Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immersion and Acclimation - Friday, April 9, 2010

We slept in 'till 05:00 today, then laid there trying to get back to sleep, finally giving up at around 05:30. We scurried around getting ready for our day, trying not to make any noise. Mom and Pop were asleep in the next room, and didn't awake until around 08:00. They're both in their eighties, and neither of them work, so they spend most of their time eating, watching satellite TV, or napping. Pretty laid back. It's getting harder for Mama to get around. Her knees are bad from years of working in the fields, and she suffered a couple of falls recently which has exacerbated the problem. Since we've been here, Ok Hwa has been doing a lot of the kitchen work for her.

When they got up, Ok Hwa started getting breakfast ready. It was really just a continuation of the supper we'd had the night before - chicken soup, kimchi, rice, and various vegetable side dishes.

After breakfast, Mom and Pop retired to the front room to watch TV and talk. I laid back down for a mid-morning nap. I think the lack of real coffee is getting to me. I would never be able to take a nap right after breakfast if I was back home in my normal routine. Ok Hwa cleaned up the breakfast dishes, put away the food, got her shower, and did some hand clothes washing. She's an amazingly industrious girl when she has a real task at hand. She woke me from my nap, and I got a shower, got dressed and ready to face the world.

We were going into town to do some shopping, with a swing by the beach on the way. As the only American in sight, I had an image to uphold, and intended to dress the part. It was blue jeans, a western shirt, my new hiking shoes, and no hat, with my camera slung over my shoulder. A lot of Koreans would be giving me the eye today, and I wanted to look right. They are very surreptitious in their glances, with no open stares, except for the little children. The little ones are very forward, with lots of giggling and a tentative "Hello, nice to meet you!". When I answer back it's all nervous laughter and good natured embarrassment on their part. They are always in a group of friends or schoolmates when this happens. The young ones must be learning some English in school, because they all seem to be able to carry on a basic conversation with me. Very encouraging. Of course, the Koreans are all about industrious hard work, being the best, and learning as much as possible to get ahead in the world. In case you didn't notice, I have the utmost admiration for them and their culture.

So, we got on the bus here by the house, and transferred to the 202 bus about half way to town. The 202 runs down to our favorite beach, Gyeongpo. As outlined in last year's posts, the whole Gyeongpo tourist area is an excellent place to spend some time. Aside from the great beach here, there's also the lake, many seafood restaurants, hotels, museums, parks, bikes to rent, walking along the boardwalk through the pine trees, horse drawn carriage rides, the I Cheng men who will tell your fortune, and music clubs for dancing into the night. Someday I hope to take advantage of all these many attractions. For today, however, we contented ourselves with a walk along the boardwalk, and a short stroll down the front street just behind the pine trees along the beach, looking at all the live fish in the big tanks out front of all the seafood restaurants. It was a short walk back to the bus stop by the lake. There we waited for the 202 bus to come back by and take us into town.

I was determined to have a hamburger for lunch, so that was our first objective when we got off the bus in town. The quickest, easiest hamburger we could find was at McDonald's. It is one of the few American restaurants with a market share in Korea. A few of the others are Dunkin' Donuts, and Pizza Hut. These three were adjacent to each other on a busy downtown street, so into the McDonald's we went. Back home I would never be caught in a McDonald's, but in Asia it is a welcome sign of home and comfort food. It was just like any McDonald's back home. The menu was in Korean, with English translations below. Ok Hwa got the chicken sandwich combo, and I settled for the Bulgogi Burger combo. We got a table by the front window, and had an interesting time watching the group of young Christian women who set up a sidewalk stand right out front of the McDonald's. They were handing out religious books and pamphlets, and generally trying to win some converts. They were not having much luck. They never got discouraged, or lost their enthusiasm, though, a testament to their faith and good nature.

After lunch, we made our window shopping way over to the Jungang Market to pick up some groceries. Downtown Gangneung is a walker's, shopper's paradise. Street culture reigns here, with crowded sidewalks full of pedestrians, sidewalk vendors of all sorts, and a proliferation of boutiques, restaurants, and stores of all kinds. This is what city living is all about. Too bad we Americans have largely lost sight of this, with our car culture and urban sprawl.

