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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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.

DMZ, too cute for war

'DMZ'

A recent visit to the DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone in the North of Kyeong-gi province in Korea was rather educational. At the peace bridge, you really can see the sentiment of what people think. For one couple, Korean, it was almost a spiritual pilgrimage to the place to remember. What I’m not sure, but they left sullen and tearful. This place really meant something to them.

Imingjan village, stands big, cartoon letters, DMZ. The thought that if it were not for the Korean war, 60 years ago, those letters and other buildings would not exist. Well, thank god for that. From my perspective, to lessen the seriousness of the war and the place that part of it happened is to trivialise the entire war, the effort of the people that fought in it and… the people that died it in. Why can’t they be serious about these sorts of things?

Street signs, safe from invasion?

Seen recently on the lamp posts of my town, street signs indicated which street it is. In World war 2 Britain removed all of it’s sign posts to prevent the invading Germans from knowing where they were.

Could it be taken that a re-introduction of street signs means an easing of tension (between the North and South Koreas), or just that the local council has money left over and it’s nearing the end of the fiscal year?

The day I went to High school, World War 3 kicked off

This was a major flyby, with the initial jets flying over in a nice Vic formation followed the last four aircraft in a compressed 4-finger formation. Just one thing to note, this was more like logistical movement from A to B as the aircraft were flying within sight of each other. If it were combat, they would be spread over a matter of kilometres, covering as much airspace as possible.

Being an avid plane watcher this was better than Christmas, you couldn’t buy what I’ve seen. Piecing it all together, the aircraft were a powder grey colour, in a clean aircraft configuration. Still, F-15s can fly pretty far without drop tanks. I stood there leaning out the window for at least 10 minutes. My high schoolers, who were waiting for the class to start, managed to leave the room despite of me being just outside the door. I was that enamoured with what was flying overhead.

I can only guess that the -15s were American, or heaven forbid, Japanese. It would be worse for the Koreans than North Korea invading. The Korean air force does own F-15’s but not that many of them. I’d say only two squadrons, but of the fighter-bomber type. That would make them a dark grey instead of a light, powder grey.

Other aircraft were flying (fluttering) around too. A twin rotor helicopter noisily flew by, while two helicopters hovered in the far distance. Yesterday, Blackhawk helicopters fluttered by while my teachers and I played volleyball outside. So many aircraft, you would think world war three had kicked off, or, maybe the Korean War had re-started, or even they’ve got war games on, which I think is the most likely choice.

Not the right setting, but it is an idea of what went on (above).