Hapcheon to random pagoda

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I wake to the sight of the sun breaking gently through the fog. Birds chirp in the trees and leaves rustle on the forest floor. The air is cool but not cold. Visibility is low as I set off. I can barely see one hundred meters. It is simultaneously eerie and invigorating to ride like this; cushioned from the world around me by a thin damp white blanket. The path is wide and decorated with these wind flowers in many places. It is a simple but cheerful decoration that makes me smile.

Farming villages come and go as they have this past month. They all look the same but totally different. Houses sprawl around the edges of the farmland, usually against the side of a mountain almost as though the mountain is a protector to those who live here. Blue roofs are common as are the traditional shapes of Korea’s Joseon period architecture. I wonder at the generations of life these villages have seen: lives born and passed, crops succeeding and failing, the destruction or war and hope of rebuilding.

It’s in one such village that I find the Pak-jin memorial. This was a critical battle in the Korean War and possibly saved South Korea from obliteration. When all seemed lost and the capital had been moved first from Seoul to Daegu and then to Busan, South Korean and US forces took a stand here at Pak-jin. Outnumbered and outgunned they refused to give in, eventually routing the North Korean army and beginning the push to reclaim what had been lost.

A small museum marks the battle and tells the story of the Korean War. While the War Memorial Museum in Seoul was informative this museum touches me deeply. I am standing at a place of battle. Outside there are old men and women working their farms who are old enough to have been personally touched by the war, whether as soldiers, civilians or children. And it strikes me just how much the people of this country have achieved. Over the past few weeks I have spoken with a few men who were soldiers in the war. I have seen barbed wire, young soldiers, the captured submarine and monuments to mark significant battles. And now, as I stand here I realise just how resilient the Korean people are. Just 64 years ago their country was flattened by war. Their army was pushed all the way back to this point just 80km north of Busan. Farms would have been destroyed and people killed or maimed. Yet this country is so advanced and the people so welcoming. And yet, the country is still at war with their northern brothers; something many of us in the west might not know.

I continue along the cycleway, taking in the wide expansive river views. Green treed mountains drop into the water, reflecting golden in the afternoon sun. The leaves here in the south are not changing as dramatically as further north. It’s noticeably warmer here and perhaps winter will come a week or two later than in the north. This country might be small but it is so diverse and cycling makes this so obvious.

I reach a riverside town where families are enjoying the sunshine. Small boats are anchored along the shore. And men stand fishing. Couples walk along the path holding hands. Age seems no barrier to couples culture here with older couples holding hands or wearing matching clothing as frequently as younger ones.

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5 thoughts on “Hapcheon to random pagoda

  1. Those reed flowers look so beautiful and soft. How lovely to cycle through them.

    Some time ago I read an autobiography about a man who escaped across to China from North Korea as a young man. It was amazing how much suffering they had to go through…often boiling up grass soup to eat just so they would feel like there was something in their bellies. I’m not sure how I would have coped in that situation!

    • Wow. That sounds like a powerful book. If you can remember the title I’d be interested to read it. Especially after my stay at Empathy House. I am learning a lot here about Korea and it’s culture / recent history. They say sometimes you travel to a place and will never be the same again. I had that after I spent a month in a slum in Kenya and am having it again in a different way here in Korea. But yeah, if you remember the title I’d love to know because I have university holidays over the summer so will have time to read actual books again (actually, I will have time to read books once I submit the assignmetn that I am currently writing – yay)

      • I don’t remember the name of it but just tried to search online anyway. I will have to ask my children as they read it for Literature studies. However, I did come across this book, “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.” Blaine Harden. It only came out in 2013 and was on the NY times best seller list. Forgive me if you’ve already mentioned it on your blog – I have a shocking memory. The one I read was quite an obscure one brought out by an small publisher. I’ll get back to you on it. Yes, I know what you mean about time to read non-study books. It’s a treat to read something that you don’t have to take an exam about or write an assignment on! 🙂

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