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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Seoul in September
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

In South Korea Skip to:   Seoul in September | Cycling South | Circling Cheju-do | Mount Halesan | Back to the Mainland | Goodbye South Korea

September 21 Kump'o 12:40 PM

I am about 20 km south of Seoul and traffic is still bumper-to-bumper with heaps of trucks. But I finally got my butt in gear and got out of Seoul. It is pretty scary riding here. The drivers are aggressive, but I think that is to be expected in a large city. I am very surprised at how hilly the landscape is. Also, the air is a dark tan from the pollution. I had a flat tire on the way out of town and when I stopped to fix it a group of four men gathered around and assisted me. One of them touched my hairy arm in amazement.

Last night I went out to E-taewon, Seoul's infamous red-light district and shopping area with Mark Kadillak, an American who has been working in Tokyo as a money broker. He and I share somewhat similar views on life and women, both expressing our admiration for the beauty and poise of the Thai women.

We started the evening with a soak in the public bath (1,500 won to which he treated me) and spent about two hours there. Quite a good deal considering its location and facilities. We then went out on the town and drank some beer. He bought some luggage for his family and we watched the women ply their trade on the street. It was a fun evening talking mostly about Thailand and the ideal living arrangements.

It was odd to see US MPs in the bars watching over the crowd. The American military base is close by and plenty of GIs were out and about picking up the hookers. I am really bothered by their presence here. South Korea or rather Seoul has what seems like an extraordinary amount of police and security people in view all over the city. The main street near where I was staying was used as a landing strip during the Korean War. No wonder it is so wide, and there are no pedestrian overpasses!

Yoinsuk Onyang 102 km

Pooped! It was an interesting day, however. Traffic was pretty heavy except for the 15 or 20 km of dirt road that was under construction. Talk about dust, cough, cough, my lungs must be full of it.

Today is my 16th-month anniversary since I hit the road. Another milestone rolls on by.

I took a break for an hour to talk with a 59-year old Korean who came over to talk to me. He was in the Korean War and worked for the US Army. He said doesn't get many opportunities to speak English these days. This seems to happen fairly frequently. In Thailand I also meet someone who worked for the military.

I am trying to work up an itinerary for tomorrow. I think I will ride along the coast and visit some beaches, although my Korean friend says the season is over.

September 22 Taech'on Beach 92 km

Pooped again! Today I visited the Folk Museum in Onyang before I left town. It was very good with lots of information on the Korean culture including religious belief, child raising, clothing styles, food, education, wedding and death rituals. What made it particularly worthwhile was meeting a young Korean woman who was in her first year of teacher's college. We walked together, talking only a bit because her English was fairly basic, and my Korean non-existent. We had some refreshments and traded addresses. It seems funny how people who can speak some English gravitate toward me. Of course, as being the only blonde-haired Caucasian in town, it is understandable.

Frequent roadside scene The ride here was good, although there is still heavy traffic and aggressive drivers. I saw the aftermath of two recent crashes and fresh skid marks with investigatory-looking spray paint marks all about at several other locations. I am beginning to wonder about my own safety. The roads are narrow with no shoulders and there are numerous trucks and buses. I can only hope for the best.

I had a nice experience with a lady selling apples along the road. At one point, there was a spring of cold flowing water I stopped to fill my water bottles and get an apple. When I tried to pay, the lady just smiled at me and would not take my money. What a rare sight to see someone smiling.

Most people I see on the street stare at me like I am something from the moon even when I am not on the bike. I am getting used to it now, however I really miss the smiles and waves I got in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. I look forward to going back again. It feels like I am breaking new ground here cycling in Korea. I wish I had a Korean companion, or any companion for that matter. For some reason it has been very hard for me to remember even a few words of Korean. It is embarrassing. I seem to have a mental block that stops me.

Food has been a big let down from Thailand. There are very few street vendors and restaurant are fairly expensive, so I have been eating food from grocery stores. But most of them are very small and only carry junk food. I wonder how long I can survive on this.

Tonight's accommodation is a yogwan, which is supposed to be a higher class than the yoinsuk that I usually stay in but doesn't seem so. Last night I had satin sheets and a pad with tea and a TV plus a hot shower. Tonight I have only a room (with a view of the ocean, however) and a very dirty cold shower and toilet. I bargained the price down from 10,000 to 5,000 won. It is probably the fact it is a resort town that made the conditions so much worse.

Maybe tomorrow I can get some letters written. I am feeling rather guilty about my backlog of 25 unanswered letters.

The last two days have been weird in that the air looks very hazy like it is very polluted, yet I am far from the densely populated areas. I thought it would clear up after I left Seoul. Maybe when I get to Cheju Island.

September 23 Yoinsuk Chonsu 106 km

Another long day of interesting landscapes, but few personal encounters. A few people made a sign, especially at the ferry terminal where a group of guys gathered to inspect my bike. And one guy hung out the window of a passing car and gave me a thumbs-up. But mostly I get blank stares and when I look back, the people pretend to be looking at something else or look away. I find it unsettling at times.

