Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Case of the Waterlogged Shoes

I've had quite a saga in Korea. I've managed to spend a little over a month here, starting in Seoul, heading up to the DMZ and briefly setting foot in North Korea, to Chuncheon to Gangneung, stopping in Wonju and Jecheon, then Daegu, Jeonju and, finally, here in Busan. I've taken trains, inter-city buses, and express buses. Transportation for the most part is amazingly cheap, and there is a card called T-money that you can use in just about every city's subway and bus system. You can even use it for most taxis, and on ground transportation across the country. The transportational network is well-integrated and seamless.

South Korea in general is very high-tech. The T-money cards can have value added to them through touch pad machines; you just lay the card on the pad and add money. The machines are easy to use even if you don't understand Korean...most of them have an English option, but I used some that didn't, and they were very intuitive to follow. There are escalators that don't start up until you step on them. At first, I thought they just didn't work, and took the stairs. But then I started to walk up one escalator, and it just started moving. When you press some elevator buttons, sometimes if you press them a second time, it cancels the floor request.

South Korea also has the fastest average Internet speeds in the world. Most wifi I have used has been really fast. I never encounter wifi that you have to just be in a certain corner of the room for it to barely work, like I have in a lot of countries (including the US). Most of the hostels have touchpad locks to enter; they all pretty much work the same way. You lift up the cover, enter a code (usually four digits but sometimes it adds on a # or * key before or after the four digits), and lower the cover again, and the door unlocks.  A little song plays from the announcement speakers in the train station when your train is arriving (I think they did that in China too).

The rainy season is here in Korea, and up until I arrived in Busan, I had been lucky. I had only encountered sporadic rain, but mostly sun or rainless clouds. But since I arrived in Busan, it has been a different story. It has been raining almost constantly. It will often vary in intensity, but mostly it has been a steady downpour,  with occasional respites. I don't mind so much getting wet, especially when it is warm like it is here now. And I'd rather be wet than put on a raincoat and be uncomfortably sweaty under the plastic. But what I can't deal with are constantly waterlogged shoes, which I had had until yesterday.

The shoes I brought with me were not of the greatest quality. In hindsight, I might have bought better shoes. But I wanted shoes that fastened with Velcro straps rather than laces. This preference arose a couple years ago when I was in the Arctic wilderness in Alaska, and had shoes that were constantly coming untied, then one day I was startled by a bear, and one of my shoes was untied. I decided the next time I bought shoes, they would have Velcro straps.

My Velcro-strapped shoes have been serving me well,  but they don't do well in the rain,  and they are probably near what most people would consider their useful life anyway. But I usually wear shoes long after they become ragged, even though it is probably time to buy another pair for when they suddenly blow a sole or something catastrophic. And I have walked around a thousand miles so far, so it is understandable that they would be a little worn. And now they are constantly waterlogged from being in the rain, and rotting. No. Not a comfortable feeling when walking long distances every day (at least most days).

So I set off to find a shoe store, and try to buy some good walking sandals made of materials that handle rain well. But shoe stores are hard to find, given the language barrier and the limited capabilities of Google Maps in South Korea. I finally did find some shoe stores, but they were mostly small and had crappy selections. None of the sandals fastened well enough for walking, or had good enough soles. One store had some Crocs, which I consideted, but they didn't have any in my size (damn my big Western ape feet!). I finally found a quasi-acceptable solution at the third store I stopped at. I bought some water socks, but the soles were barefooty, so I then inserted some walking soles. It is actually not too bad, though I will need to buy some shoes pretty soon, and may also want some sandals too. And, if I get to a thirty-below kinda place in the winter, which is entirely possible, I'll need even another footwear solution. But I don't have a lot of room in my backpack...right now, shoving my other pair of shoes in there will be a challenge.  And they will most likely be wet. I've filled them with baking soda to try to keep the rot down, but they are definitely on their last legs.

Busan is a nice place, but the rain has made it more of a challenge to get around on foot. Still, it is doable. But it is not the best weather to enjoy the beaches, which I am hoping to get to soon. I spent one rainy day soaking in hot springs, which was wonderful. I went to Hurshimchung Spa at Dongnae Hot Springs. The water is a natural hot spring fed into the spa. There were several different pools of different temperatures, a medicinal herb bath, a "champagne bath" (which didn't actually have champagne in it, but it did have lemony effervescent water), and several scrub areas where you could swath yourself in salts, scrub down, and then shower. They give you a bracelet that unlocks two sets of lockers, one for shoes, and the next for everything else. And there was an outdoor hot pool that I sat in while it poured rain. I always feel so relaxed after sitting in the hot springs, so it was a great way to spend the day.

Then the next day, I took a day trip to Gimhae, and slogged my way through pouring rain all day. The regional airport, Gimhae Airport, is about halfway between Busan and Gimhae, and I passed it on the way. When I arrived in Gimhae, I went to a park that had a steep hill in it, but it started getting a little flash-floody (there was deep muddy water starting to pour down the rock steps, and rushing streams starting to form several inches deep), so I abandoned ship on that plan. So I visited a traditional market,  and the Tomb of King Suro, and walked around the town some before heading back to Busan on the train.

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