A shortish march, ouch. I appreciate, I appreciate!

Class marching to site.jpgSlightly surprised would be the description of the teachers at my school when I turned up in shorts, t-shirt and a hiking pack. The hike was up Namsan mountain, which according to my supervisor, ‘every town has a south(ern) facing mountain.’ The hike started off in good order, with the third grades leading off. I went with them, as, they would be the first, and, they’re not so inclined to bow and say hello to me every time they see me. I don’t mind being invisible sometimes. The first half of the hike was up to Asan’s war memorial, where, the wars that Korea had fought in, were immortalized in grey marble no less. Not so different to what I’d see back home. Every town would have some concrete or stone spire, a plaque and inscriptions to their fallen soldiers. Come to think of it, the third graders weren’t so much older than their grandfathers and grand uncles that fought in the Korean war. Even walking to the war memorial itself had some parallels as some of the classes touted flags, and messages on those flags. Well, the idea of the hike was supposed to commemorate the soldiers and, a wish for peace and unity. Frankly speaking, the people want peace, but that decision might be up to the heads of state.Respect.jpg

Soon after reaching the memorial site, a single wreath of white flowers was laid, and respects given. The march continued. I actually thought that since Namsan was only 150m tall the hike would be relatively easy. Unfortunately, what was missing was gradients and an extra 800m in elevation. Damn you Naver maps!

By the time I’d reached the summit,Youarelost-namsanAsancity_zpsdde8fe60.jpg which was enclosed with trees and other greenery, there was no vista to see. Severely unfit, lacking in a substantial breakfast I was sweaty, aching and out of breath. Some of my students thought the same and sat down on some benches near to the top. The water, and bite sized snickers bars that my supervisor had given me weren’t going to make the distance. I’d have to do. No-one was going to carry me down, dead or alive. Having reached the relative ease of flat terrain, I pressed on, protesting muscles and all. Most of my students and teachers looked none the worse for wear. While I, had looked like I had done twice the distance. I was soaked in sweat, greasy from the sunscreen I’d applied, covered in dirty from god knows only where. But, I have to say that lunch, in my current state was a breath of life and was fantastic. The watermelon never tasted so good. I should know, I had three slices.

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Up the Bung-hole at the throw of a dice

YOU ARE LOST

But to para-phrase Fred Dagg, “Not only down a hole, but at the very far end of a hole.” This particular hole was Bongwhasan was at the end of line number six, of the Seoul metro line. I called Ben a few expletives for rolling such a distant location. Bongwhasan was closer to Gangwon-do than it was to Seoul, or in our case, Bupyeong in Incheon, which is where we had meet. Travelling to this place might take longer than the actual walk itself, though I don’t remember what time we arrived at Bongwhasan station itself.

Leaving the subway underground we found that the city was surprisingly modern, albeit with an obsession with oddly shaped air-conditioning ducts. Some of them looked quite contemporary, even novelle. But from odd looking a/c ducts to just an unfortunate array of initals. SNUT,which I suppose means Seoul National University of Technology. Maybe.

Having walked from the station of arrival to the next stop in what felt like a few minutes we arrived at the next stop, Hwarangdae, and according to the thumbprint map in the subway, the home of the tombs for the Chuseon royal family. Though significant, they couldn’t be found, and were not evident in the cityscape. Quite possibly a bus ride away. Ben and I didn’t bother, but after a short discussion decided to follow the minor stream that ran more or less along the same route as the expressway that loomed overhead.

The stream is a place to recreate for many Koreans, and geese alike. Spotted along the way were some informational signs warning of falling objects. In walking through it also showed the almost compulsary graffiti under the bridge. Despite Korea’s straight-laced reputation, you can find signs of anarchy in the form of graffiti if you know where to look. Ecclectic messages ranging from ‘dong’ to cryptic references to game over to faces on a wall. It must have amounted to a fair investment of time for the graffitists involved.

As our walk along the stream progressed the actual stream turned into a river, with anglers, some casual and some simply out for their dinner sitting side by side.

A stop by the river for a rest was taken, but the visual entertainment didn’t stop there. While trying to take a photograph of a crane sitting mid-stream, this pre-schooler wandered into view. He was all class. First chasing the pigeons here and there, while almost tripping up on his own feet. To finish his ensemble, he decided to take a piss into the river he was standing adjacent. Ben and I were hoping for some miracle that he might find his way into the river or that a random heavy object would fall from the sky in a similar style of the information signs seen before.

