Thursday, April 12, 2007

2007 Korea by Bike

(Scroll down for part one and part two)

Waiting for the sunset.

Waiting for the sunset, too.


First you choose your fish or gross-looking creature of the sea.

Then they cut it up for you, and you take it across the alley to the restaurant...

Then you eat it raw.

The next day we returned to the south of the Tongyeong, and asked this guy, who charters weekend fishers, to take us to an island. Just pick a cool one, we said, and he shrugged, "Just tell me to stop at an island that looks good to you."

We nearly stopped at a couple, but were glad we waited because this one looked good.

The bow had a big tire on it, so he could just drop people who wanted to fish off on rocks, leave them there for the day, and pick them up later.

We stood on the rock and said good bye to the charter man, who shrugged and said "Call me on your handphone when you want me to pick you up."

There was no path really from the rocks inland.

Right when we got to a path, we found an old deserted school house. Most of the islands around there have dwindling populations. The young married couples go away to cities for the kids education and never move back. So, no need for this school anymore...

All overgrown.


The pedestal says "Books are the food of my soul".



This is where the principal or class president would stand and address the kids.

We'd been talking about Wonder Woman, which was Shinhye's favorite TV show as a kid. So, she suddenly.

There where lots of tumble-downs around the island. And no kids to take advantage of them with a day of swords.

We walked down the path until we came to the little village.


It looked like Corfu, but felt slower.

We met the women who hang out in front of the shop.

They didn't want their pictures took, but Shinhye charmed them, and they relented.

The woman in the purple vest really didn't want her picture took, however, and so she hid behind her friend's chair.

There were many old, traditional Korean houses that were deserted.

Some were amazing (click to make bigger). But I think they forgot to tape the parts they didn't want the paint to drip on...

And others really well painted and kept up.

This little fellar followed us, then ran away whenever we got close, then turned around, looked at us and, much to our surprise, said "You kids ain't from round here, are ya?"

You can dry your fish next to your whites.

When we asked the old women if there was anything to see on the island, they all said "no", except one who said "Well, they built some stairs to a beach on the other side some years back." So we went to this great beach, that looks like no one remembers. There was even a forgotten rubber dingy that was happy to see us.

The water's cut through the rocks, making little canals.

Looking disappointed cause it was still way too cold to swim. But we'll go back in June.


I really wanted to swim.


It's a fake smile that means "If you rock the boat and I fall in, I'll kill you."

Hello little dude. Actually, their little eyes are positively satanic.

Et in Arcadia ego. As mom would say, not enough lions.

The mud walls don't last long if not kept up.

This is when we started wondering, if all the houses are deserted, how much it would cost to buy one...

Cause you could retire in a worse spot.

The guy who chartered our boat, told us to call whenever. We sat in the harbor contemplating not calling him at all, watching this fisherman tie up his boat, having a beer, when he, the charter man, drove up.

Oh, and there where some sand dollars just sitting on the dock.

Goodbye, little island. See you soon!


In Masan, his bar is named after a famous, suicided Korean folk singer (Kim Kwang-suk) who was adored by the 80s student protesters. (I never got why the students turned him into a symbol of protest, because his music wasn't political or, it must be said, very good. Mostly slow weepers. But then they were good for song circles maybe.) So I thought it was time for a little something.

In the bar, I met this table of kids, only two of whom knew who Kim Ju-yul was. The owner (playing guitar) did of course. We stayed late, singing songs and drinking, and I experimented with gravity on the way to the hotel.

I went to the official 3.15.1960 memorial.

Kim Ju-yul's mom.

I couldn't get a good shot, but these displays were really cool. Check out the little molotovers on the bridge.

Behold the font.

After the Masan, the protests spread across the country, climaxing in a huge one in Seoul, unprecedented in (not "by", right?) the participation of hundreds of university professors. Rhee Syngman quit and moved to Hawaii. Korea had a few months of increasingly more chaotic democracy (the protesters became righteous and cocky, and had demonstrations whenever they didn't like something, which was often. The politicians became scared of them, and the country started becoming worse off, maybe, than it had been under the corrupt Rhee regime) So Park committed coup, in 1961, and remained in power until he was assassinated by his security chief in 1979. Democracy wasn't gained until 1987 (some say it wasn't till the 90s).

It's kind of predictable that all the memorials to the various people's revolutions in Korea are always either very abstract, or Socialist Realist. Still moving though.

A shrine to some of those killed.

Including Kim Ju-yul.

Here's a song called "Friend" by a real protest singer, Kim Min-gi (김민기), who spent years in hiding, and now runs a successful theater (as in plays). Excuse my bad translation...

If rain falls
on the deep green shore
How can one tell sky from sea?

If one sinks slowly
into that deep sea
What is life and what is death?

I see my friend
his face rises,
flickering above the scattering leaves

I hear my friend
his distant voice calling
Only the running wheels of the train reply

(There's more about Kim Ju-yul in the first post, for context)

The graves of some of the victims. But wait, what's that in the tent on the top of the hill?

Can it be...?

Yes, that's right. Above the graves, overlooking the memorial, they constructed an outdoor gym. So I had a go.

Outside the memorial, a little Righteous Korean makes his mark in support of the Chosen People. I got your back, little man. Shalom haver.

The beer factory at the foot of the 3.15 memorial. Very pretty (I'm serious). I rode my bike all around the big factory, unmolested. I would have, however, preferred to have been offered a sample.

Mmmm, beer.

On the way from Masan to the cute little town of Jinhae ("Welcome to Jin Hae" sign courtesy of Lion's Club International, which Hamas in their charter reminds us is a Zionist conspiracy.)

In Korea, they heat the floor to heat the house. It's amazing. But when you stay in a really cheap hotel (the kind with shared bathrooms) this is what you find. The customers turn the heat on so high it burns the floor. In three days I couldn't get it to cool down.

Old friends, Mitchell and Dong-ju, came from Canada to Pusan for vacation, and I was able to spend one night drinking with Mitchell and only 30 minutes playing with their adorable kids. We were supposed to meet for longer, but alas...

Mitchell and DJ's son feeds me a cracker. He was very pleased with his ability to do so, and I ate many crackers.

A famous old coffee shop, formerly a hang out for artists and other miscreants, now a place for no customers at all. Sad, and probably to be sold soon.

Inside the cafe, a booth for the classic music playing DJ.

Umberto monkeying around.

Inside Black and White coffee shop.

Very quaint, European style post office.


Bike and nets.

I love these things (again, I'm serious).

Kim Shinhye came to Tongyeong to play.

The view of Tongyeong harbor -- "the Naples of Asia"? -- from our hotel.

Tong Yeong is famous for this kimbap, which keeps the rice separate from the squid and vegetables (they're usually wrapped up together) to avoid spoilage. Shinhye made us go to there everyday, sometimes twice a day. I have no say ever in where we eat.

Every "Tongyeong Kimbap" shop has a sign that says "The original". We asked the owner of the one we went to "Why does every shop say "The Original Tongyeong Kimbap"? "They're impostors", she told us.

When the Japanese invaded in the 16th century, Korea's most famous military man, Lee Soonshin, built a navy -- the Japanese controlled the land too well -- to take back the country. Included were these "Turtle Ships", the world's first and impressive, most impressive ironclads.

We took the ferry to Hansan Island, were Lee Soonshin waited and built a navy during the Japanese occupation.

On the island, there were no people and many wheelchairs, so I pushed Shinhye around for an hour. I'm just resting here.

As we were rollilng along on our rocking stroll along the harbor, there were suddenly loud marching footsteps behind us, and these guys clomped by.

Turns out it was actually Lee Soonshin's birthday, and these Navy officers and some kinda admiral came down to pay respects to the Man.

I shoulda lifted that briefcase by my feet. No doubt full of top secrets.

Very cute weeding women.

You read about it if you click on it.

Lee SoonShin's poem, while he waited and planned. Not a bad poem, too.

From where Lee SoonShin heard the shrill whistle.

The view of the harbor.

A map of the Battle. He sent out a decoy to lure the Japanese, then whamo, say hello to my turtle ships, sushi lovers!

Lookin' good.

Lookin' undeniably stoopid.

Tongyeong was the hometown of the avant garde composer Yoon Lee-sang (윤이상, usually spelled Isang Yun). Our hardworking friends at Wikipedia tell us (read the last couple paragraphs at least):

"Yun was born in Chungmu (now Tongyeong, South Korea) in 1917, the son of renowned poet Yun Ki-hyon. He began writing music at the age of 14, and began studying music formally two years later, in 1933. He studied at the Osaka Conservatory, and composition under Tomojiro Ikenouchi in Tokyo from 1938. After Japan entered World War II, he moved back to Korea and participated in the Korean independence movement. He was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese in 1943.

