Tag Archives: Wanju

Apocalypse Climb

This is a true story, as evidenced by the photographs. But you know me: I can’t help dramatizing things a little.

Apocalypse Climb

I saw a preview of the apocalypse this past weekend as masses of humanity pressed together, fighting to ascend (and then descend) a steep, rain-soaked path of tumbled rocks. The horror, the horror…

Apocalypse Climb

Koreans love them some mountain climbing and they love them some autumn colors. And considering that everyone loves them some weekend, going mountain climbing on a Saturday in Korea in the fall is like a perfect storm, especially in the rain.

The sky was overcast when I left the house in the morning. I couldn’t find my umbrella, but I had a magic talisman that prevented rain. At least, it rarely rained when I was carrying it and I believe strongly in the principle that correlation implies causation.

I got to the mountain (which is also a provincial park) and as the bus passed long lines of cars parked along the side of the road, my heart sank like a bowling ball in a banana souffle. It was, as the Chinese say, a mountain of people, a sea of people. If zombie hordes wore expensive hiking gear and preyed on autumn leaves, I would have been in a George Romero film.

The rain started as a fine mist about halfway up the mountain. By the time I got to the park’s famed Cloud Bridge, the path had bottlenecked and so we all stood in the rain, shuffling forward at a snail’s pace until I finally reached the bridge. I looked down at the path 250 feet below me and saw the winding, ant-like column of hikers abandoning the mountain.

I saw a sign saying the maximum number of people on the bridge was 200. Not that anyone was counting.

I saw a sign saying the maximum number of people on the bridge was 200. Not that anyone was counting.

I gave up the idea of going to the peak. A cloud had sat on the mountain as if it were snuggling into an easy chair and after the bridge was a treacherous metal stairway, over 200 feet high and as steep as a ladder. I wasn’t the only one who decided to cut the trip short and head for the cable car station nearby for a quick trip to the bottom. The trails were choked with sodden hikers, some with expensive cameras, jewelry and nice purses, all picking their way down the slick rocks. I felt like we were refugees from some disaster.

Apocalypse Climb

The group on the left are the ones who climbed under a railing and swarmed down the rocks to cut in line on the main path.

“All it takes is one person to slip…” I kept thinking.

There was a two-hour wait for the cable car, nowhere to sit and nowhere particularly warm. At least the view was pretty.

Apocalypse Climb

I got home four hours later and soon the apocalypse was only a distant memory. It’s amazing what a hot shower can cure.

Apocalypse Climb


Fall Streets in Korea

In Korea, there are several indications that it is fall, besides the leaves and temperatures changing. One is that roadside pungeo-bbang (붕어빵 or taiyaki in Japanese) stands start popping up again. Literally, “fish bread”, they are pancake-like cakes shaped like fish, with red beans inside them. They are perfect when you’re walking home in the cold and want a quick snack.

pungeobbangBecause they are hot food, a lot of them close down during the summer (when people would rather eat patbingsu anyway). They are often surrounded by a sheet of clear plastic to keep in some heat for the poor person working there and for the people who stop to buy things.

pungeobbang stand

Another change in the roads are the things that are spread out to dry on them. This is more common in the countryside, where farmers spread out rice to dry on tarps, but in the city too you can see hot peppers and other things spread out wherever there is room.

rice dryingAs you see, rice often takes over the sidewalk or a lane of the road. The farmers rake it to get it evenly dried, then go along with a machine to scoop it into bags. This shows the communal nature of Korean society: although I’m sure some crime exists in this area, people don’t go out at night and steal all this rice.

rice drying in Jeonju

Here is several thousand dollars worth of rice spread out overnight in the provincial capital.

There are other foods too that are spread out to dry. Like melons,which I saw a few days ago.

melons drying

When we were on Jeju, the semi-tropical island south of mainland Korea, there were lemon peels laid out to dry by the road, I guess to make lemon tea out of.

lemon peel drying in Jeju

Don’t you love fall? I realize that in a country with only one or two seasons, there might not be fall like this, but if there is, what other little touches do you see in your area that show that the seasons are changing?