The final lap, or perhaps the last straw was trying to find a way to cross the river, hopefully by bridge, which seemed to not to exist to accomidate pedestrians though. Instead the solution was to find a bus stop and ride the bus to the nearest subway station, which our case was Cheonganyi.

From annoying to really to just plain bothersome, we sat in our wooden panned chairs at Yongsan station when what turned out to be a Mormon. She began trying to win us over to Mormonism, but the sales pitch was falling on deaf ears. A conversation ensued between her and Ben while I say beside Ben, half grinning, half ignoring what was going on. A hard sell both of us, but she was presistent, and found to be lacking the vocabulary of refusal and denial. She finished and went back to her older supervisor. A perfect end to long slog through the bunghole.

Ran the rats maze, ended in a gay-pride parade

I had in tow, my newly acquired snooper lens. My walking companion hefted it, trying to ascertain a weighting without the camera body attached.

I would say, looking at the pictures later on my laptop it was a good investment. It yielded pictures that were nicely saturated, and in focus.

The rats maze was Olympic park, up by Jamsil by the Han river. Old stomping grounds for Ben and I. We’d strode this ground before, and had return by cause of a dice roll. The park is laid out in such a way that there are no direct exits. And we, the rats, were invariably lend in the wrong direction.

Walking by the olympic flame one particular group of children looked at the flame. Kids being kids, one of them tried to put it out by spitting on it. They were all class, as I’d expected Korean children to be. The glass shield wasn’t just to guard against the wind afterall.

The walk ended on a rather sour note. Tired and sore, Ben and I were so sweaty, that our clothing was adhering to our bodies in unnatural ways.

We are proud

We’d only just settled for a minute in the train carriage, when along came some cyclists. It was a procession of 5 or 6 cyclists, replet with their cycles. They also had, all of their kit on, sunglasses and helmets included. The bright colours on their cycling costumes lent to an impression that it was a gay pride parade.  They were rude and presumptious. We were in their spot. We moved on, with not much to say but thinking a whole lot more. Opinions of Korean cyclists dropped to an all new low that day.

Took a hike, we got Gengis khan between our teeth

Ben and I went on our regular hikes around Seoul. This time, perchance it was West Incheon. WE walked a portion of the Uiejeongbu line, an estimated 15 kilometers or so (according to my fore finger and thumb and Google maps) to Bupyeong station.

The weather that day was overcast, cold and windy. According to my walking companion the ‘yellow dust’ had made it’s annual pilgramage across half the world. It was passing over South Korea and we just happened to breathe in at the wrong time. Gengis Khan, who had conquered a goodly portion of Northern and Middle China, and Eurasia had been dead for 700 years, and was probably dust for a long time.

The origin of the yellow dust is from Northern China, close to the Mongolian/ China border. Sadly bits of China, the Gobi desert and no doubt the best bits of Gengis Khan were now lodged between my teeth.

More dusty tales:

Korea Times, March 21, 2010

The Earth times

About the photo; taken at about 6.10pm at Bupyeong station.

Shooting mode: Manual exposure

Shutter speed: 1/125

Aperture value: 5.6

ISO speed: 800

White balance mode: Auto

The A-Z of Sinchon to Hannam

the Loch ness monster

Hiking along the Han river is one of my preferred activities when the weather is good. The spirit was definitely willing even if the flesh was severely assaulted by furnace like temperatures. What began as an enjoyable stroll along the Han river (in Seoul) later became a test of will not to pike out and take the bus back to the relative comfort of Yongsan station before our destination. We did make it to Hannam dong in the end, but were absolutely spent. We patiently waited for the big green bus to trundle down the road to pick us up. The air conditioning was absolute bliss.

We did the normal things while walking; taking photographs to remember all that we’d passed, commented on how brave the water skiers were to do it on the Han river (the water was a light-ish brown that day), and stopped half-way to drink some cool water and eat snickers bars. A minor over-sight on the temperature side: snickers bar had under-gone melt down of Chernobyl proportions after being stuffed into the side pocket, but in direct sunlight. Consumption involved sucking the melted contents of the packet. At no time was chewing needed.

One thing that we did discover was that there are live trout in the Han. We saw them jumping a water barrier to get upstream. It was akin to seeing the Loch ness monster as no-one would believe you there were trout unless you had a photo of it leaping from the water out of desperation to get clear of the muck.

And like the Loch ness monster I only had fleeting photographs of them, patience not being the tone of the day.