Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

The last few weekends have been a bit of a whirlwind of socialising for me. Which is pretty strange, given that I’m not only shy, but a shy introvert. I guess I’m finally discovering my inner extrovert. He’s been a shy chap most of my life. Someone once described that part of my personality as a monkey in a cave – every now and then he’d come out for a bit then duck back inside and hide.

Since my end of year holiday, I’ve:

been to see Life of Pi with a book group,

attended a Tolkien and the Inklings appreciation group,

attended the Life of Pi meeting with said book club,

been on a hike out near Chuncheon,

held two coffee mornings in Cheonan,

gone on a weekend ski trip to Yongpyeong – venue of next year’s Winter Olympics,

attended a Toastmasters event

and gone to a Father Ted-themed night out (with my black shirt and a homemade dog collar).

Add to that a good sprinkling of gaming and the faintest hint of romance (well – I met someone and we seemed to have a good rapport, but nothing further developed), and January has been a full month (actually, the latter couple of items on the list occurred in February). I’ve also met a bunch of new people. However, with my full weekends and full weekdays, I haven’t had much opportunity to write about all this stuff.

One of my new friends from New Year’s Eve invited me to a Tolkien and the Inklings group. I extended this invitation to my gaming friends; one of them suggested I should scope the group out first and report back on the number of weirdos in attendance; I countered that any of attending wouldn’t necessarily reduce the weirdo ratio. Although the meeting went on a bit long, it was pretty interesting. The organiser had prepared materials and talked about Owen Barfield and some of the philosophical underpinnings of the Inklings’ work. There’ll be another meeting in a couple of weeks.

As I have barely met anyone in Cheonan yet, I followed the example of my friend Peter, a resident of Daegu, and started a coffee morning group for Cheonan people. On the first such event, one person turned up, a woman I’d met at a small dinner event a couple of weeks earlier. We had a perfectly nice time chatting about work and life and stuff. I held the second one on Wednesday – more about that later.

The Mug

I went on a hike near Chuncheon in Gangwondo, which involved my taking the subway from Ssangyong in Cheonan to Sanbong in Seoul (about two and a half hours) then meeting the hiking group and heading east for another hour or more, still on the subway system. I hadn’t got much sleep and didn’t get much on the train, so I was pretty miserable by the time we started hiking, but a few conversations got my social brain in gear and I met some nice people.

Hikers

One of whom I went on a ski trip to Yongpyeong with (along her friends and a bus load of other foreigners). The skiing was good fun and, by the end of the evening session, I was fairly zipping down an intermediate slope time after time (while my fingers were getting terribly cold inside my gloves – when I went inside to warm up, they really hurt for a couple of minutes). I met more nice people.

Yongpyeong

One of whom invited me to Tedfest the following weekend – which was quite a modest affair in a bar out in Incheon, but the organisers put on various Father Ted-themed events, such as a Lovely Girls competition. I met further nice people, including – uniquely, in my experience in Korea – a Scouser. We got drunk.

I just had a great attendance at my second coffee morning event – seven people besides me. The conversation went pretty well, by an large; there were some slightly awkward lulls in the conversation, but they were fleeting and few. I didn’t really make a great effort to lead the conversation and it mostly took care of itself. At one point, one person suggested everyone say what their hobbies and interests were – which was a good idea, and one I may adopt and adapt for future meetings.

So now I’m going on a return trip to Chuncheon to pick strawberries on Saturday and I’m ‘hosting’ a ‘watching Die Hard 5’ event on Monday – which is a holiday here in Korea (Seollal – lunar new year – is actually a three day holiday, but because the other two days (actually, only the middle day is Seollal) fall on a Saturday and Sunday, they don’t count).

Life seems decidedly not too shabby at the moment. It’s actually become a bit of a mission for me to do all this stuff and develop as a human being. Maybe, one day, I’ll become the confident, charismatic leader of men I’ve always dreamed of being. Until then, I’m just me.

