About hajo

hajo. an ordinary citizen somewhere out there. travelling through space and time. the latter in a rather linear manner.

Back to East Asia…

— or “things that only happen in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (and maybe other countries that are heavily influenced by the former)”

Taiwan had a very nice idea – conveniently file your tax online! When I tried to use it and it asked me to download and install a software that only runs on Windows, my Korean experience should’ve rang all alarm bells there are in the region. Anyway, a few hours later the conclusion: It’s software made specifically for foreigners to file their tax (locals use another method). Buuuutttt; it only works on Chinese Windows, not on e.g. English versions of the OS; which a foreigner in his infinite ignorance might dare to use.

Welcome back…

Edit: The challenge of finding a Chinese Windows was the easy part. Wait for the next post about actually paying the tax as a foreigner – I’m busy finding a plastic bag and stuffing bank notes in it. Once done I shall share my experience being diligent with the Taiwanese tax man…


Running a business

So, one goes to a mobile phone network operator to open an account. Provides some personal and payment data – such as bank account information for direct debit. The operator needs a few days to do a background check before enabling the service; granted – somehow understandable in a world where potential terrorists use their mobile phone to order a piping hot pizza and a cold beer. Or some mutton kabab (hint hint).

All is good, one uses the phone to call other people and surf the net. Until, one year later, that service suddenly comes to a grinding halt. Nothing goes. When one calls the operator (from another line, mind you!), the friendly customer support executive advises to turn the phone off and back on. You guess right, calling from the other line again. A few more times. Finally someone says, “oh yes, your stay visa expired. We terminated the service”. Good; one has a renewed visa since quite a while already. Thanks to said operator for never mentioning this “automatic visa-renewal reminder service”. The competent service executive advises to visit the closest operator outlet to apply for reopening of the account.

Deal! The (not so) friendly clerk in the closest (and 5 other, not so close) shops insists that such process does not exist. Plenty of calls (from another line, mind you!) later, one of them (not so friendly) clerks reluctantly accepts a form for reopening the line and confirms service resumption within 2 days; verbally. Upon visiting the store 10 days later (after several calls to the above mentioned hotline via, yes, you guessed it, another line…) the meanwhile even less friendly clerk produces a confused look and says “oh, THIS application?” – which he pulls out from under a huge stack. “Was I supposed to submit this to the back office?”. Hmm, no, I just filled it in to contribute to the stack of paper in front of you which makes you appear important…

Finally service is restored after about a month so I can happily pay my regular phone bill again. Short of one year later, one obviously learned his lesson to become proactive. A month before visa expiry, all it takes is to call the friendly hotline (from – hah! NOT another line; yet…) and submit the renewed visa for updating of customer records. Said, done. Next step? Goto above “it suddenly comes to a grinding halt”.

Finally, time to put an end to it all. One is departing the country for good. And closing the serice permanently. Yes, you might well guess it by now:

One calls (from NOT another line) the friendly service hotline, asking about termination of service. Of course one prepares early and asks those questions a couple months in advance. The answer one gets is that termination by phone has to be provided 10 days in advance. Said, done: 10 days in advance, on giving notice to the same hotline, one is informed that notice can only be given 2 days in advance. 2 days in advance, on giving notice to again the same hotline, one is informed that notice has to be given 10 days in advance. Hmm, 3 more calls to the same hotline, talking to 3 different friendly operators, yields in a promise for 24hrs termination of service. With the request to report to the (see above) closest outlet to settle one’s final bill. 

Less than 24hrs later, service is indeed disconnected (surprise!). Reporting to the closest (see above) outlet results in comments that this cycle’s bill will be processed later. Once one has left the country. Long discussions and multiple calls to the friendly hotline (from, yes you guessed right, another line) later, the closest (see above) outlet accepts payment outside the regular payment cycle. Receipt of payment is recorded in a handwritten ledger at the (see above) outlet and one is informed that receipts cannot be issued but everything is in order since it’s reported in the ledger.

One leaves the country some 24 hours later; for good. With quite a happy smile across one’s face.

Some 30 days later, one receives an email about new charges accrued on above, closed account, during the previous month. The email wasn’t, as the innocent observer would suspect, sent by the mobile operator but was instead provided courtesy of the bank where one had an account while living in that country. One had meanwhile closed the bank account as well (hah! that’s worth another blog post even longer than the one you’re reading now). So apparently a bank, holding a closed account can accept charges from a closed mobile phone account and inform a permanently departed account holder about outstandings. Hmm…

3 months into the story, the two institutions are accruing and bouncing (while a 3rd party, the landline phone service provider, is joining forces in the battle for unpaid bills). Meanwhile, a relocation company who was paid as a service provider to handle all the above account openings and closures for one also comments on the situation:  “It’s OK, don’t worry about anything”. 

Heck, I’m not going anywhere near this country anytime soon knowing that friends of mine were summoned to court for “unpaid telecom charges”. 

Some more routes for your bicycle touring adventures in South Korea

After having recently described your easy way across Korea on a bicycle, namely from the Incheon Airport to Busan, here’s a few more routes you may want to consider after completing the Incheon-Busan ride. These rides are off the beaten track, umm, bike path. I find them way more interesting than riding on dedicated, straight, flat bike paths all the time but yes, there may be climbs, wider roads and whatnot. The routes do avoid busy roads and ugly climbs most of the time though, so yes, you can do them if you managed Seoul-Busan on the bike path.

