Thursday, July 24, 2003

Funny how so many of these emails revolve around weather here. Winter was cold, spring was warm and now summer has arrived, so has rainy season. The past three weeks have been grey, miserable and wet. Coupled with that it's been warm and muggy, so it's not terribly pleasant. Feels kind of like living in a green house. Clothes won't dry, you walk around feeling slimy most of the time and sleeping comfortably is next to impossible. Thankfully, our schools all have air conditioning providing us with a small escape from the oppressive humidity and the swarming dragonflys and mosquitoes.

Despite that we've managed, as always, to keep pretty busy. A couple weeks back, the Ulsan Hash had it's 400th run. Quite a milestone for our pack, since it's been run bi-weekly for nearly ten years. The celebrations were planned well in advance, and we had a number of visiting hashers from other packs across Korea who descended on Ulsan for the weekend. Kicking off with a Saturday night pub-crawl run, the weekend was a mixture of running, drinking and... more drinking. Saturday night's run was a "live hare," which for the uninitiated means the hare (or person laying the trail) is only about 15 minutes ahead of the whole pack and is laying trail as they run. We had a decent size pack of about 20 runners and we hit a succession of about 8 bars over the course of a few hours. Charging into the bar, we quickly downed a beer, sang some raunchy songs to the amusement of the other patrons and then dashed off to the next establishment. The evening even culminated with Korea's first 'Ugh' (or naked hash)! Wearing only running shoes we sped like lightning through the city.... let me tell you, Korean police are generally not very amused at the sight of several naked foreigners running amok downtown. Retreating to the sanctuary of the foreigner's compound, we drank more beer and generally had a good laugh at it all.

The next morning, we woke up, nursed our hangovers and headed out on buses to the starting point for the official 400th run. Did I mention it is rainy season? Sunday morning was a torrential downpour but undaunted we set off on what turned out to be a fairly gruelling 2.5 hour hash through minefields, forests and up and down mountains. Yes, I said minefields... step lightly and stay on the trail would be my advice for anyone considering running through a minefield.

Overall, the 400th Run was a big success, with nearly 100 runners participating. We returned to the clubhouse for a big barbeque and yes, more beer. We met some good friends from the other hash groups and were extended invitations to come and run with their groups. Most of them are US military personnel stationed around Korea - I think running from one of the bases along the DMZ would make for a good laugh!

So between the rain and hashing the weekends have been quiet for the most part, as a lot of our engineer friends have been gone on vacation. I have managed to play a few games of Ultimate frisbee with U.S.L.U.T. (Ulsan Saucer Launching Ultimate Team), but with the weather mostly they have just ended up degenerating into mud slinging matches...

Last Thursday was Constitution Day in Korea which meant we had the day off work. So, what better way to celebrate the signing of a piece of paper than with another Hell's Ajummas ride, this time out to Jinha beach about 40 mins out of Ulsan on the East Sea coast. Meeting up early in the morning, we set off two-abreast and rode out in formation to the beach. Unfortunately, once we arrived the weather did not really cooperate so we packed it early and rode back into town.

Rumours had been floating for a while of a new microbrew restaurant that was to be opening up in Ulsan. Our tastebuds dulled by months of unremarkable Korean beer, the prospect of decent brew was tantalizing. After dinner, the Hell's Ajummas decided to see if it was indeed open. Sure enough, the Trevi Brauhaus had just opened and we were welcomed with open arms. I believe we were probably the first foreigners to visit the place, so they lavished us with attention.

We sat down to our first round of drinks (which were excellent, by the way) and were introduced to the brewmaster, Markus from Germany. He was very proud of their batches and offered to let us try each beer. Ding! Round one - begin! Out came the first of many free pitchers of beer. Next, the owner of the restaurant wanted to come and meet us. Ding! Round two! More free beer this time with free side dishes... Next, came the CEO of the brewing equipment company who sat down with us. Ding! Round three and more free beer.... Starting to slur my words a bit... Impressing him with my vast depth of useless beer knowledge, I was invited to do a tour of all the microbreweries in Seoul for quality assurance. I will definitely take up that offer!

Needless to say, after 4 hours and countless rounds of free pitchers we were all feeling well lubricated and decided to call it an evening. Total bill for the evening's entertainment: about $15...

So that's about all I've been up to and now I look back at the email I just wrote it seems like I've been doing a lot of drinking... maybe I'll be needing that vacation in Thailand to detox my body.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Well, it’s been a while since the last update. While they came fast and furious for a bit there, I have to admit I’ve been slow on the uptake the last few weeks. Could be the warm weather, but probably more to do with sheer laziness.

