Students, parents, teachers cycle to Mt. Paektu

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Students, parents, teachers cycle to Mt. Paektu

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Students and teachers at Gangnam Elementary School train for their 12-day-trip to Paektu Mountain. They leave from Incheon tomorrow. By Cho Yong-Chul

Yoo Byeong-yeop, a 5th grader at Gangnam Elementary School in Seoul, was in training with seven of his friends last week, all on bicycles. “Be on my tail,” commanded the 12-year-old. “Let’s form a line.”

Watching the group was Hong Seong-du, a 60-year old teacher from nearby Seorabeol Elementary School, who said adults could barely keep up with the energetic kids. “When the students get on their bikes, they act like Roman cavalries.”

The students will need the endurance of Roman warriors because tomorrow the students, along with some parents, teachers and alumni of the school will board a boat from Incheon for Dalian in northeast China. From there, the group will bicycle 800 kilometers (497 miles) all the way to Mt. Paektu, the legendary birthplace of the Korean race.

“We’ll ride bicycles on the lands that our ancestors roamed on horses,” says Gu Bon-man, teacher at the Gangnam Elementary School and planner of the 12-day odyssey, which will involve 42 Koreans. “This is a great opportunity to learn Korean history and dream for the unification.”

The group plans to follow the Amnok River to reach Paektu Mountain. Along the way, they will see important historical sites, such as Lushun Prison and Jian City. Lushun Prison is where the patriot Ahn Jung-geun, who assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the chief instigator of Japan’s occupation of Korea, met his death. Jian City is home to a memorial for the Goguryeo’s king Gwanggaeto the Great, who conquered much of Manchuria.

Then they’ll bicycle all the way back to Dalian.

Participants have been training for the trip since March. Students and parents get up at six in the morning to ride bikes for an hour, or about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). Lim Seong-yun, a 5th grader at Gangnam Elementary School, said, “I feel closer to my parents because I ride with them every day.”

The parents are also excited. “Some children merely think of their fathers as people who put food on the table,” said Jung Wun-hwa, 47, who joined the project with his son. “But after riding bikes with my son every day, we became much closer.”

Gu has been taking students on bicycle trips for 15 years. When he was teaching at Samseong Elementary School, he created a bicycle club called “Green Boys Group” and traveled the country. Some participants on this trip are, in fact, former students of Gu.

“I really enjoy seeing the confidence the students gain after completing the trips,” says Gu. “We will definitely have a great trip.”


By Kim Hyo-eun [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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