Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Flying Monkey Goes to Korea

Not in Kansas anymore
(The next installment of my "Flying Monkey Goes To ..." Series!) My raison d'etre is to accumulate as many little (and big) adventures as possible in my life before kicking the bucket. I suppose even I could get tired of that sort of thing if I had unlimited time and money at my disposal, but happily my time is limited on this Earth and some - well, a lot, of that precious time must be traded for money to pay for adventures, so I'm unlikely to get tired of it, and it makes every adventure that much more special.

I am fortunate that occasionally my w**k sends me travelling about to places I have never been. I do not have a non-job, so w*rk is still w*rk and still eats up my time, but most of the money associated with a new adventure is not coming out of my pocket. What a deal!


Mt. Lamlam, Guam

This particular trip is a looooong one, and my first stop was Guam. The company I work for has just opened a new office with a couple of employees there and a huge amount of work. This is my third trip there, and the previous trip/job allowed me to explore the entire island from one end to the other. It is much like Hawaii with warm temperatures, similar East to Northeast tradewinds, and volcanic mountains on the southern half of the island. There is some okay diving to be done there, but like Hawaii, nothing as spectacular as many other places have. I have found a couple of places where it would be possible to launch and maybe even soar a bit, but the island is just all wrong for flying. It lies northeast to southwest, so only the limestone cliffs on the northeastern end face the prevailing winds, but the whole northern part of the island is Andersen Air Force Base - not exactly paraglider friendly. The southern part of the island kinks a bit so there is a fair bit of shore that faces due east and there are some nice mountains there, but they are on the western side and only gradually roll down to the eastern shore and never present a nice ridge-soaring face. Mt. Lamlam is the highest peak on the island, and as you can see from the picture, looks like it would be a cool place to fly. Alas, the picture is the western face and the wind never comes from there.

I had my glider with me, but gave up on any desperate attempts to get airborne for even a short flight: it is rainy season now and that is similar to those days at Kahana when there is a parade of squalls marching in from Molokai, except that the squalls here are about the size of the whole island and have some rather intimidating vertical development.

While I enjoy working with my coworkers on Guam, there are no Flying Monkeys here, and the place is a gastronomic zero, and not much else to do so after a month I was quite ready to continue on to my next destination: Korea! I had mixed feelings about going there: I've met very few Koreans that I liked up to this point, I'd heard that Korea is spelled with a K because it is really KOLD in the winter, and that it is a country where Nobody speaks any English, or for that matter anything else that I can understand. But, what the heck, that's what adventure is all about!

After leaving Guam at an ungodly hour in the morning I arrived in Busan, the second largest city in Korea and at the southern end of the country by 9:00 in the morning. This was good since my w*rk was to take me to a town called Jinhae and I hadn't the foggiest idea how to get there and only a vague idea of where it was even after spending a considerable amount of time fruitlessly searching the internet before I even left Hawaii. Of course, my bag was the last one to come off the plane, and by the time I got it, the small domestic terminal was completely deserted. After rearranging the luggage so that I could carry it in or on my glider harness/bag a shifty looking taxi driver approached me trying to get a fare. Not to stereotype, but Koreans are typically in your face aggressive, and this guy was no exception - and I really dislike taxis anyways. The guy understood maybe two dozen words of English, but "No" was not one of them and he just kept following me around. So with this unwanted tail I was off to my first order of business: find an ATM as I wasn't going anywhere without some Won (Korean money). I found one, but alas it was all in completely indecipherable Korean. The taxi driver offered to help... yeah, right - I didn't just fall off the kimchee truck! On the other hand, it was looking like it wasn't going to be that easy for me to find my own way to Jinhae, so I started haggling with him till the price was down to about $50, half of his original price. Since I once had to pay the same amount to go about 5 miles in Honolulu, I figured I could I could live with that, if he would take me to the International terminal where I hoped to have better luck getting some money. Same kind of ATM there, but the young girl working at the adjacent bank spoke some English and showed me that you could switch it to English - if you could read a certain Korean labeled button. Go figure!

Koreans are also aggressive drivers, but are orderly and mostly follow the rules. Taxi drivers and bus drivers there however, are downright suicidal and ignore all the rules and it was only dumb luck that I arrived in Jinhae in one piece.


