Eating bacon in Daejeon

By XKCD when I return to Korea, the comic graph by Randall Munroe pops into my head. Who knows if bacon is really that bad, but I have a feeling that I should not eat it too often. I never really liked bacon, until I ate it in Korea. While living there, I had to compensate the barbeques with a lot of running, leaving little time to feast on this pork/alcoholic delights on a daily basis. Can say a lot about how great the country is, but end of line in terms of food; Koreans just love bacon, where else do families give each other “spam giftsets” for thanksgiving? I spent last weekend in South Korea and just had to give in to eating some Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) again. As sophisticated as it gets, this was the best barbecue I had all summer! 70% of the Koreans like this particular dish so much, that they eat it every week. Just remember what Miss Piggy said: “never eat more then you can lift”!

MBC Marathon – the results are in!

Those happy faces are me and my collegues, Frank-Jan, Zdenek, Marten and Arjan from ING – just – before we started running our (half) marathon. Perhaps we were even happier when we finished – it would have been better, or at least more fair to share a before / after picture I suppose.

Together with Suna us ‘westerners’ participated in a Korean marathon. The 15.000 participants made me wonder why I haven’t actually see people train on the streets of Seoul more often. I always thought the latter of Koreans preferred hiking over running, perhaps I was wrong; Most participants seemed to know what they were doing.

Naively about the consequence, I agreed to undertake this 21.0975 km long challange in early 2009 – This tenderfoot aimed to finish his first ‘professional’ race within 2 hours, or at least… to finish at all. To do so, I decided to eat more healthy food (less burgers, more fish) and I stopped drinking coffee completely, but more importantly I undertook a ‘special’ training programme: A day to day running schedule to get in shape for half a marathon, downloaded from the Internet. In a timespan of 80 days, I ran a total of 360 km in preperation, usually during lunch breaks. The amounts increased until I ran 20km every Sunday, rest on Mondays and Saturdays, and maintaining with about 8 ~ 10 Km during the remaining days of the week. I guess that the people at the gym know my name by now.

I wanted to be prepared because of our charity run. Just weeks before the race, we decided to raise sponsors and donate the money to Unicef. My office reacted very positively, perhaps too good! The common awareness of my collegues pointed out that I shouldn’t let them down.

I aimed to have fun, and accelerate my pace at the end of the race. It worked, I finished at 1 hour and 44 minutes, my new (and first) record. As you can see on the graph, the start of the race I slowed down, mainly due to the vast amount of people running before me on the street, creating a funnel effect. Later, I could accelerate due to the latitude and goal in sight. I raised 1.286.714 KRW for Unicef in total we raised a stunning 6 million KRW. I’d like to thank all my 29 sponsors, (I know who you are!) for your support, it was a great motivation to keep on running!

Now I am wondering what would be next. The Hong Kong mountaintrail would be a little too much, but I am dreaming of finishing the New York City marathon, perhaps in 2010 / 2011. We’ll keep you updated!

Holiday in Jeju

Woman done fishing for today – Traditional Korean seafood soup is enhanced by distinctive shellfish harvested by the famous woman divers of Jeju Island. An age-old tradition, the fisher-woman of Jeju spend long hours in the waters surrounding the island relentlessly diving again and again, collecting the unique sea snails, shell fish and abalone in the bountiful waters of Jeju.

Jeju women relaxing in the sun – While looking around a small town, we had a chat with these women. They seemed to have a good laugh on their old day. Perhaps the country life isn’t so bad in Jeju?

Palm trees – Jeju has many faces, while we were taking pictures of these palmtrees at a warm evening, we climbed vulcano Hallasan the next day. The path to the top was often covered with ice, what a contradiction!

Hiking down the coastline – Many friends recommended us to hire a car or scooter on Jeju island. If you go there, I’d recommend you to go backpacking instead. Granted, it might sound clumsy and difficult, but it’s quite an experience! This picture was taking halfway a 15km hike over the vulcanic rocks of Jeju beach. There were episodes of climbing, a beautiful scenery here and there, delicious food at restaurants and more well received surprises. Jeju is a nice place to take some time to walk around!

Cheonjiyeon waterfall – This waterfalls are located in the subtropical heart of Jeju. Best enjoyed with some juicy fruit you never seen before!

North-Korea vs. South-Korea match at Mapo-gu Stadium

The national football teams of North and South Korea have played a World Cup qualifier in Seoul today – which the South won by one goal to nil. Although the game was quite boring, there was a good atmosphere in the stadium, especially after Kim Chi Woo scored the first goal for South Korea.

The crowd was not as enthusiastic as I expected, seeing the Korean football fans act crazy during their victory in 2002. Perhaps it was the staggering cold that cooled the cheering a bit. Gold medal winning figure skater Kim Na-Young appeared during half time to address and thank the audience. Check out the pictures to see how much fun we had with our boards saying “I love Kim Na-Young” and “korea victory!” Ghehe that was great fun.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone

South Korea’s military says it is preparing for the possibility that North Korea may try to provoke a naval skirmish along their disputed sea border. (december 2008, While things look calm for an expat, South and North Korea are officially still at war, because of that military service is compulsory for men. One of my Korean friends served at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for a couple of years. He told me about the DMZ, I decided to check the buffer-zone between North and South Korea out for myself. It’s a iron curtain just like the one in Europe during the cold war.

