Serenity in Traffic

August 27, 2008

I tracked Lee Sok Jun back to his shop. It was an object lesson in cycling serenely, without aggression, through Seoul traffic. Should I try to become less aggressive?


Impromptu Training Ride

August 27, 2008

I had a brilliant day today. I have become friends with the CEO of the local Cannondale dealership. I ride a Cannondale and he has been massively supportive in terms of B2B.

I went to return some cleats he had lent me this morning prior to going on my ‘long ride’. I had shoe problems a couple of weeks ago and he gave me the cleats from his shoes!

Anyway, we went on a ‘long’ 15 mile ride across the Hangang River to Namsan Mountain, a shortish but rather steep climb of about 1,000 feet.

He is a perverse cyclist. He is very timid in traffic and goes along the flat ridiculously slowly. He gets to an incline and off he goes. He steams ahead of me on the steep bits as I have no low gears. He does that and he also has a GBP6,000 bike and weighs 20kg less than me as well!

He then runs out of said steam and gets off and walks! I, on the other hand, power slowly, Ullrich like, up the mountain.

The last section, is particularly steep and lasts about 100m at 20% gradient. I have to sprint to get up. The pain in the thighs is indescribable. I got off at the top, sat and winced in pain for a minute or so.

After a prolonged cafe stop – there are fantastic views of Seoul from the top – we started our return journey to the bike shop.

We went along the river path and he asked whether I would like to watch the wake boarders. I secretly thought that I would rather have a go than watch.

We watched for a few minutes and he suggested we have a go! I smiled. We stripped off our cycling gear and jumped in the river!

It has been sixteen years since I last water skied. I remembered half the advice from back then i.e. let the rope pull you and do not try to stand up.

I could not remember the other half i.e. keep your knees bent when the boat starts. The instructions barked in Korean were lost on me!

As soon as I had a translation, I was off but it bloody hurt my back and forearms. I had forgotten that pain also. My long ride did not materialise but it was a brilliant day. I just wish Katie was with me now. M


US Military

August 26, 2008

There are large numbers of US military in the Republic of South Korea to protect it from the apparent threat from its northern brothers.

I heard (possibly anecdotally) that the majority of lower ranking military men were recruited from ‘trailer parks’.

I met a GI tonight who was heavily tattooed with baseball cap perched on his head at a peculiar angle conjuring images of Eminem. He could not read vey well either. My pre-existing stereotype was confirmed.

The US military does have a certain reputation for heavy drinking and causing trouble in one of the expat areas in Seoul.

However, he came over to me and we spoke about British slang. He was kind and friendly and had a quite charming Texan accent.

He spoke later two or three times. He alluded briefly to his experiences in Iraq. He did not need to do more than simply allude to them. His lack of verbal eloquence was more than made up by his tacit non verbal communication and honesty.

Of course, it is only a very small proportion of the US Military that cause trouble. We are so quick to form stereotypes. Likewise, I realised that my GI friend and I had a lot in common.


Old Man

August 26, 2008

Usually old men on the subway in Korea are unsmiling and unpleasant. Maybe however that is simply my perception or the product of the way I behave.

I had a nice, if halting, conversation with a 71 year old tonight. That I reciprocated his warmth is maybe a little telling about my attitude and demeanour.

If I change my (frequent) surly and truculent attitude, nice things may happen more often. Nice things seemed to happen all the time when I arrived here.

Those instances have dwindled in the last six months probably as a result of my deteriorating attitude.


Idiot

August 25, 2008

At the start of yesterday’s ride, I was crossing the Banpo Bridge which spans the Hangang River which bisects Seoul.

The part for cyclists is just wide enough to fit two side by side to enable them to pass. The span is maybe a kilometer long and two thirds of the way across it turns into a ‘humpback’ for some reason.

I approached a Korean man power walking backwards listening to music on his i-Pod. He was heedlessly disrupting the flow of cyclists both ways as he was power walking in the middle of the path.

It is not uncommon – indeed it is the norm – here for people to have absolutely no idea of what is going on in their immediate vicinity.

I do not know whether this is simply ignorance borne out of innate stupidity, or just not caring about people other than themselves.

I suspect with all the empirical evidence I have gathered this summer, it is a combination of the two.


Human Kindness

August 25, 2008

Yesterday, I was towards the end of another ‘century’ training ride. I stopped at the side of the dual carriageway on which I was cycling to buy some water which I duly did. I speak little Korean and the vendors who were selling various produce from the back of their truck spoke even less English.

I duly bought some water and drank it whilst sitting on the curb at the side of the road. I was, and must have looked, knackered. The vendor brought over some ‘hopbang’ (a bread roll type thing containing red beans). I could not eat all three and took just one. I find it difficult to eat when cycling long distances. He then decided to give me a can of ice coffee! I do not drink coffee any more so I put it in my jersey so as not to offend.

All this was unsolicited and unpaid for. All I had been was polite. How kind.


Korean idiot drivers

August 15, 2008

I cycled home yesterday along a mile and a half stretch of road between the Olympic Stadium and where I live. I peered into cars as I was cycling. At least half the drivers were either talking on their cell phones (not hands free) and or simultaneously watching TV on monitors in their cars.

Is it any wonder that Korea tops the pedestrian accident rate and comes in second to Hungary in motoring accidents in all OECD countries? Apparently it is illegal to drive with a cell phone here in Korea. The police do not enforce the law, an indicator of a third world country. What will it take to change this selfish people’s minds? M