Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seoraksan National Park

On Wednesday, April 8, 2009, we caught the bus outside Mrs. Kim's house for the twenty five minute ride into Gangneung City. There we took a taxi to the express bus station, and bought two tickets to Sokcho, a small city about an hour and a half ride north up the coast. It was another one of those comfortable express motor coaches, providing a pleasant ride, with great views of the countryside on the left, and the ocean on the right. Here is a link to one of the videos I shot during this ride: We got off in Sokcho, and went down to the beach to take some pictures. The beach here is mostly rocky, but, pretty just the same. We walked across the street to the local bus stop, so we could catch the bus up to Seoraksan park, about fifteen miles inland. We waited about ten minutes 'till it came along. The ride up to the park took about twenty minutes. The bus pulled into a parking lot filled with tour busses, and cars, and let us off. The driver told us that whenever we were ready to go, just come back to this same spot, and another bus would be along shortly. It was a typical Korean scene outside the park entrance. There were souvenir shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and vendors selling everything, lined up along the sidewalks. We browsed the souvenirs for a while, then went up to the entrance, and bought our tickets. There were many tourists there that day, but, it never felt crowded. We were in a long river valley, with mountains all around, and a park road paralleling the river. You really couldn't drive into this park, at least not here. Everything was within easy walking distance, though, and there was plenty to see. The groundskeepers do an excellent job keeping the park looking good. There was a Buddist Shrine, a burial ground for old Buddist Monks, a very large Budda statue, with prayer candles, flags, and all. There was a tourist lodge with a very nice restaurant with outside dining under the trees. Another river joined the main one about a half a mile in, coming down out of the mountains from the right. There were several very beautiful bridges over this tributary, another cafe' and store, and several hiking trails leading off into the mountains. By far the biggest bang for the buck was the cable car ride across the main river, and up to the top of a very high mountain on the other side. We bought our tickets, and hopped aboard for a very nice ride to the top. Topside there was a building housing the upper cable car terminus, a restaurant, restrooms, a good coffee shop/icecream parlor, and on top, an observation deck. There was another Buddist Shrine up here. You could see the elaborate rooftop off through the trees, and hear a monk chanting. Amazing! Outside the main building, a trail led up to the actual top of the mountain, about a half mile distant, and a couple thousand feet up.We fell in line, heading up the trail with a group of old ladies, middle-aged couples, and a bunch of youngsters. Up near the summit, there was a stand with a guy who would sell you photos of yourself up on the mountain. He had a lot of customers. There was another stand with a guy displaying a lot of high tech mountain climbing gear, none of it for sale. He wanted to sell you a medalion, with your name engraved, celebrating your success in making it to the top. The last bit up to the summit was a hands on climb up a very steep, rugged section. I was amazed at the number of old ladies who were making this climb. It was a climb like I was used to making, as I'm a rock climber from my youth. I was just wishing that they would get out of my way. I finally had to squeeze in amongst them, and make my way up. At the tip-top, there was a group of middle-aged ladies who just did not want to leave. I eventually joined them up there for what has become my mountain top ritual: pull out the flask of Scotch, salute the four cardinal points, thank the mountain, give the mountain a little splash of Scotch, and give myself a healthy shot. The group of ladies next to me looked at me like I was a crazy foreigner, which I was. It was great to be on top of another mountain! Ok Hwa was waiting for me just below the summit, near the guy selling photos. We hiked back down to the coffee shop for coffee and ice cream, then hopped aboard the cable car for the ride back down. Here is a link to the video I made on the way down: Down below, we wandered around making pictures for an hour or so, then bought a bunch of souvenirs, and went to wait on our bus to Sokcho. The ride back to Sokcho resulted in another video: In Sokcho, we bought tickets for the return trip to Gangneung City, and enjoyed another pleasant ride back. In Gangneung, we hit the market area for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats to take back to Mrs. Kims. We had another great, home cooked Mrs. Kim meal, and shared our day's adventure with them.
Here are links to two slideshows of pictures I took in Seoraksan Park this day:,
The official website of the Republic of Korea:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mrs. Kim

