Elwood 5566

Village Sentinels – Totems (장승)

Posted in Photo diary by 노강호 on November 22, 2010

a totem (장승)  being carved

In more rural Korean areas totems, changseung (장승) often guard the passage to villages. Their design varies from simplistic to elaborate and encompass original and artistic designs as well as ones either explicitly ‘pornographic’ or with ‘pornographic’ elements. At other times they are humorous or simply bizarre. I am fascinated by the manner in which Korean wood is twisted and knotted by the landscape and weather and as I wrote previously, in (Penis Paradise), I see so much of the character of Korean people and their history embodied in wood.  In the mountains one often sees the most interesting examples of contorted wood wood that almost seems to have been tortured.

a rather obvious example of ‘releasing’ the qualities inherent in the ‘raw’ material.

A few months ago, when I visited Palgongsan Park in Daegu, I bought a small carving which cost 10000 Won (£10), the nature of the wood is interesting; a section of branch or small stem which on one side, a burr (burl – US English) has caused to ‘explode’ in a fascinating manner.  I’m indebted to a reader  for identifying this feature and also drawing my attention to the fact it is highly weathered. The wood has been used to carve a  totem-like face  while the burl, now forming the back of the head, forces one to seek meaning in the combination. From another angle, a second, half face can be imagined.

resembles the face of a totem (chang-seung)

the back reveals some former ‘explosion’ caused by  a burl

in profile

a further resemblance of a face

projects in the process

Several months ago, I was visiting Kayasan National Park when in the middle of nowhere, our minibus broke down. We pulled down a slip road next to a basic cheong-cha (정자), to await recovery.

a basic cheong-cha (정자), they harbor breezes and shelter you from the sun.

Stood in a row along the small road, warding away demons and evil, were  a number of totems (jang-seung 장승)  Totems guard the approaches to villages and scare away evil spirits and were, and in some cases still are worshiped  (tutelary deities). Different parts of Korea have different totems and they are closely associated with shamanism.

Broken Down but even stuck in the mountains our mini-bus is picked up and repaired within 2 hours

with a kimchi pot on the head

angry

who’s your dentist?

I was the only one giving them any attention!

looking glum

another kimchi head

and every opportunity to carve a dick

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse – 가야산 관광호텔

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on October 11, 2010

 

Kayasan Hotel (가야산 관광호텔), near Daegu

Before I give an account of the bathhouse, I want to review the hotel because this a truly impressive location and well worth a visit, either for an overnight break or simply for coffee. Kayasan Hotel (가야산), Kyongsangbukdo Province,  is around an hours drive from Daegu and is situated in the heart of the Kaya Mountains. This hotel truly impressed me as my first glimpse of it was on an early morning , after substantial snow.

 

Kayasan Hotel in snow

 

View from the hotel entrance

Kayasan Hotel entrance

The hotel has a restaurant and cafe, as well as an open-air  bar/cafe, situated next to a small cascading waterfall-feature, which is open in good weather. A couple of smaller restaurants, including an adjoining traditional Korean restaurant, are close-by. The hotel sits right by the entrance to a nature park next to which is a natural history museum containing some very interesting displays.

 

invigorating

 

Dining room

The hotel is large and spacious and the emphasis on white marble and white tiles, both in the facilities and hotels rooms, gives an airy, if not slightly clinical atmosphere. I found the bedrooms a little strange but pleasant. The one we’d booked was simply, a tiled white room with all the facilities you’d expect but an absence of anything soft either in texture or shape – other that is, than the bedding. Looking  thorough the brochure, rooms with western style beds and sofas are available.

 

a western style bedroom (photo from hotel website)

However, at times I was unsure whether or not I was in a hospital, space ship or heaven and had an angel, nurse, or spaceman appeared, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The lounge, restaurant and cafe maintained the white theme, contrasting it occasionally with black tiling, but were tastefully and luxuriously decorated. The hotel design made maximum use of the panoramic views of the mountains both in the lounge, bathhouse and the more expensive bedrooms.

