Monday, September 28, 2009

Seoul Sensation, 9/12-24, 2009: Denouement

Despite a somewhat rocky start, I had a great experience during my two weeks in Seoul, South Korea.

Initially intimidated by the sheer welter of humanity in Seoul, I vanished into my hotel room, suffering from jet lag for the first 24 hours. Once I recovered and got the hang of the place, I was fine.

Spent four days with my daughter Gina, who is teaching English in Busan, a city located on the opposite side of South Korea. Busan is about 150 miles from Seoul, so Gina took the two-hour ride on the high-speed "bullet train" to Seoul.

Enjoyed dinner with recent UO School of Journalism and Communication graduates Branden Johnson and Bryan Saxton. Both are also teaching English in South Korea.

My lecture on healthcare public relations to a class of about 80 aspiring Korean public relations students at Sogang University went very well. As previously noted in these pages, the students were polite, attentive and inquisitive, with excellent questions.

Many thanks to my friend and colleague Dr. Kyu Ho Youm for helping arrange the opportunity.

Here are a few quick impressions of Korea:

The Korean people -- a delightful and attractive lot -- are wonderful, but the contradictions are readily apparent: traditional yet modern, reserved yet aggressive. Their voices are soft but their horns are loud. They even have a cold soup that's hot (spicy).

Speaking of food, Korean grub is -- by and large -- delicious. I personally don't like kim chee (a Korean favorite), mostly because it's basically cabbage, but many others do. But watch out for "American food" in Korea. It might look American, but it's not even close.

Cab drivers in Seoul vary widely.

Deluxe (black cabs) taxi drivers are slow, scheming, expensive and devious. They take their sweet time to get you where you need to go so they can receive a larger fare.

Economy (grey cabs) taxi drivers are wild and crazy -- moving briskly while weaving through traffic. But they get you where you need to be safely -- with more personality for a lot less won.

The air in Seoul was generally smoggy, at least in September. Compares with L.A. In the spring, the city is clouded with a yellow dust from the deserts of China. Most of the time, you can smell the sewers, much like in downtown Philadelphia.

The numerous unique bridges over the Han River are beautifully designed. Of the Westerners I saw in Korea, most are pukes who won't even look you in the eye. Not sure why.

Koreans are consistent in at least one way. Many carry their umbrellas no matter what the weather -- to protect themselves from the rain or the hot sun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Namsan Mountain

Namsan (South Mountain), located near my hotel in Myeong-dong, is accessible by many different points of departure in the city of Seoul.

Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, N' Seoul Tower -- located on the summit of Namsan -- became a symbol of Seoul when it was constructed as a broadcasting transmission tower in 1969.

When it first opened for public access, Namsan became a popular place for locals to hike and relax, with an outstanding 360 degree panorama from the mountain's peak. During the busy season, over 30,000 people visit Namsan.

On weekends, Namsan features a wide array of exhibits, and both performing arts and visual art displays -- like this human figure constructed of chicken wire (right).

The easiest and most scenic route to the base of the tower is by cable car. Daytime views are great when the sky isn't filled with smog or yellow dust, and the evening views are outstanding.

Namsan is one of two of the best places to appreciate the megalopolis of the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area.

Seodaemun Prison

Within the Seodaemun Independence Park lies a prison constructed to house Korean independence fighters during the Japanese occupation between 1910 and 1945.

Seodaemun Prison, which includes seven separate prison buildings, features nightmarish punishment chambers and claustrophobic cellblocks. To add to the realism of this grotesque site, the prison has life-size Korean and Japanese figures complete with fake blood, ear-piercing screams and ingenious torture techniques.

The park also includes the Independence Movement Gate and Museum, the Martyrs' Tower and the March 1st Independence Movement Tower.

Seodaemun Prison is simultaneously interesting, barbaric, compelling and gruesome: not a pretty sight.

Seoul Grand Park

Opened in 1984, Seoul Grand Park now features one of the world's ten largest zoos. Set among the forested hillsides south of the city, a river runs through the park, and families picnic on its shady banks.

The zoo is home to numerous exotic creatures, including the most popular Asian and African varieties, and has a long list of breeding successes, including tigers and panda bears.

The facility, which compares favorably with large zoos in the United States, features cranes, swans, pelicans and other large birds. Ants and swimming beetles are on display in a "miniature creature" exhibit.

One of the highlights of the zoo is an elaborate "dolphin show" (right). The many facilities here also include a tropical greenhouse for flowers (bottom), a reservoir and walking trails. The indoor botanical garden houses a forest of cacti, numerous orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants.

Visitors who would prefer to ride rather than walk can take a tram that provides a stunning view of Seoul Grand Park.

"Seoul Land" possesses over 40 amusement park rides, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art holds ongoing exhibits. The latest addition to the complex is the National Gwacheon Science Research Center.

With -- really -- too much to see in merely one day, the facility is truly a "grand park."

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gina (above) arrived at my hotel in Myeong-dong from Busan late on Thursday, September 17. She took an extra day off from her rigorous schedule teaching English to young Korean students, stretching her weekend to three days so that we could do a bit of sightseeing in Seoul together. First stop: Gyeongbokgung Palace.

At one time, the Gyeongbokgung Palace was likely a place of pomp and circumstance.

Today, the uniformly brown buildings with a dirt compound in front may leave visitors with the impression that the site is undergoing restoration work.

The Gyeongbokgung Palace was the country's principal royal residence until the compound was destroyed in 1592 during war with Japan.

However, it was not the Japanese who razed the palace but the citizens of Seoul.

As the Japanese marched across the country, the king and yangban (aristocrats) abandoned the city to save their own hides.

Angered by the desertion, a mob of local residents burned down the palace.

Gyeongbokgung lay in waste for nearly 300 years until it was rebuilt it 1865.

Today, Gyeongbokgung Palace has been restored to its former glory. Adjacent to the palace, the Seoul Museum of History provides visitors with an overview of Seoul's history and traditional culture.

A ceremonial changing of the guard (below) occurs several times a day, so clearly the pomp and circumstance has returned to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Sogang University

On Wednesday, September 16, I hopped a cab to Sogang University for my lecture on healthcare public relations to a class of about 80 aspiring Korean public relations students.

The opportunity to lecture was facilitated by my colleague Dr. Kyu Ho Youm, a Korean native who is Professor and First Amendment Chair at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

Founded in 1960 by the Society of Jesus, the mission of Sogang University is to provide students with an education based in Catholic belief and inspired by the Jesuit educational philosophy in conformity with the Korean educational tradition.

The university, with a 50-acre campus located in east-central Seoul, has an enrollment of over 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students and nearly 1,000 faculty members.

Arrived at Sogang University early and I'm glad I did: it took me a little while to get my bearings. Dr. Hochang Shin, a friend and colleague of Dr. Youm's, was my host.

Meeting with several of Dr. Shin's teaching assistants (from left, Jihana Ko, Min-young Kim and Yeon Ji Noh), we proceeded to a nearby classroom where I delivered my lecture.

Had a delightful time discussing healthcare public relations: his students were attentive and inquisitive, and Dr. Shin was very gracious.

Turns out I didn't need an interpreter; they all understood English fairly well.

After my lecture, I opened the floor to questions and several students responded with great inquiries.

One of my favorites was the student who asked: "will there always be issues for healthcare public relations professionals to deal with?"

I explained to her that -- based on my experience -- yes. To quote Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live, "it's always somethin'."

Whether it's AIDS, West Nile Virus, H1N1 -- the list goes on and on -- there will always be a need for effective healthcare communicators: "job security for public relations professionals," I quipped.

Afterward, Dr. Shin treated me a lunch at a fine Korean restaurant across the street from Sogang University. Then, practically before I knew it, I was back in a taxi on my way to my hotel in Myeong-dong.

