Saturday, November 27, 2004

Driving in Korea

When I first came to Korea, the drive from the airport to my apartment in the hagwon owner's car, was a little scary. A road with three lanes holding four columns of cars sticks out in my memory. Later, with myriad scooters filling the sidewalks and cars accelerating and braking hard between lights, my fear felt justified.

Only recently have I considered, or actively worked to consider, that Korean driving style is merely an example of some flexibility of thought that Koreans may possess.
Below are three pictures of a three-way intersection. People unfamiliar with Korea will notice the lack of stop signs AND the presence of three stop-lines. There are very few stop signs in Korea and drivers need to exercise some judgment.

facing south Posted by Hello facing north Posted by Hello

facing east Posted by Hello

Below is a terrible picture. I should have hand drawn it and photographed it but I wanted to try the Windows picture editing software. What a nightmare. Whatever it looks like, the picture is meant to show the above three-way intersection in Yangyang with two cars turning, as I observed them a few months ago. The car pointing East and turning North pulled into traffic; the the car heading North and turning West went 'over' or inside him, driving on the wrong side of the road until past the first car before pulling onto the proper side of the road (driving is on the right side, as in North America).

flexible thinking or terrible driving...or terrible artwork? Posted by Hello

I thought this was pretty scary driving. I decided, as an exercise in tolerance, to consider it in a more positive way. Okay, because the first car had pulled out and was partially blocking traffic, both drivers may have halted to see what solution the other driver might attempt. By turning inside of the first car, the second driver minimized delay for both drivers. I don't think I could drive on the wrong side of the road through an intersection like this one.

Wow. Mission accomplished. Maybe Korean drivers aren't bad drivers in general but are better at seeing options that I would have missed.

No. No! NO! While crossing a highway on my bike at a stoplight intersection while I had the green and having to stop for a bus going a little late through a red light (completely understandable), I was almost hit by the next bus trying to remain in convoy. The first bus had screened me so we were pretty close when he had to brake and I had to restart my heart. As a tiny cyclist going through a major intersection, I make sure that I am following the rules and doing everything correctly. I might have been hard to see, but if the bus driver had obeyed the law and stopped at the red light, I wouldn't have gasped for breath for the next few minutes as adrenaline charged through me.

Anyway, I am back to thinking that Koreans, in general, are terrible drivers. Should they be reading, my brothers-in-law are excellent drivers. Jong-wang might deserve his self-bestowed title of 'best driver'.

I have often considered carrying a doll, as lifelike as I could cheaply find, to throw into the air in front of cars running red lights as I try to use the crosswalk. I have matured a little, as back in my university days I might not have been able to predict a terrible traffic accident as the most likely outcome to the doll throwing scheme. Still, I'm tempted.

Close the door (again)!

Just before it got cold, I asked (maybe demanded) that Koreans close doors to keep the heat inside. Yesterday was the first snowfall here and here are the open doors.

open door policy Posted by Hello

open door policy Posted by Hello

Every room has a gas heater. I think there's not much logic to the idea of 'fan-death' but 'heater-death'- caused by bad ventilation, fires, etc, seems much more likely. It's hard to insulate and heat a concrete box but keeping the air that has been heated inside just makes good sense.

Below is a different but related problem with open doors. This picture was taken from the middle of a hall at my university. Even when I was a volunteer at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, I noticed that people urinating were free to wave to the crowds outside. Am I the only one to feel a little shy in the bathroom?

open door policy Posted by Hello

Winter is here.

This first picture is from Nov 14, 2003. It shows the first snow fall on Dae-chung-bong (the highest peak in Seorak Park).

first snow 2003 Posted by Hello

This years snow was almost two full weeks later. Here it is:

first snow 2004 Posted by Hello
Two points on a chart don't allow for statistical analysis so I can't say if this is an example of global warming.

This from Nov 27. The snow probably fell on the 26th but the mountain has been fog bound for four days. A friend at Hoeng-song Sosa (the highest pass on the Gangneung- Seoul highway) reported lots of snow yesterday (the 26th).

We had great weather until the 25th. At midday, it was still comfortable outside in shirt-sleeves. Yesterday, I dug out my fleece, parka, mitts and wool hat (I am Canadian but I can't spell 'tocque').

Winter weather doesn't just mean snow here. Yangyang is somewhat famous for it's winter wind and it was in full strength yesterday and still today. And for the next three months.