 

The grand lounge and bar

panoramic view similar to the ones provided in the bathhouse

open air cafe/bar

Family room korean style (photo from hotel website) Costing about 143.000 Won per night (70 pounds)

I was eager to use the bathhouse as this was a central feature in the hotels advertising and it looked very inviting. If staying in the hotel, entrance is free and the facility is open from 6 am. Once again, pure white tiling pervaded on floors, walls and ceilings. The changing area was very relaxing and spacious though there was an absence of  relaxation area with the usual TV screen and snacks. In the bathhouse, the most alluring feature were large arched windows that looked out onto the adjacent mountains and the various pools were designed so you could lounge and admire the view. A number of monks were busy scrubbing each other or shaving their heads and given the Heinsa Temple is close-by, monks are regular visitors. Stereotypically, one doesn’t associate a monk’s lifestyle with opulent bathhouses and grand hotels but I would imagine the hotel bathhouse is a wonderful place in which to meditate.

 

The bathhouse (photo from Hotel's brochure)

a large geode in one of the saunas

All the standard  showers and pools were available, as were saunas. Particularly impressive was a jewel sauna (보석 사우나) which contained an enormous geode which I managed to photograph. I’m also sure there was a salt sauna but I actually can’t remember as, so far, I have only visited the bathhouse on one occasion. However, the panoramic views, monks and secluded mountain location, provided a relaxing and invigorating atmosphere.

 

the lounge

one of the crystal displays in the lounge

Location

Kayasan Hotel and surrounding area

Facilities – hotel, bathhouse, restaurants, bar, lounge, out door cafe/bar, sport facility, arranged tours, nearby nature park and museum, numerous restaurants, panoramic views and lots more.

Hotel website – http://www.gayasanhotel.co.kr/ Actually, the photos here are limited and do not do the place justice.

Address – 경북 성주군 수륜면 백운리 1282-4. Tel. (0540) 931-3500 Fax. (054) 931-7771

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

For Pied and Dabbled Things

Posted in Animals, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Korean language, plants and trees by 노강호 on October 1, 2010

fascinating - or ''just' (그냥)?

Back in Scumland UK, the greatest disruption to a lesson would be two students having a fight, possibly assaulting the teacher or simply a student calling you a ‘fucking wanker.’ In Korea, a similar level of disruption is achieved if an insect flies into the classroom. No! I’m not referring to a gigantic hornet or a preying mantis; pandemonium can be unleashed by a simple house fly. On such occasions, students will duck their heads and even move to the other-side of a class and until the insect is removed or killed, all teaching is likely to cease. I know students, teenage boys, who will squeal and panic, if a butterfly flutters into the classroom.

I have seen some beautiful butterflies in the mountains, some the size of small birds with brightly coloured wings. As a schoolboy, my fondness for butterflies was inspired through collecting and trading cards that came with a packet of  Brooke Bond PG Tips Tea.  Although I’ve noticed dragonflies are admired, some kids even hate butterflies, one of the most majestic and harmless of insects. In Korean, it seems many people relegate most bugs to the same category as cockroaches.

Launched by Brooke Bond (tea) in 1963, this series of cards probably inspired my interest in butterflies

Koreans seem to have a general dislike not just of insects, but bugs in general and ‘bug’ is the preferred term as this precludes having to differentiate between insects and arachnids and many other creepy crawly things. Indeed, terms such as ‘insect’ and the characteristics they exhibit do not seem as easily understood as they might be in the west. The problem of nomenclature, despite biological taxonomy, is obviously cultural but I wonder to what extent it reflects a general disregard for nature in general, especially in a society which has so rapidly become highly urbanized.

'Just' (그냥) a spider!

Korean students, and many adults I know, seem not just oblivious to nature, but indifferent and unmoved by it. Of course, I am making a sweeping generalization and fully aware many Koreans are quite the obverse  as I often come across Korean nature, and nature photography blogs on the internet, but I nonetheless experience different attitudes from students and friends than I would back home. Several years ago, on a mountain trail in Ch’eonan, I was privileged to see a fox posing in profile. My fellow teachers all insisted that either foxes do not exist in Korea or that I must have seen a cat. You simply cannot confuse a cat with a fox, especially having seen the fox motionless and in profile! Every child will give you the correct name when you describe a magpie, one of the most common birds even in urban areas, but describe a jay, a common sight in the mountains, and most will have no idea of its name (산까치). The impressive sorceress spider (무당 거미), with their expansive webs dusted in a powdery yellow,  and abdomens emblazoned with red and yellow markings, to all but one of the people I asked, were ‘just’ (그냥) spiders.  Wasps and hornets  suffer a similar fate and are often clumped together as bees (벌). And then I’m told figs trees don’t grow in Korea when there are several growing in my vicinity.