Munsan-Sokcho — DMZ and the mountains of Gangwondo

DMZStarting at the Munsan subway station, this route touches the DMZ (bring your passport if you want to add an extra half day to go into the DMZ and see the tunnels) and brings you over the eastern mountain range of Gangwondo down into Sokcho. You’ll ride up towards Seoraksan on a very scenic, deserted road. So do bring your camera along! Up north, Korea is relatively deserted. I rode this during Mid-Autumn festival and had no problems finding motels and restaurants, but I recommend you do plan ahead a bit in case you are planning to spend the nights in other places than I did. Here’s the GPX file for the ride, I did it in the following intervals:

1 Munsan-Cheorwon 97km
2 Cheorwon-Hwacheon 87km
3 Hwacheon-Wontong 89km
4 Wontong-Sokcho 51km

Sokcho-Busan — Along the east coast

EastCoastThis route may well be my favourite. It’s relatively flat and provides quite a variety of sights. The landscape as well as the civilization changes along the way. Starting in the cooler north, heading further south where the climate gets warmer and with it the houses change, down to the south with its industrial cities and related wealth.
The Korean government is planning to build a bike path along the coast, I’d therefore recommend to do this route as soon as possible before the herds of cyclists come over — here’s the GPX file of the route on road. One option could be to ride it in 5 days as I did, but since there’s quite some population along the whole coast, you’ll certainly find accommodation in other areas as well.

1 Sokcho-Okgye 103km
2 Okgye-Uljin 100km
3 Uljin-Pohang 136km
4 Pohang-Ulsan 92km
5 Ulsan-Busan 82km

Busan-Haenam — The wrinkly part of the country

SouthCoastThis ride is a bit more tricky; the south coast consists of a lot of bays, islands and is criss-crossed by highways you can’t ride on. If you tried to ride all along the coast you’d probably have to go some 1000km (no, I didn’t measure it). So on this tour, I took some shortcuts and cheated a bit (namely took a train at the end of day 4). Still, the ride was worth, especially Namhae and Wando are areas well worth visiting. Here’s again the ride’s GPX file and my itin:

1 Busan-Masan 94km
2 Masan-Samcheon 95km
3 Samcheon-Namhae 70km
4 Namhae-Gwangyang 52km
5 Boseong-Wando 92km
6 Wando-Haenam 87km


This last suggestion is really a no-brainer. Some 230km around the island, all flat. By spring 2014 the bike path is supposed to be completed, but even before that there is already a bike path along road 1132 which island. The island is speckled with motels, pensions and hotels, so you can spend the night at any place you like. Camp sites are also avail, btw, in case you want to use the opportunity of a flat terrain and haul your camping gear along.
Getting to Jeju (from Seoul) is fairly simple as well. There are all the flights plus, my favorite, there’s an over-night car ferry from Incheon airport. Push your bike onto the ferry at 8pm, eat, drink and sleep on the boat and arrive in Jeju around 7am, ready to ride. Same routine on the way back — especially convenient if you have all your camping gear with you.

No GPX file for you to follow (since it’s really dead-simple), just one advise: Do the ride counter-clockwise, Ie keep the sea at your right shoulder. Doing it this way, you will have the wind in your back more frequently plus you will be on the correct side of the road to see more of the beaches (there won’t however be many cars on the road to begin with…).

Never trust a foreigner – sort of, well, ugh, wait a second!

In India, a foreigner has to renew his working visa annually. Reasonable (except for the process of doing so, but that’s another story). And in India, a foreigner has to pay taxes annually as well. Also reasonable (except for the amount one pays and what he gets out of it in return, but that’s again another story). But when you combine the 2, it gets interesting:

Let’s say your annual visa renewal is due in March. Tax payment needs to happen until somewhere in July. Now, if you apply for a visa in March of one year, the authorities will put a remark into the visa saying that by July you need to get a stamp on the visa proofing that you paid taxes, otherwise you’re not allowed to leave the country come late July. Maybe reasonable (except that I haven’t seen this in any other country I lived so far…). Hmm, me thinks — if I wanted to escape India without paying taxes, would I do so in July or August?

And then, eventually the inevitable moment comes and the diligenty tax-paying expat leaves India for good. Which is unlikely to happen by the time the government declared end of tax-year, I.e. July. But, let’s say the unsuspecting expat leaves in April. Then India lets the foreigner go without any proof since he can’t pay tax yet according to the Indian schedule. Instead, as it seems, India expects the guy to pay taxes once the Indian authorities declare tax-payment season, which is July. When the foreigner is far, far away. Hmm.

Finally, add a bit of (Indian) spice to the equation: Indian banks are only allowed to keep accounts for foreigners as long as they possess a valid visa. And visas are tied to actual employment contracts. In other words, once the foreigner’s employment contract ends, he leaves the country. Obviously. At the same time, his visa ends. And, at the same time, his Indian bank account seizes to exist. Now, back to the original topic, some time later he should pay taxes. By transfering money from his (aha!) Indian bank account to the tax authorities. Hmm, hmm, hmm…

Did any Indian authority ever think this whole thing through? I’m wondering how many expats “evade” taxes in their final year of (partially) being in India. Not out of intention but, well, #OnlyInIndia

I’m planning to leave India in November, btw. And I’m trying to adhere to all regulations. To my best. Let’s see how that works out…

Ordering food in India…

So we, as we did for plenty times during the last few years, called one of our favourite local restaurants the other day to order some home delivery. The friendly automated lady told us that the called phone is currently out of service and we should try again later. Later as in when the restaurant paid their bill or when the dug-up cable got replaced?