We had a few things on our to-get list, namely fish, kokma (Korean sweet potatoes), and bananas. The rest was up to us, what ever caught our eye. After browsing the meat and vegetable area for a while, we descended a ramp to the lower level fish market. This is a vast subterranean seafood wonderland. The ramp allows the seafood delivery trucks to bring their fresh wares straight from the docks to the market stalls. We had to weave our way through a few trucks in the parking area. The floor here was wet from them emptying the water from their tanks after unloading the fish. There was a drain in the floor, and some people were sweeping water towards it. The stalls held every kind of fish, mollusk, or crustacean you could imagine, and a few you couldn't. These people will eat just about anything that moves or grows out of the ground!

After Ok Hwa selected a couple of blue and silver fish, and I took pictures of a few more, we made our way back topside. We made our vegetable selections amid much commentary from competing sellers there. A few of them are a bit aggressive in their marketing. Back on the traffic filled streets, we window shopped our way over to the Dunkin' Donuts for a variety box to go. Packages in hand, we headed over to the bus stop by the railroad overpass. A twenty minute wait for the 308, and we were on our way back home. It was just past three o'clock in the afternoon.

The bus ride back to Sacheon Valley is about twenty-five minutes, and was a bit crowded for so early in the afternoon. A couple hours later and it would be packed to standing room only. These buses have only a single seat per row along the walls, leaving a large standing room in the middle with, many hand holds. Along the back, there is a bench seat from side to side, usually occupied by cliques of school kids in the afternoons. We saw a little brother and sister about five and six years old get on about half way out to the valley cut off. It is not uncommon here to see little kids traveling by themselves on city buses. Can you imagine this taking place in any American city? Big sister and little brother sat huddled together in one seat until their stop, then bounded off the bus, running for home with their backpacks bouncing up and down on their backs. Precious children.

Back home Ma and Pa were excited to open all our bags to see what we'd brought. They were especially delighted by the Dunkin' Donuts, and immediately dove into the box and fished one out. I joined them, having a chocolate covered chocolate for myself.

At dinnertime no one's appetite seemed diminished by the donuts. We had another great Korean supper, featuring the blue and silver fish, skinned, cut up, and pan fried. It was excellent.

I recon the jet lag is still with us some, because after dinner we were about ready for bed. I managed to stay awake, reading and writing, 'till about nine-thirty.

Here is a video slide show of pictures from today:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jet Lag and Rest - Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coming over Alaska and Siberia yesterday was very interisting. I had the chance to look out the window of the plane often and for as long as I wanted. The view was great, with hardly any cloud cover. The cabin attendants had asked everyone to close the window shades early on, just after the first meal was served. Most of the passengers tried to get a nap about then, anyway. I kept my window shade down most of the time, also, but opened it for a look outside whenever I wanted.

I guess most of the northern hemisphere had a pretty hard winter this year. The snow covered mountains in Alaska were spectacular. When we crossed over into Siberis, it was truly amazing. The landscape, mountains and valleys, were completely covered in snow. There were no trees or other vegetation of any kind. It was a stark, beautiful scene, with nothing except snow covered wilderness as far as the eye could see. I could see pretty far, too, from thirty-four thousand feet. My seat was on the port (left) side of the aircraft, about six rows back from the wing, so I had a clear view, without the wing in the way. It was mesmerizing. I found myself closing the book every couple of pages, and opening the window shade for another look. When we got back out over the open sea again, it was covered in ice, also. The sea ice was broken into different patterns, and these patterns changed in nature as we moved south.

We passed over the west coast of Sakilin Island, and I had a great view of it. There was still plenty of snow there, also, and sea ice as well. This was the first sign of civilization I saw since Alaska. There were some tracts laid out on the ground near the coast, with roads and buildings nearby. There was also a coastal road which I followed until we finally moved off over the sea again.

When we next saw land, it was as we crossed over the east coast of Korea. Civilization was clearly evident here. I knew from the route map on the seatback video monitor that we were just south of Gangneung City. We were also begining our gradual descent in preparation for landing, so the ground features were becoming easier to see. It only took us about thirty minutes to cross the Korean Peninsula. I was surprised to see that most of the mountains here had some snow, mostly on the north slope. Closer to the east coast there are some ski resorts, and they were clearly visible. As we moved closer to the west coast, the ground elevations become lower, and the population density becomes greater. In addition to all the other infrastructure, many golf courses came into view. They have a distinctive look from the air. The west coast of Korea is low, and broken up by many peninsulas and different sized islands scattered out into the Yellow Sea. Coming into Incheon International Airport almost seems like you'll be landing on water. The airport is located on an island which has been extensively reshaped with much earth moving. The natural hilliness has been flattened on one side, and extended out into the water for a ways to accommodate the long runways.