The reason I am so keen as to Koreans attitudes about nature is that most dictionaries fail to distinguish species and sub-species and hence I am compelled to make inquiries. I often encounter problems trying to discover the Korean word for particular animals or plants. For example, Koreans have a number of different names for ‘octopus’ (낙지, 문어) and will often insist that they are different from each other but this difference has more to do with ‘octopus’ as a food, rather than ‘octopus’ as a species. In Britain, we have a similar problem with ‘sardines’ and ‘pilchards,‘ both different size herrings and most of us differentiate them by the shape of can they are bought in. Sardines, as juvenile pilchards, come in small flat tins whereas the adult pilchard, comes in a round can. I doubt many Brits are capable of differentiating between sardines and pilchards in any other way than by the type of can they occupy when dead and ready to eat.

This is a pilchard

This is a sardine

Differentiating between rats and mice is also problematic and if you tell a Korean you had a mouse in your house, or even had one as a pet, they will recoil  in horror. Despite ‘mice’ having a distinct name (생쥐), they are conflated with rats (쥐) and only by describing a rat as having a  long leathery tail, can you be understood. Exactly the same occurs with chipmunks  (줄무늬 달암쥐) and squirrels (달암쥐) both of which are described as ‘squirrels.’ (다람쥐) Yes, chipmunks are a form of squirrel but they are quite distinct from squirrel squirrels. Indeed, several online dictionaries I consulted identified both squirrels and chipmunk, as squirrels and despite chipmunks being common in the nearby mountains, most people I asked either did not know what they were or simply identified them as ‘squirrels.’

A rat - big, dirty and loves sewers and shite

This is a mouse - small, cute, lives in fields and is a veggie

On another occasion I was with friends in the Kayasan Mountains and noticed what looked like clumps of mistletoe high in the trees. I was excited because I’d not seen mistletoe in Korea and it was prolific and thick. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which grows in the uppermost branches of trees, the seeds being deposited via bird droppings. Not only did my friends have no idea what is was, but they weren’t very interested. As we were coming down the mountain, I noticed bags of ‘clippings’ being sold to make tea and was able to confirm it was mistletoe (겨우사리).

mistletoe can be seen growing in clumps in the high branches (Kayasan, Heinsa)

In early summer, I was looking at plants, along with a close friend, being sold by a street vendor. She was quite impressed that I was able to identify tomato, aubergine, thyme, rosemary and courgette seedlings as well as larger jade and citrus plants. She had no idea that tomato plants have a distinct smell that is imparted onto your hands if your touch them. My poor friend could only identify a chili plant and asked the vendor to name the plants to corroborate my claims.

It worries me that so many young Koreans are uninterested and uninspired by nature, if not fearful of it, because the easiest means by which species will disappear, is when there is no regard for them. In dystopian novels such as Huxley’s, Brave New World, Zamyatin’s, We, and to  a lesser extent, Orwell’s, 1984, nature is perceived as abhorrent, distasteful, imperfect and dirty and hence requiring banishment beyond the  confines of ‘civilization.’  Once there is a general dislike, or simply disregard for nature,  or even people, and before you know it, the damage has been done. All political and social atrocities are born out of an attitude of dislike, disinterest or loathing and the same can be said of environmental atrocities.

The impressive Kayasan Hotel

In Kayasan Mountain, behind the impressive Kayasan Park Hotel, next to the nature trail entrance, is a natural history museum in which are housed an extensive collection of insects which are either extinct or endangered. Some of the insects, all dead and mounted, are of gargantuan proportions, some as much as three  or four inches long. The gargantuan insects that once lived in the mountains of Korea,  with their chunky exoskeletons and long antennae, fascinated not just me but the numerous Korean children, ooo-ing and ah-ing around me; ironically, the same children who yelp, scream and panic when a house fly buzzes into the classroom. It seems that  for many, nature only has the power to inspire wonder and awe when it’s dead, mounted, sanitized and safe.

Capable of causing panic!

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Mistletoe – Viscum album Coloratum (겨우살이) Not Just for Kissing Under

Posted in herbs and 'woods', plants and trees, tea (cereal, herb) by 노강호 on May 15, 2010

Specifics: a tea made with leafs and branches. I have only seen this being sold in bundles either in the mountains or street markets. It is not always easy and more common in spring. I would be very cautious of using this in Europe as the species may be poisonous, from the little I know the berries are. I can’t find any reference to its use as a tea in the West, though I have not searched extensively.

