Friday, 2 March 2012

Candlestick Rock

The weather has been a source of frustration here since December. The days have been short and cold; the nights have been long and freezing. The snow hasn’t fully left the ground since the first snowfall back in December and the ability to do any outdoor activities (apart from maybe skiing) have been very slim, especially in the small town I live in. There have been intermittent things to do (the ice festival for instance) but for the most part winter has been spent curled up inside. Nathanael and I decided that we were going to go hiking this weekend and that we wouldn’t let the weather beat us any longer. However, I had forgotten that March 1st is a public holiday here in Korea, and yesterday (Thursday) we had a day off, yesterday the sun shone brightly.

It was Independence Declaration Day in Korea, or in other words ‘Fuck You Japan Day’. It marks the day of the earliest resistance towards the Japanese colonialists when 33 nationalists who formed the core of a resistance group known as the ‘Samil Movement’ read the Declaration of Korean Independence at a restaurant in Seoul, this sparked an array of protests throughout Seoul and the rest of Korea that would eventually lead to Korean Independence on May 24th 1949, after years of torture and oppression by the Japanese.

So we had a day off that we didn’t know about and decided to move our hike to Thursday. I’m glad we did. The sun was shining brightly on Thursday and it was incredibly warm compared to the cold we’d been experiencing recently. We were heading out to ‘Candlestick Rock’ which is approximately 7km outside of town. Deanna accompanied us and we set out at about 9:30am after figuring out exactly where we needed to go. It turns out it’s a pretty easy route to follow, you basically take one winding road through the mountains until you get to the rock.

There were several interesting things we found along the way. There were many dogs either tied up or running freely out in the open which provided several stop offs. The way some dogs are treated here is truly awful; they’ll be chained to fences or bound up in cages with only a few feet to move around. Whilst other dogs are running around in the roads seemingly having the whole world as their kennel. I guess that’s how you can distinguish between the ones that are dinner and the ones that are pets. It’s sad.

The first major stop off point was an old gazebo on top a high rock in the middle of a river, presumably and old mediation retreat for a Buddhist monk the gazebo was incredibly well preserved, probably because you could only get up to it if you could navigate your way up the rock. Nathanael found this very easy; he flung his arms and feet up and pulled himself up to the top. I took some time to follow but eventually made it to the top and we sat and had a snack and took in the scenery for a while. It’s pleasant living so close to such tranquil places.

Just down the road from the gazebo was a beautiful temple complex with temples literally carved into the mountains. To get to the top we had to climb up a frozen waterfall, but fear not, there were steps. Although, half way up and on the slipperiest section a dog ran onto the cliff face which freaked Deanna and I out a little, he was harmless though and followed us up to the top. There were thousands of little Buddhist sculptures and ornaments and the buildings cascaded up the whole side of the mountain. We looked inside some of the buildings and spent some time looking around and getting a feel for the place, which isn’t hard as the monks play out this old spiritual drumming and chanting through loudspeakers across the whole mountain. This place was a really good find.

The trail then escalated and it was uphill for the remainder of the journey to candlestick rock. The rock soars up into the sky and is clearly a landmark, however, there was absolutely no trail to it so we had to scramble over another frozen river to get to it. The river may have been frozen but it was super hot by now. Nathanael managed to scale half of the rock but said that it was too dangerous to climb the rest so we preceded down and climbed some easier rocks. Bruised and battered I felt accomplished, and I was glad that we hiked out to the rocks. I even invented a new extreme sport, I’ve decided to call it mountain surfing and it’s where you find a really steep dirt cliff face and slide down it from the top.

We headed home after about an hour of messing about on the rocks and admiring the view. We made it back into Sachang-ri just in time for some pizza on the roof before it got too cold. A successful day off if there ever was one and much better than sitting around at home. I have missed hiking over the winter and I plan to a lot more of it over the coming weeks and months, I really want to explore some of this area which we haven’t had a chance too yet, it seems like there is a lot to see around here.

It’s the first day of school today for the kids and as usual I’m in the dark. I haven’t got a new schedule so am assuming for now my schedule is going to stay the same. I haven’t been told whether I have classes today or if there are new textbooks. This makes it very hard to plan any lessons. So, as usual, I’ll just go with the flow and hope for the best. We have our opening ceremony at 10:30am. The homeroom teachers have all changed hands and there are two new teachers taking over. The old 2nd grade teacher is now teaching 1st grade, my co-teacher (the old 4th grade teacher) is now teaching 2nd grade (a rather odd decision), the new teachers are taking 3rd and 4th and 5th and 6th are staying the same. Very strange indeed. Alas, no matter what may have changed it is good to have the kids back in school. It’s good to hear them running down the corridors. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here at school. I just hope I won’t be left in the dark for much longer...

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