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Monday, 1 October 2012

Grey skies and rain continued into Sunday morning, but i appreciated free coffee and water at a cafe where i stopped, my benefactor receiving the last of my little Russian St George cards. After a lunch including sweet chestnuts, the sun came out as i came to the edge of Ulsan’s urban sprawl. I was keen to attend Sunday Mass of course, so with help from a young mother and her son it was good to reach an RC church at about 6pm, emblazoned on its front with a reproduction of Rembrandt’s painting of the ‘Prodigal Son’, beneath the words ‘I love you’ in Korean. Less inspiring was the sound of teenagers mucking about with an electric guitar inside the church, but anyway. Before long i was introduced to the priest, Fr Phillipo, who spoke excellent English, one of his previous parishes having been in North Carolina. I showed him photos from Ukraine and Russia, and was told i must be crazy, but was invited for a delicious supper in the presbytery; lots of spicy dips with various types of fish again, reminding me of Spanish tapas. And as if this wasn’t enough, after Mass he presented me with an envelope containing the equivalent of $100; a huge fillip from Fr Phillipo, in which there seemed an echo of a wonderfully generous 100 euro donation from a Turkish gentleman on the previous pilgrimage. Thanks be to God, i had a nice little icon of SS Peter and Paul from the church in Irkutsk which i could give to him, and naturally i took down his details in order to write. I then spent the night on the sofa... which someone had abandoned in a derelict plot of land next to a scrapyard down the road! In fact, i’m sure someone in the parish would have offered me lodging if they'd understood that i wasn’t fixed, but in any case it was good to do some more walking in the evening cool.

   On Monday 11th of July, dedicated to St Benedict, patron saint of Europe and father of western monasticism, there was glorious sunshine and i got away respectably early towards the outskirts of Ulsan. At consecutive petrol stations i was given free cups of coffee and chilled bottles of drinking water. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, until it became clear that the main road south was un-navigable. After following a road to nowhere-in-particular along a valley in the fiercest heat of the expedition to date, i took a bus to the centre, to re-establish my bearings. Having identified what looked to be the best route south, the ledge i was hoping to traverse narrowed into nothing, so i admitted defeat and retreated to a bus stop. Three said vehicles steamed past but i was able to get aboard the fourth, and quietly enjoyed the hour-or-so long ride through hilly/mountainous scenery, to one of Busan’s northernmost metro stations. After a picnic supper i meandered southwards along a restless, neon-bedecked boulevard, before finding a so-so place to sleep at about 11pm, behind a big concrete buffer in a truck park. Mosquitoes were a menace, and i was woken shortly after 6am by the truck park ranger, but he was quite friendly and pointed me to his cabin for a rudimentary wash and tooth-brushing, besides giving me some water to drink.
Korean advantage: bow and arrows.
   Tuesday 12th July, memorial of St John Jones, was the day that i was due to leave South Korea. Busan’s epic scale though, and the intense heat, combined to make what might have been a triumphal procession to the ferry terminal, quite a hard slog, though mitigated by free coffee and biscuits in a basement cafe. Another highlight was a little museum, as excellent as it was unexpected, in a subway station that i happened to walk through, devoted to the Imjin Waeran Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 to 1598, decreed by Japan’s ruler of the time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (whose name will crop up again). Even without factoring in the numerical advantage and more sophisticated war machine of the Japanese, the Koreans’ fate would probably have been sealed by their initial failure of intelligence; not recognising the hostile intentions of the enemy fleet until it had come ashore at Busan. In the ensuing conflict Korea suffered the most appalling devastation, notwithstanding some degree of help from the Chinese. Among the exhibits were bows and arrows with quivers, a department in which Korean technology did have an edge over the Japanese, but one that would hardly help them to fight on equal terms, given Japan’s greater understanding of the potential of the arquebus, a precursor of the musket.
   Arriving then in early evening at the cargo port i learnt that the ferry port was another 2 kilometres away, so i took a taxi to ensure that i wouldn’t miss the boat. The nice lady at the check-in desk made an adjustment to my ticket, so that i had a cabin all to myself.

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