Korea 50k (13k, actually)

And in fact, the 50k was really a 59k. Let’s hope that anyone signed up for the 50k realized going in that they would do almost 6 miles more than expected. This seems to be common in Korea–calling a race one distance and making it either much shorter or much longer. Though my race was definitely an accurate-ish 13k.

IMG_3420_result(4:30 am start of the 59k)

From the get-go, it was pretty obvious that the 59k was the BFD while the 13k was an afterthought. Or maybe it’s just that there are so few trail runners in Korea. But the finish/start line was all about the 50k, my finisher medal says Korea 50k, etc. etc. It was also obvious in the participants. Only 141 men and 46 women were officially registered for the 13k–or at least that’s how many people posted a finish, but the American military bases also bused in groups of soldiers–some of whom were officially registered and some not. It was the first time I’ve ever run a race surrounded by so many non-runners. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I mean, these people were there because they were forced to be there which is so anti-trail running spirit. They also weren’t too sure of what they were doing. It seemed a general trend to not understand trail etiquette or how to navigate a steep downhill. Unfortunately for these reasons, it was a bit of an annoying experience. Next year, I will run the long race–assuming I can continue training to that point and will be in such shape a year from now that I am able. I assume that the longer distance will ensure that people signed up want to be there, have trained, and are a part of the running community.

korea 13k start

It was otherwise a beautiful day out on the trails. Pretty warm but not too hot during a season where any given day could be frigid or rainy or blistering hot. The organizers did a wonderful job with the route. Korean trails are characterized by stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. There is not an ethic of trail-building using switchbacks or mitigation of erosion. But there were few stairs on this course (and no stair cases) because they utilized a lot of mountain bike trail single track. So much single track also made it super difficult to pass people who don’t understand trail etiquette, but I’d rather deal with that than be on the Stairmaster. So it was actually a good honest TRAIL run which was a happy surprise. There were two serious climbs on the route (one had a hand line) and tons of steep downhill. My quads were destroyed and I had to use the elevator at work for two days. It took five to get back to normal. But it was so fun to blast down single track. I just don’t get to do that so much where we live. I ended up 8th woman with a time of 1:53. 1:22 was the winning time.

Korea 13k fin

The 59k drew a handful of foreigners, mostly of the Chinese and Japanese variety as it was a part of a series of races in Asia, the Asia Trail Master. In a race series, one earns points by attending/placing in the associated races and there are prizes for individual wins as well as most wins, etc. This is similar to the TrailRunner Magazine’s “Trophy Series” or the International Sky Running series. One could also use the Korea 50k to obtain finishing points as a stepping stone to qualifying to run the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. So the main race certainly seemed to have more of a serious or authentic air about it and I’m going to keep it specifically in mind as an A goal next year. And you also just can’t beat being able to register online with a credit card and in English. I can’t stress this enough. Almost everything here has to happen through bank transfer and helpful students. And usually registration is a very short window and I often don’t hear about it in time to get in. So I guess this becomes my focus race by default, but I am happy that this option exists. The same week I registered for the 13k, I also registered for the Nike Women’s half marathon in Seoul, happening this Sunday. That one I did all in Korean with a student, then made a bank transfer, and STILL can’t get confirmation that I’m actually registered and the fee was accepted. I guess if my packet shows up in the next few days, I’ll know….

Canoa

Greg beach

There’s this thing about living internationally–I like to think of it as the-shit-hitting-the-fan risk. What will happen or what will it be like if something out of your control happens? Perhaps there’s a massive uprising in your city and a government is overthrown. Maybe your city descends into lawlessness and you need to hide or flee? Maybe you live in an area that could be at risk of a tsunami. What if there’s a chain of terrorist attacks? What if you are the victim of a crime (and this is especially on my mind as a woman) in a country where there are few protections and often even prosecution for libel of female victims who speak out (looking at you, Korea)? What if there’s a massive earthquake and there is no help? Maybe the boat you’re on with a group of students for a field trip is sinking and the captain tells you to stay seated. Perhaps the country you live in goes to war with the unhinged neighbor to the North.

