I See a Barrier, I Eat a Barrier

Welcome back to Saturday the 10th, folks! This is going to start feeling like a time machine with blog posts from the past written in present tense…. I feel like this about sums it up:

back-to-the-future-11

Anyway, this morning marked a considerable achievement for your culinarily unchallenged here – my first Korean dish in almost 48 hours in the country! I guess 1 in 5 isn’t too bad?

This morning, Apa and I took the bus short way to climb Gwanaksan, a small mountain close to Seoul National University (SNU). Accordingly, we were fed a strengthening meal for breakfast- the Korean version of pho (beef and rice noodle soup). One of the amazing things about Seoul is the contrast between city and nature – on account of the city being surrounded by mountains.

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The dichotomy of Seoul’s landscape

So, after a 10 minute bus trip, we stepped out opposite SNU and adjacent to a mountain. It turns out that hiking up a mountain is quite a national past time – even in -3C temperatures. Perhaps it’s an indication of the beauty of the terrain or perhaps, with 10mil people living in the city, the law of averages means that there are more crazy nature enthusiasts (like yours truly) crammed into a very small area…and therefore they are a more noticeable presence. In either case, the mountain was already quite crowded at 9am and only seemed to become more so on the descent.

Some characters deserve a special mention:

1. Old Mate with the Radio. This singular fellow spent a good 15 minutes following slightly behind Apa and I, blasting his radio on old Korean crooners. Without word of a lie, Old Mate’s ghetto blaster was echoing off the sides of the mountain. When he eventually caught and passed us, the aural assault was diminished for a time… until he took a phone call and began shouting at the top of his lungs so that the unlucky soul on the other end of the line could hear him over the racket of the radio. 

Serenity

And of course, whilst he stopped to take the call, we passed him again and had the boom box pounding into the back of our heads for the next 10 minutes.

2. Special mention #2 is a short one and goes out to the bent, wizened old Koreans still tramping up mountains at age 104 (or so it looks). Must be the diet?

3. When we arrived at the peak, all of a sudden it became Picnic Park – seems every man and his dog likes nothing so much as lugging a full picnic setting up a mountain and sitting down on an exposed rock face at -2C with a significant wind chill factor. Kudos indeed!

At a certain point during the ascent, the path began to split off in different forks – more than one way to climb a mountain, I suppose. I’m not sure if it was aimed to symbolise some kind of Buddhist teaching, but I began to think that my Apa and I were cut from the same stone when he veered off the main path and onto a tiny, rough singletrack trail that avoided the main causways and therefore most of the people – Old Mate with the stereo included. We also had the opportunity to share some wonderful conversation – the Korean word for “ice” is 아이스 (aisu). So, every so often, he would gesture to the ground and say”Aisu”, to which I would reply”Ne, aisu” (yes, ice) or gwenchanayo (OK). I really felt as though we were crossing the great barrier of language!

So eventually, we came to the summit of the path less travelled and were rewarded with a sensational view of the city (particularly the expansive Seoul National University – which is so large, it has buses and taxis running through it).

View from near the top

 View from near the top

I’m sorry to say that iPhoto caused me to lose some of the shots I took today, but there were a few decent ones left still. After a few minutes savouring the view and planting the flag, we headed back down the increasingly busy mountain and I was chuffed to make use of one of the more difficult phrases that I picked up before the trip: “Hwacheongsil odi eyo?” (where’s the bathroom). Apa understood and I was relieved in more ways than one.

KakaoTalk_Oma_1 February 2015

Gallivanting Gong: Father/son bonding

Prior to the commencement of the hike, Apa had offered (through translation) to take me for a hamburger after we finished. I was eagerly awaiting stopping past a trendy little Korean burger joint in the Sillim ghetto to enjoy a fine example of this great seoulfood (pun intended). My disappointment could not have been greater when we pulled up outside McDonalds.

As a bit of context for those that perhaps don’t know me so well, I make a conscious effort to avoid these types of fast food wherever possible – with the result that I haven’t set foot in a McDonald’s store or drive-through in approximately 10 years. I’m sad to say that today Apa made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (literally – I don’t speak enough Korean) and my fast food fast (pun intended) ended.I devoured the burger, slurped the Coke, munched on the chips and it was great. Pumping fast food full of fat and sugar still makes it taste excellent, just like when I was 7 years old… I’ll still be avoiding it where possible though.

A slow afternoon followed before the family descended once more and chaos reigned for the next few hours.

At this point, I’ll make mention of one extra family member – my least favourite of all. For those of you who know me intimately, you might be aware of my preference for larger dogs and it pains me to report that for the next 6 weeks, I will be sharing accommodations with a rat-on-a-string (hereafter known as ROAS). This particular ROAS’ name is Princess (wangnyeo) and it is a strange and conniving little creature. From what I can gather, it seems to suffer from more than a little bit of jealousy – so much so that little Syu Ni has to stay away – it’s taken a nip at her on a few occasions, I believe. I’m sure the old ROAS will provide plenty of stories, so keep an eye out for them in the weeks to come!

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