I ran into my first Korean rain in the last 10 km into town. It wasn't so bad, but if it rains tomorrow, I may stay here a day and write some letters.

I have decided to visit Cheju-do, the big island off the southern tip of the mainland. It is likely to cost a bit more, but I think it will be worth it. And besides, I can go to Pusan on the overnight ferry saving me a few days travel on the bike.

I am feeling a bit like I am wasting my time here. Travelling in Korea has been the hardest since I started. I am most frustrated by the inability to find decent food.

It is 8:15 PM and I am exhausted. I hope I can catch up on my sleep one of these days. I think part of the reason is because I haven't been cycling for the last few weeks, plus the terrain up until this afternoon has been fairly demanding. After the ferry at Kunsai, it was a flat 50 km to Chonju.

Typical budget room This place I am staying is the best yet. I have a private bath, TV, telephone, water, towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, the works. They asked for 6,000, but I got it for 5,000 (about US$7).

September 24 Kwangju 103 km

The ride today was on par with the Milford Sound ride in New Zealand. Beautiful hill, quiet roads, small villages along the way - just perfect. I think I am also feeling better about cycling because I am becoming re-acclimated to touring again.

Near the top of a long hill, I stopped for a bite to eat. Several men watched me for about 10 minutes from across the road. Finally, one came over to inspect my rig and me. After a minute or so, they all came over along with three women. They commented on my hairy arms and legs comparing mine to theirs and then asked about my chest. I lifted my shirt and they were astonished - exclaiming and laughing. One of the guys asked about my pubic area, but I refrained from showing him and just shook my head yes. Then he went around behind me and lifted up my shirt to check my back. It was hilarious.

Hwangju is a big place with a population of 900,000. I was immediately intimidated by the aggressive and rude drivers. They drive as if I didn't exist and seem even worse than Seoul, if that is possible.

Walking around town is a bit of an experience in itself. The Koreans are very surprised to see me though most try hard to hide it.

The market was filthy dirty with mud and much everywhere, wet from the hundreds of types of fish and other creatures from the sea in all states of existence - live, freshly killed iced, and dried flat as a pancake. It is also the place where vegetables are sold in raw form with hundreds of people selling their little piles of goods. What is amazing to me is that there are very few people selling ready to eat food and the one or two that I did see sell only pan-fried bread with a sweet center. While I was there a guy came up to me and grabbed my hand. We shook hands for a while and looked into each other's eyes for what seemed to me to be a long time. Finally he broke off and said, "I'm sorry" in English and walked away.

I am not seriously lonely, but I am wondering why I am doing this. My initial reason was to teach and make some money, but I when that didn't pan out, I decided to go touring since I was already here.

September 25 Mokp'o 87 km

I am taking a rest in the City Park where there is a nice view overlooking the city, harbor and islands. It is amazing to me how hilly this place is. And I have been travelling through the flat part!

The ride today was stressful, very stressful. Highway 1 from Kwangju to Mokp'o is a four-lane heavily traveled road. There was an alternative route until I was 30 km form Mokp'o where I found a small county road similar to yesterdays. Sliding off on to it was like a breath of fresh air. I was getting angry and upset with dealing with the highway drivers. They can be insanely rude, and the incessant honking has to be experienced to be believed. Sitting here on the hill above the city (228 meters above sea level), the sounds of horns fill the air of an otherwise serene view.

"Peace of Mind" by Kim Samhyon ?-?

I don't' indulge in achieving fame
Since the glory and infamy cohere
I don't crave wealth and rank so
Much, leading to a risky career
Forsaking all, I'm at great peace
With nothing else to fear.

I haven't seen any Westerners since I left Seoul, and from the way things are going, I doubt I will till I get back.

It was nice getting into town early, and although I am tired from the ride, I am not wiped out. I changed my US$200 in greenbacks into won, which I hope will last the duration of my stay in Korea. I felt frustrated again today and just wanted to pack it up and head back to Thailand possibly going back to Suan Mokke again for another mediation retreat.

It is not much fun going here alone, because the people are not outwardly friendly. They never seem to smile to strangers.

It is funny how some people will start talking to me in Korean and I don't have a clue as to what they are saying. I need to learn a few more phrases, fast.

I reread Barbara's letter. What a come she writes, wow! She asked when I'll be by in Germany to pick her up. I don't know what to make of it. I think she is envious of my ability to be traveling so long. It would be nice to see her, but I am not sure we would make good traveling companions. I know from out voyage on the "Shearwater" that she can be difficult at times. Not really my type.

On the way back I went into town and found the "strip", a street that becomes a pedestrian mall at night where everybody who is anybody goes to be seen. It seems like every town has one. While I was there a boy about 11 "adopted" me. He was happy to meet me and followed me around for a while. The fingers on his left hand were cut off at the second knuckles. We stopped at a bakery and had some pastries and milkshakes.

On to:  Circling Cheju-do

In South Korea Skip to:   Seoul in September | Cycling South | Circling Cheju-do | Mount Halesan | Back to the Mainland | Goodbye South Korea

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