Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Laying on the bare, uneven floor surrounded by tremendously loud snoring men that occupied every possible inch of the small, stuffy room, and the voracious mosquitos shrilling by my ears in the sweltering heat with nothing but a dank sofa cushion as a pillow, a ripped blanket, and an unsteady floor fan in the corner of the room that piercingly creaked with every back-and-forth revolution; it baffled me on how I ended up where I was and the reason why I was still there tolerating the momentous discomfort.
The fact was that I didn’t exactly know where I was. All I knew was that we were all near some lake outside the city of Cheongju and that it took roughly 4 hours to get there. Normally, no matter the circumstances, I always tend to pay attention to where I’m going or ask around if I have no clue, but in this case the most I could do was observe through the bus window that we were headed south as it couldn’t be deftly explained where we were going. After chowing down on the best smoked duck I’ve ever tasted and meticulously venturing through various labrynthian networks of mountain roads in pitch-black darkness, we finally reached our destination: a run-down, super-secluded lakehouse with nothing but musty unfurnished rooms, some old tables, and a much-loved sofa and refrigerator in the “living room.” Without missing a beat, not ten minutes passed before all the food and drinks were unloaded into the fridge and everyone was neatly seated in a circle officially commencing the 2011 Summer Staff Retreat.
It was 10pm when the meeting began and I was already fatigued from the day’s work and the almost interminable trip to a place that didn’t even look remotely appealing from the moment I stepped off the bus. Korean manuals were given to everyone, including me, and for the next two hours I sat attempting to listen to the various conversations around the room, but to no avail. Except for the 5 minutes of talk-time given to me in order to explain to everyone about my English program, which was quickly translated into Korean by my co-teacher, I sat exhausted listening to a language practically incomprehensible to me. However, once the clock struck midnight, the meeting was adjourned and it was time to mingle and celebrate – Korean-style.
A myriad boxes of fried chicken, junk food, and some bottles of soju and beer were laid out on the tables, and it wasn’t before long that the laughs and games were fostered in a lively fashion. As I previously mentioned, I was already really exhausted from the day, so I essentially sat on the sidelines, but it didn’t stop me from taking part in a one or two of the after-meeting late-night festivities.
I then furtively left the party sometime between 1:30-2am and headed to my partitioned sleeping area in the “men’s room” after having snaked one of the moist sofa cushions to use as a pillow. Shortly thereafter, many more followed and I laid awake for several hours combating the vicious mosquitos, loud snoring, sultry heat, and rock-hard floor. Sleep was not an option nor a possibility and there wasn’t anywhere I could go; I was trapped in the middle of nowhere faraway from a bed and a quiet room that could grant me much needed sleep and tranquility.
At around 5am, I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. Thus, I got up and surreptitiously tip-toed over all the scattered, sleeping bodies in the room and eventually “escaped” without making a sound. My plan: go for a hike. I was supremely weary, but I figured a hike would help draw energy from somewhere deep within; and it did.
I was gone for over two hours hiking around the lake without another soul in sight, and despite the very early hour, the tranquil and rather adventurous hike was enough to pardon the restless night as I returned to the lakehouse rejuvenated and refreshed. However, for some of my colleagues whom were just waking up, it was not all sweet dreams and green pastures.
Sadly, not much time passed after my return that all of us got back on the bus and left. It still baffles me that we drove 4 hours to a beautiful lake and no one except myself bothered to spend time relishing the solace it provided. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that I was essentially trapped and got up very early to savor the sounds, smells, and scenes of nature in an unknown place of pure serenity. Although, next time I’ll surely bring my own pillow, blanket, and sleeping bag.