Slippery When Wet

Lest anyone think the cartoon warnings were not ubiquitous, yet another in the series of dangerously cute warning signs.


The personnel touch

And in this morning's installment of The Safety Envoy, an animated reminder to the giant-handed to steer clear of the work site.
We are off in a few hours for a weekend of hiking and hot springs in Seoraksan National Park, leading to an unavoidable disruption in our regularly scheduled posting. We will return Monday, hopefully with weeks worth of bloggable flora and fauna photos.

We laugh in the face of danger

Lee was able to tap into his inner Ernest Borgnine and convey honest horror for this little scene; he thinks my smile is an indicator that I don't feel the appropriate level of fear for potential landslides. I think Korean city planners all got the same memo: When death or danger are imminent, one should always use a cartoon character to reduce panic and evoke a sense of humour. After all, nothing says crisis management like a bit of anime.


Where camels fear to tread

Though understandably unnerving for many even-toed ungulates, the Silla tombs are not without a serene aesthetic.


The Lamp Near the Lump

Don't be fooled by the striking resemblance to the toboganning hill by John Diefenbaker Elementary School in Prince Albert. This is actually a royal tomb from the Silla dynasty, which for 2000 years has protected the earthly remains of some VIP from being pillaged and plundered by ne'er-do-wells.


Petals on a wet, black bough.

While a necessary hardship for the daily commuter (to the tune of eight million trips each day spread over the ten different lines), we actually enjoy using Seoul's extensive subway system. Mind you, we only use it on the weekend, and generally at non-peak hours, so we mostly avoid the body-crushing and highly invasive attack on personal space that characterizes rush hour. The subway stations also serve as beacons when we wander aimlessly, as most are no more than a fifteen or twenty minute walk apart, thus making it improbable to get lost. I asked a Korean friend if it would be possible to ride all the lines from end to end during a day's hours of operation (5 a.m to midnight). She said no. I said "challenge!" and am now working on both the logistics and talking Deanna into joining me.


Get your world peace here!

Centre for Sleep Research? Arcade? Travel Expo? Or just a nice place for a really long English word?


Yesan Actually

Our last post of our weekend in Yesan, a lovely little city in the heart of Love Land that we loved with all our hearts, where the land is loved by the lovable people and the goods are fancy and totally accessorized.


Location, location, location

Ideally situated a few hundred metres from the Yesan stadium, behold the "Las Begas Motel". Upon arrival, all guests receive a basket of goodies including toothbrushes and toothpaste, various skin creams and ointments, tea bags and coffee sachets, mini Snickers bars, and some, uh, more adult accoutrement. Our room was spotless and new, replete with a full size poster of a young woman enjoying herself in the spray of a waterfall, naked as the day she was born.


The Runner Who Loved Me

An integral part of any pre-race pomp, the hang gliders and gyrocopters buzzed the stadium relentlessly. As no one but uber-spies pilot gyrocopters, it felt like we were on the set of a 1970s James Bond film.


Race Swag

Yesan is farming country, a fact reflected by the contents of the gift bag. Runners were given a jar of apple jam, a bag of hot apple pepper paste, two small packages of locally grown rice, and a finisher's medal. In addition to the bag of goodies, I also won a door prize, the black fanny pack you can see on the right. I couldn't really see myself using it, and didn't really want to carry it home, so I passed it along to the owner of the hotel. Lee was upset I didn't get to choose one of the other door prizes, a 20 kg bag of rice, which he liked for its originality. Had I won the rice, however, I think he may have been less than impressed with the task of carrying it all the way back to Seoul.


The Warm-up

Everyone has his or her routine and pre-race activities. Some people run slowly around the track, others do stretching exercises, and then there is this man, who uses a hit of nicotine to really get his body started.


