Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

The future of Korea's dedicated bike paths looks good with more on the way. I personally can't wait for the East Sea Bike Path. It should be amazing. In August, some friends and I will go from Incheon to Busan. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Korea Bike Paths: Gumi-->Andong

The roughly 90-mile stretch from Gumi to Andong is an excellent leg of Korea's bike paths. It's beautiful, hilly and offers plenty of options for food, drink and shelter. This past weekend my friend and I did it over 3 days with two 3-year olds in bike trailers while taking our sweet time. Here is a brief log of our trip and what to expect along the way.

Day 1- Gumi-->Sangju 

Morning
We drove to Gumi and parked under the South-Gumi Bridge (남구미대교). You can find plenty of parking here and it is right off of the Nakdong River Bike Path on the west side of the bridge. We cycled along the Nakdong River through Gumi along mostly flat paths all the way to Gumi Dam(12 miles/21km) for lunch. There you will find a certification center and on the other side of the river a small mart where you can buy drinks and food.

Once you get north of Gumi there are some beautiful stretches of path. 
Afternoon
That afternoon we went from Gumi Dam(구미보) to the outskirts of Sangju(상주) (21 miles/37km) The afternoon ride was a little more challenging with a couple of climbs, but nothing too strenuous. You might have to push your bike up these steep hills, but without two kids and a heavy trailers they'd be mostly forgettable. You'll find these hills the closer you get to Sangju, but will be rewarded by beautiful farmland, small villages and quiet trails. Then you'll come back to the river and cycle by giant parks on the river that would be ideal for camping. They were preparing for a festival this weekend and we were looking to camp closer to Dowon Restaurant (도원식당) where we planned to eat.

Evening
We camped in between Sangju Dam (there is a certification center here) and the nearby Sangju Bike Museum (상주 자전거박물관) within sight of Donam Seowon(a Confucian Academy) (도남서원). The duck soup at the Dowon Restaurant wasn't worth the money (40,000 won), but the side dishes were great. Also, there isn't really any other restaurant options nearby that I could find on Naver Maps. However, they did have a big menu so you have plenty of other options.
Camping outside of campgrounds isn't a common practice in Korea, but not really policed. Make sure you leave the area looking better than you found it. 


Highlights
Good parking, easy cycling, plenty of places to stop. The scenery was a plus and the area around the bike museum offers plenty of activities(hiking, canoeing, museums, eating, amusement park, sculpture garden, karaoke!) if you aren't in a rush. The museum can be fun too. It isn't something you must stop at, but it's a great spot for cooling off and geeking-out over unique bikes. Areas around the dams usually have marts for food, water and drinks.

Total time: 7.5 hours

Day 2- Sangju-->Andong

Morning
We started our second day around Donam Seowon and cycled to the sculpture garden just past the bike museum (1.75 miles/2.8km) for a long break so the kids could play with a Japanese Rhinoceros beetle. Also we had to push up a relatively steep hill just before the garden so this gave us a nice break for play and coffee. Around the sculpture garden there are plenty of restaurants (on a trip last year I had a great bibimbap at one of them) and even an amusement park. We were up so early that everything was closed.
Surprisingly, biking Korea's bike paths is perfect with kids. It's relatively safe, there are lots of places to play and there is plenty to look at. 

Afternoon/Evening
The route from Sangju to Gudam (구담) (22 miles/35km) is a lonely, hot and beautiful route. Last summer, my friends and I ran out of water and we found it difficult to find places to replenish. This time we had enough water, but got hot and hungry and had to stop by the side of the trail. Usually you can stop at a shelter somewhere along the way, but there wasn't one nearby so we sat by the trail. Gudam, however, is a nice reward for your labor. The trail goes through this small town where you have lots of choices of places to eat or marts to pop in for a cold drink or ice cream. If you time it right you can see an old traditional market there. People here still kind of marvel at foreigners. I really love stopping here. See my post from a moment I had there last summer.

From Gudam you go a few more miles on trail, but then have a long stretch of road. It is a quiet road that leads you close to the entrance of Hanhoe Folk Village (6 miles/10km from Gudam). If we had planned it better we would have stayed here Saturday night, but our schedule didn't allow it. It's a great little walled village with nice guesthouses and restaurants around to give you a true traditional Korean experience.