As I said before, eveything is very much hurry-hurry in these parts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

South Korea: Tiger or Teddy Bear?

Asian tiger, a seriously wired country, or a populace steeped in the morality of Confucianism? All are accurate descriptions of South Korea, yet none of these fully captures the essence of this fascinatingly complex -- yet contradictory -- nation.

Grounded in ancient Confucianism, the history of Seoul can be traced back as far as 18 B.C., when it was first established as a settlement. Of the South Koreans who profess religious beliefs, most are Buddhists or Christians.

Nonetheless, South Korea is definitely a forward-thinking country, thanks to its hurry-hurry approach to almost everything. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Seoul is the city that never even slows down.

Koreans clearly have a zest for life, and face-to-face, local residents are pleasant and polite. However, on the streets of Seoul, you're on your own. Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere, both pedestrians and motorists: there's no "stopping to smell the roses."

If I had to sum up South Korea in one word, it would be "dynamic." If I were to use two words, it would be "dynamic and conservative."

Seemingly contradictory, for many Koreans it's simply a matter of yin and yang.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Where The Streets Have No Name

Getting around Seoul can be -- in a word -- confusing, even for foreign travelers who can speak Korean.

One reason for the confusion is simply that Seoul is so big, both in terms of area and population. Lots and lots of urbanites with things to do, places to go and people to see.

Another reason, as U2 (one of my favorite rock bands) sings about on their classic "Joshua Tree" album, is that the streets have no name.

In case you're wondering: no, I'm not kidding. The streets really have no names. Mapquest is of little use. You better know where you are going and be able to explain it to your Korean taxi driver.

Oh, the city of Seoul has directional signage (above), but it doesn't help much. Finding your way around Seoul reminds me of a line from "The Point," an animated story conceived by Harry Nilsson:

"A point in every direction is like no point at all."

Gotta Have Seoul

Arrived in Seoul, South Korea on Sunday, September 13 after a long 14-hour flight from Eugene by way of San Francisco.

Why South Korea, a country I heretofore had no interest or inkling to visit? My purpose was two-fold: visit my daughter Gina, who is teaching English in Busan, and lecture on healthcare public relations at Sogang University, a Jesuit college located in the heart of Seoul.

Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and with a population of over 10 million people, is one of the world's largest cities.

The greater metropolitan area, which includes the major port city of Incheon, has nearly 25 million inhabitants -- making it the second-largest urban area in the world.

Almost half of the total population of South Korea lives in the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area.

To give you an idea of the population density in this country, South Korea is nearly 39,000 square miles with over 48 million people living within its borders. Oregon, on the other hand, is over 98,000 square miles with a population of not quite 4 million.

Located on the Han River in the center of the Korean Peninsula (top), the city has been an important settlement for over 2,000 years when Baekje -- one of the three kingdoms of Korea -- established its capital in what is now southeast Seoul.

Seoul has one of world's most technologically advanced infrastructures and is often called the "tech capital of the world." Everybody -- and I mean everybody -- has a cell phone.

After arriving in the Incheon International Airport and passing through customs, I took a taxi to the Ibis Myeong-dong Hotel in downtown Seoul -- GonzoPR World Headquarters during my stay in South Korea.

I must admit, it felt a bit like I had just landed on the moon, only there were lots o' people milling about everywhere outside. Soon, I was to take my "giant leap" into the city streets of Seoul.

Monday, September 7, 2009

PCT, 8/28-31, 2009: Denouement

All in all, it was a great trip, though in my case, it was more challenging than it needed to be. Many lessons were learned. Losing the sole off my boot two miles into the hike was a bummer (thankfully, I had camp shoes), and my pack was too heavy at 38 pounds. Packing boot goop might have helped, and a lighter pack would certainly have made things easier.

But views like the shot of Mt. Hinman (above, in the background) made up a bit for the occasional misery when I hit the deck to avoid rolling an ankle. Eating huckleberries, ripe and ready-at-hand, also provided some respite and a good excuse to take a break.

