Monday, 26 July 2010

Large scale military maneuvers over Gwangju

There have been many times when I wish I had my good camera with me and this afternoon was definitely one of them. Not only was the weather fine and the light perfect there were also lots of interesting things to shoot on my walk home from school through the rice paddies. A large, white cattle egret landed right in front of me and stayed still for nearly a minute as if waiting for me to whip my camera out - they are usually extremely hard to get a picture of as they fly away whenever I get anywhere near them. There were so many dragonflies of different hues and sizes buzzing around my head and darting back and forth across the little road through the fields that I began to think they were gathering around me on purpose to taunt me as I didn't bother to bring my decent camera out with me and my little compact had a dead battery.

The worst moment of all though was when I noticed the sound of helicopters overhead and looked behind me to see two military choppers that I think were Chinooks flying low in the sky over Gwangju. Trailing behind the second helicopter was a curving line of dots that I realised were parachutes quickly descending to the hills that encompass the south eastern edge of Gwangju in the area called Yangbeoli. I was really cursing then as I had never seen a military parachute drop before and if I'd had a working camera with me I could have got some great shots. Over the next 30 minutes or so I watched as another 7 Chinooks flew over, one after the other and dropped more men onto the hillside. Each copter dropped 10 men so there must be at least 90 guys romping over that hill right now in this intense summer heat. There may have been more as I lost sight of the area once I had walked into Gwangju proper as the buildings obscured my view. Seeing those people jump from the helicopters was quite an impressive sight. At first I could just see a tiny black speck when they first left the copter, then almost immediately, the black speck would bloom into a mushroom as the parachute was released. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be dropping down in formation over Gwangju like that. I came to the conclusion it must feel a lot cooler and more comfortable then I was feeling baking out in the sun in the rice paddy.

A Chinook - This is what the helicopters above Gwangju looked like.

It was quite a surreal sight considering that Gwangju is really just a small 'one horse' town as our friend Dean put it. I admit seeing a large scale military maneuver made me feel slightly nervous given the current climate in Korea. Perhaps it is a sign of the rising tensions on the peninsular (but then again it could just be a standard exercise). I know that South Korea and the USA are currently carrying out a huge military exercise to put North Korea in its place after the sinking of the Cheonan warship but as far as I'm aware that is happening miles away over the Sea of Japan so this parachute drop must just be an unrelated exercise. It is kind of worrying that the North have threatened to launch a 'sacred war' on th South as a retaliation for the big joint military exercise and even more worrying that this proposed retaliation would be of the nuclear description. I'm just hoping that the guys parachuting onto our hillside are friendly!

Overall, the moral of this story is never leave home without a working camera in South Korea. You never know what you might see.


  1. wow the man in that helicopter has a MASSIVE hand!!

    I trust you've learned your lesson and charged your battery - I want to see a pic of a cattle egret :)

  2. Sounds like a really exciting day! Feel your frustration on the camera front. Cattle egrets are very sweet looking birds! Cool stuff guys.

  3. Ha, glad you noticed that! There were many pictures of chinooks available to me but I used that one just because of the giant hand!

  4. Cheers Jay. Suffice to say I shall be taking my camera out with me tomorrow. Just watch while it pours with rain!

    Found on youtube, some South Korean Army Chinooks. Enjoy. For some reason it's got Linkin Park or some similar rubbish over the top of it, so the mute button might be required. Hope all is good.

  6. Thanks for the link Jay. Great helicopter action, shame about the Linkin Park though!