A few months ago I noticed a little old lady street vendor selling, amongst other things, what appeared to be mistletoe. I was intrigued as of course, in the West it is usually only ever seen at Christmas when it is used to kiss under. Like most of my Korean friends,when asked about this plant, none had the slightest idea what it was,  nor any interest.

Kayasan National Park

On Children’s Day, I went to  Kayasan National Park (가야산)  which is a short distance from Daegu. As is the custom on such days, we made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Haeinsa (해인사) Temple, one of Korea’s most important temples and home to Korean National Treasure No. 52, the Tripitaka Koreana. These comprise 81.340 woodblock templates, carved in the 13th century and forming the most accurate, oldest, and extensive treatise of Buddhist law and scripture.  With full foliage not yet set on surrounding trees, I noticed ‘balls’ of what appeared to be mistletoe growing on their upper branches. I was quite excited, an excitement my friends find quite strange and eccentric. None of them could tell me what they were but their interest was microscopically sparked when I pointed out to them that the leaf shape on the balls, only just visible, differed from that  on the surrounding branches. And then we stopped by a small ‘kiosk’ selling the customary objects found in such locations, dried mushrooms, steaming silk worm cocoons, – various fresh mountain greens, herbs, onions and wood, and in one corner, a large pile of mistletoe, instantly recognizable and available either fresh or cut and dried at 10.000W (£6) a large bag.

'Balls' of mistletoe can be seen in distant the tree tops

Mistletoe, Viscum album Coloratum -a hemi-parasitic plant

Cut and dried mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant with an extensive and ancient history in many cultures. Myth suggests mistletoe was the wood from which the cross of Jesus was made, after which, as a punishment, the former tree was withered and reduced to a parasite. The plant has various hosts and usually grows on higher branches where seeds fall in bird droppings.

Instructions for making tea – Mistletoe can be kept in the fridge, though I was told not to store it in the freezer. A handful of twigs and leaves are then boiled in approximately 2 litres of water and the tea drank warm or chilled. I have discovered that a fuller infusion is made if the ‘leaves’ are left to steep over night before being removed. European Mistletoe can also be used for making tea herbalists claim it has numerous benefits, one of which is lowering blood pressure. Here  is made by way of a cold infusion.

The taste – I am not really into hot herbal or cereal teas and generally prefer these chilled. Mistletoe surprised me as it has a very distinct and pleasant taste with a lemony aroma. The taste is remarkably similar to that of western type tea (Ceylon, PG Tips, Liptons etc)  but quite soft. It lacks  the bitterness or tartness associated with tannin in un-milked, un-sugared tea. Currently I prefer this ‘tea’ to Korean barley, corn or green tea.

Creative Commons License© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

The Kaya Mountains and Kyeong-Ju. Friday April 6th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean Accounts Part 1, seasons, Uncategorized by 노강호 on April 6, 2001

On Sunday Pak U-chun (박유천) and her husband, U-no (소유노), picked me up and drove me to their apartment. Here I spent several hours giving Ga-in  and her cousin, Min-ju (민주), an English lesson. As usual, U-chun had prepared a meal and this time we had bibimbap (비빔밥) which is boiled rice, vegetables and red pepper paste.   Afterwards, we drove out to the Dasa (다사) area of Daegu and met Min-ju’s parents in a cafe there.

Me, Ga-in, Min-ju and Yu-no in 2001

The cafe was a traditional building made of mud. Inside, even though the walls were mud, there was electric lighting and even sockets in the wall. The inside was large and there were candles everywhere which had been allowed to drip onto the woodwork to form interesting shapes. Outside was a small stage for live music. We drank beer accompanied by dried snacks, including squid, my favourite and pa’jon. Pa’jon, also known as Korean pancake, is strips of leek fried in a mung bean pancake which is eaten in strips dipped in soy sauce. My favourite drink at the moment is dong dong ju. This is a farmers’ drink and is usually homemade as it ferments in the bottle and cannot easily be marketed. The colour of this drink various from milky white to creamy yellow and I am told it is a drink you either love or hate. Often, ginseng has been added to it. A little while later, U-chun asked if I wanted to go to the sauna, apparently there was one right next to the café and part of their premises. We went outside to the small mud hut adjacent the cafe, and which is known as a hwan toa bang. Inside, a bamboo mats covered the floor on which two children lounged, their faces dripping in sweat. The room was filled with the smell of pine as pine needles and cones were strewn around the outer edge of the bamboo floor. The room itself was heated by a burner that used pine logs. At first the dry heat was intense but before long all of us were strewn out on the floor relaxing. We stayed in the hwan toa bang for some twenty minutes before returning to the cafe.  It was an interesting experience and I am told hwan toa bangs are even fired up during the hot summer months.

