September 30, Saturday
Part of the problem I am having with this site can be seen by the next two posts being in the reverse order! Now I’ve heard the site has disappeared! This is why I hesitate to pay for this site. Plane delayed half an hour!
September 29, Saturday
Here it is, the day before I must leave South Korea 🇰🇷.
I’m now having big problems with WordPress again. After many tries to write more and add pictures, the site won’t allow any updating feature so nothing is saved. Sorry. I’ll try again when I get back to Canada.
September 30, Sunday
I’m going home today. My wonderful Korean family are all taking me to the airport and seeing me off, including the dogs. It will be very hard to say goodbye..
Saying goodbye to all my new Korean friends and neighbors has been a difficult thing to do. I wish I could show some of the people I’ve come to care about. I’ll try again to post photos once I get to to Canada.
September 26,Wednesday night
Well, I see I’ve missed a few days on this blog. Where does the time go? Since last Thursday’s Blue House excursion there’s been lots of activity, but the one big event is Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving. It’s an extremely important holiday here on a par with Christmas in the west. Because the first day started on a Sunday, it’s been a four-day holiday here with normal life starting again only tomorrow. As well as celebrating the harvest, this is also the time of year when Koreans of every belief from atheist to Orthodox Christians hold ancestor rituals at home and tend the graves as well. It’s huge here and I must say, I think it’s wonderful. I was invited to take part with the family I’m closest to, and I was very honoured.
Traditionally the women start buying and preparing the food days in advance. I wasn’t allowed to take part in that, but I got a few pictures. The reason I couldn’t take part is that there’s a system that runs like clockwork and I probably would have slowed things down. Actually I can pretty well guarantee that I would have.
After all the food prep was done it was home and an early night because I had to be there by 7:30 the next morning. This meant getting up before 6 a.m. Anyone who knows me will know what a big deal this was. Like, “What time?”
Anyway I managed it, but not without a bit of stress. I’d asked the security guard on night duty if he could call a taxi for me to be at the door by 6:45 a.m. and he said yes. When I raced downstairs at 6:44 the next morning, a very relaxed guard informed me in Korean (he doesn’t speak any English at ALL) that no taxi would come. The distance wasn’t far enough for it to be worth their while. Say, what? This all took a frantic 5 minutes severely taxing my knowledge of Korean, but I finally understood that I would have to run, so to speak, down Killer Hill and the further 350 metres to the main intersection and try to hail a taxi from there. My ability to go with the flow suddenly went as I tried to move as fast as I could without falling flat on my face.
Standing by the side of the main road at 7 a.m. on one of the main holidays of the year is not the best time to flag down an empty taxi. They were fairly few and far between anyway, but the ones that flashed by were occupied. By the time I finally got a taxi that would take me, my neck was as stiff as a board and my knees were locked. My calming mantras weren’t working.
Got there in time though and it was wonderful. I met many of the extended family members and was invited to be part of the family and take part in the ritual for the ancestral rites. Amazingly, I was able to do the full bow. (Anyone interested should look at the internet for how females perform the complete Korean bow). It was so moving and is one of the highlights of this entire trip to Korea. I’ll never forget it.
This is a picture of the table set for the ancestral rites. The screen is a poem and was actually written by a great grandfather.
Later that day after all the family time was over and people had left, we all kind of needed some rest. I went back to my room for a nap and to be ready for our evening out. It was a full moon, so we drove up a nearby mountain, well they’re all nearby, but we went up the one with a stunning lookout (along with about 20,000 other Seoul ites) and looked at the amazing view of the glittering city beneath and the huge full moon above. Wow! Everyone there seemed to be with kids and all having a great time. It just felt like being part of a huge, friendly family.
It was a wrench to leave, but we were only part way through our evening. We were on our way to a mountain cafe that allowed dogs. This family has two little sweethearts who are included in nearly everything the family does. We spent about 2 hours at the cafe and they behaved perfectly. It was the end to an absolutely perfect day.
The following day we all went out again, this time to a famous Seoul restaurant that serves the best samgyetang in Korea, they say. Presidents eat here.
Below is a pic of ginseng soju on the barrels. I’m hoping to buy some at the duty free on Sunday.
Samgyetang is a kind of stew/soup made with a whole small chicken stuffed with rice, date, and a chestnut, with a root of ginseng cooked in the broth. It’s delicious! It also comes with a small cup of ginseng soju, as well as the usual sides of kimchee and veggies.
Restaurants in Korea serve only the food they are known for, by the way. There are no salads, desserts or coffee served—just the main, signature dish. So after you eat, you then go to a cafe. We were very close to the Blue House, so the area was full of history and so interesting. We walked to a charming little cafe known for its specialty Kenyan coffee. The owners of the cafe have built up a reputation and written a book about their African journey to get the best coffee. Lovely old place, lovely art, charming owners, and fascinating decor. If you’re ever in Seoul…!
Maybe tomorrow I won’t be lazy and will write about my day today!
September 20, Thursday
Today I did a nostalgia run visiting some of my favourite places. The autumnal weather is setting in, so it was warm and a bit drizzly on and off. It was sort of like an Irish soft day, but not as wet. I travel mostly by bus now so that I can see all the sights of Seoul as I travel through each neighbourhood.
I can’t describe my feelings as we moved through the city traffic today, but I noticed everything with the feeling that this was my city. I felt nervous because when I was in Japan, I was homesick for Seoul, especially after the typhoon when flights were canceled. How am I going to feel when I’m 12,000 km away in Canada? The thought worries me a little.
I visited my favourite bookstore, Kyobo Books, bought a couple of books: Meditations by Marcus Aurelias , and A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, by Shoukei Matsumoto, a Zen monk. And that reminds me, I haven’t even done a temple stay yet. I put it off until I could sit with my legs crossed, which I still can’t do, but I should have done it anyway.
After buying the books and having a nice lunch, I visited yet another museum—all museums are free here, so you can spend days in them if you like history, or if it’s too hot (air conditioning), or you want a cheap lunch, or to use a pristine, modern bathroom. Because Korea has had nothing but turmoil, just about, for a couple of thousand years, there’s plenty of history to fill many museums.
As I finished my tour of the very effectively presented Museum of Korean National History, I got a cup of peppermint tea and took it out on the second floor terrace to take in the stunning view of mountains, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the distant glimpse of Chong Wa Dae, the Blue House, where the Presidents of Korea live and work. I was feeling a bit tired but I decided to walk to the mountains. They looked so close. I’ve already posted a picture of the Blue House previously, but since I didn’t take any pictures today (low)battery, I’ll post one oldie here.
The mountain behind is just one of a range, and that’s what I decided to try to get to. This meant walking about a mile or so along the palace walls to get close to the Blue House, and the going beyond and behind it. The route was absolutely stiff with police and guards, all wearing ear pieces and shiny suits. They looked at my black backpack, but no stop and search, which I thought was a bit sloppy—and a little disappointing. Just because I have white hair doesn’t mean I can’t be a Ninja (see previous day’s photo).
Anyway I got to the mountains, but there were roads going up to where the ultra rich live, so I didn’t waste my time climbing any. Instead I crossed a crosswalk littered with cops lined up behind a food truck, and ducked under a barrier without thinking. My backpack knocked the barrier off its post and while I was trying to fix it, two men came running out of a gateway yelling bloody murder. I thought it was because I’d snagged their barrier belt thingy, but that wasn’t it. I was at the back entrance to the Blue House and had just gone through the barrier. If I was in the States doing that at the White House, I’d probably be recovering from a taser burn about now—at least.
My question is what were all those hungry policemen doing letting me go across the crosswalk to the Blue House?
I decided to walk back to my bus by going all around the palace, so I did a few miles today and didn’t get home until about 7 o’clock. My feet were really singing!
September 18, Tuesday
Just found out this evening that because I was out of the country in Japan, my new exit date is not until March 13, 2019!! That is something I should have known from related information that I had, but I didn’t connect the dots! What a ninny. In fact, I could stay in Korea indefinitely by visiting my friend in Japan every few months and training to be a Ninja.
September 17, Monday
So now the countdown begins. I can’t believe this trip will be over in less than two weeks. I walked up “my” mountain tonight to see the sunset from there and think.
I was thinking about how to live here for several months a year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a feasible idea. I will have to face the fact that this has been a once in a lifetime trip and I’ll have to live on the memories. I never dreamed that I would love South Korea so much. It’s like heaven to me. When I read other accounts which always include the negative things about Korea, I wonder why I never noticed them. Sure, I’ve seen people spit, but I had a student at Algonquin once who spit in the classroom! I’ve seen more people spit in Ottawa than I have here.
People talk about the drinking culture, and I’m sure they’re right. Everyone I have met, however, or almost everyone, doesn’t drink at all, which was kind of annoying for me because I was looking forward to some soju! My friends did take me out “slumming” one night to a pojang macha, a kind of open tent restaurant cum drinking establishment, but I didn’t see any drunks. Maybe I go to bed too early?!
So from the memories I’ve collected and having to leave people who have become very good friends, I’ll be leaving here with a heavy heart on the one hand, but really looking forward to seeing family and friends again on the other. I realize that I’m very lucky to have this dilemma.
I do have a standing invitation to move to Japan, however. My treatment there couldn’t have been nicer. My language exchange friend, Etsumi, has turned into a real friend and has invited me to go anytime I wish. Her whole building is full of lovely people who really made me feel welcome. They gave me little gifts and parties.
We went somewhere different every day. Here we are at Koyasan Buddhist Temple in the tea garden area. Etsumi’s sister, Michi, is on my left. There’s a much funnier picture of us that I won’t put up here as it shows us in an unflattering light because we couldn’t stop laughing. Getting ourselves posed and trying to take the picture ourselves was a hilarious failure. Then when we asked a poor hapless man to take the picture for us, he couldn’t get the hang of the camera at first and I’m afraid that after our own failed attempts, that finally sent us into hysterics. You had to be there.
Here are some of the pictures that I took when Etsumi spun me around Japan! These are temple grounds. The small houses are where the samurai lived on the grounds back in the day when there were warlords, or shoguns, who needed protecting. The trees are bamboo. Aren’t they lovely? The bowl has green tea in it served with a rice ball sweet in a little tea house in the temple grounds.
I took many more photographs of places and people, but too many to post, and all are so illustrative of important moments that I find it impossible to choose. However here is one of someone waiting for me to return to Japan and “home.” She is sitting on my “bed.” I learned to sleep on the floor and eat sitting on the floor in front of a small table. Never did get the hang of sitting on the floor to eat.
For some reason, I couldn’t download the pictures to this site, so had to give the links instead. Mysterious.
Finally, here is a picture of Mrs. Tanaguchi with Tam. She is one of Etsumi’s neighbours and had looked forward to meeting me ever since she knew I would be going. She practised some English sentences for me! Tam runs round in circles whenever she visits as it’s a love story, as you can see.
September 14, Friday
Got home last night on a Korean Airlines 777 four engine jet carrying about 700 people! They are REALLY trying to get people out of Japan. The flight I had for yesterday was cancelled as Kansai (Osaka) still didn’t have the second runway operating. I had no notice from Jeju Airlines to say the flight was cancelled, however, and didn’t find out until very late on Wednesday night.
My angelic host, Etsumi, battled hard on a Japanese site to get me on another flight and managed to get the Korean Airlines flight at the last minute–almost $400 one way–AND it was flying from Fukuoka on the west coast, so that meant an expensive ticket on the bullet train leaving from Osaka–the Shinkansen. I am not even going to calculate what the travel to Japan has cost. Three cancelled tickets with Jeju and no refunds, even with cancellation insurance!
My friend here in Seoul called them today at their head office in Seoul and was told that the cancellation of the flights wasn’t their problem. Apparently, and with ingenuous sophistry, they have decided that Kansai airport, not they, cancelled the flights! What absolute corruption. So Korean Air, which owns Jeju Airlines, got paid twice or three times by all the people buying tickets with Jeju in good faith and then having to fly Korean. The airport at Fukuoka was absolutely packed. Thousands of people were milling about and I had no idea where to go once in the main departure hall. It was a madhouse. I nearly sat down and wept, but didn’t have time, so I just ran about panicking and finally was noticed by an angel who took me through all the throng and got me through security and to passport control, where I lost my boarding pass, but no matter. I got on the flight.
Now believe me when I tell you that I have been trying for the last HOUR to post photos here, but when I press the “upgrade” button, the pictures just disappear. No idea what’s going on so have to stop for tonight. I’m just too frustrated!
Wow! Looks like one worked. This was on the station platform on the way to the Shinkansen bullet train. No dawdling in Japan.
My elegant $5 bargain suitcase went with me. She’s packed an ready to go, but unfortunately her closing mechanisms were a little wonky. My only concern was that customs would ask us to open up. You can imagine the headache that would be. After a certain point though, stress begins to feel normal, so we could have handled it. If we’d known what was waiting for us at Fukuoka, we might not have even gone.
September 9, Sunday
Sorry about the hiatus, especially to those who were worried. Life has been a little unusual this past week. As you may know, Japan had a typhoon that rampaged through the part of Japan that includes where I’m living, and then had an earthquake in Hokkaido.