Yes, the shit can also hit the fan where you are from. In my case, the US. But if something happens there, I’m equipped with knowledge of how the system works, the language skills to communicate my needs or offer assistance, and a larger network of people from whom to draw support. When we go overseas, we exhilaratingly step into the unknown and a large piece of this is the risk. I am not the type to worry incessantly about events out of my control that may or may not happen. We can live in fear or we can try to live happy, fulfilled lives and I do not choose fear. But these ruminations do come up for me every time something horrible happens in places close to my heart. My list above is not made up. These are things that have happened either where we’ve lived, near where we live or want to live, or where we have friends–with the exception of the neighbor to the North, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

Of course, this most recent shake-up is the earthquake in Ecuador. By now we realize that this is an epic tragedy for people living on the coast. There are many small beach communities that are without power and clean water, sifting through the wreckage of demolished homes and businesses, and are essentially isolated because of destroyed roads and landslides. Much of the aid focus is on the larger, more accessible towns. From what I can piece together, help is arriving now, but I still worry that not all of these towns are getting the aid quickly enough. You think the real nightmare is the shaking, the falling of your house, the death and destruction all around and the reliving during the some 200 aftershocks. But then it took days for help to arrive. Where does it really end?

During our years in Ecuador, we lived in Quito, but we often went to the coast, to the town of Canoa. We made wonderful friends there, took all of our visitors there, and it felt like home away from home. Better than vacation. In Quito, we were clenched–always on guard, always moving, often cold, constantly wary. But in Canoa we could relax. We could let the guard down and some of the best memories of our years in Ecuador were forged there and so it hurts to feel so helpless-to know that people you care about are struggling in unimaginable conditions. Through the ex-pat grapevine, I have learned that our friend Patricia White of Betty Surf and Yoga and Greg Gilliam and his family are okay. Their homes and livelihoods are likely destroyed, but they are thankfully alive and well and helping the community the best they can.

And as I agonize about people caught there, of course I can’t help but imagine–what if I was there? We live overseas. The shit could hit the fan and the shit does hit the fan. Am I prepared? Can I handle it? Is this worth the risk? For now, yes.

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New Things

Here we are nearing–the end of a fifth school year in Korea. And we’ve signed on to return in August for a 6th. I suppose I thought we wouldn’t make it past 4. Itchy feet, the nature of the business, and all. It’s strange to be in this place for so long. Because we did so much exploring in the first couple of years, this past year has shrunk in scope in that things are not new, our patterns do not change, and our friend clique grows tighter and more exclusive–and I don’t love these evolutions. So in the next year and a couple of months, I will be trying new things. Stepping out of the normal. One of those things is a renewed commitment to write–to document. With that will be a site redesign. Wow, just saying it feels refreshing. So the redesign is project number one–there shall be changes!

Many new things will also be happening in my running life. For the first time ever, I have signed up for trail race in Korea. The sport grows and trail racing is catching on here. Next weekend, April 24th, I’ll run the 13k version of the Korea 50k–Korea’s premiere international trail race. This is the second annual running and the 50k is a point qualifier for races like the UTMB. So I expect something a bit different than the complete Korean experience, but I am excited to see how the culture takes an event that is growing in popularity worldwide and makes this its own. Much like the recent craft beer explosion (and more ruminationings to come on that!), I’m interested to see the Korean embrace of this sport. Will it look like the climbing scene and culture? Or will it more closely resemble a Western version of attitudes and procedures? We shall see.

I have also signed up for my first half marathon since we lived in Turkey and ran around the Golden Horn in Istanbul. I’ve signed up for the Nike Women’s 1/2 on May 22nd. And I continue to say “signed up” because I did and sent them money but I still can’t get a confirmation out of them. But this is how we roll in other lands and I’m pretty easy-going. Both of these races are to help me get back into racing and goal-setting. I was side-lined for the entire past year dealing with tendonitis in my hip in two different places and dealing with a lot of physical imbalances. I’m healthy now, but not 100% so am taking the slow road to building a solid foundation before I sup up this racing machine and take it to the Indy 500. I don’t know what my Indy is yet, but I know I’m not done yet. I have not yet seen my potential and I want to know what it is. So, stay tuned.

Trials and Triumphs of Technology

While moving to the extreme far East has been a gigantic step and shift in living for us, both culturally and because of the size and modernity of the city and Korea, what is most fascinating for many people is that we have additionally moved to a brand new “smart” city.  “Smart” because it is Leeds certified, is hardwired with the fastest internet in the world, is built beside a major Asian airport hub, and also because its every detail is planned out for residents who do not yet exist.

