Korea, Urban Walking
Comments 6

Glimpses of an Imminent Spring

It sure been a hard, hard winter 
My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground 
And I hope it’s gonna be a long, hot summer 
And a lotta love will be burnin’ bright…

~ Rolling Stones, ‘Winter’

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone! Well, everyone in the Northern Hemisphere; Merry Autumnal Equinox to the rest of you. Depending on your position on this half of our beautiful blue blob, in this neglected corner of the galaxy, at some point on March 21 day and night achieve a much-coveted equilibrium and we can officially kiss the Winter Blues goodbye.

(But tell that to Kate in Upstate New York. She just sent me this picture; her brother Dude is on his way over with a borrowed snow plough):

View from Kate's back door

No gardening today at Kate’s place

Almost makes me feel guilty about all my winter-related bitching on TGTW. Almost. In truth it’s been quite tolerable of late here in south-eastern Korea. I got back into my weekend rambling at last, modestly and usually aimlessly, after my return from the States and the subsequent melancholy. There’s no way I’ll match the hundred-and-something walks I managed last year, and I’m saving my money now so won’t be doing much travelling in this country, but I’ve set myself the target of five miles each workday and 10 each Saturday and Sunday. I never leave home without my trusty GPS!

Here’s a shot from a few weeks ago, a drab and meandering urban stroll that took me to downtown Gimhae and ended up chewing up several hours of dirty roadside, raggedy rice paddy and, finally, the small mountain of Imho-San before the return leg — 16 miles in all:


Forcing an almost-smile, beautiful Gimhae below

Apart from the kinder temperatures and bluer skies, there are two more sure signs that Spring has emerged in Korea. One is the preponderance of mugwort harvesters. On just about every embankment, roadside verge and river bank lately you see them — usually older women but sometimes husbands and children are recruited — squatting on the grass with scissors or knife, stuffing plastic bags with this rather unappealing-looking herb. Called ssuk (쑥) here, it’s used in soups, salads, medicinal cures and even pancakes:


Picking mugwort, Yulha Creek

The other sign is the flowers. I’m not exactly a clover-in-the-hair flower child, but I’m a mad gardener when I’m settled, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve longed for the return of colour and visual interest to the local landscape. I loved the Spring here last year but somehow most of my flower shots got buried in the blogging to-do pile. Let me remedy that this season, starting here, with a stroll homeward last week from N2 (“Hell Skool” last year but much improved so far in 2013 thanks to some major changes I helped institute).

The azaleas, very common in parks, on roadsides and wild in the woods, were emerging along the main drag…


Roadside azalea, Jangyu

..but it was “inland” (as I imagine it) on the long route home that the most welcome changes were underway.

I hadn’t walked this route much over Winter; the paddies were bare and boring, and on cold afternoons I just wanted to get home. In Summer it’s Dragonfly City, and I’ve wasted many happy hours here stalking them with my camera (must buy that macro lens this year). But right now it’s meihua time:


Meihua bordering rice paddies

Translated either as Chinese plum or Japanese apricot, these fragrant white- and pink-flowering varieties of Prunus mume boom into bloom toward’s Winter’s end in China (where it originates), Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, preceding the larger and more iconic cherry blossoms that are just starting to open up in local streets. Their confusing nomenclature is further complicated by hybridisation: Wikipedia says there are over 300 cultivars in China.


Plum blossom, rice paddies, greenhouses & mountains

I really enjoyed this walk home; the usual 45 minutes stretched, with photo stops, to twice that duration. Losing yourself and your worries in a viewfinder is deeply therapeutic.


The sun was sinking beyond the bumpy spine of Bulmo-San when I jumped down into a thicket of blooming plums, whites and cherry-reds, and emerged with thousands of burrs in my socks.


