Sunday, May 07, 2017

Forest Fire in Gangneung threatens Olympic Village

I am typing this from Incheon, on the other side of the country so I don't have personal details to add but I did write about a similar fire powered by strong winds years ago so I felt I should share the details I have learned.

This YTN report - in Korean - does not mention the Olympic Village but does blame the high winds for making the fire uncontrollable.

Yonhap News has a small report on the fire.
As with the fire I witnessed years ago, the entire nation is working to fight this one with fire fighters and vehicles from all over the country coming to help.

Unsurprisingly, the air quality in the area is terrible (Gangneung is the one red dot on the right on the map):

Earlier fire at Naksan temple.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hoengsong and Sokcho. Camp and Pokemon

I haven't taught at every GLPS camp at Minjok Sagwan High School in Gangwon Province, near Wonju, but I have been to many and greatly enjoy them. I probably enjoy them more than the students but I will save that kind of commentary for the end of this post.

It has been six years since I lived in Gangwondo and the places I remember have changed greatly. This post will be something of a tourist's report of my visit.

I had been suffering a slight abdominal pain, low and in front of my left hip joint for nearly a year.  Will trying to get in shape using the rowing machines at camp, something worked the pain is gone!

But I didn't exercise much as the temperature was high all camp.  I think we saw rain twice, both early in the first week of camp.  The rest of the time, we cooked.  I took the dog for walks but she didn't get as much time outside was either of us wanted.
Camp Pictures!
My son on the steps on the right. He joined a class attempting to safely drop eggs from great heights.

A student taught me about Hot Pepper Dragonflies.  This one, Crocothemis servilia only turns such a beautiful red during mating season. 

These two of a spider were the only good ones I took.  My phone camera would only focus on the distant sky.  What really drew me to this individual though was his loss of legs.  This is a four-legged spider!

Walking stick.

Some of my students had trouble doing actual research outside rather than just catching critters.

I found this salamander after one of the two rains we experienced.

One weekend, we returned home.  Good for us, but boring to write about.  The next weekend we went to Sokcho.  My son was born there eleven years and a few months ago but he hadn't visited in the six years we'd lived in Busan. He was very interested in seeing our old apartment and seeing what he might remember.

But mostly he was interested in Pokemon Go! In Korea, this game can only be played on Sokcho so far. This audio interview (autoplay) explains why. Basically, Korea is officially at war and Google isn't allowed to publish certain details on its maps in Korea so the resolution isn't good enough for game play (Daum does have that level of details for some reason).  The block of globe that Google aloted to Japan has a funny wing that reaches into one part of Korea - Sokcho - so the game is live there.
Sokcho is Pokemon-crazy with sign everywhere directing you in where to go and how to play.

It is horrifying to think that people are so into Pokemon that they throw their pets into the garbage!
Below, Ulsan Bowi was barely visible through the heat haze.

 After cooking in the direct sunlight, we found my only friend who still lives in Sokcho after six years and hung out on the beach.

These tetrahedrons are huge and break up the motion of the surf to protect the piers.  They are mostly jumbled together so I found the long view below fascinating and unique.

We also swam at Mul-Nori Soo-young Jang, a concrete box near the camp.  I didn't take any pictures but here is what I can tell you. Yoo-bi Castle Pension has rooms and campsite for rent. They also have a pool filled by stream water that is wonderfully refreshing. To find it, use Daum maps and enter "강원 횡성군 둔내면 영랑리 119 새주소강원 횡성군 둔내면 강변로영랑6길 115" in the search bar - hope you have the Hangeul character set on your computer.

Friday, December 26, 2014

4 rivers project: possibly not all that bad

An excerpt:
"Dredging and the dams were believed to worsen the water quality by prolonging the time water stays there," the commission noted.
Overall, however, the 16 dams have no serious safety problems, the commission highlighted, adding that, "The 16 dam structures were properly built in consideration of standard weight and the safety level proposed in the design have been attained."
   The river project also has successfully lessened the risk of flood in the areas adjacent to the rivers and enabled the use of pooled water for drought-hit areas, the government panel said.
"All in all, the four-river project has attained its goals to some extent ... but it has generated some side effects because it was carried out too hastily amid some limited local river management technology," it said.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm (soon to be) back!

I'm taking some time to return to Gangwon Province this summer.  I'm looking forward to snorkeling in Sokcho and swimming in many places.
If you want to get to Gangwon, Seoul Searching has good news:
In an effort to increase tourism in their regions, many provincial governments have begun to offer special services to international guests. Lucky us! One such example is the Gangwon Shuttle Service sponsored by Gangwon Province. This shuttle bus is a great way for foreigners to experience Korea's most breathtaking natural landmarks as well as some of its best festivals.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

North Korean Drones in Gangwondo

Three crashed drones have been found in South Korea suggesting that many more have traveled into and back out of South Korean airspace.  One of these Unmanned Ariel Vehicles crashed near Samcheok, which is quite a bit south of where I worked, already 80 or more kilometres south of the border.

Arirang video - autoplay - on the subject,

Dong-a Ilbo, which called the UAVs suicidal,

and the Marmot's Hole on the subject.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Koreans Carrying on - and other Google Alerts

Although I'm no longer in Korea, much less Gangwondo, I have a Google alert set for Gangwon News (and also for my name.  Man, a whole of people with the same name die every year).  Most of the alerts are about soccer standings, others appear interesting to me but not enough to share.  I am not sure if these three articles are, in fact, interesting enough to write about but the first one I looked at filled me with cynical snark.

