Category Archives: gwangju

Gwangju Blog articles aggregated

This here's Gwangju

I am a staff writer for Gwangju Blog and write five articles a month. I rarely publish them here, since they are pretty niche. Instead, I’m going to post monthly links to what I’ve written. This is a bit late, since I’m leaving in a month, but ho-hum, here are March’s:

Gwangju FC vs Pohang Steelers: K-League Preview

Korean Culture Minister Visits Gwangju

K-League Update: Gwangju Lose

Gwangju FC Get Off To Perfect start

K-League Preview: Gwangju Kick Off At Home to Daegu

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Koreanosaurus Boseongensis

I recently had an article about dinosaurs published on the front cover of the Gwangju News. I’ve spent a little time trying to extract the pages, create new PDFs and upload the article in its original form but haven’t been able to do so. Since it was proving to be such a ballache, here is the article in text only format. I found researching and writing this piece very enjoyable and hope you will too. I’ve been making a conscious effort to write outside my comfort zone and hopefully it’ll pay off…

Me with Professors Huh and Shin

Korea is a country fixated on technology. Time Magazine recently named the English teaching robot as one of the best inventions of 2010. They have the fastest broadband connection in the world and what was until recently the fastest railway system. You could easily be forgiven for assuming that all Koreans were hurtling towards the future at breakneck speed. But in a quiet corner of Gwangju, there is vital work ongoing that’s establishing and defining the peninsula’s unbreakable bond with the past.

The official approval of Koreanosaurus Boseongensis as a new genus and species in October locked the eyes of the scientific world onto the Korea Dinosaur Research Center at Chonnam University. But in truth, it’s just the latest in a long line of remarkable discoveries by Professor Min Huh and his team of researchers.  Korea has proven to be one of the most fertile hunting grounds for excavation teams: now the aptly named Koreanosaurus can take pride of place as the jewel in the crown.

The fossilized remains were discovered in Bibong-ri Boseong, Jeollanam-do (a town more noted for its luscious green tea plantations) in 2003 by Professor Huh’s team. After seven years of excavation, preparation, research and reconstruction, they were finally given the green light to go public with their findings just a few weeks ago. Professor Huh admits it’s been a “very exciting and busy time.”

He is Korea’s top dinosaur expert, respected the world over for his discoveries. He is also the Dean of the Natural Sciences Department of Chonnam. But sitting in his research facility, tucked away at the back of the university, he is amicable and accessible. He manages to simplify everything: offering bite-sized pieces of information, easily digested by those without a background in geology.  He explains about how 100 million years ago, there was only one, super continent. Thus, Korea was connected to China and Mongolia, two other areas rich in dinosaur fossils.

The conditions in Korea were perfect for attracting prehistoric wildlife, in all shapes and sizes. Large parts of what is now Jeollanam-do were lakes; which explains the huge collection of dinosaur footprints, eggs and bone fossils in the area. The county provided some much needed watering holes. The extent of Professor Huh’s findings in the region shouldn’t be understated. He recalls his first fruitful excavation, in Haenam in 1996.

“I didn’t know anything about large dinosaur footprints at the time,” he explains. “I found one, about ten centimeters wide, it looked like the roots of a plant, embedded in sedimentary rock bedding. We kept looking and found more and more. I contacted Professor Martin Lockley, an expert in Colorado University and told him about the find. He was shocked and said only: ‘how many?’”

In total, they found 823 dinosaur and 443 pterosaur footprints Haenam. It is the largest pterosaur (the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. The most famous pterosaur is the pterodactyl) print site in the world. They also found the world’s oldest webbed bird footprint, dating back 85 million years. In fact, Haenam is unique in being the only site in the world where footprints of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds and arthropods (ancient arachnids, crustaceans and insects) have been found in the same locale.

Professor Huh’s next excavation brought him to Hwasun, where he explained that to date his team have uncovered more than 1,800 wide-ranging dinosaur footprints, as well as a trackway which exhibits the fastest speed of any dinosaur in Korea. In Yeosu, they found the world’s longest ornithopod (small, bipedal plant-eating dinosaurs, often birdlike) trackway in the world, amongst 3,853 other footprints.