Never mind, Google knew about an alternative number to call. Done deal we thought — called the number, asked “is this restaurant xyz”? “Yes”, it sounded through the line. Hah, done deal! “We’d like to have one order of pepper fry chicken” — “you know the one with curry leaves and chilli”. “Yes, with curry leaves and chilli” it sounded from the other end. “And dal fry and 2 naan”. “2 dal fry?” the called asked. “No, 1 dal fry, 2 naan” we responded to the slightly slow employee of the enterprise. “OK,” he asked; “that’s all? Give me your address”. The address was provided and all seemed good.

Until about 20 mins later when a text message came in, saying: “We are not a restaurant, we are an interior works company”, compete with a pic of their signboard.

I don’t usually do millenium-generation shorts, but WTF feels spot-on for what I felt…

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Driving a Mahindra Ssangyong


I’ve been living in a building carrying the name Ssangyong. That was ok, albeit it brought on an interesting episode with a flooded apartment plus 5 units below mine being really flooded.

This time it’s about the car. It claims to be built upon the previous Mercedes Benz ML class. Maybe. Then Ssangyong went bankrupt and got acquired by Mahindra. Of India. Where I live now. And needed a car once I arrived here.

Yup, I chose a Mahindra Ssangyong Rexton RX7. Considered a luxurious vehicle back in Korea. Considered very luxurious over here. My first two days with it were pretty inspiring:

– The mechanical steering wheel height adjustment only works if you rattle the wheel real hard to unlock the lever
– The 3rd row seats have no head rests. Safety galore!
– The 2nd row center seat belt is not 3-point but old-style 2-point. Not the retracting 2-point but just the “belt tangle loose, adjust it manually or not” 2-belt. Very classic style, haven’t seen this for some 20 years…
– Not too sure what to make of the fact that the (beige) interior is pretty grey and black in places and the vehicle has some 120km on the odometer upon delivery. Maybe normal for India…

Day 3 the adventures start:
– Audio system remote controls in the steering wheel don’t work
– When the vehicle is parked, engine off, you can’t switch the gear lever from P to R/N/D. Of course, that’s how it’s supposed to be! But — you CAN move the lever half way towards R. Enough to unlock the gearbox lock, the vehicle starts rolling away!
– Diesel consumption is some 17l/100km(!)

Good thing I have a driver 🙂 I send him back to the dealer to fix the stuff. He comes back half a day later reporting success:
– They disassembled the steering wheel, assembled it again. Half the remote buttons work, the other half doesn’t.
– The gear box issue will solve itself after some 500km, the dealer’s sales guy (!) claims
– The same sales guy says the gas consumption will improve once “the carbon settles in the engine” after some 1000km…

After some e-mail exchange with Mahindra themselves, a customer relationship manager of the dealer contacts me. Meanwhile I figure out that the cruise control doesn’t work. Neither does the rear washer. Some 3 weeks into the life of the shiny new Mahindra Ssangyong, it goes back to the dealer again. And comes back the same day:
– The cruise control got fixed. Yay! 🙂
– The rear washer washes. Yay yay! 🙂
– The steering wheel remote buttons work, yay! (for now…)
– The gear box gets “inspected”, “adjusted” and the topic reported to Mahindra. The “adjustment” now allows the shift lever to be moved into reverse gear without the brake being engaged! yay 😦

Well, let’s wait and see what Mahindra thinks about the gear box. Then, it’s now some 6 weeks into the life of the poor vehicle, the daytime temperature in Bangalore slowly rises. To a point where the aircon of the car could come in handy. Yes, you guessed it… So I ask for an update on the gear box issue and mention that the aircon is sub-par. After a very swift response by the dealer, it is agreed that the dealer sends a driver to pick up the vehicle for “repair”. The driver arrives on time and is friendly, like all their staff, I must admit… So the vehicle goes away again. A few hours later a call comes in:
– The dealer’s driver reports “slow pickup” (read: poor acceleration). Yes I noticed earlier but didn’t bother, this is a SUV and not a Porsche… Anyway, the dealer proposes to fix it but we agree to defer to a later point since it’d take some 2 days and:
– the gear box “got inspected again and the case re-reported to Mahindra”
– The gas of the aircon got refilled and I’m liable to a charge of some 800Rupees (about 10 Euro) — with the vehicle having a 2 years warranty. Not that 10 Euro would hurt much, but what’s the point of a warranty when the factory can’t fill the aircon?

