Caitlin’s first experience in Korea’s second city, Busan, arrived. It was March. Blossoms were blossoming. The sun was occasionally shining. But coats were still required for teaching time. Korean schools only succumbing to the temptation of bringing warmth and comfort to the classroom when icicles are almost formed upon ones nose…
It was a ‘shiny’ Saturday morning and we were excited for a day of catching up, meeting some fellow ‘hikers’ (not that I would really label myself with such a title) and Korea’s natural-side. A side not regularly seen when you reside in a city, landscaped by sky-scraping steel blocks of apartments.
After a Korean ‘good morning’ was received following a photo opportunity request with some Korean students we set off for an adventure.
Arriving at Jangsan station, almost 20 minutes late, we expected to be alone. We thought if we ran fast enough, or the group we were meeting were also joining us in tardiness, we’d still make it up there with them. But just to confirm the situation, we consulted Korea’s best friend, the smart phone. And the tech-savvy pal of the nation came to the rescue, facebook informing us of the cancelled plans, owing to our fellow hikers over-indulgence in Korea’s potent national spirit: soju.
Not ready to head back underground on the -dark night of day- subway ride we decided to make it our own adventure. We took on the hike. Just the two of us.
Passing many gloriously dressed Koreans, kitted out head to toe in branded, high-quality, hiking gear, allowing full appreciation of their toned pins and healthy-looking bods, we began the trail. Guessing most of the way.
We passed visor after visor, ‘north face’ after ‘north face’ logo, and a ‘fitness park,’ Korea’s gift to the nation: free fitness. Placed sparingly across Korea are small outdoor gyms, the places you’d want to visit if one was interested in checking out the resident elderly. One may expect the image-conscious teens of the nation to utilise such a fitness opportunity. But with their worlds clouded by textbooks, and their free-time spent unconscious, trying to recover from such heavy textbook usage, they are not patrons of the outdoor gym. Instead it is the elders of Korean society, that are the image-fitness-conscious of the country, up at sunrise, polishing their calves and toning their tummies. So we passed, in awe of these healthy ajummas and ajeossis, and continued our ascent.
Making up the way as we went, approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes later, we reached the summit. The peak of a fairly tame climb, but it was sweet success nonetheless! We took a few snaps, felt proud of ourselves, and looked out over the steel metropolis of Busan. Appreciating the calm away from the buzz of the traffic and crowds below.
But the unexpected adventure had not yet begun. This was encountered upon our post-hike appetites appealing to us for some fulfillment. So we chanced upon a tent, filled with four bustling ajummas, serving up plate after plate of fresh pajeon (‘Korean pizza’ as it was so aptly labelled by a fellow Korean teacher). An ever popular dish among Koreans. Jeon, denotes the pancake-like dough, pa, the green onions the dough encases. They usually have additional ingredients, this one imparticular also contained carrot and seafood. We walked through the tent and joined our fellow hikers, all Korean, and took a pew. The ajummas smiled as we entered. We pointed to the pajeon, not yet fluent in even baby Korean, as a means of placing our order. They brought us over the complimentary side dishes that adorn every Korean meal, to include kimchi, tofu and beansprouts. And we ordered some makgeolli. Pajeon’s best friend, the two complement each other. Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine and can be picked up for around £2 a bottle ($3), originally popular among farmers and so labelled nongju (farmer liquor), its now popular with the young, the old, the poor, the rich: pretty much anyone looking for a tasty alcoholic rice-treat. We sipped from our drinking bowls, enjoying supping it from its traditional vessel, and mellowed in our natural, high, surroundings.
Then we made some friends. First it was just 2 excited, makgeolli-induced Korean men, excited to try out their English with two waygooks (foreigners). We exchanged pleasantries, took photos, chuckled a lot and took two more photos. Then a few more came over, intrigued by all the commotion. We were then invited over to join them. We obliged and took a seat with these hiking, north-face-enthusiasts and ‘gombae‘d with them (cheers in Korean). They topped us up and insisted ‘one shot, one shot‘ – another Korean ‘cheers’ which takes its literal meaning. We again obliged and joined them in their makgeolli-induced merriness. Soon after we were ushered over by the ajummas. They pointed and spouted Korean words which we assumed was a concern with our new ‘friends’. We appreciated their warmth and as our English communication with the hikers had run dry, leaving only the conversation of makgeolli, a conversation we were merrily happy needn’t continue, we gave them peace of mind, paid up our 10,000 won (£8/$10), and made for our descent.
My first, and only, mountain-climb thus far in Korea, and one that’ll be hard to beat! Korea’s full of surprises.
Are you a hiker? Have you had any mountain-top adventures? I’d love to hear your stories!