Read Full Post »

… another year, that is.

Having met Mary the day before, we’d made plans and I duly went to meet her at Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student. We went to a cat café – the first time I’d been to one, which is pretty astonishing, given how much I love cats. We were the only customers there until four schoolgirls came in later. There were about fifteen cats in the moderately sized café, perhaps more, of lots of breeds – longhairs with and without squishy faces, some tabbies, including something like an ocicat, and a calm, assertive pair of Siamese or similar cats that sat on our table and let us adore them. I’m not really up on cat breeds, so I can only guess at their types.

Idae Cat Café

The place looked very clean, but was a little smelly. The cats were mostly friendly and inquisitive, but some of them evidently didn’t like some of their fellow inmates. We got coffees for ourselves and a tiny cup of treats for the cats and mused on the kind of life the cats must have and must’ve had in the past.

Afterwards, Mary took me a museum on the nearby campus that contained lots of hanbok – traditional clothing – and furniture. We walked down the trench that is the main architectural feature of the university – as a building, it’s appropriately uterine rather than phallic – and had a look, and lunch, inside.

Ewha Women's University

For much of the day, we’d been expecting Matthew to join us, but he turned out to be excessively busy with work. We even went to see a film (One Day; annoyingly will-they-won’t-they-ish at first, but it grew on me somewhat; Anne Hathaway was especially lovely as the freckly, bespectacled, northern British protagonist) to wait for him. He turned up as we were having dinner and we had drinks together afterwards.

The following day, I played Magic and a new (to me) game called Zombies!!! with Eric. I’ve not hung out with him that much, but he’s a very nice chap and it was good to chat with him.

The next day, I went on a hike near Anyang – for which I’d especially bought crampons the day before from one of a series of outdoors gear shops I’d seen lots of times when I lived in Cheongdam. The crampons worked extremely well; having slipped and slid on packed snow the last time I’d gone for a hike, the grip provided made me feel especially stable.

The hike was organised by a couple of groups: Indigo Hill and the unfortunately named SHITY – Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet-again. It lasted over five hours and the weather was very cold and very sunny. The snow wasn’t very thick on the ground, but thick enough to beatify the landscape in that way that only snow can; it clung to the limbs of pine trees in lumpy lines.

Mountain Near Anyang

Afterwards, we went for a meal of chicken stew with lots of side dishes. The leaders of the group were very friendly – as, indeed, were all the hikers. There was an American guy who could apparently teach you anything – scuba diving, skiing, salsa dancing (but this latter only if you were of the opposite gender). I exchanged numbers with a few people. Later, a smaller group of us went to a singing room or noraebang in the nearby city, where I gave a rather unsteady rendition of ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by Metallica (and rather better performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’). A cute hiker with not much English and the unusual name of Ok (pronounced something like ‘oak’) dragged me to my feet to dance.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, I met one of the hikers I exchanged details with the previous day for coffee. After meeting her, I headed straight over to Gangnam for the first stage of the New Year’s Eve event I’d signed up for on Meetup.com. This consisted of dinner at one of the chains of western-ish-style buffet restaurants that are popular in Korea – Ashley’s. The food was mediocre at best, but there was a limitless supply of four wines (which I mostly liked, so they were probably crap, too). I said hello to various people and exchanged introductions, sat with three American girls for dinner and we were joined by a Korean and a South African couple.

Afterwards, we had to take the subway across the city to Hongdae for the other part of the package – Club Mansion. There’s really nothing mansion-like about this place, but it’s one of the more exclusive places, apparently costing ₩20,000 to get in. I danced with a couple of women that I liked; had a brief and fairly innocent romantic moment with one, but, alas, I don’t think anything will develop between me and any of the three women I met that day.

I did quite get into the dancing – which is surprising. Shocking, even. The very idea of dancing usually fills me with a vague sense of humiliation. But with five glasses of wine and a few beers in my belly as well as no one around that I knew (and therefore no expectations on me to behave in the way that I expect them to expect me to behave), I was able to enjoy the time in the way that one is supposed to enjoy it. Mary also turned up at the club (which is how I know how much it cost), but we didn’t spend much time together.