Meanwhile 9 weeks into the life of the goo’old clunker, word comes in from the dealer that Mahindra advises the change of a certain part to fix the gearbox issue. Yay! Almost the same day, I’m innocently driving and want to mute my radio by the button at the steering wheel to, surprise, figure out that the remote control buttons fail to work again. 3rd time! That makes me have a closer look at the wheel. Weird, I think, I have to hold it pointing left to have the vehicle go straight. Bloody mechanic who “fixed” the buttons earlier, must have had a twisted look when he reassembled the wheel…
Good thing though you only notice those things when you drive yourself. I consider myself lucky to have a driver, so I don’t see these flaws every day. But then, when my driver drives, I love to sit on the passenger seat. My fault entirely then, as the passenger seat unfortunately came loose during the last 2 weeks. No fun to get thrown around as your driver corners with a misaligned wheel 😦

Meanwhile the vehicle has done some 2500km, still gulps 17l/100km and I’m awaiting yet another reply from the dealer. I’m going to meet the head of R&D Mahindra next week down in Chennai — not because of my vehicle but for business reasons. I was thinking of driving down there but instead opted for a flight since driving would have meant sitting in a vehicle for 5hrs with 36deg C outside while it’s 32deg C inside with the aircon at full power. Not happening; I’m instead seriously thinking whether I should give him the URL of this post…

4 weeks later, a guy from Mahindra recently called me and said that this time, while the garage does the “repairs”, he will be around to make sure everything goes well. Well — the car is back from repair now, with, according to them, “all fixed”. Strange then that the gearbox lever still has the same fault, the steering wheel buttons still don’t work and the passenger seat still rattles… Good thing I can’t see any change with the “pick up”, I have hope that they didn’t even touch it.

I have decided to give up. The car is leased for 2 years, it’ll go back to the leasing company after that time and all is over for me. I will just take away that I will never, never ever in my life touch a Mahindra or Ssangyong vehicle again. Ever. Recommend those clunkers to your worst enemies…

Next up: My experience with the Kenwood Multimedia/Navigation unit that came installed in a Mahindra/Ssangyong Rexton RX7 in India.

Residential hardship

So I moved into this residential community in Bangalore recently. Here’s what local people in such upmarket places rant about. This is WAY better than redneck Germany! Guess what I, a large animal, will do again tomorrow morning:

Dear All,

I found dog poop in front of my villa again today morning and this is the 5th time within a month!

I seem to have got better at this and thanks to the pets I know more about poops now! So pet enthusiasts please don’t take the trouble replying to my mail saying that I could have mistaken cat poop for the same. I now know that it is definitely from a big dog or any animal that is larger.

I again request the pet owners to be more sensitive and considerate of your neighbors.

Thanks and regards
–name removed–

Planning and following paths with a Garmin Edge bicycle computer

Owning a Garmin Edge 800 bicycle computer and regularity touring through Korea, I more than once planned a path on a PC, uploaded to the Garmin, tried to let the device guide me along my planned path and got confused and frustrated with the results. Same happening to you? I tend to keep forgetting how things play together nicely (they do, in fact) so I mainly wrote the following for my own remembering. But if you also get some help out of it, do let me know in a comment please. And if you get lost despite reading and understanding all of the following, you won’t be able to feed back to me anyhow 🙂

Planning a path at the PC
Let me first get a few definitions cleared, they are often the source of bad confusions:

  • Trackpoint: If you travel along a path, Trackpoints define this track. Simple — you always go in a straight line from Trackpoint 1 to 2. If you want to go around a corner, you’ll need another Trackpoint in-between the two to define the corner. In real life, the straighter your path, the less Trackpoints you need. The curvier your path, the more Trackpoints you’ll require to define all the twists.
  • Coursepoint: Same as a Trackpoint, it also defines a point along your path. But additionally it carries some user-defined information, mostly used for navigational purposes. Say your path follows along a real-world road, through a curve. You would need a few Trackpoints to define this curvy road. Now, suddenly, the path approaches a real world intersection and you should do a right-turn into another real-world road. That’s where a Coursepoint comes into play. Add the “instruction” “turn right” to the Trackpoint which is at the intersection and you have a Coursepoint. When you later download all the data to your Garmin device and go for a ride, you will be alerted to “turn right” once you approach that Coursepoint. 
    Note that you decide what sort of information you assign to a Coursepoint. It could be “turn right into Highway 55” or “Last watering hole for 50km” or “last climb before the finish” or “say goodbye to your brakes”.
  • Track: A Track is is a path that you have previously traveled. Your Garmin records Tracks when you move, you can then download them to your computer or share them on the Internet. Tracks usually contain more information than only the where you’ve travelled. Examples for additional data is speed at any point along the Track, elevation, heart rate, bike cadence, temperature, etc.
  • Course: In contrast to a Track (which is a record of your history), a Course is a path that you are planning to follow. Courses are what this post is mostly about — plan a ride on a computer and then follow that plan in real life.
    I hope it now makes sense that Coursepoints are reserved for Courses, they wouldn’t make sense for a Track.
    Garmin devices can, btw, convert Tracks into Courses. That means you can follow a Course that you or someone else has travelled before. Since additional info such as speed is stored with the Track, the Garmin, when following a Course that was converted from a Track, also knows how fast you’ve been once you rode there last. This is how Garmin’s “Virtual Partner” works. If turned on and supplied with a Course which contains such data, it shows you how far your virtual patner (read: you during the previous ride) are ahead/behind.
  • Route: This only applies to devices which support routable maps, such as theGarmin Edge 800/810, but not the Garmin Edge 500/510. The 800/810 have the ability to download a map, just like your car navigation system. You can then e.g. see both your Track (that you’ve travelled) and your Course (that you are planning to follow) superimposed on that map.
    Some of these maps are additionally routable, Ie they contain information about what roads are connected with each other and which ones are not connected — think overpasses, not all roads which cross each other on a map are actually connected in real life! If you downloaded such a routable map to your device, then you can also ask the Garmin to “Navigate to a certain point”. After you define that point, the device will then calculate a way from your current location to that defined point. Such calculated path is called a Route. Note that this has nothing much to do with a Course that eg. you drew earlier on a computer — the Garmin may have an entierly different opinion about the best way from point A to point B than you do 🙂

With that out of the way, your task how to plan a path shold be clearer: At a computer, draw your path by placing Trackpoints on a map. At important points (such as turns, intersections, diversions, shops and whatnot) add a Coursepoint and type some description you will understand while on the road. Finally, download this data as a Course.

