21 May, 2006

Sogeumgang, Odaesan National Park, Today

So, here I am, blogging about something that happened earlier on the same day! Em knows how exciting this is to me, as I am constantly complaining about being so backed up with my posts.

If you follow the 'k' in 'Park' to the tallest peak, that's Birobong. If you go diagonally down to the left, to the orangish flag, that's Sogeumgang.

Having had such a successful day out in Korea yesterday, I decided to attempt continuing that trend on my own with a solo hike. I enjoyed our last hike at Odaesan (Birobong Peak), but it really was quite a production to get out there, and I wasn't prepared to deal with the sketchy bus situation again. I'd got word about a direct bus from downtown to a different part of the park, so I thought I'd try that. However, it wouldn't be a 'Marge story', as Em calls it, if I had all the details worked out beforehand, and true to form, I didn't. I've become rather spontaneous in recent years when it comes to certain things, and sudden decision-making doesn't always include detailed planning. But whatever. I headed downtown around 10:30 with a vague idea of when and where to catch the bus. I at least knew it was the 303. I texted Marc to confirm the location knowing it was very unlikely I'd hear from him so early on a Sunday morning (turns out I never did). I found the main stop I thought it was, and sure enough, it said 303 on it but didn't have a timetable. After waiting until 11:10, I started getting suspicious and thought maybe I should try the main stop that was down a bit on the other side of the street. As I was waiting at the crosswalk, I saw the bus go by--on the other side of the street. For a split second, it crossed my mind to sprint into the street after it, but there's no way I would have caught it or not been hit by traffic. I took a moment to be grumpy but then got over it and continued walking to the other stop (if I'm not going to plan things ahead, I can't be uptight when things go wrong, right?). Sure enough, the 303 was listed on it as well, along with a timetable. I had just missed the 11:10 bus, and the next one wasn't due until 1:10! I hadn't eaten breakfast, so I used my spare time to grab some food and do a little reading in my Lonely Planet Korea (got some good ideas for more 'Marge trips'!). With twenty minutes to spare, I went to the stop, and this time, I caught it.

The bus route took roads out of the city I'd never been on before. Relying on taxis for transport doesn't allow for much aimless wandering about the city. It was very interesting to see a new part of it. The ride was about forty-five minutes. When I got off, I asked the bus driver what time it returned, and he waved me toward the bus stop sign. I got off and looked at it, and there was again no timetable.

Deciding not to sweat it, I started up the restaurant and shop-lined road that led to the trail. There were many people on the trail which I found mildly frustrating, but it was a lovely day, and people watching in Korea is always fun. I can't believe the things they wear on hot days. I was sweating healthily in my tank top and lightweight pants, but I saw men and women, old and young alike, wearing long pants, long sleeved shirts and jackets--zipped--and counted no fewer than fifteen people wearing gloves! And they don't sweat! It's unbelievable. The hike was short--2.2km one way--but beautiful, following the river up to a small waterfall. The trail keeps going to Noinbong Peak and then over to Sangwonsa Temple, but I didn't have time for that. Next time. At the falls, I asked a couple to take my picture. The man looked very wary of me. I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the water (but not the crowd of people or buzzing flies) and then flew down the mountain like a ninja--I wanted plenty of time to figure out the bus.

I took off my shoes and sat on a rock outside a little restaurant by the bus stop. After twenty minutes or so, the restaurant man came out and tried talking to me. I asked him about the bus, and though I didn't understand what time it came, I was pretty sure he said there was one coming. Cool, that's all I need. A few minutes later he came back. 'Man you know-- immaterial-- aaah-- imitation-- aiiish.... invitation! You come, eat nice potato pizza, man you know.' I said no thank you a couple of times but then thought 'why not?' I motioned to him that I would put on my shoes and come in. When I went inside, I understood what he had been trying to tell me. The couple who had taken my picture at the falls was there, and they had invited to me sit and eat with them while we waited for the same bus. They spoke even less English than I speak Korean, but with the help of the very funny restaurant man, we chatted a little. And then, what do you know, the bus came! And I was home before dark! All around a fantastic weekend.

