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22 Apr 2015

A busy weekend – This is coming a little (OK, a lot) later than expected, but I wanted to put up some photos from last weekend (not this past weekend, but the weekend before that—told you this was late), which was packed with various activities. I could have just as easily made this an Imagery gallery, but it started out more as a Journal entry with photos for color. Then I got the idea that some of the photos looked too small at the size I normally use here (probably a good sign that I should just increase the size of the photos), so I set up a separate folder with small and large versions of the photos. This means that you can click on them to get a larger version, like in the Imagery galleries. So I guess this is something of a hybrid that we’ve got here.

“Nothing earth-shattering, but a lot of fun was had.”

Anyway, the “weekend” actually began on Friday, when HJ and I went to Nami Island, a relatively small island in the northern Han River. It is a popular tourist (both foreign and domestic) destination, due in large part to the drama Winter Sonata, where it served as the backdrop for a date by the male and female leads. I haven’t actually seen Winter Sonata, and most likely never will—not only am I not a big fan of sappy Korean dramas, I also happen to really dislike the two leads.

HJ had always wanted to visit the island—not necessarily because of Winter Sonata, but because it’s supposed to be a nice place, and also because they have this:

We are standing here on a platform high out over the water, just off the southern shore of the river. Those wires you see above our heads lead to Nami Island in the distance, and we’re about to climb into harnesses and zip wire down. If I remember correctly, the distance is almost a kilometer. There is apparently another course that is shorter but zips along twice as quickly, but that one is only operated on the weekends. This one might not have been as fast, but it was still a lot of fun and definitely the most interesting way of getting to the island.

The harnesses were basically seats suspended from the wire—it wasn’t like we were hanging or even dangling over the water. In fact, it was quite comfortable, and the unobstructed view of the river and the island was great. It reminded me a little of paragliding, although not nearly as thrilling. Paragliding really felt like flying, but this felt more like... zipping? I don’t know, really. At any rate, it was fun.

As I mentioned above, the island itself is not too large. We wandered around for a while, walking the island from one end to the other. It was quite windy at the water’s edge, but this grassy area was fairly sheltered and had the advantage of blossoming cherry trees along one edge. A lot of people were out taking photos, including quite a few girls who had dressed to the nines apparently for the express purpose of having their photographs taken against the backdrop of the cherry trees. Seeing them stumble around the island in their dresses and stiletto heels was pretty amusing.

I guess this would be considered the center of “town” on the island. It had a “town square” sort of feel to it, at any rate. The building in the background had a shop in it, I think.

I have no idea what the deal with this huge bronze sculpture was, but it seemed to be very popular with photographers. I was obviously no exception. I saw one girl posing in the distance, mimicking the child’s pose, and I could tell that she had lined it up so it looked like she was suckling at the teat. That must have been an interesting photo.

This man here is grilling a Korean treat known as “hoddeok,” a sweet pancake filled with brown sugar and nuts (it’s actually originally a Chinese confection, I believe). Even though we were feeling a little peckish, I don’t think we would have normally stopped to buy hoddeok, but these were different—hoddeok normally aren’t grilled, they are cooked on a griddle like pancakes. These were obviously cooked on a griddle first, but cooking them over the coals gave them a nice smoky char that made them unlike any hoddeok I’ve ever had before. They were a novelty, but they were good. I’d have them again.

One of the many attractions on the island is the “Metasequoia Road,” a short path bounded by metasequoias on either side. I think it would have looked prettier had the trees had leaves, but it was still pretty impressive.

After wandering around for a while, we felt like we had exhausted all of our options on the island, and we headed for the ferry back to shore. Nami Island is nice, and I guess if you’re a young couple looking to have a romantic (if not exactly private) date, this would be a good place to go. But for an old (seasoned?) couple like us, the island didn’t hold that much charm. You can rent bicycles and cycle around the island—this is apparently something that the Winter Sonata protagonists had done—but the paths looked rather crowded with cyclists and pedestrians. As we were trying to figure out if we should try to find something else to do on the island, seeing as how we had driven all the way there from Seoul (it’s about an hour and a half by car), HJ confessed that she had really just wanted to sail down the zip wire. That settled it, and we decided to head back to Seoul.

The next day I paid a visit to Kevin, who is currently living up near Ilsan. (Kevin, of course, had a much more timely account of the event up in short order.) I went to Gangnam Station to meet mutual friend and partner in crime Tom for an express bus to the subway station nearest Kevin’s abode. Kevin met us there, and we took a “town” bus back to his place.

Here Kevin is getting ready to introduce the guest of honor, a healthy portion of pulled pork. I took this photo with my 30mm pancake lens, so it doesn’t give a wide-angle view of the apartment. It’s a studio, but Kevin’s made good use of the available space. I like how he used the clothes rack as both storage and partition, for example (the space on the left is a narrow “hallway” that leads to the bathroom).