There are plenty of programs and web pages availabe to create Courses. The easiest to use is probably Garmin’s own Garmin Connect. It is however currently very limited in its features — it can not even create Coursepoints, you are limited to Trackpoints only. A shame, given that the Garmin Edges support Coursepoints so well.

Two other well-known online services for creating Routes are Ride With GPS and Bikeroutetoaster. I personally prefer to use the latter one, mainly because:

  • You can edit Track/Coursepoints after you created them (-> do a rough planning of the whole course first, iron out the edges later)
  • A Trackpoint can be changed to a Coursepoint and vice versa (-> Create your Course as Trackpoints first, then change some Trackpoints to Cousepoints where you need additional info later)
  • It can automatically route sections of your Course even using Openstreetmap (OSM) where Google has no routing information (eg Korea: Google has map data of Korea but no routing information. OSM however has some routing information. You can display Google maps to draw your course but in the background ask to use OSM to do the routing between to cicks for you. Makes planning much faster if you don’t have to click endless Trackpoints along a curvy mountain road…)
  • And — it’s free 🙂

If you plan to use Bikeroutetoaster, remember to create an account and log in. It’s your only way of saving (unfinished) work at the site and load it back later.

As mentioned above, when drawing your Course on Bikeroutetoaster, you may use the automatic routing function. If Google has routing info for your country, use this function. Just click at the beginning and end of a road and the site will add Trackpoints to follow the (curvy) road. If Google can’t route (such as in Korea), try routing with OSM instead. You may or may not yield good results. If a routing is wrong, you can always undo the last section and route manually for some distance, then turn OSM routing back on again.

If you have a Garmin Edge 800/810 with routable maps installed, you could in theory even only place a few Coursepoints on intersections of roads to define a general idea of which roads to ride on. Then, once such very rough course gets downloaded to the Garmin Edge, the device could do all the routing details for you. I’d advise against this however, since all the detailed information such as Course distance & elevations will be completely wrong by the time you plan your Course. You may end up with a bad surprise during your ride…

Once you’re done placing your Trackpoints, you can convert some of them to Coursepoints and enter your additional data (“turn right”, “buy water here”, “roll over”, …). Note though that at least my Garming Edge 800 can only display 10 characters on-screen. So avoid instructions such as “Turn right into Highway 1 if you’d like to die, otherwise turn left”. I usually just write “L-Rd35”. In Bikeroutetoaster you can also set the Type of Coursepoint, such as “Turn left”, “Turn right”, … If you set these, you will later see an Icon such as an arrow pointing left. Finally, the Garmin will not display the contents of field “Directions” but only what you enter in the field “Name” together with the appropriate icon as defined by the selected point type. The “Directions” field is only useable for the Cue Sheet that you can optionally download from the site.

Downloading the Course to your Garmin Edge

Depending on what software/site you used to create your Course with, putting the Course to your Garmin Edge may vary. The universal file type for Tracks and Courses is the GPX file. About all mapping software and navigation devices should be able to read/write GPX files. So if in doubt, you can download a GPX file of your course.
From there, Garmin enhanced the GPX file format and defined the TCX file. TCX files can hold more information, although it’s pretty propietary to Garmin; not many other vendors support it. So if you can, go download a TCX file of your Course if you plan to put it onto a Garmin Edge.
Lastly, Garmin recently introduced the FIT file; a further enhancement over their TCX file. I yet have to see software which supports FIT, but I guess this will be the future. Eventually.

Now that you have downloaded your TCX or GPX file of the Course, connect your Garmin to your computer, browse to its “Garmin” directory, in which you’ll find another directory called “New Files”. Copy your GPX/TCX file in there (and note that at least for my Garmin Edge 800, I can only copy one file a time in there. If I copy more than one, only the first one will be recognized later!). Then disconnect your device, turn it back on and your Course should show up in the device’s “Courses” menu.