The typhoon was the worst in 25 years, apparently, which is saying something in this part of the world. I’m staying with a friend in a pretty solid apartment building and we were safe, but we were lucky. Other areas were very hard hit, including the airport (Kansai) I flew into and was supposed to fly out of yesterday. I won’t go into all the details, but for a while I really didn’t know how I would get back to Seoul. Thousands of travellers were stranded, 7,000 alone in Kansai Airport. Trains and buses were stopped for 24 hours. The bridge (there’s only one!) that links Kansai with Osaka was heavily damaged when a huge tanker crashed into it, so there was no way on or off the airport island. Yes, they build airports on man-made islands that slowly sink, and furthermore do so in typhoon alleys. Perhaps that’s not a good idea? Just sayin’
Only one runway is operating at the moment, and only sporadically. There is only one lane open on the bridge, so only the airport bus can take people from Osaka station to the airport, and only passengers can go. Makes sense, but oy, what a mix up for families with relatives, etc.
I have managed to get a ticket on a plane leaving Thursday–five days late, but better late than never–so I’m just hoping that there are no typhoons on their way for the next few days. Airlines were gouging people by charging 3 and 4 times the usual amount for a one way ticket, and people had to pay high train fares to get to the other airports in Tokyo, Nagoya, etc. I couldn’t afford that, so I sat about inwardly wringing my hands. My wonderful host said not to worry and that I should just stay in Japan, but I had my eye on my flight date back Canada later this month, so was quietly frantic. Then just idly scrolling down my junk mail to delete it, I came across one of those Cheap O Air ads that promised low cost flights, and this one was offering flights leaving from Osaka. I don’t know why I even bothered to click on it as usually I think these things are fake and just delete them. But I did click on it, and found myself booked on a $106 one way flight to Seoul two minutes later: signed, sealed, and delivered to my inbox! Oh happy day. I’ll be happier when I’m writing from my room in Seoul, however. Wish me luck.
Now then, what is Japan like? Well it’s great. It’s quite different from Korea, even though the two countries were intertwined, so to speak, for a long time. There has been back and forth sharing of almost everything, and I’ve noticed some Korean sounding words in Japanese that have a similar meaning, but still there are huge differences. You certainly know you’re in a different country.
The area I’m in is called Wakayama Prefecture and my host lives near a small town called Hashimoto. We are about an hour’s train ride from Osaka. Because we thought I had only 5 days, we started things off with a bang visiting Osaka Castle (Shogun), famous shrines and temples, and so on very early on. Lots of activity and running from here to there. Then the typhoon hit and everything came to a standstill for more than a day. Then areas we had wanted to go had been heavily damaged and so on. No problem, we managed to find lots do do in the immediate area.
As well, my host has the most amazing friends who came round bring me little gifts and wanting me to speak English. I even charmed (apparently!) a couple of high school boys who were dragged here to give them some real English exposure, but who ended up having a good time when we talked baseball and played cards.
And then, of course, there was the party. One of her friends spent all day cooking and gave us all the most amazing Japanese meal. It could have been served in a four-star restaurant. I’d start posting pictures at this point, but I’m typing this on my friend’s laptop, which has a Japanese keyboard. All the punctuation and other functions are in different places and none of my photos have been saved to this laptop, so I can’t upload them to this site.
In fact I’m going to quit now because this really is difficult to do. I’ll write about the hot spring visits, the Japanese style massage, and the Japanese style facial when I get back to Seoul, which should be Thursday night!!! Fingers crossed.
September 7, Friday
Aas you all know by now , unless you’re bemused by the latest Trump scandal, and who isn’t really, there was a typhoon or two hitting the area where I’m staying earlier this week . We were very lucky, as trees were blown down around us, windows blown in, roofs blown off, etc. We escaped completely and got together with some of the neighbours for a typhoon party.
to have a typhoon party in my honour . Wow! People are nice!
September 2, Sunday
Well today I’m packing for Japan. Another country and less than two hours away from Seoul. These small distances between places are lovely—no long hauls.
August 30, Thursday
Almost a week since my last post, but time flies as usual. I’m now preparing to go to Japan for a week. Today I set out to get myself a carry-on bag as my backpack is not large enough for a week’s worth of stuff. Thought about it for days, checked with friends about the best place to get inexpensive bags, etc. Finally set off and as I got to the street, I passed a load of stuff arranged against the curb including two suitcases, one a carry-on. All the new students are arriving for the fall semester so I just thought someone was moving in somewhere. Then my brain kicked in when I was about two metres past and I did a double take. Sure enough it was for sale, along with loads of junk unloaded from the back of a truck. I checked it out (Make: Swiss Military–hmmm, I don’t think, but still…) and it looked OK except for one broken opener on the left side. The suitcase still closed though, and since it’s a carry-on, it would be with me. The little old lady in charge of sales came racing up to me talking a mile a minute. Naturally I didn’t understand her, but I could say “How much?” and she could say “$5 (0 chun ). So for approximately $5, I got a carry on bag!! How weird is that?! What if I said I want a rich husband, would one just appear by the side of the curb? I should try it.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. I went across to “my” grocery story to get a couple of things and my friendly store owner came out to look at my suitcase. She tutted about the broken handle and enlisted the opinion of a passing man (she must have known him, surely?) and told him the story. They both looked over at the old truck and curbside goods and told me to take it back and remonstrated as if 0 chun was a fortune. I convinced them, by going on my google translate function, that I needed it only for one week to Japan. They reluctantly agreed to let me keep it.
Then when I got it back to my residence building, I had to go through the whole thing again with the desk staff and the cleaning staff. All of them know me, of course. They all discussed whether I’d got a deal and decided no. Then one of the guards took it upon himself to try to fix the handle, so there my suitcase now sits–by his desk. I just hope he doesn’t break it completely!
And this is what I love about living here. Everybody is in my life and happy to advise me on every step. I bask in it. I had completely forgotten the closeness of a real community where everyone busybodies in everyone else’s life. I had it growing up in Leeds, but Canadians are too polite. Sigh. I give permission to all my Canadian friends to busybody in my life from this day forward!!
In the past week, I’ve been chuntering around doing this and that…meeting friends for lunch and so on, and doing the rounds of my “haunts.” Before I went to Busan, I went to Gangneung (actually it’s Gangreung, but everyone pronounces it as if it’s spelt with and ‘n’ in the middle). Some friends and I caught the early train and went across the country to the East Sea, or as the Japanese say, the Sea of Japan. There are various beauty spots and historical places to visit, and of course my favourite, the beaches and the East Sea. I had taken my bathing suit, so was the only one of the party to dive in. It was amazing!!! Real waves and salty water rolling in from Japan! Some of the islands offshore (Dokdo) are, of course, disputed between Japan and South Korea and there’s much back and forth about who they belong to but settling that’s going to be a long process. I’d love to visit them, but the ferries are inconsistent because of weather and so timing is a big factor. Being stranded without accommodation is a risk. And it’s not cheap to go. I still might go.
I’m going to post some photos here as soon as this slow internet service gets them on the platform for inserting. Hold the phone! In the meantime, I’m going to exercise in the gym.
Here’s a picture of the view from a wonderful little beer and beef restaurant we had read about as a “must see” tourist stop while in Gangneung. We were the only people upstairs, so had the view and perfect service. The beef lived up to its reputation. The beers are special in some way, but not being a beer person, I can’t wax eloquent about it. The space outside the restaurant was given special attention with flowers and art, and was so pleasant to look at while eating. Later we tried out these chairs in the picture which were Art Deco or something, special design anyway, but WOW, talk about uncomfortable. You’d have to have them as art only if you bought any!
As soon as I can upload the pictures of the sea, I’ll post them below.
Some sort of glitch is holding up these pics. So I’ll carry on with a new post tomorrow. 죄송합니다만!
August 24, Friday
Back “home” in Seoul, and ever so glad to be here! Really, Seoul is getting to feel more like home every day.
I thought I was getting back just before the typhoon that was supposed to hit Seoul last night, but we averted it. Somehow Typhoon Soulik veered east and missed us except for some rain. I hear that the rest of the country, or parts of it, were hit pretty badly, so we got off lightly.
Busan! Drag out all the complimentary words you can think of: beautiful, exciting, lively, upbeat, interesting, stunningly gorgeous buildings on Marine Drive, fabulous markets, etc., and that’s just some of Busan. It’s a world class port city with a ship building centre and naval academy, and, oh, everything. If I hadn’t seen Seoul first, I could have happily spent six months in Busan. However….Seoul has my heart.
Here are my friends in Busan. The young man is one of my language exchange partners and the woman is his mum. They took me out for a great evening on the town. The sky colour is the typhoon sky. Isn’t it gorgeous? Fortunately Busan was only grazed by Soulik.
After we had dinner, they took me to some of the famous Busan markets, Gukje and Jagalchi. and of course, the fresh fish market. That one was an eye opener–in like shock. Some of the sea food that people eat raw look (looks?) like slugs only bigger. They are very pink and look like they should actually be inside someone’s body functioning quietly out of sight. They were gently moving around in their briny bowl waiting for a diner. Of course there were more appetizing looking sea creatures there, but some other pretty odd ones as well. The night markets are bustling with activity: music is playing, people are talking, shouting, and laughing, vendors are trying to attract buyers–it was terrific. I never thought that this sort of action was my “thing,” but I’ve learned a few strange things about myself on this trip, and loving night markets is one of them.
Here we are eating the famous odong—fish on a stick. It was truly delicious. I never thought I’d actually eat fish on a stick. Just shows you.
I stayed at a lovely little air bnb run by terrific people. They met me at the subway station and took me to the apartment. Every amenity was thought of (even cookies), the place was spotless, it was close to the famous Haeundae Beach (where I went swimming), and within a hundred metres of one of the best views in the city.
It was also close to a fabulous forest walk to the next fishing village. If you go to Busan, I highly recommend that place! Here’s a forested walk.
and also a look at the RR tracks where I frightened myself half to death the first night. The first picture was taken as I took the scenic charming route from my bnb to Haeundae Beach. The second was taken on my way back! Looks a bit different, eh? And no lighting either, but I guess you can see that. Also I was sure I heard sounds of quiet footsteps behind me. When I turned on my cell phone torch and sort of casually swung round, I thought I saw someone. Then I couldn’t find the opening to get up the side of the hill to my place. I walked, or I should say I stumbled, too far and finished up at the face of a tunnel the yawned before me like a black hole. Which it was, of course. But as we can all see, I made it home in one piece, so let this be a lesson to, erm, me.
August 21, Tuesday
This is going to be a real quickie because I’m in an air bnb in Busan and I haven’t had my breakfast yet. I arrived yesterday after a fast 2-3/4 hour trip on the high speed KTX—the zombie train! Fortunately there were no zombies on it, only me. I was half asleep for the whole trip.
My host met me at the end of my journey after travelling the Busan subway system and changing lines. True to form, two angels helped me. If you get lost in Korea, just stand looking bewildered and keep turning around. Some one will be at your side in a trice.
I’m going out to eat now, but later I will write about my plans and scaring myself last night after dark by trying to take an easy shortcut on a disused railroad track that just led to a tunnel. Learned that even if you’re tired, you can move up 144 steps pretty fast if you think someone is behind you
August 15, Wednesday
Well, I just had a very interesting thing happen on this page. I had typed up about two paragraphs and got to a word I need a French acute accent for: cafe. I hit the Ctrl. Alt. 0223 numbers that I usually use, and hey presto, the whole screen turned upside down. Go ahead and try it if you want an interesting few minutes.
After trying everything, I closed the site confident that it would restore everything once I fixed it. It didn’t. However, I did find out how to change the screen back by reading the instructions upside down. Basically what you do is hold the Ctrl. Alt. keys down again and press the ‘up’ arrow. I can see how this is handy to know, but why turn the screen upside down in the first place? Is this some programmer’s idea of a joke? “This job is boring. Let’s put something in to drive users crazy. hohoho.”
Anyway, what I was saying I now totally have forgotten–there’s that 3 second memory thing. I think it was along the lines of boy is it hot here!!! I know I said something about having to change your clothes every time you go out, and creating your own shower from the head down, and everyone carrying umbrellas to ward off the lethal sun. And more along those lines, so you can imagine the rest.
The thing is that it’s expensive because one has to keep dodging into cafes (that’s where I needed the acute accent) for a latte (and there’s another) just to get the air con. I actually bought my lunch out so that I could duck into an a/c restaurant. What did I order? Spicy hot soft tofu stew that comes bubbling from the kitchen in a hot stone pot. Just the thing for a hot day. The Koreans believe in fighting heat with heat, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Another old wive’s tale that doesn’t work. The steam was coming off me as I set off home.
I ducked into my favourite little grocery store to get enough air con. to get me home, but of course I had to buy something. I finished up buying the fixings to make my own gimbap–rice seaweed roll to you, but if I’ll ever actually make it–well, I’ll take a picture and post it here.
Speaking of pictures, today is Independence Day in Korea and everyone, just about, gets the day off. I was at the National Museum of Korea yesterday to get a foretaste of the preparations and read up on some history. Here’s the Museum.
It’s so huge that this is only a small part of it. It’s set in its own huge parkland with a lake and gardens and forest walks.
I had brought my lunch along, so sat in this small lake pavilion to watch the carp and turtles and enjoy the utter peace while I ate my tomato sandwich.
Everything is thought of to the last detail in these places. Here you can see the row of canopies that stretch from the subway entrance all the way to the museum entrance. Part of the way there are also misters (not men, but sprayers that mist water at you), all to keep everyone cool for the walk.
