Here comes the sun ― and it’s all rightNew Year’s is just another day, just another sunrise, just another spin of a planet endlessly rotating around a star in space. Just a perfect time for people to gaze out at the world and the universe, hold the hand of a loved one, look out over the ocean at the rising sheen of sparkling light and think, “Thank God that year’s over.”
Korea happens to offer some spectacular locations for year-end relief. Most of these places are on the east coast, from the pine-adorned cliffs of Uisangdae pavilion at Naksan Temple and the beaches at Jeongdongjin, both in Gangwon province, to the village of Homigot in Pohang, the easternmost point on South Korea’s mainland.
Homigot is known for being the favorite place for Koreans to welcome the new year (you might say that would be Jongro, Seoul, but while it has the most people, it’s hardly anyone’s favorite place). On New Year’s Day, tourists and photographers flock to the town to get snapshots of the light from the rising sun shining through the fingers of a massive hand-shaped statue called “Sangsaeng-ui-son,” which means “the hand of mutual existence.” This humongous hand props up a sculptural representation of the sun ― or at least, something large and spherical.
This small town suddenly becomes very congested for one day, as throngs pile in to “welcome the sun” and make parking difficult. For that reason, drivers are advised to arrive long before daybreak, or to install floatation devices on their running boards. To get there, take the seaside road on the east coast toward Guryongpo (the road is wide and smack-dab against the coastline, so it’s hard to miss). The stretch of road from the Haesongjang Motel to Homigot Square is a relatively quiet place to soak in the sun’s rays.
The famous crab-fishing town of Yeongdeok, also in North Gyeongsang province and not very far from Homigot, is also a popular place for New Year’s Eve reveling. The city provides a fireworks show, a jisinbabgi ritual (stepping on the spirits of the land) and the ringing of Yeongdeok Daejong (literally, “big bell”). Early the next morning, visitors can ascend any of the white lighthouses that dot the seashore and view the sunrise from an observation deck.
“Wind power generator” might not be a phrase that stirs the romantic soul, but Yeongdeok has quite a few, and the hills above the beach offer a stunning view of the sand, the surf and the invisible hand of nature slowly spinning those massive blades.
To get to Yeongdeok, take the Daegu-Pohang freeway. The traffic won’t be too heavy, taking into consideration that it’s New Year’s Eve and some 48 million Koreans are heading to the coast. Once in Pohang, road signs will point the way to Yeongdeok. Drivers will then find themselves on a curvy seaside road stretching alongside Yeongil Bay, immersed in the smell of the shore and away from the smell of Pohang, home of Korea’s steel-processing facilities.
Yeongdeok is also a good place for munching down on hoe (raw fish). The seaside is densely populated with crab-trappers and fishmongers, and the season runs from January until May. New Year’s Day, therefore, is the best time to pop open a crab shell ― before the biggest and juiciest specimens have been eaten. The fish market at Ganggu port, Yeongdeok, opens early in the morning and is stocked with trout, anchovy, salmon, leatherfish and anglerfish.
Racks of drying squid adorn the roadside, and scores of fishermen inhabit the piers and beaches (mackerel, pike and sea bream are easily caught here).
Even if one isn’t stopping for breakfast, the drive between Pohang and Yeongdeok is worth taking; it’s considered to be one of the most scenic routes in the country. Stretching 82 kilometers (51 miles) from Ryongpo in Pohang to Wolpo beach, the route enters Yeongdeok and then takes 53 more kilometers of enough twists and turns to romantically lodge a driver’s heart somewhere in between his or her stomach and spleen.
This romanticism along route No. 925 starts at the Haesongjang Motel and lasts until the Posco steel factory appears, next to the Amour Hotel. The hotel’s owners apparently think the view of the factory is grand and impressive, though visitors from the American rust belt or industrial-sludge part of northern England may feel differently. There are two nice beaches here, though: Hwanho and Wolpo. Apart from the factories, the area has surprisingly colorful fields awash in spinach and barley, abutting green pine forests and hedged with long waving grass.
Then there are more of those wind power generators ― 24 of them, to be exact. Perhaps not the most scenic landscape item, they do have a certain magesty. Each stands 80 meters high, with its propellers gently going round and round like the arms of massive traffic cops, waving tourists in, and very quickly, out.
by Kim Jong-hak