Quite a lot has been going on since my last update (a shameful three weeks ago), and the scourge of infrequent blogging is upon me as I can now remember little of what I would have commented on had I made better records. Suffice it to say my apartment is painted (though there are still several small improvements I need to make, like gluing the wallpaper back where it meets the ceiling), my internet access is working (despite some atrocious intermittency), we had a second excellent barbecue night in Yongin (with the rest of the fireworks), I was awarded a pay rise (I’m not sure why), the remainder of this term’s lectures and exams are planned (though there are only two weeks left), one of the cats on campus has had kittens (five, and there are strict rules in force about students feeding them), a climbing wall has been installed in the gym (so I either have to go searching for rock shoes or climb barefoot), Seoul Veggie Club met for another cult-run buffet (and vegan ice cream afterwards), we visited the Sinchon doctor fish cafe (significantly bigger fish in a communal pool), and a 24-hour anti-something (US beef and/or Lee Myung-bak and/or campus commercialisation) protest has been going on for the past few days (with no large trees to occupy, students have constructed some scaffolding and are living at the top).
The second of May’s long weekends saw Amy, Dan and I create a rather effective Chronicles of Narnia drinking game, which illustrated well the overuse of certain words. We took it with us when we went to the cinema to see Prince Caspian, and were thwarted slightly when it turned out to bear little resemblance to the book. I shall read the advance reviews more closely when The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes around (2010, so I have plenty of preparation time).
With many of the more significant and unavoidable demands on my time out of the way, I took Friday afternoon off and met Amy in Seoul to take a trip out to the 2008 Butterfly and Insect Expo in Hampyeong, Jeollanam-do. Hampyeong is a small town way down in the south-west of the Korean peninsula, but special train services had been laid on specifically for the festival and we were there in a matter of hours. The Expo lasts around a month and attracts a couple of million visitors, and we found local traders fully equipped to cash in with several hectares of food tents and a carefree doubling of accommodation prices.
We’d designated Saturday as Expo day, and wandered down mid-morning to see what the gigantic park site had to offer. I was somewhat cynically expecting a heavy traditional Korean dance and local produce presence, but was pleasantly surprised to find a seemingly genuine emphasis on butterflies and other insects. We took a walk around the grounds first, taking in extensive water features (complete with irises and lotus flowers), a small island (currently) housing six (wild) herons, some farm animals and a demonstration of barley / pea roasting. The first exhibit building we looked at actually contained things that normally eat insects – lizards, frogs and many other miscellaneous reptiles and amphibians. The containers were very small (and flimsy – someone could have easily touched the snapping turtle, with painful consequences), and we moved into the next section. This proved to be a slight error of judgement as we beheld a room of small anthropomorphic dioramas – various (dead) insects posed in what one can only hope were supposed to be entertaining human-like activities (dancing, playing music, smoking etc.). Despite the potential excitement of a possibly-escaped rabbit (this information was gleaned from overhead conversation), we beat a hasty retreat.
Our path led us to the main butterfly building, a large expanse of subtropical plants with several sub-enclosures containing butterflies from various parts of the world. All had been given generous amounts of watermelon to feast on, and the air inside was thick with things flitting about. Caterpillars and the metamorphosis stage were also represented, along with small (probably) informative signs describing the wrong species.
Up on the hill was a small section dedicated to the local golden bat, another insect-eater. Sadly there weren’t any actual bats present (possibly too great a danger to all the butterflies) and we moved on to the “museum” building. We had been expecting some kind of insect-related museum, or at the very least something fact-based, but instead found ourselves trapped in the Hampyeong equivalent of Everland’s Global Village – diorama upon diorama of anthropomorphised insects, fairies, holiday characters and other twee woodland creatures with no discernible purpose or taste. Fighting our way past a group of boy scouts, we escaped and headed to a (thankfully live) beetle exhibition before calling it a day.
Keen to make the most of the daylight (and our time in Hampyeong), we took a walk before dinner and stumbled across a regional heat of the Miss Korea contest, held in the loading yard of the local Nonghyup (farmer’s co-operative) and saw lots of body glitter, nose highlighting and slow-motion walking. We stuck around long enough to see all the contestants, and then went exploring again. We found the Nettle Forest (comprised of trees) and a deserted temple before walking back through the rice fields to seek out pizza.
We had most of Sunday at our disposal before our train back to Seoul, so, being on the coast, we went to take a look at the beach. Jeollanam-do is famous for its seafood (particularly skate), and we saw many a shellfish-gatherer on the muddy flats (the tide was out) as we walked around. There were few tourists, but plenty of crabs and other mud-dwelling estuary life. We took the rural bus back to Hampyeong (one service an hour, incredibly infrequent for Korea), caught another bus out to the train station and were back in Seoul by dinner time (Indian, followed by some Cold Stone ice cream).