Once Upon a Hike in Korea

Once upon a time, in the far-off country of Korea, lived a man named David who liked to hike. One Thursday, the government said that there would be a holiday to honor soldiers who died in war, so David decided to go hiking. The weather was hot, but he decided to go on a course of four mountain peaks. First he assembled his inventory.

He brought:

– 3 liters of drink (+4 to Life)

– a Snickers bar (+2 Energy, +2 Yum)

– triangle kimbap (see blog post on Tuesday) (+2 Health)

– peanut butter jam sandwich (+1 Health, +1 Cheap)

David also brought his trusty Staff of Walking (+2 Hiking, +3 Attack versus spiderwebs) and put on his magical Boots of Hiking. They were 16 years old, so while this gave him +2 to Nostalgia, they also made him -3 resistance versus blisters forming. You can’t have everything in life.

David took a crowded bus to a nearby valley that was green on all sides. He started at a temple at the base of the first mountain.

1

The initial climb was brutal. The weather was hot and the air was still and sweat stung his eyes. Still, he pushed on and the slope gradually leveled out to a nice path between tall trees. Nearer the top, there were breezes that cooled him a little.

Hiking in Korea 2

An hour later, he got to the top of the first mountain, Jongnamsan. So far, he had seen no people.

Hiking in Korea 3

The path between the first and second mountains was much easier. For most of it, David walked along on a level, shady forest path. Here, there were more people (14 in all, and one dog). The second mountain peak Seobangsan was empty and barren and had a place for a helicopter to land. It was hot and David didn’t stay there long.

Hiking in Korea 4

As he started to descend, David caught a glimpse of the valley he had traveled along. The air was hazy and the distance faded out into white. The flies were becoming annoying. There were no biting flies or mosquitoes, but there were millions of flies around. There was a dull roar in the otherwise silent woods from the sound of their combined humming.

Hiking in Korea 5

The path went steeply down to a low  pass between the second and third mountains. On the way, he passed a tall stone gate that was blocking his way. Just as well it wasn’t a solstice or midnight or anything or he probably would have been whisked away to another world. On the pass between the mountains, he met a Korean couple and advised them on the routes to take, as well as informing them that the map board that was located there had been printed backwards (for some reason). Then he set off for the third mountain peak.

Hiking in Korea 6

The third mountain was the most difficult. It was taller than the others and by this time, four hours into the hike, David was getting very tired. He struggled up the steep slope and up and over some deep clefts in the ridge until he was able to look back at where he had come from.  He saw that a narrow road was being built all around the valley. This disquieted David a lot, since the only reason he could see for it was logging and he hated to see the beautiful valley he loved so much logged and denuded.

Hiking in Korea 7

The third mountain, Seoraebong, was at the intersection of three mountain ridges and now David left the first valley and struck out onto a new ridge, an almost straight  line to the last mountain at the very end of it.

Hiking in Korea 8

This last ridge was much easier in some ways, but by this time David was very tired and his knees were hurting. Looking back, he could see the double notched ridge of the third mountain.

Hiking in Korea 9

Along the way, he passed many interesting things, like more stone cairns and towers, plus the Wood of Confused Pines. They went in all directions, as if they had had a fight when deciding what direction to grow in.

Hiking in Korea 10

Finally, David reached the final mountain peak, Ansusan. It looked over the prosperous farming region of Gosan, where newly-planted rice fields were laid out in neat rectangles as far as the eye could see.

Hiking in Korea 11

Coming down from Ansusan was much more difficult than going up the first mountain. The slope was steep rock and David had to use ropes and chains to hold onto as he went down.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.

 

The path kept going down steeply. After it entered the trees, the path became more dangerous, with loose rocks and fallen leaves covering everything.

Hiking in Korea 13

Finally, 8 hours after getting off the bus, David arrived at another bus terminal and waited with other hot people for a bus back to his city of Jeonju. It was a long, hot day and he was very sore and tired, but overall it was quite magical.

