Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seoraksan, Take 2


Which is more captivating...the colors of the leaves, or the colors of the Korean hikers?

And GOOD MORNING, Korea...

View from our "campsite"

"Mountain traffic."
I have officially coined the phrase.
The inspiration? Hiking in Korea, of course.

Seoraksan National Park. One of the most popular mountains in Korea. Containing one of the highest peaks in Korea. One of the most beautiful sites for fall foliage.

And further: with myself as the witness, one of the most densely populated sites of foot traffic.

"Hey Korea, want to go hiking?
Oh...all 50 million of you?
Um, okay...the more the merrier!"

Disclaimer: this conversation did not actually take place.
Further disclaimer: "the more the merrier" does not actually apply to the activity of "mountain hiking."

This particular weekend trip to Seoraksan shall forever be imprinted in my mind as a mountain march of millions...but it was nevertheless memorable, gratifying, beautiful, invigorating, and containing all the essential elements of a good hike in Korea.

* The sharing of food with other Korean hikers.
But mostly, other Korean hikers sharing food with us.
You can always count on your fellow hikers to generously offer (and persist in offering) any or all of the following: dried squid, dried fish, a bite or two of kimchi, a can of beer, a paper cup of rice wine, or heck- even a shot of soju (liquor). This time around, we were graciously presented with a pot of mandu guk, a dumpling and noodle soup, that other campers at our campsite had just cooked up. Thankfully, Korean culture calls for us to accept such gifts, no matter the circumstances. Best mandu guk ever...and not just because we were the poor, pitiful foreigners without any cooking gear or hot food on the mountain. In return, we presented the kind cooks with my package of candy corn, brought to Korea by Sue Haeg just a few weeks prior. Was it difficult for me to give up? Absolutely- one can surely not find candy corn in Korea. But, I was willing to sacrifice such a treat for the sake of adhering to Korean culture.

*The brilliant displays of color
Not by the leaves and foliage...rather, by the Korean hikers. Nowhere else will you encounter so many label-crazy gearheads. Hardly a single hiker on the mountain sporting anything besides the most expensive, extreme, brand-name hiking gear, in the most extreme (and some might say obnoxious) colors. The splendid greens! The rich reds! The brilliant purples! The screaming chartreuse! The blaze orange! What to look at...the colors of the hikers, or the colors of the leaves?

* The running commentary of other hikers
Silence? On a mountain? Don't be silly- of course a mountain should be loud and boisterous!
I don't think I had a single original thought in my head all day long during the hike...my ears were constantly ringing with the greetings, calls, and conversation of those around me. Not to mention the commentary and exclamations directed at us foreigners making our way up the mountain...lots of it, surprisingly positive and encouraging! We accepted our fair share of high-fives, shoulders pats, and thumbs-ups. Although Maria and I caused perhaps the biggest stir in the mountain's history by wearing shorts on our way up the mountain, with the temperatures hovering around the 50s.

With every step, twist, and leap up the rocks, we heard:
"An-chuweo-yo?! An-chu-weo-yo?!"
Translation: "Not cold?! Not cold?!"
Other likely translation: "Not cold?! Shorts? Crazy!"

It was actually quite amusing for awhile to watch the chain reaction of successive hikers winding up the mountain trail, as word spread back further about the crazy American girls hiking in shorts just a ways down. But that, too, got old.

Although this sounds like a criticism of culture, I assure you: it is merely in jest and good humor. And sarcasm. How else can you possibly tolerate- and even enjoy- such an experience of wading through the crowds up a mountain, without a little good humor? :)

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