Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
40Trip End Oct 28, 2006
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Where I stayed
Biseulsan Forest Resort
Woke at 1am and lay awake fretting about stupid things for a couple of hours. It was too hot, and my stomach was again feeling poorly.
Went back to sleep for a couple of hours until morning. Opened the window to cool the room which had reached 29.5 deg C. Showered and confirmed that the hotel internet worked - which it does. We went down to breakfast and on the way tried to get onto a tour, but they said that they were all full.
Slept extremely well given that I had flown six hours east the day before, thanks to two Melatonin tablets. Graham, who forgot or knew better (probably the latter although he claims he forgot) spent several hours awake and then slept on the bus this afternoon
There ensued a looooong discussion between taxi driver and bell-boy who had handed over the slip of paper containing notes written down by the Receptionist during her part of the conversation. Eventually the driver seemed satisfied and zoomed us off to... a closed bowling club on an anonymous street corner in the middle of the city. Hmmm?
I was pretty sure the girl from the City Tour people had said the tour with the cancellation started from the station but perhaps she and the Receptionist had arranged for us to be picked up here instead? Maybe the City Tour offices were in this dead looking building? Maybe we should wait until 10am and see if a bus arrived to pick us up? Maybe we should call the City Tour people again - only their pamphlet, along with the city map and almost everything else that might be useful, is back in the hotel room so we don't have their phone number
But we weren't on the list! So the guide rang her office and apparently we were on the slightly smaller bus parked alongside. It turned out that neither bus was full and both did exactly the same tour (we were invariably in the same place at the same time) so what all the stuff about no space and cancellations and whatever was about, I have no idea. Actually, I do. I think someone had decided to run a second bus without telling the girl I spoke to, and rather than saying, "I didn't know" or "I was mistaken," the "cancellation" was a face-saver
So we settled back to enjoy our hard-won tour.
I had toast and tea, and Mandi had a couple of eggs and bacon as well. During breakfast the receptionist came to tell us that there was now space, so Mandi went to talk to them. We were told that a taxi had been arranged to collect us at 9:30am, and so we dashed upstairs to collect our stuff.
By the time we were in the taxi, we realised that we had left our maps etc in the hotel room. This wouldn't have been a problem except that the taxi driver dropped us outside a closed bowling alley. He had been debating the matter with one of the hotel staff, and was obviously unhappy about dropping us.
We hung around this desolate spot for a few minutes, before we realised that it was obviously wrong, so Mandi called the hotel, but they were no help. We found that we were near the parking of Daegu station, so we made our way there, hoping to see the city tour buses
They, of course, had no record of our booking, but in the end indicated that there was another, smaller, tour bus which did have us on the list.
We settled down for the mystery tour as we had no idea which of the city tours we had been booked on. I was feeling a little off, so wasn't that concerned where we were going, so long as there were toilets!
Well, first off the guide introduced herself and described what the tour would be doing - or told a string of dirty jokes - or recited her shopping list - who knows? Because it was all in Korean with no English translation. But that's okay because we're just starting. We did ask her which tour we were doing, and discovered it was the one up into the mountains outside the city, which included a visit to the Shrine of the Twelve Distinguished Hyeonpung Gwaks which was certainly our first choice anyway
After driving along some fairly ordinary freeways and through (literally - long tunnels!) some pretty, thickly forested mountains, we reached a prettily painted Korean building, (which we later discovered was the S of the 12 DGs) and our guide then (rather than while we were driving) started to tell us their entire history - or perhaps reciting James Joyce or telling us about her aunt's sciatica, who knows, because once again it was all in Korean and took ten long minutes - which really is a long time to look at a pretty building through a bus window and understand nothing of what is said about it. Eventually we decided they probably all thought we were rude buggers anyway because we weren't paying attention when she pointed out interesting nails in the roof, so we got up to get out of the bus to at least read the information board and discover what the hell we were looking at. Moments afterwards she must have finished (or perhaps the Korean speakers all abandoned ship when we did) because they all followed us out. We asked the guide whether she could tell us something about the Shrine. She smiled inscrutably and said, "no." Oh. Well then. How long did we have to look at the Shrine? 15 minutes. Okay, so let's at least look around. After 4 minutes she was chasing after us calling us back on the bus
We found out from the guide, who spoke no English, that we were going out into the country which suited us just fine. After about 30 minutes, we left the highway and the high rises and started to travel on country roads past rice paddies and vegetable gardens where we stopped outside a large shrine with its fancy ski-ramp tiled roof and brightly painted eaves. This was what Mandi had been waiting for, it was the Shrine of the Twelve Distinguished Hyeonpung Gwaks! The guide then kept us in the bus for 10 minutes while she spoke in Korean to the passengers. Initially, we were too polite to move, but in the end we had had enough so we asked the bus driver to open the door and let us out.
