Thursday, October 16, 2008

Everyday is a winding road...along the river to school...

My school is about a 10min bicycle ride away from home. The ride starts when I unlock my bike chain (apparently bicycle theft is one of the few crime problems they do have in Sangju) which is stored in the foyer of our apartment building.
Then I put on my jacket (it is quite cold in the mornings so a breezy bike ride calls for a jacket and in some cases beanie and gloves), tuck my pants into my socks/boots so they don’t get caught in the chain, and hop on. Oh no, what’s that scratching sound?? I forgot to click up the bicycle stand! (I have done this so often in the last week…I really am sometimes a slow learner.)
I then proceed down a little alleyway which connects to the main road nearby. From here on I am on a proper ‘bicycle path’. It is marked by blue lines. I only have to cross a major road once, and the beauty of the bicycle path network in SK is that every time a path has to cross a major road there is a zebra crossing & robot. Thus I am ‘safe’ from traffic as long as I wait for the robot to turn green. This is great as I am still not 100% comfortable/confident on the bike in traffic etc and so I don’t have to worry about that! Once I have crossed this road I ride past a construction site for a bridge and then onto the river section of the bicycle path.
The path along the river is really great the path itself has a rubberized kind of surface so is really easy to ride on, and there are lovely trees along the path. There is a little strip of ‘park’ to the right of the path where there are lots of ‘exercise machines’ I call them e.g. health walkers, pull up bars, sit up seats etc. It kind of looks like an outdoor gym and it looks like it is used mostly by older people – it is freely open to anyone to use. There are signs which say “xxxxkcal”(the rest is in Korean of course) so I presume these tell you how many calories you’ll burn if you do x amount of exercise. Koreans are very serious about health and well-being. Lots of people also go walking-often with small dogs-along this bike path next to the river and at the weekend we saw a woman walking a dog which was dressed to the nines: it had orange ear-muffs on, a little smart ‘jacket’ and wait for it….shoes!!! HaHa! Can you believe it! It was hard not to laugh out loud as we rode past her!
So on the left of the path is the river. It is quite wide (maybe about 70m?) and has lots of concrete weirs and blocks of concrete which serve as kind of ‘stepping stones’ to cross the river.
There are little old ladies standing in the flowing water, bent over buckets collecting snails. And on the edge are (their) little old men fishing! We have been told that the river is quite polluted and one should not swim in it, but it can’t be too bad if thee little old people are spending time in and near the water and catching animals!
I then go under a large bridge and on the other side there is a small sandy road over the river which is still partly under construction (quite treacherous and slidy on a road bike with thin tyres!!!).
The large bridge was beautifully decorated with flowers for the festival (photo). Just after this bridge is my school: Sung-Shin Girls’ Middle School (The large building with the curved blue roof at the back, middle of the photo). I park my bike next to all the probably 300 or so bikes of the school girls along the river edge and then up a steep flight of stairs, cross the road and there’s school! The school garden is very nicely looked after with pots of chrysanthemums everywhere (which seem very popular in Korea, including as a tea!) It still seems to be late summer here rather than autumn, so the gardens are alive with butterflies, bees and dragonflies!

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