Teo (above, resting amongst the yellow aster in Deception Creek) was a great traveling companion: friendly, curious and full of energy. He provided me and many others along the trail with a much-needed "puppy fix," as Lupe would say, for those like myself who need "dog as our co-pilot."

He also provided a wonderful deterrent for bear or any other critters that might get a wee too close to our campsite.

Facing a detour because of a forest fire after passing Cathedral Rock (above) provided an interesting twist that turned out well for everybody. Plus, we had the opportunity to interact with our counterparts 30 years hence, wilderness rangers for the Cle Elum Ranger District (although I don't remember us being that clean cut).

On our way back to Stevens Pass, Roger and I stopped at the 59er Diner near Lake Wenatchee for a hamburger: needless to say, it was "dee-lish." When we reached Stevens Pass, I spotted our friends from Cathedral Pass coming down off the PCT, so we pulled over and greeted them. "What took you so long," I joked.

Well, that's about it. I'm pleased to report that REI provided me with a $210 credit for a new pair of boots, and the friendly clerk noted that I should be in their "hall of fame."

So, from Owl and 'Roo (below), happy trails to you.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

PCT, Day 4: Smelling The Barn

Thinking I had already witnessed the ultimate "melodies in nature" experience at Cathedral Creek, I was treated to yet another "symphony" on the morning of Monday, August 31 at our camp in Waptus Pass (above).

As I lay waking up pre-dawn, a variety of birds broke into song -- each chirping their own tune in concert with the other, with percussion provided by a woodpecker -- a wondrous melody. By the time the sun had lit the pass, the concert was over.

As we packed camp, we bade farwell to "Shootout," another PCT hiker who shared our campsite in Waptus Pass. Most long-range hikers on the PCT adopt pseudonyms during their trek; some of the more creative examples included "Banshee," "Salty," "Two Shoes," "Blister Butt," "Flicker," "Muleskinner," "Ice Cap," "Freebee," "Moondog" and "Mr. Zip." Kelly, Lupe and I had adopted ""Midweek," "Eight" and "Laslo," respectively, as our PCT pseudonyms.

So far, we had seen small critters like squirrels, pica and marmot, along with many types of birds. However, the only large mammal we encountered was this wilderness troll with an affinity for rock 'n' roll (left) along the Pete (Townshend) Lake Trail.

Despite the smokey air from the Lemah Fire in Waptus Pass, I could nonetheless "smell the barn," that unmistakeable sense of anticipation that I would soon be back at Owl Farm.

Heading down toward Pete Lake from Waptus Pass, I felt renewed vigor, anxious to emerge from the wilderness, but delighting in it nonetheless. We paused to examine the fungi patterns on an old Douglas fir stump (right and below).

Now on a flat trail, my pace quickened. Knowing Roger, he would be arriving earlier than the predetermined 2 p.m. We arrived at the Pete Lake Trailhead at Cooper Lake at 1 p.m.

Roger wheeled in at 1:15 p.m. and asked: "need a ride?" "Boy, are you a sight for sore feet," I replied.

Fetching Kelly, Lupe and Teo from Cooper Lake, we packed our gear into Roger's vehicle for the ride along the "alternate PCT," a pair of Forest Service roads leading to the Mineral Creek Trailhead in the upper Cle Elum River drainage. There, we temporarily said our goodbyes.

For me, it was time to "head for the barn" at Owl Farm.

PCT, Day 3: Fire On The Mountain

When I awoke early the next morning to take a few pictures (feeling better than I'd felt in days, I might add), I could hardly believe my eyes: the delightfully melodic stream known as Cathedral Creek had totally vanished!

Oh, the stream bed and little sandy beach were still there, but not a lick of water remained. Incredulous, we packed up our camp and continued down the trail toward Snoqualmie Pass.

The day before, we heard rumors of a fire on the Pacific Crest Trail from hikers heading north, though few had any specific details. That morning, however, we smelled the unmistakeable aroma of smoke from a forest fire. Passing hikers confirmed our suspicions.

