The Sontaran, the snowman, and the long trek

Another hike, but the twist this time was that the weather. Though cooperative, it was very cold. Freezing in fact. I have to admit that I almost gave up, as my stomach, which was getting a strong, updraught of cold wind. One, right up the bracket you might say. I had on my scarf and down jacket. Ben, had simply zipped up his jacket up to his neck. He honestly looked like a Sontaran, a character from the Doctor Who series. He even gave a brief rendition of their battle chant. We both laughed at the chant, and the reference. Doctor Who is something we both knew. The target destination, as usual, was Yongsan station, and the electronics market.

Starting from Gu-il station, we started trekking up one of the Han rivers smaller tributaries was a wasteland of dirt and occasional parks. At one point we passed policemen doing their P/t. They might even have been trainees, but we we’re sure. The head instructor stood next to a PA, with maybe the intent of doing some karaoke numbers later to tired trainees. Before that, we walked past a driving course, the sort found at driving schools in Korea, except 75% the size. It might have been for training, but only for very small cars.

Ben and I had done this route once in the past, and before all the landscape was different, and now it was finished.

We reached the junction where the stream met the Han river. We sat, and rested, trying to work out the kinks and cramping we both had. I had particular problems with my right shoulder. It would be with great relief that I put down my bag on the hotel bed later that afternoon.

In the homestretch to Yongsan station was the electronics market. I commented positively that the actual market was a mere 300 metres distant. A grunt was Ben’s reply, as his feet were sore, and in retrospect, so were mine, I just hadn’t realised it. My new hiking shoes, bought in New Zealand off of a pal of mine who ran the shop, ironically were Asics. A Korean brand. Still they fit, and did the job. A new pair of shoes, broken in and christened.

After making a small purchase at Seong-in plaza, we continued onto Yongsan station and it’s relative comforts of low teenage Celsius temperatures.

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Hello, good-bye Incheon

A recent hike through the Incheon station area, located, not unsurprisingly at the end of the Incheon line. The station had the usual refinements, being an above ground station, it was a simple matter of walking out the doors. Putting on sunscreen (and later a hat) inside of the station seems normal enough. Only it attracted an unwanted stare from some older-middle aged Korean man. I stared back, he kept starring back, I turned, only to check later if he was still starring. Essh. What a cycle. Welcome to Incheon, home of the xenophobic throwback Korean men.

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The odd contrast to this initiation was the Chinatown that had been build. It was plush. Cobble-stoned streets and preserved buildings from Koreans’ colonial era. Ben and I made a bee-line for Jayu park. This is significant for the fact that it holds a statue of Douglas MacArthur, and other adornments celebrating the Korean war and (surprisingly) Americans. Found in the park were two rather esoteric sculptures. One of them under certain conditions could look like giant turd. Personally I found the graffiti that was on it a more interesting composition than the inscription found across the square from the sculpture. Built to commemorate Korean-American cooperation during the war. Well, something like that. Further inside the park there was a life sized bronze statue of MacArthur himself. Mounted on a pillar no less. Beside it was something more interesting, a wall frieze of MacArthur and his staff making for the beach. Presumably during the historically notable Incheon landings, you could actually see MacArthur’s bronze hand showing signs of wear, that it had been touched, and ‘shaken’. For an expression of appreciation or just a chance to even come close to a man of such reputation I can only speculate.

Onwards and downwards to the Chinatown. Exiting the park, we both noted elderly people that seemed to congregate in the park. I noted the same thing too in China. My walking companion observed that the old people there are more appreciative foreigners since, they would have seen and experienced the Korean war, unlike their younger, fellow citizens born after the war. Maybe the ajossi at the train station could do with a change in attitude.

The Chinatown had cobble-stoned streets and was well taken care of. Perhaps falling under the influence of Jayu park above it. Very much a show piece of Incheon, it was part tourist trap (there were tourist shops on every street, and on almost every corner), and historical site with the actual Chinatown having many buildings from the period of colonization from the Japanese. Ben and I went into a former bank to have a look, but also with the ulterior motive was to get out of the sun and cool off. The museum/ 1st bank of Japan was wonderfully air-conditioned. It has massively thick walls, arranged in what seemed to amount to a maze of rooms. I had my photo taken infront of a stage set, of the street, as it was back when the bank was constructed. The one and only helper at the front desk was mature, pretty and very helpful. Exiting, Ben and I gave the donation box some notes.

Back to wandering through the streets, a school kid started to speak to us in English. I blew him off, but Ben being more patient, answered his questions while I hurried around the corner of a building and onto the main road.

Leaving behind the Incheon station and into more conventional streets, I took a photograph of a ‘shop’ that sold just anchor chains. Looking at the amount of heavy metal he had, I’d say he’d cornered the market comprehensively. I didn’t see a shop that sold only anchors, but would have been very pleased if I did!

After all that, walking toward Bupyeong station was all a bit of an anti-climax. To cap off the walk, we went through Dong-Incheon underground shopping center. Corridor on corridor of mindless crap that I personally could never think of buying. I’d always thought that underground shopping centers and even the underground subway lines in Seoul also serve a dual purpose of acting like bomb shelters a’la the London blitz of world war two. Would they, could they, withstand a direct hit? Would the North Koreans use gas in their warheads? What’s more would the gas be heavy, and go down, into the subways? Would there be enough kim-chi to out-last the siege? Ben and I walked out and onward to our final destinations.

