May 08, 2014

Tunnelling to Tongyeong

It took several bus rides to voyage cross country from the tea fields of Boseong to reach the picturesque coastal town of Tongyeong. I was to transfer buses at Masan, but at the bus terminal I could not find any onward transport to the port town. There was another bus terminal in town and the lady at the ticket counter explained this to me using only her fingers as a mode of communication. Luckily I am as adept at adapting to unforeseen situations as local surgeons are at adding double eyelids to K-girls, so I was soon on my way to Tongyeong.

After I reached the terminal at Tongyeong, I took a local bus to an area that seemed somewhat near to were I wanted to be - Asia's first submarine tunnel. Opened to the public in 1932 after 16 months of construction, the Tongyeong Undersea Tunnel is for pedestrians only. A sign at the entrance proclaims it to be the "Dragon Gate Connecting the Mainland to the Island". I strolled through the tunnel nonchalantly. A group of old women saw me wandering about. I asked how to get to a certain temple after I got out, and one of the grannies who was heading that way dragged me along and deposited me in front of it.

I wandered around the harbour area for a while soaking up the atmosphere and scenery before taking a taxi to Hallyeohaesang National Park, known to have the best views of the town and its outlying islands to catch the sunset. The panoramic view was noteworthy, but there were too many couples about. A noticeboard warned "Garbage gets his back" and "Let's make national parks do not smoke". Bus service was infrequent so I was trapped atop the mountain park for about 2 hours before a bus showed up to deposit me back in the city proper. By now darkness had set in and I needed both dinner and a place to sleep.

I walked a bit till I came upon a fish market that was still abuzz with activity despite the late hour. I found the busiest restaurant and settled myself on the floor after taking my shoes off at the entrance, as is customary in traditional Korean restaurants. I placed my order and enjoyed some delicious saengseon hoe (aka Korean fish sashimi), served to me by a Tongyeong belle. The older staff members nudged her towards me but she was all business, the mischievous twinkle in her eye only visible as I bid farewell after finishing my meal.

By now it had started raining heavily, so I wanted to secure accommodation  before I was drenched further. I walked into the centre of the town, near the harbour where a model of Korea’s famed turtle ship used to thwart Japanese invaders was docked. In the back alleys I found a motel with vacancy after a few failed attempts. The old woman at the front desk threw me a key and told me to go upstairs, while she finished watching her TV show. She showed up several minutes later, knocking on the door and asking for the night's rent as if she were the landlord and I an unreliable tenant. After she left, I unrolled the mattress onto the heated floor and fell into a deep slumber.