Winter wind Posted by Hello

winter wind 2Posted by Hello

Walking in the wind is okay but cycling season has really ended. I have to be really late or desperate to ride in the winter. Last year, the bridge had a strong cross-wind. I leaned into the wind as I rode and a bus passed me. It blocked wind for a few seconds and I almost fell. Then the wind came back full strength and I almost fell the other direction.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wednesday's bike trip and Market day

I notice that I have put on a few pounds (or maybe more than a few) so I started fighting my love for sweet food. Man! I'm glad I don't have a problem with cigarettes or booze, but at least those are 'Adult' problems. Am I still 10 years old, with my sweet tooth? I guess it's a part of being Young at heart.
In the last two months I haven't been exercising much so I've tried to change that. You may have noticed the recent spate of bike blogs.

Anyway, I'm glad to be back on the road and getting some exercise. Today's ride took me behind a ridgeline going northward, finally crossing it and reaching the ocean at Naksan Temple. Crossing the highway, I was almost run over by TWO buses running the redlight (I'll post later on my thoughts on Korean drivers- not that there's much new for me to say). Near the ocean, I saw this fire-fighting helicopter.

water-copter Posted by Hello

A man servicing the helicopter told me that there were many fires in the mountains in November. He spoke excellent English and went on to say the helicopter was in 'frequent use'.

-A year ago, a helicopter like this took some tourists over the Yangyang market and blew over a lot of awnings.-

Which brings me to the end of my bike trip, at the Yangyang market. Yangyang has an 'O-il Jang', a five day market which occurs on dates with 4's and 9's.

Today, in late Autumn, Kim-jang supplies were everywhere.

Kim-jang time of year Posted by Hello

I think 'Kim jang' means both 'the making of kimchi' and 'the supplies for making kimchi'. There were huge stacks of Cabbage, Daikon Radish, Leeks and other other ingredients. The market goes year-round but Kim-jang is only for late November, so tractors drove in and out loading and unloading cabbage.

Yum- tasty bark! Posted by Hello

This is more typical of the market supplies. On the bottom-right, are berries similar to cranberries. The left side and the top row are all woodbark. I think it's for medicine or may be used for tea.

Korean traditional medicine supplies Posted by Hello

Here are medicinal supplies. There are ground plants but also centipedes and a snake.

medicinal centipedes and dried snake Posted by Hello

I hope I'm never that sick! Still, I have eaten bondaegi- silkworm larvae, and they weren't too bad.

The market has a lot of less remarkable products; it's a great place for tangerines and fresh vegetables, tools- modern and traditional, clothing, fish-live and squirming and more. It doesn't seem to have the exoticness that I associate with middle Eastern or Indian bazaars but that may be because I have lived here a while.

Moon Guide correction or update

I posted earlier about the new edition of the Moon Handbook to Korea. I noticed a small error that I can correct here.

The guide describes Yangyang's new international airport According to the guide:

Domestic flights from Yangyang go to Seoul Gimpo and Busan Gimhae airports. The airport is serviced by both Asiana Airlines and Korean Air. International flights run from select cities in China but will probably open up to Japanese cities eventually. (p347)

Well, just when Yangyang airport was about to open flights to China, a disease named SARS had it's 15 minutes of infamy. There has never been flights to or from China. There is a once a week charter flight from Taiwan but the charter is based in Taiwan and one cannot fly to Taiwan from here; it's only for Taiwanese to visit here.

My wife worked in the airport for almost a year, at the Tourist information booth. She got a lot of work done on her hanji ( a Korean papercraft) because the airport is a very quiet place.

Now, there isn't even a flight to or from Gimpo. There may be flights in the summer or, anyway, high traffic seasons. The airport now only has flights to and from Busan (I'm not sure, once or twice a day).

For what it's worth, Kwandong University has a flying club and their little prop-driven plane is there.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Nov 21 bike trip

On Sunday, I rode out to a small village near our apartment. There were several houses of more-or-less traditional style. The aluminum roofing is probably much easier to care for but not as stylish. This one did have tile, although I cropped the picture too low to be seen.

Drying persimmon, corn and dwenjang Posted by Hello

A little further upstream (the rode follows a river), I found these oak shrubs with strong red leaves.

