Friday, August 26, 2011

Bikes and Dinosaurs

Bikes and Jinju

Jinju is a great place to go bike riding. Jinju has a large bike path that runs along the river. The bike path spans the city starting at Jinyang lake and ending about seven miles down stream before turning into a gravel path that goes on for about another five hundred yards. I use a bike for my primary mode of transportation. The most time it takes to get anywhere by bike is about twenty minutes. That is, anywhere in the urban part of the city. At my old job it took about thirty five minutes to get to work, and I would usually be covered in sweat by the time I got there.

Jinju is an interesting city because the boundaries of the city are huge. I've heard that land wise it is the fourth largest city in Korea, but the city center is where everybody lives, a lot of Jinju's land is farms and mountains on the outskirts. For example, my wife's family comes from Jinju. Both her father and mother come from the countryside. When my mother in law was a kid, she could remember the North Korean army coming to town, executing the mayor, and then stealing a cow before running away to the mountain. It would take them a day to walk downtown and back. The train running heading east takes an hour to get outside of Jinju. There are five country stations that the train stops at before leaving the city.

Bordering Jinju are a few counties and one city. An area in Korea is either desegnated a city or a county depending on how many people live there. Jinju has about 400,000 people, immediately to the East are Uiryeong with 30,000 people, Haman with 60,000 people, and Goseong with another 60,000 people. (More on Goseong later)

The inner area of Jinju is the most populous place. Towns in Korea get designated with various names. I don't know exactly how it works but a town within a city can be called a dong, eub, or myeon. In Jinju it seems to work out that the places with a lot of people in the city proper are called dongs, and the outlying areas are called myeon. I used to work in Geumsan myeon. I was and am still quite fond of Geumsan. Geumsan is turning into a suburb of Jinju. There are some expensive apartments out there. There is also a small lake and the iconic Wol Ah Mountain.


For some reason South Gyeongsang Province is a hot bed of paleontology. The most famous place for fossils that I can think of is in Goseong county. There you can find two dinosaur museums and this special place on the coast that has some dinosaur footprints. It is pretty cool to see the dinosaur footprints but the museum designers made the place look too childish. There are a bunch of big rubber dinosaur models all over the place, and it kind of ruins the view of Goseong's stunning coast. The footprints are just small holes in the ground while the vista from their location is this wonderful inlet harbor where you can see islands and mountains and the silver ocean. At low tide you can walk through a cave to get to another part of the rock beach where you can see some more foot prints. The place is absolutely wonderful. It makes you wonder why anybody in their right mind would live in Gangnam when there is such a place just four hours south. It makes you wonder why there are no yaught clubs or rich guys with sailboats that navigate the south coast. It seems like a big turn off to women if you tell them that you have your own boat in Korea, they would just think that you are a fisherman. (Fishermen probably make a lot of money too though.)

Less well known than the dinosaur footprints in Goseong are the ones that you can find in Jinju. According to the Jinju website. There are three places where you can find fossils. Also, my wife told me that they found a new place somewhat nearby my house that has some more dinosaur footprints. This week, I embarked on three journeys to find these places. Unfortunately I just ended up with some sore legs and some slight disappointment.

Day One Hotandong and Moonsan:

I think that the "Broken Flowers," ost is proper for this section.

As I said before, my wife told me about some kind of news report that they found some dinosaur footprints near my house. The alleged location is somewhere in Hotandong. Hotandong, Gaeyang, and Gajwadong are three ambiguous places somewhere in the vicinity of Gyeongsang National University and an exit for the expressway. My wife wasn't exactly clear as to where the footprints were, but there is a lot of road and building construction in that area so I guessed that it was somewhere around there. I have to admit that I didn't concentrate my efforts to the place where the construction is. Instead I opted to take a quiet country road to see where it would take me. After being on that road for about ten minutes I realized that there was nothing around. The road runs next to the railroad line that goes through some rice fields and fruit farms. I passed a deer farm and ended up in Moonsan Myeon. In the future, Moonsan will become an industrial powerhouse because the government housing company LH is going to move there.

Now the place is famous for pear farms. I kind of hate the town part of Moonsan. It is simply awful. Roads turn into eight way intersections. There are no sidewalks. People don't look where they are going when driving, and they walk down the middle of the road as if cars didn't exist. It's also ugly as sin, just a massive construction project that never ends. No stop lights at those eight street intersections either.

The outside of moonsan is another story though. Last Monday on my bike ride through there, it was nothing but lush green farms and rolling hills.

Anyway, I hooked up with another road that took me by the construction projects, and I didn't see any dinosaur footprints anywhere.

Day 2, Geumsan myeon, Jinseong Myeon, and Moonsan once again.
The first day turned up nothing so I resolved to check the internet to see where a site was that I knew I had read about before. Naver and google earth revealed that there was a site in Jinseong myeon Gajin ri, on mountain 6. There is an easy way to get to Jinseong from my house. You simply take the road between these two mountains.

It is actually much higher than what it looks like in this picture. Instead I opted to try to go around the mountains through Geumsan. So that's what I did. I took the half hour bike ride to Geumsan and stopped off for some doughnuts and coffee at Ring Pang Donuts. (Searches for Ring Pang Donuts bring most of the people who read this blog to this site.)