Both sides are heavily guarded by army guards — ready to defend themselves against the enemy. The border is about 248 kilometers long, the DMZ is 4 kilometers wide. I took the liberty to send out a Tweet from North Korea, just like our minister of foreign affairs, Maxime Verhagen.
We had to go through a number of checks but South-Koreans have to register 6 months in advance to go, and are not allowed to join foreigners on this visit, so I was alone today! That second picture (field) shows the North Korean mountains, they are bald — claimed to be cut down by North Koreans for heating and cooking.

The Korean flagpole war is an interesting phenomenon, outcome is the biggest flag of the world — waving for North Korea. (picture) Two entities have such deep rooted feelings to be better then the other, that one cannot live with the fact that their flag is bigger. During the Olymics in Seoul in 1988, the South-Koreans decided to raise a big South-Korean flag in the propaganda village Daesongong. This created a counter reaction of the North Koreans to enlarge their flag size. The South Koreans didn’t like this, and decided to raise their flag to astounding height. This ‘flag war’ continued to ridiculous proportions. So today, you will find the worlds biggest flag in a no-man village in the middle of no where. While it’s hard to see on the picture, this flag is HUGE! The pole is 160 meters long! The flag has to be taken down during rain, avoiding the pole to be collapsing under the weight.

The video shows the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face. The small blue buildings on the left is the MAC Conference Room, where talks take place between both sides. These buildings are set squarely on the Military Demarcation Line separating South and North Korea. North Korea in the back, South Korea in the front.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju

The thermometer slowly declined down to zero degrees over the last week. We headed up to the roof to see the sunset in the clean frosty sky, I realized that this was not the first time we were going up for a view.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju. We woke up early to see the sunrise in Gyonju, the South East of Korea. We drove our car up the mountain by dawn, feeling chased by time. Fortunately, we got there in time! The sunrise was amazing, never seen something like it!

Buddha Bumped into this fellow when I was hiking somewhere in the west. I wonder how long this statue has been here.

[Pictures] View over Busan city from hotel

We decided to head out to Korea’s second largest city — the harbor city Busan. Very moist and clear upon arrival, but dark and foggy when we woke up. I was curious about Busan because I like cities next to the sea, we spend some time on the beach, had an interesting night.

Do you see those grey shafts with the blue P on it? That are parking spaces… A big elevator for cars. No driving, very efficient.The Busan harbor is ranked internationally as the third largest seaport in terms of cargo volume, it reminded me of Rotterdam.

Meanwhile, at the blind-Korean-GPS-marketed-witch-doctor’s house

I visited a very special practitioner on Friday the 22nd. A blind chiropractor called Mr Ahn, with a special approach. — for his diagnose, he touches certain body points, after which he gives lifestyle advice or prescribes natural medicines. The man has gained popularity, and people from all corners of Korea are lining up in front of his house. Interesting part of his popularity is the relation with GPS technology, an example how old traditions meets new technology in Korea.

Free GPS marketing

Mr Ahn was trained as an acupuncturist by a monk ever since he was just ten years old. At the age of forty, he had a car accident and became blind. At that point he became a chiropractor and became popular in an interesting way.

The CEO of an in car GPS company had a very sick son, the baby had something with his intestines. The hospital couldn’t do much, and planned a second operation in the same month. The CEO couldn’t stand the approach of the hospital and decided to visit mr Ahn.

The blind practitioner pressed his stomach, and closed the babies nose and anus. The mom had to breathe air through the babies mouth, and when she did, and the parents visited the hospital, the problems for the baby seem to have vanished.

The CEO was so happy with the result, that he made Mr. Ahn a point of interest on all GPS maps that were produced by his company, so people would be able to find the practitioner that saved his baby.

The point of interest is unique in the catalog, and its a good way for customers to find them. He lost his sight with a car, but gained popularity with the technology designed for cars.

So what did he tell me?

To be honest, I am not very open-minded towards alternative medication. My whole family works or has worked in a hospital at some point of time, including me. I prefer allopathic approaches to medical problems. Call it luck or coincidence, but I had the opportunity to visit him for free, and without a waiting in line, so I decided to experience his approach and see it for myself. Open minded towards the culture, and some curiosity I guess…

Inside the typical Korean house (no tables, and a big HD tv) I had to lie down on the floor, with my head on a pillow. He felt my hand and feet and told me that I had a high salt concentration. He told me that jogging would be the best sport for me to keep cholesterol levels low in the future. Then he explained that I was to stressed, and that I should take things more slowly. He started to write something in Braille and finished with a joke.

The advice was pretty general, jogging reduces cholesterol and everyone thinks they are stressed. The only thing that really struck me is his story about the salt. The Dutch cuisine is generally accented with salts, while the Korean cuisine is accented more towards sugar and sour tastes. I prefer to eat a lot of salt, and his immediate response that I ate to much of it, still boggles my mind today. What do you think?