Monday, May 10, 2010

Gangneung Unification Park and New Friends - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We finally found the battleship, and boy, is it something.

We met the bus here by the house at 08:50, and he sure doesn't wait around for anything at that time of morning. He just turns around, picks up what passengers that are waiting, and immediately heads back to town.

I made a short video of the ride back down the valley and into town. It turned out better than I expected. We got off where we did yesterday, and waited for the 111,112, or 113 bus to come along. After about twenty minutes the 113 came along around 09:40, and we climbed aboard.

The 113 only takes a couple of neighborhood detours before heading out of town. After turning south of the main drag, it's only about three blocks 'til we cross the Namdaecheon River. This is the largest river in the region, and flows right through town. I've never been across the river into South Gangneung before. There's not much of the city south of the river, though. After a couple of kilometers we were out in the country. It's about twenty kilometers down to Gangneung Unification Park. That's the official name of the place where the battleship is. The whole way down there, and the park itself, are within the city limits of Gangneung City. We passed a lot of pretty countryside and farms along the way. The further south you go from town, the closer the mountains come down to the coast.

The sun had come out this morning, lifting our spirits, but it was cold, and very windy. When we exited the bus at the battleship, it was downright uncomfortable. The wind was coming hard out of the north-northwest off the sea, and it was hard to stand outside for very long. The battleship was an awesome sight, though, sitting there huge as can be, completely out of the water on dry land. The submarine was about a hundred yards north of the battleship, looking very small by comparison.

We were having a very hard time of it out in the cold wind, so we ducked into a little snack bar there, for a coffee and a break from the wind. After our coffee, we put on a brave face and headed back out. I was dying to get on that ship, but I figured I'd tour the sub right quick, and get that out of the way. Then I could really savor the big ship, taking it all in at my own pace.

There is a sign by the ship with this information:
"Unification Park
"First of all, thank you for visiting this Unification Park in Gangneung. We want to inform you about the Unification Park.
"The Purpose - The center was made so that people may understand about the infiltration of the North Korean submarine on September 18, 1996. It also helps to foster a desire for the unifying of the North and South, so the submarine and the retired warship are on display at the original infiltration spot.
"Jeon Buk Ham (Dark Destroyer 916) - Length: 118 m, Width: 12.5 m, Weight: 3471 tons, Speed: 32 knots, The Full Capacity: 280 people. The ship was made in the USA in 1944. The ROK Navy used this ship for 27 years, from 1972 until 1999. The ship was retired in 1999. The ship was used in the Second World War, The Korean War, and The Gulf War. The ship is the only warship in the world which is displayed on land. The ship was pulled out of the water by a 1500 ton and a 1800 ton floating crane. The ship is the height of a three story building with a one story basement. There are seventeen of the twenty-nine rooms available to be seen.
"North Korean Submarine Exhibition - In September 1996, twenty-five Red guerrilla infiltrated into the land of South Korea by means of the submarine, which was soon found. The incident was a great shock to us, and incurred our wrath. The submarine was salvaged by the Navy, and is now on display at the original infiltration spot. Size: Length: 35 m, Width: 3.5 m, Height (tower included): 6.7 m, Weight: 325 tons (shark shaped submarine), Speed: 8.8 knots (the maximum speed under the sea), The Full Capacity: 30 people.
"The Curcumstances Of The Case - About 05:00 on September 14, 1996: The Red guerrilla left the submarine base in North Korea for the purpose of spying on South Korean military facilities. At about 20:00 on September 15, 1996: They arrived at the sea right in front of the Anin region of South Korea, and three of them infiltrated into the land while the others were on standby in the submarine. At about 21:00 on September 17, 1996: The leader of the three gave a signal to the colleagues in the submarine, and then ordered them to come closer to the seashore because the waves were so strong. While approaching the seashore it was washed away by the waves, and driven onto the rocks. Eventually they abandoned any attempt to find their way back. At about 23:50 on September 17, 1996: The armed Red bandits set fire to the inside of the submarine in order for destruction of evidence such as confidential information and documents. They escaped from it and fled to Gwaebangsan Mountain. From September 18 to November 5, 1996: Counterespionage operation was in progress for 49 days, and the Red guerrillas were mopped out completely. Counterespionage operation's military achievements and victims: Of the 25 spies, one was captured alive. 13 spies were shot by South Korean soldiers. 11 were murdered by their colleagues. 11 South Korean soldiers died a glorious death. 22 South Korean soldiers were injured. Six South Korean civilians were killed."
A pretty dramatic incident by any one's reckoning.

