On the way to the Park

Yesterday was all about traveling and fighting jet lag. It was time for me to leave Nathan and Rachel’s place and head out on my own. Due to a combination of jet lag and the effects of the previous night, I wasnn’t feeling so great and really just wanted a place to go to sleep for a while. I was ready to leave Seoul as well, for as interesting as it was, it was a huge city, and I wanted to see the rest of the country. I made my way to the nearest bus station, which was about a 30 min walk, and with the help of a security guard who could tell I had no idea what was going on, I bought a ticket to Chuncheon . It is a smaller city, with a population of only 240,000. When I arrived, it was already dark, and I just needed some food, and a place to sleep. I walked down the street from the bus station and saw several buildings that were motels in a line. I stopped in the first one, and found it to be w39,000 per night, and decorated in an ultra modern, sharp edges everywhere , all glass and doors that retract into the wall theme. Not for me. The next motel I walked into was much better, with wood, an nice lady at the front desk who was so thrilled to see me that she called a friend out and we spent a few minutes having fun trying to communicate what I wanted. We eventually made it clear that I wanted a small, cheap room, and I wanted to pay by credit card. As I was walking away, she gave me a free toothbrush. When Koreans want to give something free to a foreigner, they give it, and say “Service, service.” This is true of toothbrushes, flaming 151 shots, and many other things. Being a foreign traveler here is difficult because of the language barrier, but the Koreans are extremely willing to help in anyway that they can.

I am currently struggling with the food a little. Everything is spicy, and nothing is plain. This is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to eat a meal, and not still be tasting it an hour later every time you burp. I bought a pack of assorted cereal at the E-mart, which is Korea’s version of Wal-mart on crack. Three stories, everything you can imagine, and extremely helpful people at the end of every isle to make sure you get what you want and thee place stays looking orderly. By orderly I mean the second I took the box off the shelf, there was a tiny Korean woman running towards me who jumped up as high as she could to grab a box off the top shelf and put it in the middle where I had disturbed the geometric precision of her stacking. They also give out samples of everything, including wine, in the store. I almost had a full meal while I was shopping.

I left Chuncheon pretty early and took a 10:30 bus ride to Sokchu, about 3 hours away. No help needed this time in buying the ticket, just in finding where the actual bus left from. In the process I have now learned the difference between the Korean letters for ?eat?and ?latform.?I am obviously a stupid American because I did not know this when I bought my ticket, or so the bus driver of the first bus I tried to get on thought. I wandered around Sokcho for a while, went and saw the beach there, which is the beach to what the Koreans call the East Sea, but the rest of the world knows it as the Sea of Japan. (Koreans hate Japan and avoid having anything to do with it, at least culturally, financial dealings are another matter.) I caught a w1000 (approx USD $1.00) bus ride up to the entrance of the Seoraksan National Park where I checked into the Mt. Soerak Youth Hostel. After the usual pantomiming and broken Korean / broken English conversation, I had a share room for w20,000 a night. A great deal in this very popular tourist destination. Originally the room was mine alone, but there were two bunks, and one of them was soon occupied by Claude, a well traveled older man from Belgium. He spoke a decent amount of English, and it was great to talk to someone in English again, even if we had to figure out what we were trying to say some of the time. Claude and I had the same game plan, to stay here tonight, then wake up early and start hiking. This meant that we both had to get the trail maps before the park office shut down for the night, so we headed out and walked to the office, then farther towards the entrance to the park to see the sun set over the mountains.