Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You'll Always Remember Your First Time

The old stories continue and in an effort to catch up fun details will likely slip through the cracks but that is okay.

On Saturday, April 3rd I got up fairly early in order to go hiking. I had received an invitation on Facebook from Tony about going to Bukhansan which is a mountain near Seoul. The name literal means “North Mountain.” Tony is one of the guys I met last weekend on my birthday. He is very outgoing and very easy to like.

I left earlier then I needed to, as usual and headed to the station everyone was supposed to meet at. At this point I had no idea who was coming on this hike. When I confirmed that I was going to go on Facebook there was one other person who said they might come and all the other responses were negative. My ride was fairly relaxing for two reasons. First I have just become comfortable with the train, I know where the stops are, how to transfer and how to use my transportation card. Second this was the first trip I was taking in which I possessed a cell phone. That meant of course that no matter what happened I could always get a hold of Tony to figure out what went wrong. My previous adventures all depended on a more tedious type of planning that demanded all details to be worked out and known in advance before I ever left my apartment and I just had to hope it worked out.

I arrived at the designated meeting place about half an hour early so I just hung out. During my time sitting there I saw many people flowing through the train station in hiking gear clearly ready for action. In fact most of the people I saw looked as if they had just stepped out of a North Face ad or worked for Columbia. I felt like I was sitting in a REI store and I began to wonder if I had under estimated what type of hiking we were going to be doing. I was just wearing a basic jacket, a pair of khakis and some tennis shoes. This was one of the few times I did not bring my backpack because I did not think I needed it for anything. But doubt crept in as I found myself surrounded by a sea of backpacks all stuffed with various items like water bottles, extra layers, food, walking sticks and even a few flash lights. I was fairly sure I did not need one of those.

Once it was 10:30 I gave Tony a quick text and found out he was going to be there in about 10 minutes. While I waited a girl came over to me and I immediately recognized her but did not know her name. She asked if I was waiting for Tony and I said yes. Her name was Chelsea. She had been at the restaurant the week before on my birthday but her and I never actually met. So we hung out in the sun waiting for Tony. Chelsea was born in Korea but was adopted and grew up in Kentucky. I believe she has two brothers one is also Korean and one is Chinese both who were also adopted, all that to say Chelsea is American. She went to the University of Kentucky where she studied linguistics. She knows Spanish and French and some Korean. She said she actually does not know Korean very well yet. In a way it is even more difficult for her not knowing Korean then it is for me. Because of how she looks it is assumed she speaks Korean fluently whereas due to the way I look I have no expectations placed on me. In fact if I say anything in Korean, even just hello I am often greeted with a face of cheerful surprise.

When Tony showed up we exchanged our hellos and then headed towards a bus stop. It turns out that the trail head was not exactly near the train station so you needed to take a bus there. As we approached the stop there was a huge line of people waiting for the same bus as us. We saw a bus pull up, fill up and take off having barely put a dent in the mass of people ahead of us. So we decided to grab a taxi despite the extra cost. The taxi driver was insane or at least drove as such so we were moving along quite quickly but it still took us almost 15 minutes to get to the trail head. I’m glad we did not wait for the bus. There were some small shops at the base of the mountain so before we headed up I bought a small bottle of water seeing that I was the only one of us who was not wearing a backpack and had not come with either water or food. I then bought some Kimbop, which is a traditional Korean food that is taken on picnics or hikes probably in part to the fact that it is so easy to carry. It is very similar to a simple California role.

As we began the journey up the trail was just packed with people. I really do not believe I have ever been hiking among such a large sea of people. I guess I should be used to that by now but I was surprised. So a lot of the energy used in the early potion of the hike was spent trying to get around other hikers of various ages walking at various speeds. During the entire hike there was one lady in particular who we passed four times. This was due to the fact that during the hike we stopped multiple times to look at various prayer areas and ritual sites as well as just wondering off the path a little to get a better view of what was around us. But each time we began hiking again we would invariability run into this woman, actually this couple who found a way to take up the entire path and walk just fast enough that it was extremely difficult to jump around her on wider parts of the path. She was older probably in her 60s, wore a hot pink jump suit and walked with her head down at a seemingly never changing pace.

