Day 410

Friday | April 12th, 2013


It’s been 364 days since the last Mountain Day and that means that I can count the days correctly. I win a box of troll dolls.

Last year’s Mountain Day was a bleak and chilly experience culminating in being rained on as punishment for even thinking about sauntering up a BLM tractor road and calling it a “trail” and the whole experience a “mountain”. The Death Gods huddling over the portal gazing down at Earth had themselves a laugh as students attempted to let their festive pride shine through the grayness by covering themselves with cardboard and defiantly consuming beer and soju on the soggy grass.

This year … this year I stayed out until sometime drinking the night before. I woke, not drunk waking, but normal I’ve-got-to-be-somewhere waking. I ran late, but I ran upwards, washed, found clothing, gathered supplies, stopped by a store to gas up on water, energy bars, and gum (I forgot to brush my teeth). GL was late too, and he had the car that was going to take us all to the mountain. He and JW and JH found me, then it was off to find MM.


We arrived late because I ran late and because GL was late (not bad for not drinking as much as me and cutting out early the night before). Being late meant we missed the low-light of last year’s hike, the part where we stood around in the cloudy coldness while bureaucrat after bureaucrat after fossil after bureaucrat blathered on and on about who knows what. If only I knew more Korean, I would be able to suffer like the Korean staff and students year upon year while officials officiate the official Mountain Day. If only … we still had some standing around to do though (above, left).

This year’s hike was more pleasureful to the eyes and the camera. The bright Gyeongju sun cast morning shadows around the village(s) near the base of the mountain (above, middle). Last year I was in better shape from all the monthly hikes in Seoul—even the number of stairs in and out of subways, at the CEC, and at home, then in the Gyeongju flat had me prepared for this sorry excuse for a hike. This year I thought I would die or my heart would pound out of my chest and bounce down the valley way. My stopping points were often overrun with students in a similar predicament (above, right).


MM pulls ahead with the nursing department who inexplicably have jackets that say either: Department of Medicine or Department of Medical. MM and I couldn’t find the reasoning there. Different degrees? Different sub-departments? Maybe the jackets were ordered in two batches, one with a mistake and one without it—but then, which one is the mistake? It’s impossible to tell in Korea.

Last year this was all a new experience and I didn’t know what to expect—I didn’t expect anything really. Not the free lunch I was given, nor the handkerchief or ribbon. I didn’t even think the students would all be wearing clothing corresponding with their departments or carry flags or sing chants as we went up and down. And this year was no different (well, no ribbon or handkerchief), except knowing what to expect, I was disappointed that we didn’t have matching t-shirts or a cadence to sing. We didn’t even have a flag! This has to change for next year. Even the international students have a flag and matching t-shirts, which say ‘department of foreigner’. Where is my t-shirt with ridiculous and/or nonsensical English? Next year, I want the whole Mountain Day experience.


I took a picture of this because I took a picture of it last year. Item 049 is arguably the best shot from Mountain Day last year.


The statue maker last year had only a few Buddhas about, this year’s collection includes lesbian embraces, some old dudes doing normal things, and some creepy Asian lion-dragon hybrid with eagle wings (above, left). It sort of reminded me of a Mayan god more than anything. The walk to the park where the end-of-hike picnic was last year and to be again this year adds another kilometer or two to the hike itself, but at least this year was spectacularly beautiful (above, right).


Most of our department was sequestered for an audit, so we were alone, participating in a school event, but really just wandering about with the crowd. The Department of Buddhist Studies took pity on us and brought us hot, meaty soup with rice (above, left). Even on a light walk over a scanty hill (or a death march over a death ridge for me) and it was a perfect thing to put down on a post-alcohol stomach. The students clustered up in their departments and ate the food they’d purchased in advance (above, middle)—some of these groups gave use fried chicken and french fries. Last year I wished that the canopy provided more shelter from the rain, this year I wished it provided more shelter from the sun (above, right).


There was a stage set up again and this time it was okay to grab the mike or plug in an electric guitar without the fear of electrocution. We listened to a fair bit of music and singing, most of which made MM cringe (above) from being off-key or out of tune. Even to watch the show, students stayed bunched up in their departments (below, left). Homogeny: it’s not just a way of life, it’s a daily practice reinforcement!


When we’d had our fill we flagged down a cabbie who reluctantly agreed to take us back to the other side of the mountain where GL had left his car. On the road we stopped to let MM out so he could catch a bus back to Ulsan and I put the whole show on hold to shoot a crooked utility support pole (above, middle).

However light the hike was or out of shape we were, one would think getting home and showering and spending the rest of the day with feet kicked up and pondering much of nothing would have been the foremost desire of GL, JH, JW, and myself. Yet … somehow it wasn’t. We talked about this and that, giggled about stuff, maybe even sang bits of songs, then suddenly, we were going through the toll gate and passing out of Gyeongju for parts unknown.

We missed a turn back there. Four people burnt from what should have been an easy hike and sitting in a car not paying much attention. Part of this is from riding around in cabs too much, you always get where you need to go because an experienced person is behind the wheel and not engaging in any of your banter. We pulled over immediately after going through the gate to figure out what to do next. We had three choices:

  • try to make a U-turn and go back out again.
  • veer to the left and head for Busan.
  • veer to the right and head for Daegu.

JH, forever biased by her Busan life wanted us to veer left. GL wanted to try a U-turn, but I shot that down as there were two gate arms blocking the way. Somehow, this baffles me, somehow, I was the only person in the car with a smartphone and thus a map. “We should go to Daegu, there are adjacent roads,” I said. “We can take an off ramp and double back to Gyeongju.” We cut across four lanes of truck and bus traffic, and there we were, going to Daegu (above, right).


Only, there were no off-ramps. We kept driving and driving. We pulled off at a rest stop, thinking that we would be able to drive under in a little tunnel to the other side where there was a rest stop on the other side and then make our way back. This rest stop had no such tunnel … but it did have a tower (above, left). I got out to take pictures of the tower, someone left to use the bathroom, coffee was mentioned and we were officially “resting” at the “rest stop”.

I’ve always wanted to go to a Korean rest stop when I wasn’t already traveling. Usually, BIL will pull into one and I’m blown out from sleeping in the car and the experience is too surreal without my deflector shields which are in a bag somewhere. Here I was in my space with my best camera at hand and happily snapping at all the oddness, like the wheelchair and baby stroller parking shelter (above, middle). This is for when you pull into the rest stop, you grab the wheelchair and fetch grandma from the car and wheel her into the cafeteria to eat with the family. The wheelchair belongs to the rest stop company. What a country! In the US, the wheelchair would’ve been stolen ages ago and sold for drug money and any family would just leave grandma in the car to drool on herself while the family got fatter and stupider on the Mickey Ds inside. And the tower would’ve had gang and poser tags all over it.

All great adventures end, as this one, with hydrogen gas. It’s 75% of the universe. Here we see a 16 wheeler (18 in North America, 16 in South Korea, got it?) with tubes of hydrogen gas. Following B-movie logic, these tubes exploded. We went on down the road and found the exit to Geoncheon and turned around there. The rest stop was destroyed. We went back through the tollgate. The free wheelchair caught fire in the successive explosions. We were lectured for not just making a u-turn by the tollgate lady. The other trucks burned quietly and then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, the tower exploded (latent gas pipe logic). We went down the road, found the turn we missed and took it. The rest stop was showered in flaming bricks. We all made it home okay.

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