Thursday, March 17, 2011


I have had a few emails from people voicing their concern for my safety as Korea is so close to Japan and the tsunami/nuclear crisis they are working through at present. I, much like everyone back home, have been closely following the news. I want to reassure everyone that I am quite safe and Korea has felt no effects from this tragic disaster.

Consequently, a good friend of mine works has close personal ties to Japan, but she also happens to work in the study abroad office at Whitman college. Part of her current duties there are to keep up with the disaster and keep concerned parents of exchange students in Japan up to date on the latest information. I'm finding it hard to know what is sensationalist media and what is accurate at times, so I sent her a questioning email, and this was her response:

"Hey! I'm really glad that you got in touch to ask about this. The past several days I've basically had to talk a bunch of parents down from panicking about evacuating their kids from Kyoto, but at the same time have had to get some plans in place should we actually have to get them out of the country. Kyoto was completely unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami, and continues to be unaffected (for now) by the nuclear situation. I'm completely glad to help, since I've been glued to the nytimes website and NHK news nonstop, and have learned more about nuclear reactors than I ever cared to know.

I just remembered that you said that you would meet up with Katie in Tokyo, right? In that case, I would be much more cautious about travel plans... although Kojiro and I still have friends and family there who are safe and calm, there have been constant aftershocks, some issues with shortages of food staples in grocery stores (though not as severe as the media would have us believe), and then there's the worry about radiation (although Tokyo is also unaffected at this point). The nice thing is that since you weren't planning on going until late April, you have a little bit of time to wait and see what happens. For me, it feels like it's been going on forever, but I have to stop and remind myself that it's been less than a week. So I would just recommend monitoring the situation for another week or so (and please, please, please feel free to get in touch with me again, since I'll be watching the situation closely anyway) before you make any decisions. Our travel agent also says that in times where an emergency is declared, airlines will sometimes refund or waive fees for canceling or changing flights, so you and katie could always try and change your itineraries to take a trip somewhere else (though I know that you were really looking forward to visiting Japan).

I've also been really annoyed with some of the sensationalist headlines that have been coming up, even on the nytimes (i.e. comparing the disaster to chernobyl and using terms like "meltdown" when the actual content of the articles just detail further containment strategies and scary, but non-catastrophic, releases of radiation). It's hard not to panic a little bit just seeing the headlines change all the time, but here are a couple of places that I think are worth checking:

Alerts/messages from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo:

NHK (Japan's national broadcasting channel) news in English: (seems to have the most up to date, and measured information available)

I hope that helps! Kojiro is still fine (haha, very calm... and much calmer than me!), so is his family, and our friends in Tokyo. We've been incredibly lucky that this disaster hasn't affected us personally, but of course, the unfolding nuclear situation is always a worry.
Take care and stay in touch!"

That's all for now, but I'll leave you with one more informative but light video that another friend posted about the situation with the nuclear plant:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Season's Ripe for Hiking!

In the past few weeks, the weather in Pohang (on many days) has significantly improved, making me feel like I want to be outside all the time! Of course, I have things to do that keep me from fulfilling this wish, but every time I step outside, I am excited and hopeful for spring. It's a little bizarre from time to time, however, as after 3 days of temperatures in the low 50s, we'll have a day where it's 24 degrees, and they're predicting snow. I've heard the weather at home is somewhat crazy as well. I'm sure we have global warming and climate change to thank.

This past weekend, I went with Hoopie for a nice day hike in Gyeongju. Gyeongju is the cultural capital of Korea, and is only 30 minutes by car from Pohang. I haven't spent a lot of time there except to keep medical appointments, so this was really the first time I got to see it. It is beautiful. Even before the hike, riding the bus through the town to get to the temple, I was overwhelmed with how traditional the city looks. It's completely different from everywhere else I've been in korea. Most cities here are spattered with high-rises and industry, and the only traditional buildings you see are temples, usually on the outskirts. Gyeongju, however, is quite different. The buildings are low, with pagoda rooftops and traditional facades. There are mazes of side streets running through the little houses, and hardly any chain stores or large marts. There is a river that cuts in and out of the city, reflecting the sun and making everything green and blue. It's beautiful. It made me feel more like I was in Asia than anywhere I've yet been in korea.

The hike was delightful. The weather was warm, but cool and breezy enough that we didn't overheat as we climbed the steeper parts of the trail. We began at the Bulguksa Temple, one of the most famous temples in South Korea, because it represents the height of Shilla architecture. I never tire of the brilliant colors on the eves of the temples, the spacious interiors of the courtyards, and the easy peaceful feeling present inside their walls. After looking around, we found the trail to Seokguram, another temple just a few short kilometers up the mountain. We took our time and played trail games, occasionally stopping to snap photos of the magnificent views, or just take a wheeze break. (In the midst of this, I realized I'm pretty out of shape!) Seokguram is incredible to see, as it's nestled into the mountain amid rocks and steep inclines--it really is an engineering feat. I want to return there at night to see how it looks when the lanterns are lit, and the view of the countryside below is dotted with lights of scattered cities.
Hoopie and I continued up the trail at my request--though we were getting hungry for lunch, I wanted to see the peak, and it was only another 1.3 kilometers, though quite steep. We munched some trail snacks, sipped our water, and continued on. We breathed heavily on the climb and carefully navigated around wide patches of mud, as well as left-over ice from the last snow. When we reached the top, the payoff was incredible. The trail opened up and we could see for miles. Vast ridges of mountains in all directions, rivers cutting through the valleys, and the ocean in the distance. What a beautiful country this is, I thought.

As the weather is easing into spring, I'm making a personal resolution to get onto the trails as often as possible. There is so much natural beauty here, though this country is so industrialized and western. Korean people really value their mountains, their hiking, and the peace of nature. As a northwesterner, I feel a certain affinity for them through this shared piece of culture.
Where to next?