Friday, May 28, 2010

Road Trip Across Korea

Friday night we took a little trip to the East coast of Korea, after work. We started at about 11:30pm, luckily I had slept in until about 2:00. I was perfectly capable of staying up all night but I was worried about the Koreans since they had to work the next day. They assured me that they were young and strong and that I shouldn’t worry.

We were driving in a flashy Korean car (Koreans always buy Korean), with a speeding camera detector and all the racing extras. The Korean guys are really into their cars, and they can hardly be blamed. They’ve only had them for about 30 years, and the assistant director, who is my age, told me that when he was growing up only 1 in 20 families had one.

We stopped at a rest area, and I bought everyone expensive coffees, I ran into a pack of Irish teachers, and had a few words with them. Then we hung out in the car for a bit and talked. One of the Christians was really into ‘post modernism’ and had tried to read some Carl Jung. We were trying to have a conversation in this area, but it was frustrating for both of us because of the language barrier. We eventually gave up, and I told them some stories of my weird experiences, being dragged across the floor by an invisible force, intuition stories, and pre-cognative dreams. They were very receptive, and remarked that we can not be sure of what humans are really capable of. I was surprised that these Korean Christians were more open to this sort of thing than many people in the West.

We piled back into the cars, and continued our journey, it was a long drive for such a small country, as I saw on my way back the road twists and curves around many mountains, so it ends up being about twice the distance.

Finally we arrived at the beach, and was it ever cold. We did a little milling and walking, waiting for the sun to rise. There was a crisp clean pine smell in the air and it reminded me of a beloved Northern Ontario forest. We took refuge from the cold in a Family Mart, and I grabbed the chance to quiz the Julia on the quality of various food available there, as well as finding out just what certain products were, which, up until then, had been a mystery to me. Strangely and unexpectedly, Jethro Tull’s Bouree started playing through the speakers, probably about the last thing I had expected to hear, as most of the music I’ve heard is popular western mimic music.

We strolled to the beach again, posed for pictures, and hit a tofu restaurant for breakfast. It was quite delicious except for the Kimchie, which was “bad Kimchie”, meaning that it was old and sour. I was then informed that “bad Kimchie” is good, and cleans the blood. I proceeded to suffer through eating a great deal of the disgusting stuff for the health benefits, to the amusement of the Koreans, who wouldn’t touch it.

Next we hit what was apparently an old Korean hangout, a traditional Korean building built on a ‘mountain’. Anything that is not flat is a mountain to the Koreans, it was just a large hill by a little lake, but a very tranquil spot. I examined the construction technique, which is beautiful, but uses a lot of wood, and wandered through the grounds examining local wild plants, again to the amusement of the onlooking Koreans. The pine trees forests are beautiful and very Asian looking. The Bamboo stands have black trunks, opposed to the bright yellow I was used to in Thailand and Laos. I wanted to walk through the forest, but I hesitated, knowing the Koreans usually walk on paths, and there were no paths here.

Finally we started out journey back, and this time I got a chance to see some of the countryside, which I was quite enthralled with. Passing a section of wooded, endlessly folded land I remarked that I’d love to take a week to hike and camp in those mountains. The following conversation ensued.

K “Oh, you can’t climb there!”
Me “Why not?”
K “You can’t”
Me “But it looks beautiful, does no one hike there?”
K “No”
Me “Why, I’d love to hike there”
K “We have many famous mountains for climbing, you can’t climb there, it’s dangerous and there are no paths. You also can’t light fires in Korea, it’s dangerous.”

I had to bite my tongue at a response about what I’ve begun to call ‘Korean Konformity”. I don’t want to climb well trod mountains with hordes of Koreans, I want some solitude. Swimming is another point. The previous week I was taken to a small lake, very small. I remarked that I’d love to go swimming there sometime.

K “Oh, you can’t swim there!”
Me “Why?”
K “it’s deep, you’ll die”
Me “No, I can swim very well”
K “You can’t swim there, it’s too deep”
Me “Look, I’ve been swimming since I was about one year old, I swim 10 times that distance every year, I can swim across there easily.”

No response but a worried wrinkle appeared on her forehead. This was the wife of the owner of one of the schools, and I knew she was thinking that this insane foreigner may very well jump in there and kill himself, sinking like a stone to the bottom as soon as the water reached a depth of about 6 feet. I got the sense that she was partially worried about my well being and tenuous grip on sanity, but most of her concern was directed at the fact that she would have to go through the laborious process of acquiring another foreign teacher, with all the related expense, after this madman killed himself in his bizarre delusion that he could actually swim. We got out and I noted a sign by the shore. I asked what it said.

“It says you can’t swim here, the water is very deep and you will die.” she said, giving me a sidelong glance to assure herself that the authority of the sign would certainly put a halt to my suicidal notions. I feigned a wide eyed look, confirming to her that yes, the sign MUST be right, and after a life time of swimming this small lake would certainly be the death of me. Satisfied, we drove on to the school. If I had flung myself in and crossed the lake in the two minutes it would have taken, I’m sure she would have fainted from the shock of disbelief that a human could do the impossible in front of her very eyes. Koreans are not water people, some of them wade, but they don’t go in water above the head. One day, to the screaming horror of the onlooking Koreans, I’m going to fling myself into deep water and blow their minds.

I’ve also made up my mind that before I leave, I’m going to climb an unclimbable mountain, and light a fire, the consequences be damned!

Back in the car, the Koreans were getting tired by this point, so to my dismay they pulled into a rest area and announced that we were going to take a nap. I fidgeted in this cramped car, with the sun blaring in though the windows, thinking that I could never sleep here, and how long did the Koreans plan to rest? Finally I got out, wandered around and found a nice sunny little grassy hill with a local dog on top. The dog eyed me suspiciously until I sniffed the air, turned three times and curled up beside him. Satisfied that I was well familiar with the canine world, the dog relaxed and nodded off.

I hadn’t expected to sleep, but I did. When I awoke suddenly, over an hour had passed and I briefly worried that the Koreans had shrugged at my absence and taken off. I got back to the car in time to see Julia typing me a text phone message, intuition again, I woke up just when they were ready to go. I got back in the car and they enquired as to where I went. I told them I had slept outside in the sun. There was an uncomfortable silence as it went through their minds that there seemed to be no limit to the madness that this foreign barbarian was capable of. I smiled to myself. Finally we got back, to ‘beautiful Toonjon”. The Koreans were exhausted at this point, and I felt sorry for them that they had to work.
So that was my little trip across country, and there seems to be good possibilities for the individual to have a good time in nature if a few rules are broken. The Koreans would never consider it, if it’s not done, it’s not done. I, however, am of a slightly different attitude.

1 comment:

  1. Each one I read is better than the last.