At the top of the mountain was a large gate with a large wall extending from it on both sides. The wall ran all along the ridge of the mountain with some breaks and worn down areas. I believe it was built sometime in the early 1700s but I might be wrong about that. Whenever it was it was a while ago. So we sat down and ate our Kimbop and enjoyed the view. We could see the entire city from where we were, which meant looking in a complete circle for the city surrounded the entire mountain stretching out in all directions. As we got ready to leave we decided to climb down the other side of the mountain instead of going back the way we came. We figured that we would end up somewhere by another train station and it was in the general direction that we ultimately wanted to go. We were headed toward a place in Seoul called Itaewon, which is where a large portion of the foreigners live. And due to that it meant it was a place with a lot of Western food and bars. Tony knew of a Canadian style bar which played hockey games. Tony is Canadian and loves hockey and he knew I loved it too. There was just no way I was going to miss out on a chance to see some hockey.

The trip down was extremely long, much further than the climb up the other side had been. We actually had to stop a few more times than on the way up just to rest. Chelsea also wanted to take some pictures. And sure enough as we pulled to the side of the trail to rest a minute an old lady in a bright pink jump suit moved past us. I could not believe it. We all laughed and enjoyed the fact that slow and steady really does win the race, way to go tortoise. My shins were killing me by the time we finally reached the bottom. We came out in a small town filled with a mixture of large luxurious homes and small, older cabin like homes along with several shops and stores. We found a taxi and headed off to the closest train station. It was not very far from where we were and it was closer to our final destination then if we had gone back the other way. In all we hiked for about 4 hours and covered almost 11 kilometers (6.8 miles).

The train ride was a bit long but it was simple. We just sat and chatted while we headed for the bar called the Rocky Mountain Bar (ah memories of home). As we came out of the train and into the station at Itaewon within 5 minutes I saw more foreigners (non-Koreans) than I had the entire month I have been here. The bar was close so that was nice. It was fairly small and designed to look like a mountain lodge with Canadian flags and hockey stuff decorating the walls. When we walked in they were playing a game between Montreal and Philadelphia. I was instantly happy to be seeing what I was seeing despite having no care about the two teams playing. We sat down at a table with two of Tony’s friends who had been waiting for us, Andrew and Dennis (not sure I got that name right). They are both Canadian as well so within minutes hockey was being talked about by everyone at the table except Chelsea. Let’s just say hockey was not really of great interest to her. I was sitting next to her so I tried to jump out of the hockey conversation and talk with her about other stuff. It kind of worked but every now and then I heard something that I just had to comment on.

The bar had normal bar food; chicken wings, pizza, quesadillas and the like. I grabbed myself a chicken quesadilla and a diet coke. After I drained my diet coke within seconds I discovered that there were not free refills. I was not super excited by that especially since my coke was almost as expensive as the beer everyone else was drinking. As we sat there the game turned off suddenly in the middle of the second period. I was confused but they said that they were going to start another game from the beginning. All these games had already been played and we were just watching them taped but of course none of us knew the scores so it did not matter. The new game that popped up was between the Colorado Avs and Calgary Flames. I could not believe it. Tony laughed and told the other guys that the Avs were my team. They looked at me and reminded me how important this game was. If the Flames won they would pull into a tie with us for the 8th and final playoff spot. I told them I was aware of that fact. Part of me was super excited that I was going to get to see the Avs of all teams but then part of me was not sure I wanted these people to see me during an important Avs game. I joked with them, warning them about my overzealous aggression and they told me I did not have to explain myself as they felt the same way for their teams.

As the game started a few more of our friends showed up, Cheena and Andrew (a different Andrew). This worked out well because Cheena provided someone else who did not care about hockey for Chelsea to talk to as I became engrossed in the game. It was like watching playoff hockey. The game was rough and filled with play in the middle of the ice as both teams focused mostly on strong defense. So there was not a lot of scoring or even scoring chances. We were actually at the bar for the entire game so I got to witness the Avs lose again, this was their fourth loss in a row, and to a team that was now in a great position to kick us out of the playoffs. I was not overly happy but the guys were nice about it and began talking about all the horrible spots their teams were in. Tony is an Edmonton Oilers fan and reminded me how badly they were doing. And they all affirmed that the Avs were having a great season considering what was expected from them. They were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this year. I said I knew that and that I should be happy but once your team gets your hopes up it is hard not to except more from them. But I actually got over it pretty quickly and once again just enjoyed talking to everyone.

