Posts Tagged ‘hot’

Korea’s most famous beach, Haeundae has been noted for its impressive beauty for more than a thousand years. It is easy to understand why when you see that great curve of land meeting the ocean. And it is also easy to understand why this natural setting draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to its sea and sand.

As the beach is only walking distance from the bus, train and subway stations, getting to it is not a problem. Once there, Korean vendors flock around you in an attempt to extract your money in exchange for a beach parasol. In a way this is your ticket to public acceptance, as it is generally frowned upon if people do not rent a parasol when all they simply want to do is lie on a public beach. To avoid a constant barrage of hassling it’s best to pay the 5000w (£3) for a day’s rent. Once money has changed hands, you are led to an open plotted parasol area and given a beach mat as proof of payment. You are now part of the elite parasol club, stretching across the length and breadth of Haeundae Beach. It is most unlikely that during the summer months you will find a large unshaded space to call your own. In fact, the patch of land you rent is usually 2m² (6ft²).

Look! They're like ants!

Like most Asian countries, Korea is party to the manner in which personal boundaries and spatial awareness are severely reduced. Expect to share your space with several mats in a circle around your mat. With each one of these mats more than likely to be occupied by a family of five. A short walk to the sea’s edge leads to another dense gathering of people in the water. This is further heightened by lifeguard restrictions which limit bathers to swimming no more than 15metres away from the beach edge. The heat coupled with several thousand visitors results in a claustrophobic place to swim. Straying beyond the boundary of 15 metres has people shouting excitedly and the blowing of an official whistle. Almost immediately, a lifeguard on a jet-ski appears, nearly mangling you as you’re ushered back into the ‘safety zone’. In Korea there does not seem to be a market for swimwear, as people young and old brave the warm waters fully clothed. I’ve seen women leave their high heels sticking in the sand as they run in their casual clothes to immerse themselves in the water. It reminds me of those pictures of Victorian England where what was considered proper to be worn in the water could almost pass for everyday wear. But the jeans and top and tops worn by today’s Haeundae bathers don’t quite come up to the standards of the stylish bathing garments worn by the Victorian female bathers.

Retiring back to your parasol to dry off in the sun is more difficult than you might think. The retraction of your beach umbrella is usually not enough – unless the sun is directly overhead – as the surrounding brollies will be casting their shadows upon you. Luckily the all-pervasive heat quickly dries you.

I mentioned before in Death by fan that Koreans like to stay covered, this attitude continues on the beach even when the temperature is high.

Glancing around at your Korean neighbours you notice a devoted community that is not such a familiar sight in western culture. You’ll see families huddled closely together over a gas stove cooking ramen (noodles). A mother feeding her young with rice and paper-thin strips of processed seaweed. A young couple enjoying time alone from the grind of the day. A group of men having a shot of soju, a milder, sweeter version of vodka. People, fully clothed and drenched, returning from the sea to their unattended belongings. This settling picture is interrupted by a vendor selling beer and chicken with cries of ‘mekju, dak’ ‘mekju, dak’. Stopping by westerners and ensuring that they understand what tasty delights are on offer the cry is revised to ‘CHICK-EN, MEK-JU’. The seller with emphasis, speaking slowly and clearly as one does when speaking to foreigners. I find it hard to comprehend why someone would buy chicken from an unknown vendor who has been walking possibly for an infinite amount of time with chicken that is slowly cultivating salmonella in a 30C (90F) heat.

As the sun begins to dip over the horizon, a loudspeaker announces that the beach is now closed and people must refrain from swimming in the ocean. Failure to do so results in someone blowing a whistle and a jet-ski zooming threateningly close to your head, reminding you of your proper place. It is 6:30pm.

© John Brownlie 2010

I’ll just start by saying that I like the alliteration in the title, but as I am English I shall be referring to the sidewalk as pavement from now on.

Living in Korea you need to be aware at all times of your surroundings. For instance, an unlikely place for unforeseen danger is the pavement. It is not uncommon in Korea to be dodging people, objects and even vehicles whilst using it.

My initial introduction to the perilous pavements here was my foot colliding with the curb. It took several weeks before my body and mind became accustomed to the marginally higher pavements and I stopped tripping up at just about every encounter.

Something else you find is that regardless of the season, you can expect to be swerving to avoid hand-held shields against the weather. During the rainy season the streets are clogged with people rushing from place to place under the cover of an umbrella. It’s during these times that what would normally be an easy journey from A to B .becomes a case of weaving in and out, while ducking and diving between people. Even on bright summer days there is no break from the obstacle course. It’s then that women attempt to prevent the sunlight tarnishing their pale skin by promenading with parasols held aloft. Unfortunately, at just about eye-level for taller pedestrians.

Not only does the weather play a part in the disorder on the Korean pavements, but vehicles also join in the free-for-all. Aside from the random child riding a bike, the main problem is scooters. Do not be surprised when a scooter comes up behind you, beeping its horn commanding you to move. Most of the time the scooter drivers are just going about their business of delivering food by the quickest route. But no matter if they don’t mean to be threatening, it is always a nasty shock to have the front wheel of a scooter nipping at your heels. It can be frustrating coming from a country where all vehicles are expected to be on roads and failure to do so can equal a fine or at least a stern telling off. I try to deter people from driving on the pedestrian’s path by letting out a short high-pitched scream or yelp as they pass. So far I have yet to notice any easing in the amount of traffic seemingly aimed towards me, but it works well as a vent for my irritation.

Parking in Korea is conducted in a similar unregulated fashion. It is very much like a young child throwing down his toys when he’s finished with them. So it’s no surprise to see cars strewn across the pavements. On occasion the owner will be sleeping in the car, with the seat pushed back into the recline position. And, quite possibly, the recumbent driver’s foot will be sticking out of the window cooling in the breeze. The cars, like most stationary objects, do not pose too much of a problem, as you can simply walk around them. It is only when the cars burst into life and start moving down the pavement looking for a chance to be unleashed onto the roads. It’s then that you begin to feel that you are in some surreal dream with a demon car chasing after you.

As with everything, you begin to adapt to your surroundings. Those who don’t simply become a statistic. As you would suppose of such a forward- looking country as Korea, steps have been taken to combat some of these pitfalls and dangers. A constructive move in this direction is making the pavements much wider than those in the UK and many other countries. This thoughtfully makes maneuvering between people with umbrellas or parasols, a child on a bike, a car and a scooter much easier. But the most glaring question still remains: why not avoid the most dangerous feature of all by not allowing vehicles on the pavements?

© John Brownlie 2010