Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gosu Cave and Thereabouts

About a month ago when the weather was still relatively warm, RAS offered a tour to Gosu Cave along with a scenic boat tour on the Chungju River with the changing colors of fall around; we even stopped in at a cultural village-park. A comment on the latter: back in our home country, the culture-park would be a "tourist" attraction for foreigners (our van load and a couple were the only foreigners there) but the culture-park swarmed with Koreans, which demonstrates a world of difference in marketing and expectations about what is to be visited and by whom [somebody really should pursue research on this topic!]

Gosu Cave

Gosu Cave is listed as Natural Monument #256. According to Spleological Society of Korean in October 1973, the lime formation in the cave is about 400-500 million years old and the cave itself is estimated to be about 150,000 million years old. The cave has value as a research site for its terrain, cave coral, aragonite,and other mineral, plants and animals. Around 1700 meters long, stalactites and stalagmites abound in color, length, and development. They twist, twirl, cascade, and otherwise descend or ascend from eroded shelves into giant crevasses of inky blackness and high humidity - the temperature inside wavered around 16.4 Celcius and had a whopping 96.3% humidity.

Upon entering the cave, a fellow anthropologist saw the teepee of sticks and twigs with a light burning inside and just said, "tacky" and then added that the beauty of a cave or many cultural assets have been weirdly represented; a culture site shouldn't have baubles or gimmicks that detract from the setting rather than make it more attractive, but then what is attractive to one culture is not necessarily attractive to another, as proven here. On a more realistic note, the dampness of the cave, even near that front area, did seem too a very unlikely place to erect a home.

Further in the cave were beautiful soaring stalactites and stalagmites, some of which were named, like St. Mary's Image, which did in fact look like a woman shrouded in naturally emitting mist. The Love Rock was another named and very unique structure of a incredibly tall stalactite and a likewise tall stalagmite that were almost touching and reminded me of God and Adam stretching outwards to touch fingers but not being fully extended and therefore not quite touching. Paradise Wall, the multiple cascades of stalactites and which was featured on the entry ticket, was very photogenic although I felt there was a much more beautiful and certainly more powerful cascade on a vastly grander scale but it just wasn't capturable on film.

Of course sporadically the long queque of people spidering up and down the metal ladders that twisted in, around, between and among the formations would be halted due to those "candid" moments at scenic shots. A couple ladies in our vanload and who had been in Korea for only a few short months were eager takers on the shots, which would be sent back home as memories of Korea. It was actually fun to travel with people who had just arrived in Korea and who could open my eyes anew to things I no longer considered out of the ordinary.

As we departed the cave, a sign was posted in three languages (Korean, English and Chinese): "For a moment look back, and then goodbye". The two ladies got a big kick out of the odd wording ... and so we all took picts to remember our cave farewell.

Post-cave Tourism

On exiting the cave and down the hill to the restaurants, the ribbed cemented walkway was lined with little kiosks of sellers marketing traditional teas, herbal tonics, toys, gimmicks, what-nots and of course the inevitable rock shops found in mountain touristic places.

I haven't seen too many bonsai (Japanese term but the Korean term is unknown) sellers and she had a wide selection of choices, of course all based on the same theme and with the same flora.

Then, and most importantly, were the food sellers. People need to eat and with the approach of lunch time, the food sellers were starting to attract quite a lot of business.

Chungju Boat Ride

Boat traffic on the river was thriving that Sunday. All boats were filled to capacity from the single deckers to the huge triple-decker psuedo-Mark-Twain-reminiscent ferry boats. Parking lots were packed, the ferry lines were long, and people were in jolly spirits as they pushed their way onto their assigned boats. We pushed with them and rushed to get good window seats ... and then realized that the cabin deck was empty. People had flocked to the roof so up some of us went to see the sights. Rocks shaped like turtles were pointed out; a rock that was likened to friend chicken got the most amusement from the announcer and passengers as the rock and the fried chicken was some kind of word play. There was a crane rock, an elephant rock and others positioned high on the cliffs overlooking the serpentinous river. The scenery was phenomenal and occasionally when the lighting was right, the undulating hills that are frequently pictured in art appeared.

To some of our amusement, while the majority of people were tightly packed on the roof of the boat, on the back deck a cloth had been spread and some older people were delighting in the boat cruise by none other than...drinking. It really is no joke to say that Korean's ubiquitous pasttime is drinking, and that whenever they have free moments in time to enjoy themselves, it is done by...drinking. They did occasionally glance out the back of the boat when the announcer had some particularly intersting comments, but most of the comments concerned the upcoming features in the terrain, so our dear fellow passengers could just continue...drinking without being particularly bothered.

In the surrounding areas, tourism is being further developed. Advertised in the area are the Soseonam Auto-camping site (a recent innovation to accommodate the growing number of cars in Korea along with the growing demand for tourism), Soseonam Natural Forest (gradually being decimated with the development of tourism - maybe soon people will wonder why it's called a forest), and Seonan Valley also called 삼성구곡 or "Three Deities and Nine Curves" by the poet Yi Hwang because deities were said to cavort in the twisting river bends. The first of the two pictures shown here is from the boat while the second is from an overlook further up the river.

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