Yeosu 여수시 lays on the Southern coast of South Korea in the province of Jeollanam-do. Known for its raw marinated soy rock crabs 게장, and for the battle of Hasan Island in which Admiral Yi Sunsi led Korea to victory against Japan in 1592. Yeosu also held the World Expo in 2012. The World Expo Park where I began my day with my friend Sam. (Click here to explore with her)
We wandered around the expo center looking at views of the ocean as we made our way towards Angel Mural Alley or Village 천사벽화마을. Although it was a hot and sweaty day, walking allowed us to see areas of the city we would have missed by bus or car. I truly believe my own two feet is the best way to get to know a city and how its people live.
40 hot and sweaty minutes later, we made it. The murals and ocean views do not disappoint. This mural village is a place that you can get lost in as you wind your way upstairs and through the narrow alley’s with mural after mural on the wall of homes and coffee shops. There is something truly magical about this place. As we lost ourselves in alleyways, we came upon the spot where Admiral Yi Sunsin gave out the orders for his famous battle and a military history museum that displays what is left of the Korean military encampment that trained and housed soldiers thousands of years ago. Our stomachs started to rumble, so we did not fully explore the museum, but I will go back next time I’m in Yeosu.
Eventually, we found ourselves in a plaza gazing up at a golden statue of the Admiral looking out across the water towards Japan with his sword raised in a challenge. It was there that we stopped for the least exciting part of our day, lunch.
Both Sam and I have dietary restrictions, and every place around seemed to accommodate one but not both of us. We ended up at the Korean version of McDonald’s, Lotteria 롯데리아, where I ate a double cheeseburger sans bun (hoping that there was no cross-contamination) and pickled radishes. Man, did the greasy burger hit the spot.
With tummies full, we walked around the plaza taking in the Turtle Ship and the food shops with lines on the street with people waiting for the best desserts and food in-town. Ready for a rest, we rode the bus to cable cars that took us across the bay. We landed on Dolsando Island 돌산도, one of the three hundred islands surrounding Yeosu. Even though the ride was short, the views of the city and harbor were stunning.
Although rural, Dolsando has many ascetically pleasing cafes where you can relax till you’re ready to wander this island or another. This is precisely what we did.
Revived after ice-cold coffee and tea, and we went back to the mainland then walked a bridge across to Odongdo Island 오동도. We made our way slowly around the wooden forest paths circumferencing the island, enjoying the cool shade on this sunny and humid day.
Somewhere towards the halfway point of our stroll, my stomach reminded me that I had not eaten enough for the 20,000 steps I had gotten in so far. So after we finished walking through the natural beauty of Odongdo, we found our way to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Ok, I have to confess I chose this place because the reviews were good and the photos looked nice… the pictures were misleading, but the reviews were not. I’m glad that we didn’t let the look place deter us from some delicious food with the best hospitality.
From trying to communicate with highly broken Korean and lots of pointing to putting on an apron to cover our outfits (no one else was wiring one in the restaurant), this place was an experience. One of the kitchen ladies insisted on cooking for us, either because she didn’t want us to ruin her meat or because she didn’t want us to come to her place and have a bad experience. Either way, it was extremely kind and brought me so much joy. She taught us that we had been eating Korean ribs wrong and would not let us eat the food any other way than how it was meant to. She pointed first to a lettuce leaf and then a mintier leaf to place in our palms; Next came the meat dipped in some sauce on top of that, and Lastly, on the side of the ribs meat, we put chili paste with garlic and onions. My taste buds and stomach were in heaven as I put the whole ensemble in my mouth at once. Although I was worried about my food allergies, I knew if I was to say anything about eating the food differently since we were the only table getting this kind of service, I would insult her. Insulting her was the last thing I wanted to do after she showed Sam and me so much kindness. By the way, all the Koreans were expected to cook for themselves. This authentic experience and was a perfect way to end our day before hopping on the KTX to our accommodations. Little did we know that Yeosu had two more surprises in store for us that night.
The first surprise was that we could catch the Big O Show (water and light projection) for free from a hidden spot at the expo center, which all the locals knew about. There is something so mesmerizing about water light and pyrotechnics we couldn’t help but stay for a bit, taking in the spectacular.
After the show, we made it the rest of the way back to the KYX station, where we waited outside for our departure, relaxing with some cold drinks. Here is where the second surprise or surprises drunkenly walk up to the bench next to Sam and myself to have a seat. These drunk businessmen on their way back to Seoul were hilarious and friendly. The youngest of the three-spoke the most English and was goaded by the other two to ask us questions.
We quickly learned he was out with his bosses, “Big Boss” and “Medium Boss.” In Korean drinking and workplace culture, being the youngest in a lower job position than coworkers means that you can not stop drinking until the oldest and most senior group does. In this case, it was “Big Boss,” and “Big Boss” was not ready to stop as he opened up a beer in front of the station.
Our conversation with, let’s call him Junior businessman, started with, “Hello, where are you from?” And “I am sorry. I’m really, really drunk”. The last one caused Sam and I to laugh out loud because it was so obvious yet sweet he gave us a disclaimer. Junior businessman went back and forth between his bosses and us, keeping us delighted with conversation. We found out that “Big Boss” only knew how to say Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, which he told us repeatedly till he called Sam very pretty before they left.
This moment of connection brought me so much joy leaving me filled as we headed back to where we were staying after our day of adventure in Yeosu, South Korea.
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