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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Free at last

25 October 2010 2 comments

My last day at work was Friday. I had thought it was going to be today, which is the day I agreed to finish working, but I was told that I didn’t need to work on the Monday – which I forgot and had to be retold on Friday. Min-seon, the office manager, who I used to give lessons to, took me out for lunch and said that she’d miss me – not sure I believe that.

The previous night was supposed to be a leaving meal for me and Andrew, the Korean guy who also taught at EducaKorea and managed the Learning Center. Having very little work to do I was ready to go at the official finishing time of 6 o’clock, but Andrew told me people would be leaving at 7. So I left anyway and went to roleplaying. Probably not a very nice gesture to my colleagues, but the prospect didn’t fill me with much joy. Besides which, the night’s roleplaying session was an important one and it overran by an hour.

It was also my last roleplaying session for a while, as I’m heading to China on Thursday for a couple of weeks.

I haven’t blogged about my life recently, so here’s an update of the last few weeks.

Korean drivers aren’t held in high esteem by foreigners. I think Koreans just take them for granted. In some ways, though, Korean drivers are very tolerant of pedestrians. If there’s a small road joining a main road and there are no traffic lights, I’ve found that drivers, while they will certainly try to squeeze between people crossing the small road, they will also wait patiently if there are no gaps in the flow of pedestrians.

A while ago, walking back to the office from my Starbucks writing lunch, while crossing one such road an Audi saloon came towards me too fast. Already halfway across the road, I was confident that it was stop, but it came close to hitting me. I was holding my travel cup at my side, so I accidentally on purpose let it clunk against the car’s bonnet. The man inside honked his horn and shouted something at me as I walked away. I took no notice. From the amount of time it too the car to drive past me up the road, I’m sure he got out to check his paintwork. I wonder what would have happened if he’d seen some damage.

I’ve been wanting to get into hiking again – especially since I bought a new pair of hiking boots over the summer – they cost 150,000 won – about £75. A few weeks ago I went to Namhansanseong by myself on Sunday – it was a location that had been suggested by my friend and avid hiker, Botond.

There was a scary moment on the subway train. I was sitting there reading and there was a loud cry – pretty much a scream – from somewhere on my right. A young chubby guy ran down the carriage shouting wordlessly, holding something in his hand, apparently nothing wrong with him. When he got to the next car he stopped. Completely random and very unnerving. I had felt the adrenaline fountain inside me in a split second, and it took a while for my system to settle down.

The hike was pretty pleasant. After a bit of trek through the town, past all the hiking gear shops, you get to the foot of the hills and trudge up the hillside past a few small temples and plots of short towers made of piled rocks – many of them improbably slender. Then you reach the South Gate of the fortress.

It started raining pretty heavily while I was having a break there, so I put on my newly purchased rain jacket and headed off into the downpour while Koreans huddled under the gate’s roof. Not too long afterwards the rain stopped and the clouds cleared away leaving bright sunshine and good visibility. This latter was important because from some parts of the walls you can see all of Seoul to the northwest.

As I got to the west side of the fortress, having gone anti-clockwise around the perimiter (apart from one shortcut), it got more crowded with non-hikers – people there just for a short jaunt out to some historic buildings and who lack all the expensive clothing and gear that marks the serious hiker (and there are lots of these in Korea). As I headed wearily back to the South Gate, going downhill much of the way, my boots began to feel uncomfortable, my toes pressing againt the fronts.

Two weeks later I went back with Habiba and her colleagues June and Aiden.

In between these two hikes (if memory serves) Habiba, her friend Jessica and I went to the Busan International Film Festival (known as PIFF because it was established back when people used the older McCune-Reischauer system of transliterating Hangul into Roman letters). We saw three films on the Saturday but none on the Sunday.

The three we saw were all interesting in various ways – Honey was an understated Turkish film about a boy whose father has an accident while out collecting honey from his hives up in trees in the forest; Portraits in a Sea of Lies – the best of the three – was a moving Colombian film about a withdrawn young woman who goes on a roadtrip with her cocky cousin to find the deeds to a plot of land; and Viridiana was a strange 1950s drama by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, about a young woman whose uncle tries to seduce and then commits suicide, apparently forcing her to live on in his mansion and take in a load of troubled homeless people.

The blurb about this last film promised cannibalism, so we were all disappointed when it didn’t materialise – blame Korean translators. Actually, no – blame Korean managers: some PIFF bigwig probably just went to someone in their office and said, ‘Here, you speak English: translate all this by next week.’

Some time ago I went had some problems with my shoulder. I first went to what I think was a Korean acupuncture clinic and when this didn’t do much I went to an orthopaedic hospital that seemed to do the job. I went back there more recently with pain in my left hip. It’s a feeling I get from time to time, especially after playing guitar. This time, however, it was completely random and about the sharpest it’s ever been.

I had more physiotherapy of the heat, ultrasound and electric kind, plus some medication, and that helped a lot. I also had a few X-rays (you can’t go to the doctor in Korea without getting a handful of X-rays done), which showed that there’s a slight problem with my L4 vertebra, near the base of my spine. There’s a little extra space where the disc is, implying, I think, some inflammation. The doctor said it wasn’t anything serious, just a sign of getting older, and he recommended that I strengthen my back muscles and don’t sit at a desk too much. I should get on that – at least the first part: you can’t be a writer without applying the seat of the trousers to the seat of a chair.