Later, I hung out at the Hongdae Tom N Toms, waiting for the subway to open, with a young guy I’d met in the group of people I’d tagged along with. He fell asleep as we sat at a table and I was deeply engrossed in my smart phone – and pretty sleepy myself. When I woke him up to leave, he didn’t have his phone – the upshot being that it had almost certainly been stolen. Someone might almost literally have snatched it from under my nose as it sat on the table. The fact that my own phone may have been taken from someone in similar circumstances made me feel extra crappy – although not nearly as crappy as my New Year’s acquaintance.

That morning, I got back to Zach’s place at maybe seven o’clock. I woke up at 10:30 and decided not to try to sleep more. Matthew and I played Magic later in the day and I headed back to Cheonan in the evening.

The following day, I met three people at an Indian restaurant near Cheonan Station for dinner. The food was great – I had a buttery chicken curry (can’t remember exactly what kind) – and the three women (Americans) were nice and friendly (as, too, was the chatty guy (American) who didn’t join us, but hung around for a while after he’d finished his own, separate meal). They’d all travelled varying distances for the meal – which someone had suggested on a Facebook group – and, with my hours of 2:00 to 9:30 and my determination to do lots of social stuff in Seoul and Daegu at weekends, I’m unlikely to see them again soon.

At some point in the day or two after the, dare I say, euphoria of New Year’s Eve, I had a kind of emotional crash. A small one. I don’t often spontaneously cry – by which I mean, not without reason, but without a trigger – but this was one of those times. I was feeling lonely and pitiful and kind of stupid. To some degree, I became someone else on New Year’s Eve and I was expecting him to be more successful at flirtation and romance than I’ve ever been. Naïve of me to think that kind of thing is ever easy.

Still, the year is yet young, and, in just a few days from now, I will have money to spare for trips and events and suchlike and we will see what happens.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I returned to Seoul for a day with friends. I had been planning to get up early and arrive early; at seven o’clock, I reset my alarm to 8:30, having not slept well or long enough. I got the slow bus up to Shinsegae and bought a ticket from the nearby Intercity Bus Station (for ₩5,000).

With some free time, I looked around for somewhere to buy hodugwaja – a walnut cake snack thing for which Cheonan is famous – and found a little shop inside the Shinsegae building at the Express Bus Terminal. The extremely close proximity of these two bus stations is a bit confusing; I’ll have to try getting a bus to Seoul from the express terminal next time.

My bus from the intercity terminal left on time and arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul an hour and five minutes later. Through the magic of Facebook, while phoneless, I was able contact Jeff, the gaming host, from a café in Noksapyeong and got directions to his place.

There, with Jeff, his friend John, Matthew and Zach, I played Magic: The Gathering with the decks I’d brought. I beat Matthew – the only other person with Magic experience – in a demonstration game; then John, the gaming newbie, held on to the end of a four-handed multiplayer game, using an Izzet Guildmage to burn Matthew and Zach (I’d already fallen). Then we played Zach’s Munchkin with all five people; I almost won at one point, but was thwarted. I lost concentration towards the end because I was in danger of being late for my dinner date, but it was great to be back amongst friends and gaming again.

Matthew and I shared a taxi to Sinsa, where I met Gemma, my old colleague from my last job in Korea. We had Mexican food and later sake and later still coffee and/or hot chocolate. It was really nice to see her again and we talked about life and stuff and things.

I got a five to midnight bus back to Cheonan. When I arrived back, seemingly everyone else on the bus had headed to the main street to get a taxi – of which there were few around. I decided to walk some or all of the way home. There was a frozen drizzle falling and the ground was pretty slippery – I fell once. I got a taxi home from Cheonan Station, where there were several taxis waiting and few people around.