Well, what a great journey it was, with many great sights to keep me entertained. This is my third time making this trip from DFW to Incheon, and it was by far the best.

After our bus, bus, and taxi trip over to Mrs. Kim's house, we arrived to find that she was not at home. Her husband was there waiting for us, but she was away attending the funeral of one of her sisters. More sadness for Mrs. Kim. We were invited in, and made ourselves at home. After some dinner and a shower, exhaustion overcame us, and we fell into a deep, well deserved sleep. I figure we'd been awake for about thirty hours by this point.

Jet Lag is a funny thing. After about six hours sleep, we both awoke about four o'clock in the morning, Korea time, and could not get back to sleep. We finally gave up trying about five o'clock, and got on up. We tried to be quiet, because the old guy was still asleep in the next room. After the cocks started crowing about five thirty, and the sky started getting lighter, Ok Hwa started getting some food ready for breakfast. The Koreans seem to eat the same food for breakfast that they eat for lunch and dinner. We ended up eating some more of the same leftovers we'd had for dinner the night berore.

The old guy got up and had some "breakfast" with us, and a little later he got hold of Mrs. Kim on the telephone. He told her that we'd arrived, and she said that she'd be back home around lunch time. I figured I had time for a hike, so I told Ok Hwa that I was going out for a walk, and would be back in about an hour or so. She gave me her blessing, and off I went.

I'd planned to hike up to the Buddhist Temple in the mountains at the head of the valley. It's only four kilometers and should only take me about forty-five minutes each way, with time to take some pictures along the way. I set off up the road and quickly got side tracked. There's a dirt road about one kilometer up that cuts off to the right, climbing steeply up the hillside into the trees. I couldn't resist, so off I went, climbing. After a hundred yards or so, it opens up to a clearing on the hillside, a burial site. You see these all over Korea, in the cities, and in the countryside. They carve out a level notch on a hillside, and there'll be a burial mound with a stupa, and sometimes a stone memorial with writing on it. They are of varying levels of ornateness, depending, I guess, on budget. This particular one was very ornate, consisting of four levels stair stepped down the hillside. There were two or three mounds on each level, with stone monuments, stupas, and shrubbery. I took some pictures, and then found another side trail, which led a few yards over through the trees to another couple of burial mounds. These were not nearly as fancy, consisting of only the leveled out notch, and one mound each for the two levels. A trail led away from these two, steeply down the hillside to the road below, emerging a couple hundred yards up from where I'd exited before.

My next distraction came from the river, down a steep bank on the left side of the road. I could tell there had been a lot of rain recently, as the ground was pretty saturated everywhere I'd walked. It was also evident from the roar of the water flowing over the rocks in the riverbed below. This is a very rugged, fast moving river, with huge rocks and boulders strewn about all along it's course, more so this high up the valley. Up here, the mountains squeeze in pretty tight on both sides, and it's very rugged and steep. I spied through the trees what looked like a small dam, and the begining of the aquecuct system for the farms in the lower part of the valley. A short scramble through the trees brought me to the bank, and the concrete dam. Sure enough, the dam impounds a pool of water, some of it spilling over the dam, and some of it channeled off to the side into the aqueduct. About ten yards down the aqueduct, there is a juncture with two sluice gates. One leads to the aqueduct, and the other leads back into the river. In this way, the water flow into the aqueduct can be controlled. The gate leading back into the river was opened, and the one into the aqueduct was closed. It's still a bit early for the water to be needed in the aqueduct and the fields down in the valley. Everywhere in the valley now, the fields are being tilled and prepaired for planting. In a very few some of the women are starting to set out seedlings.

Well, I goofed around down there for about thirty minutes, taking pictures of this concrete works, then hiked on back up to the road. Anothe ten minutes of walking brought me up to the big dam at the lake up at the head of the valley. There was a crew with a large backhoe doing some earth moving work here, repairing some of the earth berm, or the spillway. I couldn't see exactly what, because they had put up a large metal wall to screen off the work from the road. One of the workmen came around the wall to get something out of his truck. He was a young man, and we exchanged a few words. He knew a few English words. I pointed out the big mountain in the distance to the west, which was still covered in snow. He knew the English words for "snow" and "mountain". He was a pretty nice guy.