I’ve been working on my writing and trying to set things up to help my writing goals. I started a new blog, for instance – this one to be a ‘public’ one, while I think Infinite Probability should be a private record of my personal life. To this end, I think I’m going to transfer some things from here to there – namely my book reviews and Lexicon. I also rejoined Critters – and have found that it’s recently been renovated and looks like a fairly contemporary web site (the old one was very basic). I’ve already had some feedback on one of my stories (‘The Green Marble’) that all makes good sense and that I want to incorporate into the next version of the piece. I just need to get down to the hard work of rewriting. I’m also intending to take part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) in November and see if I can’t write 50,000 in 30 days.

I’ve also been putting a lot of work into a roleplaying game system. It’s very hard work, though. Every decision you make for how things should work have repercussions pretty much throughout the system. Even my goals in creating the game are difficult to balance – part of me wants simplicity, part of me wants realism. Still a fair way to go with this project, but I think a lot of the fundamentals are in place now.

Now that I’m not working, I should have more time to work on the things that are important to me. Sightseeing in China might get in the way for a bit. Natural laziness might get in the way full stop.

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Donghae Trip

Last weekend, Habiba and Jessica and I went on a trip to the eastern coast of Korea. We got on a coach at 11:30 on Friday night along with a bunch of other foreigners and were driven through the night across the country. When we arrived at three or four in the morning, the guy organising the trip didn’t let us know we’d arrived, so there was a bit of confusion. We were in a car park at the base of some mountains in Mureung Valley: the first part of the trip was to be a hike up said mountains.

It was pitch black and by the time the three of us were ready the organiser had already left with everybody else. We were escorted by a Korean woman who seemed to be assisting on the trip into the beginning of the trail near some waterfalls. Dawn light slowly illuminated the trail.

We met the organiser, who then said he’d accompany a group of us up to one of the peaks. He took us the wrong way then disappeared while we backtracked. Idiot.

Anyway, the hike was pretty tough. Habiba wanted to rest a lot, so we got separated from the group we’d been with. Soon there were just four of us – the three of us and another weekend tripper called Rosalia. As we neared the head of the valley the girls decided to turn back. I continued by myself. I was surprised to pass some of the others on my way up – I thought we’d been left way behind. Once at the top I rested for a bit with some more people on the trip and then I headed left to the highest peak – Cheongoksan. Wikipedia says,

Cheongoksan is a mountain in the province of Gangwon-do, South Korea. Its area extends across the cites of Donghae and Samcheok. Cheongoksan has an elevation of 1,403.7 m (4,605 ft).

It was a disappointment – the peak, while open to the sky, was completely enclosed by trees and bushes, so it wasn’t possible to look out over the surrounding country. I asked some Koreans in my faltering Korean what was the quickest way down and tagged along behind – until I overtook them. By the end, I was feeling a little sick from exhaustion and dehydration. I’m a bit out of hiking practice and I think last weekend was a tough one.

Once I’d returned to my party and we’d had some lunch, we were ferried to Mangsang Beach near the city of Donghae. Habiba and Jess got some swimming in; I rested. In the evening, there were cheeseburgers for dinner. Afterwards, our little group went to a fun fair (‘carnival’ in Americanese, apparently) a short walk along the coast road. It was closed, but there was no perimeter fence closing it off, so you could easily go and sit on the carousel horses or what have you. The girls got sparklers and we took photos of each other waving them around.

The first thing on the itinerary for the next day was a penis park. Haesindang Park is full of phallic sculptures. Some resemble African art, some are totem pole-like structures. The prospect didn’t excite me much, but Habiba seemed very up for it (so to speak). This led to a little conflict between us, so I left Habiba and Jess for a while and went round by myself for a bit, taking photos in the pouring rain (it’s rainy season in Korea). I would guess that there’s some tradition of phallic art here that leads to the existence of a place like Haesindang Park, but there was no evidence of information about that (there was a fishing museum, but we barely went in there – not enough time). Without the context of knowledge of such a tradition, it seemed like nothing more than an excuse for puerile photo opportunities.

Once done with all that, we were taken to another scenic mountain valley, this one the site of several caves, including Hwanseongul, which Wikipedia describes thus:

Hwanseon Cave (환선굴) is a cave located in Gangwon province, South Korea. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, 1.6 km of which are visited by over 1 million people per year. In 1966 the South Korea government designated this cave and a neighboring cave not open to the public, Gwaneum cave (관음굴), National Monument 178. Hwanseongul was opened to the public in 1997.

It was a bit of a hike up the mountain, but once inside it was definitely worth it. The cave is massive, cathedral-like, with as much to explore as a large mall like COEX. The inside is lined with functional metal walkways – many of which are lit up with coloured lights (very Korean). The place was pretty busy – there were probably several hundred people in there. It was dark, of course, but many of the features were spot lit.

Some of the highlights were a massive slick column of brown and white flowstone that looked lik partially melted coffee and vanilla ice cream; there was a little structure from the roof of the cave that looked like a big, protruding anus, with a constant stream of water squirting out; there was a short waterfall coming out of a fissure in a wall and emptying into a wide pool; there were a couple of flexible bridge than jounced most amusingly when we walked on them. The operators had sexed everything up with silly names for each section of the cave: things like The Valley of Love or The Bridge of Confessions.

Then it was time to head home. We stopped at a service station on the way, where we saw a fantastic rainbow. It had one very bright arc, then another fainter one a little further out; the bright arc even showed signs of being a double arc itself. We ate potatoes. Then we got back on the bus for the crawl back to Seoul through the late weekend traffic.

Photos of the trip are here.