Goseong, further down the coast towards Busan, has also proven to be a fruitful location for

Professor Huh. In times gone by, Korea’s second city was nothing but water: a huge lake, comparable in size to Lake Superior. As such, it too proved a popular habitat for dinosaurs and has the world’s highest density of dinosaur footprints, with over 5,000 being located, across many different species.

But it was in Boseong that Professor Huh’s remarkable and ultimate achievement was to be unveiled. Unsurprisingly, he beams as he proudly shows me the remains of a skeleton. Koreanosaurus Boseongensis is smaller than you might think. “Jurassic Park was just a movie,” the Professor explains, smiling. “It really wasn’t historically accurate.” The team, too, were initially surprised by the finding. Most of the footprints in the area are indicative of much larger creatures: they were puzzled by the remains.

The Korean team’s expertise is mostly in footprints. They enlisted Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist from Belgium to confirm that the Koreanosaurus is, indeed, unique to Korea only. It is assumed that it moved primarily on all fours, because of its overall body-plan and the location of the discovery. This, in itself, is an uncommon feature.

Professor Huh continues: “We think it was capable of digging, because of the position of its arms. This would have helped it to find shelter and digging holes with which to lay eggs and raise its young. It was an ornithopod with long legs and neck, but with shorter hindlegs. We believe it moved quite slowly.”

The Professor explained that Koreanosaurus was about a metre tall, and 2.5 long. It weighed about one hundred kilograms and lived in the late Cretaceous period (99.6 million to 65.5 million years ago). The discovery is his most exciting yet, he admits, but there is much work to be done. The next task to hand is to examine and try to establish links between bones and eggs found in the area. Watching the research student buzz round the lab, it’s easy to see that they won’t stop until they have answers.

As Professor Huh places a one hundred million year old bone in my hand, I can’t help but reflect on the minor role in world history human beings have played. We have roamed the earth, in our current form, for a mere two hundred thousand years. Dinosaurs ruled the domain for over three hundred million. The dinosaurs of Korea were wiped out by a series of comets and volcanoes (which resulted in the formation of amongst others, Mudeung Mountain). We may just be doing similarly devastating damage; all within the blink of an eye that has been our lifespan.

Gwangju Sangmu 1-2 Ulsan Horangi-i


Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix turned in yet another mediocre performance, as they tasted defeat in their final game of the season. But if truth be told, Sunday’s effort was about par for the course on a season that’s seen them win only 3 games from 28, scoring a paltry 17 goals and conceding a 43. Both sides came into the encounter with different reasons for needing the points. Ulsan, twice K-League champions, were looking to maintain the good form that has seen them take a place in the Asian Champions League play-off positions. Gwangju, on the other hand, were chasing a victory that would keep them off bottom position in the table; a feat they managed to “achieve” despite losing, with Daegu’s inept showing at Chunnam Dragons (2-1) meaning they took this season’s wooden spoon.

Gwangju started brightly enough, penning Ulsan back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges and their early endeavour was rewarded with the opening goal on only 12 minutes. Cho Yong-Tae rose to meet a cross and knocked it past Korean international goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang. Gwangju’s coach and supporters will have been disappointed that their team’s impetus was maintained so briefly. Only 7 minutes later, Ulsan were level. Paraguayan striker Jose Maria Ortigoza (a promising attacker, on loan from Club Sol de America in his homeland and who made his international debut earlier this year), latched onto a forward ball, beat the defender and rifled in a shot from a narrow angle. Kim Jee-Hyuk, in the Gwangju goal, got his gloves, but only enough to parry it into his own net. It was a fortuitous goal, but highlighted the lethal form Ortigoza has been in of late. Second top scorer in the K-League for the season with 17 (as many as the entire Gwangju team have mustered), he finished the league season with 7 goals in his final 6 games.

Proceedings were scrappy up until half time, with neither side wanting to seize the initiative, a pattern that continued into the second period. In the 54th minute, though, Ortigoza pounced again for the goal of the game. Played in by a midfielder he received the ball at the edge of the area, held off a couple of Sangmu defenders, before firing low into the bottom corner of the hapless Kim’s goal. At 2-1, it never looked as though Gwangju were going to get back into it. The players looked disinterested and demotivated and Ulsan were happy to knock it around, letting the soldiers chase their shadows. It was a disappointing end to what’s ostensibly the club’s final K-League season.