Rail-biking and The Cave

Yesterday Esther took me, Liz, and our oldest student Olivia on a field trip into the nether regions of Gangwon province. We met a little after nine, and after driving for over an hour on a winding road through amazing mountains (I'm realizing that not much of Korea isn't mountainous) and small villages and rice fields and stopping once for Liz to get sick, we ended up at place where we were to ride rail bikes. If I'm right about what city we were nearest, we were somewhere southwest of Gangneung. Anyway,when Esther was trying to explain her plans to me and Liz, we didn't quite understand what she was talking about. But when we got there, it all came clear. The bikes were like paddleboats with wheels on railroad tracks. The bikes we chose sat two each with padded seats and pedals out in front. Once a row of carts filled up, we were able to take off, and we each let the cart ahead of us gain a little distance before taking off ourselves. It was a gorgeous day, warm and breezy with a little haze. The course took us through mountains, rice fields, several tunnels, and over a couple of bridges. Liz and I had a blast zipping through the countryside. It wasn't a full circle course, so when we got to the final station, we took a shuttle back to the station of origin. Liz got off the shuttle and promptly went to the bathroom to get sick again. Thankfully I don't get motion sick, but with the winding roads and stuffy vehicles, I have no trouble seeing why Liz does. Olivia's mother had made us gimbap--seaweed and rice rolls filled with ham and vegetables--so we had a nice little lunch under a tree at the station. After a quick debate whether to see the cave or go home, we piled into the car and set out for the cave. Liz took the front seat to try to avert sickness, and Olivia and I fell asleep in the back.

At the cave, we took a tram up the side of the mountain to the entrance, and over the next hour, we walked down through the cave/mine--I think the sign said it was 1,803m total. It started as a paved passage showing the history of the mine that used to operate in the mountain. Eventually we came to a series of long metal stairways descending steeply through large caverns. Liz complained about the sharp grade of the stairs, and I complained about not being able to crawl into any holes or passageways or climb stuff. After the metal stairs, there was another long paved passage, this time filled with bizzare displays of weird creatures mining. Liz and I didn't get it. The last cavern before the exit was the best part--a vast open space punctuated with weird and beautiful rock formations and natural pillars and statues. And suddenly we were back out in the bright sunlight, brushing the chill from our clothes. And then I woke up. It was five-thirty, and we were in front of the school--our field trip was over.

String Quintet

The mother of my morning kinder Sarah is the first violinist in a string quintet, and Friday she brought the group to the school to do a mini-concert for the kids. It turned out to be mini indeed, as they only played two full length pieces, but what they did play was beautiful and very enjoyable.

Ojukheon, May 2nd

On May second, we packed up our morning kinder classes and took them out to Ojukheon to look at the temple and museum and have a picnic. It was a warm and sunny day, and the trees and plants were bright green and in full bloom. The kids were very excited and came prepared with neatly packed box lunches and cute little picnic mats. Some of the mothers made us teachers lunch, and it was truly a work of art, not to mention delicious. After lunch we played a few games, crossing our fingers that no one (including ourselves) would vomit for having eaten so much.

10 May, 2006

Lotus Lantern Festival, April 29-30

The last weekend of April marked Buddha's birthday and brought the Lotus Lantern Festival to Seoul. April and I thought it would be fun to head west to check out the festivities. We arrived Saturday evening, and after negotiating the subway and the streets of Insadong, we finally got set up in our room at the Emerald Hotel. We caught up with some fellow Gangneung-ians and grabbed some dinner, then checked out the big temple in Insadong before calling it a night.

April and I hit the streets the next morning around 11:30. We did a little shopping, had a little brunch, and texted our friends to see when/where we might meet. Our messages were met with resounding silence, and when we finally did get a response from Marc, he told us that he hadn't gone to bed until 10:00am, would we please leave him alone. No problem, we said, we're doing fine on our own.

One of the main streets of Insadong had been blocked off and was filled with tents and booths of all varieties--alot of them with a Buddhist theme, of course. There were also alot of hands-on crafts--I did some ink painting, April and I both made lotus flower headbands with a monk, and many people made lotus lanterns. We checked out clothes and jewelry, watched old men do beautiful calligraphy, and saw some fascinating stage performances. In the later afternoon, we met our friends who were up and moving, and another friend of April's from the Seoul area came down. Being exhausted, we moved from the busy street to a cafe for a slight repose before the parade.

The Lotus Lantern Parade was pretty much just that--a lantern parade. We saw monks carrying lanterns, old men and women carrying lanterns, handicapped people carrying lanterns, children carrying lanterns, young men and women carrying lanterns...there were a few floats in there too, but mostly ALOT of lanterns. I chatted with April's friend Barkley and snapped random shots of lanterns. Several hours later, I tired of the lanterns and found myself being drawn by an unseen magnetic force into the nearby Subway restaurant. I experienced ten minutes of heaven while I consumed real western food.