Not that I haven’t been busy and all, I just can’t seem to sit down and compose my thoughts that’s all.

So what’s been on the agenda the last few weeks? Lots, I guess.

First on our plate was a picnic with our Korean co-workers. As usual this was barbeque style and was accompanied with plenty of Soju. If there’s one thing I can say about Koreans in general is that they can eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow. We were at our picnic for roughly four or five hours. I don’t think they stopped eating the whole time. First, was the beef, then came the pork, then came the marinated duck meat, then they threw everything into a big pot and made soup, then came the fried rice, finally out came the fresh fruit for desert. I was done after the beef.

The next morning, we rolled out of Ulsan on our inaugural Hell’s Ajummas ride. Eight waygooks (foreigners) on 50cc engines, rolling down the roads of Korea was more than enough to turn a few heads. We got on our bikes and in tight formation headed up the Coast towards Gyeongju. We wound our way along the beaches, and through the electric green rice paddies into the mountains. There, we encountered our first challenge. 50ccs is really not enough to haul two big Westerners up a mountain road. So, engines screaming at 20km/h we made slow progress, much to our own amusement and to the annoyance of the Korean drivers stuck behind us. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun.

We made it to Gyeongju and hit the Traditional Folk Craft village that is there. Amy wanted to do some shopping for pottery and the like as she was heading back to the US that week. There were all kinds of amazing items, for dirt-cheap. Hand made vases, bowls and pots you’d pay big bucks for at Pier One or some other importer in Canada, were going for pennies to the dollar. We resolved that before we leave Korea, we’re going to stock up on a bunch of the stuff. We’ll start making a list, if anyone wants us to pick anything up.

That week also saw Typhoon Soledar hit the peninsula. Meant for some crazy 130km/h winds and ass loads of rain. The rain was actually moving horizontally and unfortunately created a series of small floods in our apartment. Summer had officially arrived in Korea and the rainy season has set in. We’re in for more than a few more Typhoons over the next few months. Time to unpack the rain jacket and boots.

So as I mentioned, Amy was due back for a short trip to the States for her dad’s birthday. Just before she set off however, we were due for yet another Hapkido belt test, this time for our Green belts. Most of the moves are much the same as the previous belts only we’re now adding more difficult combinations. Kicks, punches and wristlocks were just part of the fun as we had to jump, roll and flip ourselves as well. I can now launch myself head first over a stack of chairs about chest high and land into a forward roll. How’s that for a party trick?
It was also the first time we actually were graded on our test, and we all passed. I got 75% - not too shabby for a foreigner I guess.

I saw her Amy on Friday morning and she headed down to Pusan to catch her flight. With Amy gone, I was living the bachelor life in Korea. Well, it was just the chickens and I anyway. It was a very strange feeling not having her here. So much of the wonderful things about living here seemed to be missing without her around.

Anyway, that Saturday my friend Will and I went down to Busan to go to the Aquarium that is at Hyundae beach. Not content just to see the animals from behind the glass, we had signed up to go scuba diving in their 33 million-litre salt-water tank. Oh, did I mention there were sharks in the tank?

There were 14 sharks in the tank, a mix of South African Nurse sharks and Lemon shark. In addition there were a couple of giant groupers, sea turtles, stingrays and plenty of exotic fish. At it’s deepest point it we were about 30ft underwater and it was a weird feeling with all these elderly Koreans banging on the windows and waving at us divers. I know how a fish must feel now!

We caught the train back from Hyundae to Ulsan which I have to say was one of the best trips I have taken in Korea. It was one of the commuter trains (standing room only) and for only 1300 won (about a buck fifty) we rode for about an hour and a half. Will and I stayed in the stairwells of the train the whole trip and hung out the open doors and drank beers as the countryside rolled by. You'd never be able to do that on Amtrak or Via Rail!

I’ve also been busy with our Hash group as we’re building towards our 400th run which should be a great party weekend. I’ve been designated Religious Advisor, not sure what the job entails, other than making sure everyone is drinking. Kind of comes naturally for me.

Amy returned to Ulsan this past weekend, albeit a little late after an unfortunate layover in Tokyo-Narita for a night. Seems the pilot on her flight got sick and they were unable to get a replacement until the following day. Sounds like the airport staff were very well organized and everyone was put up in nice hotel rooms and given food vouchers and calling cards quickly. Must be the Japanese obsession with efficiency, maybe Air Canada could learn something from them.

Anyway, we’re settling into our routines again. Back to Hapkido in the mornings and teaching in the evenings. I’m looking forward to my vacation that starts at the end of the month. I’m off to Thailand for 10 days, which should be a whole new adventure…