Korea, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, Urban Walking
Comments 26

This Time I’m Really Up the Creek

“God damn it!”

I was taking a hard-earned morning nap in the storeroom next to my Fortress of Solitude when that godawful bell ruined everything, announcing the conclusion of the day’s midterm exams. 12:15. I slumped grumpily to the window and watched the students escaping, free for the rest of their Friday.

My Friday was free only of classes. I still had to turn up, to sit in the empty room with its broken computer for eight hours. I had seen no other teachers all morning. I flicked through a book — one of those paper ones they used to make last century — and stared out the window, itching for my own escape.

And then I scratched. “Screw this,” I said to the empty room as I packed up my stuff. I fled the grounds of Hell Skool and made my way through the rice paddies…


..without looking back.

What are they gonna do, fire me? Sometimes — well, every Thursday and Friday without exception — my thoughts would return to the remote possibility of being redundified like the gaze of a film noir fugitive returning to the revolver on his bedside table. Just good to know it’s there, that’s all.

It was warm and windy on the embankment road. Across the creek, earthmovers prowled and pecked at the wastelands in clouds of dust. Grit blew into my eyes. I felt so gloriously free, but what to do with my unexpected liberty? We get such a small allocation of days, really, and it’s a crying shame to have to endure a single one, especially a windfall like this one…

Daecheong Creek as it might have looked in a Cold War-era postcard

Daecheong Creek as it might have looked on a Cold War-era postcard

My phone rang; I ignored it. Against all the rules of survival, when it rang again I answered. It was the English department head, and her voice always gets whinier, less decipherable, more Korean on the phone. Then again, I sound pretty bitchy too when my back is up.

It was up.


Latest architectural triumph across the creek

I-aaaaa-nnn! Where are you now?”

“I’m walking. I’m going to the…bank! [Half true]. It was payday yesterday — I have to send money home and it takes a long time [all true].”

“But I-aaaa-nnn! You should be heeeeeere…”

“So I can sit alone in a room all day? No classes, no students, no computer?! There is NO POINT in my being there! I am not going back!”

“But we have some problemmm with a kestion! I will send you the kestionnn and pleeease, you choose the correct answer, number 1 or 4, OK?

“Oh, OK!”

Damn, that was easy — it was almost a letdown.


The scenic upper Daecheong & the highway to Changwon

I was on the concreted banks of the dismal Daecheong now. My phone soon blipped; I dug out my glasses. Mrs Koo had sent a photo of the offending question, about a conversation between two friends, and the four answer choices, numbers 1 (“He had a good time learning taekwondo,”) and 4 (“They met before the vacation,”) circled.

I sat on a bench and texted my response. Number 4 was clearly right, number 1 only if you considered “met” to mean “met for the first time”, and not “saw each other”. Students seldom use the word in the first sense — that would be a lucky guess.

“They could both be right. Just say number 4.”


Nice spot to get the toes wet – ‘cept for the dog

Just as I got moving again, another bleep. On with the bloody glasses again.

“But number 1 is also right?”

“Possible, but don’t tell them that.” You can’t allow any ambiguity: when it comes to test scores, Korean students — and their parents — will fight like starving dogs for the last bone. And then to head off another round of an increasing boring conversation: “If they don’t choose number 4, they’re stupid.”

That did the job. Koreans, in my encounters anyway (I’ve been teaching them for a decade), neither appreciate nor employ subtlety. Almost immediately, a cheerful response blipped through.

 “Thank you! Enjoy your weekend!”

Fish-eye view of the temple road & very phallic marker

Fish-eye view of the temple road & very phallic marker

I walked on with the jaunty step of a prison escapee sporting a freshly purchased identity.


All I needed was a mission.


I did my banking, almost painlessly, wrote a postcard to my gal, and returned to the creek.


I’d decided to wander upstream, into the hills above my apartment where the Jangyu Cascades frolic like frisky ponies and concrete banks and earthmover orgies are just an engineer’s wet dream.


I was soon down on a real stream bank — adorned with plastic flotsam, but abounding with grass, and reeds, and natural boulders and tweeting (140 characters max) birds as well.


The white noise of the rapids was immediately soothing.




You could feel the tension spill out to tumble downstream.


Rock-hopping, I set up my tiny tripod on boulder and bank, played with shutter speeds, apertures, filter and timer. Photographing the rapids is an ongoing project; this was my fourth or fifth attempt but the first this far below the Cascades.


Hounded (get it?) back to the road by the relentless harassment of a white farm mutt (if I should ever disappear in darkest Korea, just follow the barking), I walked the temple road up to the main cascades.


It’s tricky, but absorbing, and this time I was racing against darkness as well.


I’m lucky to have this beautiful spot 30 minutes from home.  On sunny summer weekends, though, forget it — I could cry for the place at those times.