By that time it was getting pretty late, so I headed back the the express bus terminal sans April, who was staying a couple more days. On arriving, I was greeted with the unpleasant news that the last bus to Gangneung was sold out. I called Taylor, Gene, and Tania (who was going to Yang Yang, forty-five minutes north of Gangneung) to see if they had got tickets, and they hadn't--they were still a few minutes away from the terminal. A cab driver looking for a fare quoted me 40,000 won for the three hour ride. I told him I had two other friends, could he wait, and would it really be 40,000 for three people to Gangneung? He said yes. I called Taylor with that information, and in the meantime purchased a ticket to Yang Yang for Tania just in case that bus sold out too. When the guys showed up, the taxi driver hustled us off to the car. He ignored us when we kept trying to confirm the price which made us a little suspicious. Gene pushed the issue until he finally got the guy to tell us that it was 40,000 EACH. We said no thanks, and made a split decision to buy tickets for the Yang Yang bus that was about ready to pull out. As we raced back to the ticket window, Tania yelled that we could stay with her. It was 3:00am by the time we got to her place. She gave us each a pillow and a sheet and turned up the floor heat. I snagged a spot of floor and crashed. At 8:00am, we caught the teacher bus with Tania to the university she works at in Gangneung. From there we got taxis home, and since I don't have to work until 1:00pm on Mondays, I was able to catch two and a half more hours of sleep before I had to drag myself around the corner. Whew! After two weekends in a row of bus mishaps, I think I might avoid the buses for awhile.

Jay's Birthday

It's all about the snack party!

03 May, 2006

Spring, yellow dust

Spring has brought beautiful blossoms and bright green foliage, but it also brought what is know as hwang sa--the yellow dust that blows over from China. We've been told that this year has been the worst in a long time. On several days, we were told not to take the kids to the playground as the parents didn't want them outside. During the worst of it, I got a sore throat and couldn't talk very well. The middle picuture is sunset on a normal day. The bottom picture is sunset on a yellow dust day--it was an otherwise cloudless day.

01 May, 2006

Saturday, April 22nd--Odaesan National Park

The blossoms have been out for awhile now, but the temperatures have been less than spring-like. Last weekend, however, it was finally nice enough for a few of us to head to the mountains for what we thought would be a lovely, relaxing day of hiking. Attitudes were optimistic, Odaesan National Park the destination. April, Marc, Bryce and I met at the bus terminal at 11am to catch an 11: 40 bus to Jinbu. Please follow my story through the pictures below.
I knew it was going to be a good trip when Marc immediately took off his shirt to illustrate his opinion of the temperature on Korean buses. Poor April. It was a forty minute bus ride.
On arriving in Jinbu, we were directed to the bus that was to take us to the park. We found it easily, and it departed fairly promptly. The bus driver whipped us up the winding road with the help of the handy knob on his steering wheel. It was 9km of potholed, dirt road fun.
I took the opportunity to snap a shot of April while we were paused to buy park entrance tickets.
Bryce and I looked on as April and Marc had a pre-hike smoke. "What, guys? It's completely natural!"
The hike started with a .3km climb to Sangwonsa Temple.
We enjoyed the lovely architecture and picturesque setting.
I attempted to be creative and artistic.
The trail beyond the temple was not as much 'trail' as it was 'staircase'. Those of you who know me would never believe that I was lagging behind purely for photographic purposes, but I'll try saying that I was anyway. Colorful lanterns lined the way, adding to the already scenic climb.
I took many small breaks as we climbed...
...and climbed.
At this point, the trail turned from dry and rocky to wet and muddy.
The afternoon sun was beautiful coming through the trees, and the temperature was great--not too hot, not too cold.
The sky through the trees,
and distant mountains through the trees.
On one of our breaks we sat trail-side and told stupid jokes. I documented the welt on my forhead that was the result of a freak nut-throwing incident. And, no, I didn't need to be wearing earrings, but as Nathan Lane's character says in The Birdcage, 'One does want a hint of color...'
I snapped this photo thinking we were nearing the end, but it turned out not to be true.
This is not merely a photo of a particularly muddy spot but a representation of nearly half the trail--squish! (The other half was stairs.)
Almost there...
...and yes! There actually WAS a peak!
There were mountains for miles.
Me with the proof--Odaesan, Birobong, haebal 1,563m. Marc lit up for a peak-top smoke.
The hike down went much more quickly.
At 6:00PM we got to the bottom. We checked the very rudimentary bus stop sign and concluded that there was a 6:50PM bus. We waited...
...and waited...
...and waited...
...and waited.
At 7:10 we realized that there probably wasn't going to be a bus. We took a quick group photo and started walking (please recall here that the bus ride from the ticket booth was 9km).
We started walking in fading daylight.
We walked for two hours in the dark.
We were very tired but actually kept the crankiness to a minimum.
Fortunately we had some water left.
I was not above sitting in the road to stretch.
When we finally reached the gate, some friendly and more than helpful hotel keepers called us taxi. Bryce and Marc chatted in German with a couple of the guys while we waited. The taxi was a most welcome sight, and we didn't even mind that it was about twenty dollars for the ride into Jinbu.
In Jinbu, we caught one of the last buses back to Gangneung. We got in at 10:30. And since we hadn't eaten a real meal since 11:00AM, our first order of business was dinner. We shoveled dwaejigalbi down our throats in silence with our heads bent low over the table. That would have made the perfect concluding picture, but I didn't have the presence of mind at that point to get out my camera. The end.