"After the war, he did welfare work, establishing an orphanage for war orphans, and teaching music in Tongyeong and Busan. After the armistice ceasing hostilities in the Korean War in 1953, he began teaching at the University of Seoul. He receive the Seoul City Culture Award in 1955, and traveled to Europe the following year to finish his musical studies.

"In Paris and Berlin, he studied contemporary music under Pierre Revel, Boris Blacher, Josef Rufer, and Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling. He attended International Summer Courses of Contemporary Music in Darmstadt, and began his career in Europe with premieres of his Five Pieces for Piano and Music for Seven Instruments. His music was recognized for its fusion of East Asian and Western classical musical traditions. The premiere of his oratorio Om mani padme hum in 1965 and Réak in 1966 gave him international renown.

"He first visited North Korea in 1963[1], and returned there several times after 1979, and promoted the idea of a joint concert featuring musicians from both Koreas, which finally took place in 1990. Yun settled in West Berlin in 1964, and, in 1967, became involved in the "East Berlin spy incident". On June 17, he was kidnapped by the South Korean secret police, along with his wife I Soo-ja and many Korean students in West Berlin. He was taken to Seoul, condemned for espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment. A worldwide petition led by Igor Stravinsky and Herbert von Karajan was presented to the South Korean government, signed by approximately 200 artists, including Luigi Dallapiccola, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Mauricio Kagel, Josef Keilbert, Otto Klemperer, György Ligeti, Arne Mellnas, Per Nørgård, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

"Yun I-sang was released and exiled in 1969, returning to West Berlin. He was not allowed to visit South Korea again."

After 1987, most of these so-called spies were rehabilitated, even celebrated, in South Korea.

Our map said there was a "Yoon Lee-sang Street" at the location of his childhood home. We went looking, and found this crappy old sign on the edge of a empty lot (you can click on the image above to enlarge).

We asked around helplessly at corner stores, trying to find the exact location of his house. Finally, we found the approximate spot, and this guy on the roof who kept trying to point out the location, but he wasn't talking, just pointing. So that's me looking around stupid going "Huh? Over here?"

I finally realized the location of the house was right under my nose. The rock base between the kids and I used to have a plaque on it that read "This was the location of Yoon Lee-sang's house." Someone, the old man told us, had knocked it off in the middle of the night. That was it, a forgotten rock base. Really sad.

While we were looking at it, these kids came up and asked us what we were doing, and we talked to them for awhile.

They told us they hated their "rotten" neighborhood, and asked us to by them candy. It was a pretty miserable neighborhood, but hopefully the park they're planning to build will cheer it up a bit. They adored Shinhye, and wouldn't stop playing with her hair. Meanwhile, they mocked in a way that recalls Elisha of old (Second Kings 2:23-24). No bears were forthcoming, however.

Turtle by night.

Viking ride on streets of the Naples of Asia!

Horsey ride, too!

We went for a walk around the south part of Tong Yeong Island to gape at the little islands that dot the south coast of Korea.

Our path was abruptly and rudely blocked by this sign - for military only, no entry. The hell with you, military!

Me with Islands. They looked so good we decided to go to one the next day.

At the bottom of the path there were trenches.

...and tattered decoy army men in the to trick the North Korean spies watching from their subs off the coast, and who I hope aren't reading this.

Deserted dugout.

More to come, comrades!



Buying necessary deodorant at a black market stand (it's unavailable in Korea - Koreans just don't stink like that).

Starting off.

Shinhye rode with me to the edge of the city. It was a long ride for her, and she quoted Sam: "If I take on more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been."

A middle-aged drum circle along the Han River, with inspiration from soju and makoli. (More talent here than in a Grateful Dead parking lot, that's for sure.) I kept waiting for the monster (괴물) to swoop down and drag a drummer of to its lair - you can't ride next to the river, let alone buy something at a riverside kiosk, without thinking about that movie.

Just outside of Seoul, there's a long strip of "theme" motels along the river.

Lonely, disappointed flags protesting the Korea/US FTA agreement across a desolate bridge(The agreement was signed last month, but still needs to be approved by the Parliment). The farmers will be the hardest hit, and this area is nothing but farms.

"Down with the Korea/US FTA!"

