Monday, July 30, 2007

Mudfest and Paintball

Every year on the west coast of Korea in a small town called Boryeong, there is a mud festival. For any warm blooded English teacher, the equation is simple: Beach + Mud + Beer = Yes, I will be attending.

For $70 we took a package that included transport, dinner and accommodation. The bus ride took us about 8 hours, so it was good to finally arrive. Boryeong itself is a nice little place, reminding me of Victor Harbour in Australia. The main beach stretches for about 4 kilometres.

Boryeong mud is a very fine and grey silt mix that is supposedly good for the skin. So the first step was to lather up from head to toe. The second step was to politely apply mud to spots that others had missed. The third step was a little less clear, but seemed to involve mud flying through the air and occasionally getting pelted by said mud.

Some photogenic Koreans getting in on the fun. The mud is actually pumped from the seabed and transported to the beach area. Council workers hand out buckets of it for free during the day. Photo: Jef Robison

The mud festival is well known in English teaching circles and about half the crowd were expats. Addition of mud made it more difficult to distinguish friends and strangers.

The Busan crew posing for a calendar shot. It is a surprisingly refreshing feeling to realise that there is a point when you can't get any muddier.

Here's me and Jef after working in the coal mines. Yes, I'm the one holding the balloon. As the mud began to dry, it started caking off and crumbling. Eventually even making small facial expressions resulted in little clumps falling off. It kind of felt like you were a statue magically brought to life.

By the end of the day there were a lot of people on the beach. Sailboats were out in the harbour and the odd jet ski about. The mud acted as good sun protection too. One of the strange things my American compadres were keen on was sunbathing. In Australia it's not so popular because we don't have much ozone.

Our accommodation was in a minbak, which are common family-run cheap rooms similar to a hostel. You basically get sleeping space, a community toilet and a cold shower room. It's tolerable for an overnight stay in summer.

Here are the facilities from the inside. There were about 50 of us that came on two buses from Busan and Daegu.

As night fell, people began to gather around the main stage on the beach for a concert. Those orderly policemen in the yellow shirts just seemed to be standing there for no reason, other than to look like an orderly line of yellow-shirted policemen. Males in Korea have to do military service at around 22 years old and many of them opt to do it in the police force.

Some of the cloud patterns toward dusk, which were prettier in real life. Altocumulus I believe.

The ladies organising the tour cooked a big meal, mainly consisting of barbecued bacon. When I first came to Korea, I remember being surprised at how much fatty bacon is eaten here. These days I just eat it and think about other stuff, like how difficult it is to find a good sandwich.

The concert at night seemed to have some famous people involved, evidenced by private security escorts for the singers. The front area was too crowded, so we spent most of the night on other areas of the beach, drinking and enjoying the warm air.

The next day I woke up a little late and had a lazy tour of the day's activities. This setup was near the main road and was attracting a crowd. From what I could deduce, landing on the floating yellow cushion without falling off resulted in a prize.

All in all, it was a good weekend away. This curious pattern you can see on the sand is common on Korean beaches and is caused by water that slowly emerges from the sand and makes its way into the ocean. I'm pretty sure that it's fresh water, seeping out of the water table which would be higher than sea level after a lot of rain. I guess Australia never gets enough rainfall for that to happen.

The next weekend we went paintballing down at Seongjeong beach. A bunch of us met up in Jangsan and got suited up in army fatigues. I'd done it a few times in Australia already and it's a lot of fun.
Me and John showing off our gear. I guess my team was the UN. In Korea, insurance isn't compulsory so it's a little cheaper to play. If you've never been paintballing before, it's something worth thinking about. The guns use a CO2 canister to shoot out pellets of paint that break on contact. They can shoot about 30 metres accurately and leave a nice bruise if you're hit at close range.

Tino and Sebastien are two German exchange students we met at Katie's birthday. They're here studying biotechnology, would you believe. So that kinda got me thinking that maybe I could continue with that career here. It's an idea I'll explore later in the year. After all, English teaching can only get you so far.

Pre-mission briefing. We had our own bases and mainly played 'Capture the Flag' type games. The whole playing field was a big jungle with piles of logs lying around.

Our blue helmets gave us a slight disadvantage in the jungle environment. So some of us created our own form of camouflage by sticking foliage in the air holes. It wasn't very effective, but it's a funny thing when a blue leafy helmeted person gets shot.

Running around the place in summer while wearing so much protective gear can get you very sticky. But it's never such a bad thing when everyone's dirty together. I call it 'The Mutual Hygiene Deficit Effect'.

Here we are after a victorious capturing-of-the-flag. I think I'm squatting down the front there. If only our students could see us like this...

And here we are back at the drop-off point, filthy, fatigued and flamboyantly fun-filled. One good afterthought I had at this point was to bring kneepads next time, because you tend to be kneeling and ducking a lot.

So after that, Sebastien had the brilliant idea of going to a chimchilbang, which are large public bath and sauna houses. A very nice way to get clean and relax, especially in the aromatherapy tub.

And after that we went to the D'Maris buffet in Jangsan. All you can eat seafood for $30. Needless to say, that basically left us falling asleep in our chairs.
Sometimes I feel bad for having such an easy life. What a good weekend out.

If you're a little bored with your life and have time to spare, why don't you think about a year in Korea? Ah, now I'm just rambling. See you next time.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Caribbean Bay

The scene below is from one of the hallways of U-Para in Haeundae. This franchise runs leisure centres around Korea, offering a huge variety of options to wind down. Primarily they're targeted at teenagers and children but there's also plenty of stuff for adults to do. You just come in, pay an entry fee of about $8 and most things are free or a small charge.