When I got to the entrance, I saw that a stage had been set up for the Independence Day activities. President Moon Jae-in, that hero of heroes, spoke there last night. I saw him on TV later that evening. Past heroes of Korea are remembered on Independence Day, and there are quite a lot because Korea has been invaded many times. There is also recognition of the “comfort women” used by the Japanese during their occupation. Very few of them are left now and they are very old. The Japanese annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945 until the atom bomb marked the end of the war.
Moon Jae-in is something of a hero himself. He was jailed for activism back in the bad old days of dictatorships and was also in the special forces during his military service. So he was a parachuted-in-behind-the-lines kind of guy. No bone spurs, then. (I didn’t mention Trump).
I watched all the independence footage on TV last night and no doubt there will be more tonight. The Museum had set up the whole audience section to make things comfortable for people. If you look closely you can see all the fans and misting machines lined up along the aisles.
One thing about heat, as you know, is that it kind of saps your strength, so I got home earlier than I usually do after a day out. Then had to shower and change from the effort of just getting home. It’s 97F today with a “feels like” factor of 105F. It was the same yesterday, and so on ad infinitum, or so it seems. However, I’m not complaining because I’ll be off to Jeju Island soon!!!
However getting home early meant I felt that I hadn’t had enough exercise, so set off up the mountain around 7 o’clock when the temp had sunk to 88F.
Here’s a look at the global warming experiment the university is doing. I pass it on my way up the m.
So some people are taking it seriously. Here are the seedlings. I notice some of them have died.
You can click on the pics to enlarge them and see details more clearly.
This post has been behaving very strangely tonight. Everything from June 29 on disappeared at one point, so I’m going to quit now while I’m ahead! See you later.
August 10, Thursday, no Friday night
Yikes, time flies!
I finished the last post talking about fruit. Here’s some more I just got.
The oranges are a special type grown on Jeju Island and are delicious. The peaches are also fresh, grown in South Korea and so reach the markets when ripe and juicy. My local bakery supplies the bread, and the water is delivered by a local grocer free of charge. Two cases of 2 litre bottles for 10,000 Won (about $11.50 I think). All fruit is sold in season, I’m told. I know some is imported though; for example, avocado and lemons, I think.
Beijing?–Last night I was talking with my language partner in Beijing and he invited me to visit him. Hmmmm…hadn’t thought of China. Accordingly I set off today to find out about getting a visa for China. Thought the Chinese Embassy would be the place to find out about that and tried phoning, but you know how those “We can’t take your call at the moment,” or “Sorry this number is not available,” messages go. Now imagine them in Mandarin and Korean. Not an option. Again 90+F and muggy–and a bad arthritic toe day. However, wars aren’t won by quitters, so off to the front. Steam heat. Hard walking, but finally found the Chinese Embassy tucked away in a little alley.
One has to be discreet when photographing this embassy, so that’s why you have to peak around the corner and spot the red, studded door (which you can bet your garters is reinforced steel or something) and the police hiding under the umbrellas shading themselves from the sun. You’ll also notice the barriers and police shields leaning up against the wall at the ready. I walked up to this door and started looking for a way in. No, this is not the way things are done. A young police officer asked me my business and when I told him I wanted info about getting a visa, he pushed a button in the wall and I had to stand in front of a camera and take my sunglasses off. After a short wait, an extremely unsmiling man opened the door a crack and shoved a paper out at me that was supposed to be a map of the place to make visa requests, and then he shut the door firmly in my face. When I say extremely unsmiling, think of the last James Bond film you saw where a kind of squarish “take no prisoners” type of guy looked unsmilingly at James Bond, and there you have it,
Getting to this consulate was gruelling because I was trying to follow the small, smudgy, thumbnail size map and not doing very well. And did I mention it was HOT? A very nice young Korean couple tried to help me at one point but then had to throw in the towel as they couldn’t understand the map either. But I persevered and finally found the absolutely charming overhead pedestrian walkway that takes people across the enormous and terrifically busy intersection in front of Seoul Station. Then I was happy. Relief. Look at the heat modifiers thoughtfully provided by the City of Seoul! Misting fans strategically places along the walkway.
A misting fan and a pool. You sit on the side and dangle your feet in the cool water with friendly passers-by.
Workers are employed to tend to the water features and look after the planters all along the way. The whole effect is absolutely charming.
The little building in the second picture is an air conditioned mini cafe which you can duck into for a respite from the heat. I ducked in and had an iced green tea latte. Very nice!
When I descended to the street level via an escalator, mind you (elevators provided for the disabled), I found the building I needed. It is a huge building called City Square Building, beautifully air conditioned and full of staff just inside who will stop you to find out where you’re going. I managed to bypass this group of guardians at first because they were occupied by others, and so I wandered about looking for the elevators. The Chinese consul office was on the 6th floor. I was found by another guard as I looked at all the stainless steel around me looking in vain for the elevators. This guard directed me to an escalator that took me to the second floor where I would find the elevator (single) to the Chinese consul office. No straying. Everything was, so glass/steel/futuristic looking, that I didn’t notice the lone elevator to the 6th floor and stood in front of a black glass wall for a few seconds waiting for a hidden panel to let me in, before I realized it actually was a wall. I hope nobody noticed, but I’m sure some hidden camera did. Once upstairs, I found a huge room quite full of people evidently waiting to get into China. I queued up for a while and found out that I could, indeed, apply for a visa from Korea, it would cost me about $120 Canadian, and I would have to provide a plane ticket (return), a hotel reservation (confirmed), and a planned itinerary of where I was going to go while in China. This last was a bit of a poser since I usually just follow my nose. Of course, I would have to also show my passport, yada yada. As I left there and went downstairs again, I noticed a fertility clinic, all glass etc., that I hadn’t noticed before, and there behind glass walls were the freezers with human eggs in them. I felt as if I was in some sort of movie, you know the type. Here are the freezers.
My trip back home was uneventful, but called for a nap, it goes without saying. I had a lot to think about. “Do I really want to go to China?” for a start. I’m thinking.
August 7, Tuesday night
I was thinking today as I was coming home on a bus about how much I love living here. Today was one of those days when I mismanaged everything, so I was coming home well after sunset instead of before 6 p.m., as intended.
Why do I love it so much? It’s exciting. It’s vibrant. It’s colourful. At 8 p.m. the streets were still full of people chatting with each other, shopping at the various outdoor tables set up in front of the many grocery stores, bakeries, and five-and-dime type places. It was very warm and humid, people of all ages were out, “The Way We Were” was being warbled by Barbara Streisand on the bus video overhead, and all was well in the best of all possible worlds! And the best thing of all is that I’ve found a bus that drops me off at the top of the hill behind my residence, so now I can actually walk downhill to get to it! Of course, my weight will probably now go up as a consequence.
I had an interesting time today and learned a lot about Seoul, but I really must start learning how to plan excursions. My usual method is to lounge around all morning, talking on Skype with friends, doing a bit of online learning, doing laundry (or whatever) and thinking that I ought to get going. Trouble is the weather. It’s so darned hot and humid outside and so nice an fresh in my air conditioned room that is stocked with everything I need. So as usual, it was about 1 o’clock (oh, look at the time!!) before I started feeling guilty. I got myself ready and, after a quick shufti at Google, decided on another trip to Bukhansan, this time coming from the side where the trails are reputed to be easier. Hahaha. Easier to whom, I wonder? Anyway. I figured out a route, and set off confidently. I always set off confidently, usually without any good reason for the confidence. Today proved to be another of those times.
I started off well by getting on the right subway line, but then overshot my station because I was looking at the man across from me and wondering why he’d been looking at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. So after the overshoot, I had to quickly find an alternative route. I wasn’t about to get off this train and climb hundreds of stairs to get to the other side of the tracks. Got out the trusty map, which is now coming apart at the folds, and found another connection. Fine. Got it, but that meant changing train lines twice. Lots of stairs. Sigh and puff.
Finally got off at the right station, but then found I’d neglected to find out how to get to the mountain from the subway station. I could see the mountains over there in the right place, so I thought that if I caught a bus going in that direction, I’d be OK. Kind of a good guess for someone new to the planet, but as it turned out, not this time. The bus I got on turned right at the first intersection and kept going. Ever the optimist, I thought it might turn left again soon, so stayed on it for a good ten minutes or more until it became obvious that it was going away from the mountains by making another right turn. Even I have to bow to the evidence occasionally, so I got off and found a restaurant with WiFi and a toilet (they don’t all have both). With my peppermint tea and a pastry in front of me, I did what I should have done in the first place and looked up how to get from the subway station to the mountain. Found the information I needed which meant I took the same bus number back to the station, and there was the “Bus Number 01” sitting outside the very place I’d exited about an hour before. Just like it says in the directions. Uncanny.
As promised this bus went right to the beginning of the trails at the mountain. So now what? It was 5:30 p.m. and very hot and muggy–not a good time to start on the beginning of a mountain trail. However….we didn’t come all this way for nothing. I need hardly say that I started off on the wrong trail and ended up at a memorial a half-an-hour later that came to a dead end. The memorial was to a Korean hero, who I’m sure I should have visited anyway.
After making my painful way back (my feet were hurting by this time), I almost gave up, but, no! I came to walk that trail and by golly I’m at least going to start. Needless to say, I made a couple more false starts before finally finding the right trail head. Have I mentioned before that Korean signage leave something to be desired? If it’s not in Korean only, a sign is usually pointing only vaguely in the intended direction.
The right trail!
It looks lovely, doesn’t it? Now imagine the mosquitoes and sweat flies that descend on you on a hot, muggy evening when the temperature is about 90F and you’re in a forest. Got the picture? Not only were there clouds of mosquitoes singing their penetrating chorus, but the cicadas were deafening. Not a quiet stroll. What you can’t really see here is the steepness of this trail. I don’t know how to photograph depth properly, so imagine your thigh muscles bulging as you climb these very tricky stones. Here’s the path behind, but you still can’t really see the correct steepness.
Looks like a Roman road, doesn’t it? Now here’s a picture of a very complicated structure for keeping people off a particular area, or from keeping the occasional wild boar away from the people. Yes they have wild boars in Korean forested areas.
So there we were, getting on for 6:30 p.m. my now with no end to this trail. Since I knew it snaked it’s way over the mountain and down the other side–a hike of at least 2, maybe 3 hours, it was a non-starter of an idea at this time. I walked on a little way just to get the feel of it and promised myself a return trip when I would start at a reasonable time of day.
Back on the correct bus, and then on the correct train, I got the bright idea of getting off at the station before the one I had thought of getting off at because I guessed that the number 20 bus would probably be available nearby. This was a guess, of course, so not guaranteed to work. As it happened, it would have worked if I’d had faith in my sense of direction. Because I didn’t have faith, I got on the number 22 because I remembered once seeing a number 22 bus near a number 20. My logic reasoned that I might see a number 20 while I was on the 22. Long story short, I didn’t and went to the end of the line on the number 22. When the nice lady driver collected her English together to tell me that this was the end of the line, I collected my non-existent Korean to say I was on the wrong bus. She let me stay on for the return trip and put me off at a number 20 bus stop! Koreans are very nice. All’s well that ends well. Life’s just a bowl of cherries!
August 2, Thursday–the weather and food.
Only 93F today with a high of 99F forecast, so not as bad as yesterday. I went out to buy salad greens yesterday and nearly regretted it. I figured that if I caught a bus to the market I wanted to try in Bomun, the next neighbourhood, and took the bus home, the walk to and from the bus would be doable. Well, the walk to the bus was just OK, but the walk back from the bus up the hill nearly finished me. I took the longer but a little bit less steep hill route that runs beside the hospital and behind the residences. The problem was that it was all in the sun, still uphill, and about 800 metres from the bus stop. I was starting to feel hot on my inside by the end of it. Even last night at 11 o’clock it was 94F.
Fatty liver and weight loss. No sweat; pun not intended. Just move to Korea for a few months and eat the Korean diet and the weight will roll off. You’ll also be doing a heck of a lot of walking. I read all the websites about how to lose weight to improve liver function and blah, blah, blah, difficult to lose weight, make sure you do this, make sure you do that, and on and on. Ignore all of it and come here. There’s no difficulty involved. If you eat the Korean diet, you can’t help but lose weight. I suppose it would work just as well if you went to any Asian country, but Koreans eat a lot of very spicy food, so that is what curbs the appetite by a huge chunk. Literally 5 or 6 spoons of spicy soup is enough and the appetite is suppressed for hours. It’s cheap too, so no guilt feelings about leaving most of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty and delicious, but very spicy and hard to eat a lot if you’re not used to it.
You can buy Western food here and there are many multi-ethnic restaurants, including MacDonald’s, and many Koreans are starting to show signs of their embracing of the Western diet. In neighbourhoods where there are a lot of younger Koreans, like university neighbourhoods, you see kids walking around carrying take-out waffles full of cream and junk; and now that summer is causing various states of undress, the beginnings of spare tires are in evidence. However, you can also see Korean restaurants full of students, so all is not lost!
This is Etsumi’s lunch at the airport. All the food groups are there but in less quantity, I think, than you’d get in a Canadian restaurant. This is the general rule: less of it.
The other rule is that a regular-folks restaurant serves its specialties, and that’s it. No dessert. No coffee/tea. No wine, etc. You decide what you want and you go to the appropriate restaurant. No matter what you order, the meat is cut up in small pieces, so no slabs of steak. If you want coffee/tea and dessert, then you go to a coffee house, and they may or may not have any dessert that appeals. If you want a baked something or other, then you go to a bakery and buy it. So I think that’s the key. No frills.