The town of Jinhae

Windlines is a family site, so I will abstain from saying anything about w*rk. Fast-forward a week during which I saw little outside of the US Navy Base, and I was ready to do some exploring. Jinhae is on The Southern coast of Korea and is complete surrounded by a couple of mountain ridges to the north, east and west and the sea to the south. Mountains facing the sea? This needs to be investigated, so I went on a long 8 hr. hike to get up to the top of the ridge and follow it all the way to the other end. The mountain was steep and quite a grind to get to the top along a deserted trail, but when I got to the top I was shocked to see about two dozen Koreans up there. It turns out that hiking is quite popular in Korea, and there were a few old guys that left me in the dust.

I, of course, had flying on my mind, and in the back of my mind was evaluating everything I saw as a potential launch. In the winter in Korea, the prevailing wind is from the northwest, but this day was L&V and there were some very nice feeling cycles coming up the south facing side of the ridge that had me jonesing to fly. Korea has about 10000 paraglide pilots in a country only 1/4 the size of California, but nobody flies in Jinhae.

In need of some midnight gardening here
Jinhae is famous for its Cherry Blossom festival in the spring when it draws about one million tourists. This also means there are cherry trees planted EVERYWHERE, including every likely launch spot on that ridge. Nonetheless, I saw a few spots where I could have gotten off with some fancy Alex-style kiting. Landing is another matter though: Korea is very mountainous so it looks a lot like Japan in that all the flat spots a covered with buildings. In the picture of Jinhae above, you can see some open areas at the foot of the mountains, but these are all small farmers fields full of stakes and fences - looks great from the air, but very unappealing on approach. The other open areas you can see closer to the ocean are all on the largest South Korean Navy base - also not a very good place to land.

Not much of an LZ on the back side either

The following week a coworker arrived from Hawaii to help with the w*rk, and so I showed her some of the sights I had already seen around town.


Jinhae Jugang market

Every town has something called the "Jugang market" - sort of a very large farmers market where you can find all sorts of stuff that Koreans consider food. Even after seeing all that, she was still keen on trying some Korean food. I'd already been there and done that, but I guess she needed to find out for herself.
There more restaurants than you can shake a stick at, but real Korean food is all the same: start with some milky white water (I think it’s what was used to wash the rice) add in a large quantity of crushed chili pepper, then throw in whatever else is lying around, no matter what since it all just tastes like chili. This is then surrounded by various vegetables that used to be some other color but are now red from even more chili. Leftovers are used to strip paint. If you buy chili in Hawaii you get a little bag about the size of your hand, in Korea it is sold in those "Lawn & Leaf" sized plastic bags.


What's hiding under these veggies?


Korean size serving of chili

The weekend was set aside for another adventure: leave the by now somewhat familiar environs of Jinhae to go see something else and hopefully not get lost. With some rather sparse information and a map in hand, we made our way by bus to a city called Geongju, about 3 hours away. The place is known for numerous temples and a grotto with Korea's largest Budda. There was also a sex museum, but we did not have time to find it and see what on earth would be in such a place, and no, it’s not just a Korean misspelling of wax museum.


Budda in the Grotto


Budda's bodyguard

My coworker was headed back to Hawaii by the following weekend, and I had set my sights on getting to fly somewhere. This was going to be a bit more difficult that mere sightseeing. On paraglidingforum I discovered that there seems to be one pilot in all of Korea that can speak English, so I got in touch with him via e-mail to see what I could find out. He told me that winter is actually good flying in Korea as thermal activity is nice and mellow, but not that many go out since it's so COLD. He lives in Osan, near Seoul at the northern end of the country where the weather was generally poorer that where I was and that he was thinking of coming down around Christmas for some flying. That didn't work out, but he also gave me the name of his instructor who was in Ulsan, much closer to me and supposedly spoke some broken English.


Signs everywhere, just read 'em

His name was Mr. Lee and I got in touch with him via email and he said he would meet me at this hotel parking lot where he usually meets his students and even sent me some GPS coordinates so that I could find it on a map. Korea has a very extensive public bus network if you can just figure out how to use it. Sometimes signs and maps have some names on them in English, and sometimes they don't, do you feel lucky?

I left my room at 5:30 in the morning and made it to Ulsan and after an hour walk arrived at this hotel well in advance of our 10:00 meeting time. But the Mr. Lee showed up about 20 min early with one of his students, Leo, in tow.