I slept late today. Did some laundry after breakfast and found that no water poured into the top-loader machine as usual. After examining the piping, I realised that the tap was frozen. I boiled a pan of water and poured it over said tap and the water eventually started flowing.

Ssangyong-sa

Later, I went for a walk up a mountain just to the north of where I live. I say ‘mountain’, but really it’s just a forested hilly area. With all the recent snow, it was a pleasant walk – the snow had prettified the landscape and the trees. Without it, it would have been a very easy trek, but the paths were covered in more or less compacted snow, so you had to take care. I fell on my arse at one point, just behind a pair of women – who exclaimed and looked around, but, of course, didn’t stop to help or ask if I was OK. No damage done, though.

Traditional Grave

So far, I’ve made contact with old friends in Seoul and Daegu, but have made no new friends (outside work) in Cheonan. I’m thinking about doing something about that.

Read Full Post »

My last day at work was Friday. I had thought it was going to be today, which is the day I agreed to finish working, but I was told that I didn’t need to work on the Monday – which I forgot and had to be retold on Friday. Min-seon, the office manager, who I used to give lessons to, took me out for lunch and said that she’d miss me – not sure I believe that.

The previous night was supposed to be a leaving meal for me and Andrew, the Korean guy who also taught at EducaKorea and managed the Learning Center. Having very little work to do I was ready to go at the official finishing time of 6 o’clock, but Andrew told me people would be leaving at 7. So I left anyway and went to roleplaying. Probably not a very nice gesture to my colleagues, but the prospect didn’t fill me with much joy. Besides which, the night’s roleplaying session was an important one and it overran by an hour.

It was also my last roleplaying session for a while, as I’m heading to China on Thursday for a couple of weeks.

I haven’t blogged about my life recently, so here’s an update of the last few weeks.

Korean drivers aren’t held in high esteem by foreigners. I think Koreans just take them for granted. In some ways, though, Korean drivers are very tolerant of pedestrians. If there’s a small road joining a main road and there are no traffic lights, I’ve found that drivers, while they will certainly try to squeeze between people crossing the small road, they will also wait patiently if there are no gaps in the flow of pedestrians.

A while ago, walking back to the office from my Starbucks writing lunch, while crossing one such road an Audi saloon came towards me too fast. Already halfway across the road, I was confident that it was stop, but it came close to hitting me. I was holding my travel cup at my side, so I accidentally on purpose let it clunk against the car’s bonnet. The man inside honked his horn and shouted something at me as I walked away. I took no notice. From the amount of time it too the car to drive past me up the road, I’m sure he got out to check his paintwork. I wonder what would have happened if he’d seen some damage.

I’ve been wanting to get into hiking again – especially since I bought a new pair of hiking boots over the summer – they cost 150,000 won – about £75. A few weeks ago I went to Namhansanseong by myself on Sunday – it was a location that had been suggested by my friend and avid hiker, Botond.

There was a scary moment on the subway train. I was sitting there reading and there was a loud cry – pretty much a scream – from somewhere on my right. A young chubby guy ran down the carriage shouting wordlessly, holding something in his hand, apparently nothing wrong with him. When he got to the next car he stopped. Completely random and very unnerving. I had felt the adrenaline fountain inside me in a split second, and it took a while for my system to settle down.

The hike was pretty pleasant. After a bit of trek through the town, past all the hiking gear shops, you get to the foot of the hills and trudge up the hillside past a few small temples and plots of short towers made of piled rocks – many of them improbably slender. Then you reach the South Gate of the fortress.

It started raining pretty heavily while I was having a break there, so I put on my newly purchased rain jacket and headed off into the downpour while Koreans huddled under the gate’s roof. Not too long afterwards the rain stopped and the clouds cleared away leaving bright sunshine and good visibility. This latter was important because from some parts of the walls you can see all of Seoul to the northwest.

