I asked my old friend Marcus Peddle to write about his city, Gangneung, on the north east coast of South Korea where he and his wife Kyeong-hwa graciously had me for a visit a few years ago. Marcus is a professor of English, a photographer, an erstwhile poet and musician, and a native of Newfoundland who has lived and taught in Korean for 17 years where he is now a citizen. (To pronounce “Gangneung” [강릉 if that helps], say “gang” and then make a sound like there’s a bell trapped in your throat: “nung”, no more like “reung”… No, I still can’t say it right either.)
Gangneung, South Korea: It’s a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit. By guest blogger Marcus Peddle
Thousands upon thousands of people visit the South Korean city of Gangneung in the summer and on New Year’s Day. In the summer they leave the hot, overcrowded city of Seoul and come for the beaches and the raw fish restaurants. On New Year’s Eve the cars are backed up to the capital on the ‘express’ ways so people can watch the sun rise out of the sea on New Year’s Day along with ten thousand other people. Well, they can have it. I wouldn’t want to visit Gangneung.
But I do like living here.
I am not a beach person. I don’t eat seafood, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a sunrise or even wanted to. So Gangneung’s tourist attractions are lost on me. And, I think, probably not of much interest to a visitor from another country. If you want to experience traditional Korean culture then Andong or Gyeongju would be better. If you are interested in Korean art and events then Seoul is the place to be. But if you are coming to Korea to live then Gangneung is a decent place to be.
First, the natural scenery here is great. The word ‘Gangneung’ is made of two Chinese characters 江陵 which mean ‘river’ and ‘hill’. A small river runs through the centre of the city and has walking and bicycle paths. For a person in shape, getting from one end of the city to the other only takes about half an hour. The river comes from the mountains which separate Gangneung from the rest of the country. These are about 800 metres high and offer a beautiful view of the east coast. In addition to a river and mountains, Gangneung also has a lake that is separated from the sea by just a hundred metres or so. Next to this lake is Gyeongpo Pavilion, from which it is said you can see the moon five times. Once in the sky, once in the sea, once in the lake, once in your drinking cup, and once in the eye of your lover. I’ll take that over a sunrise any day.
Gangneung also has culinary delights. To the north of the city is a whole village dedicated to the making of traditional cookies called hangwa. Most of them are made with rice flour and lots of them have honey. Highly recommended. There is another village in Gangneung called Chodang that has almost nothing but tofu restaurants. Tofu might not sound very exciting to those of you whose experience of tofu is limited to the rubbery blocks found in many Canadian supermarkets but the tofu in this village (and Korea in general) is different. The tofu is made in the restaurants every day and comes in blocks boiled or fried, in soups and stews, or in a soft form eaten in broth. The tofu in Gangneung is different than the tofu in the rest of the country because it is made with seawater instead of fresh water with added salt. I take back what I said. Visiting Gangneung just for the tofu would be worth it.
So, except for the tofu, I probably would not go out of my way to visit Gangneung if I was a tourist. But it’s a wonderful place to work and live.