One of the first people I met when I went to Ace Climbing Center yesterday was a man named Kim In-Paik (I call him Perry, because that's his "English name"). He mentioned that he was going hiking at Gwanak-san the next morning and I asked if I could tag along.
Hiking on the weekends is like driving during rush hour. Swarms of people could be seen all over the subway stations wearing Norwegian knee-high wool socks and with every conceivable type of hiking aid imaginable, all heading towards one of the 25 mountains in and arround Seoul. This picture is just of the back end of a mob; there are more up in front of the pack and a lot coming behind me.
Of course there were myriad workout parks.
Even when the trail split off in many directions, there were still enough people to make sure you could never get lonely... or a have a moment to yourself.
Along the way I saw the last ice of winter and the first flower of spring... look closely, it's there.
About halfway up the mountain, Perry, myself, and Perry's two friends, Ji-Sun and Young-Joo (I have no idea if that's how you spell them, but that's my best guess) broke off from the herd to have some lunch. Ji-Sun and Young-Joo whipped out all sorts of ingredients and Perry had brought a small propane-fueled camping stove and accomanying cookware. We had oysters cooked in some sort of batter, pickled rice shoots in soy sauce, a very similar soup to the one I had yesterday, and dubu kimchi (sounds like "tow-go gim-chee") with daeji bulgogi. In English that's tofu kimchi with pork.
Perry brought along a small bottle of Chinese wine with which to have a toast. In an effort to sample everything Korean (Chinese wine sort of counts) I had a very small cup (you can see it in the picture next to the normal sized clear plastic cup). My report is that Chinese wine tastes like Robitussin. It's quite powerful, and will clear your head up right away (it'll clear it right off if you're not careful). Perry is a big fan of the wine and seemed to think that drinking a little wine was good for keeping the body warm, good for learning a new language, good for curing any illnesses, and good for solving just about any other problem life throws your way.
To pass the time and keep warm, Perry and I would climb on the boulders surrounding our lunch site. Perry would also tell me many Korean parables and try to teach me how to speak Korean.
Warning: Korean joke coming.
A man is walking along in the mountains when he has to evacuate his bowels. He covers up the excrement with a stone. Another hiker comes along and has to evacuate her bowels as well. She covers up the remainder with a stone. After many years a hiker comes along and finds a large pile of stones. It is a Korean tradition that when you come across a large pile of stones you kneel down and pray.
It's tough to see, but I thought this picture was hilarious. It was inside a public washroom at the bottom of the mountain, on a condom dispenser. Inside the condom are two small smiling children.
Perry thought I was very brave to come to Korea by myself. He himself had traveled to Thailand and could understand how difficult it was for me. He said that he liked my spirit and offered me free room and board at his house. He also offered to show me around to places that are so traditional even most Koreans don't know about them. Since I still have two weeks left at my gosiwon and I enjoy the free rice and kimchi (but not enough to stay another month), I told him that I would take him up on his offer at the beginning of April.
A final note on Korean hiking. Korean hiking and DFM hiking are very different things. Koreans like to take an entire day and commune with nature. I like to take an entire hour and attempt to race to the top of the mountain. I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I go hiking with Koreans.
When I arrived back in Itaewon I needed to go get some apples for my lunch the next day. When I came up to ground level out of the subway station I was absolutely blown away by all the white people. It was whitey central tonight. I couldn't understand it. I knew Itaewon was a tourist destination for some reason, but this was unreal. Later I reckoned that it was just a typical Saturday night and all the English teachers and American soldiers had come out to get drunk, get in trouble and generally give foreigners a bad name... so, nothing out of the ordinary.
I did notice that while I can count on one hand the number of obese Koreans I've seen so far, I could only count on one hand the number of white people in Korea who weren't overweight this night. It was unbelievable. Besides raising the average bodyfat percentage of Seoul about 50%, white people partying in Itaewon are also loud and obnoxious. It's no wonder racist Koreans hate us, we're a scourge on the planet. I vow to never go out into Itaewon after 8:00 PM ever again so long as I can help it.