We cycled on to Andong (21 miles/34 km from Gudam). This stretch boasts two big climbs and two big descents. The second hill takes you down to the Nakdong River into Andong, a welcomed sight. We played along the river at a park with a pool and stayed in downtown near the Home Plus in the Mong (몽) Motel for 40,000KRW. They let us put our bikes and trailers inside in a hallway and gave us water and juice when we left the next day. They were lovely proprietors of a shady motel. I'd stay there again. Andong has plenty of restaurants and lots of green space on the river for the kids. I only wish we had arrived earlier in the day.
The paths often take you past parks and swim areas in bigger cities. In Andong, the river is a great place to hang out for adults and kids.

Highlights: Gudam, beautiful stretches of path, great descents, Hanhoe Folk Village and Andong.

Total time: 10 hours


Day 3-Andong-->Andong Dam-->Andong Bus Terminal

Morning
A formality for those looking to get their passport stamped. This was something that could easily be done on day 2, but we had tired kids and we were all hungry. It took us all of 15 minutes to get there from downtown Andong. There is a traditional village and other sights here, but we were hot and tired and ready to head home. 
We loved stamping our passport and our hands.

Afternoon
To get back to our car in Gumi we decided to take the bus as it was the most direct option. The Andong Bus terminal is as on the other side of Andong as you can get from the dam. We followed the river until the river path ran out and then hopped on the road for the rest. The road was narrow and a long climb to the top of a hill before it descends down to the bus terminal. Having a kid in a trailer is not recommended. Cars respected us with space, but I was not comfortable with the situation. Unfortunately it was that way or through the city. I think next time I'd slowly snake through the city. Alone, I'd go the way we went.

The bus just had enough space for 2 bikes and 2 trailers. It would have been difficult if people had lots of luggage. We probably would have had to take two different buses. The bus drivers were cool, no shaking heads or sucking air through their teeth in disbelief of what we were loading onto their bus. Just smiles and curiosity.

Highlights: Breakfast in downtown Andong. Lunch places out by the dam. Andong.

Total time(with time at the dam): 5 hours

Tips:


  • For maps see KTO's e-books or if you read Korean Naver Maps can be quite helpful. 
  • You can pack a tent and cooking equipment, but there is plenty of food and shelter along the way. We only used these things on the first night. I'm not sure I'd take them again for weight and simplicity sake. If you do camp there are plenty of green spaces along the river. Just be smart where you pitch your tent and be respectful of the land.
  • If you are traveling with kids bring toys and books and stop often. See a cool bug? Stop. See a playground? Stop. See a place to swim? Stop. It will keep you and your kid sane. For emergencies carry a lollipop. Immediate gratification and at least 20 minutes of entertainment.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Korea as a Cycling Destination

This weekend one of my friends and co-workers took our kids along the Nakdong River bike path from Gumi to Andong over 3 days. It was one of the more amazing trips of my life. It was safe, beautiful, and fun for 3-year olds and 30-year olds. We cycled, ate, played, broke up fights, hugged and made up, explored, perspired and took in Korea's beauty and culture. 

Heading up the Nakdong BIke path to Andong.
I've always been reluctant to convince my friends and family to travel to Korea because I was afraid that a week in this country wouldn't be enough to experience all the things I love about it. Ironically, in a country where everything and everybody operate at break-neck speed, falling in love with Korea takes time. A week is not enough. 

Or so I thought. 

Now Korea boasts hundreds of miles of dedicated bike path, with more under construction. These days, I'd recommend coming to Korea for a week to spend that time cycling from town to town. It is charming, romantic and beautiful. The food is delicious, the sights are breathtaking and the people are very accommodating. If you love cycling and you have an interest in Asia, come cycle Korea. You could spend all your time in rural areas or cycle in and around most of Korea's major cities, including Seoul. 


There is so much to see and do for kids on the path(trains, animals, playgrounds, tractors). Finding a trailer would be a challenge. Best to arrange bringing your own. Currently, they are not popular or easy to find here. 