Main meals are usually soup, but can be an omelette–Korean style, or bulgogi, if you want to pay more. Bulgogi is meat cut up with meat scissors and grilled on a special barbecue set up at your table. You eat the bulgogi by wrapping each piece in a lettuce leaf and dipping it in a spicy sauce. You’re full of lettuce before you ever get full of meat! With the main dish, a lot of small “sides” are brought. Different foods are kept separate. The sides are always vegetables, including kimchi and seaweed, and rice. Koreans eat a lot of pork and shellfish, so if you’re eating kosher, you must be very careful. Even then, there are no kosher kitchens–none.
The other thing that Koreans do that I really like is they sometimes share on bowl of soup. If a restaurant has a specialty soup, or the meal comes with a specialty soup, it arrives in one big bowl and guests take turns dipping their spoons in to share it. I like it. It’s very communal. They will also share food by feeding each other morsels using their own chopsticks.
However, you know what? Once you get used to eating Korean style, anything else is too much, or too fatty, or too sweet, or too individualistic. I hear Korean restaurants and markets are opening up in Ottawa, so I’ll be able to stay with the new diet and maybe find someone who’s willing to share soup from the same bowl. However, to do it right, I should walk there and forget my car!
July 31, Tuesday–at the end of this post, there is a grammar puzzle. Anybody who can answer it will be in my very, very good books!
Hot! Now I don’t even think of going outside until after 3:30 p.m. unless absolutely necessary, like today when I had to pay my rent for August. This meant I was outside around 11:30 a.m. for a grand total of 10 minutes, which included a stop at an air conditioned office, and I still practically fell into my building on the verge of heat stroke. Not for the faint of heart.
The downside of all this is that my air conditioning is on in my room practically all day, and certainly all night, so my voice is going and my mouth is dry. I prefer it to the alternative–death by steaming.
Yesterday I did venture out–after 3:30, to meet up with a friend to have a bit of an evening out with dinner and a saunter round the picturesque spots of the centre. Here we are after having a great Japanese dinner. This is the famous Blue House, where my favourite Korean (Moon Jae In) lives and tries to juggle the difficulties maintaining a peaceful coexistence with both North Korea and the U.S. (The umbrella is really a sun shade. When I went out at 3:30, the sun was still menacing).
The mountain behind, Bukaksan, is where North Korean assassins tried to get down to the Blue House to assassinate the then-president, Park Chung-hee (the recently impeached President Park Geun-hye’s father) in 1968. For that reason the mountain was closed off to climbers and hikers for 40 years. It was then opened but you must stick to a guarded path and have your passport with you to prove you’re not an assassin. You must NOT leave the trail. So just in case you were thinking of climbing Bukaksan, you know where you stand. I’ll take a photo from the top before I leave.
This is the nice young plain clothes man who took our pictures for us. I think he made himself look deliberately fuzzy.
Most of the time now I do nothing but mope around my building climbing up and down the stairs and visiting the gym and pacing like a caged animal. Why doesn’t someone invent clothes than keep us cool?
I was intending to hit the beaches, but the news is still that there are so many vacationers on the beaches that not only can you not see the sand, but there isn’t so much as a shed available for accommodation. Poor planning on my part.
Today I did venture out to a bookstore–after 3:30, which was cool, but it was to find the answer to this grammar question: What part of speech is “being” in this sentence? I know it’s a gerund, but what part of speech, and what kind of sentence is it?
“I remember it as being a lot longer ago than that.”
I’m having an argument with a language partner about this so would really love to have an answer. Searches on the internet turned up nothing for me either.
July 27, Friday
The days are flying by faster than I can sit down to write about them. Since I wrote my last entry, I’ve met with one of the North Korean refugees I’m teaching, been cut off from Korean Telecomm, set up a WeChat account with a new Chinese online friend in Beijing and lost another pound. According to the scales, I’m now 151.7 lbs after arriving here at the beginning of April at 166 lbs. I put it down to no potatoes and walking everywhere. My goal was 150, but now I’m thinking maybe 145? I have just over two months to go, so it should be do-able.
The heat is now getting to the “Ye gods, can it get any hotter?” stage. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but that’s probably because I’m not out in it when I’m home in Ottawa. At home I go from air conditioned house to air conditioned car, etc. Here there is no middle man–car. I now know the meaning of oppressive heat. In fact, today I went out only to stand in it for 5 minutes to see if it was too hot to go out today. It was. So here I am writing.
One result of not being able to spend all day outside is that I’ve been doing more online chatting. Yesterday I spent nearly all day and half the evening trying to set up a WeChat account with my new Beijing chat. He initially came in on Skype, but only with writing. It appears that Chinese chatters can’t use Skype, WhatsApp, or KakaoTalk (the Korean chat). I’m not sure why, but then I haven’t searched it yet.
I didn’t know why, but I could NOT open a WeChat account. He was writing instructions from Skype and sending me pictures of his phone screen to help me figure it out. Did I feel like an idiot? Of course. Finally, I went downstairs to get some help. As well as Korean guards, there are bilingual (tri- and multi- as well) university students on a second desk to help people like me. The young lady there tried her best to set me up and finally found out that my phone wasn’t working, so that’s why I wasn’t getting the code number that WeChat was trying to send me for log in purposes. We tried various strategies, and I tried to set up an account on my iPad, but nothing worked. At one point, my new Chinese friend sent me his phone number and ID to set me up under his account. I’m not sure how legal that is, but in the end it didn’t matter because it didn’t work. I decided to go to the nearest Korea Telecomm office to see if they could help. This meant braving the heat as it is an 800 metre walk to them. Phew. Amazing how hot you can get in 800 metres.
They found the problem in 10 seconds. KT had cut off the accounts of all foreigners in Korea. Boy, I could have saved a lot of time if I’d known that 4 hours earlier. Well 4 hours, actually. When the young man at the desk tried to explain, I couldn’t understand any of it. Why stop the accounts of all foreigners? Was there a war on? I finally had to call my trusted friend who steps up when things like this happen, and he left work to come and help me. That’s when we found out that we didn’t know why foreigners had been shut down, and neither did the guy on the desk, but the solution was to go to a central office with my passport and register again. This meant schlepping back up Killer Hill to get the passport and then back down to the subway, etc. My friend insisted on accompanying me to help with morale. Who would do this?
When I got to the KT office, it was full of Chinese nationals all in the same boat, so to speak. I don’t know where all the Americans and Canadians were. I still don’t know what happened. I had to sign a form that was all in Korean, which I did, and don’t know what I signed to say. I’m sure it’s all right, though. Hmmmm…
Stopping off to shop on the way home, I realized I was beginning to understand the lovely lady in “my” grocery store. Great! Now I can understand when I’m asked if I want a bag, and one bag or two? However, although I was really hungry, I wan’t actually going to get to eat for another two and a half hours. As soon as I got back, I tried to set up the WeChat. I had to take another trip downstairs for help with a very bright student called Sa’ad who speaks English, Korean, AND Arabic. How’s that for a combination? Globalization is great!
Now Shuda and I were connected. In between getting set up and starting to actually talk, I managed some baked beans for supper! Not very Korean, but filled an empty spot. Shuda came online and I could finally see him. He’s a proteomics student at Beijing University and wants to do a PhD in Canada. That’s why he wants to practice English conversation with me. He has actually never spoken to an English speaker, so was extremely hesitant in getting out what he wanted to say. He took his laptop outside and I was able to see Beijing! Wow, it was just like being there! I could hear their cicadas and everything. The sky was blue, the air was clear, and the grounds were beautiful. I didn’t expect that. It didn’t look anything like the Beijing “they” talk about. However, I’m aware that the university is not downtown Beijing–a city of 21.7 million–which is large. The population of Beijing and Shanghai together is bigger than the population of Canada. Gives you and idea.
Evening is a hot time for online stuff as Canada is just waking up then, so my online sources were busy, plus Korean friends came on as well, so that’s how the time goes here now until I fall into bed at midnight or thereabouts.
Today I’ve done nothing but go to the gym here, study Korean, and mope about looking out at the shimmering heat. Next week, the temperature is reported to soar and will “feel like” 105 to a 110. I guess I’ll be housebound, so I might start griping. Over and out for today.
Oh, if anyone finds out why KT switched off all foreigners yesterday, I’d love to know.
Just to keep up the tradition of putting photos on the site, here are the pictures of the front desk, the front doors, and the view down Killer Hill from the front of the residence.
July 24, Tuesday night.
What a day! I set off on my trek to Ganghwa-do with a second set of clothes in my backpack in case I to had to stay over. I didn’t know how the buses run in the more outlying areas and thought I might not get back to town. I should have known better. They’re every 15 or 20 minutes until forever in this country, no matter where you are. I’ve never seen anything like it for infrastructure to the nth degree. It was just as well I didn’t have to stay over because I’d forgotten to take my credit card with me. I’d remembered extra kleenex and my passport, neither of which I needed, but forgot my card. Oh well. Can’t think of everything.
My first angel showed up before I even got on the bus. I managed to get on the correct subway train and get off at the right stop, and even came up at the correct exit. This is important here as some subway stations have 12 exits–no kidding–so you can come up anywhere within a square kilometre radius. Do I mean radius? Anyway, I came out the right one and there was the bus island in the middle of the street, just where the tourist information lady had told me to look for it. I went and stood on the island, and sure enough, there was the number of the bus right on the list of buses that stopped there–3000. I stood happily waiting until my angel showed up in the guise of a young Korean woman and said, “Excuse me. Which bus are you waiting for?” I told her and she asked where I was going. She then directed me to the other bus island on the other side of the intersection as the right one for me. Wow! How did she know she was needed?
The bus was air conditioned and comfortable, and had seat belts! But when an elderly Korean lady sat down next to me and wanted to start up a conversation, I felt like an idiot for not being able to do a better job. I really must study harder.
The trip was long, as it stopped a lot, so even though I left my place before 10 a.m., I didn’t get to the Ganghwa bus terminal until nearly 12:30 p.m. So lunchtime. No cafeteria that you’d take someone to who didn’t have a super strong immune system, so picked up what passed for an egg sandwich at a CU, which is where most Korean teenagers get their meals. There are CUs everywhere here. They have more varieties of ramen than I could have imagined existed, so CUs are very popular with kids. They provide the hot water and utensils and the whole nine yards. I forewent the pleasure of dried ramen heated up to a soggy mess; hence the sandwich. I had to pass the time until the information kiosk opened anyway, so “enjoyed” my egg-type sandwich washed down with very, very sweet chocolate milk at a fairly clean plastic table outside the store while being stared at unblinkingly by an elderly gentleman who must not have liked people who look like me.
When the kiosk opened, I went to find out where I could find a beach for a swim, visit the observatory to look at North Korea (the island is closer than just about anywhere else to the border), visit the monuments and forts, and take a side trip to the island next door: Seungmido. She burst my bubble immediately–well that is, after I found out she didn’t speak ANY English at all–by shaking her head when I pointed at the beaches on my map and said no, no, no. This caused an abrupt breach in communication as I had a map in front of me that clearly stated that there were beaches, and I had my bathing suit in my bag! We had a stand-off, so I called my trusty Suncheon knight in shining armour (KISA for short) who steps into the breach in these situations and he discussed it with her for five minutes. When she passed my phone back to me it was only to be told by K that the maps told only a half truth. There were places to sit by the water, but you couldn’t actually go in because the island is surrounded by deep mud, which not only makes the water muddy, but makes walking into the water very unsafe indeed. Nuts!
She then made it clear that I could choose one, or maybe two things to do, tops. She was right, too. By the time I got on the bus for Seungmido and saw the route we were taking, I knew I had just better sit back and take what came. We went over the mountains in a most circuitous route and the bus wasn’t feeling well either. We had to stop twice while the bus coughed and shook a bit. The bus driver just laughed and said something to the passengers that sounded very “let’s just go with the flow.” I was thinking about worrying on the steeper and more curvy mountain parts, but then, decided to go with the flow as the driver seemed to be doing.
After we’d gone through villages and fields and what not on the other side of the mountain for absolutely ages…
I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever get to the bridge to the small island. This wondering increased when the driver drove into a village, then into a parking lot and made a U turn and drove back the way we’d come for about 10 minutes. He’d missed the road to the bridge. When we finally crossed the bridge and pulled up in a small rest stop to let someone off, I got off as well thinking that this MUST be the place to stop. The driver seemed surprised that I was getting off, and well he might, because it was nowhere.
When I got my map out of my bag and looked, I realized that I’d been a bit precipitate and wondered what to do next. Here I was…where it says Sukpo Wharf in English. Well, there was a toilet there, so I changed into shorts and a short-sleeved shirt which felt MUCH cooler, as it was well over 90 degrees. I didn’t want to know how much over.
After changing, I went for a little stroll wondering what in heaven’s name I was going to do now. All that was around me was a few little market type shops and a small restaurant, and no one spoke English. I looked at the water wondering if I could risk a swim off the rocks, but then noticed that the pipe out of the washroom emptied directly into the water, so thought better of it.