As I got to the west side of the fortress, having gone anti-clockwise around the perimiter (apart from one shortcut), it got more crowded with non-hikers – people there just for a short jaunt out to some historic buildings and who lack all the expensive clothing and gear that marks the serious hiker (and there are lots of these in Korea). As I headed wearily back to the South Gate, going downhill much of the way, my boots began to feel uncomfortable, my toes pressing againt the fronts.

Two weeks later I went back with Habiba and her colleagues June and Aiden.

In between these two hikes (if memory serves) Habiba, her friend Jessica and I went to the Busan International Film Festival (known as PIFF because it was established back when people used the older McCune-Reischauer system of transliterating Hangul into Roman letters). We saw three films on the Saturday but none on the Sunday.

The three we saw were all interesting in various ways – Honey was an understated Turkish film about a boy whose father has an accident while out collecting honey from his hives up in trees in the forest; Portraits in a Sea of Lies – the best of the three – was a moving Colombian film about a withdrawn young woman who goes on a roadtrip with her cocky cousin to find the deeds to a plot of land; and Viridiana was a strange 1950s drama by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, about a young woman whose uncle tries to seduce and then commits suicide, apparently forcing her to live on in his mansion and take in a load of troubled homeless people.

The blurb about this last film promised cannibalism, so we were all disappointed when it didn’t materialise – blame Korean translators. Actually, no – blame Korean managers: some PIFF bigwig probably just went to someone in their office and said, ‘Here, you speak English: translate all this by next week.’

Some time ago I went had some problems with my shoulder. I first went to what I think was a Korean acupuncture clinic and when this didn’t do much I went to an orthopaedic hospital that seemed to do the job. I went back there more recently with pain in my left hip. It’s a feeling I get from time to time, especially after playing guitar. This time, however, it was completely random and about the sharpest it’s ever been.

I had more physiotherapy of the heat, ultrasound and electric kind, plus some medication, and that helped a lot. I also had a few X-rays (you can’t go to the doctor in Korea without getting a handful of X-rays done), which showed that there’s a slight problem with my L4 vertebra, near the base of my spine. There’s a little extra space where the disc is, implying, I think, some inflammation. The doctor said it wasn’t anything serious, just a sign of getting older, and he recommended that I strengthen my back muscles and don’t sit at a desk too much. I should get on that – at least the first part: you can’t be a writer without applying the seat of the trousers to the seat of a chair.

I’ve been working on my writing and trying to set things up to help my writing goals. I started a new blog, for instance – this one to be a ‘public’ one, while I think Infinite Probability should be a private record of my personal life. To this end, I think I’m going to transfer some things from here to there – namely my book reviews and Lexicon. I also rejoined Critters – and have found that it’s recently been renovated and looks like a fairly contemporary web site (the old one was very basic). I’ve already had some feedback on one of my stories (‘The Green Marble’) that all makes good sense and that I want to incorporate into the next version of the piece. I just need to get down to the hard work of rewriting. I’m also intending to take part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) in November and see if I can’t write 50,000 in 30 days.

I’ve also been putting a lot of work into a roleplaying game system. It’s very hard work, though. Every decision you make for how things should work have repercussions pretty much throughout the system. Even my goals in creating the game are difficult to balance – part of me wants simplicity, part of me wants realism. Still a fair way to go with this project, but I think a lot of the fundamentals are in place now.

Now that I’m not working, I should have more time to work on the things that are important to me. Sightseeing in China might get in the way for a bit. Natural laziness might get in the way full stop.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend, Habiba and Jessica and I went on a trip to the eastern coast of Korea. We got on a coach at 11:30 on Friday night along with a bunch of other foreigners and were driven through the night across the country. When we arrived at three or four in the morning, the guy organising the trip didn’t let us know we’d arrived, so there was a bit of confusion. We were in a car park at the base of some mountains in Mureung Valley: the first part of the trip was to be a hike up said mountains.

It was pitch black and by the time the three of us were ready the organiser had already left with everybody else. We were escorted by a Korean woman who seemed to be assisting on the trip into the beginning of the trail near some waterfalls. Dawn light slowly illuminated the trail.

