Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First Hiking Experience

If you didn't know it, hiking is like the national pastime in Korea. It seems like everyone enjoys it, this is of course besides the few over weight kids I saw this day crying who looked like they would much rather be playing video games, but besides a few exceptions, there is nothing but widespread love for the outdoors here.
Monday was a half-day for the schools physical fitness testing. We were to come in, teach one class, then hang out till lunch while the other teachers had to conduct the tests. Students 40 times, sit-ups, push-ups, and all that other nostalgic analization of our inadequacies. It was always the damn pull-ups that kept me from being the top percent.
All the teachers got off after lunch and we decided to go hiking. After asking every teacher I had come to know in the month here if they were going hiking, and getting NO's from all of them, I really started second guessing this idea. This realization seemed to make the weather get colder, maybe it's too cold to hike? Or it looked like it was going to rain, and I don't want to hiking in the rain. Or I didn't have good enough hiking clothes and I wouldn't fit in. I didn't know where to meet, when to meet, or whom I was meeting with to go hiking. It's amazing how many excuses our mind will make for us to avoid us from looking bad. Luckily I was able to suck it up and head back to the school at 2 where about 15 men were waiting with hiking sticks in hand. I really only knew one of them, and he didn't speak any English. I was the only English speaker. I again was considering pulling a hamstring to get out of a potentially awkward situation. Thank god I didn't. Only moments later Rachel came around the corner, and after a rousing cheer by all the Korean men, she instantly doubled the number of English speakers in the group. She then shared her uneasiness with me about being the only woman in the group, haha, minutes later another woman showed up. We had no more excuses, we were going to make the best of this situation.That is exactly what we did.
I truly love the outdoors. We hiked two mountains this day, one small and one decently big. What exactly does that mean? I'm not sure I don't know the names or sizes of the mountains we climbed, I couldn't be bothered with details, I was having too much fun. After reaching the peak of Mountain #1 we were rewarded with a wonderful view, and even better, a Snickers. These guys come prepared. I hadn't had a full size Snickers bar since I was dressed as Dracula for Halloween back in '01. The view mixed with that combination of chocolate, caramel, and peanuts was a recipe for ecstasy. I was on cloud nine. I also found another place to work out. Believe it or not there are benches, weights, and lifting machines out in the open on the hiking route of this mountain, and many other mountains too. I think Rachel put it best when she said, "Can you believe that? A country that actually promotes physical fitness?" It's also amazing that no one trashes this stuff or steals it. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of it, I was too dumb struck, but I will be back, and you will see it. Rachel and me were still just talking to ourselves mainly at this point, and we're plenty good company on our own, but it only got better and better. The more we hiked the more pictures I took, and the more people became social. A few Korean words thrown out here and there by myself got great positive responses from the group, and it got them trying to use some English too. We reached the top of the second mountain and it made the view from the first seem like the bunny hill. The scenery was amazing in every direction. Mountains as far as you can see, and not an inch of open space in the valleys that lay between them. It seemed like a sea of apartment buildings. After taking a million pictures, getting a good work out, and having some laughs I was more then content to pack up and head home at around 4. Well that's not how they roll.
On our way down the mountain we stopped and people started emptying out there backpacks, which up until now I figured were full of serious hiking equipment...I was a bit off. Everyone was carrying around food, and alcohol for the descent party. Haha.

Right off the trail with our paper cups, and wooden chop sticks; we dined and drank without a care in the world. The alcohol only loosened people’s tongues more, and we all started talking to each other, in Koreanglish. Laughing, joking, cheersing, and what not. It was around that moment where I asked Rachel what we might be doing if we didn't come, or what we'd be doing back in the states. Her response...watching TV. Sad but true. I'm so happy I decided to go hiking today, and even happier that I decided to try something different by coming to Korea.
As if all of that wasn't enough, we still had more to do and see. After finishing our food and drink, we finished the climb down and it led us to a college campus. I love college campuses. This one was exceptionally beautiful too. Possibly the second best in all of Korea with over 50,000 students. It reminded me of a mixture between Penn State and North Carolina, and anything that reminds me of Penn State instantly makes me happy.
Also being surrounded by women my own age wasn't so bad either, I even heard some English conversation. After a small tour of the campus, we then went to dinner. More food, drink, and fun followed. Then we followed that restaurant with a bar. Then that bar with a taxi ride home where I invited another teacher over for some late night drinks.
Everyone was really awesome, and everyone really opened up as the day went along, myself included. I must have heard lines like "We friends", "I happy", "Much fun" 50 different times. This day really seemed like 4 separate days put together, and it is days like these that I live for. Meeting people, making new friends, creating strong friendships, having new experiences, and seeing the world...it was a full day in every sense of the word. Please check out the complete days pic's on my Picasa photo album link. However, all good things come to an end. I know you thought this entry might not, but it has done just that....Now.

P.S. - Me and Rachel are now "Honorary Hiking Club Members"...ok now it's over.


kkroll78 said...

Your school spirit is really lacking. How could you forget your PSU shoes, pants, socks and and wristband?

Paul A. Kroll said...

My shoes were blue and white, pants- blue, watch is blue, socks were white...I was basically a walking PSU billboard. But it's the only clothes I brought, and it's my party so I'll do what I want to.

HKROLL said...

What a fabulous hike! Thanks for sharing all the great pictures.

It is wonderful to see and hear about your adventures. I'm going to think twice the next time I sit down in front of the TV...it's more fun to be out doing and sharing!

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul! Just want to say thanks for that free Snickers ad! :)
I'm so glad this experience is turning out to be such a great one!
Love, Kimmy