Time was slipping away from me now, so I got to walking, trying to really cover the remaining distance up to the temple as fast as possible. The road up to the temple cuts off of the main road just as it starts to curve around the back side of the lake. This little road is a serious climb, very steep, following a little tributary to the main river. This little stream is really just a long series of waterfalls, spilling down over the boulders scattered up the mountainside. I was determined not to stop, and pretty soon I was feeling it in my legs, and especially in my lungs. I had to slow it down a bit, but finally made it up to the temple without stopping.

Up at the temple, I could really see it had rained a lot. The roadway just before you get to the parking lot had been washed out completely, and the repairs were not finished yet. You could drive over it, but it was not paved. There was a lot of raw earth on the hillside below, leading down to the stream. The temple complex seemed undamaged by all the rain, thank goodness. I only stayed up there looking around for about five minutes, and didn't take any pictures this time. I knew I'd been gone for about two hours by this point, and wanted to get back as soon as possible. I figured that Ok Hwa would be worried about me.

I hiked back down to Mrs. Kim's house as quickly as possible, without any side trips. When I got there, the old guy was taking a nap, and Ok Hwa was just sitting at the kitchen table. Mrs. Kim had not made it back yet. She did show up before long, though. It was all excitement and chatter in the house then. We visited and had lunch (remarkably similar to breakfast), and then Ok Hwa and I decided to go into town to get some different food for dinner.

Mrs. Kim's house is at the last stop on the line, so when the bus driver turns around there, he backs it up into a little side road, and takes about a ten minute break. We hopped on, paid our fare, and pretty soon we were on our way into town.

We went straight to the central food market area, the Jungang Market, and quickly picked up all that we would need. Jungang market is a warren of about forty small city blocks, made up of streets, alleys, and small pedestrian only passageways. It is jam packed with cars, scooters, deliery trucks, and pededtrians. With every kind of mercantile you could imagine, from brick and mortar stores to sidewalk vendors of every description, it is a feast for all the senses. We got a whole chicken for four dollars, and a bunch of vegetables for a few dollars more. The hardest part was waiting for the 308 bus to come back around to take us home. We waited there at the bus stop by the rail overpass for at least thirty minutes before he arrived. It seemed that every other bus came by at least twice before ours showed up. Oh, well, at least we were finally on our way home.

Back home, the ladies set about making dinner, while the old guy and I laid around. The jet lag was catching up with me again. It was only about five o'clock, but I could barely keep my eyes open. I was yawning every minute. What a relief when they finally called us to dinner. I had been reading a magazine, and struggling to keep my eyes open. The food revived me for a bit, but the jet lag caught up with me again before long. About seven o'clock all I could do was brush my teeth and fall into bed. I slept like a rock until about five a.m. What a great night's sleep!

Here are pictures from the day. Click on the image for a slideshow:

Hike to Temple

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Travel Time - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We awoke this morning, got our things together, and headed out the door to Korea. Everything was organized and ready to go, so the morning went smoothly.

We met our neighbor and good friend Carlos out front, loaded our bags into his car, and he drove us to the airport. Good friends like this are hard to come by.

We arrived at the airport about three hours and twenty minutes early for our flight, but there was already a line to check in at the Korean Air counter. The line moved pretty quickly, so we got our bags checked, and our boarding passes, then proceeded to the security check-point. For once, there was no line, and we were able to get through with no problems, quick and easy.

On the secure side, we had time to kill. We had breakfast, used the restroom, then headed to the gate to wait. I'd remembered to bring a book with me, so I dug it out and started to read. The book was "Water For Elephants", by Sara Gruen. It's a very good book, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Between the hour or so we had to wait to board, and the thirteen hours in flight, I was able to finish the book before we landed. I just wish I had another one to read on the way back.

The plane started boarding at 10:20, and we were in the air on time at 11:00. The flight is approximately thirteen and a half hours, and you chase the sun the whole way. The aircraft can not quite keep up with the sun, and so falls behind a little bit the whole way. Since the sun never sets on the aircraft during the flight, it seems like just one very long afternoon spent flying. When we finally land, it's 2:30 in the afternoon local time in Incheon, but it's the next day, Wednesday, April 7. We crossed the international date line going over the Bering Sea.

