currently working at the Russia pavilion. He gave us some very good advice and saved our lives by keeping our luggage in his office (there are NO storage lockers at the expo, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED).
The massive monitor ceiling between the two international pavilions was a definite highlight
Another highlight was the monitor room in the Russia pavilion
The expo was built in a harbor, I think this helped a good deal towards making the entire event feel less crowded.

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