Leaving on a slow train

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go. Well, they're not and we're not. But they will be before we board a southbound train in the morning. First stop Gwangju, a city we've not yet seen, to see some stuff and some things. We'll follow that with visits to other places we haven't been before, and arrive home some time later than the time we left. Makes you wonder why we're teachers, not military strategists or logisticians.


Happy Holidays!

The first sign of the season in our neighbourhood. 


The holiday season

Hours away from a dress rehearsal and a day away from the Winter Performance, the Grade Three students are busy going over their lines, whilst I take an OOFALWO moment
on the company dime. We are the only elementary class not singing a Yuley tune, opting instead for short speeches about travelling to different countries for the winter vacation. Which starts exactly 52 hours and 53 minutes from now...


Field trip

Yesterday the Grades One to Five teachers accompanied this motley crew of ragamuffins to the Samsung Children's Museum for a morning of general chaos. It's a great place for an elementary school excursion, with a wide range of interactive exhibits to tire out the mini-humans.


A Separate Peace

Growing up on the mean streets of Regina's Normanview West, the closest I ever came to real danger was casting an accidentally wayward glance at one of the seventeen year old Grade Eight kids from McLurg School. This is a very different reality than some of the students I now teach at RIS. With news of yesterday's bombings in Baghdad, a few of the students are awaiting word of the safety of their extended families there. We hope with them...


O Tannenbaum

With the Yule season upon us, as evidenced by the little Chuck Brown tree on the coffee table and the already-half-empty bottle of Baileys in the cupboard, I treat Deanna daily to my own interpretation of a seasonal medley - The Little Drummer Boy (Josh Groban version)/ Silent Night (Louis Armstrong version)/ Handel's Messiah (air guitar version)/ Edelweiss (in the never to be trifled with original Captain Von Trapp version)/ Joy to the World (that dude with the really high voice from The Bee Gees version). For the fourteenth consecutive Christmas, Deanna is hoping for cochlear implants.


New post

New apartment.
New running plans.
New job (for Deanna).
New shoes.
New stuff in our new apartment.
New walk from our new apartment to work.
New coffee shop near our new apartment on our new walk to work.
New decorations on our little Christmas tree.
New tattoo on my leg.
New plans for traveling around Korea over the winter holidays.
New plans for a summer in Turkey, Hungary, and train travel through Europe.
Same old everything else.


The Yeongdong Ultra (101 km)

Lee and I went to Yeongdong by train on Saturday afternoon. We ate our final pre-run meal on the journey. Lee ate kimbap, a banana, and a Powerade, while I ate a sausage sandwich, pretzels, and a tomato and feta salad. I dont think Costco smokies are on any nutritionist's list of approved pre-run foods, but for some reason I like them before a run. I think its the excess sodium.

We arrived in Yeongdong, left the train station, and saw a huge banner advertising the run. We headed up a hill lined with persimmon trees and ended up at the stadium. On the short walk, we marveled at the quiet. The small town feel was immediately apparent after the bustle of Seoul.

Our friend BJ acted as the race director. He owns a shoe company, so he always comes to races to set up his booth and sell shoes, but this time he did double duty. He introduced us to a few people and we registered and picked up race packets. Shwag included a nice running jacket, which fits Lee perfectly (mine is a bit big  Korea has great races in every way except the gender-biased loot which only ever comes in man sizes). Anyway, we checked our stuff, changed and plopped down in the shade for a while.

We started running at 4:15. The course led out of town and into the countryside. The first 25 kms were very gently rolling. I felt great. I hit the 32 km aid station at about 3:20. One guy working the aid station told me Lee was about 30 minutes ahead. The sun had just set, and I headed off into the hills. From 32  59 kms there were two moderate and one massive hill. Unfortunately, my very cheap flashlight started to sputter and wane until it was basically useless. There were two runners ahead of me and I tried to stay on their heels to borrow their light. BJ pulled up next to me as he was traveling between aid stations to see if I was OK. I told him about the light, which he examined and dismissed as made in China. then he sped away and returned five minutes later with a borrowed headlamp that had four settings. The entire course was pitch dark between sunset and sunrise  there were no city lights, no streetlights of any kind, just a massive sky full of stars.

As a sidenote, my light burning out was a good example of karma. Two weeks before the race, Lee went out and bought a headlamp, which I dismissed as overpriced and unnecessary. I also teased him about it. A lot. And karma got me in the end.

Anyway, the hills were tough, but I felt surprisingly good. At the 54.4 aid station, I fortified myself with seaweed soup, a Korean staple for ultramarathon runners and new moms, who are fed it everyday for a month after their babies are born. Its pure delicious goodness (rice, broth, seaweed, and clams). The soup carried me up the largest hill of the run, 800m over 3 km.

After that, a blessed downhill slide for 15 km. Around the 63 km mark, I made a friend. He was Mr. Yoo, a finisher of 23 previous ultras and very chatty guy. We stayed together for about 10 kms, and passed the time chatting about his business and family and our favourite restaurants in Itaewon. At the 73 km aid station, a volunteer told me Lee was only a few minutes ahead, so I left Mr. Yoo behind and tried to catch Lee.

I was closing the gap and almost caught him, but around 85 km I really began to run out of steam. It wasnt a competitive thing  I just wanted the company and to see how he was doing. I was wearing all my layers (long-sleeved shirt, jacket, toque) but it felt really cold and once I started walking for longer periods I couldnt warm up. I spent the last part of the run daydreaming about hot showers, warm hugs, and our duvet.

Kind soul that he is, Lee stopped about 500 metres from the end. I caught up to him in 2 or 3 minutes and we crossed the finish line together. 101 kilometres in 14:36:57.