The newly formed Gwangju FC launched their website last month(http://www.gwangju-fc.com/ – Korean only) and an official foundation ceremony is mooted for December, at which stage they hope to be accepted into the K-League as the 16th member, competing as of 2011. It has been suggested that they will be allowed special dispensation (as Gangwon were a few years back) to select players from this year’s draft to flesh out their squad. They were previously said to be adopting the moniker “Gwangju Rayers” (supposedly because “ray” suggests imagery of light beams – a futuristic image that correlates with the growing city of Gwangju, and of course relates to Gwangju being the City of Light), but this has been put back for review (apparently due to some controversy over a local ray fish delicacy and the propensity of Koreans outside of the province to refer to Jeolla natives in derogatory terms related to the ray fish).

54-year-old Choi Man-Hee has been appointed as head coach and there is optimism that Gwangju will be able to shed the label of “whipping boys”. The prospect of a citizen team frees the coach to select the players he wants, not necessarily soldiers. It also creates the possibility of strengthening yearly and not building again from scratch once the players finish their military service. The potential to recruit international players, such as the hugely impressive Ortigoza, could also result in a welcome boost to attendances at the World Cup Stadium.

 

Daejeon Rock Festival

 

A day that was filled with promise turned into a case of what might have been. The first annual Daejeon Rock Festival guaranteed good music, world food and international beer. It barely delivered on any of the fronts. The festival was stopped at around 11pm (having been billed until 5am) due to complaints over noise pollution. The food fair was shoddily put together: three hundred advertised vendors shrunk drastically to about a dozen overpriced and confused (samosas come from Mexico? And is spaghetti a national dish of Spain?) fast-food retailers and the international beer and wine promised manifested itself as a shed-load of Cass. The sizeable Gwangju contingent that made the trip was certainly under-whelmed.

Nonetheless, it was beautiful to be able to bask in the last rays of sunlight before the onset of winter in the pleasant setting of the Daejeon Convention Centre. What survived of the music was a mixed bag, but for the most part enjoyable. One serious gripe, however, is that there were few announcements or little information on big screens to differentiate one band from the next. The whole thing had an amateurish feel about it… a shame, really, given the picturesque surroundings. The stage was thrust in amongst the apartment blocks and as the sunset, the backdrop was stunning. Hundreds of lanterns were raised to the sky and everybody was gearing up for a long night of music.

The first band was a shock to the system, proving that Screamcore is alive and well in Korea. Babies were wheeled bawling from the arena, locals wore concerned looks upon their faces and a general air of confusion reigned momentarily. They made way for an altogether more pleasing proposition, in ex-pats Dirty Gangneung. Rootsy, Black Keys style riffs were met by a tunefully wailing lead singer to wash the aural ruin of Act One from our ears. A crowd surfer and a spectacular firework display ensured that the visuals matched the audio, and the evening was ushered in, in fine style.

The third band to take the stage, Kickscotch, was arguably the most impressive. A female fronted quartet, they continued the brash rockiness of the precursors. The lead singer was reminiscent of PJ Harvey, head swirling and playing a flying V that completely dwarfed her. The music itself was more like an R-rated B-52s: call and response vocals, delivered over muscular riffs.

Kickscotch were followed on by the Seoul City Suicides, another riff heavy three-piece recalling Austin, Texas garage rockers White Denim. It was an enthusiastic, impressive set, but perhaps not as well-received as that of the ensuing act, Whatever That Means. Ignore the name; it wasn’t too hard to work out what was behind their music. They sounded like the fallout from Green Day’s Dookiepersonified and thrust onto a far-eastern stage. It was some tuneful refreshment to the heavy rock of the previous few bands and provided one of the highlights of the sadly curtailed evening.

