Let me tell you the tale of Sejong City.
Basically South Korea woke up one day and said – “oh, hey now, our capital city and government center are a mere 35 miles from our enemy. Our enemy that we are actively still at war with. The enemy that routinely threatens to turn us and everyone else into a ‘sea of fire’.”
And then South Korea continued to think about this and thought “Seoul’s pretty cool. But it’s congested -half of our 49 million person population lives there. Also it’s too north (North Korea aside) What if we built a brand new city that was more in the middle and everyone could get to it. We could put our whole government there and then everyone could access it. It would be so cool. And we wouldn’t be at risk for that tiny, tiny chance of a ‘sea of fire'”
So South Korea set off to build this magical fantastic city. And yay they decided to name it after the bad-ass king who invented their entire language – King Sejong.
And it was awesome. And everyone was interested in it – it made the news the world over. Architects and city planners and just normal people were very curious to see this new city (my tone is sarcastic but I’m not kidding about this part. People actually wanted to see how this completely from-scratch capital city thing was going to work out).
Words like “self sustainable” “synergy” “bike path” and “administrative” were thrown around a lot. And a lot of money was poured into it. $21 billion dollars, in fact.
But then the government city was deemed unconstitutional even though the constitution mentions nothing about the location of the capital. And no one wanted to move from the hip capital of Seoul to the boonies. And then it became a controversy and political issue. The president who had proposed it and worked on it actually killed himself (not in office). And so Sejong was not to be the new capital. It would be the bastard child half-capital and maybe-science center (but probably not).
So where was once rice paddies, pine forests and peach farms are now a freaking huge building that houses 36 ministries. Seriously, its the same building.
But it doesn’t have defense ministries nor does the president have anything to do with it.
So Sejong still tries to get bigger. It has a library now, so it’s got that going for it. But it doesn’t have the population it wants, nor does it have anything the population is interested in (movie theaters or shopping centers). But it’s working on it.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Chris and I had a long weekend compliments of Children’s Day and Labor Day. We lucked out because May 4th just happens to be our anniversary (7 years!) so we had a long nice weekend to enjoy it. On Saturday we decided we were going to go on an adventure. We’ve been pretty reluctant to explore Korea because it takes so darn long. The trains aren’t anything like Germany (we were spoiled in Germany and expect nothing but the best now) – the train stations are nowhere near sights or city centers.
And even that…. there isn’t that much to see. Many of the fortresses and gates look the exact same. Beautiful – but oddly similar. So a 3 or 4 hour journey (to get somewhere that takes 1 hour by car) just to see something you’ve kind of already seen is not appealing.
Still, we had cabin fever.
“Let’s go to Sejong” Chris suggested. And that’s why I was telling you the Sejong Story.
Apparently there’s a huge bike path that follows the Gumgang River all the way from where it’s dammed up in Daejeon to the sea. We decided to take this bike path to Sejong, possibly farther to the next town and see if the Gongju fortress is any different from the other fortresses we’ve seen.
We haven’t been on our bikes since last year but we packed a picnic, filled up our tires and set off.
It didn’t take all that long to get out of the city into rural farmland. Shanty houses, rice paddies and laborers. Some people planting by hand or with small hand push-generator-run machines. No big machines here.
We looped along the river for a long time. It’s a well developed bike path and is pretty high traffic.
Our bums were killing us. We haven’t been on bikes in a long while so there was some pretty bad bruising and sores already. We had packed overnight bags with the intention of finding a hotel/hostel/pension in either Sejong or Gongju. Let me pause here to say we never do this. We always book hotels well in advance.
With that ominous message aside (you can guess what happens) we finally made it to Sejong.
We needed a break from sitting so we walked around Sejong. It was very clean and modern. The schools were colorful and vogue, there were sidewalks (rare in some places) and bike paths everywhere. It was definitely a planned place. Still the majority of stores in the buildings were real estate offices (we counted at least 12 back to back to back in one area).
We got a little snack and realized we were in the outskirts – the more residential side of Sejong. The administrative “government complex” was further back. But with saddle sore bums and it being one of the hottest spring days we’ve seen we were anxious to just go home.
There’s a mystical bike path that would have cut off nearly 15 miles from our journey (following the river is windy and adds up to around 25 miles. A straight shot highway is only 8 miles.) We just had to find this mystical path – a bike path that runs in the middle of a highway and is completely shaded by solar panels. 1) Cool 2) shade and 3) faster. It looks like this:
We biked out of our way to the Daejeon Express Highway and found this bridge:
The underside of it is a bike path (smart!)
We biked across but alas. This was not the road we were looking for.
Angered, sore, sunburned, and hot we went back back back to Sejong and went to the government complex area. We were looking forward to checking in to a Love Motel or something (a hotel you can rent hourly) and just having a relaxing rest of the day.
You would think that Sejong, the freaking pseudo capital city would have at least one hotel. I mean it does house 36 freaking Ministries. Someone probably wants to visit and do a little business there. Maybe a posh business hotel way out of our budget – also a relaxing night. But no. No hotels AT ALL.
We biked all over, wasting daylight and getting ever more sore and tired. Nothing.
So at 4:30 there were no other options but to bike 25 miles back home. God help us.
Chris’s phone tells us when sundown is – 7:09 exactly, it said. It was a race to get home. So we bought a coffee, 2 Gatorades and 2 snickers bars (dinner of champions!) and began the fantastic journey back.
Looking back on it, it’s funny. But at the time it was one of the hardest things either of us have ever done. It was so exhausting. Muscles were failing, everything ached. And those quaint farmlands that had been so endearing earlier were now bullshit. Plus a snake:
At 7:09 the sun started going down and we were still probably 4 miles from home. We could see Sintanjin in the distance. We opted to get off of the winding river road and just ride on the abandoned highway. The road was smoother. There was no one around and all you could hear was the croaking of frogs and crickets. It was actually really nice.
It got darker and darker until it was pitch black. We had made at least one smart choice and had brought a headlamp.
Chris lead us in the last 4 miles. Bugs from the rivers were pelted into eyes and teeth, we were cut up and bruised but we made it. We walked into the house at about 8:30. I never said we were fast.
8/10 would Gumgang River Trail again. But with better timing and probably with hotel addresses.