Monday, August 29, 2005

A different DMZ tour

Wow, today Summer Vacation is over, and I'm back to Chung Deok Middle School with no real break until Winter Vacation in January. Actually, I am going to China for Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving), so I can't really complain.

This weekend, I rejoined the Adventure Korea (AK) travel club for a trip to the Odaemi village in Cherwon, 3 miles from the DMZ. I have to thank Jaelee whose idea it was to go on the trip. I haven't joined up with AK since the fall of 2003, during my previous incarnation as an ESL teacher in Seoul. It was worth the 5-hour bus ride up to Seoul to join the crew again.

The Odaemi village was site of one of the fiercest battles in the Korean War, and the setting for the famous Korean movie, Taekugi. We traveled the 2+ hours to Odaemi and took a tour of the DMZ in that area. The tour included the 2nd Infiltration tunnel, and Iron Triangle observatory, Wolcheongri Station and Labor Party Building. As compared to Paju, these sites are not as "developed": There is no train down the tunnel; there is no "picture line" at the observatory; there just aren't as many people or buses. The place is kinda far from Seoul and not as well visited. This "under-development" created the possibility to "bend" a few rules. The main rule to bend was the photography rule. I think a great many pictures were taken that weren't "allowed." Actually, Jaelee was instructed by a soldier to delete one shot she took. I'm sure that once everyone learned that taking photos were not allowed that they deleted all theirs too. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

Unfortunately, due to a leak of classified information on the internet, we were not allowed to visit the Army base. That was a bit of a let down, because were had hoped to ride in tanks and play on a ropes course. Oh well.

We had a great night at the Odeami village. A good dinner (not bibimbab – what a change from 2003) and watched the movie Taekugi. A bit of theatrical history never hurt anyone, and the big screen outdoors was a good venue. Post movie, there was a slight alcohol binge in session… all fun and games.

The next day, we rode bikes (Ok… tandem bicycles are not that easy to use), went fishing and looked for mines. The mine hunt was fun, but unfortunately my group didn't find any mines… I suppose a bonus since I still have all my limbs. Actually the mines were training versions set up to work on radio frequency… no explosives that we found. The area in Cherwon, due to the fighting during the Korean War had been heavily mined, and was through the work of the locals, cleared. (Though Seok-jin informed us that 7% of Korea is still covered with mines.)

Another nice change from the AK that I remember is arriving in Seoul early. It was great, as the 6 hour train ride, which we turned into 4.5 thanks to the 300km/hr KTX, was not gonna arrive as late as I had originally dreaded.

Was it worth it? All the traveling? The expense to get there? YES… with Adventure Korea, for me there has always been great new people to meet, and new things to see. This trip was no exception. Granted, I probably won't do it as often as I did as when I lived in Seoul, but I see another trip looming in the future… hey, maybe I can meet them next time they head to Jeollanamdo?  One dissapointing thing, the Adventure Korea Pub, is no longer. Use to be a great place to go, though I hoestly didn't get there enough when I was in Seoul. A sad bit of news for the old AK crowds I'm sure. But still, the club is a great thing for foreigners in Korea, especially Seoul. Check out and take a look at  what they are about. 

Now it's back to School. I'm excited to be back as summer holidays always seem to be just a tad to long for my liking, though I'm always happy when they come. I'm looking forward to the new semester, and the start of my next year here in Yeosu. My contract will be over in about a year from now. So the adventure continues   



Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Empirical testing

Funny, I'm a bit of a scientist of late. I did two studies to answer some questions that plague man.
Is it really illegal for motorcycles to go on the toll highway, or is that just a myth that Koreans tell us to keep us off the "Dangerous Highways"? (Note for my mom - if it is any consolation, highways are way safer than city streets.)
I tested this when I was running late for my training workshop with the new batch or JLP teachers in Kwangju.
OK, I didn't really have a hypothesis, I just figured that if I used the highway I would:
1. Get to my meeting on time because it knocks at least 30 minutes travel time to Kwangju.
2. Either get yelled at by the lady in the toll both in Kwangju and/or pay my bill, thus answering the question. (It's not like they would turn me back.)
So, I'm cruising at 100km/h which is the speed limit, and have not a single worry, except for having to pass the odd slowpoke. Then it started to rain and I decided to slow down to 90km just to give my bike a bit of a rest. I had been cruising for more than an hour at 100km/h. Then, a highway patrol truck catches up to me, and guides me into the nearest rest station. Damn... 4 exits to go and I would have been home free.
Bikes are not allowed on the toll highway.
The patrolmen thought I skipped onto the highway, and were amazed when I actually had a ticket(the dispenser was automated.) I told them that there aren't signs saying "no bikes" (there aren't) and that I didn't know bikes weren't allowed (OK I's heard that they weren't, but that was only through hearsay.)
I had to wait for the police to be escorted off the highway. It was funny, a little ignorance and a little white (ok Gray) lie go a long way. I wasn't fined, and all in all, instead of being 1/2 hour late, I was only 15 minutes late for my meeting.
Further comments:
Had I stayed at 100km/h I would have made it, because they wouldn't have caught up to me... Darn rain. Haha... One for experience.

