Sunday, September 27, 2009

Raccoon oar dog?

It's been a long day, as 16 hours ago (at 4:30 a.m.) some neighbors decided it would be a good idea to sit on the park bench 50 feet from my head (and I like to sleep with the windows open) and have a loud long conversation. When I finally drifted uneasily down into sleep again, Tug McClaw commented loudly every 20 minutes or so about how I was going to miss my ride. I think that's what he was saying; I was begging him to shut up too much to really decipher his message.

Anyway, I finally dragged my carcass out of bed (I won't say up) at 7, and at 8:30 was joining seven of my SPPA compatriots in a three-hour van trip to go... white-water rafting! We were actually north of the 38th parallel, the one-time border between the Koreas...
and just a few miles from the DMZ and the worst country in the world.

We had lunch, put on our life preservers and helmets, grabbed our paddles, got a quick lesson in how our guide would guide us (left one two, right one two, boce one two [that's "both"; they don't have "th"s in Korean], back one two, boat down [grab the rope and jackknife your body forward, 'cause we're all gonna die oh God oh God]) and we were off.

Tony, the head teacher, arranged the trip and I wasn't going to miss it; I've been so cautious my whole life, and it was about time to change that. I was a bit apprehensive, but actually the water was low, now, at the end of the season and the trip was pretty mild even by my standards. (If I'd known how it was going to be, I wouldn't have worried about taking my camera and I'd have some nice pictures for you.) There were white things tangled in a great many of the trees fifteen feet above us, and I was cooking up some romantic story about native customs, when the guide said, through Tony's girlfriend (our interpreter) that they were all trash bags... that line fifteen feet up is where the water rises to.

Still it was so much fun, and it did have some rapids, a lot of splashing, and a plenitude of rocks. At one point, we had to all repeatedly jump up in the raft on the count of three so our guide, in the water in his wet suit, could free us from the rocks; mostly we just had a lovely time paddling and looking up the steep cliffs, topped with impenetrable forest, on both sides. We were accompanied the whole way by a flight of dragonflies, who liked to perch on our heads and our paddles. On our break halfway down the river, we found a lot of lime-green frogs, the size of my little fingernail, in the sand. (Frog pee is actually quite cool to the touch, by the way.)

But for me, the highlight of the trip was when we saw an unusual animal staring down from far above us: it was too big to be a raccoon, which they don't have on this side of the marble anyway; it wasn't a badger or a wolverine; what the heck was it?                                                                                                          

Later research at home proved it to be a raccoon dog, which roams eastern Asia apparently unable to make up its mind what the hell it is, sort of the oriental version of Senator Arlen Specter. Actually, though it looks pretty darn coonesque, it's a member of the dog family. Different pictures of them look quite different, and ours was closer to a brownish red, so much so that I wondered if it was a red panda, but... uh, no, no bamboo 'round here, and this ain't the Himalayas. It was a raccoon dog, all right. Do you recall a couple of years ago when it was uncovered that the faux fur in Sean Combs' clothing line was in fact, faux faux, that is to say real? Well... that was raccoon dog. Fortunately, this guy still had his own coat on.

So, anyway, I'd like to go back sometime when there's a bit more water and they gots it turned up a couple notches, but we had a wonderful time, I did something I should have tried long ago, and I'm tired. Everyone at school was supposed to fly to Jeju Island tomorrow, but overblown fear of H1N1 axed that, so I guess my little bi(ologically)curious friend was all the adventure for this week. Aside from the Seoul weekend traffic, that is.

But... coming in January... maybe Japan.. maybe Thailand... stay tuned!

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