I spent an hour or two there in diminishing light, running back and forth between the rocks and ledges I’ve learned offer the best vantage points.


I walked home when the last useful light slipped from the little gorge — at ease, enjoying the feeling (so rare in my line of work) of having done something useful with my day.


That night when I turned off the light I could still hear that white water churning…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. Great waterfall shots here. You got that ‘soft water’ look since it was a little dark and you had a slower shutter speed. Nicely done! And congrats on escaping a pointless desk warming session : )

    • Thanks, mate, yeah, I’ve tried before several times, the first couple in the middle of the day! Very tough! These are pretty good but I went back and explored further yesterday, took a ton more. Haven’t really looked at those shots yet but I think there are some cool ones there.

      Desks do make comfortable beds in my experience, once you learn to sleep sitting up and make a comfortable pillow — but I prefer to warm the storeroom where it’s dark and quieter!

      • ㅋㅋㅋㅋ Whatever it takes to snooze. Well, you could invest in an ND filter ( neutral density filter ). Essentially, it won’t change the tone or color of your image but it will require a longer shutter speed. You can get some really cool effects by using one – particularly moving clouds, soft streams, etc.

      • I’ve got a graduated one (very expensive!) on the way to give me some help with overblown skies etc. Looking forward to playing with that, it’s an area I really need to improve. I would love a plain ND as well for the reasons you give.

    • It will take years and a lot of therapy to dim those school memories. The creek: kicking myself I didn’t explore it more last year — turned off by all the destruction downstream, but it’s so lovely and unspoiled up there.

  2. I love your getaway from the Hell Skool and how you tackled the strident lady. Besides it is very generously how you have strewn about you with your extreme beautiful pictures.
    Great Post!

  3. a strawberry patch says

    The most relaxing sound in the world is running water. Beautiful photos as usual!

    • Thank you, it really was therapeutic up there. I can’t wait to go back — this Wednesday is Labor Day so guess what I have planned!

  4. Darius Russell says

    You, GO Goat!!! I love the tension of your napping & then making your getaway in your post from “The Mindless/Pointless Machine of Mediocrity” that can be public school on any continent (or in any country) juxtiposed with the small chance of your being either written up or fired (whoop-dee frick’in doo—“Don’t make me laugh!”/”I dare you to get in my way, You Inept Fools!”) AND escaping into the beauty of the countryside/waterfalls.

    Oh, when does the school year (and thus your right-minded “Rage Against The Machine”) finally come to an end???

    Hang in there, Goat!


    • Haha, always enjoy your comments, Darius! I’m glad to know there are some like-minded refugees from mediocrity among my readership!

      I will always be grateful to Korea, despite the frustrations (and worse) of my job, for the chance to wander so far and find beauty and respite in some unlikely places and forms. And it’s been fantastic for honing my photography, which I just love doing more and more.

      I have a nice break in August, if I survive that long, with some cool travel plans in mind, and then I’m just counting the days till my contract expires (again, unless I get shown the door before that time) on December 31. Big plans for next year and beyond!

  5. I used to know someone else who was an English language teacher in Korea. She also experienced a lot of frustration.

    The waterfall is beautiful.

    • It’s funny, I’ve never met another Australian teaching over here — even in raining among hundreds, not a single one! Whereas in Japan you saw them everywhere.

      Yes, the frustration… I wish I could say the rewards outweighed them, but sadly…I’m not made for this job. I’m very good when I apply myself, but I lost my enthusiasm long ago and now just play a role (sometimes badly) most days.

      The waterfall: yes. But if you saw some shots of it in Summer with a few thousand dirty humanoids frolicking in it, you’d see a very different side of the place! I am amazed it holds up as well as it has with the damage that gets inflicted on it.

  6. You do realise angst is the key to your posts? Remember, don’t get too happy otherwise your readership may drop off. Your pain is our entertainment!

    Lovely waterfall pictures. I’m sounding like a camera wanker now, but did you use a neutral density filter? I’ve got an ND8 which is amazing for these sorts of shots. It just seems though that whenever I go anywhere here, there’s never any water flowing! Maybe when there’s some decent rain I can have a milky water go myself!

    Keep the photos (and pain) coming…

    • More pain is coming your way, Greg.

      I’ve been back to those waterfalls twice since then. I’m becoming a bit of a waterfall groupie, in fact. I think it’ll take several trips before I’m happy with the shots — and apart from that, it’s fast becoming my favourite spot in Korea. And there it was all this time, and I just thought, “It’s nice,” but never explored upstream.

      The filter was a polariser to take the glare off the wet rocks, as well as knock off two stops of light. In my case, I always have it in the bag but seldom grab it on sunny days like you’re fond of doing!

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