Hope I don't get on the wrong one of these

And oh joy, Leo's English was relatively good! Leo was out to go for his 5th flight and I got to go along, awesome. Apparently there were no suitable sites near Ulsan for the wind conditions so we drove to the city of Cheongju, about 50 KM away and in the middle of the country. It is also near Daegu, the third largest city in Korea, and a lot of pilots from there were in attendance. It was a rather hazy day with some weak cycles coming from way off to the side of launch so I expected that if you could manage the launch, it would just be a sled ride to an LZ next to a river barely visible in the distance through the haze. But, when the first wind dummy went off, he was able to stay up for a while! We got Leo off an headed towards the LZ and then it was my turn. Fortunately, I still remembered how to launch and was able to climb out to 2-300 ft over launch but then lost it when the cycle died. The next one came in time to get up again, but this went on for about 15 minutes without ever getting anything that would take me any higher until it all died and I decided it would be prudent to head for the LZ rather that scratch around losing more altitude.


Parawaiting, Korean style at Cheongju

It was a good call since even though there was a ridge to follow all the way down, it was all very sinky. By the time we got back up to launch a lot more people had showed up but conditions had improved only slightly. Some were staying up, some were not but nobody was getting much higher than I had gotten earlier. There was a guy flying the new Gin 2-liner that was making some amazing saves from down low, but that thing was just wiggling around all over the place. By the time I launched there were about 50 gliders in the air. Although I was told that you could fly all the way back to Ulsan from there, it wasn't going to happen that day and it was really crowded around the launch with gliders flying every which way in disorganized lift. I finally managed to climb to the top of that mess for a little while and some breathing space, but shortly thereafter I took a 60% collapse and was well below launch before I got it sorted out. Where the hell did that come from, and why me? I saw no other collapses, not even the wiggle-glider! I was in no mood to be scratching about only a couple hundred feet off the ground if there were any more of those sharks in the air, so I headed off down the ridge towards the LZ. The ridge was working by now so I extend the ride for a bit. It was about 3:30 by now and things were starting to shut down, so I treated Mr. Lee and Leo to another lunch of paint stripper, and then he was nice enough to drop me off at the bus station.


Apres-vol Lunch

I took the shorter way back to Jinhae, which wound up taking a lot longer and made it back "home" by 9:00. The flying site was rather ugly, kind of like Marshall, I spent over 15 hours of travelling to get maybe an hour for airtime, so was it worth it? For the airtime, no, but for the adventure of travelling around a rather intimidating place and meeting some pilots from a far corner of the world, ABSOLUTELY!


Apres-vol Lunch


Ka'a'awa Larry said...

Very nice write-up. Berndt. Confirms my desire to not visit Korea. You've described pretty much what I have heard from others.

Where's your next stop? I'm up for an adventure to some far-flung (flying) destination but haven't quite decided on where. Maybe NZ or OZ???

Thanks for the travelogue, come home soon.

firedave2 said...

Great write up Berndt. Sure you could have flown on a more epic day, and guys would be itching to go. They say the flying there can be great.
But some of the best experiences happen when you are set on flying, surfing or biking in some strange place and you see things that you would never see just being a tourist.

What is the saying, it is not the destination, it is the journey. Great Stuff.

Thom said...

Thanks for the novel of your adventures. it was a 3 cup a coffee read. You don't want to be around me after 3 cups of coffee.

When you come back I have more W**k for you. could not figure out how to edit the directory. I am computer illiterate and will have to write the directions down.

Look forward to seeing you back...when is that exactly again?

Keep us posted on your future adventures.

sandy said...

Thanks for taking us along with your on your travels and adventures! My parents lived on Guam for about 3 years, and from their description, I thought it was all flat with no wind (except for the typhoons) -- darn land lubbers. Part of me wants to make such ventures, but the other part (probably the part that is aging) is chicken. It's good know folks with the spirit to go forth. You inspire me.

Looks like a chilly day in Korea today with 28 deg. F. Stay warm! Looking forward to more installments (hopefully the co. will send you somewhere warmer soon, or next time wait for summer to send you to Korea.) Aloha.

Waianae Jim said...

Thanks for the great write up Berndt! For me your tale brought back memories of my 2 years stationed on a Navy ship in Guam (not all of it was bad mind you). My ship also visited Jinhae as a port of call when on "cruise". I have more fond memories from there since I enjoyed all that chili riddled food Koreans make, but you did leave out the prolific amount of Soju tents there where one could kill numerous defenseless weak brain cells in one sitting, and if you like sweet drinks Peach Oscar is tasty stuff. I ate a few unidentifiable things in those tents too. Our "cruise" usually arrived in Jinhae right around cherry blossom festival time in spring. Fun flashback!