Monday, May 22, 2006

Seoraksan Beauty

And now for a detailed log of my weekend to Sokcho.

We got a call from Ronan at 7:59 on Saturday morning, one minute before we were to leave, saying he was in. Then we caught the buses we needed to catch to make it to the city of Sokcho in the Northeast of South Korea. From East Seoul bus terminal it took us four hours to get there in a very comfortable and spacious bus.

We stepped into Seoraksan park at about two and took the cablecar up to one of the peaks... I'm not sure which. A very quick and painless hike to the top and we were greeted by a breathtaking view of greenery, rocky cliffs, and other peaks in the distance. There were no fences or anything to keep up from falling to our deaths. Suicide rates are high in Korea - I wonder if anyone ever decides to do it from Seoraksan.
At one point we found a great view from a cliff-like area where nobody was standing. We spent a while there taking pictures and taking in the scenery, all the while the sounds of a man on a loudspeaker at the top of a rocky peak adding to the atmosphere. "What do you think he's saying?" someone asked offhand. Ten minutes later we heard a heavily accented and rather urgent "HELLO!!" Apparently nobody was standing there for a while. He had been telling to get out of there for a while but in Korean. Who knew. Foreigner sightings were rare this weekend.From there we checked out a little uninteresting temple at the top and then headed down. At the foot of the cablecar there is my favourite Buddha I've seen yet, in a close race with the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. At least this one I could take pictures of. It's enormous! And so beautiful. I loved it.

We walked around a bit more and then took a bus back to Sokcho. What a lame town Sokcho is, at least at this time of year. Everything was closed and nothing was even around. We were lucky enough to run into a group of uniformed highschool girls who giggled incessantly and requested they have their picture taken with us. They literally jumped and squealed when we agreed. After the picture was taken and thank yous were made, they ran off hollering and hooting like we were the Backstreet Boys. As I said, I guess foreigner sightings are rare. We did happen to stumble across a few interesting things after an unsatisfying Pizza Hut dinner. The fifteen dollar regular was equivalent in size to a Canadian small. I left hungry.

We found a hotel that cost us ten bucks each and then went looking for a place to have a few drinks. On the way we instead found a row of glass storefronts lit with neon pink and decorated with brassiered women gazing playfully out. Prostitution is widespread - every small town has as many "double barber poles" as it has PC bangs. Who are the girls who work at these places, I wonder?

We had few beers, headed home, I took a bath, and then called it a night.

Sunday morning we woke up and headed back to the park, this time past the cablecar and Buddha, along a bath that started off smooth and even and progressivly got more and more rocky and more and more inclined until we were climbing up instead of walking across.

Along the way we headed into what we called the rock river which I thought was beauty to remember. The background scenery and the strangeness of the rocks, plus it being empty of people except for us made it truly memorable. Despite Ronan's urging for us all to go swimming, we pressed on.

Back to the crazy incline. We climbed and climbed.. I didn't know if I could go on but did.. and then we reached the top and it was worth it. Old Koreans sprinted past us now and then and made me hang my head in shame. Especially the man who asked us to guess his age. I thought 38. D'Arcy though 42. His ID proved he was 62!!! You should have seen this man! It took my breath away. If I can climb a 700 meter mountain when I'm 62 I'll be seriously impressed with myself. I could hardly do it at 23. He attributed his youthfulness to hiking.
We descended easily, Ronan got his swim in, and we headed to the bus station for 5:00. The woman behind the ticket counted told us the tickets were all sold out intil 8:00. That would mean we wouldn't arrive home until well after 1:00am. A whole bunch of smart moves later we were sitting pretty on the "Excellent Bus" heading toward Kangnam with an hour cut off of the busride time and a belly full of flied chicken. I walked into my house just after 11.

I saw a woman custodian in the reststop bathroom washing the mirrors over the sinks. In order to reach she had one foot on a stool and the other foot on the counter.


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