This trip was so long ago by now. What happened? Well, first we got a puppy. Then I got busy with work. Then B smashed his ankle, rendering himself immobile. Then, my country started to fall apart.
Since then, I’ve done nothing in the gaps between work except read the news, take Charlie for long, therapeutic walks by the river and stress-eat. Things are only getting worse and, suffice it to say, I need to refocus. It’s important to stay informed and involved. It is equally important not to let a blackhole formed by the worst part of human instincts suck me into it entirely, one executive order at a time.
You’ll notice the format here has changed quite a bit. Part of my blogging block, I realized, came from trying to shoehorn everything I wanted to say into posts about restaurants and food. So I redesigned. And redesigned. And now I think I am happy. I hope it works for everyone else as well.
So here is a post about a trip we took back at the beginning of October, before reality began to buckle around us. At that point, we had had Charlie for about a month, and between housebreaking and crate-training, all of the 2am, 3am, 4am trips outside for a potty break, we decided we needed a break. A puppy-friendly break, to be clear.
I started searching online for pet-friendly hotels, and it was through this filter that I finally managed to find the great white whale for Americans vacationing in Korea — the cabin in the woods, sized just right for two (or, I suppose, three). Better still, it was on the east coast, in Gangwon-do, my favorite province, with one caveat: If I’m going to eat or socialize, it’s the Jeollas all the way. But you can’t beat Gangwon-do for scenery.
The leaves were changing. I wanted to hike. I wanted to cook out over an open flame the way we always used to do on the farm at Thanksgiving. I wanted to follow a creek through the woods. I wanted s’mores, chai hot chocolate and a heated floor, and to not see another person all weekend.
I don’t have any photos of the cookout or the s’mores. Well, I do, but they feature B, who prefers to keep his face to himself. I was too busy eating, cooking, laughing and talking with my husband and keeping an ornery little beagle pup out of everything (especially the chocolate) to snap more than a few quick frames for our own memories. But I do have lots and lots of photos from the hikes.
What I couldn’t take a photo of, anyway — and this is a shame, because I have a feeling you’re not going to believe me — is the smell of pine that reached out and slapped us right in the nose as soon as we climbed out of the car. I didn’t even know it was possible for the air to be that thick and heavy with the scent of anything alive.
It was Charlie’s first time out of the house for more than a walk around the neighborhood or down to the river near our house. He was appropriately excited, curious and timid. We wanted to get him used to traveling and new places starting early. He’s an outdoorsy dog and will need a lot of trips like this in the future to counterbalance his city-dwelling status. Basically, me too.
We felt so guilty after packing him back into his crate in the car to cart him back to the city that we decided to stop by Seorak Beach, a little ways to the north, which B scoffed and told me didn’t exist. As if he’s seen more of Korea than I have. As if I can’t read Daum Maps, too. Once his pride recovered (and he realized he wouldn’t have to drive an extra 40 minutes north, to Sokcho Beach, which was where he thought I meant when I said “Seorak”), he decided he wanted very much to see how Charlie would respond to the ocean, while I just wanted to savor the clean air and unfurled skylines a little longer.
The beach was mostly empty, besides a few determined surfers who sat bobbing on their surfboards while what could be referred to as waves on a technicality only made their way past them to the shore. I didn’t think I’d ever see any sadder surfers than the ones who dot the shore along the Gulf of Mexico.
Charlie watched and whined as B waded out into the surf. Eventually the temptation to follow became too much, and he summoned enough courage to take his first few cautious steps after him.
Then it was game on. Charlie has since become sand’s number one fan. We usually head down to a little patch of beach along the riverbank on our daily walks, and there is no end to what a little beagle nose can find lurking beneath. The number and variety of unearthed and truly huge dead fish I’ve had to hurl into the water before he can make a meal of them would horrify you.
We lingered on the beach eating ice cream and watching the clouds roll in until an internal alarm clock started to sound, warning of the rush hour traffic we would have to face driving back into Seoul if we dawdled much longer.
We packed ourselves back into the car, pulled out of the beach lot and immediately hit Seorak-san traffic. We chugged along the freeway, the exhaust fumes slowing filtering in through the air system reminding us of what we were headed back toward.
“We’re going to have to come back in the spring. And maybe the winter. Maybe every couple of months,” I said. The smell of pine still lingered in the car.
[Just a closing note, about Charlie: When we started to think about getting a dog, I knew I wanted a beagle. They are small enough to live in the city, but still active enough to enjoy things like hiking and swimming. They are notoriously energetic and stubborn dogs, but they are also well-known for other traits, such as their shyness and their hesitance to lash out at anyone.
What I didn’t know, and what I dearly wish I had before we found Charlie, is that these latter traits are what make beagles the top breed chosen for animal testing, in Korea as well as the US and other countries.
I have had some serious struggles with the animal adoption people in Korea. I have found them disorganized and condescending. The latter I could make allowances for if it weren’t for the former. Before buying Vera, I attempted to adopt a cat for nearly two months. I went through the overbearing screening process because I knew that these are people who witness the fallout of animals being abandoned by careless owners on a daily basis. But after two months of being promised cats that were given to other owners, only to have them returned and re-offered to me, setting up meetings for home visits that never materialized, and generally being mussed around, I finally gave in and headed to the pet shops.
When it came time to look for a dog, I searched in earnest for beagles among adoption groups, but beagles have a notoriously bad reputation in Korea — in Korean, they are even referred to as 악마견 — literally, devil dogs. I could hardly find any pet shops that were selling them, let alone any up for adoption (we ended up heading way out of the city to get Charlie).
But the truth is, there are a ton of beagles who need good homes here in Korea. They are rescues from animal testing sites who have had unimaginable things done to them and who have lived their lives almost entirely in cages, only being taken out to be abused.
If you’re interested in adopting a dog, and definitely if you are looking for a beagle, please consider contacting Beagle Rescue Network. We love Charlie and wouldn’t trade him for any dog in the world, but I wish I had known about the situation for beagles before we bought a puppy who would have found a very happy home somewhere else anyway. Puppies are cute, but they are a ton of work and require months of near sleepless nights before they settle into a routine. An adult rescue is a much more manageable alternative.]