What happens when you with a wasp at 70km/h.
I tested this while driving to my mechanics to get my chain tightened.
Wasp goes splat.
OK... the wasp hit my shoulder and bounced towards the center of my torso. It managed to slip down the collar and into my shirt.
Wasps get really pissed off when they hit a motorcyclist at 70km/h.
The little bugger stung me 6 times (4 times on the chest, and twice on the belly). I managed to pull over and began gently stripping my shirt off, not to aggravate it any more, if it was still alive and in my shirt. I thought I felt it moving, but that was the sensation where it had stung me. Luckily for me, it had escaped my shirt before I stopped.
That's why my motorcycle jacket closes fully at the throat. I haven't worn it in a bit because it's been too hot. And, I'm glad he didn't hit me in the knee... I was wearing shorts. Yup, looking forward to cooler weather.
Further comments:
This is further proof that I am a lot like my dad - the stings swelled up to the size of mosquito bites. They hurt for about an 10 minutes, and that was it.

Hopefully I won't really test anything else for a while.

KJ Long weekend part II

So, funny how history repeats itself-the keys were gone. Discovered that morning as we were about to head to the Lotus festival that I still needed a key. Can't go to far on an empty tank. So, Jae and I spent the better part of the day looking for a locksmith that was open. Luckily enough, we found a lock shop that was open. It took a while, and thanks to Jae's Korean skills and phrase book we were able to communicate what we needed, and the lady called us a fellow to make a key. Like the last time, it took him all of 5 minutes to make a new key that worked. Amazing!!!
Jae and I then decided that we would spend the day in KJ, look for the Italian restaurant that Jae won a 30 000won gift certificate for. Once we found the place, we decided to hike up the mountain beside the restaurant. It was a nice little hike, it was hot, so we were sweaty and a little dirty for dinner. No worries, it's just a little Italian place that gives out gift certificates at baseball games.
That said, we were a little shocked at how upscale the place was. Fortunately Jae had packed a cocktail dress, and I had my suit in my backpack, so we fit right in. Uhm... ya...that didn't really happen - actually we just stuck out a little more than usual. It was a good meal - salad, pasta and a pizza.
Than we decided to drive 3 hours to Norado island. The theory was to spend the night, hang out on the beach, and take the ferry back to Yeosu.
The ride down was good. We cruised on the highway as best we could, with minimal traffic. A nice night ride. Made it to Norado with a little help from a gas Station (directions and emergency glasses repair.)
Norado has the claim to fame of being the home of the Korean Space Agency (KARI) and will eventually host rocket launches. Unfortunately,the sign at the space camp we drove to, said 2005, but I just read it will be 2007 before a launch is made. We drove down to space camp after finding out we couldn't put the bikes on the ferry at that stop. We drove home.
Actually before all that happened we decided to explore the area by the beach a little. We actually hand lifted the bikes over a couple of chains hoping to cruise around to the ferry terminal along the shore. Nope... some people were camping where the road ended. Haha... the family was really friendly as one of the men spoke very good English. He invited us to join them for freshly caught fish (Raw) and bulgogi. It was a great breakfast. (Jae kinda wonders if that's what made her sick a few days later, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the fish.)
We slowly cruised back to Yeosu, stopping where ever we wanted. (Actually whenever Jaelee wanted to take a picture...) I'm waiting on those pics from Jae, since she was the camera lady. I'll post some when I can.
Cheers all.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Kwangju on the long weekend