Last year on the same road, a little boy - 이성우 - helped me when I got lost by running aside my bike for more than an hour as he directed me to the correct road, and chatting along the way. This year I stopped by what I guessed, from the proximity to the country road I met him on, was his school. It was indeed, but he'd moved "to Incheon," one of his little friends said. "That's five hours by bus, but a looooong time by bike!"

When I rode into the school grounds, it was deserted except for one little boy who was playing in the dirt with his back turned to me. When I rode up beside him and said hi, he took one look at me, got up, and ran as fast as he could. When I talked to the teacher, and all the other kids came out, he finally came around too. He's the one I'm picking up.

The determined little flowers are slowly coming out, out of place if encouraging. 삼천리 강산에 새봄이 와요

I rarely see outdoor dogs treated well in Korea. They're either in nasty little cages like this with weeks of accumulated crap under them, or on ropes that are literally two feet long - rarely longer. These two had had a lot of open sores. Little lap dogs, on the other hand, are fawned over, clothed, carried around in purses, and dyed pink and green. Every time I see them I want to cut the leashes of the big ones, and drop kick the little ones.

In 1960, there was a rigged election to keep the president, Syngman Rhee, in power. A fairly small southern town, Masan, protested at the obviously phony results, and was crushed by the police. The amazing thing was the protest were led by students - high school and middle school kids poured out of their schools and marched through the streets. Among the slogans they chanted was "Where are our university brothers and sisters? Why have you deserted us?". Many of the students were killed. (Those are students in uniform in the picture.) The university students finally came out weeks later in Seoul, and from then continued to be the driving force for democracy in Korea.

After the initial protest ended, and while the government in Seoul was blaming the whole business on "Reds", one woman came to Masan to look for her son, Lee Ju-yul, who had been boarding in Masan while preparing for exams, and who had disappeared during the protests. She stayed for weeks, asking around, putting up posters, desperate for news.

The day after she returned to her village, a body floated up in the harbor, a tear gas canister in its eye. As people gathered around the body, they started yelling "It's Lee Ju-yul!". The cops, who'd tied a stone to it and dumped it into the ocean weeks before, took the body for an ostensible autopsy. But the outraged city, again led by the younger students and pushed to the edge with the news of Lee Yu-yul's decomposing corpse, took to the streets once more, this time outside the morgue and the police station. The first round of protests had simply not been enough, and as the news of the Masan demonstrations grew, other protests spread across the country, eventually leading Rhee Syngman to resign and flee to Hawaii. / I sat with an old man on the 46th anniversary of the day they found Lee Ju-yul's body. As they were giving speeches, he turned to me and, clutching the anniversary pamphlet in his hands, said, "You know, Lee Ju-yul is our symbol for the struggle for democracy in Korea." We had been talking together about Lee Ju-yul for an hour, and he knew I knew who Lee Ju-yul was. It seemed like he just wanted someone, a foreigner maybe, to get it, to confirm it by saying it.

A small shrine, next to the spot where his body was found. It took me an hour to find it; sadly but not surpisingly no one actually knew where it was. I had planned to arrive in Masan to be there for the anniversary of the day his body was found, and was surprised to find a small ceremony of around a hundred people. The squigley lines on the top say 315 - March 15, the day of the rigged elections and the first protests.

The approximate spot, but the land has been reclaimed. The shrine is in the parking lot of a port warehouse and an industrial complex.

Someone seemed to have hopped the fence the night before and had a little ceremony - they left their dixie cup candle holders, melted wax, and an offering of fruit.

There were a handful of speeches, none of which I could follow.

I wasn't the only one to ride my bike there; these guys put flags on to commemorate the anniversary.

Not far away is the 4.19 탑 - a small monument and park to the April 19th Revolution (the original elections and demonstrations were on March 15th, Lee Ju-yul's body was found on April 11th, and the Final, huge demonstrations in Seoul were on April 19th).

Those are kids in their school uniforms, and an older man.

Behind the monument, some old guys drink soju and makoli at noon, and, it's pretty to think, contemplate their long struggle for democracy and freedom, but probably not. I meet a professor at the ceremony who participated in both the early Masan protests, and then weeks later the demonstrations in Seoul that brought down the Rhee goverment. He said, "We had a tragic history." When I tried to spin it with, "Ah, but you won," he looked at me and said "Isn't Korea still divided?"