Just as I thought I might have to start thinking of a solution to my problem of being stuck on a small island in the middle of nowhere with people who couldn’t understand me nor I them, a little red bus came chugging along into the centre of the small square. Nobody was on it but the driver, and he got off and sat at an outdoor table to have a beer with the restaurant owners. I went over and asked for a cola and we sat in companionable silence until the bus driver asked “where you go?” Now when I’d opened my map previously, I’d noticed Bomonsa Temple was on this island. I’d read about it online, but hadn’t thought I’d bother to go and see it. However, this was the only place I knew, so I told him that’s where I was going. Great! He’d take me, and he did–for the equivalent of a dollar, and it was a long way!
So now here I was at Bomonsa and no further ahead. I still didn’t know how I was going to get anywhere else, but since I was here, decided to do the whole thing. Naturally there was a humungous hill to climb–temples are generally on mountains, so I trudged up passing a family with a group of loudly complaining teenagers who balked at the climb. I felt very smug as I passed them! The climb was certainly worth it!
This juniper tree is apparently 700 years old! You probably can’t read the writing on the sign, but trust me, that’s what it says. All the little figures you see at the base of the tree on the left are small replicas of the Buddha. I have no idea why there are three sets of these photos, but when I try to delete two sets, all three disappear, so try to ignore it. Same goes for the pictures of the steps that follow. Mystery.
I was so thrilled with everything, including a chanting monk I watched for a while, that I decided to climb to the top of the mountain. These are the steps up.
By the time I got to the top of the fourth flight, my heart was thumping and the sweat–sorry to be indelicate–was pouring off me. My hair was wringing wet, and I was out of water. I still had as many steps to climb and was ready to do it, but an inner voice reminded me that I’d recently read an article about heat stroke, and that I was in the danger range. I reluctantly decided to head back down, and it was fortunate I did, because the bus back to the Ganghwa bus terminal was leaving five minutes after I got to the bus stopping area. Amazing timing.
I got on the bus with a rowdy lot of retired civil servants who joked loudly with the bus driver and then decided to find out all about me. Interesting ride! Of course everybody had had a snort or two of makkeolli, a rice wine drink that’s being make in gallons now. Must be the season. A litre bottle will set you back approximately $5 and lay you flat for a week. They were passing around handfuls of, I think roasted nuts, to each other, and I was just thinking how very unhygienic it was when the senior civil servant next to me handed me a handful that he’d just got from another sweaty bloke. Oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound, at they used to say in England, and I ate them. We’ll see what happens later. Probably nothing. The germs will have to fight it out with all the others in there that I’ve picked up on my travels.
To wrap this up speedily, I missed the bus home with “the guys” because I’d gone to change my clothes back into my longer pants and dry shirt–my clothes were still wet from my climb. When I came out, the bus had gone. No matter, another came along in 15 minutes. It took two hours to get home–door to door. I gave away the bottle of makkeolli I’d bought from a lovely woman who was giving free shots, and tried to speak English with me. I had been trying to think who to give it to when I suddenly thought of my favourite grocers. This couple runs a little market just down the hill and I buy most of my stuff there. We’re quite friendly now, so I gave it to them. They were very surprised and pleased.
When I got back to my room, I discovered I’d somehow misplaced my room key. This is a square piece of plastic I hang round my neck. I guess I took it off when I changed in the bus terminal and it’s still there (I hope). So I had to go back down and confess to the staff that I couldn’t get into my room. Since I’ve already lost my laundry card and other stuff, I really didn’t want to admit to now losing my room key, but I couldn’t sit up outside my room all night. They charged me 10,000 Won for a new key and will phone the bus terminal tomorrow. Then I had the humiliation of having to empty my bag in front of a guard to make sure I’d not overlooked it. Well, you know what ends up in a back pack after several months of hauling it about. My reputation is ruined.
July 23, Monday night.
What a stinker of a day. Whatever you’ve been reading about Japan and its heat applies here as well. After 5 minutes outside, I feel as though I’m only about 2 feet tall. Seriously the sun takes the height right out of a person and the humidity crushes down like gravityx10. But one has to go out. Thank heavens for A/C. There are more homeless visible now as they move into the subway stations to get the relief from the heat.
I had to go out today to meet a student. So there was the walk to the bus–800 metres. Waiting 10 minutes in 94 degrees, and then getting pushed aside by a man who came 5 minutes after me did not improve my mood. The dash for the air conditioning makes even normally polite people toss women and children aside in their haste. I’m just glad I wasn’t on a sinking ship.
Going from an air conditioned bus to the oven outside wasn’t easy, and then I discovered I’d got off one stop past the one I should have. Drag! Schlep, schlep, schlep, squelch.
I was too early to meet my student so tried to pass the time in a coffee shop, where I was moved from a table that could seat 4 by a short-tempered staff member who pointed to a sign written only in Korean; and this in half empty place. I gave her the benefit of the heat wave and quietly moved. The coffee shop was air conditioned, but with people moving in an out constantly, it was hot in there and I guess she’d had enough by the time this furriner sat in the WRONG seating area.
I misguidedly ordered a beef bulgogi panini, that wasn’t a panini and was mainly gristle. Oh well, it was food and I hadn’t eaten much until then. So far, not shaping up to be a good day.
Cutting to the chase, I finally found the Starbucks that I thought she wanted us to meet at. It was on three floors, and I had to climb three flights of stairs to find out it was all full and very stinky. Moved next door to a cleaner an emptier place (see pic below) and then the comedy began. She was waiting at another Starbucks and didn’t know where I was. However, I was OK, just sitting sipping a peppermint tea and watching the passing scene.
Instead of saying then that she didn’t feel well and we should cancel our meeting, she waited until we had been texting back and forth for 1/2 an hour trying to come face to face. Then after sitting down and getting out the work, she said she didn’t feel well. I was a model of self control, even while picturing the long haul home through the heat again, but this time in rush hour. No problem. So we’ll meet on Wednesday morning instead. Same place, but hopefully cooler by Wednesday?
The trip home was interesting just in terms of noticing people’s change of mood. Now if people bumped into one, they didn’t hesitate or give an apologetic look as happens normally. On the train people crammed in and didn’t move if they jammed into one. Fine. I was fine with all of it. I knew how they felt because that’s the way I felt. OUT OF MY WAY, I’M HOT! about sums it up. Ha ha ha.
To add insult to injury, by the time I got back to my station and tried to find a pharmacy that was open to buy stuff I needed but had put off getting earlier, I was thwarted. All closed. In a country where the local market opens at 7 a.m. or before, and closes at 11 p.m. or after, the pharmacies (three, at least, on every block) were not only all closed, but had shuttered windows and thick bicycle type locks linked around the door handles. “Closed. And we mean it!” And this in a country with no crime. Well, I haven’t seen any.
Yesterday was the same. Hot, hot, and more hot. I guess I’d better brace myself for the next couple of months. But tomorrow’s another day, and I’m planning to go to Ganghwa-do, which has beaches!Ganghwa click on the link to see the scenery!
July 21, Saturday
Another day started off at 8 a.m. with the relatively mild temperature of 86F (they do Fahrenheit here) and had worked its way up to 98F by the time I went to meet my friend down by the Han River. And let me tell you, it felt it. I thought I might just die on the spot. I had to change trains 3 times and walk at least a kilometre underground and go up and down flights of stairs a zillion times. Not complaining, just sayin’ because it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve nobody to complain to.
I finally bought a “summer” umbrella the other day and I sure needed it today. It looks like a regular umbrella, but it’s pink. Many women and some men carry them to ward off the sun.
When I got to the Han with my friend, I changed into shorts immediately and we found some shade, so a slight improvement!
Anyway we passed a lovely couple of hours watching cyclists braving the heat on the bike path along the river while we ate ice cream and fruit. My friend was also teaching me Korean by having me read aloud from a children’s book about a baby goblin. It was written in Hangeul (Korean), of course. I did amazingly well! Well, I was impressed anyway.
When it got to be around dinner time-ish, we set off to find a small Vietnamese restaurant that she knew about that she described as being “very basic.” It was too. It had no bathroom, so when I wanted to use the toilet, I was directed outside, down the street a ways, and then up an alley, where I found one of the most off-putting squat toilets I’ve ever seen. I really should have taken a picture. The alley opened up into a urinal and two makeshift squatters with loosely attached wooden doors kind of hanging off them. Well so be it. I wouldn’t like to go up there after sunset though. Then there was no sink or source of water, period. So no handwashing then.
The food was good, but basic. I got four chicken wings. I had assumed they would come with rice or something, but no. My friend did better with a pho soup. After dinner, she suggested we go for a drink. Wow! I was hitting the town.
We found our way to another restaurant that had no washrooms. Don’t people pee in this part of town? Anyway, I wanted to wash my hands as they had gotten really sticky from eating the chicken wing parts. I was motioned into the cooking area of the small (tiny) bar where there was a kind of basic sink. I washed my hands and looked around for paper towels. The barman indicated a towel hanging on the wall. The towel was a kind of interesting colour but I thought “what doesn’t kill you….” and got on with it.
Back at the table, we had to order five skewers of grilled food to go with our drinks–mandatory! No getting out of it. No skewers, no drinks. An interesting policy. I was kind of wondering how hygienic the food would be, since I’d already seen the sink and the towel all the staff used. Well, it was cooked, so must be OK. We ordered a bottle of soju, the national drink of Korea, it seems, and started in on our kabobs. It was then I noticed my forearms were sticking to the table. Never mind, the soju was great and probably was sterilizing everything as it went down. It certainly felt like it.
I had been going to take a taxi home, thinking that after two or three glasses of soju I’d be kind of unsteady on the escalators, but I actually felt great—almost superhuman, so opted for the marathon trek home. It was a trouble-free amazing trip home. Trains air conditioned and nearly empty, and fast.
One or two interesting developments emerged from this afternoon and evening, my new friend (I met her through Etsumi as she and Etsumi are language exchange friends) suggested I might want to come back to Korea after a small sojourn at home, and if so, she had an idea for a place for me to live in. A friend of hers lives alone in a big apartment and would like someone to share it. Well, it’s an idea.
The other development is that she suggested we do some travelling together, so that might be fun. Something to think about over the next few days.
July 20, Friday
Gave myself a little bit of an adrenaline boost yesterday evening and was too shook up to write about it then. Kind of one of those hoist by your own stupidity events. (I know I’m mixing sayings there but don’t care).
It’s been so hot that staying in an air conditioned room during the day seems the best plan. However, one must go out, so I decided to go for a walk at 7 p.m. when the sun was much lower and the heat had settled into a steady 85 degrees, or thereabouts. I didn’t feel like walking down the hill into the “village” as I’d only have to climb back up Killer Hill when I was tired, so set off upwards while I was still fresh.
We’re on a mountain here called Gaeunsan. It’s not very big as mountains go. The university is built into it, so not too much stretches above my residence building. I had already walked up to the rock near the top where I could get a bird’s eye view of Seoul, or this end of it, so decided to go back there. When I got to the top, though, I noticed that now there were barriers and signs and some kind of wire fence around the whole top of the mountain “What the..?” I thought. “What’s this that’s suddenly appeared?” Well if you look past the staff member just leaving, you’ll see a soldier peering round at the person who’s taking the photo of, yes, a military post.
Now I walked up there last week to walk through the forest at the top of the mountain and didn’t notice this post was there. I had to walk right past this sign to enter the trail. I don’t know what a psychologist would make of my powers of observation, but I know what my grandma would say. The word “dozy” would be in there somewhere.
When I started to walk towards the fence and past several notices–all in Korean, I might add, so no deterrent to English speakers–the sentry waved me away with both hands in a lively manner. I couldn’t believe that this had been here last week and was trying to convince myself that the military had just built the place. Alas, no. It was there last week when I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE IT. This is precisely how false memory works; so next time somebody swears up and down in court that X couldn’t have committed the crime because he was seen in Flin Flon that night, you’ll know what weight to place on the testimony. But I’m drifting here.
So long story short, I found another way to get to the trail and started off. I was feeling pretty perky as there was a bit of a breeze and I’d been doing nothing all day. I found a map of the path that circumvents the top of the mountain painted on a board, so I decided to walk the length of it and go all around. I figured there’d be people along the way and it wouldn’t take more than an hour. So off I went down the first set of wooden railway ties set into the dirt to be used as steps. Then I went to the rock for another look at the view. Isn’t it pretty?
Then I decided to go ahead and continue the trek around. My back and leg were bothering me a little, but not badly enough to halt progress. After I hit the trail again and went up hill and down dale, I met a rather steep set of stairs that went down so far, I wondered if I was on the right path. My little phone camera isn’t really capable of showing true depth, and also lightens everything considerably. This actually looked like a dark tunnel as stood at the top and stared down. What goes down must come up, so I wondered if I was capable of mounting steps as steep as this as I worked my way around. However, down I went.
They went down and curved, and then down again, and curved, until I realized I was off the path and actually on my way down the mountain. This is what I didn’t want, so I toiled back up to get on the right path. The only problem was, that the path had changed its appearance. I came to a fork in the steps and one lot seemed to peter out into a tiny path encroached upon by greenery, but the other didn’t look like the same stairs in this picture above. But they must be! This was my thought. I took the right fork up the different-looking stairs and came to another pathway that petered out. I turned back and found another path, and that led here. That’s funny. I’d never seen this clearing before. It was looking darker than it does in the picture here, so I was starting to get a bit of a boost in my heart rate. I took a path out of this clearing.
I followed it for a while, then saw this little signpost
and followed the arrow which led me right back, yes, to the clearing. I was going round in circles. I did the whole process once more to make sure I hadn’t missed any obvious trails and again was led back to the clearing. Around about now I was starting to believe in fairies.
