My stay in South Korea is planned to be for just 24 hours.
The Eastern Dream is breaking with its usual schedule and stoping here overnight. I’m guessing this is to let the crew have a night off for New Year. I have booked to stay in a hotel that is an hour away from the port. It’s famous in Korea for its view of the sunrise each day, and I’m staying here for the biggest sunrise of the year – bringing in the New Year. Oh, and yes it’s also a ship, built on a cliff. The problem with my plan is that it’s not a unique one. There are in fact over a million South Koreans who have a plan that goes as follows – (1) drive to Jeongdongjin (2) find a hotel (3) find a restaurant (4) get stuck in a huge traffic jam after sunrise (5) drive home.
My secret weapon is of course Taegeun, so I get there with the minimum of fuss. He is in fact so keen to ensure I enjoy my trip in his country that he has decided to travel with me. He isn’t worried about where he ends up sleeping for the night and explains that it’s quite normal to just end up on a mat on the floor of the hotel sauna for a small fee. I’m touched by his kindness and resolve.
I now have to reveal to you a secret plan for this side trip. In 1996 a North Korean submarine sailed into Donghae port in a suspected defection attempt, with all but one of the crew mysteriously killed. It is now possible to visit this submarine. Amazingly, it is on display in a South Korean military “theme park” just 7 km from my hotel. This would normally take just 15 minutes in a taxi, but on the 1st January the estimate is over three hours due to horrendous traffic. It’s rum news having come this far, but I shall have to return again to visit it on a more sensible date.
Having just got off a ship, checking back into one on dry land plays tricks with the mind. The hotel even goes as far as to play the sound of waves and sea birds in its grounds to complete the effect. The check in staff laugh at us, and I discover that this is because they are amazed to hear that we have come here overland from Moscow.
I don’t have much time to dwell though, as its time for some local sushi before the other million visitors to Jeongdongjin have the same idea.
It’s not a meal for you if you don’t like lots of slightly strange fish based things. I seem to pass the initiation test by managing to consume a complete raw green chilli and a clove of garlic with my raw octopus. The owner acknowledges my achievement – my palate is determined to be almost Korean.
The restaurant has a lovely atmosphere with lots of families enjoying a New Year feast. The Korean children don’t know what to make of me. They come over to stare at me with incredulous eyes and their mouths wide open.
After dinner on the streets of Jeongdongjin it’s quite lively – this is a lovely Korean beach town with loads of places to eat and drink. I’m amazed to see that for New Year it’s possible to buy huge fireworks by the armful from street vendors. Their are piles and piles of three foot long Roman candles. This could get messy later on..
I finish up back at my hotel which has a very 1980’s revolving bar on the 9th floor. It’s a nice to people watch. Mainly Koreans and Chinese here tonight, and certainly no one from Europe. The staff are really kind even though they speak very little English. An unexpected pleasure of the revolving motion of the bar is that the Phillipino man playing the piano rather badly gradually rotates further away from my table..
New Year goes off with a bang, and then it’s time to enjoy a good nights sleep in a real bed without tannoy announcements, screaming children, drunk Russians or a sea swell. That is until the compulsory and non cancelable telephone alarm call for sunrise wakes me at 07.28.