I was fortunate enough to get a window seat for the flight, and so spent a good bit of time looking out at the passing scenery. We had good, almost cloud-free weather the whole way, so I was able to see a lot. The flight takes what aviators call "the great circle route". This follows a great arc up north, through the Artic, and then back south again to the destination. It seems crazy when you look at it on a flat map, but seen on a globe it makes perfect sense. It's actually the shortest distance, because a great circle route, extrapolated around the globe, would be the largest perfect circle you could make around the globe, dividing the Earth exactly in half, right down through the center.

So, this great circle takes us from Dallas/Fort Worth up through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, into Western Canada, barely skirting by Juneau in the lower panhandle of Alaska, across the southern coast and on to the west coast of Alaska near Nome, across the Bering Sea and into Russian Siberia. The route starts it's southwest curve around here, heading out over the Sea of Okhotsk behind the Kamchatka Peninsula, over the western part of Sakhalin Island, over the sea east of the Russian city of Vladivostok, and over the Sea Of Japan (the Koreans call this "The East Sea"), keeping plenty of space between us and North Korea. We finally cross over the east coast of Korea just south of our final destination, Gangneung City. We had to keep on flying, though, on over to the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, to the port city of Incheon. This is where Seoul's international airport lies, about thirty miles from downtown.

We breezed through Immigration and Customs, and caught an express bus to Seoul's Express Bus Terminal. We bought our tickets for the next bus to Gangneung City, and had about thirty minutes to wait 'till it pulled out at five o'clock. A three hour bus ride back across the Korean Peninsula to the east coast put us in the Gangneung Express Bus Terminal at eight o'clock. A fifteen minute, fifteen dollar taxi ride deposited us at Mrs. Kim's front door. Rest at last, after a very long day spent traveling.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Home Again

We are back home from the trip to Korea. All went well, and we touched down at DFW at about 08:25 yesterday morning. Now, we're just dealing with the jet lag. For any of you who have not traveled to the other side of the world on a jet airplane, jet lag is a real thing. It takes your body about four days to adjust to the new time zone. I struggled to stay awake 'till six p.m. yesterday, and almost made it. We both woke up at midnight, and have been awake ever since. I'm going to try to make it 'till eight o'clock toninght.

Over in Korea, I couldn't get an internet connection out where we were staying, so each evening I wrote up my account of the day in a word processor document, then saved them to the computer. I will be posting them here to the blog over the next several days, with photos and videos.

For today, I will leave you with this little teaser video. This was the scene out back, over the garden wall of Mrs. Kim's house. That rooster started crowing around five-thirty every morning.

Official Website for Korea Tourism: http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/

Official Website for Tourism in Gangwon-do Province: http://www.gangwon.to/

Official Website for Tourism in Gangneung City: http://www.gntour.go.kr/

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves came by KNON Community Radio yesterday, Friday, April 2, 2010. He brought with him a couple of side men, namely Billy Bright playing mandolin, and Chojo Jacques on the fiddle. Slaid was always one of my personal favorites. His two early albums "Broke Down", and "No Angel Knows" are a couple of the best alt-country albums ever released. Slaid wrote some of his best songs for them, and Lloyd Maines did an excellent job producing them.

Slaid was in town as the headliner for a show that night at the Granada Theatre, on Lower Greenville Ave. This old movie theatre is a great place to see a show. There's not a bad seat in the house, and they have a great sound system.

He kicked it off with a new song called "Hard To Believe":

Friends in the studio watching and helping out were Mark Ivey, Michael Williams, John Bass, Lee Petty, David Callison, and my beautiful wife Ok Hwa. You can see some of them in the background in the videos.

The next song up was "Green Mountains And Me":

I recently bought a new camera, which shoots video in high definition. I decided to give it's first try-out on the song "Horseshoe Lounge". My computer could just barely handle the upload, and my video editing software would not even recognise the file, so I was not able to edit it like I wanted, with fade in/out, titles, and end credits. Here it is in it's unedited form:

It was good to see ol' Slaid after all these years. He's looking and sounding very good. He has some great new material out, and I urge you to check it out. The link is below.

After the program, Slaid headed off to have dinner before his show, and we all went down the the parking lot, where we gathered around the tail gate of some one's pick-up truck for some light conversation and beverages.

Official website of KNON Community Radio in Dallas: http://www.knon.org/

Official website of Slaid Cleaves: http://www.slaidcleaves.com/