Pink blossom glowing with sunset backlighting

I like the way the  flowering shrubs seem to reflect the image of hulking Mt Devastation, which I nicknamed last Summer after trudging through the road-building carnage scarring its base:


Mt Devastation & its floral reflection

And this big hill (N2 is a mile or so away on the far side) I call Independence Mountain:

Containers for storage, offices or rural dwellings are very common here

Containers for storage, offices or rural dwellings are common here

Another emblem of Spring here is forsythia — gaenari (개나리) to the locals — which adds golden swathes of four-petalled blooms to verges all over town:


Gaenari Sunset


Reaching my “river”, the Daecheongcheon (cheon is translated as “stream”; I prefer Daecheong Creek), I left the narrow road and went down to the bank. From here it’s a half-hour walk home, longer in photo season. I’ve griped about the condition of this waterway several times. They’re currently hacking at it with earth-movers and rolling a lot of boulders into place along its edges.


Silt traps& an experiment with the in-camera “miniature” effect

It looks like they’ve almost finished messing with it. I’ll have some more shots of this area soon, lest I be accused of exaggeration.


But for now, I was just about home, alone on the bank, with dusk trickling down the quiet valley, and I was grateful that some sweet, transitory beauty was surviving — thriving — in this most “un-natural” of landscapes.


More Spring next post!

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Are you sure that’s a smile…?!

    You’ve done well to pull off the toy camera shot. I’ve got that setting on a camera, but have never bothered with it. Yours looks good!

    I read an article over here about a bloke who converted containers into housing. They certainly didn’t look like containers when he finished and they were dirt cheap. I reckon I could live in one perched on a bit of land somewhere! As long as it has broadband connection of course.

    Nice colours and bokeh. Is that the 24 mm again? Works well! Oh yeah, I’m not sure about the sound of a mugwort pancake…

    Lastly, how’s that GPS going…?

    • Hey, the GPS is useful at the moment just for recording my mileages — oh, and “stopped time” which I find rather disconcerting after realizing I spent 90 mins at a bakery in the middle of a “hike”! I could probably acquire some Korean maps to put on it but it really sounds much too stressful! Anyway I’ve made a start. One day soon I will go to the Garmin site and put all my wriggly lines on there.

      Yeah, that’s the 24. I’m not sure if the bokeh of those flickering lights would meet purist standards…but I kinda think it added a hint of romance to a spectacularly unromantic landscape.

      I suspect I tried mugwort during my early days here when I was forced to eat many a Korean lunch with staff. All I can say is it better be better than its name, though I doubt it.

  2. Your description of the place is beautiful.Here it is spring officially not really.The weatherman is warning us to beware of the snow storm.I guess March did come in like a lamb,but is scheduled to go out like a lion.I loved all your photographs and description.Thank you.

    • Thank you, Ranu, we have had a return to cold weather today (my weather app said it was -1C but it didn’t seem that bad at all) though the skies are bright and blue at least. The Koreans have a phrase for it I’ve heard many times but can’t remember, something like “The flowers are jealous of the Spring” – meaning a burst of cold weather as Spring begins.

  3. Good to hear that you’ve been out walking and seeing all the signs of spring. It’s definitely getting more spring-like here, even though it is still not warm.

    Astonishing how Gimhae looks as if it had been Photo-shopped behind and below you. The buildings look something like a retreating or advancing glacier.

    Mick Jagger’s voice reminded me of winter in California in 1972.

    “And I hope it’s gonna be a long, hot summer; And the light of love will be burnin’ bright”

    • Yes, starting to enjoy life here more, Am, and now I feel like I might actually be able to survive another year. You’re right about Gimhae,and those glaciers never stop advancing, believe me — in defiance of the global trend! I don’t find the apartment blocks as visually compelling as I did when I first arrived, but I have been exploring inside a few local complexes to take shots of the cherry trees and magnolias planted at their bases, and that’s been enjoyable.

      Sure you know that record (‘Goat’s Head Soup’) was recorded in the Bahamas or Barbados, anyway somewhere beautifully warm, so it was odd that they started with a song about Winter. One of Mick Taylor’s finest moments, but great lyrics and vocals from Mick.

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