If you are using Bikeroutetoaster like me, here are a few more hints:

  • Before downloading the Course, give it a name in the respective field. Obviously. That way you’ll find it back when you point your Garmin Edge to the “Courses” menu.
  • You can set “Course Point Warnings” a defined distance before you hit the Coursepoint. Consider this: You set a Coursepoint on the center of an intersection, it’ll say “turn left”. During your ride, your Garmin will, once you move over this Coursepoint, alert you to “turn left”. If you’re rolling over the intersection at 60km/h at that moment I wouldn’t want to be the lamp post in the far left corner once you engage the left turn…
    To give you a pre-warning, you can set a distance at which the Garmin will warn you of an upcoming Coursepoint. It’ll then display the Coursepoint text together with a prefix. Say you set pre-warning to 100m, and set the prefix to “W:”, then the Garmin will warn you 100m ahead of the Intersection with “W:turn left” followed by “turn left” 100m later on the intersection.
    This can be a convenient feature, do note however that the number of characters the Garmin will display is still limited to 10. Ie keep the Prefix as short as possible.
    Also note that if you have many Coursepoints spaced closely together (say you navigate through a city with a Coursepoint every 10m, such as “left”, “right”, “right”, “left”, …) then having warnings 100m ahead will hopelessly confuse you as they will get happily mixed with the real instructions and you’ll get horribly lost. Trust me, you will 🙂
  • You don’t need to download the TCX file and manually copy it to your Garmin. Instead you can click on “To Garmin: TCX” with your device connected to your computer and have the Course directly transfered to the Garmin. This feature should work for Windows, MAC and with  Andreas Diesner’s Garmin Communicator Plugin even for Linux.

Using the Course on your Garmin Edge

Now that you have the Course on your device, go to the menu and choose “Courses”. Your Course should show up there. Select it and upon tapping the wrench-icon, you’ll be presented with a few options — the main reason why I wrote this post, these options appear confusing at first:

  • If your Course contains timing information (the Course was converted from a Track that someone rode earlier or the creating software allowed you to enter your planned speed), then turning on “Virtual Partner” will compare your actual progress during the ride against the previously performed/planned timing. You’ll see it as a graphic of 2 riders, one being ahead of the other.
  • If you plotted your Course precisely, you can turn on off-course warnings. The Garmin will then warn you if you depart from the plotted course. If however your Course was plotted rather coarse (eg too lazy to put many Trackpoints along curvy roads) then it can be pretty annoying that the Garmin permanently alerts you about leaving the course, only to find it back a few seconds later in order to loose it again. I prefer to turn this feature off if I got sloppy during planning.
  • Turn Guidance is probably the most confusing option of all (and AFAIK only applies to Garmin Edge 800/810; I believe other models don’t have this option): Most importantly, if your planned Course contains Coursepoints and these Coursepoints contain some text, your Garmin will always pop up this text as you move over such Coursepoint. It doesn’t matter whether Turn Guidance is on or off.
    If however you have a Garmin Edge 800/810, and you have downloaded a map of your area to the device and this map is routable (see the above definition of Route for more details), then you might want to turn on Turn Guidance. The Garmin will then take your Course and try to route it on the available map data. Ie it will create a Route for you; this route might however not exactly be the same path that your Course was, depending on how you set your Coursepoints. If you then start riding and approach a turn, the Garmin will automatically switch to map view and show a line along the path you are supposed to take. It will also display more detailed instructions such as “turn hard left into Park Lane”. This is the most convenient way of navigating but again, may not be the same as your planned Course. The Garmin will still display your Coursepoint texts in that mode of operation.
  • Under the “Map Display” options (Edge 800/810 only, I believe) you can choose to Always Display your Course superimposed on the map display, no matter whether you follow the Course or not. This is the most simple way of navigating a course — just superimpose it on the map and as you approach a junction or intersection, manually switch your Garmin to map display and see where you need to go.
    You can also choose to highlight Course Points on the map (note: I have never tested this, would appreciate feedback…).

Once you’re done setting things up, hit the big green Go button and go riding. Also note that changes to the above settings only take effect before hitting Go. If you want to change things later, you must stop your Garmin following the course, do your changes and hit Go again.

In case you are using Turn Guidance on your Edge 800/810, you have a few additional Routing Options in your Settings menu after navigating to System, Routing. You can:

  • choose whether you want the routing to be optimized for Car, Bycicle or walking
  • avoid various pathways such as highways in the calculated route
  • ask the Garmin to automatically re-calculate the route in case you leave the prescribed route — or keep the existing route which is preferable in case you insist on taking a certain Course and are willing to backtrack to that Course in case you left it

Go riding and let me know how it goes!

Across Korea on a bicycle — a HOWTO for the foreigner riding Seoul-Busan and coming back in one piece

Incheon-Busan Quite a few people asked me about tips re bicycle touring in South Korea, particularly the trip Seoul-Busan — some 600km on a bike path. It seems a challenge at first, given that English is not very abundant in this country. But with a few tips it’s actually, even if you don’t speak Korean, quite easy to survive the tour. And have an enjoyable time.

  1. Renting a phone
  2. Accomodation and Food
  3. List of Korean words
  4. What to bring
  5. Transportation
  6. When to go
  7. A word of warning
  8. The passport

Seoul Busan bike pathFirst, to the path. As said it’s all bike path (either dedicated or shared with very-low traffic road), you won’t get run over by cars. Go and download the .gpx file of the whole path (right-click; “Save as…”). Then go to either Maplorer or to Gpsvisualizer and upload the file there. This will answer your questions as to climbs — there are, with the exception of the one south of Chungchu (some 400m climb), none that climb more than 50-70m at most. The path is mostly along rivers and, since water tends not to enjoy climbing hills, mostly pretty flat.