A largely forgettable EMO ensemble were next up, followed by the strangely monikered, Skasucks. Apparently there is a healthy ska scene in Korea, and despite the irony of their name, they are surely one of the forerunners. They inspired moonstomping aplenty and by the end of their set, had filled the stage with crowd members hell-bent on replicating some of the Specials’ most video-friendly moments.

Shortly after, we realized there wouldn’t be anymore music. What was supposed to have gone on for eleven hours, lasted for around half that. Organizers had seemingly not fully considered the setting of the venue, in the midst of some large apartment buildings. Complaints over noise pollution resulted in the plug being pulled on an eventful, yet anti-climactic day in Daejeon.

 


 

Gwangju Blog

I’ve been asked to write for a local publication in Gwangju, the Gwangju Blog. It’s a regular gig, I’ll be writing four articles per month about sport in the area. I’ll post them on this blog too… partly out of convenience for future collation, but also, because maybe some people at home might be interested in reading them.
You can read Gwangju Blog here: http://gwangjublog.com/
It contains updates, reports, directives and guides and is very useful for people in the area.

My Radio Debut

This week I am appearing on the Pete Ross M-Town show, on GFN-FM 98.7. You can listen online at http://www.gfn.or.kr/index.jsp. I’ll be talking about viral videos, chatting with Pete about the top 5 of the week. These are the videos you see everywhere online. Facebook, Twitter, in your inbox. They range from the sublime, to the ridiculous, to the downright nauseating. And then, of course, you have your cute animals.
Hopefully this will turn into a regular slot and I’ll post the videos on the blog. The show airs from 2000-2200 Korean time, about 1200-1300 GMT. I’ve never done radio before, but have always been keen on it. Nonetheless, recording today was a bit nerve-wracking… I had to simultaneously think about what I was saying (something I’m not used to) and keep my accent under control – many people here have difficulty understanding what I’m saying, and that’s just the Americans.
I’ve been told I’ll grow into it.
Here’s hoping.
Oh, and if anyone’s seen any good videos, be sure to let me know.

Feed The Boats @ Speakeasy Bar

Written for The Gwangju News

Hearing of a live rock band playing in Gwangju is a bit like seeing an oasis on the horizon after months of traipsing thirstily over scorched desert plains. Sure, the internet allows anybody with a modicum of know-how to keep up to date with whatever tickled their eardrums at home, but any active music fan begins to crave the sweat and grime of a ramshackle gig before long.

And so it was, on the weekend of Gwangju World Music Festival, that Speakeasy paid host to one of the most omnipotent bands in town, Feed The Boats. And the gods were seemingly on their side. With the weather ensuring the Festival was a washout, the boats were duly fed. Patrons streamed through the door in the shape of a one-fingered salute, directed at Festival organizers, who had chosen to overlook Speakeasy when selecting after-party venues for the event. Did somebody say karma?

In some respects, Feed The Boats couldn’t really fail tonight. A bunch of pie-eyed, gig-starved westerners are hardly the most difficult crowd to please, but credit where it’s due: they put on a good show. Their set list was well chosen: a mixture of crowd pleasers and what seemed to be personal favourites. The crowd, well oiled after a warm up set from Deserts, responded well to each number; dancing, singing along and hurling compliments toward the stage. The lead singer has an excellent voice: guttural and grungy, a refreshing take on Courtney Love or Brody Dalle. And so, it was no surprise when they launched into a rollicking Distillers number.

Likewise, their take on Mod classic A Town Called Malice is pleasing, but not wholly unanticipated, given the poker-faced Englishman in tow. Feed The Boats’ style is a well-worn brand of bar-rock; toying with alternative and EMO, before settling somewhere in the middle. The original numbers they play are greeted warmly, but it’s their versions of a couple of classics that will endure. The schism between The Crystals and The Replacements could never be overstated, so congratulations to Feed The Boats for going some way to bridge the gap, with an enjoyable rendition of And Then I Kissed Her and the Minneapolis outfit’s Bastards of Young, delivered in the only way it should be: loud, fast and rickety.

No, Feed The Boats won’t win any awards for originality, but they should be commended for providing what was certainly the most entertaining option on a Saturday night in Gwangju.

