18 April 2004

A Rainy Day in the Southwest

A rainy day in the Southwest of Korea today, but as there really hasn't been any rain in Kwangju for a while, and the dust levels were still rather high, this is a welcome change. Of course, it had to rain on one of my travel days, but what's new. Took a drive to Damyang to try to hunt down a restaurant we saw on SBS this morning. Didn't find the restaurant in question until we had already given up and went to a different one. The county is known for its bamboo, and ironically when they replant bamboo in different areas, they use cut bamboo to support the transplants.

One thing that was reinforced today is the total lack of understanding or acceptance of traffic laws by most anyone in the country. Red lights, double-yellow lines, traffic lanes... few of these are really respected. It makes any type of driving an adventure, to say the least. On the mountains, with all the switchbacks, it is particularly hair raising, though they do have mirrors set up at the corners. Saw at least two accidents in the mountains, and that was before it really started to rain. Oh, a little later we were briefly stuck at a traffic signal as the truck about three vehicles ahead wasn't moving. Upon passing it, it looked like the driver had fallen asleep -- or died.

After Damyang we went to Buan (or Puan, but we wont get back into the spelling thing again, now will we...). Buan was the site of a little bit of controversy earlier this year, when the government decided to make it the site of the new nuclear waste dump. There were yellow anti-nuclear flags planted in nearly all the farmers' fields and at the shops, and entire streets had paintings on the buildings protesting the nuclear material and extolling the natural beauty of the area.

We spent an hour or so at the boardwalk (well, breakwater with some tents set up on it serving really fresh seafood and alcohol), wandering in the rain and admiring the bowls of baby octopus, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, etc. The area is typical of the coasts around here, with rocky hills jutting out of the water's edge.

This evening was a Samul Nori (well, a Poongmul Nori) at the Kwangju Arts and Culture Center. The group, Hanul Ddang, has been around since 1992 and have quite a stage show, including their own variation on the old farmers' song with found instruments like a tea kettle, a 3 gallon water jug and tin boxes. Being the sole Miguk in the audience guaranteed a little singling out -- so I was "invited" to learn to sing the songs and even had a moment of stage time to dance. What joy.

Well, after a long and eventful day, it is off to dreamland. On a side note, it appears Kim Jong Il is heading to Beijing a little earlier than even the Japanese predicted. If KBS can be believed, Kim is already on the slow-train to China. The timing explains in part the sudden cancellation of my North Korean trip, which was set and arranged for early May and then abruptly abandoned by the DPRK officials. Well, I guess I will only step into DPRK from the DMZ...

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