Seomyeon, Busan, Wednesday 3 June
Min arrives at the hotel as agreed at 9:30 and we drive to the Centum City area for a late breakfast. The venue is Yangsan Gukbap, and as with many Korean restaurants the clue to the menu is in the name of the establishment, which is open 24 hours a day. It is, I am told, one of the best Dweji Gukbap places in Busan, which is the home of this tasty dish – a pork soup in which the broth has been simmering in pork bones for about a day until it is a milky colour. There is a choice between just plain Dweji Gukbap, or the same with added black pudding (Soondae). Along with many other Korean soups it is reputed to be a good hangover cure, but I am not here for that reason – simply because it’s a Busan speciality that I haven’t tried yet. Min is accompanied by her cute two-year-old daughter, who has slept soundly in the car but wakes up at the restaurant and happily tucks into a mini portion of the soup of her own.
The broth on its own is designedly bland, and you pep it up to your desired level of spice with chilli paste. For those needing hair of the dog with their hangover soup, some home-made makgeolli was on offer. Altogether a delicious way to start the day.
After this leisurely breakfast Min drives me to a small bus station in the centre of town which has a frequent service to Jinju. The journey is about 90 minutes, and by around 1:30 I am reunited with my friends Mr Yoon and Ms Baek at Jinju bus terminal, and from there we drive the short distance northwards to Sancheong County.
It’s nice to be back on home turf. We call in at Min Young-ki’s house to pay our respects, drinking a refreshing cup of green tea. From there, we drive to Sancheong’s county offices for a courtesy meeting with the new head of the tourism department, and chat briefly about festivals in the UK and Korea.
Soon it’s time to make our way to our overnight accommodation. We arrive at a super-luxury collection of self-catering cottages – part of an offsite training and conference facility owned by a small chaebol with Sancheong connections.
Some readers tease me about my desire for a few home comforts when I travel, one of my minimum requirements being at least one towel that you can wrap around your waist. This apartment had at least four such towels, as well as two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a spacious seating area and kitchen, and a shallow pool in the back yard sufficient to sit in and cool off in the hot summer weather. So I was more than content. The compound is on the slopes of Wangsan, and I am told it is very near to Donguibogam Village, where the World Traditional Medicine Expo was held two years earlier.
The heat of the day had eased off sufficiently, and the mountain air, or maybe Wangsan’s famous gi, was sufficiently energising to make me want to take a quick hike in the mountains, and almost enough to make me want to go on a quick jog. At the top of the compound is part of the Jirisan Dullegil; turning left took me, after a gentle 5 minute trot around the flank of Wangsan, to the windmill in the Donguibogam Village; turning back, I passed an overgrown path which if I had been energetic enough would take me to the summit of Wangsan (though a machete to cut through the undergrowth would have come in handy). The air is clean and cool, and the views exhilerating, and continuing back past the compound I walked for twenty minutes in the other direction, which after a mile or so would bring me to the tomb of King Guhyeong. There was no time to go that far right away, but I made up my mind to take an early morning hike there the following morning. I returned to the compound for a quick shower before dinner.
At a well-appointed sashimi restaurant I am joined by Kyung-sook’s teacher and his wife plus a couple of local dignitaries – a county assemblyman and his wife, whose son I had recently met in London, and another couple who had interests in a prominent local fermented foods business.
The introductory dishes start to arrive, and beers and soju are ordered. I have a vague intention not to get too drunk that evening and so initially decline soju in favour of beer. Soon my resolve weakens and try to reach for a soju glass. My neighbour, Kyoung-sook’s teacher Min Young-ki, seems to want to prevent me. I don’t press my claim, and soon I understand why. At a signal from the teacher, his wife reaches into her bag and pulls out a small parcel wrapped in tissue paper, and passes it to me. I gently unwrap it.
It is a one-off: a Min Young-ki soju cup, made on the same wheel that sees the creation of his tea bowls and buncheong vases. Certainly a precious gift to be treasured. The 좋은 데이 soju – the local brew – tastes all the better from this receptacle with its salmon-pink spots. And where other guests pass me their soju glasses for me to drink from them, I am too mean to pass over my new possession in return.
By the end of the evening my early resolve to stay reasonably sober had completely gone out of the window. A group of taxis arrives to take us back to our various homes, and I return back to base where fruit and more drinks are waiting. In the background, the television news is on. The bulletin is given over entirely to the spread of MERS.