Friday, April 3, 2009

Episode 30: In Which DFM Races Up Baegundae And Gets Some Money And Free Food

When I woke up, I had a nice shower at James' place.  It was nice to not have to worry about getting my clothes wet (at my gosiwon you have to hang your clothes up in the shower stall while you shower).  And then after my showerJames made me a grilled cheese and ham sandwich for breakfast.  I also had a bowl of rice krispies.  Rice Krispies aren't quite rice and kimchi like Koreans eat for breakfast, but as Richard Hammond would say, "am I eating rice?  Am I in Korea?  Then I'm as native and local as you."

I got a ticket on the cheap train back to Seoul and it was a way better ride than its $2.50 price would suggest.  The seats were relatively wide (although the guy beside me seemed to think that his elbows didn't need to stay on his side of the arm rest) and the train was no less smooth than the KTX.  In fact, if I had a whole day to spend, I'd take this train to Busan and finish a book on the way.

When I got into Seoul I rushed home and got ready to go hiking.  I had to hurry because I planned to meet Lee for an afternoon at the Sauna and then meet Nelson to see a potential new gosiwon, and then after that run to meet Hyeun A for some more Korean lessons.

I think that big mountain at the front is Baegundae.  It is 836 meters high, which makes it the highest mountain in/around Seoul.  The guide book said it was a 6 hour hike, but I figured the author  was working on Korean hiking speed, not DFM speed, so I was banking on less than four hours.  It had better be less than four hours because I still had an hour and a half subway ride back to meet Lee.

On the way up, some of the scenery was impressive, but it had nothing on the view as I got closer to the top.

One of my few complaints about Korea is the ever-present haze around Seoul that always seems to rob the amateur photographer from getting a good picture.  I think this picture does a good enough job though of illustrating just how mountainous Korea is.  There's a saying that if you ironed out Korea it would be the size of China.  I'm not sure about that, but it might just come close.

If you're traveling to Korea, take some time to learn the language before you leave!  I barely know but a few phrases, but on this hike alone I met three separate groups of people so impressed with my pronunciation that they gave me free food.  This woman on the right has a son going to the University of Texas.  He doesn't want to speak Korean though because he thinks it's uncool.  I told her that I thought her son was making a mistake.  She agreed with me and gave me a delicious ham and egg toast sandwich.  Later I met a woman who gave me some sting ray jerky and a man who called me over to share in some soju and kimchi with his friends and him.

Eventually I came to this gate in the fortress wall near the top of the mountain.  A quick turn left after going through the opening and I could scramble up on top of the wall and follow it up to the peak.

That can't be natural, can it?  He must have had a nose job.

I've poked fun at Korean hikers and their need to go way overboard when outfitting themselves for just about anything in the past, and it's like this for everything.  Want to rent a bike to ride along the river?  Better have a racing suit on.  However, I will say this - for a slope this steep running shoes just don't cut it.  The man at the top, taking pictures, was a mountain goat with his special hiking boots and I felt a knot in my stomach every time I saw him walking out on to the mountain side away from the safety cable to take pictures.  One slip would have meant certain death, but it did not seem to phase him one bit and he just trotted around on the 35 degree slopes and steeper as if he were on flat ground.

The peak of the mountain was very crowded and some brave hikers balanced themselves on top of boulders to get that perfect shot.

My favourite image from the day was of these rock climbers finally reaching the summit of a neighbouring mountain.  It made me excited for my climbing trip with Choi on Sunday.

I couldn't dilly-dally at the top after I reached Baegundae's peak, because I needed to get back home quickly and meet Young San.  I sprinted down the mountain as fast as I could, and made it back in a total time (up and down) of 2.5 hours - less than half of the advertised time.

My biggest success though, I felt, was that on the way to the National Park to hike the mountain I got a little brave and took a different bus than that which was listed in the guidebook, because I was fairly confident I had read the sign correctly and that it was going to the same place.  Additionally, I had my first real language break through and figured out that the phrase "anchuseyo?" (or something like that, I'm certain I don't have the write spelling) means "aren't you cold?"  I had taken off my coat and sweat pants and was in shorts and a T-shirt.  I must have been asked this question at least twelve times while people made mock shivering motions at me, and it felt good when I finally figured out what it meant.  I felt like I was developing the language abilities of the girl in my class who picked up "good job" from me.

I love the smell of money in the afternoon; it smells like pay day!  Lee called me over to his office to give me my salary for the week.  Now if only the Koreans had bills larger than 10 000 Won (roughly $10).

Actually, most of my plans for the evening fell through after this.  Lee said he would go to the sauna later, but fell asleep.  Nelson had to work overtime, and Hyeun A had to work overtime too.  However, Hyeun A worked at the same office as Lee and she gave me a quick lesson and some homework.

Lee and Hyeun A were impressed with my pronunciation and Lee told me "I'm not a fortune teller, but I think you will have a Korean wife."  He wasn't necessarily referring to Hyeun A, only that many Korean women are afraid of the language barrier between foreigners and themselves and so shy away from foreign men.  If I keep learning Korean there will be a 9:1 Korean:White Woman ratio, which is why so many White men marry Korean women when they're over there, I think.

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