Welcome to Yesan

At a leisurely pace, one can walk around Yesan in half an hour. Quite a change from Seoul - look how short the buildings are! The people were kind and interested in us. There is a university campus close to the town that hosts a foreign teacher called Pamela. We know this because as we wandered about looking for a restaurant, three people approached us to ask if we were "Pamela friend." She is quite the local celebrity, it seems.


Runners Get Ready

Lee took his job as race photographer seriously, so we'll be posting pictures of Yesan, both the town and the race, for days. We had one of those trips where everything just falls neatly into place: arrive at the bus stop, a bus is leaving in 15 minutes; look for a hotel, a cheap and clean room is available across the street from the stadium; crave spaghetti for a pre-race meal, a pizza/pasta restaurant is a ten-minute walk away.
The race was fun and well-organized. There was a 5 km, a 10 km, and a half marathon. The people of the town lined the streets, every couple of kilometers a traditional Korean band played drums and sang, and volunteers staffed aid stations at every kilometer, complete with bananas, water, sports drink, energy bars and cold sponges. In Seoul I run on the perfectly flat river path, so a vague sense of panic set in as the bus drove into town and we were climbing up the side of a mountain. Indeed, the race course was hilly, but mostly consisted of gentle rolling hills, with a big monstrous one from the 18th to 20th kilometer. My time was 2:02:58.
Look closely in the middle foreground and you can see me at the start line - I'm the one wearing a pink shirt.


Rogue picture, hastily posted.

We leave in a few minutes for a weekend away. We are off to Yesan, a small town in the countryside a few hours by bus from Seoul (though we first have a few hours of subway-ridin' in Seoul to get to the bus terminal). Deanna is running the Cherry Blossom Half Marathon, and if the program in her race package is correct, she will be the only blue-eyed monster in a field of over 3000. You would think this would make my role of Official Race Photographer, Foreigner Division, easy, and it should be, assuming I encounter no (Photo Line) like this one from the DMZ.


Teacher, me no pencil.

As part of their daily homework, students are asked to take words from their vocabulary lists and write sentences. Charged with this onerous task, many students turn to other sources for help, be it an electronic dictionary, an Internet translation site, or a well-meaning but misinformed parent. The results are predictable; some sentences are simple, others mundane, and many just plain mystifying. Occasionally we encounter a gem, a nugget so profound or linguistically complex that it burns indelibly into our psyche. The sentences presented here are verbatim as they appeared in the students' notebooks, as no editorial flourish of ours could improve on these originals:
from Lisa, age 8: He knock the bejabbers out of the other person.
from Julia, age 11: It was lecherous times and the woman's not happy.
from Walter, age 13: I have mysterious balls.


Do we go before or after the Egg Gallery?

Definitely on the itinerary for the next trip to Insadong, if only to discover if this is art created by chickens, art inspired by chickens, or my favourite, the art of consuming chickens.


Sweet chariot

After being thwarted by the padlocks of Nirvana and being fascinated by a treatise on Tibetan psychoanalysis, we were almost run down by a heavily made-up toddler. Insadong played host to a procession to re-enact a formative incident in ancient Korean lore. Again, the details are sketchy, but include at least wholesale political persecution, a three year old prince, lots of rouge and mascara, and a high degree of danger for Western pedestrians.


That's a fine chapeau, Tenzing.

Denied entry into the Buddhist Art Museum, we wandered around some of the small alleyways in the area. We stumbled onto the Tibet Museum, an unassuming home converted into a storehouse of traditional Tibetan costume, centuries old statuary, and antique wall hangings. While the placards were written in Korean, we were handed the only English document on offer - a small brochure for the museum detailing the origin of some Tibetan thought. To this day, Tibetans greet one another with the phrase "Tashi delek" (which roughly translates as "May many good things come to you") and may stick their tongues out at each other. While the entire story of this tradition is much too long to recount in OOFALWO (it was a very detailed brochure), suffice it to say that the tale involves a tyrannical king, nubile virgins, much chicanery, some shenanigans, and not a little bloodshed. Two memorable, and in the brochure, not at all unrelated, quotes have left an indelible mark on us, and will most certainly colour our impressions and understanding of Tibet from this day on: "King Lhadarama killed the girls because of his lack of self-confidence" and "All Tibetan people really love to wear hats."