Beneath the fancy roof were 12 wooden cages, each containing a stele. In the grounds, there were also a couple of auspicious tortoises, carrying large steles on their backs. We had been told that we would be there for 15 minutes, but the guide came to call us after 7, so who knows.
So we decided if this was the way this tour was going to work, we'd better forget about manners and just pile off the bus as soon as it stopped or we'd never see anything
"Fifteen minutes" (showing five fingers to make her meaning absolutely clear.)
"So back at the bus at 11:30?" (indicating on watch the half-past position.)
Okay, that's pretty clear. So we race through, frantically taking pictures so we can actually look at it all at home, and not bothering to stop and read the (approximately) English pamphlet given us by the guide from the other bus because we can do all that back on the bus, and are obediently waiting near the bus at 11:32. Not a soul in sight. 11:35... 11:40... still not a soul. We wander over the road to photograph a pumpkin flower. Still not a soul. We wander around and photograph a river... Look at a man driving a grader... Still not a soul. Eventually we find the guide chatting to the other guide. "What time is the bus going from here?" "12:10." Oh. Well. That's all very clear then.
We continued to drive through the countryside until we came to a Confucian Academy. This was a much more substantial site with a number of interesting buildings and a 400 year old gingko tree
The academy was interesting for the nice roofs with their fancy eaves, some good interlocking foundation stone work, and a primitive hypocaust for heating the floor in the winter. The Gingko was pretty impressive as, like most 400 year olds, its limbs were not too sound, and needed support from large concrete crutches.
Next stop is on a mountainous road. Everyone gets a long lecture and this time we're not forgotten!! "These all restaurants here. Bus top of hill. 2:30." This time we're smart and write it down. "THIS 2:30?"
"Yes. 2:30" (as if we are fools.)
But we don't much feel like eating and the noise coming out of the first restaurant is very drunken and very raucous
Our next stop was the Mt Biseulsan Forest Resort, where the bus stopped at the bottom of a hill, and the guide indicated that there were lots of restaurants where we could eat, and then we could walk up the mountain.
We had neglected to bring water, in our rush, so went down to the first restaurant to find some
Before we went too far, I decided to check on the stuff to make sure that it was either water, or at least reasonably palatable. I opened the lid and took a swig. It tasted like some medicinal alcoholic drink. If I hadn't bought it from a restaurant, I would have been concerned that I had been poisoned! So I offered Mandi a taste. We went back and bought some Fanta.
A few steps out of the restaurant, while I was taking pictures of rice-paddies, Gray tried his drink and nearly gagged. It was some kind of surgical spirits or something very close to. So we took it back and put it politely on a shelf (mine unopened, so they can resell it to some other poor sucker) and bought the bloody Fanta. It's from the sublime to the ridiculous: in Turkey I managed to get two glasses of wine in my whole stay, I think, and those were Very Nasty - here we can't get anything NON-alcoholic for love or money.
We went up the hill to check that the bus was where we understood it to be and found at the car park a small shop containing the guides and drivers and a lot of other people eating what was clearly non-tourist food. Our guide was concerned that we weren't eating where we were supposed to be eating but we really felt we'd had altogether too much Korean culture for one day to be able to face a restaurant, so we bought a strange picnic of chips and chocolate, but also some water! and took it off to find somewhere to eat.
As keeps happening, if only we could bloody understand what was going on around us, we'd have been much better off. We found an alright picnic spot, moderately sheltered amongst some trees and with a view of a bus-stop where we could watch the locals trying to get lifts off the increasingly windy and wet mountain (certainly no buses.) At about 1:30 we had sore bums from trying to sit still not getting wet, and decided to see what else we could find further up the hill. Turns out there was a marvellous walking track in amongst the lovely autumnal trees. So we had a really good walk there, but by the time 2:30 came (and yes, this time we were exactly right - second-last to arrive at the bus!) we were pretty well soaked, at least on our heads and shoulders.