Video: The Replacements – Bastards of Young

http://www.youtube.com/v/VtCTQRGXJps?fs=1&hl=en_US

What does the future hold for Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix?

A recent article in the respected English football journal When Saturday Comes explored the direction taken by the Japanese Football Association in creating a successful professional league. Last year, the J-League drew an average crowd of 19,000, compared with the mean gate of 25,000 at an Italian Serie A game (Serie A being in the top 3 most vaunted leagues in the world). The author opined that part of the reason for this has been the healthy competition between the J-League and its Korean counterpart, the K-League. “What is interesting,” he mused, “is the way that the improvement of Japan and the J-League has also had a positive impact on the quality of the South Korean team and the K-League.”There can be no disputing the progress made by South Korea’s national team over the past decade and the league as a whole has risen in profile and stature. But the news has seemingly yet to filter down to the people of Gwangju. The city’s local team, Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix, had an average attendance of 7,719 in 2009, the second lowest in the K-League. The figure is an absolute travesty when you consider the facilities the team boast at the Guus Hiddink World Cup Stadium, but a little more palatable when you consider some of the facts. Sangmu is the sporting division of the Military of South Korea and Phoenix is the professional football club. The playing staff is made up entirely of young Korean professional footballers serving their obligatory two years national service. Fifteen players sign for the team every season. They spend two seasons in Gwangju before returning to their previous professional club.

At a time when football is becoming ever more international, more glamorous and more colourful, the opportunity to watch eleven soldiers struggle to produce the desired level of cohesion and quality needed to challenge the big guns of Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Suwon Samsung Bluewings simply doesn’t register with the locals.Sangmu are not allowed to sign any foreign players because of their military status and as such, the side really doesn’t have the wow factor perhaps required to drag the punters away from the (erstwhile) successful baseball team Kia Tigers.

It’s particularly difficult when you consider the imports on show elsewhere. Ulsan Hyundai, for example, are lining up this season with Colombia internationals Juan Estiven Velez and Carmelo Valencia. Seongnam’s attack has been spearheaded by their compatriot Mauricio Molina. Montenegran striker DejanDamjanović leads the line for FC Seoul and just about every other K-League outfit boasts players plucked from foreign leagues.


But that’s not to say a trip to the World Cup Stadium to support Sangmu isn’t worthwhile. Coming from Ireland, the local teams I grew up with could only dream of the amenities the faithful of Phoenix enjoy. The ground has a capacity of 44,118 and is an all-seater. Transport links are convenient and the fact that you can bring your own beers and do a quick food shop at the adjacent Lotte Mart means a Gwangju Sangmu home game makes for great day out: with a family or friends. Alas, the stadium doesn’t attract anything resembling a full house. I attended the K-League’s Round 11, when the visitors to Gwangju were Gangwon FC. The attendance was a paltry 2,367 (the stadium was under 5% full), but the quality of football on show was impressive, and the fervour of some of the fans that had attended was admirable. A troupe of bare-chested ultras led the chorus: banging out a steady rhythm on drums and chanting as though the stadium was heaving. For the most part though, the occasion was marked for its comfort and the mildness of the afternoon. Regular attendees of professional football would rarely describe their endeavours as pleasant, peaceful or tranquil, but the afternoon ticked all of those boxes.

Sangmu were in the driving seat for the most part and their dominance paid off when Kim Dong-Hyun broke the deadlock early in the second half. They held out for a narrow victory, although Gangwon rarely looked like troubling Seong Kyun-Il’s goal. The Sangmu line-up contained midfielder Kim Jung-Woo, who went on to impress in the World Cup in South Africa, playing in all four of ROK’s games. It pushed the side up to a respectable ninth position in the table, which would be their best showing for six seasons should they maintain it for the duration of the season.

The future of football in the city, though, is in the balance, with some interesting developments afoot. The city’s mayor has this year pledged his full support to a local citizen team to kick off in 2011. Such a move would certainly offer a lifeline to the beautiful game in Gwangju. Sure, they would be able to sign overseas players (although many argue that those willing to ply their trade in Korea are only doing so because they couldn’t cut the mustard elsewhere and are looking to make a quick buck), but the consequences run much deeper than this. One of the cornerstones of creating a solid fanbase is loyalty; amongst both fans and staff. With the current system, players can play a maximum of two years with Gwangju Sangmu before returning to their “parent clubs”. With an independent team, they could nurture their own youth players, cultivate cult heroes and produce players synonymous with the Gwangju brand: a feat that is impossible in their current guise. How gutting it must be for regular followers of the side to watch their best players getting shipped off season after season.

Player allegiance is another issue that could be rectified. It is a timeworn fact that players perform better where they are wanted and where they have chosen to be. Having been plucked from such an environment and placed in the line-up of the country’s military team, their performance levels are liable to drop. If Gwangju wish to be truly competitive in the K-League, the creation of an independent side is a necessity. And hopefully then the World Cup Stadium won’t cut the lonely figure of a white elephant on the Sangmu horizon.

Written for Gwangju News

Gwangju? Because Not All Roads Lead to Seoul…

My first piece for The Three Wise Monkeys zine. I’ve really been neglecting this blog, but there is a lot of decent stuff to come, both published and unpublished. I just need to get my finger out…

Coming to Gwangju: The Road Less Traveled

Mudeung

I’m going to level with you from the outset: twelve months ago, I’d never even heard of Gwangju. My geographical knowledge of the peninsula was sketchy at best and I was as guilty as every other naval-gazing Westerner in assuming South Korea began and ended in Seoul. So I’ll forgive those of you who have yet to be awakened to the undoubted charms of this parochial southern city. A year down the line, my eyes are open. I’ve lived and breathed Gwangju for a month now and as the novelty wears off, it’s being replaced by something new: a warm, quiet air of contentment. Gwangju will never rival Seoul or Busan for variety of nightlife. Nor will it ever lay claim to being a truly international city. But it has charm in abundance, a rich and shocking history and a friendliness I’ve experienced nowhere else in the world.

Gwangju Massacre Obelisk

Admittedly, I came to Gwangju on a whim. I could’ve gone to Seoul and had offers elsewhere, but on the limited information available to me, I plumped for this one. If, like mine was, your knowledge of the city is based solely on the obligatory Wikipedia article, forum posts and blog comments, you could be excused for thinking it was a rural backwater – an outpost of civilization housing hicks and rednecks. This notion was dispelled as soon as I rolled into the bus station. Perhaps it’s because I’m Irish (Dublin, our largest city, has a population of only one million), but to me, Gwangju is a huge city. With that comes the usual facilities, infrastructure and places to go. As with much of Korea, Gwangju looks as though it was dropped randomly to the earth, landing, as it is, in a huge ravine, flanked on each side by lush, green mountains.

For a budding hiker, Mudeung Mountain offers the greatest challenge. At over 1,200 feet, it’s one of the biggest summits in Jeollanam-do. The view from the top is spectacular and it’s worth setting a day aside to climb it. But you can’t help but feel you’ve cheated a little when greeted by a carpeted trail towards the top… perhaps it won’t appeal to the more intrepid climber, it’s not exactly off the beaten track. For added spice, try trekking up it in 85 degrees after a heavy night on the soju. Crash helmet, recommended.

A few years back, the Korean government afforded Gwangju the status “A Cultural Hub City of Asia”. Until 2023, they will pump about $1.8 billion into a project that is an attempt at rebalancing the culture of South Korea. Previously so much resource was ploughed into Seoul, with the rest of the country being left behind. Already the regeneration projects are visible. Some areas of the cities have been transformed. Gwangju is gradually being pulled into the 21st Century. Since the city’s nickname is The City Of Light, light is the loose theme of the project. The centerpiece of the project, a Forest of Light, looks stunning! The chances are I won’t be in Gwangju until 2023 and won’t reap most of the benefit. But the future looks bright for the culture of the city.

