Friday, July 8, 2011

Rainy Season

Ah, the monsoon season has come again and this particular year is a drowner! For the people living along the eastern coastline and in particular Pusan which in places has been built out another 50+ meters or so on reclaimed land into the East Sea (usually referred to on maps as the Sea of Japan, a name which the Koreans keenly resent due to centuries of historical conflicts), the monsoon season brings the direct hits of typhoons. I remember several years ago a typhoon hit so strongly that it flipped a large vessel along the shore, killing a number of people on board. It was one of the most talked about news stories of that year, but that came after I "believed" in the power of monsoons.

Only familiar with the Michigan Lake effect of thundering storms and powerful winds bringing summer rains, my first experience with the screaming winds and slashing rains of typhoons was my first year in Korea two decades ago. At the time I lived inland in Kwangju and was planning on taking a bus to Pusan to meet a friend and then hopping on a ferry for a trip to Japan. Colleagues warned me of a coming monsoon, but I just pooh-poohed what they said as I thought they were trying to use friendly scare tactics because I was taking an exciting vacation but they weren't. I blithely boarded the bus to Pusan (the last that left the station for Pusan for a few days - a not-so-surprising fact which I found out later). Half-way to Pusan we slowed to a crawl because of deluges of rain and mudslides (notorious in mountain regions on that narrow 4-lane snaking highway). We arrived in Pusan but I was new to Korea and the landmarks I had been told to look out for just weren't visible and of course I had basically zippo Korean. Road sides were littered with half-submerged parked/stalled cars making the place seem full of parking lots, but we could see little beyond the cars. Buses were still able to move forward because their engines were higher off the ground; however, they stayed in the center of the road where the water was not as deep. Even when letting out passengers (almost no one was boarding), they stopped in the middle of the road and people just waded 2-3 feet (if more, the buses wouldn't stop) to the more visible sidewalk.

I was able to communicate that I needed to get off at a certain department store, and so kind Koreans aboard were on the lookout for me and told me when. Well, only murky water swirled where a road should have been but I jumped out into the more than knee-deep water and waded to the sidewalk. Water was horizontal and my Mary Poppin's umbrella was instantly flipped inside-out and my backpack saturated before I could get into a nearby building. And whew! My friend just happened to be passing to exchange our ferry tickets to Japan for the more expensive plane tickets. Of course we wanted the ferry experience so planned on returning that way. And yet, even returning eight or so days later was not a smooth sea-crossing experience. The massive ferry that could transport at least 2,000 had less than 20 people.
We slept alone on a slightly raised open-roomed floor that would normally hold at least 100. Well, I slept. My friend would turn horizontal to the rolling waves, then vertical, then back again, complaining of seasickness. I found the movement rather soothing, at least until I tried to ride a racing horse video game that moved in weird directions while the ship moved in others ... and my head said to GET OFF.

So this rainy season kicked off with another tremendous typhooon, thankfully one that was off-shore. Though in Seoul, a couple hundred kilometers inland, we still received powerful wailing winds, slashing rain and of course flooding. I love taking walks right after a huge rain and so yesterday, the first day that was clear, I zipped outside to the riverside paths. However, the low bridge that headed north was completely submerged. Some fishermen were out enjoying the fishing opportunities from it and the neighboring newly created sandbar and some brave bikers would walk their bike through the water. This young kid actually had the nerve to ride his bike through and get wet by not only the water-tail from the back tire but also the feet from peddling .... but it sure beat just staring across and turning around, because if you walked very far on the riverside paths after deluging rain, you are sure to come across some kind of water barrier.

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