Sore toes, sad kicks, and samgyeopsal

Sore toes, sad kicks, and samgyeopsal

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do.  You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?  For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

You learn over time that a lot of travelling and living abroad is literally just being in the right frame of mind.  It’s easy to do this when it’s a relatively short period of time like studying abroad, but it’s harder to maintain in the long run.  In the intervening months and years.  It’s about three weeks ago that most of this saga occurred, but the attitude parable is always relevant.

I’m currently trying to woo this boy, Sam-sshi.  Many of my current anxieties revolve around this situation, so we’ll just lay this out there.  So I knew him from before I left because we met when we both went to school in Pittsburgh.  He’s Korean-American and I was in Korean class so it was an easy extension.  We only met once or twice before I left after the summer ended.  I thought that was the end of it.  I returned home, took the TEFL course, and then went to Korea.

Months later, Chris-sshi comes into the bar and announces that Sam-sshi will be coming to Korea for work in June.  Well, June passes, and finally halfway through July he comes.  We’re scheduled to meet one Sunday, and I’m assailed by doubts.  We only met twice, what if I blew this up to be way more than it is?  What if he’s not as wonderful as I remembered?

Fear not, dear reader.  He’s every bit as wonderful as I remembered, and seeing people from home is always a sight for sore eyes.  We talked as if we’d known each other for half a decade and not just met a few times nearly a year ago.  We took a taxi to the university, where his cousin was having an architecture exhibition.  Later, he had more people to meet so he had to leave early.  Fast forward to the next weekend.  After substantial waffling, we agreed to meet in Myeongdong.  Seoul is far from where he lives in Ansan, but I was willing to wait.  I waited at home a bit, since it was Friday and we get off early on Fridays.  Then I waited at Starbucks.  After a while, I continued to Myeongdong.  I apparently have no idea how long it takes to get to Ansan.  I wait in the Myeongdong station, and then take a stroll down the shopping street.  Let me tell you, that is a depressing amount of foreign tourists on that street.

Finally, as soon as I was on the farthest possible part of that street, he had arrived.  We had to find a bathroom, so we settled on some sort of beer taphouse, which turned out to be expensive and underwhelming.  While there, a guy spilled his beer on me, Sam-sshi’s Guiness was ridiculously flat, and he admitted to me that a) he’s seeing a girl from Tinder, but b) that as soon as he discovers that a girl fancies him too much, he immediately loses interest.  Just bro talk or warning me off?  I don’t know.  After the single beer, he had to return to Ansan.  Should I  be flattered that he made this 1.5-hour trip up to Seoul for such a short meeting or disappointed that he wouldn’t hang out for longer?  We’ll see.  The goon has barely responded since after that, and it’s been two weeks.  This is often my kind of luck.

Anyhow, we’re here to say that love-life things are not anything that can necessarily be solved by “””having a good attitude,”””” unfortunately, which is kind of sucky.  But that’s life.

It’s like this.  This past week, my teeth had been hurting me.  I’m a hypochondriac when it comes to teeth things, because I’m terrified that something’s going to happen to them and I’ll need to get a root canal or something else awful.  But here’s the thing, it was just because I was focusing too much on them, worrying my gums and overbrushing and things, and when I stopped worrying, my teeth took care of the problem, whatever it was, by themselves.  Worrying too much often blows up the problem to be way worse than it is.

The morning after our underwhelming Myeongdong date (I call it underwhelming in the same breath as being appreciative that it happened and I would have waited much longer for even a date at Macca’s, but it was sadder that it was cut so short), we were set to go to the Boryeong Mud Festival.  I usually say “we” as in “The Royal ‘We,’” but for once I literally mean that a lot of people I know were set to go, including my coworker friend Jenn, another group of coworkers on a separate tour, and Sam-sshi, but with Tinder girl. (He said that he lowkey didn’t really want to go with her, after his aforementioned hangup, so he was going to just hang with us and get barbeque and ditch Tinder girl. I approve.)  I was on a different tour so that I could get both the bus and hotel booking in one shot, as well as being signed up for something called a “mud marathon” and other activities which sounded awesome.

That morning I woke up at 6:30 to pack, since I didn’t the night before.  It was pouring rain, but also pouring in were the excuses from all my friends as to why they didn’t want to mud festival in the rain.  All of them were ludicrous for many reasons, but mainly you’re anticipating being wet and covered in mud, so why should a little extra rain hurt?  Nonetheless, I was doubting a bit my choice to go.  Usually in these situations, though, I say, “I paid for it and I said I would do it, so I’m going.”  The 8am meeting time was very reasonable, anyway.  While I was on the bus trying to catch some sleep, Sam-sshi, too, backed out of the deal.  Only I remained of this huge group originally promised to come.

