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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mecca's Autumn Mountain Trip (메카 가을 산행)

The pictures and accompanying commentary are up on the picasa site, accessible via the link to the left. Or, if you're too lazy for that, just check out the little slideshow over that away.

Background info: "Mecca" is the name of the little social club comprised of us squash-playing guys and gals. We have on official meeting a month - on the fourth Thursday - where we either go to some normal Korean restaurant to feast upon meat (and soju) or go to a bar to feast upon bar side dishes (and beer). Additionally, once in the summer and once in the fall, they/we do a little mountain hiking excursion. There are about 15 members: myself, 10 dudes, and 5 ladies. I'm the youngest, and the oldest is probably 40 or so years young.

The day began with a nasty wakeup at 6:30 in the morning - about 4 hours earlier than my usual rising time. I cleaned, scarfed, packed, and dressed (donning for the first time much of the new travel gear that I've been accumulating over the past months), and then met in front of the gym (5 minute walk from my house) at 7:30. We bummed around waiting for the stragglers, then boarded a little 15-seat bus that apparently belongs to a friend of one of my Honorable Older Sisters, who must have arranged the trip.

12 of us rode the bus, and a husband-and-wife pair (in Korean, "booboo") followed in their car. On the bus, one of the HOS (that's my new acronym for Honorable Older Sister. Get your mind out of the gutter!) gave us all a little bag of pear juice and then passed out about 50 rolls of kimbap, some of which we ate and some of which we stuffed into our bags for later. There was also a tupperware filled with delicious Korean pastries, cookies, and the like, some made of rice and some made of sweet potato. So we snacked and carbo-loaded all the way up to the mountain, which was only about 30 or 45 minutes away.

Once we got to the mountain, our hike started along a normal paved road. We had to walk past some parking lots and food stalls before we got to the real start of the hiking zone, where we took a little break to plan the trip. Some of the dudes also thought it'd be a good idea to have a little pre-strenuous-hike cigarette.

Then we started up a little brick road, which was fairly interesting, since on the left side there was nothing but bamboo trees, whereas on the right, there were lots of other trees with real fall foliage. Of course, just as I decided to ask one of my companions what the deal was, everything suddenly changed, the trees were all mixed everywhere, and I looked like an idiot.

We finally got off the brick road and started the real hiking, which was not exactly intense, but still enough to get us all sweaty, even in the cold. The HOBs (Honorable Older Brothers) had to help the HOSs out at the steep areas, and frequent fights of mock-indignance/indignation broke out when a HOB helped a HOS, only to refuse to help out the other HOB right behind her. Other mischief included some childish trickery, wherein one HOB would ask another HOB for a hand up, and the lower-placed HOB would just yank the higher one down from where he was standing - truly perilous, and the source of many a scuffle! And a hiking trip is never complete without the "pull a tree limb forward as you pass it, then let it snap back and hit the dude behind you in the chest" gag.

Somehow surviving all our immaturity, we made it up to a clearing with a picnic table, where we briefly paused to dispose of some apples, pears, tangerines, and some of the remaining tupperware treats. This was about 9:30, I think. Then we continued onward/upward, alternating between pestering and pranking one another and appreciating the serenity and the beauty of the mountainside. I managed to get into the following argument with Joon-geun HOB:

JGHOB: Isn't this beautiful?
Me: Yeah, it really is.
JGHOB: Korea's the most beautiful country in the world.
Me: Eh, it's pretty nice, but every country has lots of places as nice as this.
JGHOB: No way.
Me: Korea is so tiny - how could it possibly be the most beautiful?
JGHOB: Where else is beautiful?
Me: Well. Italy was beautiful. Sicily was beautiful. Thailand was beautiful. Japan was beautiful. America's pretty beautiful.
JGHOB: Yeah, but only Korea has seasons like this.
Me: What are you talking about?
JGHOB: You know - spring, summer, fall, winter. Only Korea has all 4 seasons.
Me: That's completely not true.
JGHOB: What do you mean?
Me: Countries really far north and south, and others right in the middle, don't have 4 seasons, but lots of countries have all 4.
JGHOB: America doesn't have all 4.
Me: Yes it does. Have you been to America?
Me: Have you been to any other countries?
JGHOB: Uh, no.
Me: Hrm. I've been to 10 or so. How did you hear about this season thing?
JGHOB: Someone told me.
Me: Another Korean person who hasn't ever left Korea?
JGHOB's wife: bursts out laughing.

Arguing in Korean is hard, because when you get all flustered and sarcastic, your grammar and intonation suffer. Nonetheless, being that I'm always right, I clearly whomped him.

We continued up the hill in that awkward post-argument silence, pausing for some photo ops etc. We followed the trail up to some vantage point, scoped it out, then got back on the trial, walked to another clearing, and stopped to eat again. It was 11AM and I was having my 4th meal of the day. We set out a mat and everyone brought forth the snacks they had brought with them - muffins, fruits, kimbap, rice, garlic and peppers, etc. After 45 minutes or so, with heavy bellies but light packs, we started off on the long leg of the trip, a 5 kilo path that would eventually take us back to a rest stop.

There wasn't too much drama on this section, except for one extremely wussy girl who kept getting her foot stuck or screaming or doing whatever other shenanigans. This worked out well for the Honorable Treasurer, who was trying to put the moves on her and needed an excuse to hold her hand. Anyhow, we continued along the trail, resting every now and then to munch on some fruit, and after about 2 or so hours we finished the trail. A van from the restaurant met us at the rest stop, so we all piled in and were taken to eat our 5th meal of the day, before 2:30 PM.

The first course was smoked duck meat, and the second was grilled duck meat, all with the ever-present sides of lettuce, soybean paste, grilled and raw onions and garlic, spicy wild-green salad, kimchi, and plentiful cola, beer, and soju. Koreans are very fond of something they like to call "bomb alcohol," in which you dump a shot or two of soju into a small glass of beer. I'm not sure I like it but...it's growing on me.

After consuming copious amounts of everything, several of our members fell asleep on the floor, but the strong among us went out front to play "chok-gu," which is a totally awesome combination of volleyball and soccer. Due to the bombalcohol, little sleep, a long day of hiking, and general soccer ineptitude, I let my team down and we lost our games, and then we mixed the teams up, and my team lost again. Then we did it again, to no avail, and so I was banished from the court, but stayed on as the ref.

After an hour or more of gaming, we went back to the restaurant for, yes, more food. This time, Chicken "baek-sook," which means white something, It's chicken in broth with jujubes and is a little bland but pretty good. What I liked much more was the chicken porridge, in all its boiled-ricey glory. It is a really good recuperation drink - unless, of course, you are with a large group of Korean men, in which case its recuperative effects are mitigated, or rather vanquished, by the soju consumed alongside it.

Finally, the time came to pay the bill - a solid 428 dollars. Not too bad given the quantity we ate. We managed to talk the waitress down to 400 dollars, since we paid in cash and promised to return again for our next excursion. Then we piled back into the owner's van, and he gave us a lift back to the gym, at about 7:30 pm or so.

I was stinky and tired and tipsy and wanted nothing more than to go home, wash up, and pass out. But, it was a friend's birthday, so I instead took a bus down to some other part of town, found the Outback where they were dining, took an emergency hand-soap shower in the Outback bathroom, then met everyone and tried to control my stench while they ate. I didn't order any food, since I'd already eaten about 7 full meals that day, but I scavenged upon my friends' leftovers. Then we went for a relaxing evening of card-playing, and they taught me some game named "Yennef." For some reason, you're forced to assume a Jewish name while playing, but they wouldn't let me choose Alexander Portnoy. What a bunch of party poopers.

Phew! The end.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More international politics

I wonder how these two russian fellas would vote, if they were allowed: