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!

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