I never caught her first name. We do not speak the same language, so I guess it doesn't really matter. I only know that my wife's mom, Mrs. Kim, is one fine lady. We arrived by taxi at her house on Tuesday, April 7, 2009, in the early afternoon. It was absolute joy at the meeting of mother and daughter. It had been eight long years, and far too few letters back and forth since they had seen each other. Since my wife, Ok Hwa, is deaf, telephone calls do not do her much good. They are both lazy about writing, so they do not hear from each other much. Ok Hwa tells me that in Korea, when a man and woman marry, the wife does not take the husband's family name, she keeps her own. So, Mrs. Kim married Mr. Choi, and together they had five children. There was another daughter before Ok Hwa was born, who died in infancy. Sad business. There is an eldest son, five years older than Ok Hwa, the golden child of the family. I do not know his name, but, I met him once. He visited Mrs. Kim while we were there last time, and stayed for all of five minutes. A very busy man. I saw the wedding pictures of him and his wife while we were there this time, and also, met his wife and sons while we were here before. Ok Hwa's brother, and his wife are both incredibly attractive human beings. It doesn't seem to have done them much good in life. From what I hear, they both work very hard at average jobs, and struggle to get by, just like the rest of us. Ok Hwa has two younger brothers. She, and these two brothers, were born hearing, but, at different times in their childhood, they contracted some illness, or, fever which caused their deafness. More sad business. So, Mrs. Kim has had a hard life, dealing with all these tragedies. Her husband, Mr. Choi, was a railroad man, in addition to farming, house building, and wheeling, and dealing. Ok Hwa tells me that her father built a succession of ever nicer, and bigger houses. They would live in each of them, until he built the next one. Then he would sell the house they were currently living in, and, move into the new house. All the while he would work the fields to grow their food. The family also kept chickens, rabbits, and pigs, all for food. On the railroad, he was the guy who helped couple the cars together, and signal the engineer that all was safe to pull forward. When Ok Hwa was twenty two, and living on her own in Seoul, she got a message from her mother that Mr. Choi had been injured in an accident of some sort on the railroad. She rushed back home to see him, and, I think, was able to see him before he died. He must have been hurt pretty badly coupling those cars together. Anyhow, more sad business for Mrs. Kim. After Mr. Choi died, Mrs. Kim takes what money they have, sells the house, and buys a small hotel, maybe twenty rooms. This is her livelihood for the next several years. She tried to get Ok Hwa to stay in Gangneung City, and help her run it, but, Ok Hwa had other plans. Throughout all of this triumph and tragedy, hard living and good times, Mrs. Kim has kept her cheerful, positive attitude. I've spent a couple of weeks with her, a couple of different times, now, and she's been nothing but kind, generous, cheerful, and, loving. She's remarried, now, to a good old fellow. I never did catch his name. She is eighty-one years old, and he is eighty-six. They live a simple, good live, up there among the farms, and mountains. She gets a monthly stipend from the railroad now, presumably because of Mr. Choi's untimely, accidental death. So, now, Ok Hwa and I are hoping to be able to make it back to Korea sometime in the not too distant future. Mrs. Kim will be waiting for us there for a while longer.
Here are a few more pictures of Mrs. Kim and her home:
The official website of the Republic of Korea:

Incheon, Seoul, Gangneung

I don't recall what the local time was when we went to bed at the Hotel Boom, but, we slept soundly through the night. We awoke, as if on que, at 06:00. After cleaning up, and repacking our bags, we were on the street by 07:00. A taxi was quickly flagged, and a few blocks later, we were let off at the Jemulpo Metro Station. We purchased our tickets for about a dollar apiece, and went out to the platform to wait on the train. The Jemulpo Station is above ground, so we were able to enjoy the morning air while we waited on the train. A few minutes later the train pulled in heading towards Seoul, and we got aboard, along with a handful of other people. We had decided to not try to find little brother today, and just head on over to Gangneung City to spend a few days with her mom, and so, we were headed for the Express Bus Terminal in the Central City section of Seoul. It was about twenty miles, and a couple of subway transfers to the bus station. We had forgotten to factor in morning rush hour commuters. A relatively empty metro car in Incheon is packed standing room only by the time it gets to Seoul. We had to move our luggage to the overhead rack to accomidate all the people crowding in, and were getting quite a few curious looks. Well, it was a mad rush changing trains a couple times, but, we finally made it to the Express Bus Terminal. What a relief. We had breakfast at a Dunkin' Doghnuts at the last subway station, then entered the bus station, and bought our tickets. It cost about twenty-five dollars for our two tickets to Gangneung. We had about a twenty minute wait for the bus. Enough time to hit the bathroom, and grab some snacks for the road. The Bus Terminal was filled with shops, and restaurants of all kinds. A little world of it's own. The Express Bus to Gangneung was easily the finest bus I've ever been on. The reclining seats were much wider, and more plush than any of the airplane seats on the flights over. It was a very comfortable two hours and forty-five minutes over to Gangneung, including one fifteem minute rest stop along the way. Here is a link to one of the videos I shot along this trip: The rest stop was at a Service Plaza, on the Yeongdong Expressway. It had every kind of Korean food you could imagine, some American food, a convenience store, and, outside vendors of souvenirs and sundries. At the bus terminal in Gangneung City, there was a taxi que with about twenty taxis lined up. We decided to take a taxi out to her mom's place, about fifteen miles out of town. The #308 Gangneung City bus goes right out to her house, but, we didn't want to wait for the bus, and endure the many stops along the way, so we splurged on the taxi. Highway 7 goes north out of town, following the coast. About five miles out of town, the turn onto her mom's little country road goes inland, up into an agricultural valley surrounded by increasingly higher mountains. About seven miles up this road we finally came to her mom's house, just like we'd remembered it, surrounded by cropland, orchards, a few other houses, and those beautiful mountains. What a place to call Home!
The official website of the Republic of Korea:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hotel Boom

From what I saw, there are three broad catagories of busses in Korea, like pretty much everywhere else. The Tour Bus, the Express Bus, and the City bus. At the Incheon International Airport, we could have boarded any one of these three types of busses. We chose a city bus to take us over the causeway into the city of Incheon, to the neighborhood around Soo Bong Park, and Jemulpo Metro Station. We were familiar with this area from our last trip to Korea, in 2001. Her youngest brother, and his wife had lived about four blocks from the metro station there, and we were hoping to find them at the new address nearby, that we had from a letter received last year. Exhaustion from our long day of traveling set in about half way through this bus ride. The driver told us when we were at the stop nearest to Jemulpo Station, and we got off, and hailed a taxi. It's so cool to be able to just flag down a taxi. That's one of the great things about Korean citys - the inexpensive, and plentiful taxis. Realizing how tired we were, and not wanting to try to find the little brothers apartment just now, we told the taxi driver to just take us to a good hotel. A few blocks later we found ourselves being let off in front of the Hotel Boom. All of the street signs, highway signs, place names, building names, and most other informational signage in Korea has the English translation written along side, or above, or below the Korean writing. Sure makes it easier for the foreign, English speaking traveler to get around. That's how I knew we were staying at the Hotel Boom. It was in written English, in big neon letters on top of the building, and above the front door. Forty thousand Korean wan equals about twenty seven dollars for the night, in a very nice, clean, and comfortable room. We parked our luggage, and went out for some dinner before turning in. Just a half a block from the hotel, we found a nice little "Mom & Pop" style restaurant. Korean citys seem to be filled with all kinds of restaurants, from tiny little holes in the wall, to big, fancy places, and everything in between. It was never hard for us to find a good variety of places to choose from. After a good "home cooked" meal, we went back to our room, showered, and fell soundly asleep. It had been close to thirty hours since we had last been to bed, earlier "that morning", back at our house in Dallas, when we awoke at five a.m. to get ready to leave.
Here is a link to this day's photos:
The official website of the Republic of Korea:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In The Air