OK, Jaelee and I decided to ride our bikes up to Kwangju to see a baseball game. Yes, I went to another baseball game. Some may be surprised that I even enjoyed it. Remember, I'm the guy who has claimed that I would rather go to the dentist than watch pro baseball.
We rode the bikes up the route I usually take to the Yeonsuwon(where I do the camps). It was a hot, hot day and I decided to wear long sleeves, despite the heat. Good call, now if only I had remembered my gloves... We took our time and pulled over several times to down some much needed water, and take some pictures. Actually Jaelee remembered her camera, I forgot the bag with it. (I was having a forgetful day - more on that later.) 
We arrived in Kwangju, and headed for Starbucks. Traffic in the city was nuts, as it is a long weekend, and a lot of people were travelling. We made it to Starbucks, and then over to Outback for dinner. We cooked over to the Baseball Stadium, to get our tickets. Oh my lord, the ticket counter is bullet proof. There is just a couple of holes in a metal plate instead of a window. It is very creepy not being able to see who you are talking about, and especially not understanding what she is saying without facial cues to go on. But we managed to get into the stadium and settle in to watch the game.
The game was really exciting... and not only because of the skimpily clad cheerleaders.  The Kwangju (Kia) Tigers played against the LG Twins (don't know where they were from.) It was an exciting ending with Kia coming back from a good deficit to win, 10 - 8. So exciting that I even bought a Tiger's baseball Jersey. I'll post a pic when I can. Don't get me wrong, I'm not becoming a baseball fan, it was just memorable.
So, after the game (this is where the forgetful thing comes up again) I couldn't find my keys. Not in the bag and not in my pockets. Thought maybe I dropped them in the Loo, when I changed into my shorts... maybe I did - maybe I didn't. They weren't in the washroom, they weren't at the seats, they weren't in the bike... they were gone.
Does anyone remember that I lost keys for my other bike... not good either. Well, rather than leave the bike there for someone to take it, I rolled it over to a BMW bike dealership we could see from the Stadium. I figured I might get a locksmith in the morning from there. Well, luckily one of the guys was there, and helped me get the bike going again. Now, I won't give any details, but, hot wiring a Daelim Magma is the easiest thing I've ever seen, so, friends, please lock up your bikes as best you can.
Any way, now I'm in a JimJilBang (a sauna where you can sleep) and I'm typing away. It's time to go to sleep. Everyone enjoy you weeks, I'll update to on the rest of this weekend's adventures later.


So, the last week I've been doing an English Camp with students from various middles schools in Jeollanam province. I haven't done stuff like that in ages. Not really since my Kamp Kiwanis days. Fortunately I like the directors at this camp... Mr Yang and Mrs Kim are great. They are the coordinators/supervisors of the teacher camps as well as the kids summer camp programs. I love doing them.
I'll try and include some pics later. My kids were called the Funny Forest (we wewre the green group) and they were a great bunch of kids. All the kids in the program were weither the top, or second from the top in their class and possibly schools. It was fun. The only issue I had was that the camp was over in 5 days, barely enough time to bond with the kids. (for me, barely enough time to learn their names.) I'd love to do a camp like this over a 2 week period. The Yeonsuwon hunt I created for the program was a hit with the kids. I was glad to hear that one of my students thought it was the best activity of the week. (haha)
I look forward to doing another camp whenever I can in the future.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Adventures in Travellin

OK... this has been one of those trips where I keep going... "hmmm."
I didn't really fully understand that I would have an 8hr layover in Seattle. If I had been on the ball, I probably would have tried to contact Brian and Monica in Vancouver Washington before I left. I'm sure Brian needs a distraction from the playstation. So, to kill 8 hours I walked from the airport several miles to a mall, and read a book in Starbucks. The adventure began after that.
Because it was hot, and I didn't feel like hiking up the hill again, I went looking for a ATM to get cash for a taxi. Well, I walked for a good 45 minutes before finding a hotel, and a $2.95 US ATM... that P'dMO, but had to do it to get cash. Well, I got my money, and then went to the desk to see how much they would charge me to use their shuttle service. I wasn't a guest, but I figured it'd still be cheaper than a taxi. "Oh, we'll take you over there, no charge." Asa! (Korean for Awesome!)Got to the airport, and vegg'd for an extra hour because our flight was delayed...
The flight was the most BORING flight I was ever on. OK, I will say something you normally would never hear from me... AirCanada rocks compared to KoreanAir. KAL only had 2 movies (1 english, 1 Korean) and several Korean TV shows(Dramas and news - some subtitled, none dubbed). AC usually has 3 or 4 movies, and way better radio. But all in all, I survived the flight well, made it through immigration which was packed from a tonne of international flights that arrived at the same time.
From there, I hopped on a bus to get to Gimpo, to see if I could catch an earlier flight than the one I'm currently waiting for. It would be tight, but the lady at the KAL desk figured I'd make it.
That was the the real "death bus" (not to be confused with former Seoul route 79... aka the death bus)... those of you who have been to Korea know that bus drivers are people being punished for being the worst and most inconsiderate drivers in Korea... I think ours was drunk.
Not only could he not decide what lane to drive in, he cut off several drivers. Up to that point I didn't think he was drunk, but when we were 5 minutes from the airport, he clipped a post at an off ramp. That was when I became suspicious. I'm not sure how he did it, but the door, one of those seemless ones that sucks up tight to the bus, was ripped right off. Amazingly the mirror, which sticks out a foot further was spared. After stopping to throw the liberated door into one of the luggage bays, he continued on to out destination... I would have jumped off, and walked, but he wouldn't even let the old business guys get off. Luckily nobody was hurt, and there were no more mishaps during the next 2 stops.
Anyway, needless to say, I just missed the last flight to Yeosu,and had to stay in a hotel for the night.
My wake up call came an hour early, as another guest had an earlier flight than I did. So, I have been here since 5:30, and my flight boards at 8:30... Ah, I can't wait for transporter technology.
Beam me home Scotty...