So last Monday I had an extra day off for the Korean Independence Day, and I ended up hiking a mountain near Seoul – an awesome experience. I was really excited about this because hiking in Korea is very popular. Some of the highlights were: people totally decked out in colourful North Face equipment, the crowd at the top complete with ice-cream vendors, and being able to interact with people in Korea who were more than happy to help me out.
In the morning as I approached the mountain on the subway, I looked around and already could pick out the hikers by their fancy hiking equipment, some of which I didn’t know existed (I was wearing my customary t-shirt, jogging shoes, and teacher’s bag). Although younger Koreans don’t dress up as much for hiking, the elderly folks generally have, hiking polls, hiking gloves, fancy hiking sleeves to cover their arms, North Face backpacks, and bandanas or towels. Of course, hiking with crowds means less tranquility as isolated regions. However, I’m sure I can convince that having an ice-cream seller is also a significant advantage. And all that ice-cream had to get hauled up there on foot. (you have to use chains and ropes to pull yourself up sometimes. (If you know the Lower Mainland, you could compare to The Chief in terms of difficulty of terrain, and length). Anyways, the Ice Cream Guy had actually hiked up carrying one box full of ice-cream and another box full of 막걸리 (mekgolli or rice wine). And unfortunately, he had competition about ten feet away. But that was good, because they couldn’t inflate the prices.
Anyways, it took almost three hours to get to the peak but it was really foggy so the view was totally obscured unfortunately. On the way down though, I was blessed to have some friendly Korean guys guide me down the slope- a friendly middle-aged guy who led the way, and a quiet older guy who followed behind me. I was staring at the signs trying to find my way, and they started pointing me in the direction. So as we walked along, I tried chatting with them in Korea for a few minutes because they didn’t speak much English, and then I thought I should thank them and be on my way. But as I passed them, I heard a sentence of Korean coming from behind me, of which I caught one word: “따라 와 (follow)”. So I went down with them after that.
Sometimes striking out on your own, and getting slightly lost is just the best way to meet people and practice language. And especially in Korea, where its not uncommon if I ask for directions to have some kind old granmda lead me about 500 meters to where I need to be.
I have been reading a travel log of Earnest Hemmingway called Travels with Charley: In Search of America, in which he stated. “I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost. A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her…to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.” Well Earnest, that’s rather extreme, but being lost (and foreign) is certainly helpful.
And I know that this can be a cultural thing, but I was quite moved with how my friendly guides never acted like I was an intrusion to their privacy. In fact, at the end of our time together, they started giving me things. The younger guy gave put these hiking socks, cuz my socks were all dirty (and clearly I lacked good hiking gear). “선물” (gift) he said. Then my camera was getting low on batteries, so they gave me some extra ones. And then before parting, even the quiet old guy took out a fancy hiking bandana (which apparently you cannot buy because its from their hiking club) and gave it to me.
So that was my Korean hiking experience. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.