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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Back to the Mainland
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | South Korea | Hong Kong | Macao | China | India | Pakistan | China, Again

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

October 22 km North of Onyang

2 PM I just discovered that my pannier was broken into on the ferry last night and my headlight (that straps on my head) and batteries were stolen. I had the panniers "locked" with a padlock through the zipper tabs. The person cut the hole to get into the pack. He left my belt flasher light and reflective vest. It is ironic that it should happen because I kept telling myself that I did not need to worry about theft because the Koreans are so honest.

At the train station I tried to get a ticket to Kyongju but was told "no way", I think. The Korean women kept cutting in front of me pushing and shoving. It is amazing how rude they can be. Now I am about 30 km south of Kyongju taking a small break. The ride has been surprisingly good. I am rather glad I didn't get the train now. Tomorrow is Ch'usok, the Korean Thanksgiving, and things are a buzz as they get ready for the big holiday. No wonder I couldn't get train tickets.

7 PM Hanjin Hostel Yogwon Kyongju 84 km

I arrived here about 3:30 PM, a little ahead of schedule due to an unexpected "lift" from the Highway Patrol. I was cycling on Highway 35 when it became unimproved and very rough. I doubt the Korean Highway Department owns a road grader. All the unpaved roads are a disaster: huge stones, potholes, ruts, etc. So when the expressway abutted the "road" I was on I thought I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and took what to me was a generous invitation to use it. I wasn't on the expressway shoulder for more than 10 seconds when I saw a bright yellow official looking vehicle going the other direction with some very surprised expressions on the occupants faces. I thought, "Great, I have been spotted already." I got on about 2 km when the inevitable occurred: sirens, flashing lights and two guys in blues suits jump out. They said something in Korean to which I responded, "What?" and then one guy said "bicycle" and pointed to the van. We loaded it in and took off down the road. All the while I am wondering how deep a hole I have dug for myself, and more importantly, how much was this little adventure going to cost me. About 10 km later at the Kyongju exit they stopped after the tollgate and motioned for me to get out. We unloaded the bike and then took off without saying a word or asking me to pay anything. They seemed to be in a big hurry, probably off to snag some other evildoer or rescue a maiden in distress.

11PM I spent the evening socializing with Prisila, Peter and a Japanese medical student whose name I didn't get. Prisila, a new-age Korean-American from California, has returned to Korea to discover her roots. It was an enjoyable time especially since my last real social encounter was in Cheju City five days ago. I seem to need this type of social contact from time to time.

Now I wonder what I should do about my flight to Taiwan. Should I postpone it or stick with the October 8 date and skip the monastery. I would like to visit the monk I met on Cheju-du, but staying longer will likely cost me a bit more than my "budget".

October 3 Kyoungju Hanjin Hostel 34 km

Today marks the 500th day of my trip. Holy cow! I can hardly believe it has been that long ago since I started. Somehow it really feels like a big milestone.

Today's events were a nice way to spent day 500. I met a Korean Buddhist monk at Tumulus Park. He had a bicycle as well and became my tour guide for the day. His English was minimal, but it didn't really matter as our nonverbal communications was good. We rode all over the place through back alleys, side roads, paths, etc. going from one site to another.

The Drinking Game
This is a place where a poetry drinking game was played. 
Poetry was composed by several people as a cup was floated
down the canal.  If the person  whose turn it was hadn't
come up with a verse he/she had to drink the wine.

At lunch he found a restaurant where I had my first taste of real Korean cooking, complete with many side dishes. I had Bimbap and he had soup. I was a bit embarrassed as I didn't know how I was supposed to eat it. Finally the owner came over and put my rice in the big bowl and mixed it all up for me. We had four of five types of kimchi and an assortment of vegetables. It was very tasty and only cost 2,000 won. My monk friend would not let me pay, however. I always feel awkward in those situations. After lunch we visited some more sites and the National Museum. There we met three Buddhist nuns. All of us toured the museum together. It was great fun. One of the nuns spoke to me a bit and said the monk was a "good guy". After that he took me back to his temple where we ate some fruit, bananas, Asian pears, grapes and Korean peanut/rice balls. Then we went out again to see some more sights. At about 5 PM we returned to my Yogwan and we parted. What a great day! Maybe I'll get some letters written tonight.

Star Observation Tower - Oldest Observatory in SE Asia - 9m high

10 PM and no letters written yet. I discovered a major screw up on my part in my plans. I haven't gotten a visa for Taiwan yet. It looks like I will have to postpone my flight for a few days at least unless I take an express train and hope I can get a visa in a few hours.

October 4 Kyongju

8 AM Damn! The bastard on the ferry also stole my SPOKE NOTES stamp and pad. Shit! I am mad and frustrated, upset, pissed off, and very sad. Why? Why did he do it? Maybe I can learn from this not to become so attached to things. It was a wonderful stamp with my name and a sketch of the world with a bicycle on top that I had made in Yogjakarta, Indonesia.

I just feel victimized, that I shouldn't be here, that I am fighting an uphill battle. It is so demoralizing. I guess I should feel lucky that it was not anything like my journal, or the bike. But I am still angry.

It is raining today. I good day to write letters and mourn the lost of my stamp.

Midnight I am back after a fun day with April and Eric at Pulguksa and Sukhuran Temples. I met these two American students who have been attending Yonsei University in Seoul and are now traveling for a week during the Korean Ch'usok holiday. This evening we went out with Peter, who has been in Japan teaching English and is in Korea renewing his visa. April is another old girlfriend clone with blonde hair, blue eyes, a long narrow face and prominent nose. Amazing similarity.

After talking with them, I got inspired to try to earn some money teaching English in Seoul again. I also decided to ride back to Seoul via Pupjuso where the monk I met on Cheju-do lives. Maybe I can stay there a day or two.

October 5 Kimch'on 140 km

6 PM Today's ride was long, but satisfying. Either I am getting used to Korean drivers or there were not as many turkeys on the road as usual. It seems that the highways running parallel to the expressways are good ones to take because most of the traffic is there leaving mostly local of which 50% is buses.

I rode through Taegu thinking that perhaps I could find work there in that city of two million and 17 universities and colleges. But I was again intimidated by the size, so I rode on. I also have a "deadline" to make in Seoul on the 8th and pay for the tour to P'anmunjon on the 9th. That means three days of travel to the big city. Looks like no problem even with a stop at Popchsa Temple.

"Saint's Teachings" by Kwon Homoon 1532-1587

Saint's teaching express their own
Views, yet remain true though the ages
Whether they are well known or unknown.
True values never change much
These simple old truths alone
Guide us in any era.

October 6 Kimch'on

7 AM More thoughts on Korea. I find cycling here not very enjoyable because there are very few parks or resting areas where I can take a break. Yesterday I was fortunate to come across a small lake along the highway near the top of a pass and took a break there. But for the most part, once I get on the bike, I go until I find a place to sleep at night.

7 PM Posen 107 km

The ride was pretty good today. I was on a fairly low volume highway most of the time. I took another "shortcut" for a while and ended up carrying my bike up a riverbed. After half a kilometer, I decided I was probably on the wrong track or the mapmakers screwed up. The later was the case and I found the right road, albeit very rough and quite steep at times. Still it was a nice relief form the horn blowing I have grown to despise. Tomorrow I will try to see about a slow train to Seoul so I don't go mad or get run over the last 100 km.

Today I saw a guy on a bike with a big backpack on his back going the other way. He is the closest thing I have seen to a touring cyclist since I have been in Korea. Unfortunately, he didn't stop.

I visited Papchusa, the Buddhist Temple with a 22-meter wooden pagoda and a huge 33-meter bronze Buddha image. This is where the monk I met on Cheju-do said he lived, but my efforts to locate him were fruitless. Still it is an interesting place and worth the stop. Two Buddha images of particular note were one of a figure sitting in a chair with one leg up on the other knee, Westerner style with one hand touching his face. The other was an image with the two hand clasped almost in a praying position except the fingers were folded over instead of pointing up, like the Chinese do when they ask for forgiveness or respect.

Other noteworthy events: I am finally getting the hang of the street vendor food situation. I ate a pile for 900 won tonight.

On to:  Goodbye South Korea

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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