There's everything from bowling, pool and darts to massage chairs, karaoke rooms and music studios where you can play in your own band on real instruments.

Back in the day, I used to be a big fan of Timezone in Australia which were arcade gaming outlets. U-Para have an impressive range, including a lot of music machines I'd never seen before. You can play games that put you on electric guitars, turntables or traditional Korean drums. There's even a realistic railway train simulator (it was incredibly boring) and an unrealistic shovel tractor simulator (it was only slightly better). On the tractor simulator the objective is to shovel as much computerised sand onto the back of a truck in a given time frame. It was mildly surprising to find out how bland the earthmoving business can be.

Yup, you can even go fishing. You put in a deposit at the front desk and get handed a fishing rod and a plastic bag to put your catch in. The tanks were a little small but it didn't deter this guy, who seemed to be having a relaxing time.

And what exactly are you fishing for? Well, goldfish of course. This is another one of those crazy 'only in Korea' examples. When you catch them you can take them home or throw them back. I gave it a miss, but I watched the guy fishing for a while and the fish didn't seem to be biting. I guess they'd learned their lesson a few times in the past.

This is a scene from one of our occasional 'pot-lucks', where we gather at someone's house and each bring a dish of some sort. Here we're at Katie's apartment for her birthday. I usually make curries, which are rare in Korea and exceedingly difficult to find ingredients for. My curry powder was flown in from Malaysia by a friend and given to me last year. I'm using it sparingly. The other teachers like to cook Italian and Mexican recipes. These are also pretty much the only times when we drink red wine these days.

On the weekend we went up for a day at Caribbean Bay, near Seoul. We got up at 4:30am in the morning, took a 4 hour bus ride, spent the day there and came home before 9:30pm. It was a nice change but rather exhausting.

Caribbean Bay is Korea's largest waterpark. It covers an impressive expanse of land and is right next to Everland, another big amusement park. Entry fee is about $35, but we took a package that included transport from Busan for $80 which was pretty good value. This is the main artificial 'beach' area, where the water is lightly heated.

The park has surroundings with a lot of attention to detail, like this artificial waterfall. There's also Caribbean-style music playing from hidden areas behind the plants.

In the middle of the day, the main area starts to get pretty crowded. I've heard that the most popular beaches in Busan get worse than this in the summer. It was still enjoyable out in the deeper parts, but you do tend to get the occasional kick from passing swimmers.
An interesting quirk in Korean culture is that people generally don't apologise for accidentally bumping into you. On the subway you can get jostled around a lot and nobody will even make eye contact. It works both ways though, I've sometimes accidentally bumped into an old lady and turned around to apologise, only to find she's already on her merry way halfway down the street. I've started to get used to it.

One thing I also need to mention is that the main beach attraction is also a wave pool. At regular time intervals large hydraulic pumps create fairly large waves to excite the swimmers. It's a lot of fun. They can even make different styles of wave come out. Check out my video above. The first wave of the day was hilarious. A foghorn sounded, then everyone started screaming and more than a few people were bowled over in the ensuing chaos.

Winding its way around the park is this artificially flowing river. Water-pumps along the way drive it continuously in a clockwise direction no matter where you start. The current is strong but steady and if you grab something to float on it can be a relaxing way to tour the area. It even winds its way to the indoor section.

This outdoor jungle-gym feature has a lot of bells and whistles that invite further investigation. People on higher areas can direct jets of water onto the people below or fill up rotating buckets. Large mist sprays are periodically released into the air.

But the coolest thing is that the skull at the top is a huge bucket of water that is continuously filling up. Every 3 minutes a foghorn will sound and it will tip the entire contents onto the crowd below. It doesn't look as scary from here, but when you're standing under it, the weight of the water is surprisingly heavy and it gives you a cold shock. Julie was standing under it and it managed to pull out her earring.

Here's another view of that river we saw before. In this section the current speeds up a little and splits into different routes that you can choose.

There are also a few water slides around the place too. We went on one, but it took about 45 minutes to line up for, so we gave up on the rest. That steep orange one there is called The Bobsled and it's very fast, I think they clocked it at 80 km/hr.

Flow Riders are artificial surfing machines. A row of highly pressurized nozzles produce a 2 inch sheet of water over a rubber incline on which you can surf. In order to keep someone continuously afloat on such a thin film, it pumps out around 200,000 litres per minute.
I was impressed too.

Here's a video of someone on the machine, who has evidently had a little more practice than the average joe.

And here are the ladies who I spent the day with. On the left is Heather, then Emily (her sister) and Julie. It was Emily's idea to come out and see the waterpark. Good stuff.

This is my new card trick I was showing them. The ace switches suit really quickly and it's a regular deck of cards. Watch the ace after it gets flicked three times.
If you can't work it out, what's really happening is that I'm flicking one card behind the other very quickly.

We rented the hut closest for a reasonable fee and used it as a base. It was a really good idea and we even had a nap in it for a while. It was overlooking the wave pool and was a nice place to escape from all the hustle and bustle.

Well, if you've been following this blog since Day 1 you may realise that I started this merry little caper just about 1 year ago when I left Adelaide. I'll continue to blog whenever there are things interesting enough to talk about, which happens often enough in Korea. 'Quality before quantity' as someone somewhere once said.

It's been plenty of fun thus far and I hope the future will bring many new and interesting things to share with you all.