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South Korea. September - December 2001

We have floods, visit the world's most heavily militarised zone, get burgled for the first time in our lives, see our first Korean beach, GO TO JAPAN AGAIN, and dig in for an expected freeze as Winter approaches.


MASKS ON! Since the crap started flying on Sept 11th 2001, people everywhere have been handing out gas masks and blathering on about anthrax and chemical warfare, all the while ignoring the fact that one's more likely to be killed by a mad parcel-delivery biker than a fundamentalist lunatic. In fact, our local government office has announced gas mask handouts for all residents. So is this what's happening in the picture? Fat chance. It's just me doing my best Darth Vader impression during a game of paintball a few months ago in Northern Seoul. Luke - I am your father... KYLE IN PAINTBALL MASK
SUNDAY. FLOODY SUNDAY. The night of the 15th was wet, the wettest for almost 40 years. Korea was DRENCHED and then, for good measure, flooded. More than 40 people were killed or declared missing, presumed dead, and almost 12 000 households were trashed by rising waters or mudslides. The previous night we'd been strolling around looking for a place to get dinner - the next morning, the entire area had been buggered. Most buildings have basements in which people either live or operate businesses - basements which turned into swimming pools. Underground car parks were flooded and thousands of people were on the streets on Sunday, doing their best to salvage what they could and clean up the mess that the emergency pumps had revealed. Grotty. We were lucky, though. Our flat is on the first floor, and our building is up on a hill, so we didn't have any problems - unlike some people in the city who were amazed to see rising waters sweep about 200 cars down a freeway and deposit them in a huge pile on a bend. I suppose the anti-lock brakes didn't help much... NONHYEON FLOODS 2001

Laptop To Go

THE DOWNSIDE OF PORTABLE COMPUTERS. One Friday night in mid-September, we came home from an after-work dinner of takkalbi (Korean chicken grill) to discover that someone had made a meal of our flat. Our door had been crowbarred open and our notebook PC was gone, along with my ZIP drive and disks! We were lucky, though - that was the ONLY stuff that had been nicked. The rest of our things, including video cameras and cellphones, were all untouched. The cops were called, guns were drawn, and fingerprints were dusted for at 3am! Naturally, new locks and MORE anti-rascal features were added to our place promptly, but this didn't help to make up for the loss of all our pictures and things which were on my Zip drive. Oh well, at least we have this website, so we haven't lost ALL our pics.  And we can't get household insurance in Korea...


Visit To Chebu Island

One Saturday in September, I went off with a whole load of people from work for my first visit to a Korean beach. This is me on Chebu Island near the port city of Inchon on the West Coast (China is the next stop across the water). While the beach was certainly no great shakes, it was interesting for one reason: the tide goes out - WAY out! It reveals sandbanks which you can trudge along onto other previously inaccessible islets and outcrops - pretty much exactly what I've done in the picture...


The other interesting thing about Chebu Island's tidal outflows is the effect on local shipping. It's the only time I've ever seen an ocean-going trawler which would be more use if it were converted into a tractor.


HOME AWAY FROM HOME AWAY FROM HOME. We also made our first return visit to our first 'home' in Korea, the place where we used to stay when we worked here in 1998.  A very nice public holiday Wednesday was spent chewing the rag - and a mountain of our fave home-cooked yummies - with our former boss's family and friends. Our ex-boss is now a Mayor or something, and his wife Yun-Mi stays at home while he hobnobs and plays golf. Just as well, really, otherwise there'd've been no-one to fry up the tasties. Here she is on the far right, with her best friend 'Grace' and Grace's hubby 'James'. LAETITIA AND YUN-MI
CAUTION: HEAVY LOADS DELIVER US! Seoul's delivery bikes are a breed apart. Not only are they some of the biggest road machines we've ever seen strapped under a UPS package, but they're also probably the best-balanced. Well, they've GOT to be well-balanced, considering the massive loads they're sometimes seen wobbling around under. Here's a good example: we have seen at least half a dozen bikes carrying unfeasibly huge loads, but have never been able to photograph one - until now. This guy had put so much on his bike that he had to lean it against a tree to park it!
HELL'S ANGEL?. A cultural aside. Koreans have a love affair with monster bikes, but the only people who really make use of them are delivery blokes. Here, L. has stopped to check out what we'd assumed was a meeting of the local chapter of the Hell's Angels. Closer inspection revealed the truth: it was simply a way to allow someone to get their take-away kimchi a little faster... MONSTER BIKES.

Teas and Shes

On a recent Sunday, we visited the antique and art area of Insadong in Seoul. Delicious, chilled fruit punch was the order of the day at the Gyeong-In Traditional Teahouse. The place is overlooked by clusters of skyscrapers, but you'd hardly know it from the inside. The place is lovely, with a central area surrounded by other little art galleries and shops. After we'd finished our bowls of chilled watermelon, cinammon, and citron juice sprinkled with pine nuts, we strolled around the shopping street to check out the antique and other traditional-arty places in the area which was apparently also known as 'Mary's Alley' (no, I don't know why).  

There are lots of vendors selling trad-style snacks, including large, yellow, disc-shaped things on sticks which are made from of a melted sugar paste into which various shaped have been stamped with a biscuit cutter. The trick is to eat the thing without damaging these shapes. If you do so, you show them to the vendor and he gives you another one FREE! It's possible, but a LOT more difficult than it sounds. You'd get fat practicing this particular traditional skill, but it'd be fun.



FLATTERY GET YOU. EVERYWHERE. More than 1 in 4 Koreans lives or works in the greater Seoul area, so that gives the city a daytime population of about 18 million. Most Seoullites live in huge complexes like this one, which blanket the land in some areas as far as you can see. It's quite a sight - and site. These things are like dominos, stacked up against each other from horizon to horizon. Still, they're generally in decent nick and there aren't really any tenements or slums to see. We don't live in this kind of area, though. To refresh your memory on that front, click here.


It Gets Colder...


AUTUMN 2001. A beautiful time of year. and absolutely the right time to be going mad with the camera. As I did at Kyongbuk Palace one weekend...

WINTRY L ICE MAIDEN ? As the weather turns colder and temperatures sometimes plummet to nearly -20 C, we have to do the sensible thing and tog up accordingly. This is how L generally goes outside, complete with a huge teapot-like woollen 'beanie' which keeps her ears warm. Even us skinheads have to make allowances for the Siberian blasts, so I also have my own array of nice, warm, wollies.
ANOTHER FOREIGN WEDDING . Our family is dispersed across the planet in ways diverse and interesting, but they do manage to get together on occasion for - erm - occasions of note, and this one qualified rather nicely. Our youngest cousin Collette De Braal (from my Mother's side of the family) recently moved to London from Cape Town and got married to her long-time better half there. My brothers Ryan and Cade (on the far left and far right, respectively) went along for the fun and games in early November 2001.  AT COLLETTE'S WEDDING, LONDON

XMAS LUNCH. We spent our Christmas afternoon at a restaurant in our part of the city with a group of about 2 dozen friends and colleagues, mostly from Direct English. It was a super fusion of good vibes and familiar food, all topped with affordable champagne and other good things. It certainly beat splashing out $200 per person on a special Xmas lunch at a 5-star hotel, which is what some of them wanted to charge with a glaring absence of Festive cheer.

And after every party comes the return to work, as in Asia there is no such thing as Boxing Day or a Xmas break. On to 2002...


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