Last Day in Korea

This is probably my last post from Korea, although I intend to write more about it in due course one I’m home. Today has been another day like yesterday: strolling around this wonderful city, admiring the merging of old and new architecture, the stunning views and more excellent museums. If any of my readers ever come to Korea then I highly recommend a day or three in Seoul. Today we visited a hanok village (old traditional houses moved to a quiet location in what is basically a really peaceful park) and then walled across town to the Seoul history museum, on the good advice of Andrew Salmon, our tour guide from the Imjin.  Best fact learned today is that the traditional Korean houses seem to have been deliberately built in the shape of letters of the Korean alphabet.  Worst fact is that no matter how you search, Seoul is, like Sokcho, utterly devoid of both postcards and post boxes. Apologies to those who deserve and doubtless expected a postcard. We really have been looking!

We’re now back in the hotel after an early dinner of chicken galbi, which is basically chicken, cabbage and other veg that is marinated and then cooked on a gas burner at your table. And very nice it was too, quite apart from rounding the holiday off nicely, since it is the same as we had on our first night in Sokcho two weeks ago, as well as two years ago.

That’s about it from me for this trip. As I said, I intend to write more about Korea later by way of comment, but tomorrow morning is just get up and go so no more travel log until my next trip.  Many thanks to those who have read and commented on what I’ve written. Keeping the blog has helped me to order my thoughts and clear my head each day and if anybody has enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy reading about other people’s trips then that’s an added bonus. 

And so to bed.  ‘Night all.

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The Imjin Battlefield

Today has been a great day. Ever since I was last here I have wanted to visit the Imjin battlefield.  In April 1951 the British 29 Brigade faced a huge Chinese attack. They were outnumbered 7 to 1 and were trying to cover an area that should have been held by at least the times their own number.  If they failed to hold then Seoul would fall and two vital roads to the south would fall into Chinese hands, with potentially fatal consequences for UN forces throughout Korea.  They held for three nights and, while they were ultimately forced back with the loss or capture of almost a whole battalion in the Glosters, they broke the Chinese attack, effectively destroying an entire army.  Today we saw the battlefields under the expert guidance of Andrew Salmon.  Andrew is a Seoul-based journalist who has written two books on the British forces in Korea. Both are superb and I recommend them to everybody.  More than any other history book I have read, they bring home both the military situation and the personal experiences of soldiers and civilians in that terrible conflict.  “To The Last Round” deals with the Imjin and “Scorched Earth, Black Snow covers the previous year. 

I had contacted him for advice on visiting the battlefield and as it turns out he runs very reasonably priced tours.  This morning, therefore, he picked us up from the hotel and drove us up there.  It’s been a fascinating day, seeing all the major sites and hearing about the battle from a phenomenally knowledgeable man who is also a top notch bloke. He also took us for an excellent lunch at a little Korean restaurant, which included a run down of Korean drinks:
“There’s a rice spirit called soju: don’t touch that”
“Too late”
“Oh, you know soju? Do you want to get some of that?”
“Noooooooo”

We’re now back in the hotel after a lovely final dinner with scouse, Anita and Ralph. Tomorrow and Friday we’re going to have a little couple time in Seoul before heading back to real life.

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Gloster Crossing. The first point of contact with the enemy attack.  16 men destroyed a battalion-strength attack.

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Castle Site.  This hill had been used to defend the route south for centuries. The Chinese placed a machine gun in a bunker on the mound behind scouse.  Lt Curtis, already wounded, attacked it single-handed from where I am standing to take the picture. He was killed within seconds but managed to throw a grenade into the bunker, destroying the gun and saving the company.  He received the Victoria Cross, one of two Glosters so honoured for this battle.

Group Trip to Seoul

The plan for today was a group trip to Seorak-san, a national park near Sokcho. The weather was a bit grim so there was a quick change of plan and after much rapid packing we went to Seoul instead. Most people took the opportunity to take all their this and have started in Seoul tonight. We three, two Poles and Ralph (German) are on the coach back. The Poles are off tomorrow but the rest of us will go to Seorak-san and then to Seoul, where we will meet up with a couple of others for another night. After that it all gets too confusing…

Anyway, today has been a terrific day. We had a fun bus ride with some joking around and some serious discussion of future plans for horseback archery. We went straight to an excellent restaurant in Gangnam (cue much silly dancing and calls of “oppa Gangnam-style! – if you don’t understand this (I suspect i know somebody who won’t) then go on YouTube and search for Gangnam Style).  The lunch was a superb buffet, including crab (whole or just legs), salmon, duck, kimchi, Chinese, salads, lamb chops and, apparently, an excellent selection of desserts.  I say apparently because yesterday’s dinner was also excellent so I was still quite full. It was nothing to do with dining so much beer and soju that I woke up this morning still dressed. Nothing at all to do with that.