Indeed, I felt so bad about being so snarky, let me point out the positives in Strittmatter's opinion article in the Gazette.  Strittmatter is a new teacher and probably a fresh college grad who is in a tiny town near the DMZ.  I first planned to write about her naivete, but really, it is a tough time to be a newby in Korea and having military tanks frequently driving through town.  She does pass on the important message that most 'old Korea hands' share:
Although I awake daily to emails from uneasy family and friends, the South Koreans are unintimidated by the North Korean nuclear threats. Even in this small town, the residents carry on with their daily lives despite the escalation of threats from the North. Korean families have not stockpiled bottled water, rice, or kimchee (a Korean food staple often made by fermenting cabbage underground for several weeks). Farmers continue to tend their crops, shops stay open until dark, and children still practice taekwondo after school.
I guess I feel her naivete most shines through in the way she describes her Korean friends optimism for reunification.  This is a popular line, and relatively easy to explain in a second language, but the less palatable truth is that reunification, even peacefully arranged, will be hugely costly and few South Koreans are eager to consider it.
Now that I have just remarked on how most Koreans are unconcerned about North Korea's bluster, let me offer the contrast of  a Chosun Ilbo account on the lack of emergency shelters in Gangwondo.

South Korea started building evacuation shelters in 1975, but the project was virtually suspended in the late 1990s since rapid urbanization and industrialization meant many buildings had their own underground facilities. 
Instead, the government designated underground car parks, basements of apartment buildings and subway stations as evacuation points.
But critics say even purpose-built shelters cannot guarantee the people's safety since they cannot be perfectly sealed against chemical attacks and lack gas masks.
Indeed, CNN knows about the Parking Garage- Bomb Shelters.

Finally, my son loves the big cats, especially cheetahs.  This story doesn't feature cheetahs but it does feature leopards.  The Hankyoreh reports that there may still be some in Gangwon Province.  The evidence, as supplied by the article, seems pretty weak to me but I can still hope it is true.  To my Minjok Sagwan friends, be careful!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Four-rivers project a terrible boondoggle

Well, I'm leaving the country soon and one place I regret not visiting is Taebaek in Gangwondo, the start of two of South Korea's four major rivers.  While in Gangwondo and somewhat afterward, I was a keen observer of the Four Rivers project started by past president Lee Myungbak.  Now the project is mostly finished and considered a mess.  I still want to visit Taebaek, but perhaps the sights will not be as wondrous and natural as they could have.

People became suspicious of the project immediately, not due to evidence of poor planning but due to the connection to a previous proposal.  The first plan was to build a series of locks on the Han and Nakdong Rivers so that goods could travel by ship from Seoul to Busan via Daegu on an inland route.  When there was too much opposition, he proposed similar work for a different purpose.

In his 2007 presidential campaign, President Lee had pledged to build a cross-country canal in Korea, but strong resistance from the opposition and a faction in the ruling Grand National Party prompted him to give up the project to prevent dividing public opinion. He then suggested the restoration of the country’s four major rivers.

To me, this was definitely suspicious, but being ignorant of the details I had to accept that there could be some truth or idealism to President Lee's plan.  This statement of his contains both a reasonable rationale and remarkable naivete:
Some civic groups say that the four-rivers projects will hurt water quality, but it makes little sense to leave already polluted rivers alone without even trying to improve them. As the president remarked, would a head of state carry out a project to deliberately pollute the environment?
And so, at the start of the project, I was suspicious but unable to form a conclusion.  I used the 'foreigner card': "I can't vote here and can't read the relevant technical information; it is not really my country, I guess I'll wait."

One other possible defense of the project was flood control, including maliciously released water from North Korea.  It is not really on point, but here is a link to a post on the subject from 2009.

Before I get to the bad news about the four rivers project, let's look at what Arirang TV had to say.  Follow the link to the video.  Here is the 'About' info:
Published on Apr 29, 2012We take a look at Korea's multi-purpose green growth project, the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, along with a group of special guests.

Well, Arirang is the national cheerleader station and nothing in the video is wrong.  I'm sure there are beautiful parts of the river and had personally enjoyed the riverside biking trails.  I guess I just feel they left a lot out.

Okay, enough suspense.  What are people saying now that a new report has been released.  Briefly, "Effed-up", "a train wreck" and a "Scathing study".

"Due to faulty designs, 11 out of 16 dams lack sturdiness, water quality is feared to deteriorate... and excessive maintenance costs will be required," the report said.
Silting would require another round of dredging at an estimated cost of 289 billion won, it said.
Driven by tight timetables, work was pushed through without proper inspection and the river bed protection of 15 dams has partially subsided or been washed away.

A common though minor complaint about the work was the algae outbreaks seen after construction.
However, mass algae-outbreaks have been reported in several rivers in 2012, which many believe somehow correlate to the construction.
Note the cautious language used.  The best phrase in this regard is "many believe somehow".

The Minister of the Environment rebutted the claim:
The Ministry of Land and Maritime Affairs and the Ministry of Environment convened a joint press conference yesterday. 
They said the reservoirs are strong enough to bear an influx of waters and the algae was not related to the project. 
“The appearance of algae occurred before the construction,” Yoo Young-sook, Minister of Environment, said. “We need to take a long-term perspective in evaluating water because it’s been only a year since the construction was completed. Water quality can be affected by many factors, such as weather conditions.”

While I don't know what the cause of the algal blooms is, they are reported world wide these days so I am willing to accept the minister's defense, for now.

At this point, January 22, it seems President-elect Park Geun-hye is taking a wait-and-see approach. it is probably wiser than leaping in.

As my in-laws farm on a floodplain, I hope the expectations of increased flooding prove exaggerated.
Background at Gangwon Notes.