Oak Leaves Posted by Hello

I found it interesting that the Japanese maples had the same red a month ago but are mostly bare now. My wife thinks that the oak, being closer to the ground, were kept warmer than the taller maple.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Nov 20 Bike Trip

Today a student and I rode from Yangyang to Songcheon-li, a small village famous for it's traditional rice cake. It was a fair climb into the foothills around Mount Seorak Park but much shorter than I remembered. It was only 25 minutes to the village which is set in a steep sided valley. We went all the way through the village to the end of the road and walked along a San-chaek-lo or walking path.

This photo was taken in the village. The student with me took a better picture of me than I did of him so here it is.

Near Songcheon-li Posted by Hello

We rode back into town, a great thrilling descent. As the weather was turning bad, we went our separate ways.

I'm not a big fan of rice cake but the valley would be a nice place for a picnic and it was a good way to spend two hours on the bike.

Monday, November 15, 2004

My last word on Rice...for a while

I am not sure why I comment on Korea's rice issues. Am I simply searching for material? Do I somehow think that the total of one week's work on Canadian farms and two weeks work on a Korean farm make me someone worth listening to? Should you care, I am not really asking; just pointing out my background in the field is pretty weak.

I thought I would start out with the WTO. Does anybody really like these guys? For some reason, the world chose to have a World Trade monitoring body and then ignores and fights everything that they say. It's not even a case of the established members of the club hazing new members, and prying open their markets. In a previous post about Korean rice and the WTO, I asserted that the US used stall tactics for years in it's WTO dealings but offered no cites. Here are two (here and there), discussing the US/Canada lumber dispute, being argued in the WTO and NAFTA. As any red-blooded Canadian would see it, the US is using these bodies to kill the Canadian lumber industry. I don't actually know if that is true.

The US suddenly has a ridiculous new WTO problem. Antigua wants it's online casinos opened to the US and the WTO agrees. According to the MSNBC article, about 5% of Atigua's population are employed by online casinos. That's crazy. I can understand some industries having open access, notably automotive, electronic and the like. I can barely accept that even staple industries like rice can be affected by the WTO but gambling? I don't know how much of a moralist I am, but as gambling both is restricted by and supporting (Bingo!) organized religion in America, it would seem to be more of a moral than an economic issue, even if it is a huge economic issue.

I will next note Korea's attempt to connect their rice import policy with their US beef import policy. I guess they would accept American beef if they didn't have to accept American rice. The Americans didn't play ball and I'm glad. I hope that when Korea accepts US beef, it's because it's safe, not because it protects their rice. In making the offer, though, did the Koreans imply that their continued ban on beef was motivated by politics rather than quarantine? And in making the offer, have they as good as admitted that US beef is acceptable and 'safe enough', whatever that means?

Back to Korea and it's rice woes.

The Joongang Daily just finished a series of five articles looking at Korean rice and farming. In all the articles I have read, 'Korean rice is about four times more expensive than imports mainly due to small-scale, inefficient farming and high production costs' (This quote actually from the Korea Herald).

The main suggestions given are to organize, improve quality and sell 'upscale', to increase farm size and to combine tourism (and here) with farming. It seems to me that increasing quality and farm size are conflicting plans but I don't know.

Rice on my father-in-laws farm starts in the greenhouse growing as thick as sod. It is then transferred to a paddy planted by a 'planting machine' (I don't know the more technical name) that makes the rows, about 15 cm apart and planting 3 metres wide at a time. The paddy needs weeding, I suppose, then it is harvested by a combine about the size of an SUV. The planting and harvesting could be done by larger machines for the same quality but I don't know about in-greenhouse growth and the weeding.

As for the tourism, Korean farmers have moved from ox-powered farming to highly mechanized farming in a single generation. Actually, I have seen a field plowed by an ox in Son-yang, the village next to mine in Gangwondo. The problem, as I have seen it, is they are still coming to grips with a disposable culture. I don't know what kind of containers held food or makkoli (Traditional alcohol) 40 years ago but they were either kept and protected or they were easily biodegradable. There are a lot of plastic and glass bottles surrounding rice fields these days and used plastic or vinyl sheets used to cover the vegetable crops are left hanging in trees and alongside the roads. I think many tourists would be horrified. For environmental reasons as much as those concerning the viability of Korean farms, I would like to see farm tourism.

WorldWatch, an NGO based in Washington DC has some articles promoting supporting local farms and against factory farming. The main relevant point I found was that in concentrating food growth, their is greater risk of disease and destruction of the crops and those consuming them.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The new (well, 1 year old) Moon Handbook

The most famous guidebook for Korea, and books for the world, are the Lonely Planet series. I came to Korea with one and also bought a LP Seoul guide and a LP Korean Phrasebook. They were quite useful although I never liked the maps.

