Saturday, July 5, 2014

Seoul Forest and the Fourth of July

5 July 2014

We finally made it to Seoul Forest yesterday.  This is one of the many parks and green spaces in Seoul - not as large as Central Park in New York City, maybe about 35-40% the size at 1.5 or so square kilometers - but a lovely large park with fountains, sculpture, a deer enclosure, and all kinds of places to relax.

As we came out of the subway stop and headed to the park, the first thing we encountered was a wildflower meadow - not huge, but enough to see all the gorgeous bright flowers amongst the grass.  Then the lily pond, which features beautiful waterlilies with all the butterflies and dragonflies that hang out around lily ponds.

Then just in case there wasn't enough whimsy, the sidewalk to the park is lined with spinning pinwheels in a variety of colours, happily welcoming visitors to the park, or waving good-bye as you leave.


We weren't sure why the next thing encountered was a sculptured horse race, but it was an exciting huge sculpture spread out across a field, full of energy and movement.

Leading to the splash fountain, which was hugely popular on this bright warm and sunny afternoon - full of laughing children and indulgent parents as the kids raced around getting soaked, trying to sit on the plumes of water (and ride the geyser to the sky?) or catch the water before the water splashed them.  It was wonderfully joyous watching the children, from toddler to teenager, racing around having so much fun with this lovely fountain designed expressly for play.

 There were paths and avenues meandering amongst the trees, and people walking, biking, or peddling along in little cars reminiscent of the Flintstones.  We thought it might be fun to rent one, though we never found where to rent them from, so we stuck with walking.

There were also numerous brooks and streams running through the park, culminating in the mirror pond.  

But those brooks and streams had a variety of bridges - some normal flat bridges better suited for the bikes and pedal-cars.

And then there was the swing bridge.  Not a normal hanging bridge - no, this was a bridge of stepped swings that were attached by chains, swings attached to each other.  Well, I always like a challenge - and of course, this bridge was challenging.  Each step swings back and forth, tips a bit side to side, and every step one takes causes the whole thing to move and shudder and shimmy and shake as if, well, as if the bridge would like to dump the walker right into the little stream.

This little boy walking in front of me had as much trouble navigating the rocking shaking swinging bridge as I did.  Hanging on to the sides as much as I did.  Made me feel better, that a little 4 yr old was as shaky on the swing bridge as I was!  It was sort of crazy fun, and I did go across on it in both directions, eschewing the normal boring flat bridge.  But it also was a bit of an adrenaline rush kind of bridge!

And of course there were various fountains in the pond, and more flowers, plus koi looking like giant goldfish in mottled colours, swimming up to the bridge hoping for crumbs for a snack or dinner.

I walked over to the deer enclosure, which was a delight.  No idea how many deer are in here, because many were eating at the feeding stations.  But other friendly deer came over to the fence to be petted and fed - there's a special vending machine that sends out a cup of kibble and corn, and visitors buy a cup and feed the deer.  The deer know this, and are quite gentle.  And, for sneaky visitors like myself, you can get in a little deer petting before the deer catches on that you don't have any food for them - and much as they like having their chins or heads rubbed or patted, well, kibble and corn is a treat and they move on.  (The young stag here spent a few moments licking my sweaty hand - I guess that's like a human salt lick!  If you visit the deer enclosure, carry along some tissues or wet wipes, because you will need them after playing with the deer!)

So, the deer - these are Formosan Sika deer, and yes, even the adults have spots.  We're used to seeing only fawns with spots, but this species is all spotted.  Lovely, aren't they?

And yes, you are right, Formosa is part of Taiwan.  These deer are native to Taiwan, not Korea.  The Sika deer is indigenous to most of East Asia, but the Formosa Sika deer is a highly endangered species and is disappearing from Taiwan.  Actually, one article I read said that the Formosa Sika deer was extinct in the wild, and has been bred in parks and zoos, and is being re-introduced to the wild.  So, while in general I am not happy with captive animals, well, there is also the knowledge that human habitat often pushes animals out of their native habitat, and we often need to intervene to take care of those animals and prevent their extinction.  I like to think that that is what's going on here.  (The signs, of course, were in Korean, so that's why I had to find some information elsewhere.)

Anyway, I had fun talking with the deer, and watching the does and fawns - the does would occasionally bleat, like a sheep or goat, and call their fawn over just to make sure the baby was nearby.  Of course, most fawns hung out around their moms, but then they'd suddenly all gather together and have a little fawn race or stampede across the enclosure, then go running back to mom.  So funny to watch them!

The other visitors were predominantly Korean people, some of whom chatted a little with me in English.  One young couple offered to share the deer food with me, before I bought a cup - I thanked them but said it was okay.  Though I ended up sharing the wet wipes with them, since they had neglected to get the giant feeding spoon and so wound up with deer slobber all over their hands.

Oh, and there were a few cats hanging around - I'd guess the cats are part of the rat-reduction program, since deer are somewhat sloppy about eating from a spoon, and there was quite a bit of food dropped around - bringing in rats at night, and thus the cats' presence.

It was heading toward evening - sunset is about 7:30 or 8 PM here - so we decided, since it was the Fourth of July, we'd go to Richard's fave burger spot and have traditional 4th of July food.  Burger and fries for Richard, chicken burger (with amazing hot sauce) and chips for me.  We thought we'd be good and skip the Left Coast's wonderful dessert (warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream) - and we discovered the Chocolate Café, home of Leonidas Belgian Chocolate.  A truffle or two made a perfect dessert.

By now it was dark outside, and we figured someone associated with the US military base would know if there were fireworks scheduled or not.  So we stood at the corner of an intersection, asking random non-Asian people if they were with the base and if they knew whether or not there'd be fireworks.  I know.  Crazy, but we met a lot of friendly people!  

Anyway, we finally got definitive news:  "Yes sir, yes ma'am, fireworks are scheduled for 21:10.  Might not start right on time, but scheduled for 21:10.  Might see them over that building, but if you just get a taxi and go to 44 gate, you'll have a good view from there.  Yes sir, yes ma'am, 21:10, happy holiday to you."  Seriously, that was the report - took us a minute to work out 21:10 was in about 15 or 20 minutes.

We went back to the Chocolate Café to sit upstairs, thinking that would give us a better view.  I tried to explain to our friendly waiter why we were back - and I ended up drawing a sketch of a small rocket, flying up into the air (with appropriate rocket flying noise) and then drew the explosion (more appropriate boom pow exploding noise) and the subsequent fireworks - "Ahhhhhh," he said, nodding - "You stay here."  Well, this nice young Moroccan man laughed at this, and I said it was a good thing I could draw - we had a pleasant conversation.  And then the fireworks started - BOOM POW BOOM BOOM BOOM - except of course we couldn't see a THING!  People in the café crowded around us, looking out the windows, and we could see a vague reflection of the fireworks in the windows across the street, but nothing else.

So we raced back down to the street and across the road, and could see the tops of the tallest fireworks over the buildings.  Really.  Maybe a few inches of fireworks!  I found a wall to boost myself up on, gaining a few inches of viewing height - and that was our Fourth of July fireworks display, maybe 20 minutes of intermittent firework tops.  Hysterical!!!!

Okay, it is no longer the Fourth of July even in the US, so I'll sign off and continue again tomorrow!  Hope everyone had a Happy Independence Day!




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