Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Blue Sky + Cool Breezes + 5000 Hardcore Hiking Koreans + Beautiful Mountains + Korean Style Pizza + Rice Beer + 8 Mountain Kilometers + Views of North Korea + TV Interviews = SUPER FUN TIME!!!
I’m currently lodging with one of my student’s family before I move into my apartment in several days.
It has been truly been a blessing staying with the Lee Family as it is making this adjustment period rather enjoyable, easy, and fun. Also, not enough can be said about their magnanimity. Their home is out in the country, surrounded by beautiful fertile mountains on the outskirts of a town called Wolgot, which is fairly close to the DMZ and is where I will be teaching. Wolgot sits about 15-20 minutes northwest from Gimpo-si, a larger city of about 60,000 people where I will be staying during my tenure. On my second day staying with the Lee family, Mrs. Lee invited me to go on a DMZ trek…
…At 10am, 5000 Koreans + 1 Foreigner (me), lined up at the starting line to start a 8km hike that would wind through mountains, hills, fields, streets, and villages along the DMZ. It was not a race, but it sure felt like one.
Almost all the 5000 Koreans were decked out in super serious hiking gear and although I felt somewhat out of place being the only foreigner, I doubly felt out of place being the only one wearing shorts. Later, a friend of mine mentioned that Korean adults don’t wear shorts, even at the beach Koreans will were pants into the water – note taken. About 15 minutes into the trek I started swiping large bugs that kept jumping onto my bare legs, and I shook my head smiling and thinking that everyone must know something I don’t. No matter, I flew through the first hills like nobody’s business.
To my surprise, there were hundreds of 80+ people hiking the hills and steep climbs without breaking a sweat, no joke! I’m finding that Koreans are super enthusiastic about hiking and camping, something I would love to see more of in the United States.
Amid the hike we were all passing through small mountain villages along the DMZ with views of the border barrier and the river that separates the two Koreas; not to mention passing some very serious looking border guards that conducted checkpoints for personnel and civilians entering the fortified watchtowers. When we reached the halfway point, many Korean women were sitting down cooking “Korean Style Pizzas,” which are made of potatoes and sliced vegetables with soy sauce and pepper.
I didn’t really care what they were made of at the time, all I knew was that they were delicious and I was super hungry… and thirsty. For less than five dollars I got a large “korean style pizza” (Bu Chim Gae) and a bottle of rice beer. Not ever having rice beer before, I found it very tasteful, smooth, and quenching; not to mention that it paired perfectly with the Korean Style Pizza making it even more satisfying. It’s definitely something I must try again, hopefully sooner than later.
After passing through a valley of rice fields, we reached the steepest mountains of the day.
Wow, there were some steep climbs and I was sweating profusely when I reached the summit. As soon I crossed the “finish line,” it’s as if the news journalists were waiting for my arrival because they swarmed me like bees to honey. Everyone wanted to know why I was there and what I thought about the situation between North & South Korea. After taking a peek over across the river into North Korea at a dilapidated village, I couldn’t help but feel melancholic. Therefore, I expressed a desire for peace and the next day I saw myself on TV. For some reason I felt goosebumps.
After the interviews I spent some quality time observing South Koreans and their fascination with North Korea.
Kids of all ages were peeking through the stationary binoculars and would get excited when they saw someone walking around on North Korean soil. I happened to follow a North Korean fisherman walking along the shore, and to me, everything seemed normal, but it’s fully well known that it is not. I admit, I am quite fascinated myself with what lies on the otherside, and I ponder what it would be like if both Koreas were to be united … Peace is complicated.
Once it was time to leave, all hikers were bused back to a some nearby military barracks for a special demonstration. The Korean Cub Scouts went beserk and practically took over the demonstrations by climbing all over the tanks and jeeps that were parked for casual observation.
At the end of the day I won a lottery prize – a 20lb bag of rice. Bring on the rice steamer!