Spokes like Spaghetti
We woke up the next morning to the smell of bread toasting at the Bebop house. It had been some time indeed since this smell had permeated our worlds. Certainly not in Bandung. Now there was a seemingly infinite supply of toast and eggs, and we relished the long forgotten ritual of dipping toast in wet yolk.
We were coming to like the other travelers who occupied the guest-house with us, but we declined invitations to join them for some more traditional Seoul tourist activities. We might have been lounging and speaking English in the lap of College-style luxury, but this was still AsiaWheeling and your humble correspondents felt an obligation to seek out the hidden treasures that lie in wait for the urban cyclist.
And so, with bellies full of toast, eggs, and coffee, we hit the road. The sun was finally out in Seoul and was pouring over everything that had been washed clean by days of arin. This day had a certain refreshing beauty which propelled us forward along Seoul’s smooth pavement. Everything seemed to have an orderly gleam to it. We were well caffeinated, fueled with comfort food and riding quite fast, not to mention the city smelled great.
We spent the next hours or two noodling in and out of the tiny back streets of Seoul, which seemed to contain a mind blowing number of good looking restaurants, which even this early in the mornig were eminating complicated and come hither scents.
So you’ll forgive us for being plenty happy when our hunger flared up again. We chose a restaurant at random. The place had only one dish, a kind of fried-rice-hotpot. The entire meals was cooked at your table in a large ceramic pot, which was operated (for us at least) by a moderately grumpy waitperson. The first phase was a heap of beautiful looking fresh vegetables submerged in boiling fish broth and doused in a spicy red sauce made from something fermented… soybeans perhaps?
This hot pot phase was boiled slowly, and twice we were reprimanded for jumping the gun and sneaking a bite. Eventually, the wait-person informed, sounding somewhat relieved, that we could finally eat. In no time, most of the vegetables had been eaten from the soup, the second phase began. Sticky rice and a couple of eggs were added to the bowl along with herbs, a giant pile of dried seaweed, and some mushrooms. The contents were then stirred in front of us by one of the restaurant employees until a sticky and intensely flavorful fried rice was rendered. The meal was great, but we never felt quite welcome in the restaurant.
Back on the street, we stopped in at one of the many eyeglasses shops. It is important to relates that Korea is a country that takes its eyeglasses incredibly seriously. Even before I had traveled to this fascinating place, I had encountered a number of Koreans in America, and had consistently been impressed by their eyeglasses. In fact, I had come to use the glasses as a kind of rule of thumb for making guesses as to the nationality of an Asian American. Amazing glasses pointed to Korea 9 times out of 10. At once retro and hip, but intelligent and thoughtful. Take it from us, dear reader, if ever in Korea, consider purchasing frames.
Neither of your humble correspondents, unfortunately, is lucky enough to wear corrective spectacles. Furthermore, our friends at Maui Jim had so majestically outfitted us with superior sunglasses that our interest in the frames was more anthropological than anything else.
So on we rode, out of the winding back streets of our current neighborhood. When we spotted a smaller river, with a bike path running alongside it. We figured the river must be a tributary of the great Han, so we followed it back towards the river. The closer we got, the more flood damage based hazards we encountered.
As we had suspected, this river was a tributary of the Han, and the bike path we rode on a tributary of the great Han bike-path, which we had been thilled to discover the day before. We pulled back onto the Han path, which was now bathed in sunshine, starkly well kept, and smooth as a baby’s bottom. We rode by families picnicking and old men meditating in the shade.
We continued down the path, this time much beyond where we had turned back the day before. Eventually, we decided to leave the bike path and make our way deeper into this side of the city for a little exploring. It was an absolutely perfect day, and we couldn’t help but lay hard onto the speed TRs whishing around cars and flying ever further into this section of the city. The place seemed to consist mostly of office parks, laundromats, and corporate coffee shops, all of which felt quite exotic.
Then, suddenly, Scott’s bike took a turn for the worse. He noticed it was becoming increasingly hard to pedal. On closer inspection, we discovered that the spokes on his from wheel had gone loose as spaghetti and the wheel was deforming such that it rubbed against the breaks. We attempted to tighten them in the field with our Syrian adjustable wrench, but it seemed to barely be helping. Soon, we were forced to simply disengage the front brake and head in search of a bike shop, pedaling at very low speeds. Eventually we were forced to walk the iron steeds. By the time we found a shop, Scott’s wheel was rubbing badly against the fork of the bike and making a terrible sound.
The shop we found was very posh, full of expensive and high tech cycling gear. The folks there were more than happy to help us. Long gone, however, were the days of 50 cent wheel truing jobs in Laos. This was every bit as expensive as getting the job done in America, and with a fair bit more attitiude.
The gentleman at the shop were also very shifty characters. They were happy to show us around, but, for instance, when we asked to borrow a wrench so that I could tighten some of the joints on my bike, they sternly refused. Part of it was certainly the language barrier. The men spoke barely any English and we not a lick of Korean, but none the less it was very clearly communicated that such repairs could be made, but we would not be trusted with the wrench. This meant that in the meantime, while Scott’s wheel was being trued, we entered the hair pulling process of trying to communicate how to tighten all the joints on a folding touring bike to someone who has never done it before, is uninterested in communication, and is convinced that they know better than you how to do the task in the first place.
We eventually got through it however, and even got a free bit of power washing out of the deal (whether this left our Speed TRs in better or worse shape remains unclear).
Then we noticed that the staff had begun putting the wheel back on Scott’s bike. We rushed over, breathless, and struggled to stay calm while stressing to the mechanics not to over tighten the bolts on Scott’s bike. As you no doubt remember, dear reader, Scott’s bike had developed a nasty habit of chewing through bearings not long after his collision with Stig Motta and the resulting inexpensive re-truing of the front wheel in Laos. His wheel had continued to misbehave through Cambodia and eventually calmed down somewhere around southern Vietnam (right around when we were becoming experts at replacing the busted bearings). It was not until Uzbekistan that it began giving us trouble again, and we were lucky then to have access to the extensive collection of well made Soviet tools which belonged to our dear Uzbek Bureau chief’s grandfather, Nazarkulov. That time, we had decided to remove the entire Dynamo assembly, which we found to be totally destroyed, the magnet inside shattered into 5 pieces.
All this is to strengthen our case whe we ask you to forgive us for being a little intense with these Korean mechanics. We pleaded with them to let us tighten it ourselves, and tried with all our might to communicate the fragility of the situation. In the end we just watched with clenched sphincters as they overtightened the bolt, and then loosened it with our Syrian adjustable wrench as soon as we we out of sight.
Luckily, it seemed we’d done ok, because Scott was back in action, the bike seemed solid and obedient. We were coming to find that Seoul is absolutely packed with bike paths, for it was no more than 5 or 6 blocks later that we found a new one. Suspecting this might also be a tributary to that great Han bike path, we exited the city streets and started riding.
We still call a way-point, of course, whenever we see a particularly interesting bike, especially if we have suspicion that it folds.
That evening, we couldn’t resist heading to another of those Korean BBQ on the table restaurants.
This one was almost certainly even better than the place we’d attended the night before.
We spent the rest of that evening wandering the city on foot, speculating as to the reasoning behind the prevalent local advertising strategies.