If I were to sum up the experience Id say this: for 75 kilometres I felt on top of the world fantastic, everything went perfectly and I was completely enjoying the experience. For the next 10, I was starting to feel tired. For the last 16, I thought please, please, please let me finish. And I did. And the hot shower afterward felt fantastic!

The volunteers, race organizers and other runners were top-notch. The whole event was well-planned and the course was stunning. Im amazed that such natural beauty is so close to Seoul. Mountain, rivers, stars, and absolute quiet on the road  perfection!

BTW, there were 210 runners in the event and only ten women. Of those ten women, I finished second! I was presented with a trophy, a five kilo box of grapes, and a 5 kilo box of persimmons.


Weekend running

Last Thursday, Lee and I woke up early to run before work. After a few days of pouring rain, the skies cleared and I was the fortunate viewer of an absolutely perfect sunrise. Seeing as I'm barely coherent when I roll out of bed and stumble down the stairs for my morning run, I didn't have my camera, but it made me think I should start carrying it with me when I run, as I often see photogenic and/or completely random scenes of interest. So I did.

This weekend, Lee, Rebecca, Marcia, Jill and I went to Seokchon Lake to run on Saturday. Lee carried the camera, which hasn't been used for so long that we only noticed the battery was completely dead when we went to snap a photo. Thankfully, Marcia brought hers so we were able to record for posterity the clock with a built-in thermometer. Yes, it's hard to read, but the temperature was indeed 33 degrees when we finished.

Sunday saw us at Umyeonsan to run and hike. The main trail to the summit tends to be crowded on the weekends, but the lesser-used paths are practically empty. The shade of the trees makes it a perfect place to run at this very hot time of year. 

What Korean mountain would be complete without a Buddhist temple?

The cairn at the top. Many people walk around it in a clockwise direction and pray.

Seoul down below.


Every little thing gonna be alright

Joseph Goebbels, Bob Marley, and a deer walk into a bar in Borneo. Bartender says "Sorry fellas, we don't serve ironic postmodernism here."



Just 45 minutes outside Kuching via Must-careen-through-traffic-at-MACH-speed-with-music-blaring-loudly-enough-to-split-eardrums Deathmobile minivan is Kubah National Park and the 912m Gunung Serapi. We followed a paved but traffic-free road to the summit, as the morning mist was heavy enough at one point to qualify itself as a character in a Stephen King novel.

The fog did nothing to deter a gaggle of monks from reaching the summit barefooted. It made for a slighly surreal but very serene scene at the top, as the monks meditated then ate while their clothes were hung to dry. The nothingness of footwear did not hamper them on the trails we followed back down to the park entrance though, as a number of times we had to step off the path to let the fleet of foot pass.

We relied on the kindness of strangers for a lift back to town at the end of a sweaty day. John and Robinson were great company, full of interesting facts about the area, and more than happy to introduce us to a frosty glass of fruit juice indigenous to the hills of Sarawak before bidding adieu.


Semongoh, Sarawak

Located about 20 kilometres outside Kuching, Semengoh is one of the world's few orangutan rehabilitation centres. Watching these creatures swing through the forest, eat the offered fruit, and care for their babies is truly fascinating. As you can see, the tourists (including us) were out in full force to capture the orangutan antics on film.

Faces of Borneo #4

Kuching, Sarawak


Dog's dinner

With profoundest apologies to Louis, Loki, Emma, and Zephyr, tonight I ate your brethren. No stranger to culturally-approved sources of protein, I would rank Korean dog meat right between feral Australian camel and giant Thai jungle beetles. Boneless, skinless chicken breast it ain't.



After a tough morning of prepubescence, not much beats taking a load off in an old wheelbarrow.



I'm always happy 4 cooperate. They had no magazines in the stall anyway.


The colour of our thoughts

From markets to ferries to local architecture, much of the allure of Kuching derives from its brightness.

Faces of Borneo #3

Semporna, Sabah



It's a little known fact that the capital of Sarawak province is one of Asia's most charming cities.


The old man in the sea

Some people see bunnies in fluffy white clouds or dancing bears in psychometric ink blots, but we see an octogenarian at rest in the islands off the coast of Semporna.


Faces of Borneo #2

Kota Kinabalu city centre.


Faces of Borneo #1

In Semporna market.


The Island

A prime objective of the Borneo trip was to breathe in enough fresh sea air to pinken our metropolitan lungs. After a long icy night bus ride from Kota Kinabalu, we arrived in the port town of Semporna. From there, it's only a short boat trip to Pulau Mabul, a tiny island in the Celebes Sea.

Mabul and Sipadan, a sister island a kilometre away, are rated as one of the world's best dive sites. Now it should be no surprise that we prairie folk who can barely swim have never had any desire to enter the unknown world under the sea. We did, however, have the great fortune to meet Kelly, Australian divemaster and fantastic teacher, who persuaded us to take the introductory PADI course. We liked it so much we dived two more times, and saw a school of barracuda, giant grouper, crocodile fish, trumpet fish, and the coup de grace, giant sea turtles.

After diving, we spent the rest of our time on Mabul snorkelling, sitting on the beach, and enjoying cold beer as the sun set with a host of colourful characters from all over the world.


Small house with ocean view

Drawing on the experience of stretching our Kyoto trip into two months of blog posts, here's the first of many photos of Borneo. Before we left, we had high hopes of soaking up the sun, lounging in the sand, swimming with turtles, frolicking with orangutans, hiking in the National Parks, meeting interesting people, and eating fantastic food. All we anticipated came to fruition, and there's photographic evidence of much of it, so prepare yourselves...