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5 Sep 2013

Wind and wave – The first week of the new semester is now over (I don’t have class on Friday). But I’m not going to talk about the new semester yet—I’m going to talk about something I did a week ago but haven’t had time to write about because of the aforementioned new semester (and other things). Believe me, this is far more exciting than anything I could write about the first week of the semester.

“Last Friday, HJ and I took our summer vacation.”

So, anyway, last Friday, HJ and I took our summer vacation. It was the last chance we were going to have to do anything before the semester started, and we decided to take advantage of it, since we hadn’t gone anywhere the entire summer. (Don’t feel too bad for us, though, as we did go to London in June... and, um, I will be posting photos and text about that at some point.) It was also a belated birthday present for HJ, whose birthday was in mid-August. Our original plan was to go somewhere for an overnight trip, but as it turned out there were things that needed to be done, so we shaved it down to a single day.

We spent that day largely in Yangpyeong, which I used to think was far away but is now only a single train ride from Hoegi Station to Asin Station, a journey of less than an hour. When we arrived at Asin Station, we were picked up in a small truck and driven to a mountain (Mt. Yumyeong—which is a homonym for “famous,” but actually means, roughly speaking, “Mountain of Light”). Normally we prefer to climb mountains ourselves, but on that day we weren’t as interested in the getting up part as we were in the getting down part. So we drove up the mountain in the truck, following a road that seemed to be little more than a dried-up stream bed most of the time and had a grade of nearly forty degrees in some places.

After a bumpy and occasionally harrowing ride, we arrived at a flat grassy area. We got out of the truck, put on some helmets and protective clothing, and strapped ourselves into bulky harnesses. After some brief instructions, our minders latched themselves onto us and together we all leaped off the side of the mountain.

Oh, did I mention that we were attached to parachutes? That’s a pretty important bit of information, I suppose.

This was our first activity of the day: paragliding. I honestly did not know what to expect, having never done anything like this before. I did get a little nervous once we were strapped into the chutes and I realized what we were going to be doing. And when HJ and her instructor ran down the shallow slope and shot off into the air, I think my heart leaped a bit. Then it was my turn. I couldn’t see what my instructor was doing behind me, but my task was simple: take a step forward, then rock back again, and then run like the entire North Korean army was chasing me (that was my internal motivation, at least). So that’s what I did. One step forward, rock back, then run run run and whoosh... I was in the air.

It’s hard to describe what it was like. One second I was running and the next second my feet left the ground and I was flying. It’s like the best possible ride you could imagine at an amusement park—but better. Let’s just say that I was laughing for the first thirty seconds after we left the ground. I couldn’t help myself.

Once we got some altitude, though, I was surprised at how peaceful it was. We were just floating through the air like we were sitting on a cloud. It was all so calm and relaxing—right up until my instructor said, “OK, time for spirals!” Before I could say anything, we started swinging back and forth, and then we begin whipping around in circles, like a pendulum gone wild with the chute as the fulcrum. My body was jammed into the harness and I could feel the blood start to drain from my brain. It’s basically what happens when you do a loop in a roller coaster, except for a lot longer. Just as I thought I might pass out, we came out of the spiral. The instructor asked if I was OK, and I swallowed hard and tried to give as cheerful a reply as possible.

After the spirals, everything went back to being peaceful, and we flew around for a while longer. I noticed that HJ and her instructor had ridden a thermal high up over the mountain—this was not part of the package that we chose, but when HJ told her instructor that this was her birthday present, he added a little extra. So I ended up landing first and watched as HJ came in behind us.

I didn’t time it, but I think the ride lasted somewhere around ten or fifteen minutes. It was a tremendous amount of fun, and afterward we even talked about taking courses so we could fly ourselves. I don’t think we will have time to do that this year, but it is something to keep in mind for the future.

Here is our “commemorative photo.” All of these photos, of course, were taken by the paragliding company and were part of the package.

Once we had downloaded the photos, my instructor drove us back to Asin Station. Actually, he drove us to near Asin Station, as we wanted to have lunch at a naengmyeon (cold noodles) place. The name of the area there is Okcheon (literally, “Jade Stream,” although a culturally-adaptive translation would be “Crystal Stream”) and it is famous for naengmyeon—as we drove by the village itself, my instructor said that there were at least a dozen in the tiny area.

Here HJ is getting ready to viciously massacre the poor noodles in preparation for consumption. It may look weird to use scissors on noodles, but how else are you going to cut them into manageable lengths? These are, of course, kitchen shears, and not just any set of scissors.

On the plate to the left is the rest of our lunch: four wanja (sort of like flattened, fried meatballs) and some thin-sliced pork. It was a filling meal, which is good because flying around works up an appetite.

After lunch we walked down to the river (the Namhan River, or South Han River) for the second event of the day. On the way, we passed an interesting sight...

Satan’s Stream! It was remarkably limpid for the stream of the Prince of Darkness, I must say. (Side rant: I don’t know why the Korean government insists on calling all waterways “rivers” in English. There are two different words in Korean; “gang” means “river” and “cheon” means “stream.” It’s not that hard.)

Here we are at our destination, the Namhan River Water Skiing... um, Place, I guess. If it were snow skiing, I would translate the word as “ski resort” or “ski slopes,” but here it’s just a river. Anyway, after our wakeboarding adventures three years ago, I had always wanted to get back in the wake, but the dissertation and other things got in the way. After my surgery earlier this summer, I was sure that we would miss yet another season, but we made it by the skin of our teeth.

Since we had just had lunch, we sat on the dock for a while to give ourselves time to digest. There were quite a few other people there—apparently this is a hangout of sorts, and most of the clientele seem to be women. I wonder if the buff, shirtless instructors have anything to do with that.

Here is a picture of HJ back in the saddle. I am posting this one as opposed to pictures of me because in every picture that HJ took of me I am gritting my teeth and look for all the world like I am having a horrible time. I did not have a horrible time—in fact, it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t necessarily a smooth run, but it was still fun. The water was very choppy, and I fell once because I had forgotten that when you dip the board a certain way the water rushes into your back foot. I failed to compensate and went down. Later I was attempting to go over the wake and ended up doing an (unintentional) butter slide on the wake before losing hold of the rope and slowly sinking into the water. In the end, thanks to the choppiness of the water and this being my first time in three years, I wasn’t able to do much except weave back and forth a bit inside the wake, but that’s more than I’ve been able to do for the past three years, so I was happy.

I don’t know what this dog’s name was, but he really liked being on the boat. And he was really friendly, too. When I sat down in the passenger’s seat for HJ’s run, he came right up to me and snuggled up underneath my arm. Very cute little dog, he was.

After our two runs we went back to the dock to plan what we were going to do next. Originally we had wanted to do another run, but the water was so rough that it almost didn’t seem worth it. In addition, a large group of students came in from a local high school (apparently they were being sponsored by the local Rotary Club), so the place got really busy. We stuck around for another half hour, but when it didn’t look like the water was going to get any calmer, we decided to head out. I don’t know if we’ll have time to get back out there before wakeboarding season ends at the end of September, but, if not, there’s always next year.

The rest of our day involved dinner and a movie back in Seoul, but that was not nearly as exciting as the first half of the day, so I’ll just end this entry here. Before I go, though, I will leave you with one final photo, which HJ says looks like a scene out of a movie.

I don’t know... I think it needs some sort of explosion in the background for me to be nonchalantly walking away from. But I suppose it will do.

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