Every story about forests that I’d ever been traumatized by as a child came back to me in detail. I’d be attacked, knifed, or worse…. And the worst of it was that the forest was completely silent. There were no other people around, no animals, no insects….twilight zone? This is what the light was more like
and that’s taken directly into the setting sun.
Well, I backtracked again and again looking for threads, clues, breadcrumbs, anything. I went down a couple of false trails and couldn’t believe I’d managed to get myself lost. Obvious solutions like calling for help on my phone didn’t make it through to the dark part of my brain where my imagination was weaving all kinds of scenarios, all deadly.
Eventually, of course, I stepped on the right trail and started recognizing the path out. Never was anyone more relieved, well plenty of people have been, I’m sure, but my feelings were certainly up there with others so reprieved of dire fates.
Moral of the story folks: don’t go walking in forests as the sun is setting along trails you have never been on before. End of.
July 19, Thursday
Most of the day yesterday was taken up with taking Etsumi back to the airport. It’s quite a trek out to Incheon. Because the transportation system here is the best in the world, I said THE BEST IN THE WORLD, it’s easy to forget that we’re talking big distances here. Seoul is a city of 10 million, give or take; and Incheon and surrounding areas are also very big. All the different bus and subway systems are connected, so it seems seamless, but in fact, it’s complicated. Getting off the subway of one line and transferring to the next can take almost 15 minutes or more of underground walking and going up and down stairs. This is a mountainous country, so lots of climbing. If you need a workout, come here!
I had to travel on two different lines to get to Etsumi’s hotel, and then we had to take another line to get to the airport express train. This starts underground at Seoul Station but then travels above ground through the gorgeous scenery of mountains and sea to get to the island where Incheon airport is located.
I hadn’t had breakfast before leaving, so when we got to the airport, this is what I had for breakfast. And yes, it was as spicy as it looks. It cleared my head immediately!
Eating this kind of food is part of why I’ve lost about 11 or 12 pounds. Walking up and down subway stairs and climbing the hilly streets is another reason. Clearly I’m going to have to change my lifestyle back in Ottawa if I want to keep the fat off! Fortunately we have quite a few Korean restaurants now, I hear. I don’t know what I’ll do to compensate for the hills though.
So all too soon, I had to say goodbye to my friend. We were both sad as she stood in line to go through Security, but we have Osaka to look forward to when I go to stay with her in a month or so. We’re going to check out the Osaka castle that features in Shogun.
I wanted to show pictures of our boat cruise, but for some unaccountable reason, I can’t move them onto my blog. Every other pictures get uploaded and downloaded etc., etc. with absolutely no problem, but those won’t come for some reason.
So what am I going to do now? Because it’s really too hot to go outside today, I decided to start my research on Admiral Yi Sun-sin, one of the big heroes of Korea. I’ll have to see if there’s any stone unturned there as I start digging. One lead is on his humanness, rather than his super-humanness, so I’ll see where that leads. This may demand a trip to Yeosu and Jindo!!!
Jindo, incidentally, is where the world famous Jindo dogs are bred. If you click on the blue word, Jindo, then you’ll see from the link to the website, that these dogs are prey driven and shed a lot. But if you’re willing to brush them and vacuum every day, keep them fenced in a big yard and walk them vigorously, they’ll make loving and terrifically loyal pets.
The island keeps stringent rules about dogs visiting as they want to keep the breed pure. The purebred dog sounds like it would be a handful though, as they are intelligent working dogs, so you know what that means. Just about 18 hours a day of owner input is about right.
July 18, Wednesday
Well now it’s Wednesday evening and sadly, I had to say goodbye to Etsumi today. It was only just under 3 short days ago that she came for a flying visit. We had been talking on Skype for nearly a year, so I was anxiously awaiting her arrival on Monday morning.
Just in from Osaka!
We put her up in a very nice hotel called the TMark, right in the centre of Seoul and very inexpensive for the location and niceness of the rooms. It was a package flight and hotel.
We met up with other Skype friends and made a day and night of it! We had a wonderful time.
Figuring out how to get a one-trip ticket on the subway machines.
Getting set for our boat cruise on the Han River after a great dinner!
July 16, Monday
Met my Japanese language partner, Etsumi, today when she flew in to Incheon to meet me. She is absolutely great. Had a wonderful day but have to write about it later as I gotta go to bed so we can start again tomorrow!
July 15, Sunday
I’ve been doing a search on places to visit in South Korea that I haven’t been to yet, and there are a lot. South Korea reminds me quite a bit of England: small amount of land, but lots has happened on it. Consequently there is lots of history here going back hundreds of years. Add to that the fact that this is a peninsula and you have the sea all around, almost like an island in many ways. As well, there are hundreds of islands just off the coast that have ferries going there regularly. The number of choices available to the traveller are enormous. There are also daily ferries to China and Japan, so phew, what to do!?
I throw out the suggestion to anyone who wishes to take a look at the Korean map and see if anything interests you. If you’d like me to visit and take a look, get some information, and take pictures, drop me a line, and if it’s possible, I’ll explore for you.
This morning dawned with the cool morning temperature of 75F and started rising with the sun. By the time I was ready to take a walk, it was quite hot. I decided to take a different route today and explore an area on my mountain I hadn’t been to. As soon as I started walking, my sciatic nerve, or whatever it is that’s unhappy, started letting me know it didn’t want to go. I took a deep breath and decided to push it a bit to see what would happen. I was walking steadily uphill from my dorm, going up the small mountain we’re dug into here. As I climbed my s. nerve complained mightily and threatened to shut down my left leg if I continued. I decided to continue and that actually going numb in that leg would be my signal to quit. As I neared the top, there was a surprising find. The road ended at the entrance to another part of the whole summit park and I was at one of the summits! I started off down a trail and found a group of granite rocks to sit on and gaze at the panorama of Seoul beneath me. What a great discovery! I felt like Cortes at Mt. Darien, or wherever, when he gazed upon the Pacific with steely gaze and all his men stared with wild surmise. Wow, to think didn’t know this place was here! Shows you the benefits of exploration, right?
I sat on that rock thinking great thoughts until I was invaded, literally, by a zillion ants thinking that this was their rock. As they crawled in my shoes and up my shorts, I reluctantly got up and took a last look at the view murmuring like MacArthur, I shall return.
Funny thing though, as I continued exploring, this time going down a mountain trail and clambering over rocks and sliding down sandy paths full of pine needles, my sciatic nerve quit complaining. I climbed back up to the top, scrambling over branches and more rocky outcrops and felt not a twinge. After 15 minutes or more, I decided to head back because truly it was astonishingly hot and I hadn’t taken water with me, so not a good move to keep going. By this time though, I was feeling great and my back and leg were behaving perfectly normally. I don’t know if this mean that you can “walk off” minor aches and pains or if it means that the nervous system becomes habituated to the pain and stop sending pain signals. Whichever it is, it was welcome.
Another discovery I made that I’ve never noticed before, or never paid attention to, is the benefits of sweating profusely. I was covered in a sheen of sweat and the result was feeling very much cooler. It’s true then that we carry out own cooling system, to a degree. After 40C, I believe we can’t get rid of the heat and we die, or something like that.
A couple of things I noticed on my travels through the forest paths: there are no squirrels or chipmunks, and the plants look exactly the same as the ones in my garden. How is that possible? How is either of those two things possible? I must look into it.
Another thing that interested me was that in a little clearing, Korea University has set up an experiment on the effects of global warming of a certain type of pine. It looks very interesting and maybe one of my friends who works in the plant sciences will know the answers to questions about it.
July 14, Saturday
Started off my day today being woken up by a Skype caller who wanted to know the difference between “wish” and “hope”! Oh really?! Well here’s an example: I wish you hadn’t woken me up and I hope you don’t do it again! But of course, I didn’t say that. Too polite, or too wimpy, take your choice.
So then I was up, but that was OK as it was the day for my student, and today it was him and his brother, so I needed to prepare a bit. Each student was coming for a one-hour session, so that would take me to 1 o’clock, then I was to meet my language exchange friend from Busan who was up in Seoul for this day only. Business.
My students were a joy, as always, and the hours flew by. I’m taking an online course with Future Learn starting on July 30. This is so I can continue teaching the same people after I return to Canada, but in a more professional way. It’s a 4 week course in how to teach ESL online, so I look forward to that.
Today was another stinker, so getting from my room to the subway took enormous staunch determination on my part. I’m famous for my SD. By the time I got to the air conditioned subway station, I was near 100% water instead of the usual 55%. It does get hot here.
I was a little late getting to my appointment with SA, having underestimated the time it would take me to get from A to B yet again. I don’t know why that keeps happening. Luckily he waited (but it was only 7 minutes) and I had texted him, so it wasn’t too awful, and he was in the air conditioned subway.
Something I didn’t know about that station that he did was that the station connects with a Hyundai department store, heavily air-conditioned, and thronging with crowds of people. An ant hill came to mind. But the deals!!! Everywhere there were sales on every single thing you can imagine. I’ll definitely be going back there. However, we had to surface at some point, so up we went into the steam room.
After traipsing through the back roads looking for a particular coffee shop he wanted, and nearly getting run over by the ubiquitous motor bikes that weave in and out of pedestrians on and off the sidewalks, we finally found the place. It was charming and worth finding! I really don’t know how these little places make money. They are nearly always either empty or full of people just going in to nurse a coffee for three hours while they use their laptops.
We spent a lovely two and a half hours chatting until he had to leave to go back to Busan. He is one of my language exchange friends that I talk with regularly via Skype. This language web site has turned out to be an absolute gem for finding very nice people who are genuinely interested in other cultures and in learning English. One of the things we talked about was the first ever Gay Pride parade that was taking place today in central Seoul. I don’t know how it turned out (although I think it went well) because the newspaper had said some right wing conservatives were planning to go and disrupt it. It might be on the news tomorrow, and I say “might” because no matter how big a demonstration or parade is, it doesn’t seem to get reported on for some reason. Certainly not for censorship as they have a completely free press here.
As a younger person, my friend’s opinion was that a Gay Pride parade was fine and he said most of the younger generation agreed, but that the older generation (like me?) had a hard time with the idea. Korea is gradually changing in many ways, but the old guard are not always happy about it. I hope there was no violence today.
Speaking of which, he told me a funny story of when he was in the military doing his service. He was seconded to the police and they were called out to a demonstration by cheesed off hospital workers in one of the smaller cities. The police had to hold onto each other to prevent their lines from being broken. I asked him if the demonstrators had thrown rocks or anything like that. He laughed and said they threw gimbap, which is a rice roll wrapped in seaweed! It’s what passes for a sandwich here (and they’re very tasty).
In keeping with reporting the news late, I should just mention what I did on Thursday. I went down to see the King Sejong museum and got caught up in another demonstration. This time it was thousands of construction workers that blocked all the streets leading to the centre so that we passengers had to get off the buses and walk wherever we were going! Not happy about that.
The police were well represented as well. They bused them in by the…erm….busload. It was very peaceful though, even though the beer was flowing quite freely. I don’t know if it’s legal here to drink beer in the open spaces, but the police weren’t doing anything. When I pushed my way through to get to the museum, I found it full of demonstrators catching some A/C, using the toilets, and generally lolling around chatting. All very friendly. When I tried my hand at building the model turtle boat* with the blocks provided, a very beery demonstrator tried to help but was a bit ham handed. Not surprising, actually, as he was a bit unsteady, ha ha.
There was entertainment on hand as well, with screens for those who couldn’t get near the front.
I love the view they had of the main Seoul palace and the mountains behind. The Blue House, where President Moon Jae In lives, is near the palace on the left of the picture. I still haven’t seen it. Maybe tomorrow! Tomorrow’s another day :))
*A turtle boat:
For those interested in Korean history (all my readers, I’m sure) the turtle boat was an invention of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, one of my, and all Koreans, favourite heroes who literally saved the nation back in the day almost 500 years ago. He fought battles with the Japanese navy and invented this impregnable boat to prevent boarding.
July 13, Friday, uh oh…unlucky? Or is it?
Sorry about bunking off yesterday. I pretty much ran out of steam. That happens to me a lot these days. I’m chugging along nicely feeling pretty peppy, and then BOOM, I’m out of gas. No worries.
Feeling pretty good tonight for some reason. The day started off pretty somberly with me not knowing where or how far to go today. This in itself is not unusual, and is why I sometimes finish up on a train going on a two hour trip somewhere at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Indecisive, is the word.
However, today all I could think of doing was laundry, so trotted down with my bedding to the basement laundry and found that yet again, there were machinery troubles. The result of this was some lovely conversations with staff in a combination of Kronglish and sign language, but we all finished up with what we wanted, so that was good.
The other positive thing was that I met a lovely, lovely Canadian woman who was down there doing laundry for her daughter. She had flown all the way from Fort Francis in Manitoba to help her daughter fly back to Canada with her toddler. I’ve met her lovely daughter several times as she struggled up Killer Hill with her toddler strapped onto her in a front loading carrier. I don’t know how she did it. So two nice Canadians!
The daughter is here with her husband, a Mexican scientist and they’re moving back to Canada so he can work in research in Montreal. Wonderful the conversations you can have in laundry rooms. This is what’s missing when you’re rich enough to have your own in-house laundry! So Mexicans and Canadians in Korea. Globalization at its best.