The Lemah Fire, caused by lightning strikes in late July, had spread from 30 to 600 acres. The blaze had been whipped up by winds from the storm front over the Cascades on Friday, August 28. As a result, word on the trail was that a 20-plus mile of the PCT was now closed and an alternative route established, with wilderness rangers patrolling the access points to make sure that hikers used the detour.

Nonplussed, we continued on through Cathedral Pass where we witnessed incredible views of Cathedral Rock (above) and Mt. Daniel and Deep Lake (below). Though we could smell smoke, the Lemah Fire had yet to disrupt the stunning alpine perspectives. Once we passed Deep Lake, however, the smoke grew thicker.

Passing hikers informed us that a wilderness ranger was waiting for southbound hikers at the junction of the PCT and Spinola Creek, where a detour would take us down the creek from the PCT to Waptus Lake. The detour would then direct us over Waptus Pass, down to the Pete Lake Trail and out to the road at Cooper Lake. After another 15 miles of Forest Service Road to the Mineral Creek trailhead, the detour would connect back with the PCT about 12 miles north of Snoqualmie Pass.

Pondering my options, I thought about walking so far -- with full pack and cheap tennis shoes -- on hard road just to catch the last few miles of PCT. I knew that Kelly and Lupe would continue through the detour to their cabin at Snoqualmie Pass, but this would be my opportunity to make something happen for the betterment of all.

As we huddled with the wilderness ranger over a set of maps, I asked if he could convince the Cle Elum Ranger District dispatcher to put in a call for me. "Certainly," he replied, so I had him relay a message to my friend Roger Wallace -- retired Fire Management Officer on the Leavenworth Ranger District -- to pick us up at the Pete Lake Trailhead at Cooper Lake.

The reply came swiftly: Roger would pick us up at Cooper Lake on Monday, August 31 at 2 p.m., the dispatcher reported. We continued down Spinola Creek to Waptus Lake, crossed the Waptus River (Kelly and I in bare feet, Lupe with a new pair of crocs) and climbed the numerous switchbacks up to Waptus Pass, where we established our camp for the night.

PCT, Day 2: The Mystical Stream

Woke up in a chilly cloud at Trap Lake on Saturday morning, which meant a great day for hiking -- temperature-wise. Maneuvered the reasonably-brief set of switchbacks to the gap above the lake and off we went, passing by Surprise Lake and Glacier Lake on our way to the long, brutal slog up to Pieper Pass (elevation 6,000 feet).

Once through the pass, the weather improved, with flashes of sunlight peeking through the clouds as we made our way to Deception Lake for a lunch break by a beautiful rocky stream resplendent with yellow asters.

But, dear readers, this is not the "mystical stream" in the headline of this entry. More later. After lunch, Lupe (above) would push ahead and establish our next camp at Cathedral Pass.

I had decided that morning to hike in my camp shoes, a pair of old Sketchers. They worked well for the most part -- and though traction was lacking -- they were more comfortable than my Montrails, as my left boot (sans sole) was at least an inch shorter than my right boot.

Fortunately, the terrain accommodated my shoes, at least temporarily. As we contoured south on the ridge leading to Deception Pass, the trail was soft from the subalpine forest, and the view of Marmot Lake -- which resides in a huge mountain cirque across the wide valley -- was stunning.

However, my luck ran out at the Daniel Creek crossing: the climb to Cathedral Pass was steep and rocky. I hit the deck twice to avoid rolling an ankle. The steep climb was the final insult. Fortunately, I ran into two women hikers who assured my that my camp was established and waiting for my arrival a mere one-quarter mile away.

I picked up my feet and continued, arriving at the pass just below Cathedral Rock (bottom). The campsite was a mystical spot with numerous campsites and a sandy beach on a mellifluous creek.

Just as I arrived at our campsite, a northbound couple from Portland discussed staying in Cathedral Pass that night: they spoke of a stream that flowed vigorously in the evening, only to vanish by morning along this particular stretch of PCT.