My roommate first shared his Moon handbook with me and I quickly bought one. The LP book was much more portable, I could throw it in even when going on a hike. The Moon guide was twice as long, a much bulkier proposition. We ended up photocopying the relevant pages before traveling.

Two weeks ago I bought the third edition, (cover pictured below).

3rd Edition Posted by Hello

After five+ years in Korea, why buy a guidebook? Well, I still haven't learned much Korean so I appreciate having the information in English. There's more than that: I've gotten old, I've settled a little. I still want to travel, but I haven't done much in the past few years. There are whole provinces still to explore and even large swathes of Gangwondo and Kyoungsangnamdo that I have not visited.

There are the usual disappointments in opening a travel guide. I remember seeing a guide to Canada, looking up my home district and reading that it was a pretty but overpriced, and overhyped destination with poor public transit. All true, but not what I wanted to see.

Another disappointment, with a Korean example this time, is the over-flowery language. Moon's Handbook, 2nd and 3rd editions both describe when to visit Chisokmyo in Kanghwa-do (a dolmen or combination stone gravestone/altar). "On an ordinary day it's a pleasant trip but a visit to this ancient relic might be more evocative on an autumn morning, when the crisp air tingles the nose and the fog is so thick that you must push through it, summoning visions of myth, mystery and wonder."(P255, 2nd Edition. P275, 3rd Edition)

I have to agree that thick fog may help. It is remarkable, when you get there, that those stones were set in their positions thousands of years ago but the location has no ambiance. The highway is right there, a fence surrounds the dolmen and there are only a few trees huddled to one end of the cleared area. There are other, smaller, dolmen located in the forest (somewhere, I have only read about them) that would be more shiver inspiring.

Still, I have enjoyed my Moon Handbooks and have already found the 3rd edition useful. It has already chastised me a little. In a previous post, I complained about farmers drying their rice across the whole bike path. The new Handbook has a two page spread about cycling that includes these words: Locals sometimes spread crops out to dry on the trail's asphalt surface; kindly ride around the harvest. Remember, it was their taxes that built the trail, and they're the ones that will pick you up in a minute if you need help. (P118) I'm a taxpayer in Korea too but I see the point.

The new Handbook is about 50 pages longer but the pages are thinner, so it's a more compact book. I will refer to it at home before trips and possibly make copies of relevant pages so I don't know or care if the thinner pages are more delicate.
It has a different opening. There is no title page and publishing information is all on the last page. The new Handbook starts with a two page color map then another two page map with relevant page numbers shown, very easy for navigation.
All the maps are much larger and clearer.

One of the big advantages the Lonely Planet series has is it's great website -linked above. Travelers can post questions and updates easily. For the Moon guides, I guess we just have to wait 6 years for the next one.

Monday, November 08, 2004

More posts coming...really

I've been away for a while and busy, too. Exams have finished and I've been marking them. My wife has finished her college course (she is a little more private than I so I have no more details on that subject...yet).

I was in Seoul on the weekend for her graduation and also made it too a few bookstores. I bought the new Moon Handbook to Korea. I have the second edition and found it much more useful than the Lonely Planet book for Korea. I'll post on comparing the two books (Moon Handbooks 2nd edition and 3rd edition) in a few days. I may also comment on having a guidebook after 5+ years in the country.

After that, I don't know. I wrote some goals in my first post. Studying Korean was one of my goals. I really haven't done any such studying at all. I have learned a fair bit about Korea and plan on continuing.

I'm sure something will come up to post on: nothing is as constant as change.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Racial Stereotyping

A few days ago, I blogged about a Korean group that offered prizes to those who found errors about Korea online. I asked if we could write in with errors Koreans post about foreigners and specifically mentioned cartoons with racial stereotypes. This cartoon comes from the Chosun via the Marmot. The marmot translates the cartoon which is about the US election.

Chosun ilbo cartoon

I am more interested in the features of the characters drawn. The voters all have giant noses. The international observers consist of an African with huge lips and a bone through his nose, a tiny nosed Chinese with a moon-shaped face and a European with another big honker. (Am I furthering stereotypes by thinking that the huge lipped observer is African instead of a tanned Caucasian?)

Posted by Hello