Anyway, when that was all done, I busied myself in my room getting ready to investigate my options for today. I had just finished googling somewhere I wanted to go, when I got a phone call from the downstairs desk telling me I had a visitor. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so mystified I went down to see who could be visiting me without a warrant (all my friends would text they were coming over) and a found a man there who had attached himself to me a month ago when I opened up a map on the street.
On that particular day, I was going to find Jogeysa Temple (the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism), so was just verifying which streets I’d be walking, when he came up and offered to help. This is so common that I don’t think anything of it. However, after he’d engaged two young cops in the search and figured out where I had to go, he decided to accompany me. Initially all was cool and we exchanged cards, which is typical, but then I had a very hard time shaking him off. When I got to the temple, I finished up sitting inside with all the practicing Buddhists chanting for an hour to make sure he’d be gone when I got out. Then I continued on my excursion itinerary.
All was not over however, as he phoned me (he had my card remember) an hour later, then again that evening, and then again the following morning, a Sunday, at the unforgivable hour of 8 a.m. He wanted to meet, but I was not feeling comfortable with this since, as he was in his forties, I couldn’t figure out what his intentions were and didn’t want to encourage a senior predator/murderer, which we all know are thick on the ground when you travel. With the help of a technological friend, I blocked his calls, and that, I thought, was the end of it.
So now here he was: my visitor. I didn’t want to be rude and say “What the ….are you doing here?” So we made small talk about how hot it was (in the nineties) while he patted himself dry with his hanky (bright green). I’m a fastidious person on the whole, so watching him ply the dampening hanky put me in a dowager Duchess-of-Downton Abbey frame of mind. This conversely led me to agree to his suggestion that he go with me when I told him I was planning to go out for the day–I was so ashamed of being a snob. Didn’t change the way I felt though.
So after I got ready to go, I joined him back downstairs and off we went. It was steaming hot, so not a great day for walking. As we walked, he did several things I took exception to. He threw his empty coffee cup on the ground which evoked a strong vocal sound of condemnation from me and I stood there till he picked it up. Then he made little sounds to himself that I didn’t like. When we got on the bus, he didn’t like the way the bus driver spoke to him when he asked about where to transfer, and muttered to himself a bit aggressively, and so on. This was not going to go well, I thought, and I was feeling extremely disgruntled.
Nothing went the way it was supposed to. We got off at the wrong spot to transfer and had to walk a long way in the heat. Then we got of that bus at the wrong spot and had to walk another long way. The day sort of carried on in this way with him walking through doors and letting them swing back in my face, striding on ahead an leaving me wallowing in his wake, and other assorted behaviours that I felt very strongly about. Finally we finished up far from where we had intended and fetched up in a traditional tea room in Insadong, a famous Seoul spot. Over a much need cup of cold fruit tea and assorted sweets, everything suddenly changed. We relaxed, laughed about our horrible day, and started talking about sensible stuff.
I came right out and said “What is it you want from me?” He laughed as one called to account, so not dumb then. He just admitted that he wanted to learn English for his work and had hoped that by befriending me, he’d get lots of free English. I had hoped that’s what he wanted, and kind of thought it might be, but it was nice to hear him admit it. I agreed that I’d help him but put restrictions on it. We would meet at my convenience and use a plan. He agreed, so we set off home, this time in a more friendly fashion; hence the feeling that it had been a good day after all by the time I got home. I was probably several pounds lighter too after all the walking and perspiring.
So getting back to where I left off last night after putting up the photo of the name of the palace I visited Changgyeonggung. And you can see how much easier Korean is to read when you see how to spell that mouthful in Korean: 창영궁 Now, isn’t that better?
Getting to the palace meant weaving my way through thronging crowds of people and crossing noisy, busy streets, but when I entered the palace grounds (free, because I’m a senior — but it’s only a dollar for everyone) all was serene and looked like this.
I sat on a bench and just enjoyed the quiet serenity while little birds flew an hopped around me. I felt sort of like St. Francis in a way. Unfortunately every time I picked up my camera, the birds zipped off. I continued my walk and found the wildflower garden
While I was sitting in the concubines pavilion, a little stranger showed up
I was the first to look away. There was nowhere for me to go, so I hoped, that although he looked like a raccoon, he was fairly cool with my sharing his space and wouldn’t give me rabies or something worse. This situation continued and was a bit of a standoff until too lovely girls from Croatia, wearing shorter shorts than I would have thought possible, arrived and broke the tension. He stood his ground for a while, but then sort of shrugged and sauntered off with a warning backward glance. I was more careful where I walked after that!
So, some more scenes from this palace of women where mothers and concubines lived in peaceful harmony–ha ha. A palace full of women?
In the picture below, note the national dress (hanbok) on the two women crossing in the foreground. Lends a certain note of timelessness to the frame, I thought.
That was all on Tuesday. The grounds of the palace are so large that it took me about 3 hours to get around as much as I could, but there’s still a lot more I haven’t seen. It’s marvelous that in the middle of this busy big city, there are these wonderful palaces and parks completely cut off from the hubbub, and so nice to spend a quiet afternoon in with a snack and book of your choice, if you get tired of just wandering and looking.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I set off to got to Yonsan Park (more about that later) but when I got to Yonsan Station, I suddenly decided to go to Buryeon Beach on the west coast. To get there I had to take a train to Daicheon, and nearly didn’t because it was already nearly 3 p.m. and it was a two and a half hour trip, but I’m ever so glad I did!
A fabulous way to end a hot day, and I even waded in the sea! Took a long walk on the beach as well. I’m definitely going back, and with my bathing suit next time. A fantastic trip. Here are some of the rice paddies I passed on the train.
July 12, Thursday
Well, I just feel terrible that I’ve been so lazy about keeping up this “daily” blog, but in my defense, I was just too tired every night after a day of gallivanting to hunt and peck on my tiny iPad screen for hours. Now I’ve been lent a beautiful laptop COMPLETE WITH KEYBOARD!!! So now I’ve no excuse. (I’ll bet I could think of one if pushed, though).
Lots of things going on as usual, but I didn’t keep daily notes. I’ll try to remember now.
After visiting the border area last Saturday, I was a bit tired by the time I fell into bed after a day of walking. We not only went to Paju, and Imjingak, but also visited Heyri, an artist village, which was much more interesting that in sounds. The place is full of interesting buildings that are a combination of art galleries and restaurants or small bars. Such a fabulous idea. Of course, you go in for a drink and finish up walking around to see all the lovely paintings, sculptures, jewellery, pottery, and fabric arts. Everything is on display here, and the whole is surrounded by flowers and walkways, arbours, and lovely little “secret garden” spaces for enjoying a latte or glass of wine. There are also statues placed here and there, so the whole place is like a fairy tale space for adults. Unfortunately I didn’t even think to take any pictures as we were too busy gawking. We had a smashing dinner there as well in one of the gallery-cum-restaurants. A must-see place is you’re ever in South Korea.
Monday it rained all day. I mean it absolutely came down in torrents, so a laundry day. However I did venture out under a brolly at one point just to escape claustrophobia. Monday was also a day of waiting for more news about the Thai soccer team kids still stuck in that cave. What a nail biting time that was for the world.
Tuesday was cloudy and threatening rain, but good enough to get out and about. I decided it was a good day to visit this place…
(much more to come…watch this space…I’m off to bed now)
July 7, Saturday
Here’s where I was today!
What a thrill it was to be so close. My friend J. S. and his daughter very kindly offered to take me with them on a shopping trip to Paju, a town near the border between North and South Korea. This, by the way, included a wonderful full Korean meal. The way it was served was brilliant. The meal is set out on a board that fits the table and then the fully set board is slid onto the table from a trolley. If you notice the light reflections on the table, you can see that the board has been slid further onto the table in picture #2 on the right.
Here is the complete meal—and it was delicious.
Because my friends knew I had been trying to get to the border, they decided to take me as close as we could get. So after our meal and some outlet shopping, we set off for Paju and beyond! Very exciting for me.
There were all kinds of signs that we were getting close to a sensitive area: barbed wire fencing along the riverside, sentry lookout posts every couple of hundred yards (looking for swimmers), monuments, and the river area completely cleared of any kind of greenery whatsoever. Not even a cat could have found a hiding place along that river. The Battle of the Imjin, which was the bloodiest engagement endured by the British Army since WW II was fought right where we were standing today. For three days the 29th British Independent Infantry Brigade Group thwarted the Chinese Spring Offensive. A bloody battle indeed.
But this is what it looks like today.
Note the forlorn figures behind us representing those bereft after separation from their families by the border closing. The train behind JS and his daughter stands where it has stood for more than 65 years after delivering military supplies during the war. It was on its way to Pyongyang when it encountered Chinese troops. The conductor put it in reverse and took it back to a safer place. When it reached Jangdan station it broke down. It has more than a thousand bullet holes in it and the wheels are tilted. A rusty relic that reminds us what a heroic job the Koreans have done on their country since this train last ran.
The Battle of Imjin is worth reading about, incidentally. There’s even a video available on the Internet in You Tube with actual pictures of the British soldiers who fought that battle. At one point a Belgian unit joined them as well. This stand gave an American unit a chance to prepare themselves for an onslaught and Seoul was saved.
July 3, Tuesday
The New York Times had an article today comparing the New York subway system (unfavourably) to the Seoul system. I’ve never been to New York so I can’t compare the two systems, but I can say that I have certainly never seen a better subway than Seoul’s. It is simply amazing. Every little detail has been thought of. If you press the wrong button on the transport pass loading machine, a voice comes on asking if you need help. People cleanup after customers constantly, wiping up water from the monsoon rains with big squeegees as people come in dripping their umbrellas all over the place. Small TVs attached on the walls tell you how close the train is to your station. While you’re waiting, there are little cartoons telling you what to do in case of fire, accidents, heart attacks, and over active kids who get themselves trapped in doors. Shopkeepers are allowed to open stalls selling all sorts of stuff you might need to get on your way home. Little old country ladies sit in quiet corners cleaning the fresh vegetables they’ve brought in for you to buy. And don’t feel sorry for these ladies because they’ll race you to an available seat when they get on a train to go home and shove you out of the way with strength behind the shove! If they are too far away from a seat, they will sometimes throw their bag onto the seat to save it. Don’t mess with them.
The subway trains are clean, fast, efficient, and on time. They connect with bus stops, bus stations, and train stations from underground, and everything is air conditioned. Furthermore they go for miles into the outskirts. As far as I can see, the only thing you can’t do in them is sleep. There may be homeless people and buskers somewhere, but they’re not in the subways. There are subway “officers” but I’ve never seen any of them talking to anyone, much less hassling anyone. They are just sometimes there, walking about.
I travelled on a lot of subways today as I was looking for the bus station where I could catch the bus to Paju, which is just about the closest town to the border. The JSA is still closed to tourists because of all the high level stuff going on. There are right wing factions in South Korea absolutely opposed to any kind of deals with North Korea and would camp on the border if they could get to it. So the checkpoints are closed. These groups demonstrate every week downtown, so it keeps the police army occupied.
The police army is so called because some of the military conscripts are given the choice of a police duty instead of whatever it is the other conscripts do. I can’t see that being a plus when they’re right up there facing off with demonstrators every week, but is seems to be valued as a better option.
One thing I notice though is how low key the police are here. They don’t show up with riot gear or anything like that. No guns, that I can see, and not even any tasers, but I know some police have them.
So getting back to my search for the right bus station today. I found my way to the Seoul Express Bus Station, but for naught as the Lonely Planet version 2010, had the wrong info about getting to Paju. Fair enough, as it’s 8 years old. So I’ll have another go at getting to Paju on Thursday.
The usual stuff happened to me on my travels. I only had to look at a public “neighbourhood map,” or standstill looking around me, and there would be someone at my side asking if they could help. The last time this happened today, I was actually on the train, but looking at the subway line diagram, and a young woman was immediately at my side speaking perfect English offering to help. Nine times out of ten I’m actually doing fine, but of course I don’t have the heart to refuse a kindness so always accept help gratefully. I’m actually thinking of learning the national anthem.
A Seoul little old lady in the subway. Notice how small she is. Nearly all the women of my generation are tiny because of the famine conditions during and after the Korean War. These are women who pass me on mountain trails and regularly climb the flight of stairs in the subway stations!
Speaking of war, I have now started to notice all the discreet little “shelter” signs on subway stations and buildings. I wonder why I didn’t notice them before?
July 1–HAPPY CANADA DAY 🇨🇦!
Here in Seoul the skies have opened and it’s absolutely teeming down. I hope that Canada Day is a lot sunnier for you. Enjoy it and feel proud.
Quickly now—name all the prime ministers that Canada has had since Sir John A. Who was your favourite? Now name three Canadian heroes, the capital city of every province and territory, and whether there is water stored in the rock of the Canadian Shield. Well done!
Yesterday I witnessed a huge demonstration in Gwanghwamun Square. Thousands of union employees were demonstrating for a higher minimum wage, which is presently set at $8 an hour. Today I can’t find anything about it in the Korea Times or the Korea Herald—two of the English language Korean newspapers.
These pictures show only a small fraction of the numbers. The group on the left are university professors. I think they were only there to give support as I feel sure they get more than $8 an hour.