Cycling these paths reminds me of my favorite backpacking trip along the West Highland Way in Scotland nearly 13 years ago. You are never too far from shelter, food or beer. There is something about spending all day outside and getting to a place in the evening where you can clean up, eat well and have a cold drink. We always had options for food or shelter within 10 km. Even in those areas that felt incredibly remote.  

Between Gumi and Andong there plenty of places to camp, eat or stay in a hotel.

If you love cycling and have an interest in Asia, then Korea should be on your list. You might just fall in love with it.


If you are interested in cycling Korea check out Lindsay's bike tour company at www.biketours.com. See all of their Korea tours at www.biketours.com/korea-south.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Billionaire Without a Face

It is not like our blog to comment on individuals outside of Korean pop culture, but I have been unable to avert my eyes from the story of Yoo Byung-un. The more I dig the crazier it becomes. Here is a brief look with lots of links where you can learn more.

The billionaire, religious leader and all-around sketch-ball was allegedly found dead in an apricot orchard near his vacation home in the southern city of Suncheon on June 12th. But many aren't buying that the body is Yoo. Even in death, Yoo remains as mysterious and controversial as ever.
Yoo is known as "the billionaire without a face" in Korea

Yoo had been on the run since shortly after the sinking of the Sewol ferry ship that was en route to Jeju Island this past April that killed nearly everyone on-board. It was a screw-up of epic proportions that included a ship exceeding weight capacity and a captain abandoning ship while instructing all passengers to stay put. A high school near Seoul lost nearly all of its juniors in the sinking of the ship. Yoo was once the primary owner of the company that ran the Sewol ship, but authorities suspected he still called the shots. 

The aftermath has been one horrific event after another. It started when the vice principal of the high school hung himself from a tree near rescue headquarters, then last week a rescue helicopter went down in the middle a major city killing everyone on-board after leaving the sunken boat site and most recently the discovery of, what is believed to be, Yoo's body.

The months after the Sewol tragedy have been unreal, but even the prologue of the story is something out of gothic fiction. Yoo's dark story begins in 1962 when he and his father-in-law started the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea,  also known as the Salvation Sect or Gunwonpa (구원파). They've been classified as a cult because of their disregard for the repentance of sins. They believe that once you are saved, then all sins, past and future, are automatically washed away. 

In 1987, Yoo made headlines when linked to the 
Odaeyang mass suicide. This was a splinter religious group from Yoo's denomination. The "benevolent mother" of this group, Park Soon Ja, started a "company" that fronted for her religious organization called Odaeyang. She came under investigation for swindling her followers out of $8.7 million and wrecklessly borrowing money. So instead of facing the heat, she and 32 of her followers were found dead by strangulation and poison with no signs of resistance. A story unto itself.

Mr. Yoo was suspected of being involved somehow but was never charged. In 1991, the case was reopened after they found a money trail from
Odaeyang and some of it's members to Yoo's company, Semo Corp. He was then arrested in 1992 and convicted of " habitual fraud under the mask of religion" mainly because he had colluded with one of his employees to collect nearly $1.15 million in donations from church members. He served four years in prison for fraud.   


Yoo's Wanted poster offering nearly 500,000USD for him.
So smash-cut to 2014. Yoo's out of prison, living a relatively reclusive life taking pictures by the millions from his window and posting them under his pseudonym AHAE. Sewol goes down in April and the investigation uncovered massive corruption in the boat's parent company. Not so surprisingly, authorities claim to have found the long tenticles of Yoo attached to his former company Chonghaejin Marine, the company that owned the Sewol ship. Just days after the Sewol went down, Yoo's people sent out a press release expressing their sadness and reminding people he had not shares in the company and had focused all of his energy into his photography. Even still, when authorities called him in for questioning, he never showed up By the end of May, they began searching for him hoping to indict him on charges of breach of trust, tax evasion and embezzlement

On June 12th, police stormed his church to search for clues, and they were met by a human barricade of Yoo's church members. The government offered a reward of nearly $500,000 for Yoo but no one was forthcoming with information. Then finally, this week a body found the very day the church was raided, came back as a DNA match for Yoo. Case closed?

Graphic from the Dong-a Ilbo describing the contents on Yoo.
So here are the facts surrounding the corpse. A farmer found the body 2.5 kms from Yoo's compound. The corpse was wearing an expensive Italian jacket and next to it was a copy of Yoo's memoir(an eerie and bizarre detail), some alcohol, shark liver oil and a magnifying glass. Police concluded (and seemingly never seriously considered anything else) that this was a homeless man's body. Working under this conclusion they did not impress upon the lab they sent the corpse to that this could possibly be Yoo. It took the lab 40 days to conclude that it might be Yoo! What?!?! Suncheon's police chief admitted that the investigation of the corpse "wasn't perfect" an understatement beyond words. The police chief was fired for not using his brain.

Once Yoo became a fugitive he apparently hid under his staircase in Suncheon with roughly $1 million in suitcases. A detail, that in my mind, puts him in the same category as a comic book villain. Then for some reason he left his house, walked 2.5 km with his memoir, and laid down in a field and died. By the time police found him his body was 80% decomposed.  

What will happen next in this sad and baffling story is beyond my imagination, but there is bound to be something else both shocking and tragic. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last from Yoo, or that we have felt the last repercussions of the Sewol tragedy.


An amazing piece done by the New York TImes on Saturday. Click here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Surprisingly, to me, he was found dressed most like the bottom right picture. Thug4Life. 
I've been left speechless a few times this week. Especially by Yoo Byung-eun's story. In case you missed it, he has been on the run since the Sewol ferry sunk due to his possible involvement. Here's his Wanted poster posted at the entrance of my apartment complex. The reward was nearly 500,000 USD. Officials yesterday(July 22) confirmed that a body found June 12 in Suncheon is his. Koreans aren't buying it is him. Read a little about his crazy story here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Falling in Love with Korean Food Again

It'd be hard to say that I had completely fallen out of love with Korean food, but ever since we moved back, it hasn't tasted the same. Our first home in Jeollanamdo (southwestern province) is famous for its food and from what I understand the cuisine from our new home in Gyeongbuk (southeastern province) is infamous. I'd have to agree. One of the first plates of kimchi I got at a restaurant here was frozen. An absolute abomination to a centuries old food.
Fresh food and packed with flavor seemed to be unique to Jeolla province. This is kimchi stew with side dishes.
But the other day between my summer classes here at Yeungnam University,  I went to a restaurant behind the main administration building that caused me to fall back in love with Korean cuisine. For 5,000 won, I ordered a  (된장 찌개) dwenjang jjigae served with bibimbap (a surprise addition to me) served with delectable side dishes. I felt like I was having a lunch straight out of Jeollanamdo.  I went back the next day after a swim and split kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) with my wife.  Again, they nailed it.

The menu is standard Korean fare. 
The sides are fresh, the stews full of goodness and the kimchi is fishy. It's everything I've come to expect in Korean food. It's among the best lunch experience I've had yet in Gyeongsan. 

The outside looks awful, but the food more than makes up for the aesthetics. 

If you find yourself at Yeungnam University check out 우리들 식당. It's to the left and behind the main building down a hidden path. It's worth the visit. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the chef more than makes up for the aesthetics. She's a young, female that takes great care of each dish. It shows in the taste and the presentation. Her food has made me get excited again about a food I'd come to take for granted.

Don't make a special trip here, but if you are in the area for lunch, definitely give it a go!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Korea's Low Birth Rate

The birth rate in Korea is incredibly low. According to the CIA World Factbook, South Korea ranks 219th out of 224 sovereign countries with a staggering 8.33 births per 1000 people. Niger ranks first with 46.84, the US 147th with 13.66 and Monoco last with 6.79 per 1000 people. 

Source the Korea Herald.
I hadn't thought much about the repercussions of low birth rates, but it can create a shaky foundation for some parts of the economy. For example, universities, like mine, are scrambling on how to deal with a much smaller pool of students in the next 5-10 years. Many smaller universities are expected to shut down or suffer from a sharp decline in the number of students. 

One cause for the low birth rate seems to be that Korean society continues to put traditional pressure on their women to be mothers and wives first. But Korean women today are beginning to think beyond Confucian ideals and think differently about their future. Being married and having children in Korea's traditional family structure makes a future in the work force near impossible. 

Not only has the birth rate declined, but, according to a government survey, less than half of Korean women between 9 and 24 feel that they need to get married. And why would they? In today's world, what is attractive about being denied at least the option of working outside of the house? Or what looks interesting about being subservient to your husband and his family?

One thing is clear, there should be more Korean women in the workplace. They have been among the best doctors, professors and government workers I've encountered. They are smart, kind and work hard. You can even see it in the old women who are permanently hunched over from a lifetime of work in the rice fields. This country was built and continues to thrive on the hard work and intelligence of its women.

To help with the birthrate, the Korean government gives expecting mothers 500,000 won to help cover any hospital bills. This is indeed a nice gesture. But if the country really wants to increase its birthrate and stay proficient in the workplace, they need to find a way to change their idea of motherhood. Throwing money at the problem isn't going to work. Korea is a country caught dead in the middle between tradition and change and for the sake of its population it needs to continue to evolve with its 21st century woman. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Swimming in Korea: The Ultimate Test

How Korean are you?

Perhaps the best way to find out is to go for a lap swim at your local swimming pool. It separates the locals from the waygooks.

Imagine traffic in Seoul and scale it down to a swimming lane. You might get cut off, bumped or have the person in front of you come to a dead stop. For a North American used to empty swimming lanes it can be incredibly frustrating (not a quality I'm proud of). For Koreans, it's all in a day's swim. Koreans tend to have an uncanny ability to not be bothered by crowds. Because life can be one big crowd for them, they have dealt with it by perfecting their tunnel vision. It is a trait that I have come to both despise and admire.

Photo credit The Malay Mail Online
Sometime late into my Gwangju years, I came up for air after swimming into a walking ajumma and came unhinged. I slapped the water, made a noise through my throat verbalizing my disgust and stormed out of the pool. All the kimchi, makkeoli and Korean vocabulary in the world could not prepare my body or mind for lap swimming in Korea. I must have looked like a complete ass. I swore off swimming in Korea. If I couldn't be civil on their turf, I felt it was best to avoid the situation altogether.

But on Friday I had to swim. I went to a lap pool in Gyeongsan, Korea and I was met with a familiar scene. Crowded lanes, ajummas swimming slowly, group stretching and close calls. This time I tried to take the lead from all of those around me. I continued to swim completely oblivious to the madness and disorganization. I put on my tunnel vision goggles and did what I could, and let that which I could not control float on past me. It wasn't the greatest swim session I'd ever had, but it sure felt good to not give a shit.

**If you made it this far here's a tip. 12 noon is magic hour. Koreans split for lunch and the pool empties out. Yesterday, I was in a lane with 2 others. Just perfect!**

**We've written a lot about lap swimming in Korea. One about mandatory stretching, one about swimming types and the need for an aquatic director and one about a pleasant swim session with a Korean friend.**

Taj Mahal in Korea

Taj Mahal in Korea is a new Indian restaurant in Daegu near the Shinmae metro stop. We've been twice now and have enjoyed both of our visits. For a family, we can get out of there with a half order of tandoori chicken, 2 curries, 3 orders of naan and 2 alcoholic drinks for just around 45,000 won. That's a big meal for a hungry family. It's more expensive than a Korean meal, but also a nice and welcome change from rice and kimchi.

Chicken Curry and Paleek Paneer. 

If you like Indian food, I'd certainly give it a try. With an Indian chef and an owner eager to please (all non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary this month) you'd be crazy not to try it soon. We'll be going back from time to time because of its proximity to us and because it's quick, delicious and a nice experience with a kid. They immediately brought naan and a lassi for our normally fidgety 3 year old. He was fed and hooked right away and we got to enjoy our meal without having to chase or tend to our hungry kid.

They know how to cater to the kids. 
How to get there
From Shinmae metro stop take exit 5. Walk to the end of the block. Taj Mahal is on the second floor above Dunkin Donuts. If you are driving from Daegu, it will be on your right hand side on the same block as Siji Square.

You can find Taj Majal at the blue 도착 (arrival) flag above Dunkin Donuts.



Check out the menu below.