Colourful panoramas, bad for your health

A teacher’s outing, hiking up a mountain no less. It was a breath-taking vista for sure, and not because the sun was going down. Usually a man of smiles and understanding, the vice-principal commenting on the photo I just took; “it’s not because of the rain”. He then pointed to his face mask. Yellow dust. Initially it took me as being rather cynical and inwardly funny, but he was right. The dust, made of silicon (and other goodies such as heavy metals), when breathed into your lungs, doesn’t breakdown. This wasn’t the only immediate peril facing me that night. So-ju, seafood on many levels of cooked and uncooked. Followed by the coach ride back, the teachers decided to make use of the karaoke that came part of the bus P.A system. I sang my two songs, and then plugged my ears with tissue paper. You gotta die of something.

Enter the ping-pong ball, exit covered in four different types of sweat

Ben and I had decided on going for a walk to Seon yu do park, a former sewerage works located on an island next to the Southern bank of the Han. Reformed into some sort of botanical garden, it had the outward appearance that someone had been too lazy to remove the existing sewerage works settling ponds and pipes and instead, tried to cover it up. What made it personally interesting for me was the graffiti written on some of the steelworks.

The weather that day had decided not to rain, but instead had gone on to be incredibly humid. Things started heating up, and pretty soon I was covered in a combination of sweat and sunscreen. Ben more so. Beads of sweat were cascading down his face. He’d looked like he’d just come out of the shower. The result was that his clothes soaked, while I didn’t have the same problem, my underwear was driving itself in a northern direction and generally made a nuisance of itself.

I almost always pack a camera when I go walking; but today I just found that the vistas today, were less than inspiring. This was probably in part because of the fog that was veiling most of Seoul in a brilliant white haze. It was like being on the inside of a large ping-pong ball. This neatly obscured the longer lines of sight; maybe this was a labour-saving phenomenon. The less photos I took, the less I’d have to process later on. Ben and I, had walked most of the Han river, and a good portion of the bits inland of it. I had quite literally taken the photos in the past.

The Mapo broadwalk, big contrast

The last time Ben and I walked through Mapo, was about two years ago. Then it was shabby buildings that looked like they’d been bombed by some foreign power. This time, it was quite literally the other side of the railway lines.

What a contrast it was, setting off from the randomised station, we emerged, as it turned out, in the hagwon district of Mapo. Pretty posh, we pasted a Maths hagwon that ‘guaranteeing your grade’. I wonder how hard you’d have to sleep in class to flunk, and then how much more harragging from the mother to get a refund. In big cities, the schools aren’t run by the Principal or the head, they’re run by the parents.

Mapo has streets like any other street in Seoul, this one was clean with the usual stores, apartments and restaurants. Towering above us were candidates for the forth coming local elections. A booty of high pay and perhaps a more reclining lifestyle awaits the individual that champions his cause the best. Maybe not this guy. He needs to review his photos before they go to print on a 10m by 50 meter poster stuck on the side of a prominent building. Wincing your hands isn’t conducive to an image of integrity and honest policies. Even the crowd in my town have a better sense of decorum.

Onwards to what could almost be seen as the “apple cart”. You don’t have to travel far to see signs of Koreas agricultural roots.

It never fails to surprise me how lacking in testosterone men are portrayed in advertisements in Korea. From Boy bands, to selling Nikon camera to showing what the average police graduate might look like. He might look nice, but he doesn’t at all have the image of authority that Mr Plod in New Zealand might have.

I have to comment that the photos of the two police officers are would-be graduates of a Police hagwon. Not, just one, but one of many police hagwons, or ‘academies’. Joke anyone?

Students too fat, too much cat food

Hedgehogs in Scotland have recently been put on a diet. According to the report, the hedgehogs are too fat to roll themselves into to a ball. My Middle school students are, by Korean standards not over weight, with a few exceptions. Though I think that they’ve been hitting the ‘cat food’ too much, as they’re desperately un-fit.

I found this fact out when I, another Korean teacher and half of the first grade were sent on a field trip to Cheong-ju. Later we went to Sangdang Sanseong. Quite literally, Mountain fortress. The task was to walk the circumference of the fortifications. It is a popular walking track, with the par for this course, 1 hour. 90 minutes later, I was still trying urge the students on. I had started as tail-end charlie, but the Korean teacher had promoted me to point man. The students were going too slow, and needed motivation by him.

I blame too much of sitting in a classroom, followed by more sitting in hagwons, followed by even more sitting at a computer playing games…

These guys were basically struggling to make the grade, literally.

9-1-6, three drinks to sobriety

We walked along side mostly roads and roads under construction. Ben and I sought out the Han gang (river). At one point we found a car headlight, fittings and mouldings only. No bulbs. Perhaps it had come from the Hyundae car factory not too far across the road. We thought for a second of carrying it along our hike. It would’ve been the perfect accompanyment for the walk along side the road. You drive your car, we prefer to carry ours!

Finding (if not sniffing out) the Han, we proceeded to our ultimate distination, Yongsan and Yongsan electronics mart.

Sadly no beers were raised in having completed the short 1 1/2 hour hike; (The bus ride in to Seoul took longer), I was recovering from a sever skin complaint. Alcohol would only stir things up again. No beer for me. Or Hoegaardens for that matter. I sat in the bar that night, first nursing a Doctor Pepper, a Virgin Pina colada, and finally a Gold medalist, while I complained at the state of my soberness to my friend. Sadly the, gold medalist was not Kim, yu-na in her skating costume, but a strawberry and banana smoothie. This was too much. I went to the toilet to empty my bladder.