Gunsan is a little town on the west coast about halfway down Korea. We took a bus down, one of those luxury three-seaters that are so comfortable that when they stop at a rest break you're already resting and miss it. When there are three seats from left to right, the aisle is no longer in the middle, but skewed and in line with overhanging compartments. It forced me to walk out with my head uncomfortably positioned directly above my left shoulder.
We were dropped off at the Gunsan bus station that had a little bit of ghetto about it. We started to stroll in the direction of what we believed to be a fine restaurant but only got deeper into a ghetto where the only food options would be those we caught ourselves. So we got a taxi back into town. This too was not so easy. The cabbie drove the wrong way for a while and as it seemed we were heading into a deeper wasteland I considered how it wasn't even easy to get back to square one in this place. He did have one good quality. As he drove he maintained double the speed limit and tailgated whenever the chance came up, and so while we lost money, it cost no time. Eventually, after 4,000 won of adventure, we had him make a U-turn.
We went past the oldest bakery in Korea, which is an achievement you wouldn't think hard to win. Who likes bread? Apparently though, this place has been doing business in the same spot since '45. You couldn’t get in for food easily either. No easier than finding the first restaurant. The line at 3pm went out the door and around the corner and was still like that when we went past for another try at 8. Jieun would have waited the estimated hour and a half just to be a part of history but it was pretty cold out. And when I line up for bread, I'd like to make it count. I'd like it to be in the midst of some kind of wheat shortage or when a tornado is coming and everybody is stocking up. In any event, they have another outlet in Seoul that you can walk into anytime you like.
The shtick of Gunsan was that it was a colonial port town that didn’t necessarily rid itself of all evidence of colonialism. There was no purge. No good riddance to buildings and such. Order was restored and the new guys probably saw some stuff and said, "hey I didn't like those guys, but we might as well keep some of this stuff here."
They have a Buddhist Temple inspired by the colonialists that the monks decided to keep. There is also a bank and post office and things like that still standing in their original style. We walked into the bank. An exhibition by a Korean artist was on display in the central area. If you went off to the side on the other side of a partition, you'd see a bit of history. There was a black and white picture of a group of guys and a caption that said, "forced labor exploited to work rice paddies." Apparently the nearby farms grew top-notch rice. I believe the rice of the area is still good because you could see plenty of guys and ladies riding bikes with big sacks on the back. They looked pretty happy because they were carting it home for dinner.
The museum next door to the bank had plenty of role-playing options to take you back to what life may have been like. There was a small store, a cinema playing black and white on an old reel etc. You could even try on the garment of a farmer or officer and pose for a picture. In fact, this museum was where the picture thing got taken to an insanely extreme level. I think they set it up like that just to mess with me. Throughout the museum all I could hear were people going, "1-2-3" before a camera went off. The first few times I waited politely just to the side of their shot. Later I ignored all countdowns.
In one shot you could stand next to some Korean farmers who were in the background. On the side some colonial troops pointed guns at you. Plenty of people lined up to be in that photo and none of them were armed.
A shoe store had some wooden shoes to try on, which hurt. They told you that rubber shoes were particularly rare and at that time, the greatest gift a kid might get. In 1929 an anonymous benefactor sent scores of pairs over to a kids poor night school. That touched me for a few moments. And then my skeptical side wondered if all those pairs made it. I hoped they did. I hoped the teachers didn’t stick any aside for their own kids.
We left this place, as a local lad was out front taking a photo of the building. He didn’t need to say 1-2-3 because buildings don't generally smile. He needed to go back ever further to get it all in the frame. As we left, I looked back. He was backed onto the main road a little bit. I hoped his shot – and he himself - would turn out all right.