Sunday, September 19, 2010

Robojohn on the Yangjae Cheon

I don't know what I'd do without the Yangjae Cheon, the stream that runs northeastward from Gwacheon City to the river. From Gwacheon, it's four miles to the ramp near the teachers' apartments, another five to Jamsil Stadium and the Olympic Stadium, and one more to the Han River. The path alongside is filled with runners, walkers, dogwalkers, bicyclists, skaters, and on several occasions lately after incessant rains, swiftly flowing brown water five feet too high and five times too wide.
You can see the plants the river flattened at its high point; the stream here is usually just fifteen feet wide.

A couple of weeks ago, we got grazed by a typhoon. (That's called a hurricane in your hemisphere, gang... sure glad I escaped Florida!) The stream was far higher by 7 a.m. than in this video clip, and the US Army website said that the storm would be coming onshore near Seoul around 3 p.m. With buckets of rain blowing sideways and tree limbs down when I got up in the morning and the worst still to come, I couldn't believe that we'd have school... but what I had awakened to was the tail end, not the onset, of the storm.

The typhoon uprooted a tree, which stretched at chest height across the ramp down to the path, from the slope on the south side to the top of the railing on the north; it took three days for it to be removed, and I wonder if in the meantime any unwary bicyclists got a faceful of tree trunk as they sped down the ramp.

Other than at these flood times, the Yangjae Cheon is the only place I run. It's a great gift in a city this size to have mile after mile of car-free pedestrian trail. Large segments of the path are rubberized, which makes a big difference to my knees. Toward the river from our ramp, the path by the water is cement, but at various elevations there are long softer segments underfoot. There's a long stretch with sunflower lights: tall light poles with solar panels that power the lamps, with big metallic sunflower petals surrounding the round solar panel arrays.

Across the stream from the sunflowers, there's a touchscreen video display that offers shopping and weather information and interactive maps. Near there, I just discovered a newly installed robojohn: a big box with a slot to insert a 100-Won (eight-cent) coin. There's a metal plate that, in Korean, English, and Chinese, explains that your eight cents buys you ten minutes of private time in the unisex john; at the end of ten minutes, the door pops open (yike!) though you can insert another eight cents for ten more minutes. (Ten minutes seems ample, however, for standard usage...) After you exit the facility, it's automatically cleaned and disinfected before the next visitor arrives. I picture an army of eager little Loobots popping out of the walls to do their sanitation duties.

It's not the only odd, offputting, or charming thing I've seen on my runs, bike trips, and walks along the Yangjae Cheon, though. There have also been:

Senior citizens practicing tai chi under a bridge at 7 a.m. on Sundays. Very serene.

Instrumentalists playing classical music under a bridge, which incidentally provides great acoustics.

A guy playing jazz clarinet in the tile-lined tunnel, which incidentally provides fantastic acoustics, on the path to Gwacheon.

Two thousand Koreans in and around the swimming pool complex by Citizen's Forest Park; this happened every day all summer till the pools were closed, ironically, due to too much water. (Once the muddy river gets into your pool...)

Cops (I think) in riot gear with Kevlar vests and (I think) AK-47s getting off a bus.

Hundreds of young men in crew cuts and camo getting on buses next to the pool complex; I guess they were just leaving home for their two-year hitches.

Somehow, though, I guess I'd pick the futuristic toilet as the most striking sight on the Yangjae Cheon.

Call it a process of elimination.

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