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2010 Travel Diary #22: A sense of direction

Thursday 6 May 2010. I’m somewhat stiff from sleeping on the floor. Throughout the night different parts of my body were suffering from pins and needles. But the location was peaceful, and I get up rested. Overnight rain has made everything seem greener, but low cloud clinging to the hilltops and wisps of mist rolling up the valley, seeming to get tangled in the branches of the pines, threaten more moisture later.

The sound of the river below the edge of the lodge’s grounds is refreshing, and it’s time to sample the bathroom: a highly focussed hand-shower in a room designed for water being splashed everywhere. This is a room aimed at the Korean and Japanese market. The water-everywhere concept has not yet caught on in the West, and neither have the napkin-sized towels. The latter do an efficient job though, provided you have enough of them.

I’m wondering what sort of people come to this place. It’s quiet and remote, so maybe they come for the walking, but I remain puzzled by the concept of a lodge with private jjimjilbangs. There is no chance to interview the manager, because the driver has arrived to take us to Sancheong. We say farewell to Miss Lee. Having spent the public holiday with us in Hadong, she now needs to be back at work in the Ministry.


Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but I’ve never seen any road atlases of Korea. When I’m on the road, I like to know where I am, where I’m headed, and my position in relation to various landmarks. I’m very old-school and like to have things in hard copy. A road atlas is my constant companion in the car.

Korea seems to be very 21st Century. Every car I’ve been in seems to be equipped with a Sat-Nav. Amazing devices, which when working, and if fed with the right data, are a boon to mankind – or at least to the driver, because they don’t satisfy my own needs for general orientation in hard copy. And I can’t help but think that a Sat-Nav ruins one’s sense of direction. As you turn a corner, the screen always re-orients itself so that Ahead is Up: North, South, East and West are meaningless concepts to a Sat-Nav. All it’s interested in is getting you from where you are to where you want to be. If you’re lucky.

Sat Nav
Sat Nav: better or worse than a map?

My schedule says that we have to leave our lodge in Hadong County at 10am, and will arrive in Sancheong County at the herb festival at 12 noon. I can’t understand why it takes two hours to travel to the next county, when it only took four hours to get down all the way to Hadong from Seoul. But I leave it to the experts.

Before we know it, we’re on an expressway and getting somewhere fast.

That somewhere is Namwon. Jeollabuk-do. Not the next county, but two provinces away. But with no map, the driver sees nothing unusual at all in the direction he has been heading, and we motor onwards. As far as he’s concerned, the Sat-Nav says go straight on, so that’s what he does, even though straight on is North West from where we started, when we want to go North East.1

Not to worry. We get to the right place in the end, with the help of my friend who’s exhibiting at the Herb festival, and who has secured the services of the local guide. Where one piece of technology failed us, at least the cellphone doesn’t let us down.

We enter Sancheong town precinct, passing through a disinfectant spray intended to limit the spread of foot and mouth disease. Our local guide is waiting for us, to show us some of the sights before we meet the local mayor for lunch.

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  1. As a brief aside, has anyone been misdirected by exit maps in Seoul subway stations? You look at them briefly, see the “You are here” arrow, do a quick orientation check and walk in the direction of the desired exit. Beware. Maps in the Seoul subway are oriented Sat-Nav style. The direction you are facing is always at the top of the map. So if you are used to maps always having north at the top, and the map is on the south wall of the arcade, it will be upside down: you will therefore be directed to precisely the opposite end of the station from where you want to be. I’m always falling for that trick. []

One thought on “2010 Travel Diary #22: A sense of direction

  1. Hi, just to answer your road atlas question. There are detailed (and heavy) road atlases available at big bookstores all over Korea. Of course new technology always has its flaws but I would say relying on navigation systems is much more reliable and interactive than an atlas these days (at least in metropolitan areas). Traffic is quite heavy and there can often be no place to pull over, so simultaneous directions from a navigation system are very convenient.

    As far as the subway maps go, after checking which number to go out of, look up on the ceiling. There are signs pointing you in the right direction for each exit number.



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