It had started to drizzle gently by the time we got up to the car park, where we saw the buses. The guides and drivers were sitting having lunch in a restaurant that was also a shop, so we bought a couple of bottles of water, some chips and chocolate chip cookies. The guide again indicated that we should be climbing up the mountain, so we went.
The rain was beginning to fall more heavily now, so we found shelter in a hollow next to some sort of sports field. One thing to say for the Koreans, is that they are clean. There was hardly a single piece of rubbish in the clearing, just a couple of roughly mowed terraces and a couple of mounds. We later came upon others much the same, and realised that we had been having our lunch on some ancient grave.
After an hour of sitting quietly in a moderately dry place, we had finished our lunch, so decided to go and see what was what. By this time it was raining more steadily, so we realised that we would be getting wet. We followed a concrete path up through lovely autumn trees, interspersed regularly with some piece of Korean kitsch or a toilet. After about 20 minutes, we did find a side path that was supposed to rejoin the main road further on. This took us up into the woods, which are lovely even in the rain. We stopped to look at a pretty stripy squirrel that was eating a nut before continuing up past some more, better decorated, graves before crossing the bouldery river bed. We rejoined the road and were back at the bus by 2:30 as required.
Our next stop was a memorial to one of Korea's fighter pilots. it was quite a nice museum housed within a blocky concrete model of the space shuttle with a couple of old jets parked alongside. One was a MIG15, but I forget what the other was. It was a twin jet, twin seater (side by side), so lit looked very much like a frog from the front.
Next stop was the memorial of a famous General. I had expected some ancient Samurai-type bod, but turns out he was a WWII fighter pilot and his memorial was in the shape of a full-size concrete Space Shuttle. The guide led us all in and indicated there was a "fifteen minute" movie but we knew, by now, her weird idea of what 15 minutes constituted, and asked very firmly whether it was in English or Korean. Korean, so we spent the time (which, oddly enough, was probably quite close to 15 minutes) looking at the exhibits, which were quite cool, especially his lovely certificates, all beautifully calligraphised, and the mock-up of the Space Shuttle cockpit which included a speedometer running from 0 to 40 mph, probably quite sufficient for a concrete Space Shuttle. The Museum curator came and showed us this part very proudly, and made sure we saw and appreciated all the English signs such as "flaps" or "do not drop."
Finally to an old ice-house, which was even more difficult to get any information about because not only were we told all about it in Korean, but of course in the pitch dark as well.
Our final stop before the long drive back into the city was a large stone vault that had been used to keep ice.
We had planned to go straight to the EXCO for the welcome reception, but because we were early and wet, took a taxi back to our hotel, and then back to the Welcome reception.
The EXCO is huge, but it was not difficult to find the correct venue. The first person we saw was Shubash from Massey Uni to whom we talked for a couple of minutes before going off to find something to eat. There was quite a good spread with warm beer or Fanta grape to drink (they are a funny lot). Mandi and I walked around for about 20 minutes and ate. I didn't see anyone else that I either knew, or who I wanted to talk to, so we left. Every time I stand around at such cocktail parties, I remember that I hate conferences, and I promise that I will never go to another. Picked up my proceedings before walking up to a nearby large road where we hailed a taxi to take us back to the hotel for an early night.
I was pretty wet and cold on the trip home as my top layer, only picked up by the purest fluke, was actually my spare pyjama top which does duty as a jumper on its clean days, and which is made of track suiting so just gradually wicked the dampness in to my T-shirt underneath. I should have taken it off the moment I got onto the bus for the ride home. So I was glad that we had time to come back to the hotel and change before going to the Welcome Cocktail Party at Gray's conference.
This was a pretty grim affair, with huge numbers of nerdy Engineers standing around trying to avoid eye-contact with anyone while scoffing the (quite good) free food. Some even sat on the floor talking earnestly into their Apple Macs on Skype rather than risk talking to a real live human being. I tried to get Gray to Mingle but the best I could do was a couple of turns on the floor before filling our plates from a different part of the buffet.