On Monday lunchtimes I have started going to another go to another mokyuktang, as the one I usually use is closed. In less than a month I have made over 15 trips to mokyuktangs. On this visit one of the attendants asked if I wanted a rub down and I bravely said yes. This was something I was intending to do but at a much later date – why wait. For the rub down you lie naked on a couch and have warm water poured all over you before being rubbed vigorously all over, and I mean all over, by an abrasive cloth. They rub your crotch and up your bum crack. As the attendant progresses from one side of your body to another, you have to adopt certain positions by putting you arm of legs in various positions. The attendant wore boxer shorts which were wet and on quite a few occasions I could feel his dick resting on my arm. The whole procedure is performed publicly and with a conversation in progress.

Life at Di Dim Dol  gets more and more boring everyday with exactly the same routine and the same books. I am beginning to wonder if I can really teach here for another five months. I am even considering if I should go back home early.

Thursday was a public holiday, this time for ‘Arbor Day” when it is believed anything planted will flourish. The teachers from Di Dim Dol were all wishing me a ‘happy holiday’ as if I were departing on a two week vacation. I told them it wasn’t a holiday but simply a day off and not even that as they would have to make up for lost time by working on the coming Saturday. Regardless, most of them see it as a holiday. Pak U-chun and her family picked me up from my apartment at ten in the morning and we drove out of the city towards Sang-ju (상주) and the Kaya mountains which lie further north in the province of Kyongsangbookdo (경상복도). Travelling in Korea is interesting as you travel along the highways which are situated in the and between the valleys which are surrounded by farms, rice paddies and enormous cloches. Small yellow melons not much larger than the size of a pear have just appeared on the markets and I recently read that the appearance of these melons is a traditional sign that spring is well under way.  Anyway, these melons are one of the main products of the province and were on sale from many small markets stalls on the twisting road that led from the highway to the mountains. Often small lorries, filled with the melons, were parked in lay-bys.

the start of the walk up to Heinsa Temple in the Kaya Mountains (2001)

beside the main temple in Heinsa (2001)

The scenery was absolutely beautiful as the lilacs were almost in full bloom. In Daegu they were already in full flower. Everywhere, cherry blossom (벚꽃) and yellow forsythia (개나리)  coloured the hillside. Spring blossom, in Korean, is known as pom namu (봄 나무).  Up in the mountainside you could see the various shades of green from emerging foliage speckled here and there by dashes of pink and yellow.  One flower, particularly common, was the national flower of South Korea, adopted after the liberation. This flower, Hibiscus Syriacus, known also as the Rose of Sharon and in Korean mugunghwa (무궁화). The atmosphere in the car was wonderful and Ga-in and Min-Ju were excited at the various sights. We climbed the mountain for quite a while, the little car straining when suddenly, out of the right hand side of the vehicle, the peaks of the mountain range appeared. It was a breath taking sight; the jagged peaks of bare rock were highlighted against a bright blue sky. Almost at the top of the range, there was an observation point where we stopped and took some photos. In the small car park were several farmers selling various fruits and vegetables. I took a photograph of some elderly women sat among their produce. One made a fuss of me and said she was too ugly to photograph, but she wasn’t, she was beautiful and she reminded me how lucky people are who still have mothers and grandmothers. I wanted to take a photograph of them sat naturally but instead they sat upright, hands on knees and all looked very serious.

roadside traders on the road up to Heinsa Temple – Kaya Mountains (2001)

a stupa in the large forecourt before the main temple (2001)

We were now in the heart of the Kayasan (가야 산) national park and in U-no’s little car we travelled down from the observation point into another valley before climbing back up into more mountains towards the Haeinsa (해인 사) temple. May 1st in the lunar calendar this year marks the celebration of Buddha’s birthday and so the roads in the park were edged with yellow, red and purple lanterns which at night are lit. The park was impeccably clean, not a piece of litter anywhere. We passed through a number of small villages where up in the surrounding hillside people could be seen tidying up their relatives tombs after the long winter. Arbour Day is one of the days when people walk up to their relatives tombs, tidy them and then present offerings which involve paying their respects by prostrating themselves on the ground, forehead to earth.

