Friday, June 13, 2003

At 10am on Friday morning we woke to the sounds of air raid sirens blaring across the city. No, North Korea hadn’t launched a surprise invasion into the South, it was Korea’s Memorial Day – or as some of the kids in school put it so eloquently “Dead Soldiers Day”.

Being that it was a national holiday and our school was shut, Amy and I decided that we would make the long weekend into an Ulsan Appreciation weekend. We have spent so much time over the last few months traveling to other parts of Korea that we felt like we had neglected our own backyard.

We pulled out our old, wrinkled tourist map and jumped on the Red Devil and motored out into the countryside. It was a beautiful, hot sunny day, with temperatures in the low 30s – and surprisingly, little pollution. A picture perfect day for a scooter adventure. Ride on!

Our first stop was the Seonbawi (Standing Rock) along the upper stream of the Taewha River. A huge granite monolith it sits in crystal clear emerald water, which was surprising because further downstream the Taewha turns into a toxic soup. We sat alongside the river and watched the local Koreans play a kind of soccer/volleyball game. It was a very peaceful spot, but it was quickly time to fire up the lawnmower and motor onwards.

Our next destination was Bangudae, whose name comes from the turtle-like formations of the rocks in the area. Our route wound down along the valley floor as we followed the river as it cascaded past sweeping granite rock faces and into large pools. We stopped and spotted a small picturesque Buddhist monastery set against the lush green hillside.

Further down the road in Cheonjeon-ri, we stopped at another small that zigzagged through the smoothed rock. We found large circular, flattened impressions in the rock bed that turned out to be fossilized dinosaur footprints. There were over 200 footprints in the area and included, among others, Iguanadon and Ultrasaurus prints. Interestingly, the footprints were not parallel with each other, so the dinosaurs were not travelling in a specific direction, but rather were peacefully rambling over the whole area.

Also found at Cheonjeon-ri are Stone Age petroglyphs (rock drawings) carved into a cliff face near the riverbank. These fascinating designs included circles, snails, deer, fish, birds, snakes and human faces and are interpreted to be symbolic of the rites of abundance from the time.

In addition to the more ancient carvings, on the lower half of the rock face are a cavalry parade, sailing boats, dragons, horses and more than 300 Chinese characters. These had been left by people from the Three Kingdoms (50 – 668 AD) and Unified Silla (668 – 936) dynasties and show that even the ancient Silla people regarded this spot as holy.

After a five hour scooter ride, Amy and I were both ready to head home.

Saturday, Amy and I and our friends Christine and Dan headed out to Busan to go and see the Human Body exhibit that was on show at the Busan Convention Centre. We had been told by many that it was an exhibition not to be missed. And sure enough, it lived up to all the hype.

The exhibition features a walkthrough of the human body... with a twist. There were about 25 real human bodies that had been “plastinized” (the bodies are impregnated with a special type of polymer). This process allows the bodies to literally be blown apart, revealing the individual layers and the relationships between muscles, nerves, internal organs and skeletal structure.

The tour started with a human skeleton, and followed step-by-step through the locomotive system, the digestive system, the brain and central nervous system. It even showed the weekly development of a foetus in a womb. Each system was highlighted and displayed in a realistic and anatomically proper position.

The best part of it all, was that there was a pizza stand right as you reached the end of the exhibit. After spending two hours staring at the insides of dead bodies, needless to say but I didn’t have much of an appetite.

Sunday was a breezy but sunny day that started with our biweekly hash run. The runs now begin much earlier, because of the summer traffic volumes and the midday heat. Sunday’s run was a brutal grind most up some of the local mountains near the Foreigner’s Compound and by 11am it was already into the 30s.

We decided that that afternoon, we would head out to one of the local beaches at Jinha to go windsurfing. Our friend Will used to be a wind-surfing instructor back in Virginia, so we headed out rented boards to give it a whirl.

Though the wind was slight, after a few hours of practice I felt like I had a decent understanding of how to navigate the board. I think this could be something I could get really into. We all had a lot of fun! We’ll have to head back next weekend to try again – then there’s also kite-surfing as well, which I’d like to try…

That’s it for now!

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Sorry folks, long overdue for an update and I¡¯ve been mighty lazy when it comes to sitting down with my thoughts.

Where did we leave off¡¦ I think when I last wrote, I was staring down at the DMZ¡¦ which reminds me, I learned an important new phrase in Korean recently ¡°Shille hamnida, ijiyogae bukhan gancheobi issulsudo issoyo?¡± Or ¡°Excuse me, are North Korean infiltrators possibly in this area?¡± It¡¯s fun to say to taxi drivers and on buses¡¦ but anyway...

As usual it¡¯s been a busy couple of weeks, marked by decent weather, increasing temperatures and horrifying levels of air pollution. Let¡¯s just say that in Ulsan, when it rains, you have to bring an umbrella or else the acid rain will eat your hair and clothes. You know it¡¯s bad when you can taste the air and it tastes like vinegar. If I ever complain about the pollution back in Vancouver again, somebody smack me hard.

So what have we been doing? Well, between long scooters rides, ultimate Frisbee tournaments and cleaning up chicken shit, we¡¯ve managed to accomplish a fair bit. Oh and I guess that and we¡¯ve worked a little bit in between too¡¦

On a rainy Sunday morning two weeks ago, 15 of us brave souls woke at the crack of dawn to board a bus headed to Okpo, on Koje Island, which is about 3 hours drive from Ulsan right on the southern tip of the peninsula. We were on our way to HATROK 2003 (Hashing Around The Republic Of Korea) and meet up with Hash groups from Busan, Seoul and Koje for a big inter-Korea Hash. From the beginning, things did not bode well¡¦ rain is too weak a term for the weather that day, monsoon may be a bit better - torrential, hammering, driving (thank you thesaurus) are perhaps the best words to describe what we were facing.

We arrived in Koje about mid-morning and bussed up about ten minutes up to the trailhead. Most of us gave up right away any pretext of staying dry, and as we hashed our way through the countryside we jogged right through flooded rice paddies, jumped right into shin deep puddles and hurdled over and into muddy bogs. Amy and I were both recovering from fairly nasty colds, so it wasn¡¯t perhaps the brightest of ideas to be out running, but we ploughed on nevertheless.

Down Downs were postponed till we returned to the clubhouse in Okpo, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking beers and socializing with some of the other hashers. By mid-afternoon, half-buzzed from the beer and full from the food, we re-boarded our bus to Ulsan. The drinking and merriment continued the entire bus ride home, and resulted in several emergency pit stops along the way.

This past weekend our friend¡¯s Dave and Fin threw a party at their house. Co-founders of team Ulsan Ultimate team and members of our Hell¡¯s Ajummas scooter gang, Dave and Fin were excellent hosts and nearly all of Ulsan¡¯s teaching community showed up. A well-placed bomb by those North Korean infiltrators could have wiped out most of the waygooks (foreigners) in Ulsan that night. The party continued from the house and moved downtown some time in the early morning, I don¡¯t remember exactly when. I do remember it was daylight as we staggered out of taxi and arrived home, much to the bemused looks of the Koreans heading out to work.

All of which was great training, of course, for the Ulsan Marathon that we had signed up to run on Sunday morning. It wasn¡¯t a full marathon (only ten kilometres in fact), but I guess any long distance run is referred to as a ¡°marathon¡± in Korean. The course set out from Munsu Football Stadium (a legacy of the 2002 World Cup hosted here) and wound down through a park and back. Considering our previous evening¡¯s escapades coupled with the worn out shoes (and resulting blisters) I was wearing, I think I managed a fairly respectable time.

We left the stadium in a hurry, because in addition to a 10km run, I was scheduled to play in our first Ultimate road game against the squad in Busan. Fin and Dave had procured their academy¡¯s school bus and so we all piled in and headed down to Hyundae beach, perhaps one of the most famous beaches in Korea, to go head to head with the waygooks from BUDA (Busan Ultimate Disc Association). Impressed by their creative acronym, USLUT (Ulsan Saucer Launching Ultimate Team) was born on the bus ride down.

The beach was crowded; tens of thousands of people were out enjoying the sunshine and warm water. Somehow we managed to carve out a small, but useable, Ultimate pitch in the sand. We played several evenly matched games, until USLUT¡¯s collective enthusiasm wavered and we all plunged into the water for a swim. Dinner was some excellent Indian food (a rarity in a sea of Korean restaurants), after which we traveled back to Ulsan.

So there, you¡¯re up to date in my adventures to date¡¦ I promise to make an effort to remain regular with the updates¡¦ but you may have to forgive my continued tardiness.