At last, the pulled pork is out of the oven! While this was heating, I cut some rather thin buns I had made for the occasion and crisped them up in a frying pan with some homemade butter that Kevin had (literally) whipped up. To the right of the pulled pork you can see the edge of a pot—that’s filled with the pulled pork’s close friend, some good old franks and beans.

This is my first plate, with a cautious serving of pulled pork (compared to the mounds that both Kevin and Tom piled on) topped with cheese on my toasted buns, the very tasty franks and beans (kicked up with some red pepper flakes and other ingredients that I cannot remember at the moment), and the much-maligned cole slaw. The cole slaw, which Kevin based on a Bobby Flay recipe, wasn’t bad, but it really couldn’t catch any breaks going up against such strong competitors. Heck, it couldn’t even manage to sneak into the depth of field for this photo. (I guess maybe I should also admit at this point that cole slaw is not my favorite food to begin with. I don’t actively dislike it, but had Julia Childs herself returned from the dead to present me with her very best cole slaw on a silver platter, it still would have played second fiddle to that pulled pork.)

And that’s actually the end of the photos that I have from Kevin’s place. I do have some other photos, including one of Kevin and Tom in a rather compromising position, but we’re running a family program here, and I try to be careful about what I put online. Kevin and/or Tom might some day decide to run for office, and I don’t want to do anything rash that might hurt their chances. In fact, it might be best if I just stopped talking here. Suffice it to say that good food and good friends makes for good times. (I regret that I don’t have any photos of Tom, but it was hard to catch him with his pants on in a photogenic pose.)

Sunday was the final day of this busy weekend. Fittingly, after the feast of the day before, Sunday was a day of strenuous exercise. Three of HJ’s students came to our neighborhood, and we all climbed up Mt. Gwanak together.

Here we are after making the initial ascent to the ridgeline, itself a good workout, but nothing compared to the final assault on the peak. From left to right, that’s me, Tammy, Raph, and Guy.

Korean mountains in general tend to be very rocky (lots of granite outcroppings), but Mt. Gwanak is rocky even by Korean standards. I had gotten a little ahead of the pack, and I jumped up onto some rocks to the right of the trail and ran ahead to this point. When the rest of the team caught up, they stopped for a moment and I was able to snap this shot from above.

I’m something of a scrambler when it comes to mountains, in that I will scramble up any likely looking rock I come across. Both Raph and Guy were game as well, and once I started scrambling they joined me. Raph dubbed me a “mountain goat,” which was hopefully a reference to my surefootedness and not an oblique attempt to inform me that horns are starting to grow out of my head.

More rocky outcroppings! This may look like a fairly ordinary photo, but there is a heart-stopping story behind it. I had set up the camera on our small tripod, but just as I pressed the button and began to carefully pick my way toward the group, a gust of wind picked up and knocked the camera over. It went tumbling down the rock, but a guy who just happened to be passing by caught it. I thought for sure that the camera—and more importantly the lens—must have suffered some damage, but other than a few scuffs and nicks, it was fine. Even the hood was still intact. The lens, amazingly enough, was completely unscathed, at least from what I could see.

Rather than risking the tripod a second time, I asked the camera’s savior if he would take a photo of us. He obliged, and when I took a look at this photo on the screen I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief—the camera seemed no worse for the wear.

After this the going got even rougher, so I put the camera into my backpack and didn’t take it out until we had reached the top. Some day, when the weather is nice, I want to go back up with the express purpose of taking photos of some of the more challenging sections—because I think Mt. Gwanak, or at least the final “assault” on Yeojudae Peak, might be the steepest climb in the Seoul area. The weather that day wasn’t that great, though, as you can see from the photos, so I figured there was no point in having the camera out and risking another tumble. So here we are (well, not me, of course) after we had reached the top, standing in front of the rock that bears the mountain’s name and its elevation above sea level, 629 meters.

Here, Guy, Raph, and I pose for an 80s album cover next to the rock in the previous photo. We then found a place to sit down and had a snack before heading back down the mountain toward Seoul National University. The way down is not nearly as steep, but it’s still quite rocky, and I was glad to finally get down to the bottom, wobbly legs and all.

Lastly, this is a sort of epilogue to the weekend, taken a few days later. Kevin had ended up with extra pulled pork on Saturday and gave me a huge ziplock bag to take home. We actually had pulled pork quesadillas two nights last week; this one is from the second batch, which came out much prettier (the first batch I made with two whole tortillas, and they didn’t flip too well). I snapped this photo before we added any toppings so you can see the nice, crispy tortilla.

So that was my busy weekend, the weekend before last. Nothing earth-shattering, but a lot of fun was had, and it was nice to take a little break from the regular routine halfway through the semester.

(Oh, and it also happens to be my father’s birthday today. So let me just take this opportuntity to say, happy eleventy-first birthday, Dad!)

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