Monday, July 20, 2015

The Wine and Cinema Train

This post will be long one, but I need all of the words and photos to prove what actually happened. As tourists in a foreign country we were utterly confused by the events around us, and the result is a madcap adventure that we will never, ever forget.

Matt had gone to the ITT office on base while preparing for my arrival, and he had gathered information about a wine train. I looked at the photos on their English website and was immediately charmed. I saw couples in an old-fashioned dining car on a train, sitting in upholstered arm chairs instead of train seats. The whole scene seemed something out of the 1930's, and I did not think I could replicate that experience anywhere else! The translators at the ITT office booked our seats on the train.

The night before we were staying on the base furthest from Seoul Station where the train departed. We were up before six in order to take a bus and the subway to the train station before the train left at 9 am. We found the booth where we paid for our tickets and received our lanyards with our train car number displayed. I discovered at the booth that we were boarding a wine AND cinema train. Even better! We did not see anyone in the milling crowd that shared our train car number, but we weren't worried...until we had to line up by number...and realized... we were the ONLY ones in train car seven.

Excited outside the train!

Confused inside the train...where is everybody?
We had the whole train car to ourselves. It was set up for movies with blackout curtains, reclining seats, and projectors for retractable screens. Not at all what I had seen advertised, but very comfortable nonetheless.  The train started moving, and still nobody else had entered the car. Finally a tour guide entered to hand us our concessions- boiled eggs in a plastic bag and water bottles- and ask in English what movie we selected. We told her we didn't know we could choose! Her face fell as she realized we didn't speak Korean and she didn't know any more English, and she left without being able to tell us where she was going. We waited a while longer, trying to hide the fact we did not eat our hard boiled eggs, until another tour guide came in with an Australian movie pulled up and asked in English if we had seen it. We had not, so she set everything up for us to view the film. Matt and I finally determined we had our own car because we were the only foreigners and, therefore, the only ones to speak English. We watched a movie in English as the other cars played Korean films.

Our movie ended, and it took a little time for someone to notice us again and help us pull back all the curtains. We were nearing our destination of a Korean winery! The second tour guide that helped us with a movie came back to tell us which bus to board. We eventually called her "tour mom" between the two of us since it seemed she was tasked in making sure we didn't get lost!

It was a short bus ride to the winery with a tour guide giving what was, probably, the history of the region and winery.  When we arrived tour mom told us it was time to eat and where to meet the group in an hour. We entered a sort of green house with picnic tables. Grape vines covered the ceiling with a few tiny baby grapes. An all-you-can-eat buffet was arranged in the center of the room. Matt and I found a picnic table outside, away from everyone else as we figured nobody would want to sit and eat with us. We were like the new kids in high school. Matt held the table as I attempted to get food. Koreans, and I think other cultures in general, have smaller personal bubbles than Americans, so to me they seem very pushy as they constantly enter my personal space in order to reach things. I tried to grab a plate, but Korean women kept pushing in front of me and I, like the polite southern girl I am, allowed them to go first. Finally, one of the tour guides noticed my hesitation and entered the fray to bring back a plate for me. I could finally start selecting my food! I do not care for Korean food, so my selections were limited by what I found familiar. There was chicken tempura and salad and I grabbed several sandwiches when I spotted them. I didn't find out until I was seated that they were lettuce sandwiches. Just lettuce.

Enter the buffet line at your own risk!

After we ate we had some time to wonder around and take photos of the winery. We were waiting in line for a backdrop of wine barrels when some Korean ladies motioned me closer as they were snapping pictures. "You are beautiful!" one told me, and then she held on to my hand as others in their group wanted a photo with me too! 

Even this handsome gentleman wanted a photo with me!

After my impromptu photo shoot it was time to meet inside the winery. I assumed we would tour the facilities in order to see the production process of wine. Nope! We were given towels and plastic shoes because it was time for the wine foot bath. There were jacuzzi tubs filled with bubbling red wine. 

Nothing ever fits Matt...

The benches around the jacuzzi tubs all seemed full. Matt and I realized there were very few young people on this tour and even fewer men. Poor Matt obviously stood out. Tour mom had to request some older ladies to scoot over so Matt and I could sit and submerge our feet in wine. Then the tour director led a little program that ended with us starting a massage circle around the tub. None of the ladies would touch Matt. He just wasn't as popular as I was. 

When it was time to go we rinsed our feet and returned the plastic shoes. Matt and I sat patiently in the same room until tour mom explained that we could walk around. The bus did not leave for another half hour. Unfortunately, that was around the time I had realized my mistake in shaving my legs that morning. I did not think of the consequences of submerging my legs in hot alcohol until my legs started burning and breaking out in hives. I hoped we were going back to the train were I could prop up my feet in the air conditioning. We were not. 

The English website mentioned that after the winery tour was a tour of a ginseng farm. I did not want to tour a farm with burning legs, but that is not where we went after all. We went to a symphony hall and watched a musical performance of traditional Korean instruments. Matt checked the website with confusion and realized it had not been updated in three years. The auditorium was air conditioned at least, and I enjoyed the Beetles covers that they performed. I assumed we were heading back to the bus and the train when tour mom told us to meet the group upstairs. Nope! We were hearded into a room for a drum lesson... in Korean. It was terrible.

Matt and I sat in the back on purpose, but as the only white people and obviously not understanding any directions at all we got called out a lot on our holding the sticks incorrectly. I even got called to the front of the room to play a gong at one point. As the teacher was readjusting my hold on the instrument, I said "okay" out loud, and the whole class erupted in giggles. In addition we had to sit on the floor for an hour which my American back and backside are simply not used to. It was a painful lesson in multiple ways. 

After the humiliating lesson we loaded up the buses, and I was ready, once again, to return to the train. I was starting to get hungry. The ladies in front of us offered some of their snacks. Well, they put their food in our hands and watched us to see our reactions. Dried apricots were fine, but the gelatious seaweed-flavored rice snack was not my favorite. Matt accepted seconds, however. I asked him why, seeing as it was not good. "Well," he responded. "It wasn't bad." 

We did not return to the train. The buses drove deeper and deeper into the mountains. We unloaded and started walking up a steep gravel path. I had no idea where we were going, there was no information on the website about a third stop, and I might have worn a different outfit if I knew hiking would be involved. We followed the path until it ended at... 

a statue?

Oh! A beautiful waterfall!

What a pretty place!

It was misting at this point. The tour provided us with ponchos, but as it was barely drizzling I did not put mine on. An older lady took pity on me and literally gave me the poncho off her back. I tried to explain I didn't need it, but she shoved it into my arms smiling and walked away. I feel like the women felt responsible for the poor, confused foreigners. 

We treked back and finally the bus took me back to the train. Finally! As it turns out, you switch cars during the return journey so this time we were sitting in the fancy wine car from the advertisement. We had to share the car with others, but there was a plate of light snacks waiting for us which made me so, so happy. 

Food I recognize! Yes!!!

As the train left the station a man with the tour explained the different wines and, probably, how to swirl and taste them properly. I'm totally guessing at the content of his long speech. After the wine was poured the same man pulled out a guitar and microphone and started serenading us with Korean pop hits. After a few glasses the ladies in the car began dancing in front of the tiny stage, and even pulled up Matt and me to dance with them! It was a crazy party with little Korean ladies!

Matt and I left the train that night after almost ten hours of utter bafflement, but with a story we will never forget as the only foreigners on a wine-cinema-symphony-waterfall train. 

1 comment:

  1. I love this! What a hilarious and weird day! i'm sure you'll be telling this story for years!