After lunch we all went to the biggest of the old palaces in Seoul, followed by Insa-dong, which is a traditional shopping street (now mainly tourist shops).  These happened to be the two places Claire and I went on our last trip to Seoul, but this meant that we could just relax and enjoy ourselves. Photos will follow.

At the end of this lovely day came the goodbyes. Almost as much as Al Faris last year, we have made good new friends and had a great time with them.  Handshakes and hugs to a while.  The wonderful thing about it is that we all know that while this compete group may never all meet again, most people will see each other in the next few years somewhere in the world.  We have seen here (and have seen it before) that these friendships just pick up where they left of, even after a couple of years. 

Apparently we will have dinner at a restaurant tonight when we hit Sokcho. This is likely to be a late night…

***

That was all written on Monday evening. It’s now Tuesday, and I have WiFi for the first time since then. It was indeed a long evening but a very pleasant one, eating in a tofu restaurant with Grand Master, his wife and a few others.

I’m now back in Seoul, having spent the morning in Seorak-san with Claire, Scouse and Ralph. It poured with rain and we got thoroughly drenched but it was a very fine outing nonetheless, followed by a coach ride to Seoul. Britain could learn from Korean coaches: I had put my drink in the net pocket on the back of the seat in front of me and had to lean quite a way forward to reach it. Legroom is not an issue, which is surprising in a nation where I am one of the tallest people in the room…

There are now the four of us, plus Anita and Emil, in a hotel. We’ve had a lovely dinner out and now it’s time for bed, with the Imjin tour tomorrow starring at a very civilised 11am.

More tomorrow, plus photos.  In the meantime, here’s one of Team GB in full Pictish dress.  Emil joined us for the masahee and very much got into the spirit of it!

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The End

I’m writing this as we move through the closing ceremony here in Korea.  It’s been a fabulous week of riding, shooting and having an all round great time with good friends old and new. The competition itself has threatened to dissolve into farce on an alarming number of occasions through a combination of bad organisation, impromptu rule changes and other causes, but I shall write about that at more length in a week or two, once I have had the opportunity to collect my thoughts and discuss it with some other people. The important thing is that we have all had fun.  And Scouse would like me to mention how awesome he is, which I have scandalously failed to mention so far (everyone agrees… He is awesome).

Masahee is great fun and we are definitely going to import it, albeit in a varied form. Trey and Kat and I have started discussing possible rules. Several exciting new developments have begun here and in some countries I think this championships may be remembered as a crucial point in the development of international horseback archery.

The traditional dancing and music seem to have finished so I’m going to sign off now.  Time for the awards.  No, as I wrote that we were told it’s going to be another 10 minutes. Which apparently make it time for crazy photos. Just as well, since it’s rapidly becoming too dark…

20 of minutes later, we’re starting awards. And then soju…

Saturday Evening

Apologies for the very quick post last time. We finished the competition very late, despite not doing the final event, which is the team double shot (2 people each take 2 runs at double shot and combine scores). We’ll do that first thing tomorrow, followed by qabaq (vertical shot), masahee (knock down targets, elimination event done in teams – we’re teaming up with Emil) and mogu 2 of us shooting paint arrows at a ball that is towed by another competitor). In other words it’s a less serious and really fun day.

Today in the double shot Claire beat me, coming in 18th (I think) out of 46.  I beat her in the serial (5) shot, coming 14th (I think).  I also beat both Emil and Ali Goorchian of Iran. They are two of the best in the world (Ali is the reigning champion).  Feeling very pleased with myself, despite one annoying miss in my last run.  Big congratulations to Mike Sabo for his 4th in the double shot and to Trey for 5th (I think) in the serial shot.  Also to Maia, who came 7th (I think) in the serial shot at age 14 and in her first international competition.

There were negatives as well, especially in the organisation, but I shall leave them for another day. Ultimately they didn’t spoil the day, which has been terrific.  Our costumes, lovingly made by Claire, went down a storm, the more so because they incorporate Pictish symbols from my historical presentation as well as blue body paint.

A host of photos today, to make up for previous lack…

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Game Day

The opening ceremony is over and in a little under an hour we start the World Championships.  I feel deeply honoured to have been presented with a medal and plaque for my contribution to world horseback archery, putting me in the company of such illustrious people as Holm Neumann and Michael Sanczenko.  Claire rode in the ceremony carrying the Union Flag and managed to keep the 3 year old colt calm throughout, which was an achievement in itself.

The ceremony also included a tae kwon do demonstration from the university team. Dammed impressive stuff, which included a guy throwing two apples into the air and then doing a perfect back flip and kicking both apples to pieces as he flipped. Horseback archery seems a little tame in comparison…

Photos will follow in due course, especially since our team photographer/doctor/mascot/flag waver has now arrived. Good to see Scouse again and his presence is really helping to keep the mood light and stop me worrying.

Game time…