So I can say things like, I live in a “smart city” or I live in a new “aerotropolis”–but what does this actually mean?  The internets are full of information about the concept of New Songdo City, the plans, how the economic crunch has affected the dream, etc etc.  But what is it really like to live in a smart city?  What is it like to have technology in your face everywhere you look?  My experiences will not be much different from someone living in Seoul or Tokyo or Hong Kong, except that I get to experience these things with a lot of space, clean streets and a lack of gross city smell.  All the things now apart of my daily life are especially astounding (and frustrating) to me as I grew up in a small Appalachian town and only moved to a slightly larger town in my 20s.  I never lived in New York or Shanghai or London.  So try to look at what follows through my particular lens of experience.

In our house, there have been some adjustments.  Let’s begin with the first moment you walk in the door.  Our front door is computerized and the whole thing is battery operated.  You cannot enter our house with a regular, tongue-in-groove key.  This is highly disconcerting to me.  I can open my door with my fingerprint or a code punched into a touch-screen, but what will we do if the batteries die?  We’re locked out and it’s not some flimsy wooden door you can kick in.  The door does sing to us and gives lots of warning if the batteries are dying so we can change them in time.  But this is a mechanized, computerized, sensitive and therefore susceptible to breaking device.  Does that not scare anyone else?
Out in the hallway is our trash chute.  We have one chute for food waste and one chute for regular trash.  This is good and bad.  On the one hand, I put a bag of trash into a little hole, and it gets whisked away underground to some processing center.  Amazing!  There are no dumpsters.  No smelly trash cans waiting for the dump truck.  However, because it’s a vacuum chute, if someone on the 27th floor doesn’t close the door just right (and you do have to slam it just right), no one in the building can throw away their trash until the problem is solved.  This can be a weekly nuisance.

Next, and what has taken the most getting used to, is the Home Net computer system.  This is the system by which, eventually, people will be able to teleconference with their doctor or teacher or whatever–part of the whole “smart” city concept.  Right now, the system works to regulate the house temperature, lights, gives you lots of information on weather and traffic, and gives you video conferencing capabilities with your neighbors.  The Home Net also shows you a video of who is at the main building door and who rings your door bell in hallway.  This is especially convenient and nice.  For example, we can easily identify the Bible salesman and pretend we’re not home.  In addition to the main screen in the living room, there are also consoles with screens in the kitchen and in the master bathroom.  So, if someone rings the door while you’re on the john, you can let them in.  This is highly convenient but freaked me out the first time I was using the bathroom and the door rang and the video popped up on the screen in the bathtub.  I couldn’t shake the feeling the caller could see me!

While a source of convenience, the Home Net often makes me crazy.  When we moved in, the system was all set up and functional.  But it turns out that if it ever resets, you have to enter a specific code to re-boot it or else an alarm will sound.  And not just a little beeping alarm.  It’s a full on intruder/emergency alert.  Right.  Guess what happened in the middle of one night when the power went out?  The stupid thing went off every hour until I could locate our housing assistant to give me the code.

If that wasn’t invasive enough, there’s a speaker just above the main console through which the housing guards talk at all the residents.  It’s loud.  It’s in Korean.  And I’ve been told that the content of their sometimes three-a-day announcements include such earthshatteringly important things as telling people to remember to sort the trash and to close the windows because in case we didn’t notice, it’s windy out.  Obviously, this is highly frustrating, and makes me wonder how this concept gained popularity.  Who wants their phone calls, shows, sleep, and lives interrupted by someone jabbering at you to remember that recycling time is over at 10am?  But I think this is a Korean thing.  Not a “smart city” thing.  Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate.

I’ll end this commentary with my favorite item.  I’m sure this is not specific to our city and our house, just as all of our singing appliances are a totally new concept to us, but so normal to Koreans–but the foot pedal at the sink is indispensable.  You can turn the water on at the kitchen faucet and then turn it off and on with a tap of your foot.  There’s no dishwasher, so in the course of washing dishes, so much water is saved by tapping that foot pedal!  I’ve become so accustomed to this little gem that I found myself back in the States this summer stomping in front of my friends’ and family’s sinks to try to turn on the water.  I mean, why wouldn’t you want this device?  Everyone should have one of these.

A year in I am still learning about my house.  I’m sure I would know even more about all it’s amazing capabilities if buttons and instructions were in English.  But through trial and triumph, we’re slowly figuring it out.

Haven’t heard enough?  If you’d like to know more, I had a small hand in the following articles:

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/sim-city-inside-south-koreas-35-billion-plan-to-build-a-city-from-scratch.php

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/cities-as-gadgets-8-features-this-brand-new-city-has-that-yours-doesnt.php

 

Some Summer Pics…

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