The Boryeong Mud Festival is one of those things that you read about, when you’re sitting back at home in your home country, that makes you say, “yes, of course I want to go to a country that has something like that, it sounds awesome.”  Go play in the mud in one of the largest festivals in all of Korea, sounds fun.  Although I was momentarily discouraged by the claim that it’s basically a big frat party for foreigners, I still wanted to go based on the initial impression alone.

So I’m sitting on this bus, caught between listening to the other bus riders’ stories, worrying about Sam-sshi and work things, and trying to get some sleep, my big umbrella propped up like a samurai’s katana, when I had a thought.  For once, I was faced with a situation that would be 110% what I made of it.  Nobody is going to make a trip in the rain fun for you.  But I really do tend to like rainy days, and if you told 8-year-old me that she would get to play in the mud and rain for a weekend and nobody would yell at her, she’d be overjoyed.  So really, if you resolve that the rain is going to ruin your time there, then yes, obviously, you’re going to have a bad time.  But if you determine that you’ll have a good time, despite being all wet and cold?  Well, that’s where the magic happens.  So I did an experiment: what would happen if you go into a potentially bad-time situation with an attitude that you’re going to have a good time regardless?

Spoiler alert: you’re gonna have a blast.

Sometimes travelling alone on the tour is helpful: you’re not stuck with work mates or family and can move between the groups freely.  Or if you just want to be by yourself for certain things?  That’s okay too.  You can sit with whoever you want and do whatever.  That’s my kind of style.  Nevertheless, good things happen when you branch out.  This is hard as an introvert, so it comes very slowly, but it’s easier in this frame of mind.  It helps that a lot of the people on the tour are either English teachers or travelers, so it’s easy to compare notes on our experiences.  While we drove and talked, there were about 120 people on the trip on three buses, the clouds cleared up and the sun came out.  Ridiculously pathetic fallacy.

We started off the trip by watching/kind of walking through the parade in Boryeong.  Then, there was a watergun fight organized by our tour group.  While it was a little weird feeling like the foreigner entertainment guild, the spirit of the place seeped through after a little bit as random Korean boys came through and we got to douse them with water, too.  Anyone who got too close to the refilling pool would get pushed in or splashed.  It ended up being a ton of fun.  After being thoroughly soaked, we moved on to the next part: the mud marathon.  I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for this part, as when civilians call something a marathon it might be anything from a 1-mile fun run to the full 26.2-mile shebang.  Civilians have no idea how long a marathon is.  We arrived at the mud flats in the afternoon.  It was cloudy but not rainy, and we got our socks and outfits ready.  As a proper swimmer, I’d had my suit on all day, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.  Nonetheless, I did not come prepared with the proper socks and I had to borrow money from one of the kindly Aussies on the trip to buy some new socks that would actually stay on my feet (the mud’s suction is insane, you see).

The mud is so, so fun to play in, but this was business.  You got a really cool prize if you won, which I was confident I could do at first but after seeing the collection of really, really athletic-looking girls who were arrayed around, I wasn’t so sure.  The top 100 finishers got a medal, though, so that was the goal.  It was only a 3-kilometer race, so no big deal.  Except that it was hard.  The mud sucks your feet in and saps your strength (although it’s refreshing to be able to just run in your socks, no shoes), but you also have to be careful to not bring your feet down too hard in case of any rocks or sharp shells.  It was cool to see the procession and the different levels of undress of the participants.  There were some Boryeong residents who you can tell trained for the event, they smoked everybody easily.  At the farthest point they stamp your arm as you go by to show that you’ve run the full way, then you round the corner and head toward the finish.  I always end every race by a mad dash to the end, as I learned from my friend during my time in water polo.  I got the medal!!

After that was mud wrestling.  I always talk a big game for one so small, always saying stuff like “fight me” or something, but I got in that ring and honestly there’s something to be said for tallness.  I literally got picked up and thrown out of the ring, despite all of my attempts to get down low and use my center of gravity for my own advantage.  Since I got out so fast, we ended up playing soccer with the mud flat hyungs.  Now, I’m not wonderful at soccer with shoes on and on dry land, so kicking the ball with my bare feet and into puddles ended with some very sore toes and sad kicks.  But I did score a goal and the hyungs were really nice, when they weren’t trying to score on us.  The rest of the “marathoners” and “wrestlers” slowly joined, but at one point I got mud in my eyes and had to step out.  My toes were so sore at this point that I couldn’t be of much use, anyway.  It was an ordeal to get as much of the mud out of our clothes as possible, but that’s one of the joys of playing in the mud, I suppose.