note the bees nest hanging from the side of the head

At many places on route to the temple, there were interesting sights. Small stupas, small pagoda constructions which house the spirit of Buddha dotted the landscape. We stopped at a larger sight where there was a small temple nestled up in the hillside. At the foot of the hill, just off the road and through some trees, stood an enormous statue of a Buddha flanked on either side by stupas. In front of the Buddha ran a burpling river which meandered down from the mountain. Stupas are common across the Buddhist world but Korean ones are very distinct with small bells hanging from the corners of each protrusuion. The stupa tapers into  a pointed spire. Like other Buddha statues I had seen in Korea, a large stone like ‘hat’ sat  on his head, from this one hung a large bees’ nest. From the nearby temple drifted the sound of a monk chanting and striking his small, spherical wooden percussion instrument made from hollowed out oak. It makes a hypnotic sound when continual tapped. Behind the Buddha was wall housing twenty or so class cases each containing a life-size Buddha in a different pose. In front of the statue stood a stone table where visitor placed offering of food for the monks, bags of rice or fruits and nuts. Those making offerings lit joss sticks and then prostrated themselves in front of the Buddha. There were several elderly women who had been busy prostrating themselves for the entire 20 minutes of our visit. U-chun told me a respectable number of prostrations is ten but if you want to be particularly devoted you perform 180. This is no mean feat as a complete prostration begins and ends from a standing position.

Min-ju and I (2001)

Eventually, after a further journey, we parked the car  in a large car park high in the mountains and joined the enormous conga of people progressing up to Haeinsa Temple. The walk talks about an hour. In places the climb was quite steep. One of the first sites we stopped at was a pond, called the  -Yong-ji. This lay just outside the entrance to the Haeinsa complex. According to the legend, seven sons wanted to become monks and left home to travel to Haeinsa. Later, longing for her sons, their mother travelled the long distance to visit them but as they had already taken their vows, they could not see her in person. Instead, they looked at each other’s reflection in the pond.

The temple complex was full of fascinating sights. The elaborate art work of the central temple, which housed a golden Buddha, consisted of intricate patterns of blue, green, orange and gold. Inside the main temple, monks prayed in front of the large golden Buddha, the air scented by both spring and incense. The Haeinsa Temple, was built in the Shilla (57bc-935ad) period though it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in the 15th century. The temple houses the Triptaka Koreana which is the most extensive Buddhist text and is written on 82000 wooden engravings. The text is in the process of being translated. The wooden engravings are housed in outhouses surrounding the main temple.

Pak Yu-chun and her family (2001)

After spending several hours in the temple, we walked down the mountain and headed to a picnic area further into the Kayasan range. Koreans love to picnic and are well equipped with picnic mats, barbecues and baskets and when the finish, they meticulously tidy away all their mess. U-chun had cooked pulgogi and chap’che – a fried noodle dish with pork and beef through it. As usual the meal was accompanied with kimchee. After the meal we drove back to Daegu.

On Saturday, the Yon San Dong school had planned a staff trip to Kyong Ju (경주). Matt and I took a taxi down to the school to meet the mini bus. All the western teachers went except for Lisa who never seems to want to mix with anyone but who, in fairness, has been ill during the week. She continually moans anyway, so perhaps is it a good thing. There were four Korean staff coming with us, To-yung, Amy, Meg (who has a mouthful of wonky, impacted teeth and who looks like one of the Cenobite’s from Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser,’) and Qui-Aie. We all brought packed lunches and set off  in high spirits. I can’t remember if I have previously mentioned the significance of Kyong Ju, but it was at one time the capital of the Shilla (57bc-975ad) dynasty. Between approximately 40bc and 400ad the peninsula was divided into three kingdoms – the Shilla, Koguryo and Paekche. Around 400ad, the Shilla dynasty, situated in the east and militarily very powerful, overthrew the other kingdoms and united the peninsula. The Shilla dynasty ruled until approx 900ad. Needless to say the area is full of interesting sights and it is particularly famous for its spring blossoms.

Back – Qui-aie, me, Pauline, Angelin. Front – ?,? Angel, Matt, (2001)

Kyong Ju isn’t a large city but when we arrived it was teeming with people on bicycles hired from one of numerous shops. Matt shared a tandem with the Cenobite and the rest of us all hired standard bicycles and headed off to the nearby Shilla tombs. The most impressive tomb in the site we visited was the Heavenly Horse Tomb. Though several other tombs lay in the same location, only this tomb had been excavated and inside a coffin and 15 items, including a sword of 98cm long. The tombs are all large mounds and the Heavenly Horse Tomb had been hollowed out so we were able to walk around inside it. Nearby was the oldest observatory in Asia and this was a large circular building made of stone. From here we went to the Kyong-ju National Museum which lay next to the Anapj (Goose and Lake). In 1972 the lake was temporarily drained and over 41.000 artefacts were found which now appear in the museum. Outside the museum was a large bell known as the Emelie Bell. Apparently this bell was cast in the ninth century and its unusual tone is attributed to the fact that a baby was thrown into the smelting metal during its casting.

Tombs of Kings

We ate lunch in the gardens of the museum and then set of to visit a large lake outside the town. The cycle took ages and all along the route cherry blossom showered onto us like snow whenever a breeze blew. Pauline found the cycle strenuous and no matter how many times we asked where we were going, how long the cycle was likely to take, or how far it was, our host Koreans avoided our questions. After an hour or so cycling, Matt decided to stop and complain. We had all become split up and there were thousands of other cyclists travelling in both directions along our route. Despite our protestations, Qui-Aie wanted to push ahead and as soon as she saw Pauline struggling in the distance, she continued cycling with renewed vigour. I actually think it was part of her master plan to stop us getting together and moaning. After about another fifteen minutes, we reached this large lake which sat on top of a hill. All around the edge of the lake the cycle path could be traced by the line of cherry blossom. At the far end of the lake stood an enormous pagoda which I later discovered was a Hilton Hotel. On a large grass bank teeming with relaxing Koreans, we sat and had some refreshments bought from nearby stalls. We thought we would be able to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery but under the leadership of ‘Hitler Tours,’ other plans were afoot.

the cycle up to the edge of the lake – under a canopy of blossom (2001)

All to soon Qui-aie and the other Koreans ushered us to continue cycling towards the Hotel. It was an awkward cycle as the path an narrowed and was packed with walkers and cyclists in an enormous conga that seemed to travel in both directions unbroken, around the lake. As is natural, Koreans didn’t get stressed with the incompetent cyclists who frequently blocked out passage or slowed our journey. I don’t think Koreans are very well organised in terms of driving on the roads, walking in packed supermarkets or cycling. Mopeds and motorbikes can be seen everyday using the pavements and I regularly see potential accidents about to occur. In busy supermarkets they will push and shove each other in order to squeeze through little gaps. They do exactly the same when driving yet rarely do they loose their tempers or get stressed. Matt and I have a time limit when we shop in a supermarket – usually about half an hour, after which we deteriorate into a frustrated state. On the path around the lake there seemed no consensus about which side of the pavement to cycle on and it seemed total chaos to us westerners. We cycled for another half an hour, making painfully slow progress and on the few occasions on which I stopped to take a photograph, I was made to feel I was wasting time. Next, I suggested we stop because we had lost Pauline. Twenty minutes later and she appeared  in the distance and immediately, Qui-aie jumped on her bike. Matt wouldn’t get on his and was looking very cross.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked. He didn’t look up.

‘If there’s one thing I fucking hate it’s being asked if I’m alright when I’m fucking not,’ he snarled. Qui-aie was still trying to prompt us to cycle and I said we were going to wait for Pauline so she could take a break.

However, it wasn’t long before Qui-aie was leading us towards the fast approaching hotel. Soon, the path turned away from the lake. Our Korean guides, ‘Hitler Tours,’ grouped up ahead and were busy talking. I joked that they were probably deciding whose job it was going to be to tell us that we still had another few hours cycle ahead of us. Suddenly, To-yung told us we were turning towards the town and that we would be back at the minibus in some 20 minutes.  We were momentarily relieved as this is Korea and Koreans and often lacking in organisation.

After more cycling, I noticed that the fairground wheel which had lain behind the hotel now lay behind us and that we were in fact travelling towards Kyong-ju but by the longest route; around the perimeter of the lake. We were some two hours cycle away from the point at which we had arrived at the lake’s shore. Here we were in this beautiful location with cafes and boat rides and wonderful sights and all we were doing was racing amongst a huge conga of cyclists and walkers. At one point there was an enormous hold up and bikes were knocking into each other all over the place – which no one minded except us westerners. When some silly Korean in front of us, braked for no reason and then blocked our way we cursed but the facial expression of the perpetrator was one of innocence and bewilderment. There was a long lay-by next to us, lines with market stalls, not one Korean in the enormous hold up, broke ranks to circumnavigate the jam. I moved into the empty road, calling for Angela to follow me and within minutes there was a long clear path in front of us. For some fifteen minutes we flew down the almost empty path and when we reached the main road at the bottom, we had to wait forty minutes before we all re-grouped. Angela spent our time leering at sexy Korean lads and we both agreed that westerners are mutant mongrels by comparison. Our hair is assorted colours and textures, we have pallid skin, yellow teeth and we are usually fatter than Koreans.

The rest of our party eventually appeared, free-wheeling down the hill towards us but they did not look very happy, apparently, they had waited for us assuming we must have got held up. By now a tense silence had developed between the Korean and foreign teachers. We arrived back in Kyong-ju city centre, tired and with sore backsides but of course, once we had handed our bicycles back, ‘Hitler Tours’ wouldn’t allow us time to get a coffee or an ice-cream. Instead, it was straight back and onto the bus! Back in Song-so the foreign teachers went for a drink in the Elvis Bar which isn’t far from Kemyoung University. Tomorrow, April 8th, is Pauline’s birthday.

On Wednesday I went to the doctor’s to get my gout pills and to have Bill, the hernia, checked out. Bill hasn’t been bothering me lately though he is still there and pops in and out with a sort of squidgy, jelly-like feeling. Doctor Lee always wants to have a chat and practice his quite competent English. I asked him to check Bill out as I was worried it might be a cancer of something. I have multiple cancers at the moment and develop new ones regularly. He looked at me quite strangely when I told him this and so I had to explain that whenever I get a headache, a pain or a blemish, I assume it’s a potential cancer. He got to work with the ultra-sound and then showed me, by way of the monitor, that a small lump of fat was moving between different layers of my stomach muscle. He assured me it wasn’t a hernia or anything serious. I love my trip to the doctors as he is the first doctor I have ever had that actually I actually refer to as ‘my doctor.’ He genuinely seems interested in me and always asks if there is anything else wrong with me or anything he can do. No matter how long I take at the doctors, no matter whether five minutes or fifty minutes, the cost is always 10.000W which is less than five pounds. Even if one assumes the cost of living to be four less than in the UK, that puts my doctor’s fee at around £20. When my mother went to a specialist over five years ago she was charged £60. My doctor is actually an internal medicine specialist! It’s strange that my health seems more protected and guaranteed here in Korea than it is is the smug world of the ‘developed west.’ Even the poodle parlours here offer a better service than does the British NHS! Teachers like Matt and Angela from New Zealand all prefer the Korean medical system. We all seem to have access to drugs and medicine seen as too expensive to provide freely in our home countries. After my monthly trip to my doctor I went and relaxed at the sauna. I have been going to the mokyuktang several times a week.

My Taekwondo has been progressing very well and now it is warmer I have suffer less injuries. Spring is almost over and already we have had temperatures in the 80’s. Korea has a spring and autumn of only three weeks or a month and has long winters and summers. The blossom has fallen from the trees and now the streets around Song So are being lined with pink and yellow lanterns in readiness for Buddha’s birthday (May 1st of this years lunar calendar). I often train for forty five minutes at lunchtime either stretching at home or in my club. My stretching programme has paid off and I am able to do exercises I haven’t done for fifteen years or so. I can sit in a hurdler’s straddle and almost put my head on my knee and I can sit on my knees and lean right back so my shoulders are on the floor. From this position I can do sit-ups. My axe kick, one of my favourite and formerly most devastating kicks, is almost as good as it was when I took my black belt.  I now have a purple belt and my blue belt exam I will take in a few weeks time. After blue, I will have brown, red, red and black belts to take before I can finally take my black belt exam. I would be quite content to go home with a brown belt but gaining a black belt is within my grasp. I realise how unfit I have become in the last four years – all due to sitting at a computer writing and riding a motorcycle. It has taken me a lot of effort to get fitter and a few months ago I was going to give up Taekwondo for good.

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.