I Love My Neighborhood: Jugong, Yeongwol

Welcome to another edition of “I Love My Neighborhood”, where I ask expats from across the globe to share the joys of local life they’ve found in their corner of the world.

If you’re just joining in now, check out the other cities that have been covered so far here.

This week’s guest post comes from Lauren, an American in Korea and one of my favorite funny gals. I consider her my “expat love story” twin, in that she also met her fiance abroad, and they are now both expats traveling the world while having no clue where or when to get married. Solidarity!

Lauren: Why I Love Jugong

Confession: My town is so small that it isn’t really broken into neighborhoods. So I made one up and named it after our apartment complex.

I can’t blame you for never having heard of Yeongwol, South Korea. I had never heard of it until the day I arrived, and now it’s been my home for two years. My fiancé and I were placed here, in rural Gangwon Province, to teach English for the EPIK program. There are about 20,000 people in the town, and I’d wager that no more than 20 of them are English-speaking foreigners. We were hoping to be away from the big cities, and our wish was granted.

Jared and I live in some of the newer apartments in town, where the lift usually works and we can flush our toilet paper without causing any backups. I don’t think I’ve ever left the apartment without seeing someone I recognize, whether it’s a student, taxi driver, or the lady at the local Samsung Mart. I generally require two forms of transportation when getting around town – walking or cycling. Occasionally, I crave the busy stimulation of a big city, but I’m always happy to get home to the mountain valley of Yeongwol.

5-Day Market

On each date with a 4 or a 9 in it, the market vendors set up their stalls near the river, and Yeongwol is flooded with fresh produce. You can buy anything: shoes made of straw, seasonal fruits and vegetables, bread, pliers, dried fish heads, socks, lotion, obscenely bad music on cassette, rabbits, or doughnuts. It’s incredible. Every time we go to buy almonds and walnuts, the ‘nut man’ asks the same questions: “When are you getting married?” and “When do you go back to your country?” He is unfailingly surprised when we answer in Korean and always gives us a little ‘service’ in the form of an extra handful of nuts.

Coffee House

Last winter, a new coffee shop appeared next to our apartment complex. They called it “Coffe House” and put stickers in the window that said “I love cookie.” Well, I love cookie, too, but what I love more are their impressive patbingsu desserts, which come in varieties like chocolate, fruit, green tea and blueberry. “Coffe House” has since been amended to read “Coffee House,” so now I don’t get the pedantic English nazi eye twitch every time I walk by. Everyone wins.

Riverbank

The Donggang, or East River, dominates the town. I can see it from my apartment (woo-hoo, water views!) and can walk to it within ten minutes. On one side is our swimming hole, a quiet section of river that runs along the mountain. On the other is the main riverbank, where festivals are held twice a year. On those weekends, Yeongwol rolls out the big guns, erecting concert stages and setting off fireworks from the bridge.

Photography Museum

Yeongwol is known in Korea for its museums. There are over 20 of them in Yeongwol County, and one of the best is right down the street. The Donggang Photography museum is situated on a hill at the town’s main intersection, overlooking a man-made waterfall. I like to walk around the outdoor photo displays and pretend I’m cultured.

Ginkgo Tree

I love this enormous tree because of the sign in front of it, which reads: “This is a big gingko tree. It is venerated as a deity by residents in the surrounding areas. Children who fall from this tree will not be hurt badly. Villagers who honor to this tree on the 7th and 12th lunar month will bear a child. It is now a favorite place for people in the summer because of its shade.” I left some parts out, but you get the gist. I have my doubts about its powers, but always steer clear during the 7th and 12th lunar months. You can never be too careful.

Exercise

For the first six months of living in Yeongwol, there was a weird silver dome rising up in the field behind our apartments. We couldn’t work out what it was and no one was able to explain it in English. Turned out it was a large gymnasium, the centerpiece of the new Sports Park. Now there are bicycle paths, exercise machines, and fields for every conceivable sport, including foot volleyball (Yes. It’s a thing.), and it’s all in my backyard. Yeongwol is a very sporty town, so every weekend there’s some sort of tournament taking place. I know because we can hear the announcements from our apartment. This usually guilts me into doing exercise, so I head out to one of the many mountain trails around town. The only downside is running past the burial mounds, but you get used to it. Kind of.

Deer Park

This is possibly my favorite part of Yeongwol, mainly because it’s so random. There’s a pond surrounded by a 400-meter walking track, and an unmistakable deer theme. Lifelike deer statues pose in the water while cartoonish deer adorn the track. There’s deer on a pedestal, deer on shooting stars, and, best of all, deer standing on two legs.

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About the author: Indiana native Lauren Fitzpatrick never got a proper job. Instead, she got working holiday visas for Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Korea. She has held over 30 jobs, including carny, English teacher and movie extra. Lauren blogs about travel and working abroad at Lateral Movements, and you can follow her on facebook or twitter @LateralMovement.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for having me, Edna! I think we just put Yeongwol on the map.
    And we ARE officially expat love story twins – still no wedding plans, still not stressed about it. Not yet, anyway.

  2. As you know I am new to your blog but am so glad we met in Paris and I discovered it! What a lovely read and a great series this is!

  3. First up – that deer statue is TERRIFYING! Seriously…it’s creeping me the hell out! Secondly, I love that you have a “nuts man”! I want my own nuts man too, and no, that isn’t innuendo. Thirdly, I totally sympathise with the English nazi eye twitch. Shudder.

    This was a great post and has actually made me want to get up to Yeongwol but you know what? YOU’RE LEAVING, booooo!

  4. I know, right? When I first saw it, I was so confused. I always feel like more people need to know about its existence. Our nut man was so disappointed when we told him we were leaving! Gave us an extra handful of nuts, and that’s not innuendo either.

    I can’t believe I’ve said goodbye to Yeongwol! You should still visit. But probably in the summertime because in winter it’s wretchedly cold.

  5. Wow!

    I just received a job description to teach in Youngwol. I hope I get it this place looks amazing!

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  1. […] frequenting the 5-day market in Yeongwol, I was used to seeing weird fish on display. Plus, the floor was all wet and slippery and I […]