Massacre 2

It’s another feather in the cap of the locals, who consider themselves to be pioneering in their beliefs and the guardians of Korean democracy. Last month (May 2010) was the thirtieth anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, a popular rebellion led by students in the city, which lasted for over a week and was protesting against the newly installed military government. The students took up arms and took over the city, bestowing civil rule upon it for days. Famously though, they were crushed by the Korean Army. The number of people killed is disputed, although people here confidently predict that it ran into the late hundreds. Some people are still unaccounted for, thirty years on. In fact, the uprising was billed as a Communist movement during the propaganda hit 1980s. But the past month has been an eye opener. The people of Gwangju are proud and they took the anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate and commemorate. There was music, speeches, dancing, drumming and plenty of drinking. The same streets that had been dashed with blood three decades ago were now streaming with soju, makgeolli and tears of the veterans.

One man who had been injured in the crushing of the rebellion was at pains to convey to me the depth of emotion the people felt. “Every time I look at this building,” he said pointing at a large, nondescript structure, “I remember that time. I have flashbacks and become frightened.” His tale is common here. The celebratory efforts and mood is admirable, coming from a nation of civil unrest I can empathize. The character and steely determination of the Gwangju people is palpable. The city’s makeover will give their home a shiny new face, but the locals are certain that it won’t banish the ghosts of thirty years ago. They won’t allow that to happen.

Scene from the movie about Gwangju Massacre

After only one month in Gwangju, I have learned a lot about Korean people, with the anniversary acting as a window to their souls. The city courts modernity whilst having its roots firmly based in tradition. This hybrid, I feel, is an excellent model in learning about Koreans and their culture. Come see it for yourselves.

We’re not in Kansas anymore: Notes from the Korean Peninsula

“I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Okay, so I came here under slightly different circumstances, but the past week has been one of the most wonderfully bizarre of my life. I even had to read the title of this post again. I did make this trip: last Friday, I flew from Heathrow airport, via Dubai, arriving in Incheon Airport just outside Seoul at 10pm. A four hour bus journey later and I was in the city that will act as my home for the coming year, Gwangju.

You can try to prepare yourself for something like this. I read a lot of literature, books and online articles. I thought I had a decent grasp of Korean culture and its people before I left. I was wrong and I am truly delighted I am. So far, this country has been overwhelming in every respect: the food, the friendliness of the people, the weather, the LIGHTS! The journey from the airport, driving the length of the country’s coastline was my first eye-opener. It was the wee hours of a Sunday morning, yet the place was lit up like a Christmas tree… everywhere. Even the crosses on top of the churches are in neon.

Next day, I went exploring, taking in the sounds, smells and sounds of an alien culture: struggling to grasp the reality… this isn’t a holiday. I live and work here for twelve months. It took a while for this to sink in. In fact, I still don’t think it fully has. There’s a real normality about my days that makes the experience utterly surreal. One minute I’m in my apartment eating cereal, listening to We Were Promised Jetpacks, the next, I step out my door into an Oriental street market.

Yesterday, I woke up early to watch the Election 2010 online. I slipped into a Dimbleby induced comfort zone. The next thing, the onion cart rolls by (the onion vendor who drives around the streets at silly o’clock selling his wares, complete with a loud speaker fixed on top of his pickup, playing pre-recorded advertising-yell in Korean. It’s a bit creepy, actually. Slightly Orwellian). My thoughts turned to Mogwai: “Yes! I am a long way from home.”

My days are structured (get up, go to work, go for dinner, yadda yadda), which I think adds to the surrealism. Coupled with crippling jetlag (four hours sleep a night: max. And I thought it made you sleepy?), the first week has been a struggle, but I’ve enjoyed it nonetheless. This year will be an amazing experience. There are people at home I will miss. They know who they are, but I have to make the most of it.

I’m having a tough time deciding what to do with this blog. There isn’t much by the way of live music in Gwangju (although I will take every attempt to see what I can. Actually, I am going to see a band called Angry Bear tonight, update to come later), so I guess it has morphed into something of a travel journal. An online account of one ginger man’s attempt to get to grips with a culture as alien to him as any in the world. I will also keep the blog updated with published work (I will be writing for a number of Korean publications and probably some at home).

But now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s 20+ degrees outside. The sun is shining, and I’ve got a mountain climb.

Video – Mogwai: Yes I Am A Long Way From Home

http://www.youtube.com/v/RxZr6u9fT1I&hl=en_GB&fs=1&rel=0