There is presently a brouhaha going on because a group of 700 or so Yemeni men arrived at Jeju Island asking for asylum. People absolutely panicked at the idea of Korea being deluged with asylum seekers such as they saw happening in Europe. The government quickly changed its legislation on visa regulations practically overnight. There had been a loophole through Jeju because that little island had been looking for tourists and had relaxed their visa requirements. I don’t know how they got around South Korean law, but they did, and now they regret it. Koreans aren’t xenophobic as much as they are worried about living in an overcrowded country where the job market is highly competitive and many are out of work.
Last week I think I mentioned being “helped” by a woman when I was looking for a way into Bonghwasan Mountain. She spoke only Korean and I of course froze and forgot every word of Korean that I ever learned, including how to say my name. I just handed her my card. She said she’d call, and true to her word, she phoned me lat night still talking only in Korean. So feeing quite frantic about losing a possible tutoring gig, I kept saying jamkanman yo (just a minute) while I hurried down to the lobby to find an English speaking guard or helper from the front desk. There was one guard only but no bilingual desk help. They were off somewhere helping someone else. Fortunately the guard who was there speaks a little English and is also friendly towards me whenever I see him, so I enlisted his help.
After much back and forth between him and my possible student, him taking notes the while, he rang off and told me that she wanted me to meet her today (Sunday) at her church. Was she going to ask me to speak? I wondered. Would I be introduced to everyone and asked to teach the children or the congregants? My imagination ran riot. He asked me if I knew how to get to the church and started explaining in half English half Korean how to find her church. Fortunately I thought to ask him why she wanted me to go to the church. In exaggerated style he enacted a church performance accompanied by some words in English that he knew like Jesus Christ, pray, priest, and sing. At first I thought he was telling me what a church is, but no, he pointed at me and said “You—go—church —sing, etc.” So, it turned out that she wanted me to attend her church, which of course would mean that the whole service would be all in Korean. I told him that no, no, I couldn’t go, so he called her back and explained. When I got to my room, she started texting me on Kakao Talk, the Korean messaging service. She had obviously used the translation app so I could read that she wanted to save me.
This sort of encounter has happened to me many times, perhaps because it’s obvious that I’m not Korean? There are musical groups set up here and there around Seoul similar to the way the Salvation Army used to operate. There are banners and singers and speakers with microphones in many heavily frequented places, so I guess this woman is a member of a strongly evangelical church. In some small towns there are church spires by the dozens all over the passing scene (I usually see them from a train). Christians are a minority here, but a very strong and vocal minority. There are also some Muslims, including Korean Muslims who converted while working on projects in the Middle East. By contrast, I was told by a Seoul rabbi that there are only about 200 Jews in the entire country. I don’t know how he arrived at this figure though. According to census figures, there are 56% with no religious affiliation, 19.7% Protestantism, 15.5% Buddhism, 7.9% Catholicism, and .8% other, presumably Muslims and Jews?
One thing that did surprise me was the Nazi symbol of the iron cross on some small buildings, which I though were private houses. I was shocked, and thought “what are Nazi sympathizers doing in South Korea?” Turns out that the symbol represents the old shamanic religion and the sign means a manja is there.
Actually Koreans I’ve met are often a mix of old and new, and even those with no religious affiliation preserve the traditions of an older time. One source claims that there are about 300,000 Musok-in working around the country, and they are kept busy advising their clients on what the spirits have to say about the client’s problem. I would love to meet one of these shaman, but they are expensive, and more importantly, speak only Korean. If I hear of a public ceremony going on, I will attend and report on it here.
June 29, Friday night
Had a most wonderful trip to the mountains east of Seoul. The countryside was lovely; the only jarring note, and I do mean jarring, was the occasional rocket propelled bomb fired by a presumably large and well-armoured tank from the other side of the mountain. The first time I heard this I thought a particularly violent thunderstorm was about to descend on us.
We had just arrived at our charming dog-friendly pension and were setting up our lunch on a veranda overlooking a mountain stream, when a great whooshing reverberative sound burst around us. I looked up at the sky, but the son of my friends, who served in the military not long ago said, “It’s just military exercises.” Oh. That’s all right then. Turned out that the South Korean army owns the land on the other side of the mountain and he was stationed there.
So added to my recent visit to the Korean War Memorial and Museum, this served to remind me that there has indeed been a constant state of tension between the two Koreas, and it’s not a joke. The periodic bursts of rocket fire continued until about 7 p.m. and then stopped. I was thankful that we were only listening to practice and not the start of hostilities because it was alarming. After a while though, the sounds just kind of faded into the background and we just did our thing. We walked the dogs around the grounds and saw the doggy play pool, the doggy maze run, the creek for the dogs to play in with platforms placed here and there to get out of the water for a rest. Owners were provided with chairs to put in the creek to watch their dogs play. I’m going to risk putting a photo here.
The whole place is set up to make things as pleasant for dogs and their owners as possible. With flowers, beautiful trees, walkways, and statues of dogs, the whole place was utterly charming. You could have a cabin with beds or ondol flooring, which meant sleeping on the floor—with appropriate sleeping mats and bedding, of course. Ondol flooring means underfloor heating covered with a very soft, spongy vynil floor covering. I had my own little rooftop eyrie, slept on the floor, and had the best sleep in I don’t know how long.
I should mention the Korean War museum here. This brought me to a standstill…
The Canadian flag made me feel quite Canadian and proud—and there on the other side of New Zealand is my daughter’s adopted country, Turkey 🇹🇷. Turkey lost the third largest number of soldiers in the Korean War after the USA and the UK, and Canada lost the fourth largest number. The Korean army was well represented that day.
June 27, Wednesday
Some things I like about Seoul: The four-way stop at intersections; full employment provided to the many many people who keep the city clean; instructions written in two or more languages that tell you how to do everything from how to walk the most effectively for your health to how to hold your child’s hand near potential danger zones (pictures painted on the paths); cheap taxis; no tipping anywhere; no smoking anywhere near bus stops, subway entrances, shop doorways, etc., so that if you smoke you have to lurk around in back alleys; good manners from everyone with lots of bowing and thanking; hospitals and police stations and schools/universities everywhere; and how shopkeepers will tell you to pay them tomorrow if you don’t have enough money with you or your credit card doesn’t work on their machine; and on and on. I could write pages on what I like about Seoul. For all I know, what I’ve seen here could be true everywhere in Korea, but apart from very short visits to Suncheon and Daejon, I haven’t been anywhere else. I was in Incheon, but that’s so close to Seoul that I included it in my analysis.
What is a four-way intersection? Well, the traffic is stopped in all four or five directions all at the same time— and it’s a full stop with no right turns on red. Then the green walk signs come on in all directions including diagonal crossing, and everyone crosses at the same time. I think it’s much safer (if you don’t include the occasional (young) motorcycle driver who slips through because he just can’t wait a minute or two).
Cleaning staff: cleaning staff are everywhere cleaning trains every time they get to the end of the line, cleaning public washrooms, even cleaning the escalators in stores and at stations. Street cleaners keep sidewalks and roads clean with brooms! I haven’t seen any automated street cleaning equipment. Even on country roads there are people sweeping up pine needles and stuff like that. I went to see the Korean War Memorial and museum today and there was lots of ground staff. This is a way to employ as many people as possible. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but it makes sense.
Another way to employ more people is by hiring traffic control staff at major stores that have underground parking. What a wonder it is, from traffic control as you drive up, to people stationed all the way down and around the ramps even, directing cars right into available parking spots. It’s an orchestrated joy to behold. And furthermore, all underground parking garages have painted floors to eliminate dust, and yes, there are cleaning staff there as well. There are also little wheel stops in the parking spots to let you know when to stop. And music to soothe you. It’s amazing! If they would only start selling bras and bathing suits in normal (my) sizes, this country would be perfect!
There’s also the availability of health care. It’s possible to walk into a doctor’s office as a complete stranger and be seen for about $16. That includes the shot, if you need one. Prescriptions are another matter though. If you’re not covered by insurance, you have to pay A LOT. And you have to get a prescription for some things that are bought over the counter in Canada, so that’s a bummer. So bring your vitamins and antihistamines with you.
I mentioned that I would write about my memorable subway train trip to Incheon when I went last week. As soon as I transferred onto the blue line, the train that goes directly to Incheon, I was seized upon by a little lady dressed in full mountaineering gear. She must’ve been about 62 or 63, but she had the full hiking stuff on: backpack, boots, flak jacket, hat, the whole 9 yards. There’s an area at the back of each car that is reserved for older people, pregnant women, disabled, and so on. I went there as the train was crowded and that area is the best place for an available seat to come up. As soon as I got there I saw that this mountaineering lady was busy telling a younger woman to get out of the area. The younger woman was trying to ignore her as she stood there strap hanging, but she didn’t have a chance against this lady flapping her hands and talking a mile a minute and finally had to get out of the zone!
When that was taken care of, this woman turned her attention to me. I was carrying a backpack with Canada written on it. And of course I didn’t look Korean. She started talking to me, of course in Korean, so I smiled to be polite and tried very politely to ignore her. That turned out to be impossible. As a seat became available, she waved me towards it and blocked another woman who had been on her way to take the seat. Then the seat next to me became available and she sat herself down and took me over. Ignoring the fact that I couldn’t speak any Korean, she continued to ask me questions and then, I guess, she answered them herself, all the way to Incheon. One hour. Trying to keep a polite smile on my face all the way and nodding politely was more of a strain than I would have thought possible. She wanted to know where I was going and why, I knew that much. So then I got out my map. This was the signal for her to include everyone else into the discussion. A couple of old men got very interested in what I should do when I got to Incheon, and I caught the mention of MacArthur‘s name and soldiers and Chinatown, but I lacked the language to be able to say I had already seen all that. But anyway I sat there and listened as they all discussed the pros and cons of where I should go and where I should get off the train and whether I was alone or not, and I don’t know what else. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a trip quite like it. Not only was I the centre of attention in the older and pregnant woman section of the train, but the lady was loud enough and inclusive enough in her discussion that half the train was staring at me. Or trying not to, which was worse. I’ve never regretted not trying harder to learn Korean quite so much.
Tomorrow should be an interesting day. I’m going away with friends for an overnight trip into the country and will be sleeping on the floor and sharing a room. We’re not sleeping on mattresses either. So I’ll let you know how it goes.
June 26, Tuesday night
I just found out that my Korea 2 page disappeared. I can’t retrieve it, but I think I know what happened. I cleared my cache today because I thought that’s what was slowing down my blog posting. I thought maybe I had too much saved, or running in the background, or something. In fact, the truth is I don’t know what I’m doing. I just shut my eyes and pressed “clear all” and it did. So I guess we begin again from today. Worse things happen at sea.
Well of course a lot has happened in the last week. For one thing I had a birthday and climbed a small mountain to celebrate my last day of being 75. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone. I would post pictures here that I took on the way up and from the summit, but I’m afraid of slowing down my posts again. (I must learn how to edit my photos on my iPad so that they are not such huge files).
Anyway, I did that and met some very bossy women who practically frog marched me down from the summit to catch the subway. They seemed to be under the impression that because I didn’t speak Korean, I must be a halfwit—and we know that’s not true, dear reader, don’t we?
On the way to the mountain, actually, as I was wondering whether to attempt the climb because of my back and left leg, another very talkative lady came up to me wondering if I was lost, and absolutely undeterred by the fact that I didn’t understand a word she was saying, talked at me in rapid-fire Korean until I brought her to a momentary halt by handing her my business card. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog about the importance of having one of these in Korea. She waxed enthusiastic about the fact that I am a teacher, and I think she’s hired me. She took my phone out of my hand and entered her information, and then she called her phone from mine to get my number. She’s going to have someone from her church, who presumably speaks English, phone me this coming Sunday. We’ll see.
I’m getting used to people “handling” me, and was unsurprised later when the previously mentioned “bossy” women took money out of my hand and rummaged in my backpack to find smaller notes. This was because I was going to leave an offering in the little Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain and they disapproved of the amount as being too much. This is about the third or fourth time this has happened to me, so now I’m used to it. The last time it was a man I’d just met who took the money I was about to give to a beggar on the street and took a smaller note out of my purse.
Koreans don’t tip, either, so you could actually save money here if you didn’t make some of the dumb mistakes I’ve made since I’ve been here. Getting on wrong trains comes to mind.
Something surprisingly wonderful happened to me last week as well, pre birthday. I acquired a new language exchange partner when I first arrived. I belong to an online language site and exchange language practice with Koreans. A woman contacted me on the site shortly after I arrived. She lives in Incheon (remember MacArthur?), so after exchanging some news online, she invited me to visit her there. After a memorable train trip, which I will write about later, my new friend met me and gave me an absolutely wonderful afternoon! We had a fabulous Korean lunch called a Han-jeonshik. “Korean table d’hôte, called han-jeongsik (한정식; 韓定食) in Korean, is a Korean-style full-course meal characterized by the array of small banchan plates in varied colours.”
We then walked around a beautiful park surrounded by some of the most stunning architecture I’ve ever seen. I’m not a buildings person, but even I could see that the glass towers were works of art. My new friend was a lovely and charming woman who was a pleasure to be with and treated me like a returning family member—no other way to describe it. We reluctantly parted a 6 o’clock when she had to get home to her husband and little boys, but we plan to meet again and have been in touch nearly every day since. Earlier this evening we were studying together and she started The Little Prince so that we can discuss it. So very interesting!
I’ll continue this tomorrow as it’s late now and I have a language lesson in the morning— not that it’s improving my Korean much, but at least I can now say “I’m sorry. I don’t speak Korean.”