After that I went in search of my equivalent to the north west passage. I took a road that went next to some mountains for about twenty minutes. I ended up in some place called, 남성마을. There was a pretty cool old style house there. I went up the road further and realized that this particular road was going to drop me off next to geum ho lake, in effect making me go in one big circle.

I then opted to take a ride down a farm road that went between greenhouses. The road ended at a large hill that appeared to be a levee. I asked a farmer who seemed somewhat surprised to see me there if that was the river. He confirmed that that was indeed the south river. (A Korean farmer who looks surprised at a white person just kind of stares at you dead eyed.)

I retreated and turned left at another ally that ran between some green houses. Since I could see more greenhouses in the distance I concluded that this road had to go somewhere. The road ended where the levee seemed to end so I climbed the levee and found that there was another road that snaked along the mountain. Again I figured that the road had to go somewhere, but was disappointed to find that it went to a chicken coop at the bottom of a mountain. I retraced my path back to the levee and saw a gravel path that had some tire tracks in it. I had low hopes for this gravel path since there were big parts that were washed away from erosion. Some parts had mildly deep mud, and other parts had some foot deep puddles.

The path ran next to some rocky cliffs of a to my right mountain, and that mountain gave birth to some mineral springs whose streams ran tributary through my wild road and into the nam river to my left. Foot prints of some cloven hooved animal could be seen from time to time. I thought they looked like deer footprints, but I think they were wild boar. It turned out that the road I was on was this one: I took this picture from google earth. The day that this picture shows was much dryer than last Wednesday.

Anyway I followed the road and eventually came to a bridge. On the other side of the bridge was daegok myeon. My side was Jinseong. I was happy to be on a paved road again, and I headed towards town in search of a brown sign that might say something about dinosaur footprints. I found that sign outside of the Gyeongsang province scientific education office. Jinseong is the home to a few things. There is the Gyeongsang province athletic high school, where select jocks from all of Gyeongsang province can go to high school and train their sports, and there is also the Gyeongsang province science high school, where the smartest science students in all of Gyeongsang province can study science. I ended up at a building that said that it was a bird foot fossil culture center (in Korean).

I had arrived. My destination was not tucked away on some mountain, it was tucked away on a mountain and preserved in a museum. My good luck turned sour I went into the building and found that the the wing of the museum that I wanted to see that day was closed. The lights were turned off and there was a rope saying "don't go in." Bummer.

I decided not to return the way I came. I think this was a mistake. I got to see some cows though. There were some cows sticking their heads out of their barns and onto the road where they licked the air. I filmed, but I'm too lazy to edit the video of my adventure so I'm writing about it instead. So I rode for about another half hour in Jinseong. I came to the road that goes between Wol Ah mountain and decided to try to go around Wol Ah mountain again. So I followed the cow road and ended up near the Jinseong town office.

There are a few roads that go to Moonsan. One is a treacherous expressway, the other is a country road. I followed a country road that passed Jinju country club. On that road I met an old lady who told me that if I followed that road I'd arrive in Moonsan. This was a relief, but I soon discovered that this road went up a steep mountain. I wussed out and walked up most of this mountain, but I took this picture:

At the top of the mountain I was happy to see a sign that said that I was indeed in moonsan.

I coasted down the mountain and walked up another, and coasted down it again. I was then happy to see that the road was flat for a pace, until it wasn't, and I walked up another hill. This time I saw an old guy who was doing some landscaping next to a hospital. He told me to ride my bike and stop being such a pussy. I obeyed and then went down this hill.

I kept on trucking until I was to the outskirts of moonsan. I wasn't happy to see the sign that said Jinju 12km, but sooner or later I ended up in that shit hole moonsan. Ten minutes later I was to Jinju stadium. A little while after that I was near my house. After that I bought my wife a cup of coffee and took it to her office. Day two complete.

Day Three Dino-disappointment in Naedong
I still had the ridding bug in me after my huge journey on Wednesday. The ride must have been about 15-20 miles. I left my house at ten and got home at three thirty. But I still hadn't seen anything dinosaur like, so I checked another site in Jinju in "Naedong." This location was much closer. Just a bit past the lake and on a small river called the Gahwacheon that meets up with the ocean in Sacheon. This ride went well. I was at the base of Jinju damn when my damn bike decided to act up. The back tire started to rub up against the bar. I pushed on after I kicked the wheel and swore at my bike some. Again I didn't know where I was going but I ended up here:

An information sign revealed that this was the right place. An old lady emerged on the stones and I asked her. I greeted her and she asked me if there were any fish about. I said, "no," and then I asked her where the fossils were. She said that they washed away with the current a few years back...I think, they may have been excavated, but at any rate I didn't see any fossils.

I gathered my bike and limped to a bike shop where the owner re-aligned my wheel. After that it was to McDonalds to try the new burger that has salsa and bacon...verdict, not too bad. I guess I hadn't had enough exercise for that day so I headed to the Taekyon dojang and practiced some kicks and throws.

So no, I didn't see any remnants of the paleolithic era, but I had a pretty damn good time on my bike and saw a lot of beautiful country. I hope some day to make it to the coast. I think that if I follow the gahwacheon I can make it if there is a road that traces the river. Hopefully my story wasn't too boring.

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