Assuming you are reasonably fit, you should be able to do some 18-22km/h on average, sustainable throughout the day. For every one hour of riding add 30 minutes break (lunch, water shopping, picture-taking, looking for the way) and calculate your daily distance from there. So, say you’re on the road for 9hrs (8:00-17:00), you are looking at 6hrs riding. That gives you about 120km per day. If you can go faster/further than that then you probably know for yourself how much…

Once you’re out riding, finding the way is actually quite easy. For one, the bike path is well indicated with signs. Beyond, I do recommend you bring a smartphone with data connection along. You will have 3G network coverage everywhere you go. And with the right apps (both Android and Apple), your life becomes way more simple. Do note that Google maps is not that helpful in Korea. For finding your way around, install the Naver Maps app on your phone (or go to the Naver Maps website if you are at a PC). As of writing this, when you start the app you will see an “eye” icon in the upper right. Tap it and then tap the 2nd check mark from the right (that reads 자전거. If you’re on a PC, instead check the 3rd rectangular button at the top right, labelled the same…). You now see all the Korean bike paths overlaid on the map. Red are dedicated bike paths, blue are shared sidewalks. Ignore purple, it’s an ugly hard shoulder on a very ugly 4-lane road… Whenever you’re looking for the way while out on the path, fire up Naver Maps and there you go, it will show your current location. Of course, again, navigating the paths without a smartphone is no magic either, technology just made it a bit more convenient.

If you’re coming in from overseas and are shying away from international data roaming on your phone, no worries. While, unlike the tiny rest of the whole other world out there, you can not easily buy a prepaid SIM card in Korea, you can actually rent a smartphone at the airport for pretty cheap. The booths are located in the arrival hall, they offer the latest Samsung&LG Android phones plus IPhones (if you’re lucky…). Rates and models are changing almost daily, so I’m not even getting into telling you what model costs how much; go check it yourself. Note that in lots and lots of places (as in every convenience store, at every bus stop, in most restaurants) you will have Wifi, so you won’t need too much cellular data, actually.

Now that you’re rolling, finding necessities and places to sleep will be the next task. Let me tell you first that I do not speak Korean. I know a few food items (such as Bulgogi, Kimchi and whatnot), but that is about all the linguistic skills I’ve got. Yet I found it very easy to get around, so you shouldn’t have no worries either 🙂 If you live in the country, may I strongly suggest you learn the Korean alphabet? Yes, it’s actually an alphabet with some 20-odd characters. Just like the alphabet you read right now. Turns out that you can master it in a day or two and, trust me on this, it’s time well spent. Example: 모 are 2 characters from top to bottom, resembling M and O. 텔 are 3 from left to right, then down: They resemble the roman T, E and L. Now when you ride and see a signboard 모텔 — guess what you just found? Many words are actually English, just written in the Korean alphabet. Spend 2 days and learn it!

With that possibly out of the way, dig out your smartphone again and install the Daum Maps App. Daum is besides Naver the other big search engine in Korea (think Google vs. Yahoo). Both Apps have their pros and cons:

  • Only Naver shows you the bike paths. Daum is useless there.
  • When you search for items (say Motels), Naver only shows you hits within a narrow radius around your current position. One km afaik. Daum on the other hand shows you hits wherever you scroll the map to. Hence Daum is way more convenient to search for eg. accommodation at a planned day’s destination

So, Daum installed (or you headed to the Daum maps website if you’re at a PC; note that in this case you will have to enable the small check-box next to the search field), simply enter your search term at the top and you’ll get all your hits on the map. If you don’t master the Korean alphabet, not to worry, here’s a list of search terms you’ll want. Simply copy them to a note on your phone and while on the road just copy&paste them into the Daum app:

Motel 모텔
Pension 펜션
Homestay 민박
Sauna (Jimjilbang) 찜질방
Note that none of them provide breakfast. More on that later.
Convenience store 편의점
Grocery store 마트
Supermarket (large chains) 대형마트
Restaurant 식당
Paris Baguette 파리바게트
Bus terminal 고속버스터미널
Train station 기차역
Subway 지하철
Bicycle (finds bike shops) 자전거
Bank 은행
Pharmacy 약국
Hospital (call 119) 병원
Police (call 112) 경찰서

You may wonder why I’ve put “Paris Baguette” to the list. This large Korean bakery chain scouted the whole country and opened shops in every decent settlement. Meaning as long as you find a Paris Baguette in a village, you can be sure that there is a bunch of motels, restaurants, supermarkets and whatnot around. For my touring, I usually stayed the nights in villages with a Paris Baguette. Which coincidentally also provided breakfast on most days.

¼­¿ï ½ÅÃÌ ¸ðÅÚ°¡ ÇÑ°Ü·¹21 ·ù¿ìÁ¾ 041015Which touches the topic of food. Note that neither Motels, Pensions nor Homestays usually provide breakfast. Motels (aka love motels, but they do make for a good night’s sleep for a tired rider) are really only a single room. They run some 40-60k Won per room per night. Usually they have a shed where you can safely store your bike or they typically (especially outside cities) allow or even “force” you to bring your bike upstairs into the room or the staircase. In any case, bring a light wire lock and you’ll be more than safe; theft rate in Korea, especially outside large cities, is close to zero. Homestays are, as the name says, usually just single rooms in the owner’s house. Haven’t tried them often enough to really give advise. Last in the list are pensions. They are typically multi-room floors or detached houses with a kitchen. Price depends on size (and number of occupants). I have yet to find one below 80k Won (for some 4 people). For the price-sensitive, there’s btw. also the option of sleeping in a Jimjilbang. This is a sauna which provides a resting area where people doze off for a few hours. These saunas are very common across Korea, many Koreans use them overnight (at a cost of some 10k Won a person).

