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[HanCinema's Korea Diaries] "Gangneung" July 28th-31st

2016/08/20 | 369 views | Permalink

On the northeastern coast of South Korea lies Gangneung. Though not heavily populated, Gangneung is easily reachable from most bus terminals in South Korea by virtue of its proximity to the ocean. I went to Gangneung in anticipation of the Jeongdongjin outdoor film festival and my time in the city was marked by constant ceaseless wandering, Sure there's a pretty big beach, but by and large the center Gangneung is your standard urban area. And at this time of year it's murderously hot even at night.

Thank goodness, then, for Kongguksu (콩국수). It's a kind of cold broth made from soy milk and like most Korean food it taastes much better than is implied by the sum of its ingredients. Believe me- there is nothing more relieving after a hot morning walk with luggage than to find a place offering to sell Kongguksu.

This is roughly where the Great Southern River (남대천) empties out into the ocean. The Great Southern River is both large and fairly clean, hence why so much wild moss is able to grow inside it. The name may sound counter-intuitive, given how Gangneung is in the northern part of South Korea. Just remember that river's name is older than modern politics.

The beach's management, by contrast, is all about modern politics. Military embankments like this are all over the beaches in Gangreung. There's a lot of a paranoia about a possible North Korean invasion here. It's not all that unreasonable, since incursions have happened in this area before. Even so, I was hassled for taking this picture, I guess because some North Korean is going to look at it and gain keen insight into South Korea's most closely guarded military secrets- barbed wire fences and tire forts.

The Gangneung Marina, though, is more indicative of what the beach looks like to tourists. There are cars, and large buildings every to be seen unless you happen to be looking in the direction of the beach.

For the beaches people are allowed to visit, anyway, this is pretty standard for Gangneung. At least when it's hot out.

Like everywhere else in South Korea Gangneung restaurants have these signs which act as menus. Left hand side is regular, upper right is seasonal, and bottom right is booze. Incidentally those are also pictures of booze to the left. While every restaurant menu is obviously different the format of these signs is usually unchanged which makes me wonder where they came from originally. This is not a question I think anyone can likely answer.

...Back to Gangneung. Let's see what the locals are doing. Well, one hot Saturday night, a stone's throw away from the beach, the bureau of Songjeong (송정동), there was a classical musical performance following by Song Pride (노래자랑).

You probably already know what a classical musical performance looks like. The local outdoor  community context, admittedly, does feel a tad off.

Song Pride, though, that's a little harder to explain. It's where normal citizens (not necessarily children) come up on stage to sing popular song standards karaoke style. There are prizes.

Bikes, of course, are the most coveted ones. Song Pride is an entire institution, one so common in Korean culture that there are mainstream movies about it ("Born to Sing"), yet as far as I know, no documentaries helpfully explaining what exactly it is and why it exists to ignorant foreigners.

I'll close this travelogue out with a brief warning- Gangneung is insanely crowded during summer time. Guest houses are expensive and more than likely fully booked. While trying to find one, a sympathetic shopkeeper invited me to her party as an apology for not being able to offer me a bed. I'd return the favor my plugging her business except that I can't find it on the map. There are a lot of guest houses in Gangneung, demand is so high that even a website isn't a necessity for a sell-out.

Article by William Schwartz

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