Korea and Japan, May 2001

When I heard my company was going to close for 10 days and give us all a holiday, my first reaction was of course, “paragliding trip!!”. My wife however, was thinking, “honeymoon”. So naturally we went on honeymoon and the paraglider came too.

I’d been looking at not-too-distant Korea for some time and May’s weather was predicted to be ideal for some flying. We arrived in Seoul, and caught a domestic flight the next morning down to Kyungju to meet Ian Brown, a British AsiaPG lister, and his American friend Wade who both teach in universities down there. It was a lovely day and we went out to nearby Lake Bomun to find our hotel and check in. It was a hot day and humping my glider bag back down town to meet Ian was sweaty work. OK, we catch a cab out to Pyokdosan to meet up with the other pilots. There’s a pretty good crowd out there, and we spend a little time chatting and swapping namecards. Mr. Ha Tae Woo is very friendly, and immediately insists on taking us for lunch as dust-devils are ripping up the road right by the LZ.
After lunch we head up the hill to find the conditions have mellowed some and it’s quite light now. The launch is quite rough and right next to a microwave tower, but the view is great. After an abortive attempt and a little tangle in the bushes in front of launch, I get off and cruise around for 20 minutes before things get unsoarable and land. Sadly, I had forgotten my camera that day and that would prove to be the only flyable day in Korea. We spent the rest of our 5 days cycling around the lake in a gale, or visting Kyungju’s vast collection of cultural relics in the pouring rain. The town was the center of the Silla culture that flourished here 1,000 years ago.

Onward to Japan

We had been invited for two years to join the great paraglider Grand Prix in Oita, in Kyushu, Japan, but hadn’t been able to go, what with work and all. Finally I had the chance. Although the weather is never expected to be perfect then, the place is really beautiful and we know so many pilots from the club that it wouldn’t matter too much.

Our friend and instructor Yuki Ito was kind enough to drive down to Fukuoka airport to get us, and Ollie from Pingtung was there to make up the rest of ‘Team Taiwan’. After picking up the Korean National Alcohol Disposal Unit from Oita airport, it was too late to go flying, but we were all pretty tired anyway. That night, the director Yoshinobu Otome and several of the club pilots came out to feast with us and we ended up drinking until the small hours. At this stage I think the paragliding was abandoned and the competition shifted into the drinking arena.

Although Team Taiwan can keep up the Korean pace with the drinking, it faces some serious pain the next morning which finds me with anvils falling on my head. We head out to the site and get our maps and films and stickers etc. We finally head up the hill on the cable car, which is breathtaking, and I’m still trying hard just keep breakfast down.
I sit on launch trying to think straight, which is normally beyond me in any case. Ollie launches into what promises to be good cycle, but that’s obviously a lie. He’s on the ground pretty soon. Finally I decide some soup will do the trick, and it does indeed make me feel better. I go back down to launch to find there’s either no wind or it’s over the back, and sit around a while longer, all kitted up with no place to go.

Finally the window is called closed, and not 10 minutes later some more cycles come through. The view from this 1200m peak, only 7km inland, is stunning and I’m sort of lazy to thermal because I just want to admire the view. I did actually manage to reach all the places on the task, but of course it didn’t count for anything as I took off late. That night’s entertainment started with a huge barbeque with lots of food, beer and a band, and then moved on to our hotel nearby for some serious boozing. the Koreans put in a great performance and must consumed a lake-full of beer, shoju and sake.

Well gee, if I was hungover yesterday, I just don’t know what to call this purgatory. We force ourselves to drink a lot of coffee and a little breakfast and head out. It’s quite overcast today and looks like rain. We go out to a lower site near Yufusan, and get our maps, films and so on. there’s a steady wind blowing, but it’s quite wet and cold out there and we all huddle around eyeing the local’s winter flight suits with envy. The rain comes in little bursts that seem to accompany the best wind. Ollie and I launch as the rain stops, but found the wind died off with it. Again no score for us. After the flying is over, there is the ritual of washing the black and white film used and then the prize giving and kibitzing that goes on. That seemed to take longer than anybody’s flight did, and for most was more fun too. Lots of sunken eyes above those smiles tell me I’m not the only one suffering from last nights ravages. That night we go back to Yufushinn for a terrific local style terriyaki meal, delicious! Exhusted, we headed back to the hotel to say goodbye to everyone and get some sleep. We have to be up at 5:30 the next morning to make our flight back to Taiwan, and even Ming and the rest of the Korean squad accept this as a reasonable excuse not to start drinking again. Never mind, they’ll drink my share for me.

All told we did miserably in the paragliding competition, but did quite well in the drinking stakes. As this competition is all about fun and meeting friends, that wasn’t so bad at all. A heartfelt thanks to all our friends, old and new, for looking out for us and treating us in grand style. Hope we can do it again soon.

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