Mind open. Museum closed.

A typical Sunday afternoon in Insadong, an eclectic area of art galleries and tea houses. We went there to go to the Museum of Korean Buddhist Art, which was closed despite a sign declaring "Opening Hours" from 10 til 6. Thinking this to be a test cooked up by the abbot/ curator, we waited outside the door for a few hours, just like Kwai Chang Caine would've done. Though we ultimately failed in this ordeal, we rebounded in the non-permanence of the Starbucks across the street.


The Reader

The ideals of Confucianism are tangible in Korea, and affect thought here in innumerable ways: within interpersonal relationships, in the application of codes of moral conduct, and in an understanding of a culture where learning and wisdom are among the highest values.


Been there, done that.

We saw this place and felt no need to go in.


Nar th'n, guvna

Saw this coffee shop, went in, ordered a machiatto, then ran out without paying.
Barely funny, and only then if one has a working knowledge of the parlance of the London underworld. In the vernacular of the average East End crimelord's rhyming slang, "tea leaf" means thief. Whoa, would you Adam and Eve it's almost Harry Lime to have a good Bob Squash before walking down the apples and pears to go teach the saucepan lids some bloody English? If at least one Korean kid doesn't call me a right feather plucker, the day's a waste.


Stranger danger

From another part of Gyeongbokgung's expansive gardens, some sticks with faces to scare the baddies away. It seems that every second or third post we show something or someone meant to ward off danger, be that danger from this world or some dark spirit realm. So this has us thinking...maybe the Koreans are on to something. We have been combing the periodicals for any mention of poltergeists, vampire attacks, government-sponsored mind control projects, or Toxic Avengers, and not surprisingly, not a word has been written. This speaks either to the efficacy of the various totems and posted sentries or to a deeply institutionalized obfuscation of the truth. Fox Mulder would like it here.


Yogic Posture

In Korea, even emperors dine on the floor. The dining room at Gyeongbokgung is a fancy version of the Korean table. Many restaurants in Seoul are furnished with a low table covered with small bowls containing numerous side dishes, a plainer version of the emperor's dining room pictured above. Usually there are pillows on the floor. It makes for a cozy dining experience unless you are a six foot tall Western male with hip flexibility less than that of the average eighty year old Korean, in which case dining becomes an hour or two of torture trying to maintain a cross-legged pose.


Feng shui et al.

For those steeped in the mysterious arts of geomancy, it is highly apparent why the palace sits at the base of the mountain. For those with a working knowledge of the military sciences, it is overtly obvious why the palace sits at the base of the mountain. For those in the residential real estate racket, it is abundantly clear why the palace sits at the base of the mountain. For the rest of us, it sure looks pretty.



Gyeongbokgung, the Palace of Shining Happiness, is usually described as the grandest of Seoul palaces, despite twice being razed by Japanese invaders. After each attack, the palace was rebuilt intricately to its original grandeur, with some restorations still underway. The main building here saw kings crowned, foreign envoys welcomed, and affairs of state conducted. The stone markers in the courtyard were used to delineate the royal audience, with the most important and influential afforded closer proximity to the king himself.


Mea culpa

Given the immediate and impassioned response of some loyal readers, we at OOFALWO seek to clarify the intent of yesterday's post. At no time did we wish to equate the notion of advanced age with the reality of turning fifty. Fifty is middle-aged for most, and not even that for sea turtles. Rather, we were referring to the fact that the average age of a blog is 16.37 posts before it is rendered inactive, a statistic we have just made up to suit our own purpose. And so, for those whose eyesight has not yet failed, a random photo of a random street in a random state of gridlock.