We met the organiser, who then said he’d accompany a group of us up to one of the peaks. He took us the wrong way then disappeared while we backtracked. Idiot.

Anyway, the hike was pretty tough. Habiba wanted to rest a lot, so we got separated from the group we’d been with. Soon there were just four of us – the three of us and another weekend tripper called Rosalia. As we neared the head of the valley the girls decided to turn back. I continued by myself. I was surprised to pass some of the others on my way up – I thought we’d been left way behind. Once at the top I rested for a bit with some more people on the trip and then I headed left to the highest peak – Cheongoksan. Wikipedia says,

Cheongoksan is a mountain in the province of Gangwon-do, South Korea. Its area extends across the cites of Donghae and Samcheok. Cheongoksan has an elevation of 1,403.7 m (4,605 ft).

It was a disappointment – the peak, while open to the sky, was completely enclosed by trees and bushes, so it wasn’t possible to look out over the surrounding country. I asked some Koreans in my faltering Korean what was the quickest way down and tagged along behind – until I overtook them. By the end, I was feeling a little sick from exhaustion and dehydration. I’m a bit out of hiking practice and I think last weekend was a tough one.

Once I’d returned to my party and we’d had some lunch, we were ferried to Mangsang Beach near the city of Donghae. Habiba and Jess got some swimming in; I rested. In the evening, there were cheeseburgers for dinner. Afterwards, our little group went to a fun fair (‘carnival’ in Americanese, apparently) a short walk along the coast road. It was closed, but there was no perimeter fence closing it off, so you could easily go and sit on the carousel horses or what have you. The girls got sparklers and we took photos of each other waving them around.

The first thing on the itinerary for the next day was a penis park. Haesindang Park is full of phallic sculptures. Some resemble African art, some are totem pole-like structures. The prospect didn’t excite me much, but Habiba seemed very up for it (so to speak). This led to a little conflict between us, so I left Habiba and Jess for a while and went round by myself for a bit, taking photos in the pouring rain (it’s rainy season in Korea). I would guess that there’s some tradition of phallic art here that leads to the existence of a place like Haesindang Park, but there was no evidence of information about that (there was a fishing museum, but we barely went in there – not enough time). Without the context of knowledge of such a tradition, it seemed like nothing more than an excuse for puerile photo opportunities.

Once done with all that, we were taken to another scenic mountain valley, this one the site of several caves, including Hwanseongul, which Wikipedia describes thus:

Hwanseon Cave (환선굴) is a cave located in Gangwon province, South Korea. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, 1.6 km of which are visited by over 1 million people per year. In 1966 the South Korea government designated this cave and a neighboring cave not open to the public, Gwaneum cave (관음굴), National Monument 178. Hwanseongul was opened to the public in 1997.

It was a bit of a hike up the mountain, but once inside it was definitely worth it. The cave is massive, cathedral-like, with as much to explore as a large mall like COEX. The inside is lined with functional metal walkways – many of which are lit up with coloured lights (very Korean). The place was pretty busy – there were probably several hundred people in there. It was dark, of course, but many of the features were spot lit.

Some of the highlights were a massive slick column of brown and white flowstone that looked lik partially melted coffee and vanilla ice cream; there was a little structure from the roof of the cave that looked like a big, protruding anus, with a constant stream of water squirting out; there was a short waterfall coming out of a fissure in a wall and emptying into a wide pool; there were a couple of flexible bridge than jounced most amusingly when we walked on them. The operators had sexed everything up with silly names for each section of the cave: things like The Valley of Love or The Bridge of Confessions.

Then it was time to head home. We stopped at a service station on the way, where we saw a fantastic rainbow. It had one very bright arc, then another fainter one a little further out; the bright arc even showed signs of being a double arc itself. We ate potatoes. Then we got back on the bus for the crawl back to Seoul through the late weekend traffic.

Photos of the trip are here.

Read Full Post »