Back to food, what I typically did when touring was having a light lunch somewhere in a small restaurant or more often than not in a convenience store. They sell both instant food (Korean and Western) as well as boxed lunch sets. They all have microwaves to heat your food and some tables and chairs.

Photo 20-12-2012 18 55 59You see, besides some water and a change of clothes, there isn’t really much you need to bring. As to clothes, btw. All motels have a fan (on top of aircon). If you wash your bike clothes in the evening and hang them in front of the fan, they’ll be dry within 3-4 hours. Don’t pack too much stuff, a 2nd set of clothes for the evening is all you need. Motels also provide toiletries. And in the worst case, just buy amenities at the next convenience store. Which raises a topic for foreign visitors: While most places accept credit cards, they usually only accept cards issued by a local bank! So your overseas card will likely get rejected. Motels, pensions and the like usually only accept cash anyhow. ATMs with global connections can be found at every bank though, so with your Cirrus, Maestro or other global ATM card you’re safe.

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced that the trip can be done easily, I guess you’re considering to do it one way only. Never backtrack! That leaves the question on transportation. Busan has an airport, so you could… Especially if you flew in from overseas, this might actually be a viable option. For the rest of us, there are trains and buses. Korea has an extensive network of inter-city buses. Especially from/to Seoul, they run into every corner of the country. Find a bus terminal anywhere and you’ll be sure to have a bus departing every 30-60 minutes into Seoul. Bikes can be put into the bus’ bottom luggage compartment for free. I’ve done this a multitude of times and yet have to see anyone putting anything else into the luggage compartment. So you’ll be sure to have a space for your bike. If you worry about scratches, pass by a grocery or convenience store nearby and grab a cardboard box. Your bike will be pampered. With buses running from/to everywhere throughout the day (6:00-21:00 typically) at a reasonable cost (some 7-25k Won depending on distance) this is my preferred way of travel with a bike. Then there are two types of trains — the ordinary and the KTX, with the latter being the high-speed “bullet train”. Bikes can be brought on board ordinary trains (free). But technically, bikes are not allowed on the KTX. “Technically” as in there are a few exceptions:

  • it’s a folding bike, or
  • it’s disguised as luggage (disassemble & put into a bike bag), or
  • you’re lucky — full-sized bikes have been spotted on the KTX. But people with bikes have also been rejected, be warned!

Finally, to move within the greater Seoul area including Incheon and the airport, there’s the subway system. You are officially allowed to bring your bike on the subway (you guessed it, for free) on weekends. You’re supposed to use the first or last car though. On weekdays, most lines ban bikes however this is not strictly enforced outside rush hours. Enforcement isn’t actually necessary even during rush hours since there’s no way for you to haul a bike onto a platform or into a train any given weekday between 7:00-9:00 and again 18:00-19:30 anyway. Even the toughest of bikes would be stomped to pieces within seconds ;-). So yes, you can move around during low-traffic hours. Just remain polite, please.

Finally ready to go? You can essentially do the trip any time of the year, there are a few warnings though. Winter is bitterly cold and windy, if you’re really unlucky you may also hit some snow. So I’d exclude mid December to mid March from the recommended period. July and parts of August often see heavy rain. It’ll be warm enough for the rain to actually be refreshing, yet, well, your choice. Last week of July/first week of August is when literally everyone in Korea is on vacation, so you might not be the only one on the path by then…

Talking about not being the only one on the path… The countryside will provide you with endless stretches of deserted bike path and some road. Go knock yourself out! Cities are an entirely different animal though. The bike paths will likely be full of people and pets. Elderly riders swaying left/right, kids pulling over to the left when they please (and typically when you’re just overtaking them), pets jumping out of crossroads, joggers jumping at you from behind trees, you name it. Be aware that people don’t look out. And be aware that the Korean law is very simple: The weaker one has right of way. You hit a pedestrian while on a bike, you’re at fault. No matter what he/she did. You get hit by a car, you win. But may lose some body parts in the process. Behave in the cities, slow down when you see people. You’ll have plenty opportunity to go anaerobic for hours without end…

Bike path phone boothDid you actually read that far? I seriously doubt it. If you however did hang in, here’s a bonus: The Korean water authority ( which constructed all that bike path along their river ways) has established this “passport” thing. They have offices at both ends of the path, Ie one in Incheon and one in Busan. Plus some more along the way, but never mind. At these offices, you can buy a “passport” for some 3k Won. Then, along the path, you will see quite a few red phone booths. No phones in there but stamps. Stamp your passport. Once you arrive at the end of the path and produce your properly stamped passport, you will receive a certificate and medal for completing the trip. Nice memory to take home…

That’s it now, really. If anything is still unclear or if you have an idea for improving this guide, please shout out in the comments below!

Happy riding!

PS: A couple of months after me writing this, you may have done the ride and feel like upping it a bit. Then here’s a few more rides “around the block” for you to consider.

Kindle paperwhite, the ultimate review

I thought about it for a very long time. It seemed extremely difficult to describe it adequately. But the right description just popped into my my mind.

The Kindle Paperwhite: It has the words “Don’t Panic” in large, friendly letters on the cover.

Seriously. That describes it perfectly!