Our second attempt to get out of town was successful. Our good friend, and neighbor, Carlos Galaviz followed us out to where I work at the airport. I parked my car in the employee parking there, and he drove us the last few miles over to the international departure terminal. This time all really went as planned, as we finally had our documents in order. After clearing the security checkpoint, and a nice breakfast at T.G.I. Fridays, we headed over to our departure gate to wait on the loading process. American Airlines Flight 175 was on a Boeing 777 jumbo jet. This was my first flight on a 777. I had been on 747's a few times in the past, and the 777 looks almost the same inside. It's a big wide body aircraft, and the coach seating is two seats at each of the outside walls by the windows, with five seats separating them in the center section. Our assigned seats were in the center section, but as the flight was not full, we were free to sit anywhere there was an empty seat. We hesitated too long, and missed out on getting two of the empty window seats. I missed the view of taking off, but the empty center seats came in very handy later in the flight. We knew we were in for a very long flight to Tokyo. I had estimated it at eleven to twelve hours, based on our last flight to Incheon eight years ago. The captain came on the P.A. and announced that the flight to Tokyo would be approximately thirteen hours. Better get comfortable. Ok Hwa quickly took advantage of the empty center seats around us. You can fold up the arm rests to create a long sofa-like section, which allows you to fully recline. Perfect for snoozing away the long, boring hours with nothing to see. I never was able to really fall asleep, so I spent the time listening to my mp3 player, reading, and browsing through the in-flight video selections. Everyone in the window seats had pulled down the window shades, and the cabin stayed dark the whole trip. When we arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport, we did not have to retrieve our checked bags, but we did have to clear the security checkpoint again. I still think that's odd, but the Japanese are nothing if not thorough, and very, very polite. Japan Airlines Flight 953 from Tokyo to Incheon was a bright, sunny affair. Again, the flight was not full, and that helped with the overall comfort level. I must have missed the announcement about not taking pictures during take-off, and was able to video this footage of our take-off from Narita: The two hour flight to Incheon seemed like a walk in the park compared with the thirteen hours of numbness coming over the Pacific. What a relief to land in Korea, and finally be rid of airplanes for a while. As I suspected, none of her family was there to meet us at the airport. It was 18:30 Monday, April 6, and we were on our own in Incheon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Our Hero, Steve Thurman

One bright spot in an otherwise crappy day yesterday was our good friend, Steve Thurman. When I first met him, about eight years ago, he handed me a business card that said: Steve Thurman, The Ambassador of Texas Music, Waving the Texas Music Flag Since 1973. And that is just what he does. He travels the world sharing the message of Texas Music with all who will listen, and selling some agricultural chemicals along the way. He's a selfless person, who will help just about anyone who's truly in need. I've seen him do it many times. Steve helped arrainge our airplane tickets for the trip to Korea, and saved us a lot of money in the process. We wouldn't have been able to make to make the trip without his help. So, yesterday morning went like clockwork, everything going according to plan. We were out the door by 6:00, at the airport by 7:30, and going through the process of checking in when the problem first came to light. We presented our passports to the friendly ticket agent, who pointed out that my wife's passport was expired. What??!! We both got our passports the same day eight years ago. Mine is good for ten years from date of issue, and I assumed hers was, also. Wrong! The Koreans issue their passports for only five years. I had assumed instead of checking to make sure, and it cost us. Explain and plead as we might, there was no getting onboard that plane with an expired passport. Next came an intense round of long distance phone calls to the Korean embassy, the Korean consulates in DC, NYC, and finally Houston, where we'd gotten her passport eight years before. Sure, we could come on down to Houston and apply for a new passport. Need it today? Just get here by 2:30 PM, and get it by the close of business. We made it to Houston in record time, pushing the little Bronco hard. I had called Thurman to inform him of our situation, and he agreed to do whatever he could to get us on another flight. About half way to Houston, he called to inform us that we were set up on the same flight next Tuesday. If we took that one, we'd be loosing four days from our planned time in Korea. I asked him about an earlier flight, possibly the one on Sunday, that the friendly ticket agent had told me about. He said "Let's not do anything until you actually have the new passport in hand". Fair enough. So, now we're done at the Korean Consulate, new passport in hand, and inching our way along in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic on the 610 loop in Houston. What an adventure! A call goes out to our (now) best friend in the whole wide world, Mr. Steve Thurman. So, old buddy, old pal, what's the possibility of changing our itinerary, once again, to that Sunday morning flight? Within thirty minutes he called me back to let me know that we were now set up on the Sunday morning flight, as requested. Excellent! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now, if we could only get out of Houston. That town has a serious traffic problem.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mi Guitarra