Hiking in Korea 14


My Experience with Korean Bullfighting

When we think of bullfighting, the image that comes to mind is undoubtedly Spanish: matadors, flashing capes, and Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon.

Korean bullfighting is very different. There are no humans combatants: the bulls fight each other, and it is more like wresting than a death struggle. The bulls do have sharp horns so it is possible to draw blood, but that is pretty rare and bulls being injured or killed is all but unheard of. At least in my experience, I have never seen it.

bullfighting 1

I first heard about Korean bullfighting (called so-ssaeum, or 소싸음) from a co-worker of mine, who mentioned that there was an annual festival near Daegu. I was intrigued, because for a Canadian, the whole idea of bullfighting is very strange and exotic. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the town where I teach has an annual bullfighting tournament as well.

I went after school, the only non-Korean in a crowd of several hundred people. The ring was fenced off by wooden poles and the entrance was built like a tunnel through a high bank, where the people sat. It may seem like this did not give much protection, but in Korean bullfighting, the bulls are fairly docile and do not attack people. They are very used to being handled and taken care of and they only fight each other. That being said, I still wouldn’t play around with a 1-ton bull that didn’t know me.

bulfighting 2

The tournament is four days long and has a festival atmosphere to it. Besides the fights, there are also booths selling food and local products, plus a stage for music. People sit on the ground under tents to watch the fights.

bullfighting 3

The bulls are tied up in booths in a separate area until it is time for their fight. They are sent to fight in a rotation and then on the last day, the semi-final and final matches are fought to decide the ultimate champion.

bullfighting 4

bull closeup

When it is time for their fight, the owners leads the bulls into the ring one at a time, leading them by a rope tied to the ring in their nose. The only people allowed in the ring are the bull owners and the referees.

bullfighting 5

The referees wear special uniforms. The bulls are not subject to any rules, of course, but the referees make sure the owners do not interfere. Occasionally, one of the bulls will refuse to fight and the referees call a forfeit after a certain amount of time.

bullfighting 6

The bulls fight by butting their heads together and trying to twist around to jab each other with their horns. Their skin is so thick that although I’m sure it hurts to get jabbed with a horn, I never saw a bull draw blood with its horns.

bullfighting 7

One of the owners is designated blue and the other is red, as shown by the vests they wear. They usually stand near the bulls and shout encouragement and are ready to catch them, if need be.

bullfighting 8

I saw one fight where the man in the ring wearing the owner’s vest wasn’t actually the owner, but an employee. The real owner did not like what he was doing and kept yelling at him, but the man in the ring just ignored him. Finally, the owner walked into the ring, picked up the man bodily and carried him out of the ring, while the crowd roared with laughter. Then the owner put on the vest and came in to finish the fight. Not that the bulls took any notice, of course.

bullfighting 9

Luckily the employee was much smaller than the owner.

The fight lasts until one of the bulls gives up, usually by suddenly breaking off and running away. Most fights only last a few minutes, although some can go 15 minutes or more. The very long fights are pretty intense, especially when you consider that the bulls are straining against each other in the hot sun the whole time; almost a ton of muscle pushing in each direction. Always though, one of the bulls runs away eventually and a roar goes up from the crowd, of congratulations for the winner, or derision for the losing bull.

bullfighting 10

The fight is over. This owner fell down trying to catch his bull.

The bulls then go back through the tunnel to the stalls, very hot and thirsty. The owners hose them down, give them a lot of water and put them back in the shade to wait, either to go home or to fight again.

bullfighting 11

Overall, it was a very interesting experience. While some people may argue that it is exploitive of animals, it is much more humane than the Spanish variety, where the animal always dies in the end. Also, because the bulls are evenly matched, the outcome is not a foregone conclusion, as with Spanish bullfighting. Yes, there is some tension as to whether the matador will emerge unscathed, but ultimately, the bull never wins. In Korean bullfighting, there is a certain majesty watching two huge animals wrestle as they might in the wild and they also live to tell about it.

What do you think? Do you think this is an improvement on other types of animal sports or is it all cruel and manipulative? Let me know in the comments.

bullfighting 12


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