After going back to the motel (the traditional kind where you sleep on the floor and stuff) and showering, a group of people went out for samgyeopsal.  It’s always weird not being necessarily the oldest but the most experienced in a group.  Afterwards, we attempted to chug as much soju as possible while walking on the beach trying to find a spot to watch the concert.  PSY was the act of the festival, and I was quite skeptical because he seems like kind of a goofy human, but wow, he is a wonderful performer.  The crowd was electric, and he knew how to work the crowd to get everybody pumped up.  The Aussies left and returned at one point with huge armfuls of soju bottles for everyone.  It was pretty crazy how everybody was drinking them like they were water.  The last encore was Psy doing covers of older songs, and he covered Big Bang’s “Sunset Glow” and my friend and I absolutely lost it.  It was an amazing atmosphere.  Afterwards, some air force men from Wisconsin tried to get me to get pizza with them and go home with them, but even free pizza was not enough to keep me from going back to the hotel to fend off the impending hangover.

Turns out, I succeeded.  I was trying to get this friend to go to brunch with me, and while we failed in going to the promised brunch place for actual brunch, we actually returned later for a very decent lunch.  (In the meantime we had pizza and waffles at another café for our breakfast.)  We were supposed to go to the “real” mud festival at this time, but it ended up being quite disappointing.  It was a bunch of activities and games set up in the plaza, but there was barely any mud!! I don’t know if it was all dried up or used up, but it was just not worth it to get all dirty for so little payback.  In addition, it ended up being quite sunny and nobody was feeling standing in 2-hour lines just to go down a water slide.  We ended up going to the beach and listening to the rave-like music and floating around with everyone in the water.  The water was really warm and the atmosphere was really chill despite the intense rave music.  After some time we actually continued into the concert part of the rave, where disinterested-looking volunteers in facemasks pelted the crowd with huge water hoses.  We caught it just before the end, and that part was wayyyy more fun than I imagine the actual mud festival was.  We also caught some Popeye’s chicken before I left, something I miss immensely from home.  Sometimes KFC just doesn’t cut it.

So anyhow, this would have been a very boring and un-notable weekend if it hadn’t been for that experiment.  When they say attitude is everything?  Yeah, they’re not lying.  Perspective makes a huge change in how you go about your daily life, and sometimes you gotta take the setbacks as just another challenge for growth.

A toast to seeing obstacles not as stumbling blocks, but rather as stepping stones to the next big thing in this life.






The best way to start running

The best way to start running

The best way to start running is to start running. That may sound stupidly obvious, but it’s tough advice to follow. Especially when it’s raining, or very cold, or very hot, or very early in the morning, or…

Often the toughest obstacles in life aren’t physical. They’re mental. Indecision, fear, doubt…These things will paralyze you. At some point you just have to get up and go.

It’s easy to motivate yourself in college.  “sounds fake, but okay,”  say all the current college students reading this post, but hear me out.  It’s easy to make yourself go to the gym when it’s free and when everybody you know is doing it, when you’re surrounded by other young people who are all really fit and excited about fitness.  It’s easy to study, even for a really, really lazy person like me, when all your friends cancel plans because they have to study for exams, stay in the lab all night, or assemble end-of-year portfolios.  You see other people working hard and so you work hard, too.  This is probably one part “i’m relatively recently graduated from college and haven’t been outside of a school environment longer than a few months in 17 years,” one part “i’m living in a new country and don’t know how to organize my young-adult life still,” one part “i know the other people are doing fitness things, study things, creative things, but i can’t see them doing them so i’m not motivated by them.”

Within the past month, some before that, I’d set up some practices which I had hoped would stick.  I set up the language exchange with my Korean coteacher, I made a gym schedule with my coworker friend so we could kick each other’s butts into going.  Even with other people brought into the equation, though, it’s pretty easy to slack off.  Life, uh… finds a way to get in the way.  One night out to celebrate/commemorate Chris hyung‘s departure for Pennsylvania can disrupt the whole week’s flow, unfortunately.  Grading papers and other spontaneous outings sap the energy for the “”””important””””” things.

I think it’s a bit of toxic rhetoric saying that quality time spent with friends and good experiences mean next to nothing, while the “important things” like working out, studying, keeping a clean house are held on a pedestal.  It’s what you value, really.  I think there’s a good balance to be had, somewhere, I just tend to be a bit too heavy-handed on the good times and neglect the hard things.  It’s easy to find motivation for the good-times-things.  The hard things are rewarding, but only after a great deal of time is invested into them, which is to be expected but it can be disheartening at first.

A few weeks ago I was on my way to the bar in Hongdae and a Korean girl approached me.  This happens frequently, being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner who is almost 100% likely to speak English.  People are so excited to practice their English that I get approached all the time.  If it’s a man, usually it’s to say something scuzzy, but since she seemed pretty young I figured she was a university student instead.  The transfer at Hapjeong station to the Line 6 is a long one, and she talked with me the whole time.  She wanted to do a sort of language exchange / be friends and since she was a lady and not a creepy old dude, I agreed.  Usually I say yes to these things and then don’t follow through, but she was persistent.  She is very nice, but also persistent.  I met her and her friend and we had ddeokbokki, spicy rice cakes, at a real restaurant rather than from the street stall, which was awesome.  They didn’t come on too strong at first.

The second meeting, at some point, the friend asked if I go to church.  This is common curiosity because a lot of Koreans are Christian.  I’m Catholic, but I’ve been lax if not nonexistent about going to mass on Sundays.  That’s hangover recovery day or hiking day, most weekends.  Or, at the very least, it has traditionally been the only day of the week I’ve been allowed to sleep in, after school on weekdays and water polo or swimming on weekends.  I should have said no, I’m not religious.  End of conversation.  But I’m usually pretty honest about most things so I didn’t think anything of it.

A third meeting was the friend taking me to her church.  I should stop assuming that Christians mean actual mass when they say “church,” because it was far more like a bible study.  Everybody was nice, but it was an intensely weird experience.  They had this very “”stylish”” music, but then a very bizarre sermon which was more like a college lecture, complete with the expectation that you should be taking notes.  When they read the verses, everyone reads in unison which is terrible and chaotic.  I missed the order and tradition and structure of Catholic mass.  This was cemented for me when I went to the beautiful cathedral in Myeongdong and remembered what “real church” is like.  I like “real church” infinitely better.

Things escalated quickly, recently.  The friend says that she wants to help me learn Korean, which is like, okay cool, awesome, great.  But the reasoning seems a bit off, like I’m her project, like I asked her to do this, which I never did.  I’m not dragging myself around on my knees asking Koreans to teach me.  I know that I’m pretty capable of teaching myself serviceably well by myself, but I’m just really l a z y..  Especially since she decided that the way I needed to study Korean was using the Bible, since it’s the best book and I will learn better that way.  Like, I’m all for Bible study, but only on your own terms.  And the reasoning is just very cyclical and tiring.  I want to learn Korean, just not this way.  She feels like it is her god-ordained project to teach me Korean and make me a better Christian.

We had our bible study/first Korean lesson yesterday.  It was brutal.  While I do find a measure of comfort in having the structure of grammar and lessons to follow in a textbook, I think the method of listening test from a text/ rewrite correct spellings of vocabulary words/ define each word/ use each word in a sentence/ read each sentence aloud/ text translation is a good one. However, I don’t think I’m interested enough in knowing the source material to continue.  I don’t want to have a bible discussion twice a week instead of studying, and I don’t like feeling like anyone’s service project.

Wow.  There was  a huge chunk of negativity.  Long story short: don’t use the promise of language exchange to push your faith on others.

So, I’m thinking that that’s not a really good motivation for learning Korean, to be able to translate the Bible.  At least not for me.  And you shouldn’t be like my other work friend who I’m 98% sure is trying to learn for the sole purpose of picking up boys and nothing else.  The motivation has to be deeper than that.  Like perhaps, a need for understanding.

I had also been struggling trying to motivate myself to go to the gym.  Besides a soul-crushing ride up the elevator, being surrounded by stick-thin people, and having to go really early before work because it’s too crowded in the evening (I expect my post on Korean gym culture will be forthcoming), it’s hard to make myself go more than once or twice a week, if at all.  I’ve only improved in recent weeks thanks to the merciless teasing of my work friend.

Being an athlete for 16 years, it’s really hard to make yourself work out when it’s suddenly not “for” anything.  I’ve never had a time where I’m not training for something, however far it is in the future.  So I had an epiphany yesterday on the elliptical: if I give myself a finish line, a goal, then it won’t be as hard to push myself, like just signing up for a simple 5k was be enough to get me out of the house and onto the running trails in Han Gang like I did this morning.  It was pretty satisfying, even though I got plenty of weird stares for my outfit of wrestling shirt and running tights from the ahjummas.  I was pretty sweaty on the train back, after all.

Maybe motivation for staying fit and studying Korean will come from within, one day, but right now I need external sources.  The right kind, too.

We see this sort of thing with students all the time.  The students who are self-motivated or “intrinsically motivated” are the ones who do best in school.  The students who are driven by pleasing the teacher or their friends or their parents don’t do as well consistently.  Finally there are the kids who are only motivated by what is fun or interesting to them.  If a game or activity is fun or they deem it worth their time, they’ll participate, but otherwise they are either blissfully off in their own world or make class a living hell for everyone in the room, as their sole mission seems to be to destroy everything in sight.  (This is true for kindergarteners, at least.)  You’ve gotta praise the good ones and ignore the ill-behaved ones as best you can.  And everyone responds well to treats.

So, it’s all about finding the right motivation to do that thing, whatever it is.  Sometimes you need a little push, sometimes a big one, sometimes continued encouragement and sometimes merciless teasing.  Whatever works, really.

A toast to whatever makes you take that first step, since the first step is always the hardest.





Go there, do that

Go there, do that

Let’s think structurally.  The quest consists of five things: (a) the quester, (b) a place to go, (c) a stated reason to go there, (d) challenges and trials en route, and (e) a real reason to go there.  Item (a) is easy; a quester is just a person who goes on a quest, whether or not he knows it’s a quest.  In fact, usually he doesn’t know.  Items (b) and (c) should be considered together: someone tells our protagonist, our hero, who need not look very heroic, to go somewhere and do something.  Go in search of the Holy Grail.  Go to the store for bread.  Go to Vegas and whack a guy.  Tasks of varying nobility, to be sure, but structurally all the same.  Go there, do that.  Note that I said the stated reason for the quest.  That’s because of item (e).

The real reason for the quest never involves the stated reason.  In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task.  So why do they go and why do we care?  They go because of the stated task … but we know that their quest is educational. … The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.

A few weeks back, I made a string of very bad decisions.  To be clear, as a recently-minted “”””adult,”””” I make relatively bad decisions all the time.  It’s not uncommon in my life.  But these were some particularly cringeworthy ones, ones thatwould make your parents want to come right out on the next flight to Incheon and ship you and  your stuff all back stateside.  First, I thought it’d be a cute idea to go hiking far away from where I live in Seoul, hiking in Bukhansan National Park, which I’d heard was beautiful.  It’s about an hour train ride there.  But I also thought it’d be really cute to go alone.  And at dusk.  The coincidence of all these things?  Well, it had the potential to be disastrous.

This very same weekend, a solo female hiker was murdered in Seoraksan National Park (I do not include this beautiful tidbit when I call my parents later).  The stakes—which seemed very trivial for me—were actually quite high.

I get into the town at about 6pm.  Even in summer, this unfortunately only gives me 1-2 hours to summit and get back down before sunset, a bit more before it’s truly dark.  But from dusk-runs in the park with hyung I remembered that it’s scary being in the forest at sunset because the full dark sets in fast.  The hike started out innocently enough.  It was pleasant being alone and having only my thoughts to accompany me.  I should probably mention that my sense of direction is about as awful as it can get.  I followed the trail signs and it was fun at first.

As the light started to die, I decided that I had to get to the top of something before I returned home.  I only met one person on the trail, and he was on his way down from the top as I was still making my way up (not a good sign).  At the top of something (I think it was one of the lower mountains of the ridge, but it was the tallest summit I could reach), I took all the requisite selfies and scenic panorama shots and then proceeded to basically bolt down the mountain.  I love trail running, but this was a bit scary because I was literally chasing daylight.  When I get lost, I get frustrated and cry.  This is about the worst defense mechanism a person can have and rarely ever works to my advantage.

Finally, a car drove by and after a bit of deliberation I decided to follow it on the road.  I have a phone, but there are barely any trails or roads on the map and I don’t want it to die if I need to call for help (there’s phone service even at the top of those mountains).  I’m heading toward what I think is a road, and after it seems to be the town so that I can find my way to a subway station.

I’m about to go through this tunnel, after which I think is the town, only to get stopped… by a Korean army guy.  He asks me what I’m doing, and at this point I’m tired and sad and frustrated and scared… all of my Korean speaking ability just goes up in smoke and all I can say is that I was walking, the name of the station, Mangweolsa, and “Sorry!!!” and basically “How did this happen?”  I have apparently tried to wander into a Korean army base.  He sits me down on a rock.  I try to look appropriately contrite (I really do feel bad about the imposition, but he was not about to send me back into the forest to walk the 3km back to the station) and unobtrusive.  He goes in the outpost to talk to his supervisor.  They radio to their supervisor.  20 minutes later, an army jeep pulls up and they drive me back to the station.  No reprimand on their end, copious amount of thanks on my end.  (it was really, really cool, riding in the jeep)

Things like this don’t happen to me.  I never get saved from my mistakes.  I’d still be wandering in the forest and having missed weeks of work without them.  People are always telling me to distrust people because they’re dangerous and out to hurt you but… when you have times like those… the kindness of strangers always bolsters my faith in humanity.

In America, hiking is not really something that you do very casually.  You might bike casually, go swimming at your neighborhood casually, go to the gym on occasion, play pickup soccer or basketball.  Hiking is not for the faint of heart in America.  You’ve gotta plan a lot, drive there, know the trails, be prepared with all the stuff in your bag.  Hiking is for serious “”””athletes”””” only.

In Korea, everyone hikes.  It’s the national pastime here.  I didn’t really know that I liked hiking until coming here and getting to go all the time, but it’s really a wonderful thing to have as a national pastime.  All the ahjummas and ahjusshis are always gathered of a Friday afternoon in the subway station in their full-on hiking gear, head-to-toe with the poles and big backpacks and everything (this is Korea’s version of “athleisure”) and I’m always so jealous that they get to be up on the mountain instead of working.  It’s a very common weekend activity, even more common than going to Han Gang (Han River) with some chimaek (chicken and beer) and a blanket on a weekend evening.

You take the subway out the mountain town.  The crowds of the train peel off  the farther you go out.  At the approach to the mountain, there are lots of the little stalls selling the mountain food like pajeon (green onion pancakes), bibimbap (mountain vegetables and rice and fried egg with a spicy sauce), ramyeon, and copious amounts of makgeolli (Korean rice wine).  The stalls thin out as you get closer to the trail head.  There is usually a temple at the base of the mountain, so you stop to pay your respects, sit and relax, and have a drink on the way up or down.  The way up is steep, but the people you meet on the way are good natured and love to say hi to everybody and make conversation.  Everybody is in a good mood on the trail.  At the top, you pause for selfies and another drink of the makgeolli.  After, you eat a ton and drink some more (not that Koreans aren’t drinking all weekend anyway).

But anyone can hike in Korea.  There are girls in wedge heels and carrying an umbrella for shade in one hand and a cup of iced Americano coffee in the other and they’re on the same trail as the die-hard ahjusshis with the 20-kilo hiking pack.  It’s hard to take the girls seriously, but that’s the way it is.  Hiking is far more accessible here.  It’s more egalitarian, and I really like the way that everyone smiles and greets each other on the trail.

It’s really easy for foreigners to dismiss what the natives do as “wrong” or “stupid” or “weird.”  But I find this hard to believe when I see the ahjummas smile so easily and so kindly when somebody greets them, when I see how nice the moms are when I wave and play hide-and-seek with their child from the back of the train compartment where I’m sitting, when the shop owner gives us seobiseu (free stuff just for being nice customers).  This one friend here is always preaching not to trust strangers because they are always up to no good, but I find I’m just the exact opposite.  How can you just automatically distrust so many well-meaning humans?  You burn so many bridges that way.

I’m learning how to work nicely with a lot of different people.  The coworkers and I have formed a nice rapport and I seem to have fallen in well without even meaning to.  Between “girls night” with board nights, monthly chimaek dates, language exchange with my Korean co-teacher, and a fierce Duolingo language competition, the atmosphere is really nice these days.  I was pursuing this boy at the butcher shop in the supermarket on the way home from work, but he’s stubbornly refusing to text me after many weeks.  Luckily my university friend, Sam-sshi is on his way out as the Yonsei University friends are on their way out.  Tag-team.  I’m trying to make lots of friends as that seems to be the key to happiness here.  It is a kind country but only to people who are with friends or love interests.  It’s not a very kind country to the perpetually single.  But we’ll work on that.

We learn that all trips, all quests teach us something, whether it’s about love or life or friendship or not to go hiking alone at dusk in a park you’ve never been in before.

A toast to hiking, new friends, and hiking with new friends.