If it's possible for someone to love an inanimate object, I surely love my guitar. I played a Stella Harmony a little bit when I was a teenager, but never got beyond the basics. After a year or so, I put it down, and never picked it up again. In January 2006, a couple months before my fifty second birthday, I bought this guitar from my friend John Miller at work. It is a cedar top classical guitar, made by Key Fretted Instruments, according to the label inside. The label was loose, and floating around inside the body. I fished it out, but have since lost it. That really bothers me. On the brace nearist to the sound hole, you can see stamped a date, presumably it's date of manufacture, February, 1976. Anyhow, I paid John one hundred dollars for the guitar, and we both figured it was a good deal. I suspect that the guitar is probably worth much more than that, but I don't like thinking about it in terms of cost. I just know how it sounds, and how it makes me feel. It's hard to describe either one of these things, except to say that they're both very positive. Creating music is one of the magic things that humans do. The richness, and variety of human musical expression never ceases to amaze me. It's one of the major joys of my life. To be able to create music just multiplies the joy many times over. So, I'm no one's idea of a great, or even good guitarist, but that doesn't matter to me. I play for myself first. In fact, I find it difficult to play in front of other people at all. Super Stage Fright, I guess. My usual practice time is every morning for the first hour, to hour and a half right after I get up, while I'm having my coffee. This is the work part, but it's fulfilling work. Most nights I also pick up the guitar after having a couple drinks, and it's no longer work at all. Mabey it's just the alcohol, but the playing seems to be more fluid then. It's usually very hard to put the guitar down so I can go to bed. A few days ago, I got a splinter under the nail of the middle finger of my right hand. It has been very painful, and has prevented me from practicing, or playing the guitar. I tried playing a little last night, but had to stop. We tried to get the splingter out, but it's lodged in there pretty deep. I'll just wait and let it work itself out naturally. Also, since we are leaving for Korea in a couple days, I wont be playing for two weeks, anyhow. I just could not justify carrying the guitar half way 'round the world, and then lugging it all over Korea. I'll surely miss it while we're gone, but I have that to look forward to when we get back. I hope my splintered finger will have cleared itself up by then.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Today was a great weather day here in Dallas, sunny, cool, low humidity. I was working outside all day out at the airport, humping freight off of airplanes, and onto trucks. Great exercize!

When I got home, I spent an hour trying to explain to my beautiful wife the subtle differences between what you can take onboard the aircraft in your carry-on bags, and what you can take in your checked luggage. I love the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Oh, the trials, and triumphs of living with a deaf, Korean princess, whose English reading and writing skills are limited at best. Oh, well, I knew what I was getting into when I married her. So, anyhow, the issue of going to Korea with my wife, and the issue of communication comes up. Now, I know about five Korean words, most of them having to do with food, so I will not be having many technical conversations with our hosts. Add to that the fact that two of her three brothers are also deaf, and it's starting to get a little more complicated. Next, I really do not know much American Sign Language, either. She and I mostly communicate with a mix of ASL, Korean Sign Language, lip reading, pantomime, body language, and signs we've made up. Real clever...and lazy. We get by. The last time we were in Korea, I was able to pick up on their Korean Sign Language enough to follow along with the basics. We mostly hung out with her littlest brother and his wife, and their cool friend, all three deaf reborn christians. They never hit me over the head with the religion thing like people here in the States like to do. We had a great time. The three of them would come pick us up at our hotel every day, and we'd go do whatever fun thing came to mind. I never could get these people's names, so I just assigned them English names. I called her littlest brother Mike, and his wife Julie. Their cool friend I called Jerry. These names just seemed to fit them. They couldn't hear anyway, so it really didn't matter. Jerry worked in his brother's body shop, and he would show up every day with a different car to shuttle us around in. I never asked. By the end of a week, I found that we were having pretty long and deep conversations. Don't ask me how, we just found a way. People have an innate sense of language, and a need to communicate, so they find ways. This coming trip to Korea, we will probably be spending a lot of time with her mom, as mom is getting pretty old, and this is really the reason for this trip. Her mom is a sweet, fun old gal. I really fell for her last time. I'm looking forward to having some long conversations with her, one way or another.

I will try to post again before we leave on Friday morning.