Now during this time I had ordered one more coke to have with my quesadilla. But as everyone around me was drinking beer I could not help but wonder what it was like. In fact this was something I had been thinking about since my night out on my birthday. My pattern of not drinking is simply that, a pattern. I have no moral or ethical qualms with it I just do not do it. Now no one there was worried about it or sought to pressure me in any way but I admit I was curious about how the beer tasted. Tony told me that if I wanted some I could go for it. The table just had large pitchers in the middle. So I grabbed a glass and filled it maybe a quarter of the way full. I let it sit in front of me for at least 10 minutes without touching it. Chelsea noticed at one point asking me if I was actually going to have some. I joke with her that I honestly did not know. I felt like I was doing something wrong at least in the sense I could not decide if this was a part of myself I wanted to change. I think I was worried first that I would actually like it and two that I was only doing this to fit in and I hated that idea. But in truth that is exactly why I was doing this. I wanted to be a part of the group. It actually is similar to how I have tried to be with the food here and Korean culture in general. I have tried to just go with the flow and experience new things. If I was in the US I do not think the “temptation” would have been as strong.

So I finally went for it and took my first sip. As I actually expected I was not overly excited by the taste. At first I thought it was horrible but then just let it sit and realized it was okay but still probably not my thing. Chelsea laughed and said it is something I have to develop a taste for and after 10 or 11 I would probably love it. I laughed wondering why anyone would do that. But even as I thought that it reminded me of my conversion to diet coke. It took months for me to begin to like diet coke but after I did it was my favorite drink. During that long process there were people who asked why I was doing it why not just stop drinking it? I did not have a great answer except that I like soda or at least the kind I used to have. Anyway it made me a little more understanding of the idea of developing a taste for something. So during the course of the third period I took occasional sips until it my fourth of a cup was gone. While it was not suddenly great I did find it was a little better each time. Perhaps more than anything it was just nice to have it in front of me so I could say cheers with everyone else anytime someone wanted to. When Tony noticed my glass was empty he asked if I wanted more. I told him that I thought I had had a little too much and was not sure I could drive tonight. They laughed at me of course and then Chelsea grabbed a pitcher and put some more in my cup, again about a fourth of a cup. Again I just let it sit there. Now I don’t know if it is just because I have this need to always be drinking what is in front of me or that I was actually starting to like it but I did drink it and a little faster than the previous one. Now one of things I started to notice that I did not expect was that it made me warm inside not cold despite the drink being cold itself. It created this warming sensation in my stomach that actually warmed up my entire body and I cannot lie, I liked that. So as the night progressed I had a bit more and a bit more until I had what amount to one glass of beer. Now I know that is not very much but I could feel something maybe you could call it a small buzz but nothing major happened. After I had my drink I discovered, it was not bad and I had not suddenly sacrificed who I was as a person in the process. It truly was nice to feel like I was a part of the group in some way and I like just how slowly I could drink beer. I pretty much took two hours to drink what amounted to one beer. At this time I still have no desire to convert and make beer my favorite drink but I admit I will probably have more at different times just to fit in. Wow even writing that is weird, part of me is screaming at myself for how terrible that makes me I should never submit to the group rather I should remain an individual, different and standing up for what I believe in. But the other part of me realizes there isn't anything I believe in that is affect by drinking and at times it is not only okay but good to be a part of a group and have fellowship, if I can call it that, with others.

By 10pm everyone in the group was ready to go but of course part of the group was simply ready to go somewhere else. At first I thought I could go along with that but even as we walked outside I could feel that my legs had tightened up and I was just tired. The next bar they picked was chosen because it was playing a soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea back in England. Now this bar was packed, it was like being on a subway. There really was nowhere to sit or stand where we were not in the way of the servers trying to get to each table. Tony and I both decided to get out and wait outside. We chatted for a while and then Chelsea and Cheena came out and we all decided to head home. They were all as tired as I was and Cheena had actually been sick early in the week and so was ready to call it night. By the time we got to the train, rode it to our various stations (mine was the furthest away) and had walked home I found myself walking into my apartment right at midnight. So Saturday was over. It was a great day, probably the most fun day overall that I have had since I got here.

1 comment:

  1. Zach, glad you were able to share in such a pleasant experience. Alcohol, like any other human indulgence, can be taken perfectly well in moderation. We can appreciate good food without constantly overeating, just as we can appreciate the subtler flavors of a good beer without constantly being drunk.
    I love reading about your adventures - keep it up!