That evening, as I drifted to sleep, I heard a number of different melodies and tunes in the sound of that creek, including classical, jazz and even a bit of Led Zeppelin. Later that night, I was awakened by silence: I could no longer hear the creek.

Puzzled but exhausted, I drifted back into a deep slumber.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

PCT, Day 1: These Boots Are Made For Walkin' (Not)

After our last significant breakfast for several days at the Squirrel Tree Inn, Kelly, Lupe and I proceeded to Stevens Pass to begin the final portion of their trip down the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada. They have a cabin at Snoqualmie Pass, the southern terminus of their trip, and I would be joining them for this last leg.

Parked the Highlander (the "golf cart on steriods," as Kelly would say), with the requisite Northwest Forest Pass, at Stevens Pass at 10 a.m. Hiked up 2 miles through the Stevens Pass Ski Area over the ridge to the upper Mill Creek Valley where the 115 KV lines from Rocky Reach Dam provide the electrical lifeblood for Seattle and vicinity. Didn't take long for trouble to develop: the Vibram sole from my left boot came completely off as we crossed the upper part of Mill Creek.

These Montrail Moraines were rather expensive backpacking/climbing boots, and even though they were purchased back in 2000, I had worn them only a couple of dozen times. Despite the loss of the sole, the boot seemed serviceable, and I felt I could continue our trek. "Why don't you leave them here and come back for them later?" Lupe asked. "Nah," I replied, "I'll just pack them out."

Shortly after crossing Mill Creek, we passed the boundary sign for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I have looked forward to hiking this stretch of the PCT ever since I worked on temporary assignment as a writer/editor on the Alpine Lakes Planning Team at the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor's Office in Seattle in 1979-80. The 394,000-acre wilderness derives its name from the nearly 700 jewel-like lakes -- like Lake Susan Jane (above) and Mig Lake (below) -- nestled among high rock peaks and timbered valleys of the region.

After a delightful -- though taxing -- hike of 12-miles, a Pacific storm with a potential for lightning moved into the region, so we established camp at Trap Lake and called it a day. I set up my tent, rolled out the Thermarest and sleeping bag, popped a couple of Motrin and packed it in.

"REI is going to hear about these boots," I thought to myself, slipping into a deep slumber.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Base Camp Juan

One of the reasons we purchased Owl Farm (above) was so we could have a comfortable base camp for our backcountry excursions. The property is located in "mountain central" in the North Cascades of Washington state.

The property is bordered by the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the south, the Glacier Peak Wilderness on the west and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park and Pasayten Wilderness to the north. Last week was the litmus test, and by all accounts, the investment has been a success.

Departed Eugene for the eight-hour drive to Owl Farm on Monday, August 24. I decided to arrive a couple of days early so that I could prepare the place for my erstwhile hiking companions coming down the PCT from Canada.

Good thing, because Kelly Tjaden and Lupe Marroquin, along with their dog, Teo, put in a monster 22-mile day on Tuesday and arrived at Stevens Pass a full day earlier than planned. Got the call at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 25: Kelly and Lupe were at Lake Valhalla, only two hours by foot on the PCT to Stevens Pass.

Motored up to the pass and picked them up at 8:15 p.m., two minutes after they had emerged from the hills. I mentioned to Kelly that -- if we hurry -- we could catch a pizza and a few brews at the Headwaters Inn at Lake Wenatchee before they closed at 10 p.m. 

"Let's go," he said, as he tossed his pack into the back of my rig. We hustled down Nason Creek and made it in plenty of time. The next day (Wednesday, August 26) would be a rest day at Owl Farm: trips to the beach, watching movies on my MacBook Pro, laundry in Plain and a junket to Leavenworth for supplies.

Friend and neighbor Frank Czubiak, another former Forest Service employee, arrived late on Wednesday in time for a grand reunion and potluck at the Owl Conservatory with some of our old backcountry buddies. On Friday, my long-awaited adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail was set to begin.