You step off the bus to see a lone ajumma waiting as the only passenger for the next ride out of town. You cross the road to see four sets of fishing overalls hung up next to a convenience store with a muddy inflatable raft propped up covering all but the entrance. Your motel’s on the same block opposite a huge river carved into towering limestone mountainous valleys. Welcome to Danyang, South Korea.
The central market showcases the town’s speciality, with an entire strip selling nothing but garlic. A simple lunchtime order of Samgyeopsal saw the owner pop out on three separate occasions to buy the meat and makgeolli. Coming from Seoul, a city teeming with heavily staffed, busy restaurants, this stripped-down dose of country life is stimulating in it’s simplicity.
I’ve always wanted to hop off a local bus in the Korean countryside and wander through the small, traditional villages. So, along with some friends, I did just that. Strolling through the organically-grown dwellings we saw all manner of giant insects, from praying mantises, crickets and lizards to countless Golden Orb spiders and snake skins shed on the road.
We saw kids wading through streams with fishing rods, while others were completely submerged, hunting with spearguns. Families gathered together for the harvest holidays in bungalows surrounded by all manner of vegetables from corn in the fields to pepper gardens and pumpkins on the loose stone walls.
Whilst walking along rice terraces as the sun was went down, the soothing sound of birdsong replaced the familiar constant traffic hum of Seoul. It was like hitting the reset button to all the stress of the city. A rewiring of the senses. The natural rhythms of the countryside are a cure-all to the mechanics of urban living.
Stepping inside a temple complex let’s you step outside a sense of time. Maybe it’s the fact people go there to escape the daily, external grind and attempt to find inner peace. The visually arresting architecture, which the vast array of buildings at nearby Guinsa display in abundance, can induce an altered state of mind, especially with the chanting of monks drifting through. With over 50 buildings and counting, Guinsa is a world unto itself.
The steep mountainside slopes the young and old alike endure here are great for watching life unfold. It’s a physically challenging hike to the top, so one can only admire those toughing it out at a ripe old age, soldiering along with walking sticks in each hand.
I watched an old man with cane in hand ascend one of the final flights of steep stairs. Yet after following him round the corner he’d vanished from sight. I looked around and saw a boy – same cane, same hat. Same guy?
When I asked him for a photo he jokingly pulled the crooked back pose with his own walking stick. An old boy. As a metaphor, this regenerative feat was apt. Danyang brought back a lot of childhood memories of the small, riverside countryside town I grew up in. I still felt the physical presence of my adult self, but Danyang rejuvenated to some extent what the city had ground out of me.
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