From Chinju to Chinhae

South Korea, 1997

I spent a fitful night sharing a small motel room with Skylark. I never sleep well the first night in unfamiliar sleeping arrangements, but we awoke to a gorgeous spring morning in Chinju. After a bite of breakfast and some instant Coffee Milks from a vending machine, we checked out the fortress, looked out over the river, and toured through the museum at the fortress. I could have spent several days there without tiring of it, but I needed to keep this express tourism train rolling if I was going to make it to Cheju in time for the fashion show.

Next stop, scenic Chinhae. We were not able to time it right for the Cherry Blossoms, but coming through the tunnel and over the mountain provided a spectacular view of the oceanscape and the city of Chinhae. Lovely.

The area around the bus terminal was packed with street vendors and shoppers alike; some kind of fair or festival was afoot. After a few failed attempts at getting a room for the night, finally we found a cheap place with vacancies. Again I did all the talking and Skylark, instead of acting Japanese, simply stayed silent. Weird. I was already regretting bringing her along.

I unlocked the door and walked into the room we were assigned. As I flipped on the light switch I saw a few cockroaches scurry out of sight down the side of the bed that was snugged up against the wall. Before I even took off my backpack I went over and pulled the bed away from the wall. Countless cockroaches scattered from out of a soiled towel that had been hiding back there and serving as their colonial headquarters for what must have been months. I freaked. I lost my marbles. I yelled for the Ajumma as loud as I could and she came a running all wig afire.

I agitatedly pointed out the nasty spectacle. Skylark silently watched while I helped the Ajumma understand that I needed another room. Now. She complied. I only saw a couple cockroaches in the new room so we stayed.

That cockroached nastiness persists in my memory like a piece of popcorn shell that gets stuck between your teeth and you can't get out. Other than that unfortunate episode, I found Chinhae to be a lovely city, with its Turtle Boat Rotary, rows of Cherry trees, ocean front views, and some of the best 탕수육 I ever tasted. And that, my friends, is not a euphemism.

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