Hiking in the great outdoors is one of life's greatest pleasures. I love hiking. I love being outside, surrounded my nature; the dirt, the grass, the water, the animals. I feel so at peace when I am able to escape city life and breath air as it was made to be, clean and fresh. However, the hike I went on recently included none of the escapes I usually look forward to, in fact, it was quite the opposite. It was a company outing with a group of 40 plus members. I had low expectations for the serenity factor upon hearing about the trip, but the event was a far cry from my expectations. I don't know what I was expecting but what I failed to take into account was the amount of people who live in this tiny country. South Korea has an area of 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles), with nearly 50 million people. South Korea alone is about the size of Portugal, Hungary or slightly larger than the state of Indiana. But the difference in the amount of people is outstanding. While Indiana has around 6 million, South Korea has 50 million, 10 million people in Seoul alone. Texas, the largest state in the 50 states if you don't count that ice block attached to Canada, with three of the most populated cities in the USA only has around 24 million people. South Korea has one of the highest densities in the world, but what makes it even more dense is that between 80%-90% of those populations live in the cities. I am sorry if you are feeling overloaded with so many statistics, but the point I am trying to make here is that Korea is a itsy-bitsy country with 1/6 of the population of the US within it's borders. There are way TOO MANY people in South Korea. It's amazing that this peninsula doesn't just sink. It's a good thing Korea doesn't have the obesity issues of the US, then it might really be in trouble.
The company ever so often has company events,( you might recall the soccer game and the first lunch) which are not mandatory, but are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED, meaning you need to come or be lying on your death bed. The plan was to meet early in the morning (10 am on a Saturday is early!) take a bus to a mountain, climb up lots of stairs and eat lunch. That is what was rumored at least. The bus dropped us off and we walked past about 4 huge outdoor shops selling any gear you might have forgotten and realize you must have in order to hike a trail, before finding ourselves at the bottom of the trail. We stood around for a good thirty minutes waiting for something, someone, I don't really know, but while we waited we took lots of pictures to pass the time.
Kimbap (Korean sushi usually with ham or cooked tuna instead of fish) was passed out along with frozen, undrinkable bottles of water and then the hike began. Taking into consideration that it was a company trip, the beginning of summer, and the population density, I knew that our hike would be a bit more crowded than usual, but what I wasn't expecting was to feel as if I were walking the streets of New York, while out in the woods. Honestly, it was as if I were back in NYC except with trees instead of shops, and bird noises instead of honking. I couldn't get over the amount of people we were surrounded by. All I wanted was that feeling of tranquility that comes with being out in the woods, and instead I felt claustrophobic, overcrowded and completely covered in sweat. The humidity must have been high because in general, I am on the low end of the sweating scale, and I am in pretty good shape, but my sweat glands along with everyone else's went into overdrive until the point where we might as well had just gone swimming there was so much salty water coating our bodies. There were a lot of stairs, near 1000 at least, which might account for a small percentage of the sweat, and it wasn't by any means an easy hike, but it wasn't Mt. Everest. We made it to the top in less than an hour. The top, some 5,000 m. above sea level, was more than a little disappointing of a view. The view was hazy, and mostly buildings, lots and lots of buildings, with a few trees doting here and there.(the view, but keep in mind this is Sepia colored, not the true color)
Climbing back down the mountain was more of what I was accustomed to in terms of scenery and the amount of people. Following two of the Korean staff, a fellow teacher and I found ourselves on a path which was unfamiliar. Throughout the way down, I kept having flashes of images that we would find ourselves on the other side of the mountain and end up having to climb back up to the top in order to find our original meeting place along with the rest of the group, but the boys (the Korean staff) did actually know where they were going, and we ended up right back where we started, miraculously.
On the unfamiliar path down with the other foreign teacher and two other female Korean staff who also didn't trust where the boys were taking us.
And as with every company event followed a meal with plenty of mysterious food, booze, soju, and rice wine. We were excited as they told us the meal was chicken, but as we pulled the "chicken" out of the pot of typical Korean juices and spices, the bones didn't seem to match our idea of a chicken, a turkey maybe or some other type of bird, but unless Korea has started breeding giant chickens, our food was and will always be a mystery. But living in another country, in a completely different culture is like constantly living in a mystery book, and I have started to become accustomed to not really knowing what is going on all of the time and that is ok. In fact, it can even be fun some of the time, sitting back in complete ignorance watching the world go by, not having a clue as to what is going on and just being able to laugh at it all. The lunch ended with ice cream (my idea). I am always irritated that we have these long meals with so much food put in front of us, but never the best part of any meal, nothing sweet to finish off the deal so when they came by asking if we wanted to order anything else, I asked if there was any dessert. Dessert- what a silly idea for a restaurant to have! But the convenient store next door to the restaurant had a bin full of different ice creams so to appease the silly foreign staff, that is what we were given!Rice wine
We were home by 6 pm for a nap before we were to go out 2 hours later for the farewell party for two of the British teachers leaving this week. Another fun and crazy Saturday in South Korea.
Here is a little video from when we made it to the top of the mountain. I wasn't a very good videographer. Sorry.