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A Tour of Gangneung

Given the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the authorities in Gangneung are spending a lot of time (and money) figuring out how to attract foreign tourists to the east coast of Gangwon Province. At the moment, the Gangneung Medical Tourism Office is trying to draw medical tourists away from the bright lights of Seoul. It sounds like Korea’s medical tourists mostly come from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Thailand. They often undergo cosmetic procedures, which are less expensive in Korea than in their home countries.

While their patients recover from medical procedures in Gangneung, the Medical Tourism Office wants to host complimentary events and activities as part of their program. They need guinea pigs to see how effective these programs are, and so they advertise on Facebook. And that’s where I come in.

Last weekend, I participated in a free, trial-run tour program. The tour had three destinations in Gangneung: the Charmsori (not a typo) Gramophone Museum, the Whanhee Cup Museum, and the Wangsan Coffee Cupper Museum. Two of these destinations are rather remote and difficult to get to, so a friend and I decided we’d take part in the experiment to get to know our own city a little better.

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Of the three attractions, the Charmsori Gramophone Museum is the only one I’d visited before. It’s situated on the edge of Gyeongpo Lake, so it’s easy to access via public transportation. The museum is basically what it says on the tin: a collection of gramophones belonging to the museum’s founder. A ticket to the Gramophone Museum includes admittance to the Edison Museum; the newly built film museum on the opposite end of the plaza has its own separate admittance fee. If you’re interested, you can view the museum’s official English website here. They even tell the story of the museum’s official mascot, Nipper, whose trademark may or may not still belong to His Master’s Voice (HMV). 

I think the original theme of the collection was “vintage technology” (much of it by Thomas Edison, the museum founder’s apparent hero),  but some of the oddities and random pictures of the owner throw that organized theory out the window.

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“It’s not hoarding if I put it in a museum!”

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Although many museums in Korea seem to exist as storage site for all the founder’s junk, Charmosi, at least, makes for an amusing trip, especially with friends. It’s nice to see some sort of appreciation for machines of the past, though I’ll admit it stung a little bit to see part of my childhood in a glass case:

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Not pictured: the collection’s box of floppy disks that are actually floppy.

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Our next stop was the Whanhee Cup Museum, a bit of a curiosity. “Why would anyone make a museum full of cups?” you might think. “No one would pay to see that.”

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This tea set allegedly belonged to Queen Victoria, according to the museum owner, who showed us around the collection. He tried to collect cups from all of the countries that he visited as a unique representation of their culture, though it seems he also unintentionally reinforced Korean stereotypes about those countries along the way. (Also not pictured: the “cups” from Cameroon made out of elephant tusks.) 

Thankfully, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the exhibit. The best part of our stop at the cup museum was the opportunity to make our own cups. We drew designs in crayon on strips of paper and used a machine to press the images onto a white mug. 

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Lunch was at a restaurant on the southwest edge of Gangneung. We had duck, which is a popular meat to grill or stew in Korea. I’ve eaten it before at school dinners. Yum! 

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I want to clarify that that’s a very large spoon, not a very small bowl.

Our last stop was actually quite far out of Gangneung, tucked away in the mountains. The Wangsan Coffee Museum is sponsored by Coffee Cupper, a Gangneung café chain.

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I didn’t have to go far in my exploration of Gangneung’s coffee culture to come across the coffee museum, but I couldn’t find much information in English on their official website, always a telling sign that perhaps it wasn’t the most accessible for visitors who can’t speak much Korean. (Admittedly, my inability to speak Korean proficiently is my fault at this point.) There’s not much English information in the museum, either. Our guide from the Gangneung Medical Tourism Office was nice enough to translate the signs, so I still learned more than I might have done otherwise.

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The photograph above depicts the extent of English signage at the coffee museum. 

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Our guide from the Gangneung Medical Tourism Office was nice enough to translate the signs, so I still learned more than I might have otherwise. For example, the darkness of the roast impacts the flavor (the darker the better, with less caffeine) and the caffeine extraction (the lighter the better, with less flavor). My fellow resident-tourists told me that. Maybe this museum wasn’t so informative after all...

I got free coffee, though.

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All in all, I was very impressed with the medical tourism program’s organization. The locations and activities they chose were interesting, the amount of time they spent at each place was sufficient. There weren’t any moments where I felt like we were dragging our feet. I’m really grateful to the Gangneung Medical Tourism Office for the opportunity to see more of Gangneung and to get to know other expats who live in the area.

It seems a little awkward for me to address it here, but Gangneung’s a pretty nice place to rest and recuperate, if I may say so myself. If you’re looking into being a medical tourist in Korea, give Gangneung a try!

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