Monday, October 19, 2009

Running in Gurye

I've talked a lot about my little mountain town, but a little review couldn't hurt:
  • I've confirmed that Gurye is the second smallest city in South Korea
  • Gurye county is the smallest county in Korea in terms of population, but not in terms of square kilometers
  • Gurye county is the poorest county in South Korea
  • Gurye now has three stop lights (they've added two since I've arrived), but the lights only function between 6 am and 11 pm
Learning that Gurye is the second smallest city in Korea has really allowed me to embrace it's smallness. Instead of thinking of Gurye as a failed city, I think of it as a charming snapshot of 50-years ago. You know, the times when kids played outside after school. The time before people were afraid to walk alone at night. The time before a pat on the back for a job well done was considered sexual harassment. Sure, there's not much to do. And the people are frustratingly slow and old. But now I can blame it all on the small-town charm. I'm okay with that.

Well, this whole small-town business has had an interesting effect on my running. For those that don't know, I am training to run a half marathon on November 15th in Suncheon.

I'm amazed at the reaction I get to running. I mean, besides the gaping stares from ahjummahs and the blank gazes of old men. Those are a given. People are actually interested - dare I say fascinated - by my running. I went for a 12-mile run on Sunday. I started the run with 2 miles around an outdoor park path and finished with the same 2 miles. Well, there was this little man walking the path when I started and was still there when I came back (10 miles later). To my surprise, he started jogging next to me.

Man (in Korean): How long have you been running? More than an hour at least!
Me: Yes, 1 hour 15 minutes
Man: Ahh, shee. (pretty common phrase for "jeeze")

We ran together for a little while. He told me to follow him and, to my surprise, he took me to a new smaller path (but still very pretty). We talked as best as my limited Korean would allow. I was really thankful that he spoke slow. Most older men speak loud, slurred and fast when someone says, "What?" He was a nice running partner, I was sad to say goodbye.

I also run in the mornings before school. On multiple occasions, people have cheered me on. People I've never even met will say, "Go, Amyyyyy. Marathon, yippee!" This is at 6 in the morning! Once I made the mistake of running right as school got out. Yeah. My students were everywhere. One student even tried giving me his juice.

And my host dad is a huge supporter. Everyday he asks where I ran and then sits in awe thinking about how far it is. He reminds me constantly that the abandoned roads of early-morning Gurye are, in fact, very dangerous. I know, man. You have to watch out for those parked cars; they're killers. And on days where I'm lazy and decide to run in the afternoon as opposed to the morning, he spends a good chunk of breakfast asking me why I didn't go jogging this morning. And because of the language barrier, I can't even make up excuses. He's the best keeping-me-honest buddy I could ask for. He's also convinced that I'm going to win the half marathon. Oy.

Did I mention the grand prize for finishing first in the half? A plate of Kimchee. Mmmm. That's the very last thing I want to see and/or smell after finishing a half.

So, I've been chased by men, children, dogs (yes, the woof-woof kinds) and eyes. I know every little street, alley, road and rice field in my little town. I've been there when someone turned the stoplight on. I've raced and passed tractors, "cyclists" (traveling at a wobbly 2 or 3 miles per hour), time and sunlight. Running is my rock. Running is my constant. And here, running is my fame. Holla.


  1. Hi Amy, we are all glad that you have running as an outlet. I am sure this has helped you maintain your sanity. It will be interesting after the marathon or during the marathon to see how many citizens of Gurye are there to support you or know your results when you are done. Also, thanks for getting your phone fixed. Now I can start calling you again in the morning on my drive to work. It will make it more enjoyable for me, and I will not be waking you up on the days you teach late.

    Have a great day...

    Love you,
    AS & UJ

  2. We will be cheering for you on Nov. 15th. Or maybe you don't want to do too well and face the plate of kimchee at the end of the run!?