After reading this account of North Korean treachery, I was anxious to see the inside of the sub. Maybe it would shed some light on their mental state, and on their level of technical expertise. I pulled out my video cam, then crouched and ducked my way through the sub, from one end to the other. Pretty fascinating stuff. Lots of dials, levers, cranks, pipes, conduit, and other mysterious mechanical, electrical, and plumbing apparatus.

Emerging from the other end, the wind hit me hard again as I made my way down the staircase. Spray from the surf crashing on the rocks nearby was giving me a wet, salty sprinkling. At the aft end of the sub is the caved in section of the bottom that hit the rocks. Looking at it, and the rocky coast, it's hard to see how any of them made it out of there alive.

Ok Hwa was back in the snack bar waiting for me, and I was making my way back in that direction from the sub, when an American guy emerged from around another exhibit and said "Hello". I greeted him back enthusiastically, welcoming any chance to have a conversation with someone. It's been a week now since I've really talked with anyone. We hit it off right away, and were exchanging basic information, when Ok Hwa came up. This fellow's name is Jay, and he and his Thai girlfriend were on holiday, also. He is retired from the Navy, and still works for the Defense Department as a teacher on one of the bases down in Daegu. That's in the south-east of the country, about 60 kilometers north of Busan.

They had a car, and invited us to ride along with them. I told him that we had not seen the warship yet. He said not to worry, take as long as you want, and they'd be waiting in the car for us. He also said that it's a destroyer, not a battleship. We spent about twenty minutes touring the ship, then joined them at their car. We ended up spending the rest of the morning and the afternoon with them. They were a great, friendly couple. They were on an excursion up the east coast, and had spent the last two nights up at Gyeongpo, our favorite beach. We headed down the coast road, enjoying the dramatic scenery. After a few kilometers we stopped at Deungmyeongrakgasa Temple, a beautiful Buddhist Temple set in a wooded hollow by the sea. We spent about a half an hour there, looking at everything and taking pictures.

Back on the road, we continued south to the next little town, Jeongdongjin. This is a quaint little seaside village with a beautiful park and an impressive huge hotel on top of one of the hills surrounding the town. It looks like they've somehow managed to pick up a large cruise ship and set it down on top of the hill. Very dramatic. I know it was probably built up there out of concrete and steel like any other building, but it sure looks like a cruise ship, down to the last detail. We got out here and strolled around the park for awhile, then decided to get some lunch. Over in the older part of town, we found a promising looking restaurant, and went in. It was one of the sit-on-the-floor varieties. The food was excellent, though, and only thirty-six thousand for the four of us. That's about thirty-three dollars American.

After lunch we continued south down the coast for a ways, admiring the fantastic scenery. The mountains really do come right down to the sea along through here. We stopped for more pictures by a beautiful cove, then made our way inland, back to the big highway.

We were headed back up to Gangneung via the expressway, and Jay asked where he could drop us. At first we were going to have him take us right out to Mrs. Kim's house, then remembered that we were planning to pick up some Honey Chicken on the way home. We had them drop us off in town, where we said our good-byes. We were reluctant to part, but we had our separate ways to go. Jay was an intelligent conversationalist and a really friendly guy. He and I could have spent a lot of time talking about everything. I've got his card, and will get in touch with him when I get home.

We finally scored the Honey Chicken, but it was not the honey infused chicken like we'd had in Seoul last year. This chicken was good though, real American-style fried chicken. The only problem was that we had to wait about thirty minutes for the 308 to come around to take us home. When we got there, Pop was waiting for our return, lonely without Mrs. Kim. The three of us dove into the chicken, and finished off the ten piece box in one sitting. A little while later Ok Hwa prepared us a regular Korean-style dinner as well. We were all feeling pretty fat and happy as we laid it down for the night.

Click this link for a slide show of today's pictures: