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?


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.


Friendly Koreans

August 6, 2008

I was about 60 miles into a 70 mile training ride. I had stopped at the Family Mart (pronounced ‘Pamily Martuh’) in Gwacheon for a very rare lemonade and a lollipop.

Family Mart is a general convenience store found all over Korea. They have tables and chairs outside and I enjoy sitting there people watching taking a break. What I also like is the fact that you can have a drink and a sit down and spend a dollar, rather than having to pay the rapacious prices of Starbucks or the like.

I was having my lollipop and nodded courteously to the middle aged chap sitting on the table adjacent to mine. He acknowledged me and initiated a conversation. A similarly aged chap on a table two tables from mine was ‘ear wigging’ and eventually joined in our conversation. They seemed pleased that I was not American.

Two more Koreans, fascinated, joined in the conversation, although they could not speak a word of English. It is ironic that I acted as a catalyst for a five way conversation, when my race is probably one of the most unfriendly, after the Russians, in the world. That has rarely happened to me in England.

We talked variously about how old I thought they were. Age is important here. We also talked about Qatar, Dubai, London and Manchester United. It was a special few minutes. When Koreans get over their seeming innate shyness, they are very warm and friendly people. M


More Training

August 6, 2008

Now that the wet monsoon season seems to be coming to an end and the weather is much better, I have been upping the volume of my training.

On Sunday, I climbed Cheonggeysan with an ajoshi friend of mine. It is about a three hour round trip. He is maybe 5’7″ tall and weighs over 30kg less than me. It has been his stated aim to climb a mountain every Sunday for the last thirty years.

It has been several months since I have done any hiking whatsoever and my hiking fitness is not at its best. With his significant weight advantage and regular training, Seong gyu is incredibly fit.

He jauntily made his way up the 2,000 foot climb, gazelle like, with incredible ease. I followed behind, hoping for an end to the pain and very much out of breath.

He was however power assisted. He let out the most smelly ‘old man’ farts every couple of minutes or so the whole way up.

I was trapped. I could not overtake and the path was too narrow to walk to the side of him. That I was breathing so heavily meant that I was inhaling more of his pungent gases than would otherwise be the case. M