Did you know that July 1 is Canada Day? No, me neither. But living and working in Korea has taught me many things about other cultures and not just Korean culture. Our Canadian friends enlightened us about this day that commemorates the birth of their fine nation and it was decided that we should do something fun to celebrate.
Our super organised friend Jen (who also happens to be a Canadian citizen/expert) arranged, with the help of her extremely obliging Korean co-teacher, Miyoung, for us all to go white water rafting for the weekend. They booked rooms at a pension house out in the wilds of northern Gyeonggi province, up near the border with North Korea, at a place called Gwanin, a rural district of Pocheon city. Jen warned us to "bring some drinking supplies" as she wasn't sure if they would have a convenience store out there "in the country". She was right, it was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, trees and with a large river (I think it was the Hantan) running close by for us to raft on.
Pocheon City is in Northern Gyeonggi province, on the border with North Korea. (photo from Worknplay Consulting website)
Just in case I'd forgotten that we live in a country that is technically still at war - I was looking for pictures of Pocheon and this one was pretty high up the list - it shows a Korean artillery live fire exercise on Pocheon mountain from Dec 2010. It seems Pocheon is a popular place for the Korean and US armies to practice their moves.
We got up early in the morning on Saturday and swapped Hanam for the noisy, crowded Gangbyeon Bus Terminal in East Seoul where we met our friends coming from Gwangju-si in time to catch the 10am bus to Pocheon. The bus took nearly two hours and followed a rather meandering route out into ever smaller towns and villages. When we arrived in Gwanin we were herded into a minivan and driven at breakneck speed (is there any other speed in Korea?) to our pension house. Having survived that journey, I was sure that the rafting would be a walk in the park in comparison. I think I might have even shouted at the driver in Korean to slow down and/or possibly sworn at him. Bad Sophie, but I hate other people gambling with my life and those of my friends because they want to get off for a cigarette break or whatever. Losers. Anyway, the pension house was lovely, a white painted, two storey affair with a balcony out front which later became the haunt of the smokers once the after rafting drinking got started.
Our pension house near the river. It looks overcast but don't be fooled, it wasn't cold. It was a hot, humid Korean summer day and overcast and hazy is the default summer sky setting here!
After eating some snacks and setting our bags down, we all got changed into some rafting appropriate clothes i.e. stuff that would dry fast and then headed outside. We were driven by minivan (not so terrifyingly fast this time) to the place where they keep the rafting equipment and we all got kitted out in helmets and life jackets and we each got given a metal paddle. Then it was back on the bus for the short hop down to the river.
Us looking awesome in our rafting gear!
On the bus going to the river. Those metal paddles were lethal in that confined space! It was like the first test of our rafting skills.
Little did they know that this trip would change all their lives in ways they'd never imagined possible....this season's blockbuster, "Without a Paddle" going straight to DVD at a Blockbusters near you.
We arrived at the river and were greeted by our cheerful Korean guide who happily explained that we should be careful as the river was more dangerous than usual as it was swollen by the recent heavy rains. Of course we weren't fazed by this at all cos we're all so hardcore. Well, maybe one or two people got a bit nervous but no pain no gain. Our group wasn't the only one rafting that day. There were a few others, all Korean I think, and we all started at the same point on the river.
Inflatable rafts on the more "dangerous" than usual Hantan River.
We all climbed aboard our blue inflatable raft and were given a very brief safety talk that mainly consisted of "try not to fall out of the raft", "keep you feet in the loops on the floor of the raft so you don't fall out" and "keep paddling" when told to so we don't capsize and then off we went. It was a bit strange at first getting used to the balance of the raft and how to paddle properly but the instructor guy seemed to know what he was doing and soon got us working like a machine! He assigned number 1 to one side and 2 to the other and called out the appropriate number when he wanted that side to paddle. Hey, we got so good at it, he even called the numbers out in Korean to us sometimes and we still got it right - good job!
Heading out on the rather crowded river.
We got soaked and had a great time! Note our grinning Korean guide giving it the peace (or "Kimchi") sign at the back.
The white water wasn't really that scary, despite the guide's warning but it was still really fun and pretty exhilarating when we crashed through the larger swells. The guide would shout at us toi keep paddling as we got closer and everyone braced themselves as a wall of white spray flew up into our faces. There was a moment when you couldn't see what was going on, you just kept clinging to the boat with your foot in the loop and paddling for dear life - it was great! Everybody managed to stay on board throughout the trip and we actually travelled through some really pretty countryside too.
The river ran through a thickly wooded valley.
There were strange rock formations in the cliffs at the side of the river.
The rock cliffs were very steep at some points along the journey and I'm sure I remember the guide saying that there were bats living in them.
We took a brief break half way through the course which made for a nice photo opp. All the watery photos on here are care of Leif's waterproof camera - cheers Leif!
The raft guides encouraged their motley crews to attack the other vessels by splashing them lots - that's what the paddles were really for!
I'm not sure how long the actual rafting went on for, maybe just under 2 hours. Once we'd completed the course, we had to haul the raft out and onto the shore. We handed our gear over, got a shower and then it was the bus back to the pension for an all you can eat meat and veggies dinner accompanied buy some free booze - winning!
They gave us some free beer and soju to wash the food down with. How thoughtful of the pension owner!
This was Leif's third year of living in Korea. Here he displays his mastery of the complicated chopstick paper cup soju drinking manoeuvre.
As darkness descended, Rowan and I began to lose control of our photographic outlines.
It got dark as we were eating and with darkness comes mozzies and other biting things so we headed indoors to enjoy our pension rooms and drinking supplies. Rowan managed to befriend a group of Korean lads staying in one of the other rooms and they ended up hanging out with us for the evening.
Partying in the pension room. It was a Korean style room which meant no beds, just blankets on the floor.
Our new Korean friends.
Possibly acting out some part of a musical or K-Pop song perhaps!
Cultural exchange is always easier with a little liquid lubrication!
Overall, it was a fun night but a rather painful morning for some! We all got a lift back to to the main bus stop in one of the pension minibuses and then it was an intercity bus back to Seoul. A good weekend and a fun way to celebrate Canada Day!